Best multiple-use tools?
December 1, 2014 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Which hand tools that are made to singly perform the function of a set are worth not just having on hand, but actually replacing the set they attempt to cover for? For a tradesman, for a DIYer, for a weekend warrior, for a fumble-fingered homeowner. (Examples: adjustable wrench, ratcheting dogbone, multi-bit screwdriver) Tell us your favorites!

I have, carry, and frequently use a multitool. It's great for just that - something to (nearly) EDC as a make-do for when I don't have "the right tool" at hand. But a multitool is generally a collection of tools that each don't work quite as well as the tool purpose-made for that particular use.

There are also tools that are not Leatherman/Gerber style multitools, but are intended to replace a set of tools of the same type. Crescent makes a ratcheting tool that adjusts to various socket sizes, and thus is (theoretically) able to replace a whole set of sockets and separate wrench. Dogbone wrenches, in different styles (ratcheting and non-), similarly aim to stand in for a number of individual wrench sizes. Multi-bit screwdrivers offer a huge variety of end shapes, all able to be fitted to a single handle.

I'm seeking recommendations, for types of tools as well as specific brands/models, that would allow one to replace a whole set of [whatever] with a single tool, and not miss the set. There will always be some folks who legitimately need 38 different types, sizes, and lengths of screwdriver. But for occasional use, or more frequent use, or even professional heavy-duty every-workday use, what tools have you found to be sufficient to cover a range of size or type needs?
posted by attercoppe to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
On one hand, as you note, multi-tools make-do for some jobs, but you also allude to the right tool -- as shopmaster says, you use the right tool for the job.

Because of that, I've found all space saver or multi-tool types are deficient compared to using the right tool for the job. That's how you end up with 38 different screwdrivers/bits.
posted by k5.user at 11:44 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

what tools have you found to be sufficient to cover a range of size or type needs?

Honestly, very few.

One of those few would be an electrician's multi-tool, or maybe it's called a wire pliers, with which you can do almost all the tasks you'd need to rewire an outlet or do other home wiring. You can cut and strip wire and cable, grip wire for pulling it, crimp various size connectors, cut screws to length, put a loop in your wire and a couple other things. I have one that is sized to strip 14/2 or 12/2 Romex and it really comes in handy when I'm doing any home wiring. That, a tester, and a screwdriver will fit in your back pocket and will be all you need to do some basic work. Obviously, you need to know what you're doing as well.

I'm not generally a fan of multi-tools in my shop, I prefer to use the right tool for whatever I'm doing, that includes a full range of various screwdrivers. But around the house, like in a kitchen drawer, I'll keep a multi-bit ratcheting screwdriver with a few bits stored in the handle. Very handy when you need to tighten something real quick.

Ditto having proper wrenches and sockets, though I think having a dogbone wrench would be handy in that same kitchen drawer.

I speak as someone fortunate enough to have a basement and space for a large collection of tools I started 30 years ago and as someone who uses those tools quite a bit. I think if you're lacking space or only need tools occasionally, multi-tools would suite you well.

An entrenching tool is a good multi-tool to keep in the car.

Also, every human being should be issued a rechargeable drill/driver and a set of drill and driver bits upon leaving their parents house. If you don't have one yet, get one. I guess they can be considered multitools.
posted by bondcliff at 12:06 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I like the "6 in 1" style screwdrivers (two flippable bits inside a two different hex drive shaft that takes those bits), with good bits in them I like them even more than dedicated screwdrivers. I hate the ones that just take the changeable bits, the screw end and losable parts and breakable cap always fail for me.

I have "fencing pliers" which have cutting and crimping and twisting bits, and even claw and hammer face, that are awesome for situations where the compromises for one tool are worth it because there's less stuff to keep track of when you're out in the foliage or tall grass.

