No matter how basic your DIY aspirations, life is better with at least a few good implements.
Got a kitchen drawer to stock with tools?
Here are my picks for pliers and wrenches that you’ll use again and again.
Locking pliers (generically called ‘vise grips’ after the brand that made them famous) are the king of home improvement pliers. They combine the ability to grip a range of shapes, with the power to click shut while maintaining jaw pressure all by itself. Start with a pair of standard, flat-jaw vise grips, then add other jaw stiles if needed.
Needlenose pliers are named for long, thing jaws that let you sneak into small spaces and hold gently items that are too small for fingers. The most useful size includes jaws that are three- to four-inches long, with wire cutter edges built in near the swivel point. You can add larger or smaller versions as needed.
If you’ve never owned a pair of channel lock pliers, you’re in for a treat. The big attraction is their ability to grip a huge range of different sized objects, from nothing up to three or four inches wide, depending on the design.
Until recently, channel locks have remained the same for years, but now there’s one innovation in particular that’s worth looking for. The best models include a spring-loaded centre swivel that positively locks the jaws into one of half a dozen different size ranges.
Unlike older-style channel locks that can slip into larger positions accidentally during use, these new ones always grip tight. When you want to select a larger range of jaw movement, just push the pivot button inward, open or close the jaws to the new range, then release the button to lock the tool.
Adjustable wrenches are made for light-duty jobs involving nuts and bolts on simple machines and plumbing parts. They do an excellent job as long as you respect the limitations of the tool.
A thumb wheel opens or closes the jaws, allowing you to grip small, medium and large size nuts and bolts, depending on the size of the adjustable wrench you’ve got. Just remember two things: only use adjustables that are in good condition with crisp, flat jaws; and never use them where a lot of force is required. What adjustables offer in versatility, they take back in strength.
If you’ve got more than a little work to do with nuts and bolts, a set of socket wrenches will prove useful.
Sizes vary, but all sets include a wrench handle, an assortment of detachable sockets to fit different nuts and bolts, and a couple of extensions. These snap in place between the wrench handle and the sockets, extending the reach of the tool into deeper places.
All socket wrench handles are made to apply twisting force to either loosen or tighten nuts and bolts, depending on the position of a button or lever at the top of the handle.
If you’re just starting off, buy a 3/8-inch socket set. This measurement refers to the size of the square drive recess in the base of each socket. If you regularly deal with small nuts and bolts, consider adding a 1/4-inch drive set.
All socket sets are sized to fit either Imperial (measured in fractions of an inch) or metric fasteners (described in millimeters).
Imperial will probably be the most useful to you, unless you’ve got some imported metric stuff to maintain. You can always add metric sockets to your collection as you need them. Either way, both types fit onto the same 1/4- or 3/8-inch socket handles and extensions.
There are many more pliers and wrenches in the world, but these will give you a good start.
Buy name brand tools with a lifetime warranty and you’ll always be able to count on them.
Steve Maxwell is Canada’s award-winning home improvement expert, and technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine. Sign up for his free homeowner newsletter at www.stevemaxwell.ca