June 4, 2005 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I am a mechanical imbecile. That said, I would like to have a kick-ass tool set. How would I do that?
posted by greasy_skillet to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
... depends what you want it for. 'Home and garden' is pretty vague.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:36 PM on June 4, 2005

Most people acquire tools by purchasing them. Hardware stores are good places to look.
posted by Galvatron at 10:49 PM on June 4, 2005

It's harder to answer since "tools" is incredibly broad, but I'd suggest starting with a set of the fundamental tools (such as the screwdriver), and then acquiring more specialized tools as your projects demand them - let your projects determine your tools. Most people acquire their over the years as their projects demand.

For more esoteric tools, you could also check out Cool Tools, a mailing list where people send in reviews of simple tools that are thoroughly tried&true, yet others might not have heard of.

Personally, I have my little work area set up with the intention that everything is already on hand to create anything, be it high-tech electronics, a hard-bound book, a scientific instrument, a toy, anything. The point is that whatever I feel like making, I don't need to go and buy anything, I start right away because I already have everything necessary. For this, I actually have a fairly limited range of tools (for reasons of availible space as much as anything), but they tend to be broad-use rather than specialised (eg the dremel with a lot of acessories), most of the magic is not in the tools, but in having a vast range of parts and materials on hand - plastics to papers, fasteners to electronic components, gears to tubing, etc etc.

Also, VERY important: Don't skimp on safety gear, nor not bother to use it. If you will ever do any kind of grinding or sanding or abrasion, have a respirator. Any power tools, safety glasses. Have a good first aid kit on hand. Dont ever decide not to use the safety gear because you'll only be using the cutting disc for a few seconds, a few seconds is all it takes to destroy your face.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:59 PM on June 4, 2005

really you are best buying things as you need them. but a good set of screwdrivers is probably worth buying as a whole, since you can spend a lot more money buying them one by one (and having the right size and shape screwdriver really makes a difference).

also, the longer you wait, the cheaper things seem to get, especially power tools. i just bought a new power drill recently and spent all of $18 for something with decent power, a fair size chuck, hammer, variable speed, reversible etc.

having said that, in general more expensive tools tend to be worth the extra money (things like pliers, screwdrivers, chisels and handsaws need to be made from good quality metal if they're going to last; i'm not so sure that you need to spend much on power drills - i guess i'll find out).

if you buy things one by one you can normally afford better pieces - buying everything up front you're going to end up with lower quality because the price is so high, paying for a bunch of things in a "set" that you'll never use. you can also choose exactly what you want. i don't have a huge pile of tools, but i recently bought a upholsterer's hammer (don't really know the name in english) that is really useful for me - there's no way such a thing would be in a "set", for example.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:38 AM on June 5, 2005

Only one hint here: you will never be disappointed in purchasing the best-quality tools available to you. You will be disappointed with cheap tools. If you expect to use a tool more than a few times, go for the quality.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 AM on June 5, 2005

To counter five fresh fish's comment, It may be worth your while to check a heavy discount store like Big Lots for some basic minor needs i.e. tape measure, a variety of hammers, screws/nails, clamps, etc. I just moved into an older house a few months ago and the credit card bill consistantly has $100 visits to Lowes and Home Depot. I would pay $15 for a rubber mallet or adjustable clamp. Now I know that I could have gotten them each for around $3 at Big Lots.
posted by tfmm at 10:48 AM on June 5, 2005

Well, there are some things where quality tops out pretty fast. Rubber mallets would be one such thing.

Wrenches, however, are best if they have accurate and square openings, and are made of high-quality steel. Pliers are best if they close accurately and without flex. Powertools are best if they have adequate power, quality gears and bearings, accurate jigs, etcetera. So on and so forth.

I have a pile of cheap-ass tools. They are adequate tools for occasional light use. When put to a test, though, they very quickly become excrutiatingly frustrating tools to use.

The more car and home maintenance, and the more woodworking I do, the more I appreciate having a quality tool from the get-go. When I'm solving a problem with X, the last thing I need is to have to solve a problem caused by an inadequate tool.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:46 PM on June 5, 2005

(I should mention I've also been accumulating good tools, borne out of frustration with the cheap ones. The cheap ones seldom see use now... so I might as well have bought good to begin with, and saved myself the aggravation and extra cost!)
posted by five fresh fish at 12:47 PM on June 5, 2005

Garage sales. I have bought complete sets of Craftsman sockets & wrenches in SAE & Metric in 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" for literally pennies on the dollar.

Auto mechanics will tell you that Snap-On is the way to go beacuse they are using their tools for hours every day (and because they probably had help buying a full set) and indeed their tools are beautiful but ridiculously expensive (Occasionally I will get lucky and find some Snap-On tools at a garage sale). If you could get your hands on some used Snap-on Screwdrivers it would be worth it.

The thing about Craftsman is that there is a lifetime warranty on the tool. Just bring it in to any SEARS and you can get a new one in exchange for the old one.

So when you are out at a sale and you see a tool with "Craftsman" on it, grab it (assuming you are paying a low price e.g., 50 cents for a screwdriver), no matter what condition it is in.

FFF is absolutely correct about quality tools. I use Klein insulated lineman pliers and I would not use another brand. I own hand-me-down Wiss tin-snips that are 25 years old and in great working condition (have to keep them sharpened) and Stanley ball-peen & claw hammers still in great condition (need to replace the handle on one, though).

FFF: check your email
posted by mlis at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2005

Sears Craftsman isn't as good as it used to be, IMO. That said, they still do have a no-questions-asked over-the-counter exchange for broken tools.

Canadian Tire's "Pro" line appears to be of exceptional quality. They, too, have a solid warranty.

I believe Home Depot's ... oh, damn, the name just slipped... anyway, their house brand is pretty good, too, by appearances.

Snap-On is, IMO, extremely overpriced. As with all things, there's a law of diminishing returns. $10 for a complete wrench set is going to get you a craptacular set. $100 for Cdn Tire's Pro series is going to get you an excellent set that honestly is ten times better. $800 for Snap-On is not, however, going to get you a set that is eight times better again.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:42 PM on June 5, 2005

Home Depot's house brand is Rigid; I think it's pretty good stuff too.
posted by delfuego at 7:20 PM on June 5, 2005

Tools aren't really kick-ass; craftsmen are kick-ass. The tools are just a side effect of the craftsman's desire to kick some ass. You'd be amazed at how badly you can screw up a project with really expensive tools.

If you had some idea of what sort of projects interested you (woodworking, cabinetry, plumbing, large electrics, electronics, gardening, auto mechanics, bike repair, lutherie?) we might be able to give some better suggestions, both as to brands of tools and resources to help you learn to use them better.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:15 AM on June 6, 2005

the last thing I need is to have to solve a problem caused by an inadequate tool.
Hear, hear! I remember my trip to the ER to have stitches after a cheapo socket slipped on a bolt, sending my hand into a sheet-metal edge. If you're buying wrenches, buy quality. If you're in the US, you get to decide if you want SAE or metric. The rest of the world is sane.

The suggestions to buy what you need as you need it are good. If you buy a variety set, you'll have tools you won't use, and will still have to buy others. This does not apply to wrenches, where you should buy sets.

Many cheap lines of tools have names that you'd think mean they're American (Buffalo, etc.), but they aren't. Avoid any tool that says 'made in India'. Craftsman tools are adequate. If there's still a 'Sears' line of tools, they are lower quality, and don't have that lifetime guarantee.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:16 AM on June 6, 2005

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