In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
Selective Tool Shopping
Mar 08, 2009
I admire and envy mechanics who have toolboxes filled with complete sets of every imaginable socket and wrench. I confess I have full racks of metric wrenches and sockets from 8 through 32 mm, and standard wrenches and sockets from 3/8 through 1 1/4 inches. But after that things get sketchy.
For example, I have only 5 impact wobble sockets: 10, 13, 15, 18 and 24 mm. Those are the sizes most often used on the equipment I work on, and I couldn't justify paying to have 9, 11, and other odd-sized metric wobble sockets that I'd rarely use.
I've done the same thing with 3/4 and 1-inch drive impact sockets. The price of a full set of those sockets, from 1 1/14 through 2 1/2 inches, or their metric equivalents, will just about stop your heart. So I went cheap again and purchased only the sizes that I use frequently. My rule is that if I need a socket or wrench more than three times in a year, then I need to buy one. The result is that my toolbox is a ugly hodge-podge of wrenches and sockets from dozens of manufacturers. But they seem to get the job(s) done.
I confess to buying complete sets of angle-head wrenches and crowfoot wrenches. Angle-head wrenches are wrenches with a conventional 15-degree open-end wrench at one end, and the same size open end wrench at the other end of the handle, but at a 90-degree angle. Crowfoot wrenches look like the cut-off ends of conventional open-end wrenches, with square holes at the base of the wrench head. By putting a 3/8- or 1/2-inch drive extension in that square hole, you can reach way back into odd cavities and awkward spots to deal with nuts and fittings impossible to access with conventional flat wrenches or sockets. Engineers seem to enjoy using odd-sized fittings and nuts in the most remote or awkward places. I compromised and bought economy-grade, off-brand sets of angle-head and crowfoot wrenches, so I'd have tools to fit all those odd-sized engineering surprises.
I'd really enjoy having matched sets of every possible socket and wrench. It would be cool to have neat rows of sockets and wrenches in graduated sizes, all of the same brands. But I've managed to save money by buying only the sizes of specialty tools I use most often, and learned to accept the junky, uneven appearance of my toolbox. Some of my co-workers call me "cheapskate" or "tightwad." I consider those terms compliments.