What Hand Tools Do You Use Most Often in the Garage?
Let’s set the baseline, then worry about the big, fancy tools later.
While power tools and specialty equipment are crucial to your ability to work, you likely won't use them on a daily basis as a DIYer. Hand tools are the baseline for the vast majority of us. They'll see use on almost every project you'll tackle and will be all you need in many situations.
Spending a little time investing in those that you use the most will have a massive impact on your working experience every time you step foot in the garage. The catch is that you won't really know what combination works best for you until you get going and try different things. Still, The Drive’s team of DIY specialists is here to give you something to start with.
Of course, seasoned wrenchers are encouraged to drop a comment and share their own input to help newcomers get started. Let’s get after it.
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Ratchet and Socket Set
A ratchet and socket set is a staple of any mechanic's tool set. You'll likely use this more than any other hand tool on this list, and you will have multiple sets to keep around for various reasons. Feel free to get experimental with miscellaneous sets, but it's smart to invest a good amount in the one that'll serve as your primary set.
Now, you don't need a professional-grade ratchet and socket collection for DIY work. However, buying from a reputable brand that offers a lifetime warranty, and quality tools goes a long way. It’s also worth grabbing a set with the three most common drive sizes, 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch, and a good combination of extensions and adapters to start out.
Combination wrenches are another obvious choice and are often bundled with ratchets and sockets in mechanic's tool sets. You'll eventually buy a variety of different combination wrenches for various situations. Long reach, stubby, angle head, and ratcheting combination wrenches will all make their way into your collection alongside the standard set you'll start with. And because you can never seem to get enough, you'll even start collecting random wrenches for mismatched sets.
Don't buy cheap junk, though. Quality wrenches feel better in your hand, are less prone to slipping off fasteners, and feature slightly better designs that will vastly improve workflow.
I'm cheating by simply saying pliers and not a specific type, but that's because you'll have use for various designs, none of which should be of low quality. I've had countless cheap wrenches round off teeth, flex too much to be useful, let go of their comfort-grip handles and cause all kinds of heartache you surely want to avoid. You can do that by investing in good pliers from the start.
Water pump, needle nose, linesman pliers, and slip joint pliers are the basic types you want to start with. As time goes on, you'll also need to grab various specialty designs, such as snap-ring and hose clamp pliers. In any case, you really want to make sure you invest in quality sets, as they will far outperform the cheap stuff that'll slip off of whatever you're working on.
Screwdrivers are like combination wrenches in that you'll buy many sets over the years, and you can never seem to get enough. If you don't already, you'll end up with screwdrivers in every vehicle and scattered throughout the many catch-all drawers in your home. While cheap screwdrivers work fine for many projects, you want to get a really good set for working on cars. Something with solid tips that won't crack under normal use and doesn't seem to mind the occasional misuse as a punch or a pry bar.
While we’re all guilty of it and will continue to do it, it’s not wise to use screwdrivers as pry bars. Eventually, you'll find that one part that doesn't want to move, and you'll destroy an otherwise fantastic tool. Trust me. I mangled far too many screwdrivers before I bought a good set of pry bars, and for no good reason.
There's such a thing as the right tool for the job, and even a cheap pry bar outperforms the best screwdriver, pipe, or whatever else you'll try to use in its place.
Screwdrivers aren't picks, either. They might fish out an o-ring or two, but you won't have as much luck as you will with a pick, which is actually designed to tackle jobs of the likes. There are no one-size fits all option, though. Those cheap picks with the bright orange handles are perfect for a lot of small tasks, but something with a slim handle and longer reach is going to serve as an extra finger on almost every job. Of course, non-marring picks are the only choice for pulling o-rings out of areas with machined surfaces you want to leave intact.
You're probably learning almost everything about wrenching from a lifelong veteran of the industry who'll tell you that the only torque wrench they need is their elbow. We all did. They really do seem to have it down to a science, but nobody starts there. Adding a good torque wrench to your collection is an absolute must if you're serious about this kind of thing. It's the only way to ensure that you're tightening fasteners to spec, which is crucial for the many automotive projects you'll tackle.
The good news is that a lot of mechanic's tool sets also come with hex keys that'll get you by for a bit. But if you use them frequently, you really want to invest in a good hex key collection. Standard keys are great, but there are versions that work in place of a socket on your ratchet and even with impact tools, giving you the means to work with greater efficiency and comfort.
Yes. Breaker bars still have a place in the world. Cordless impacts might be ridiculously powerful, making quick work of stubborn fasteners, but a breaker bar is the better choice in a number of situations. You don't want to go too cheap as you'll put a lot of stress on a breaker bar, but you definitely don't need the to-shelf option for a good experience. I'll also recommend adding a ratcheting adapter to pair up with a breaker bar, as it makes it easier to use in tight spaces, improving the versatility of this tool.
I'm cheating once more by being general, but while you don't want to go around bashing everything you come across, hammers are useful for freeing up the many stubborn parts you'll encounter. This is also another tool that you'll need multiple versions of, such as a dead blow, ball-pein, and body hammers, as there are different hammers for different situations. That said, you really need to save your screwdrivers for even more punishment by investing in a good punch set to match.
Our insight on the matter is just that, our insight. There are details and perspectives we're sure to miss. That's why it's so important to get advice from different sources when setting up shop. We're here to help with that, too. Below you'll find a video outlining the tools you need to start working on cars. It's long but filled with valuable information that will help you get started on your hunt for tools.