5 Favorite Items in My Toolbag

by Alex Merrill

1. 5-in-1

I know what you must be thinking, I’ve used up all five of my entries with one blow…or this is a loophole…or something. I don’t know what to say about it, but this little dude is my favorite. I affectionately refer to it as the ‘tool of choice’, as I reach for it in my bags over and over again. I think it could actually be truthfully called a 15-in-1, or maybe more than that, but as they say in Remember the Titans, 5-in-1 “sounds better”. Part chisel, screwdriver, painter’s tool, roller cleaner, pry bar, spacer, ninja star, shuriken… the list goes on.  

2.  Speed Square

Courtesy of Swanson, most notably. This slicker is like many other tools that have been around for more than a few decades — there is more information packed into this silly little misnomered object than you can imagine, if you just know how to get the information out. Dead on with 90deg and 45deg angles, it can also measure and mark any angle under the sun in degrees or rise/run pitch. Combine it with a torpedo pocket level to figure out slopes of existing pitches. Use it as a sweeper, rip guide, or perhaps even as a tomahawk. The unassuming speed square is pretty darn great.

3.  Awl

Basically a beefy needle with a handle. This certainly classifies as an oldie but goodie (just like many other classic tools). Scratch marks on wood, metal, or masonry for measuring or alignment. Accurately locate pilot holes for installing hinges, or punch holes for sewing leather. Smack the handle to drive it temporarily into framing for pulling a measurement or snapping a line. Carve a cryptic, hopefully appropriate message on the stall wall… limitless.

4. Hammer

I tried to make it through without bringing the ole hammer into the list, but failed. It’s uses throughout the day, especially on a job site, are so ubiquitous that it truly is a thing of beauty.  Besides the painfully obvious applications, there are also some more innovative methods to easily pull nails using the claw. You can create incredible leverage for prying purposes, and even use it as a lifting tool if you bury the claw into a beam and pick up on the handle. Hammer time, can’t touch this.

5. Flush Cut Saw

A fairly recent discovery for me, a flush cut saw could also be known as a Japanese-style pull saw. Fundamentally, the katana-like nature of this tool makes it cool. Functionally, it turns out to be wicked useful. It can cleanly remove an excess dowel or tenon from a joint, or be used to gently cut off the butt ends of shims on cabinet or door installations. While a powered oscillating tool might be a substitute in some respects, the time-honored hand saw brings a finesse and precision that is still unmatched.