As a future technician, you will need to invest your hard-earned money in hand tools that will provide you with years of flawless service. So, if longevity in a hand tool is paramount, what other factors should you consider before buying? Some questions you’ll need to ask include: What warranty comes with the tool? Is it guaranteed for life? My life or the tool’s life? Is it important for me to have a tool dealer come to me, or do I have time to spend at the store or on the Internet to shop for the best tool for the job? Are there certain special features that one tool has that makes is superior to another?
Experience is a Great Teacher
When I started wrenching in my teens, I purchased many low-cost wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers and socket sets; I had a very eclectic mix of tools from parts stores, major department stores and my local flea market. When I cracked a socket or stripped a screwdriver, I returned to the store where I purchased the tool to trade it in for my free replacement, if the tool had a warranty. As the trips to the store became more frequent, I decided to take advantage of the tool trucks that came to our shop each week. This saved me from driving to the store for tool purchase and replacement, but then I spent a portion of my work time on “the truck.”
But how do you know if a tool will be durable? You’ll hear it through the grapevine. If a tool vendor sells you a tool that fails, that word would spread by word-of-mouth. The tool dealer has a reputation to protect and they can’t maintain good standing with you if they sell poor-quality tools.
Quality and Value
The old adage “You get what you pay for” certainly holds true for tool purchases. I have yet to run across a professional technician who would use an off-brand tool in place of its higher-quality counterpart, regardless of price.
This is where value comes in. Tool breakage is one concern for techs, but fastener damage is another. Can my “X” brand tool remove a fastener that my “Y” brand tool can’t? Yes. Innovation in tool design has given birth to sockets that grip a bolt-head with greater surface contact, resulting in a fastener that won’t strip as easily. Some open-end wrenches are also designed so they won’t round-off fasteners, and are able to access tighter areas. The best screwdrivers have knurled and coated tips to give the best possible grip between the screw and the driver.
Value also happens when a tool dealer rebuilds or replaces a ratchet, or replaces a worn-out screwdriver tip to keep you up-n-running.
It Just Feels Right
For technicians, a tool that is ergonomically designed will allow the user to transfer strength more efficiently, reducing stress and fatigue on the user’s body. Injury risk factors that are addressed by ergonomics are:
- The force required to grip a bolt or a fastener;
- Concentrated contact stress on your palm while using the tool;
- Vibration or temperature exposure during tool use; and
- Posture and joint deviation of the tech while using the tool.
Ergonomics, when applied to pliers, for example, has resulted in pistol-grip-style handles that produce higher torque with less effort. Some screwdrivers also include this innovative design. Many screwdrivers, ratchets and pliers also have soft-grip handles that prevent slippage and reduce hand strain. Some tool manufacturers study the measurement of the human body, called anthropometry, to provide the perfect hand fit for tools, and further use this data to design optimal thermal and vibration insulation. Consider the fit and the “feel” of a tool before you purchase it. A high-quality wrench can be easier to use with less body stress than a cheaper model.
One owner of a tool manufacturing business I spoke with said that technicians love new ideas. The business owner went on to explain that he has mobile repair guys in California that are in the trenches every day, and when they come up with an innovative tool idea, he has one of his tool makers produce a prototype. One such idea was a 17-inch, double box-end wrench with no offset that allowed technicians to get into tight areas on transverse engines. Another idea that has revolutionized the wrench industry is a gear wrench – a combination wrench that has a thin-walled, ratcheting box-end wrench with 72 teeth for use in tight spaces. That means you can catch a new tooth every five degrees of arc when you’re swinging the wrench – a feature that is imperative when working in the confines of a front-wheel-drive compact car. This style of wrench is much thinner than the ratcheting box-end wrenches that have been around for awhile. Also available are low-profile sockets and driver bits that will fit into the 72 tooth box-end for more versatility.
Looking to request tools for graduation? Here are some of the latest innovations that will aid your work as a tech.
- Mechanics gloves which came out of the racing industry several years ago. These gloves are solvent resistant, made from nitrile, have good dexterity and won’t rip.
- The new 12 LED flashlights that use three ‘D’ cell batteries. These LED flashlights can be left on for hours with no loss of light intensity. If used continuously, the light’s intensity will began to fade after seven or eight days, but it was still burning after 25 days. The bulbs also have a 100,000-hour life-span.
- New designed floor jacks that have aluminum frames, which make them strong, and nylon wheels, that keep them quiet.
- A spring-loaded spark plug retainer on one side to retain the spark plug while installing – a different spin from the normal rubber plug.
Techs As Surgeons
As technicians, our tools are to us as surgical instruments are to surgeons. We command high-quality, well-fitting tools that will last a long time and have a guarantee if they break. Do your homework and invest in the best tool for your body and your job.
Don’t MisHandle Your Tools
According to figures released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it is estimated that emergency treatments of injuries due to the misuse of hand tools number approximately 150,000 each year. Many of these injuries can be prevented if tool users know how to use hand tools properly and safely. The Hand Tools Institute is dedicated to educating hand tool users in the safe and proper use of non-powered hand tools.
What are the worst things a person can do when using hand tools? The Hand Tools Institute found safety to be its members’ biggest concern with hand tools:
- Failure to wear safety goggles or safety glasses with sideshields while using hand tools. Eye injuries are considered the most traumatic of the many thousands of hand tool accidents that are reported yearly by the safety commission.
- Using the wrong tool for the job – such as using a tack hammer for driving a spike or hand maul to drive a finishing nail.
- Right tool, improper use. Even the best-made tool will botch a job when used improperly.
- Improper tool maintenance. A worn tip on a screwdriver can result in a gashed hand. Similarly, a loose or damaged handle can turn a hammerhead into a deadly flying object.
- Overworking a tool’s capabilities. The most common error probably is to use a “cheater bar” to increase the leverage of a wrench. This can result in serious injury.
- Striking one tool with another. Certain tools are made to strike other specific tools or materials. Use only the proper striking tools for these jobs. Don’t use a wrench to drive a nail. For more information, contact the Hand Tools Institute at www.HTI.org.