I had to run by Sears yesterday (big mistake due to the huge Christmas crowds but I digress) and my nephew happened to be accompanying me. Of course we got waylaid in the tool department as we were pulled by the siren song of the Craftsman tool section. My nephew being young (and not yet having a family to divert his money) was maybe minutes away from breaking out his wallet and parting with his hard-earned cash for a 260-piece mechanic's tool set. No matter that he isn't a mechanic. No matter that he lives in a very, very small apartment. No matter that the biggest repairs he makes are simple fixes that require at most a screwdriver and maybe a hammer. It was at this point that I broke into my tool buying spiel. Here's the high points:
- If you are young, don't look at a much older person's tool collection and think you have to match them. The person has had probably thirty extra years over you in which to collect his tools.
- Buy tools as you need them. I know how exciting the tool displays look at the store. They make you want to buy. They make you dream of projects there is no way you will ever do. If you need a tool, buy the tool that you need for the particular project you are working on. If you just moved into your first place and need to hang pictures, buy a hammer, a level, and perhaps a drill.
- Buy only what you need. Many tool sets come with thirty screwdrivers when at most, you probably only need four. Don't be wooed into thinking you need every conceivable size of the same tool when you only need a few sizes to cover all of your bases.
- Buy quality tools on sale. Don't waste your money on crappy, cheap tools. I know tools can seem expensive which leads to the second part--buy them on sale. And yes, if I need a hammer and there is a sale pack that includes three different sizes for a good prices, I will buy the three pack.
- Build up your tool collection over the years. I learned this from my granddad who had a massive collection of tools, which he used every day. He was by no means rich so it took literally decades to build up his collection as he bought each tool one at a time. The interesting part is nearly each tool had a story to go along with it. One tool he used when he was working on the Fremont bridge in Portland. One tool he won in a bet. One tool was given to him by his dad...you get the picture.
- Take care of your tools and keep them organized. Tools can last forever if you take care of them (ie: store them properly and wipe them down after use). Also, if you keep your tools organized you will always know where they are and won't run out to buy a tool again and again because you can't find where you left it.
- Consider the project you are working on and whether it would make more sense to borrow or rent the tool. If a particular tool is very expensive or if the tool is so specialized that you will probably only need to use it once or twice in your lifetime, consider borrowing the tool from a friend or neighbor or renting it from the local rental place.
- Start out with the basics and move on from there. Most people who do very little actual mechanical work only need the most basic of tool sets: big Phillips screwdriver, small Phillips screwdriver, big flat-head screw driver, small flat-head screwdriver, maybe a socket set (standard and metric), a couple of adjustable wrenches, a hammer, pliers, measuring tape, box knife, tin snips, etc. Obviously if you move into more specialized projects (car repair, plumbing, carpentry) you will need to expand your tool repertoire to meet your needs.
Buying tools is a fun things to do. Tools hold their value and of course are useful but don't feel like you need to break the bank in order to have a stellar set of tools to meet every conceivable preparedness need.