Using the right tool always makes the job go faster and easier. But how do you know if the tool is right for the job? For example, DIYers often use pliers instead of a socket or wrench to loosen nuts and bolts. That works sometimes. Other times, you’ll round off the shoulders on the nut or bolt and turn a relatively simple job into a nightmare.
To help you select the right tool, we’ve compiled a list of four popular tool categories and listed the recommended uses for each one. No need to memorize. Just print out this page and keep it in your workshop or toolbox for handy reference.
- Slip-joint pliers: Use slip-joint pliers to bend, pull, crimp and hold items, and to rotate low-torque items. But don’t use standard slip-joint pliers to remove rusted hex or square fasteners or plumbing components. The small jaws can slip and damage the fasteners. Use a wrench, socket or water pump pliers instead. Slip-joint pliers come in 6″, 8″ and 10″ lengths. The 8″ version is the best length for most household repairs and projects.
- Water pump pliers: Water pump pliers (also called tongue and groove pliers) allow you to choose between six or seven maximum jaw widths. Because they open so wide, they’re far more versatile than standard slip-joint pliers. Plus, the longer handles and angled jaws provide more leverage, so they squeeze tighter with less physical effort. Use water pump pliers when you need wider jaws or more squeezing and turning force than regular slip-joint pliers. If you repair plumbing, choose a model with arc-shaped jaws. That style can double as a pipe wrench, locking on tighter as you apply more force. If you only own one pair of pliers, make it a 10″ arc-jaw water pump pliers.
- Long-nose pliers: Long-nose pliers (also called needle-nose pliers) is the best tool to remove and install small fasteners and retaining clips. It’s also great for grabbing items in recessed spaces or for bending wire and maneuvering small objects into place. However, don’t use long-nose pliers to rotate fasteners or any object that offers resistance—the thin jaws can’t handle much rotational force. For maximum versatility, buy an 8″ long-nose pliers with a built-in wire cutter.
A utility knife is a required tool for every DIYer and crafter. The most common style has a blade with two cutting edges. That works fine if you’re cutting just a few pieces of thin materials. But if you’re cutting coarse blade-dulling materials, or making lots of cuts, a knife with only a two-edged blade will require frequent blade changes. Constant blade changing slows work down, which gets tiresome on large projects. That’s when many users continue using a blade beyond its useful life. Bad idea. Dull blades rip and tear, so you wind up with rough edges or damaged material. Worse yet, dull blades are more dangerous to the user. That can ruin your project and cost you more.
The OLFA® 18mm Heavy-Duty Utility Knife with Snap-Off Blade is a better choice. The sturdy metal channel holds a replaceable seven-segment snap-and-go blade. When the blade dulls, simply snap off the dull segment and keep right on working. The OLFA 18mm Heavy-Duty Utility Knife does all the work of an ordinary two-edge utility knife, but it does it faster, safer (your blade is always sharp) and with less hassle. Plus, it’s more cost-effective.
Wrench sets are available in three styles: open end, box end and combination (open on one end, box on the other). Open-end wrench sets are the cheapest, but they’re also the least useful. Since a box-end wrench applies force equally to all six corners of the hex-nut or bolt head, you can put all your muscle into the job without risking damage the fastener. If you use an open-end wrench to do the same job, you’ll instantly round the shoulders of the nut or bolt head. But there are applications, primarily when working in tight spaces, where you need an open-end wrench. To get the best of both worlds, buy a combination wrench set. If you encounter a stubborn nut/bolt situation where the bolt head turns with the nut, hold the bolt head with a box wrench and turn the nut with a socket and ratchet.
And, one very important warning: Never slip a cheater pipe over a wrench to gain more leverage, and never use a wrench as a pry tool. The hardened steel can shatter, causing serious injury.
Sockets are the “go-to” tool for removing and installing nuts and bolts. In fact, you can complete most household repair and furniture assembly projects with an inexpensive set of 1/4″ and 3/8″ drive sockets and matching ratchets. However, if you remove large fasteners found on cars, trucks, trailers and engines, you’ll need a 1/2″ ratchet and sockets.
To speed up fastener installation and removal, buy a set of hex-to-square drive adapters for your battery-powered drill. Load the hex adapter end into the drill chuck and mount the socket on the square end. Set the drill to its lowest torque setting and spin the nuts on using the slowest drill speed. Stop when the drill clutch slips. Don’t try to torque the fasteners with the drill. Do that by hand to prevent stripping the threads.
If you need more leverage, don’t slide a cheater pipe over a ratchet handle. Buy a longer ratchet or a breaker bar instead. As with wrenches, applying extra force with a cheater pipe can shatter the ratchet handle or socket, causing serious injury.
TIPS FROM THE PROS
How to use a water pump pliers as a pipe wrench:
- As you face the end of the pipe, place the jaw opening to the left and turn clockwise to tighten. Reverse the jaws and turn counterclockwise to loosen.
Pro hammer tips
- Buy a hammer with a fiberglass handle. It has a more comfortable grip and lasts much longer than a wood handle. To avoid wrist fatigue, swing the hammer with your arm, not your wrist.
Pro wrench tips
- Buy a set of ratcheting combination wrenches instead of the fixed style. The ratcheting feature speeds up nut and bolt removal and installation.
Pro socket tips
- When working on a nut and bolt, hold the head with a wrench and turn the nut with a socket and ratchet. That requires far less force than turning the bolt head.
Pro utility knife tip
- To slice through thick materials like insulation, load the OLFA 18mm Heavy-Duty Utility Knife with a solid L-SOL blade. Extend the blade fully and cut through thick materials with a single slice, using a wood board as your straight edge.