LESLIE: Well, you’ve probably amassed quite an assortment of tools over time. But is there anything missing from your collection?
TOM: Well, chances are your tool box could stand to benefit from the addition of some lesser known but fairly useful items. Here to tell us about his choice for favorite tools is This Old Househost Kevin O’Connor.
So, Kevin, when you bought your first house, what kind of tool collection did you have and what was missing?
KEVIN: Well, I had a pretty mediocre tool collection. And the thing that was missing was Tom Silva there to use them for me. Right? Because …
LESLIE: Or glue them to the floor, as we’ve all …
KEVIN: Or glue them to the floor, as we all know.
TOM: Right, yeah.
KEVIN: I have been in a, I guess, a decade-long now arms race with the boys on our tool collection. And I am always turning out to be Russia to the United States. No matter what I get, Tom one-ups me, gets two times as many tools.
TOM: He ups you, right?
KEVIN: But there are a couple things that I love to have on hand all of the time and I think most homeowners would benefit from having on hand, whether it be in their tool box or in their work apron. And the first one’s a speed square, right? I mean how many times – everything we do is right angles or 45-degree angles.
KEVIN: And so the speed square, it’s small, it’s compact, it fits in your apron and it lets you draw those lines at 90 degrees. It’s got a lot of great measurements on there so you can draw at different angles. It’s a great marking tool. It’s pretty universally used on the job site and I think homeowners would get a lot of use out of it, as well.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And I like the metal one over the plastic ones.
KEVIN: I’m with you. You’re a traditionalist, Leslie, right?
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
KEVIN: The aluminum ones, actually, are about just as light as the plastic one.
TOM: Yeah, they’re not much heavier.
LESLIE: Nope. And the marcations (ph) are easier to see. They’re more rigid. I just like them.
TOM: Yeah, it’s a real personal item, right?
KEVIN: It is a good personal item. They also …
TOM: You develop a relationship with your speed square.
KEVIN: You kind of do. So, that’s definitely one that I would put in there.
Another one that I was actually unaware of until I started hanging out with Richard Trethewey – and there’s a lot of things that I was unaware of until I started hanging out with Richard Trethewey – but the basin wrench.
KEVIN: And so imagine all that work that you do underneath the sink as you’re trying to work around flexible water lines and P-traps and such. It’s a really hard-to-get-to spot. And the plumbers have been using this little gadget and keeping it to themselves forever. And it’s the basin wrench. It allows you to get into these tight spots. It allows you to make those connections and turn those nuts and such and do it that – in a way that you really couldn’t do with most conventional wrenches. So that’s a pretty cool one to have on hand, as well.
TOM: And that’s one that there’s absolutely nothing that replaces that. It just does the job and nothing else will suffice. We try to get any other kind of wrench in there – open-end, close-end – it doesn’t matter. It’s just impossible to get the wrench in there. But the basin wrench does that work for you.
KEVIN: The only thing that comes close is a big collection of swear words, which is what you’re going to be doing if you can’t find your basin wrench.
I have got a little, mini block plane and now I carry it with me everywhere I go. It’s surprising how often I reach for it. If you’re doing any sort of carpentry, this little block plane is going to get you out of a lot of trouble. It’s going to sharpen up all of your miters so that they’re nice and tight. It’s going to knock off any edges around trim work and such, smooth things out.
KEVIN: It’s not a big item to carry around. I’m reaching for it all the time, so a good block plane.
TOM: Yeah, I do the same. I’ve had the same block plane for many, many years and you’re right: it’s surprising how many times you reach for that and all the things that you can do with that. If you get a little feather edge when you cut something, you can just one-swipe with that; it cleans it up nice and neat.
KEVIN: These days, I found smaller ones. You know, they used to be sort of the Stanley standard Number Ones that maybe your grandfather passed them down.
KEVIN: They’re kind of bulky to carry around in your pouch at all times. I’ve got these smaller ones that I actually keep in the apron and it’s nice to have them on hand.
TOM: What else?
KEVIN: So, I’ve got a little electrical tester: the pen-style ones.
KEVIN: Those are great because half the time – well, you never want to touch a live wire and you want to be able to always double-check. Sure, you should turn it off at the panel but I always want to double-check before I put my pliers …
TOM: Yeah, because you don’t always know if the panel is labeled correctly.
TOM: And even though everything else in the room seems to be off, that outlet could be fed from the opposite wall – the room in the opposite – on the opposite side.
TOM: And you really do want to be sure. So, that’s actually one of my favorite tools, as well. I use something that’s called a “tic tracer.” It detects a magnetic field. Same idea. You get close to it, it alerts you so you always know what you’re dealing with.
KEVIN: It really gives you peace of mind.
TOM: Yep. Absolutely.
KEVIN: And it also can help you determine whether or not – “Hey, is it the outlet that’s just in need of replacement or is it the wiring behind?” And to me, that determines – “Hey, do I do it myself or am I – or do you call in the guy?”
LESLIE: Or do you call in the guy?
KEVIN: Exactly. And then the final one is, obviously, a tape measure but I would say the right tape measure.
KEVIN: I carry a couple different ones. I have a couple different ones so that I only have to carry one. Generally, if I’m working outside, I’ve got the bigger one: maybe the 35-footer, because you might be doing some sort of layout with 2x4s and such. But if I’m working inside, there’s just absolutely no need …
LESLIE: It’s overkill.
KEVIN: Isn’t it? I mean think about it …
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And they’re heavy.
KEVIN: They’re heavy. They’re big and they’re bulky and they’re designed so they can stand out 12 feet without falling over, limping and all that kind of – so I don’t need that if I’m working in the living room. And so a little 16-footer, think about that. That’s two full lengths of plywood. I’ll never measure something that large in a living room; it’s just not that big.
LESLIE: Well, I will tell you – if I’m by myself looking at something or trying to figure out how large of a curtain rod I might need, I’ll take the bigger one with me, only because of that 13-foot standout, so that I can be by myself and kind of sense where I want something to fall. But once I know what the dimensions are, I take the smaller one.
TOM: Put it away, right?
LESLIE: Because you’re right: it’s so heavy.
KEVIN: Put it away. I don’t like carrying around more weight in that apron than I need to, so I’m switching them out between the big one and the small one all the time.
TOM: Speaking of which, there might be some folks out there who are kind of reluctant to throw anything else into their already cluttered tool boxes. What would you tell them?
KEVIN: Get a bigger tool box. Never back down.
TOM: Never back down. Take no prisoners.
TOM: Great advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure, guys.
LESLIE: You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.