Upgrading My Hardware Tools

As part of my garage decluttering project this summer, I refactored and upgraded my hardware tools. I thought some readers might enjoy seeing the before and after pics of this part of the project, especially since it’s easy to see the changes visually.

I hadn’t personally selected or bought most of my old tools. They were almost entirely hand-me-downs from my dad and grandfather, most of them decades old. A few items I picked up at swap meets last century. The overall collection was a mishmash of ugly items with some redundancy, consisting of odds and ends that other people no longer wanted.

While most of these tools were technically functional (if I lower my standards for defining the word functional), my inner relationship with this assortment of tools was pretty blah. I typically saw this collection as ugly and disorderly baggage from the past.

Did these tools spark joy? That’s an easy no. Actually it’s an easy hell no. With few exceptions this felt like someone else’s tool collection, not really my own. So I saw an opportunity to remake this part of my life in a more deliberate way.

When I began sorting through these tools, I learned that I had 17 different hex wrenches (aka Allen wrenches) but only in 6 different sizes. I had two 10″ adjustable wrenches and two 8″ adjustable wrenches, none of which were good at holding their positions when used, so I had to keep my thumb on the adjuster when using them. I had a bunch of crusty wood chisels that I’ve never used in my life. In a long line of male relatives, apparently I’m the first who isn’t into making his own furniture.

Many items were coated in substances that were last seen in Voldemort’s rez pot… if you were to remove baby V and simmer the soupy remains into a thick sludge, smear it on tools, and then bake at 450º F for 35-45 minutes.

It’s possible that some of these tools might violate California’s Prop 65 if they were sold today, not necessarily from what they were originally made of but from whatever has coated them over the years.

Old Tools

Here are some pics of the old collection. Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys!

I remember using these small screwdrivers (below) when I built my own PC in 2004.

This old power drill’s battery keeps its charge for just a few minutes, and it’s so slow that I can only use it on drywall… maybe particle board on a good day. If I ever want to use it, I always have to charge the battery first since the battery won’t hold a charge in storage.

I’d normally feel a mild sense of dread whenever I had to use this drill, so sometimes I’d prefer to use an ancient hand-crank drill instead. That hand drill wasn’t a great choice either since it was designed for right-handers, and I’m a leftie, so I either have to use it right-handed or turn the drill in a way that feels unnatural for me. That isn’t so good for safety reasons.

Here are some old flashlights, an etcher that I’ve never used, and a plug-in drill that only takes tiny bits.

Remember when Maglites were cool? Yes – the 80s. Admittedly I bought those myself… couldn’t resist the 2-pack. And I did at least use them a lot.

I had 2 old socket wrench sets, neither of which I liked. One had a broken extender – the small metal ball bearing fell out of it, so it wouldn’t stay in place.

At the bottom of this toolbox was a gooey substance I couldn’t identify – I think that substance may have moved by itself one time, and I’m pretty sure it would emit light on Tuesdays.

I didn’t love these old metal toolboxes, but at least they were functional. My dad is from Indiana, so I’m sure the Indy 500 toolbox was something he bought.

Almost all of the old items have been sorted and donated (and cleaned to the extent possible without resorting to magic). Hopefully they’ll be appreciated by someone somewhere.

Starting Fresh

I decided to start fresh by building a tool collection that I would like, based on the kinds of projects I typically do around the house and garage. I spent a good bit of time researching the latest tools and decided what would be a good fit.

I’m not an auto mechanic or a carpenter, so I don’t need the most amazing or durable items, but I didn’t want dirt cheap items that were likely to disappoint me. I wanted tools that I would like and appreciate, both when I saw them and when I used them. So I used appreciation as my main standard for making selections. I kept asking, “Am I likely to appreciate this?”

I wanted to compile a set of tools that would feel abundant and empowering but not excessive for my needs. I appreciate abundance but not to the point of ridiculous excess. I didn’t replace some items with equivalent tools if I sensed that I would probably never need those types of tools (such as wood chisels). If I felt I would later regret a purchase, I avoided it.

I made a few mistakes and did some returns / exchanges, but overall I’ve been pleased with my initial picks. I’ve only had a chance to test some of these tools so far, but I look forward to a healthy relationship with them for many years to come.

I got most of these items via Amazon, and some I picked up locally at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Costco.

New Tools

Here are some pics of the new tools I gradually acquired. After decades of used tools, I wanted to start with fresh energy.

I got new 3 new tape measures (two 16’ and one 12’), all self-locking. I tend to use these a lot, so I got one for my home office, one for the garage (toolbox), and one for upstairs.