Other than that, I can't think of any multi-purpose tool that I'll grab out of my shop if I have a single one available. I was actually just musing this weekend that my Festool C12, for all of the coolness of the various Centrotec chucks, is often not the first drill/driver I'll reach for because the basic generic chuck often gets lost in the bucket of tools where one of my other drill/drivers with a basic chuck is in one piece.
posted by straw at 12:09 PM on December 1, 2014

I love my Knipex Cobra adjustable "water pump" pliers. Cool Tools talks about the tool here.
posted by exogenous at 12:13 PM on December 1, 2014

There's a tool that painters refer to as simply a "four-in-one" that can be used as a scraper/putty knife, a tool for sloughing liquid off of a paint roller, a pry bar, and maybe a mallet. It's generally as good at these tasks as one-trick ponies.
posted by adamrice at 12:14 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

It doesn't completely replace every possible screwdriver permutation, but this screwdriver is the one I carry every day and I very rarely have to go out to the car for something more specialized. Switching bits literally takes about two seconds, you never take the bit out in normal use so it can't be lost, and they're standard 1/4" screwdriver bits so you can easily load your own custom assortment. It works as well as any interchangeable-bit driver so the shaft is sometimes too thick for recessed screws and sometimes you just really need an angle driver, but other than that it's magical.
posted by contraption at 12:21 PM on December 1, 2014

SwitchGrip Pliers. I mean, they only multitask being pliers/wire strippers/cutters, which is a pretty common multitasking, but they cover a broad range of sizes in a single tool, and I would never stock a toolbox without them. Also, they're nearly indestructable.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:27 PM on December 1, 2014

As far as multi-head screwdrivers go, IME the most important attribute is A Sturdy, Closeable Carrying Container. I have a bright orange, plastic one with a sliding latch, over ten years old. I still have every single driver head that belongs in it (along with the handle and extension tube), and just used the Torx (star) heads yesterday. 4,000 different heads are of no use after the one you want drops out of the open-air holder on the front of the handle (or can't be found in the drawer full of loose parts).

This advice also extends (IMO) to socket sets, although there SIZE LABELS I CAN READ IN THE GRIME AND IFFY LIGHT UNDER MY CAR would be a goddamn miracle. Just sayin'.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:34 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the basis of this review, I got the MegaPro 13-in-1 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver. I'm sure other screwdrivers can do the same job for half the price, but it's truly a pleasure to use. Even as a pretty light user, I think the extra $20 will be well worth it over time.

Other Sweethome tool recommendations (wrench, pliers, etc.) are here.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:56 PM on December 1, 2014

This sears screwdriver has been a champ for years.
posted by sammyo at 2:53 PM on December 1, 2014

The last precision hand-tool set you'll ever need for electronics and other small things.

I recently got this and it's completely replaced a bin full of tiny screwdrivers that I was constantly misplacing, as well as providing things that I didn't have to begin with (ie: pentalobe bits for more recent Apple devices). Wiha makes things of exceptional quality; the box is very solid feeling, and the foam holds the bits firmly enough that I can just toss the box into a bag without worrying about things falling loose.
posted by strangecargo at 2:59 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Adjustable wrenches are generally awful; however, I've owned an 8" Diamalloy wrench for years, and it actually works almost as well as a proper open-end wrench. Unfortunately it looks like they don't make them any more (surprise, surprise) but there seem to be a few on ebay.

I also find the 4-in-1 screwdrivers they sell at Ace Hardware to be pretty good - if the bit is the size you need, they are about as good as a regular screwdriver.

Also, it never hurts to have a pair of Vice-Grips. More in the line of your leatherman, but they can be very handy (albeit frequently at the expense of marring the part they're applied to)
posted by mr vino at 3:40 PM on December 1, 2014

I am quite fond of my gator grip bit, the universal socket that goes on my drill. I use it for lag bolts, hooks, and to tighten the eyes on the christmas tree stand. It lives in my drill case.
posted by mearls at 6:36 PM on December 1, 2014

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