In The Shop: Simple Special Tools
Jul 03, 2011
I'm guilty of associating price with value when it comes to tools. In many cases, cheaper tools have more value and usefulness than pricey tools.
For example, one of the best impulsive tool purchases I ever made was to buy at a discount tool store a set of cheapie center punches. They range from 3 inches long and 3/8-inch in diameter, to 6 inches long and 1-inch in diameter. The thing is, I rarely use them as center punches. Instead, they have proven invaluable as alignment punches when I'm trying to align holes but don't have room for traditional long-shanked punches. Their short, tapered shafts have saved the day many times for me. If I ever get back to that particular discount tool store, and they have another set of center punches in a range of sizes---I'm buying a duplicate set.
The same goes for a set of cheap cold chisels I bought. As chisels, they're virtually useless--too soft, easily dulled. But after I intentionally blunted the tips of a few of them, I have a nice set of seal drivers. Yes, it's better to use an actual seal driver tool to minimize damage to seals or bearings during installation, but...sometimes location of the bearing or housing makes use of a real seal driver impossible. And that's when my cheapie set of blunted cold chisels have repaid their purchase price, many times.
I have railed several times in this blog against cheap screwdrivers with soft tips. I'm a fanatic about keeping my screwdrivers' tips square and unmarred. But, uh, I admit that I have an odd assortment of discount store screwdrivers in my tool box that have been intentionally modified into very useful tools. They didn't cost much, and never had much value as actual screwdrivers, but with their tips bent or twisted, they serve nicely as single-use tools that save time and effort.
I'm not a tool snob. I like cheap tools. But I like them not for what they were designed, but for what I use them. That's why a few of the table knives in our kitchen drawer have gnarled tips. They were designed to spread butter on bread, but...they make acceptable screwdrivers and mini-pry bars when I'm too lazy to walk out to the garage for the real thing. That really annoys my wife, but I tell her any time she wants revenge, she can spread butter on her bread with any of my cold chisels.