Why aren’t all tape measures self-locking? When do you ever want to pull it out and have it immediately slide back into the housing? When I pull mine out, I want it to stay long and strong by default… till I’m ready to release it.

There are two new 12-piece ratcheting wrench sets (SAE and metric) and a new Dewalt socket wrench set (with SAE and metric sockets in a nice case). Between those is a universal socket – I tried it out, and it works surprisingly well. I love these wrench sets. This might be a tad overkill for my needs, but it’s really nice to have the perfect size for any job instead of having to over-rely on an adjustable wrench that might slip.

I got two sets of Allen wrenches (SAE and standard) that include nice rubbery holding cases to keep them organized by size. I like tools that self-organize with some sense of order or symmetry – they just seem smarter to me.

I got a new 16 oz mallet, which is nice for situations when a steel hammer might be too harsh.

I added new eye protection goggles (to replace the old ones that looked like something I used in high school chemistry). These fit nicely with or without glasses, and they’re anti-fogging.

I got two good utility knives – okay, just one knife is new, and the other I had bought previously. I liked the previous one so much that I decided to add another, so I could keep one in the house and one in the garage. I tend to use these a lot.

I got 9″ and 16″ levels, both magnetic. The smaller one has a built-in ruler. The larger one is nice for marking off spots for hanging a painting or poster. I considered getting a 24″ one, but that seemed like overkill, and I like that the 16″ one still fits in the toolbox.

In the back left, there are two LED flashlights. both of which are WAY brighter and much smaller and lighter than my old flashlights. They use AAA batteries instead of the D batteries in the Maglites, so they’re more energy efficient too. These flashlights lights have 3 brightness settings, and the beams can tighten or widen just by twisting the top. I actually got 4 of these since a 2-pack was only $10. I keep one in the garage, one in the car, and two in the house. They feel very solid, made of “military grade” aluminum (whatever that means).

There are also 2 rechargeable LED work lights (picked up at Costco on sale for $10 off the pair). These are nice and bright, and they have built in stands, hooks, and strong magnets, so they’re very versatile to position. Each light also has a built-in USB charger, so it can be used as a battery to charge a phone or other USB device as well – I don’t need that feature while at home, but it could be handy on a camping trip.

I got two new screwdriver sets, each with 57 pieces and their own storage cases. The left one is a precision set for working with small screws like on electronics or eye glasses. It has many different kinds of bits. I like that each bit has a long shaft, and the handle has a built-in extender as well, which is good for screwing in deep holes. I will never use all of these bits, but it feels nice to have such a good collection in a compact space – an excellent replacement for my old set.

The set on the right has nice grippy handles, and I like that it sorts the screwdrivers by type and size. It also includes many other assorted bits at the top of the case (which can be used with a power drill as well).

Both kits come with a magnetizer / demagnetizer, so you can magnetize or demagnetize the tips.

I love this set of pliers and wrenches. It comes with a strong cloth carrying case with pouches for each tool, and it easily rolls up and has elastic straps to secure it into a nice bundle. I prefer to put the tools in a toolbox though for faster access. Unlike my old adjustable wrenches, the adjustable wrench in this set is very good at holding its position.

I also added a new wire stripper, which is capable of cutting screws too.

This new Dewalt power drill / driver is so nice. It comes with 2 rechargeable batteries, each of which should last for hours. Apparently these batteries can hold their charge for 18 months when not in use, so I can simply pop in a battery and use this drill without having to charge it first. Two batteries is overkill for my needs, but that’s what the set came with.

I also picked up a set of 14 titanium drill bits, which seem way nicer than the few sad drill bits I previously had.

This drill comes with a nice carrying bag that fits everything shown with room to spare.

This small 30-drawer cabinet is great for storing odds and ends like nails, screws, washers, zip ties, etc. No more mega jar with everything mixed together.

I replaced two crusty wood-handle hammers (both of which had tops that were coming loose) with these fiberglass-handle hammers: a 20-oz hammer, a 16-oz hammer, and a small stubby hammer.

In the same drawer is a 7″ folding hand saw (useful for trimming small branches). I’ve never needed a power saw or chainsaw.

Here’s my new toolbox. I got one larger one to replace the three smaller boxes I had previously. It has a top area and 3 drawers. I added some padded drawer liners to it, so the drawers are lined with a soft but durable material. It’s like all of the tools now rest on a thin yoga mat.

