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Home & Garden

The top 10 tools everyone should own

| Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007

Woodworker Jerry Wilson nails the issue of important tools.

"The best tool I have in my workshop is my brother's phone number," says

the co-owner of Wilson & McCracken Millworks, in Lawrenceville. "He gives me great help."

Wilson understands not everyone has access to that kind of hardware.

"Everyone needs one of those . . . flame thingies," says professional organizer Patty Kreamer, of Green Tree. She's talking about the long-nose lighters that have become essential for jobs such as lighting candles and charcoal grills.

Brad Arnold, of Arnold's Hardware, in Harrison, admits that a set of L-shaped Allen wrenches might not get many votes, "but there are just so many times you need them, they're hard to pass up."

Then there are the non-tool essentials that deserve a spot in the home.

"If you don't have a toilet plunger, you could be in deep trouble," says Doug Satterfield, of Rollier's Hardware, in Mt. Lebanon. "You have to have one of those around."

So with the help of those who use tools in a variety of ways, here is a top 10 list for your toolbox.

1. If I had a . . .

Most conversations about necessary tools begin with words similar to those of Ken Terwilliger, of Duncan True Value Hardware, in Jeannette.

"Well, you gotta have a hammer," he says. "A 16-ouncer. Claw hammer, of course."

There is agreement on the worth of the hammer. Its pounding power and the claw's pulling prowess make it a necessity.

Jerry Wilson looks at some needed tools with fondness, but admits they are too specific. Clamps, for instance, come in many sizes that sometimes limit their use. One that is perfect for one job might never be used again.

"But you can hit anything with a hammer," he says.

2. Not screwing around

From the legs on the picnic table to the covers on electric outlets, screws are part of everyday life. So is the need to loosen or tighten them.

"You need a screwdriver set," Arnold says. "Phillips and straight. What more can you say?"

3.Sizing up the job

It makes sense that organizer Patty Kreamer thinks so highly of having some sort of measuring device.

She's constantly trying to measure space to make sure it's being used in the most efficient manner, so some sort of tool is a must.

"You need some sort of ruler or a tape," Satterfield agrees while Arnold adds it should be 25 feet long.

Wilson gets even fussier and warns against buying cheaply. An off-brand tape measure will be harder to keep in place, he says, making the measuring job more difficult.

And mistakes likelier.

4. Nosing around

When it comes to pliers, the diminutive needle-nose variety stands up to its bigger cousins.

"You can just do so much with a needle-nose," says Paul Breisinger, who teaches a home maintenance course at the North Side campus of the Community College of Allegheny County.

He talks specifically about being able to squeeze the tool into a light socket and loosen the bottom of a bulb that has broken off.

Arnold adds, "You can do all you need with them."

5. Cut to the chase

Satterfield is nearly finished with his tool list, when he stops to consider a utility knife.

"Oh, yeah," he says with a bit of an embarrassed sigh. "You need one of them."

The utility knife is useful for jobs as simple as opening a cardboard box and as precise as cutting pieces of linoleum.

Kreamer sees utility knives coming in handy when it's time to cut those ropes around items you've moved from one place to another in your organizational efforts.

6. A little bit fancier

Most of the "tool types" in this survey are a little hesitant, but ultimately agree. A power drill is an essential piece of equipment, even if it isn't as basic as the others.

"And a minimum of 12 volts," Breisinger adds."Anything less than that won't do the job."

The other consideration is making sure to buy good bits. Wilson suggests spade bits as well as the common twist bits.

After all, as Terwilliger says, "We all have to make a hole somewhere."

7. Wired to the task

Arnold says the usefulness of wire cutters runs from the high-tech to the basic.

When you're installing the flat-screen TV and you need to trim your Monster Cable, you're going to need a sharp set.

"But you'll (also) need them for cutting off wire ties and even hold-down wraps around some heavy boxes," he says.

Wire cutters often fall into the knife category, but Kreamer points out, "It's a different kind of cutting, sometimes."

8.Getting a grip

The tools are a little different, but their functions have them sharing votes: slip-joint pliers and adjustable wrenches.

Arnold talks about how important it is to be able to have a tool that is adjustable enough for a quick change.

Breisinger says a vise grip is even better, because the size is adjustable, but the locking device gives a worker a third hand.

And we can always use an extra hand.

9. Being on the level

Many jobs hinge on the ultimate straightness of a line, so a level earns a top spot.

But Breisinger insists the old-fashioned type with the ball in fluid still is the best. That is because, he says, a laser level can be inaccurate, a problem that increases with distance.

But Wilson says a self-leveling laser device, which casts a lighted line across a surface, is the best, and most practical, way to determine a straight line.

10. A good home

Doug Satterfield and others agree a tool box is almost as important as what's in it.

"People all say we know where things are, but we're all the same," he says. "It's important to be a little organized."

He says a good set of basic tools probably will cost only $50 or $60, but that is money badly spent if the equipment is lost.

It is all part of doing a good job, Breisinger says.

"What makes a good contractor is a person who knows the steps," he says.

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