Get excited for "Toolbox Tuesday!" On this day each week, we'll be outlining a tool, device, or an everyday item with a useful alternate purpose that we use or have used in our various renovation projects. If interested, you'll be able to purchase most tools from the Old Town Home Amazon Store as we'll be keeping it updated.

Since this is our first Toolbox Tuesday, I'm going to cover three small but unbelievably important tools that any homeowner can't live without.

When we purchased our home, we had little more than:
  • A few screw drivers for putting together computers
  • A small hammer from an apartment dweller's "fix it" kit
  • A pretty decent but on its last legs hammer drill that I purchased while installing a network infrastructure in my college fraternity house (it smelled like burning motor every time I used it)
  • A broken ratchet set I used as a teenager to work on my skateboard
  • And, some weird snap off utility blade type knife that I constantly seemed to be cutting myself with (I blame the poor knife design, not user error). 
As soon as I knew we were going to be moving into a home that was almost 125 years old, and one that needed a ton of TLC, my thoughts quickly moved to my tools, or rather, my complete lack of tools.

Our offer on the house was accepted before Christmas 2002, and we weren't scheduled to settle until January 17, 2003, which meant we had a major gift giving holiday that luckily fell in that span of time. Our Christmas lists quickly filled with suggestions of home improvement store gift cards, and "any tool that you have found particularly useful." The generosity and insight from our friends and relatives was wonderful, and the resulting gifts put us well on our way into home ownership with a little bit of a running start. Here are three small gifts we were given that Christmas that unexpectedly and quickly became everyday players in my arsenal of manliness.

  1. 20oz Claw Hammer
    This may sound a little bit obvious, or perhaps even elicit the expected response "I have a hammer already," but stick with me on this. The hammer is one of the most frequently used items during almost every phase of renovation. You will use it during demo in an often not so elegant manner to "suggest" a board or wall move out of your way, during basic construction or framing to drive nails into their final resting place, to set delicate finish nails in your completed work, and everywhere in-between. As a result, a high quality hammer with adequate weight, balance, and construction is essential to any amateur or professional's tool set.

    While there are specialized hammers for almost any situation, for a general purpose hammer, I love my Stanley Flat Max AntiVibe hammer. The grip is perfect for my hand, and the AntiVide setup significantly reduces the stress the hammer puts on your arm when using it. The 20oz weight is sufficient to allow the hammer and gravity work for you, and the neck is sturdy and stiff in any situation I've ever used it.

  2. 10" Prybar w/ Cat's Paw Nail Puller
    This one is a bit less obvious but just as crucial as a hammer. Wendy actually gave me my first Shark Prybar as a gift that wonderful Christmas in 2002. At first I didn't really know why or how it was one of the must have items that we would need right off the bat, but within about 45 minutes of owning the house, the prybar and I were working to remove carpeting from the stairs, get behind paint covered cable wiring, and adding the hammer as a trio, to remove shoe molding from baseboards throughout the house.

    While much smaller than the large prybars you can find, the 10" model is the perfect hand tool size. The very sharp and flat end of this prybar is amazing for getting into tight spots to remove molding, getting behind and removing drywall, or lifting cabinets to nudge them into position. The steel is durable and takes quite a beating before you start to notice any dulling on the edges. The smaller format makes it ideal to stick in your tool box or bucket so it is always on hand.

    Beyond the prybar capabilities of this wonder, one essential aspect of this tool is the "cats paw" nail puller end. Over the years I've used this as often as the prybar side of the tool. The cats paw lets you get in behind the set nail to begin pulling it out of its home. This is great for demo where you want to be a little less destructive, or for removal of the errant placed nail.

    I used my original 2002 prybar so much that this past Christmas Wendy actually gave me a replacement. Now I always have one available, though I only break out the new one when the old one isn't sharp or crisp enough. I want to keep it nice and clean and pretty.

  3. 25' Tape Measure
    Perhaps another "duh" item, but don't jump to conclusions. Today there are tapes with levels built right in, anywhere from 15' to 50' tapes, rigid tapes, compact tapes, auto tapes, laser tapes, tapes that come with the entire MP3 catalog of Billy Joel pre-loaded and playing when you use it, so in a nutshell, WAY MORE TAPES THAN WE REALLY NEED! For me, the rule of the ruler -- keep it simple. You can justify uses for all of that other stuff as needed, but really, when you are trying to arm yourself with the best possible tools, stick to the tried and true.

    I own a Stanley 25' Fat Max 1 1/4" Tape Measure. It is exactly what I need. The tape is wide enough to stay sturdy with long measures, the body short enough to get into tight spots, and the housing is durable enough to withstand more than its fair share of long falls due to owner clumsiness stress testing. The Fat Max is the perfect width for my liking, as it feels substantial while you are using it. It can sit on its bottom and stay stable, but isn't too large to weigh you down when in your pock or on your belt. Do your self a favor, keep the simple stuff simple.

    So remember, there's plenty of room for sharks with fricken "lasers" attached to their miter saws, but the simple tools that work well should not be complicated unnecessarily. Did I just say that? How unlike me.

There you have it, three items I absolutely must have in my toolbox on just about any project. What are some of the tools you use on a daily basis that you might be lost without?

Comments 2


4/26/2011 at 10:37 PM
I've found many uses for a good 5-in-1 tool. It also combines very well with a hammer. I think I tend to use that where you use the prybar.
I have to say, the 5-in-1 tool is pretty amazing as well. I use it pretty extensively for intricate paint removal. The flat area lends itself to the broad scraping, while the smaller points work with with the detailed molding. I know they say 5-in-1, but it is really far more than just "5".
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