Somehow it feels like giving the tools a new home with cushy padding is a nice way to show them respect and appreciation. This is surely better than how I treated my old tools. I even talked to the new tools to welcome them into my home. In my journal this week, I wrote a private letter saying goodbye to my old tools, releasing their energy back to the simulator.

This is what the toolbox looks like when closed. It’s about 12″ tall. Not bad for $50. The drawers open and close very smoothly too. I don’t intend to carry it around, so this is its permanent home on a shelf in my garage.

I also got this painting set, which I keep elsewhere in the garage. It’s currently $15 at Costco.

I bought two new fire extinguishers, one for the house and one for the garage as a backup. I had some old ones in my house that apparently expired in 1999 (seriously). The new ones say they’ll last for a good 12 years, so I wonder if the old ones were from the 80s – that is possible.

We’ve been making some other upgrades too this summer to help keep the house in better shape. Here’s a new Dyson V15 Detect vacuum that I got in June. I like it so far and picked up an extra battery for it. It’s the first Dyson I’ve ever owned, and I dare say that it’s even fun to use. Previously I was using a Roomba, but it’s not nearly as powerful as the Dyson. I like that the transparent bin easily shows what’s being sucked out of the carpet. This fairly recent model also has a display that shows the particle count of what it’s picking up (actually 3 different counts for different particle sizes). That feature seems like mostly a gimmick, but I still find it very satisfying to see the numbers go up, especially when it passes 1 billion. Having a vacuum that provides this extra visual feedback makes other vacuums seem a lot dumber… like what are they trying to hide by not sharing their performance data?

At least I now know for sure that Roomba is shit… at least as far as actual cleanliness goes.

On the floor there’s a new Hoover Smartwash+ carpet cleaner – I’ve tested it on one room so far, and it worked really well. I like that it automatically washes when I push it forward and dries when I pull it back, so there’s no need to hold down a trigger. It’s very easy to use. This combo of the new vacuum and carpet cleaner is nicely transforming the floors in my house.

This is the kind of project that I always could have put off by telling myself that there are more important things to do. But it felt good to finally do it.

I like and appreciate the new tools. I like that I no longer have to deal with the old misaligned mess of tools that I had before. I like that I took my time with this project and did it patiently, without rushing, and free of deadlines.

I especially like that I got the framing right before I started, so I was able to take action with ease. I felt nicely motivated the whole way through and even had fun with it. While doing the tools research, I learned some things I didn’t know before, so it was educational as well.

I framed this as an upgrade project – an invitation to completely transform my old tool collection into a new collection that I would henceforth appreciate. Purge the energy of disgust and irritation, and replace it with gratitude.

So there was an inner journey from having a poor relationship with my tool collection to discovering how to create a positive and healthy relationship. This permanently changes how I feel towards a small (but not insignificant) slice of my reality. Now every time I enter the garage and notice the different toolbox and tools, I feel differently. There’s a newfound sense of ease and even a little excitement. And admittedly there’s a little bit of discomfort since I’m still getting to know the new tools, but I imagine that will pass in time.

This also changes how I relate to home maintenance projects going forward. Now those projects seem a little more attractive because I look forward to using the nice new tools. Yesterday I noticed a loose screw on a towel hangar in the laundry room, and I happily grabbed one of the new screwdrivers to fix it, which felt more rewarding than I expected.

One key that I found is the importance of maintaining the right pacing. I can’t rush because that just makes such a project feel stressful, and I will doubt my decisions if I try to decide too quickly. It’s best to do the research patiently and then let my mind incubate some options till I have a strong sense of clarity. I held off on buying items when I was in doubt about what to get.

On the other hand, I can’t go too slowly either since then the energy of the project will die on me. I have to keep nudging it forward day by day to maintain a sense of progress. On a single day, I might figure out one or two items, like which screwdriver set to get. But over the course of a few weeks, all of those little decisions add up to a bigger transformation.

Think about some area of life where you’ve been tolerating misalignments. Could you undertake a complete transformation of that part of life, gradually chipping away at the misalignments one by one and upgrading or replacing them with changes that you’d appreciate?

What if you allowed such a project to take as long as it needs to take with no deadlines or time pressure? Could you approach it as an exploration and a learning experience, doing whatever you need to do to make reasonably good decisions at each step, so day by day you’re advancing towards a bigger transformation that you’ll really appreciate?

Remember that you don’t have to make perfect decisions in order to create significant improvement. I can’t say that I have the perfect tool set for me, but it’s a clear improvement over what I was dealing with before, and that’s good enough to call it done.