Home Making

Selection and Care of Tools

THIS section contains advice in the selection of a useful tool kit, and quite a number of tools are described, but it would be wrong to give the impression that such a kit must necessarily be ambitious and therefore too expensive for the average householder. The tools need not be purchased all at once. It is, in fact, suggested that the particular tools needed for each job are bought when the occasion arises, and in this way a complete kit will be gradually built up.


To begin with, buy a hammer or rather, two hammers; first, a claw hammer. Ask the assistant at the local toolshop to show you several; try them for weight and balance, and choose one that feels comfortable. Later on purchase a light tack-hammer with a wedge end. The two, together, cost only a few shillings.

It is advisable to see that they bear the brand or trade mark of a recognized tool maker, and to examine the wedging, where the head is secured to the handle, to make sure that the steel wedges are firmly driven home and show no signs of splitting the wood. Finally, when using a hammer keep the striking face clean and bright. Most bruised fingers and thumbs come from using dirty hammers.


Next, purchase saws. As the prices vary and there is a wide range of qualities much depends on the amount paid. Pay just as much as can be afforded, and if it means waiting a week or two longer until it is possible to buy something really good, then wait. It may be just a matter of a shilling or two between a sweet cutting tool and strip of iron that gnaws its way painfully through its work. The hand saw comes first, and should be 24 or 26 in. long and with about 8 teeth to the inch. Look for the maker’s name, and try the saw by hand for balance. Make sure that there are at least four rivets securing the blade to the handle, an infallible sign of a good saw. If possible, get one of the skew-backed pattern.

Tenon Saw

The second need is a tenon saw, the most useful size being 12 to 14 in. Apart from a good maker’s name a brass back is the sign of quality for a tenon saw. Add to these two other useful and quite cheap types of saws, namely a keyhole saw, and a coping saw, which, generally speaking, can be utilized for everything for which a fret saw would be used.


Now for a few of the smaller items. Two screwdrivers will be required, one about 10 in. long for general work with screws of size 10 and upwards, and one much smaller for small fixtures and electric fittings. This smaller one should have an insulated handle for safety’s sake.


Three wood chisels are enough for ordinary purposes, ½ in. and ¾ in. firmer chisels and a long, thin, bevelled edge paring chisel1 ½ in. wide. When buying the heavier wood chisels, get the type which has a steel ferrule at the top of the handle so that the hammer may be used without damage to chisel handle. Other useful items include two nail sets or punches, one quite small for brads and one stout one for floor nails, etc.

Cold Chisel

A steel cold chisel will also be useful, but get a long one, say 12 in. x 1 in. The extra length will cost very little more and is essential, for instance, when cutting a hole through a wall.

Brace and Bits

A larger item is a brace with a set of bits. Get a ratchet brace, a useful feature which permits the use of this tool in restricted space. The best bits to buy at first are½ in. I’m. And in. Jennings pattern, ¾ in. and 1 in. centre bits, a rose-pattern countersink bit and two twist-drills with square shanks for boring holes for screws. These last should be ½ in. and -p,¾ in. Later on it will probably be advisable to obtain a wheel brace and a small range of drills for either wood or metal. In addition one small and one medium-sized bradawl and a strong gimlet will be necessary.

Eventually the need for a plane will arise, and it is worth while to save up until a metal one can be purchased . The smoothing plane about ioin. Long is most useful.

All tools must be carefully looked after, if the best results are to be obtained and this is especially true of cutting tools. A touch of oil saves a ton of rust, especially on saws, and tools should be kept in a rack or housed in a cabinet. Never leave them lying about on the bench. Instructions for making a tool rack will be found in the WORKSHOP EQUIPMENT paragraphs.

No cutting tool should ever be used for a minute after it has lost its edge, and though it is best to send saws to an expert to be sharpened as soon as they begin to need it, edge tools can, and should, be sharpened by their user on a good oil stone. First grade carborundum or india oil stones are to be recommended, also a bench oil can should be purchased for the lubrication of the oil stone.


No tool kit is complete without a pair of pincers and a pair of pliers. Any good tool shop will supply them.


These, like the small screwdriver, should have insulated handles, for though it is usual to switch off the power at the main when making electrical repairs and adjustments, the insulation on the pliers and screwdrivers is an additional safeguard against shocks. A pair of footprints is a useful accessory. These are a very handy type of grip which will firmly hold a pipe of any moderate diameter or any size of nut. They are invaluable, for instance, for such jobs as renewing tap washers.


There are a number of incidental jobs requiring the use of different types of files, but in general it is only necessary to purchase one ordinary flat rasp, with a quick cutting bastard face, a half round smooth file, and a small fine ward file. Buy handles for the large files.


An adjustable combination square and mitre, a most useful tool, has a wider practical application than the ordinary carpenter’s square and, if possible, it should be included in the tool kit, particularly if the handyman has much to do with woodwork design.

