Spend much time around professional race car mechanics, and you’ll notice they tend to be fanatical about taking care of their tools. They have good reasons for that. And so do you.
You might not be a good tool caretaker, if:
• Your tools have rust on them.
• Your screwdriver frequently slips.
• Your tools feel slippery when you take them out (finger oils or other contaminants left on them when put away).
• You can’t find a particular tool that you use often.
• Every tool has several uses, instead of being a single-use tool. Having a few multipurpose tools is great, if they are designed for that purpose. But screwdrivers, though often used as multipurpose tools, are single-purpose tools.
• You have a budget for replacing broken tools.
• You don’t have a budget for replacing worn tools.
Your first step in tool care is to select industrial-quality tools. If you go with any of the major brands that you see advertised in industrial trade magazines, you can probably check off the box here.
When you build, expand, or maintain your tool collection, you need to do it with your specific work in mind. You don’t want any hand tools doing double duty. If you need a prybar, don’t buy an extra-large screwdriver for the purpose.
Periodically, you should inspect your tools. Look for:
• Worn edges on screwdriver tips.
• Worn teeth on pliers.
• Dull blades on knives, strippers, and other cutting tools. Sharpen if possible; replace if not.
• Loose joints on pliers or other adjustable tools.
• Other signs of wear.
When using your tools:
• Have them organized in a pouch, tray, or other system, with each tool going in its own place. This way, you can see at a glance which one you might have left on that busbar.
• Inspect before first use.
• Use the right size tool for the job. For example, don’t wedge a No. 2 flat blade into a slot that sized for a No. 4.
• If you use an adjustable tool, position it in the correct direction. An adjustable wrench, for example, should be used with the movable jaw oriented with the direction of rotation. If the wrench is in the three o’clock position and you are tightening, the movable jaw will be in about the six o’clock position, not the twelve o’clock position.
• Wipe each tool clean after last use (before putting away).
When storing tools:
• Never toss tools into a gang box. Always slide or set each tool into its proper place in the storage device (pouch, tray, etc.).
• Never leave tools lying about, especially on the floor.
• Always put tools away at the end of your shift, even if you’re working in a locked room. You need to go through the process of cleaning your tools at the end of your shift and inspecting them at the beginning of it. Don’t try to save time by skipping this put-away, get-back-out cycle; the lack of organization will actually cost you time.
• Protect tools from moisture by storing them in a suitable box or other system.
Poorly cared-for tools are dangerous to the user, and they make it difficult to do work that looks professional. A professional race car mechanic would be deeply embarrassed if someone coming behind him noticed a bunch of rounded bolt heads (caused by a degraded wrench that keeps slipping). You really don’t want to leave similar indications of poor craftsmanship marking up your finished work. Take care of your tools.