Builders’ and Glaziers’ Tools

For cement work, window repairs, and decorating, a special set of tools is necessary, and of these the most important are a trowel, a wooden float, a level, a putty knife, and some distemper and paint brushes. Get a 6in. Trowel, and here again the difference in price between a clumsy, badly-tempered article and a balanced and well-finished tool is very small; for, with care, a good trowel should last a lifetime. The size recommended is useful not only for cement work but for mixing and applying plaster when repairing walls before redecorating, and may be used for a dozen different jobs in the garden.

The wooden float is used for finishing off large cement surfaces like garden paths; this tool may be pur-chased, but it is simple in design and easy to make. A spirit level will be frequently needed.


For decorating jobs two good rubber-set paint brushes should be obtained, one 1 in. and one 2 in. brush, and a distemper brush for walls and ceilings. The ideal distemper brush is the two-knot type. However, these are really expensive and if the price is too high it will be found that a 4in. Rubber-set paint brush,, as an alternative will give very satisfactory results. It is certainly a better tool than a cheap distemper brush as this will probably shed bristles and disfigure the surface when used. When buying a putty knife, ensure that the blade is really springy and of finely-ground steel.

Paper-hanging Equipment

For paper-hanging a pair of paper shears are more or less essential. A paper-hanging brush, and a small roller for pressing down the joins in the lengths of paper are also needed, but alternative implements are usually available in every household. For instance, if the wallpaper edges are trimmed at the shop any subsequent scissor work may be managed with the household scissors. A clean clothes brush makes an excellent smoothing brush, and an old chair castor makes a very efficient roller.

Special Tools

The selection of extra tools chiefly depends on whether it is intended to specialize in a particular branch of work. It may be cabinet making, for instance, or metalwork and in either case special equipment will be required, but the items already mentioned will form a tool kit adequate for all the ordinary jobs about the house.

Care of Tools

If it is important to acquire a set of good tools, it is no less important to ensure they remain a set of good tools. With this in view a few notes on their proper care and maintenance are given in the following paragraphs.


New saws look very handsome with their brightly polished blades and nicely varnished handles, and every endeavour should be made to keep them so. They should be carefully housed after use with the steel protected from rust by a thin film of oil or grease. Make that one of the first jobs. Be careful when using any secondhand timber, to examine it carefully for hidden nails or screws. One touch of the saw teeth against a buried nail and away goes the keen cutting edge, and perhaps a couple of teeth. If this does happen, the saw will have to be dressed right down, and new teeth will have to be cut, set, and sharpened. Be careful too, especially when sawing with the grain of the timber to let the saw ‘carry its own weight’. That is to say, do not force the pace by undue pressure. Not only does it make hard work of the job but one awkward movement and severe lateral pressure will be brought to bear on the fine ground blade with consequent danger of buckling it.

Examine the rivets in the handles of the saws occasionally, especially during the first few months. It may be found that they have slackened because of shrinkage in the wood of the handle. Tighten them until they grip firmly again . When it is not in use stand the saw down by the side of the bench or sawing stool, by placing the handle on the ground. It will then be far less likely to get knocked down or to fall over than it would if the handle were uppermost .


About the only thing to be careful of, apart from keeping the hammer clean, is any tendency on the part of the head to become loose on the handle. This is easily corrected in the following manner. Give the butt of the handle a sharp blow to drive it up into the head. Then take a nail punch and give the steel wedge which secures the hammer head a couple of taps. This will send the head of the wedge below the surface of the wood which will now be protuding a little. The head will now be firm again and all that remains to be done is flush off the protruding eighth of an inch or so of the handle. This trouble is only likely to happen while the hammer is still fairly new and the wood of the handle liable to shrink. An alternative is to soak the hammer head in water for a few hours.


There is not a lot to be said about the care of screwdrivers. Do not overstrain the screwdriver by using it on screws which are far too big for it. This is a common fault, particularly when dealing with a screw which has been in place for a long time an«5 may be rusted in. The business end should be kept clean and in proper shape. Do not bang the wooden handle with a hammer or burr the bottom end of the blade. If, occasionally, a stubborn screw has to be dealt with, tap the handle with a mallet to jar away any rust from the screw head and apply a little oil to soak in the surrounding wood. Good quality drivers are made from hardened steel. A ratchet screwdriver is a boon because it avoids the necessity of removing the blade from the screw slot every half turn. Although this tool is not absolutely essential it may well be added as a useful extra when the main tool kit has been collected. On the question of length, use a long driver for large screws, and a much shorter one for small work. A screwdriver blade to 14, fit the carpenter’s brace is useful for large screws; if the brace has a ratchet action the latter should be put into operation so as to enable the effort to be applied more gradually. Always use a screwdriver which is suitable to the width and size of the slot in the head of the screw. Never use a screwdriver as a cold chisel, and never make the end of it red hot for any purpose and so destroy its temper.

Brace and Bits

Excepting occasional oiling the brace will not call for much in the way of maintenance, but the bits will amply repay careful handling. Store them in a bit roll. A bit roll is simply a length of green baize sewn into pockets, backed with stout canvas or other suitable material and finished with a strap or length of tape with which to tie it into a roll. The bits will lie quite snugly in these pockets with no danger of their cutting edges being spoiled by coming into contact with other tools. Use great care when boring into anything but new timber, to avoid meeting hidden nails, etc. and every now and then overhaul the whole collection, sharpening the cutting edges where necessary with the small ward file. Until accuracy is acquired in this sharpening process, be very careful to follow exactly the correct angle of these edges as they were left by the tool-maker.

Boring Tools

The gimlet and the gimlet-pointed brace bits are the proper tools for making holes for screws. Bits of two different diameters for any given screw are required; one to make the hole for the shank, and another (smaller) one to cut the hole for the threaded part. In hardwood, use a twist drill for the larger hole; such drills, with a square-taper shank, are made especially for wood, and have a point with a different angle from the metalworker’s drill. A frctworker’s Archimedean drill is very satisfactory for small work, enabling holes to be made quickly and accurately. Countersinking in wood is effected by a rose bit in a brace, but small diameter holes can be countersunk with a twist drill of suitable diameter, giving it only a few turns. Sometimes a screw has to be let in below the surface, and the recess plugged with a piece of round wood afterwards. In this case the operation is called counterboring. Begin by making the larger hole (with, say, a ¾ in. or½ in. twist bit or centre bit); then continue with the hole for the shank to the proper depth, and finish with the smaller hole for the worm. If the order is reversed, it will be found difficult to centralize the ¾ in. or -¾ in. bit, and a ragged hole will result at the top.

Sharpening edge tools

These consist of chisels, plane irons, and other such cutting tools, and when purchased from the shop they will be ground but not sharpened. The first thing to do is to sharpen them. Pour a few drops of oil on the oil stone. Now lay the chisel or plane iron with the bevel of the cutting edge flat on the stone . Then lift it very slightly until it is at a reasonably correct angle for sharpening. Move the tool backwards and forwards on the stone, maintaining a steady pressure and keeping the angle of the cutting edge to the stone quite constant. Now turn the tool over and lay it flat on the stone, and in this position rub it up and down a few times. The reason for this second part of the sharpening operation, is to remove the tiny burr of metal which is formed at the extremity of the cutting edge.

Most professionals finish the whole process by stropping the tool on the palm of the left hand. This is a dangerous business for the amateur but the same smooth keen finish may be obtained by stropping the edge of the tool on a simple leather strop . The whole operation will take only a very few minutes, unless the tool has been used long after it has become dull or it has been struck on metal (a hidden nail, for instance) and a notch has been made. In this case, continue the steady even rubbing until the edge is ground away beyond the extent of the damage. If it is deeply notched send it away to be ground. Most tool shops provide a two or three day service for grinding tools and sharpening saws.

Adjusting a Plane

The adjustment of the plane presents no difficulty if it is a metal one. Lateral adjustment is by a touch of the thumb on a small lever which protrudes above the top of the plane iron, and the coarseness of the cut by a knurled wheel at the back of the frog or base in which the plane iron rests.

The only other adjustment is the opening and closing of the mouth of the plane by means of two set screws in the metal casting which forms the bed of the plane. This will be secured by the manufacturer and should not be moved. One word of warning about the metal plane; its one drawback is the brit-tleness of the casting. It just will not stand being dropped. So never leave it where a careless movement of the elbow may knock it down. Also, when putting it aside for a moment, lay it on its side and avoid the danger of damaging the keen cutting edge on a chisel or a handful of nails. For the same reason, turn back the adjusting screw until the cutting edge is quite withdrawn when the plane is no longer required.

Secondhand tools

In buying secondhand tools the reader must be cautious. Badly worn wooden planes, for instance, will have been reduced in depth, so that the mouth has become widened, squares, for example, may be out of truth. But apart from this, a tool that has been well cared for may be bought with safety. Some of the more common moulding planes, rebate planes, spokeshaves and bull nose planes etc. may often be bought cheaply secondhand. In buying a used brace see that the chuck grips the bit properly, and that the ratchet (if any) functions as it should. In buying a secondhand saw, exceptional care is needed; in fact, it is not too much to say that such tools as saws and chisels should, if possible, be purchased on the advice of a craftsman.

Never buy secondhand files. They are occasionally offered for sale in markets, but a spent file is worthless. Sometimes files are revived by treatment with acid or by sand blast, but they are not to be recommended. New files are so cheap, and last so long in fair use, that it is a waste of money to purchase any others.

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