User Input

User Input: Everything Begins To Look Like A Nail

"24b: Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly."

There’s an old saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.” This concept has given rise to the term, “Birmingham Screwdriver”, which is a slang-term for a hammer, referencing the fact that tools are often used in horribly inappropriate manners. I  was watching a co-worker try to deal with a piece of trim that had come up on the edge of the exterior carpeting outside the main entrance. It merely needed to be screwed down, but he couldn’t get the screw to punch through the metal plate. So he used the battery pack of the cordless drill, and proceeded to hammer on the end of the screw as if it were a nail. Eventually, of course, he accomplished his task, although I didn’t watch for long enough to determine whether that meant he punched through the metal, or punched through the end of the plastic battery pack.

I would have laughed at him, but I quickly realized how often I had done that very thing in one form or another. I have driven screws into walls to hang paintings simply because it was easier to locate my screwdriver than it was to locate my hammer. I have destroyed packaging completely because it was easier to find my folding knife than it was to find a pair of scissors which would have done the job far more cleanly. I have very nearly set myself on fire because I decided to use my Zippo to open something when I couldn’t find my folding knife. I have used three or four inappropriate tools to fashion a rudimentary version of a tool which I owned, but was all the way over there.

I’ve noticed I have a select group of go-to tools which are always readily available and convenient, and tend to make those few tools fill in for all the other tools which I’m too lazy to locate. Why try and locate a screwdriver when I’ve got a pair of vice-grips right here at hand? Why try and find a hammer when I’ve got this handy stick?

What are your go-to tools for doing jobs they were never meant to do?

  • tiberiusẅisë

    Car keys. Screwdriver, bottle opener, pry bar, box cutter and hole punch all in one.

  • Number_Six
    • Must have all of them…

  • skitter

    I thought vice grips were always the better tool for a screw. A phillips driver is a quick way to ruin them that you use when you're desperate.

    • OA5599

      I bought a screen/burglar deterrent door that came with non-reversing screws. The installation instructions specified the size of the pilot hole to drill for the screws, and that's the size I drilled, but then I was having trouble getting enough torque on the screwheads with the proper sized flat blade. I did find it incredibly faster to twist them in using vice grips on the heads.

  • I have a pair of Chan-nel-loc pliers that are about 18". They work pretty good as a hammer and I even took the vinyl coating off one end to use as a screwdriver/prybar. It works better than any other oil filter wrench I've found.

    Back when I was single and lived in a semi-rural area I used both my Bronco and a 12ga shotgun for landscaping work. The Bronco pulled up some old shrubbery. 12ga. slugs helped get dead limbs out of tall trees.

    • OA5599

      I've used both a Jeep and an engine hoist to pull shrubs. The hoist seems to do a much better job.

  • The short-handled sledge:

    <img src="http://www.build.com/imagebase/resized/x800/ridgidimages/52495.jpg"&gt;

    I love my Estwing rock hammer for field work, but I've used a small sledge for adjusting distributor advance, removing spark plugs, installing (not removing) windshields, and an endless number of other applications for which swinging an appreciable mass within a confined space is the best way to proceed.

    Well, unless I actually need a hammer. Then I reach for a short length of iron pipe.

    • The Professor

      May I recommend an addition to your hammer selection?
      A blacksmith hammer:

      <img src="
      http://www.plumbersurplus.com/images/prod/6/Stanley-Tools-56-220-rw-128621-190270.jpg&quot; style="border:2px solid black;" alt=" " border="2" width="200">

      I too use a short-handled sledge rather frequently, but I find that there are many times when you need a bit more mass and/or leverage. The blacksmith hammer is 4 pounds, delivers a nice wallop, and the handle can be cut down at need. And they're cheap.

  • The Professor

    An 1&frac14;" registered chisel:

    <img src="
    http://www.shelterinstitute.com/catalog/images/sorby_registered_1_25.jpg&quot; width="200" border="2" style="border:2px solid black;" alt=" " />

    A laminated compressed wood mallet:

    <img src="
    http://home2.btconnect.com/thorhammer/images/Sprite_24c.gif&quot; width="300" border="2" style="border:2px solid black;" alt=" " />

    And when those don't get the job done:

    <img src="
    http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/ProductImages/axes/129708.jpg&quot; width="200" border="2" style="border:2px solid black;" alt=" " />

    A throwing axe.

  • I picked up one of these Painter's Tool things on a whim a few years ago while renovating our old place, and it has become my most valued and #1 turn-to tool. I now have several stashed away in tool-bags everywhere I go.

    It's a scraper, splitter, pick, wedge, screwdriver, spatula, opener, cleaner, persuader, pry-bar back-scratcher random thing-grabber.

    I've used it for everything from opening painted-shut windows to cutting tile to engine rebuilds to removing rust and gunk around windshield channels to RV repair. Add a small or medium hammer and you are almost unstoppable. Tear open oil filters at the track, or spread cheese on a cracker.

    Opens paint cans too.

    <img src="http://media.toolking.com/catalog/product/cache/1/image/800×600/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/h/y/hyde_02980_01.jpg&quot; width="600">

  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    One that does not work well, a cookie sheet as a heat shield for sweating pipes.

    • Using one's own skin to catch dripping solder is also an inferior makeshift solution, as it turns out.

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        Oh wait this reminds me, here's a great trick and a useful tool, wonder bread! So when sweating pipes with water running through them, jam a few slices up the pipe. Now you have precious seconds to solder the joints before the bread shoots out and the water does not let the pipe heat properly. I suggest first attaching a working valve 🙂

        • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

          Oh and shoe-goo, you can't use it for plumbing (well maybe you could) but it can fix lots of other stuff besides shoes. Like cracked plastic doodad, shoe-goo it! Torn pants, shoo-goo it! Need to attach scout patches, shoe-goo it! Have a flapping pocket, shoe-goo it! Have a hole in the lining of your fountain, shoe-goo it! (Works way better than RTV.) Ran out or epoxy to fuse a daughter board to the main board, shoe-goo it! And thanks to CoupeZ, if you want the spiked bike tires you made with screws to last, shoe-goo it!

  • randomusername

    I just carry my Zippo and Leatherman with me, i live in an apartment so i don't have much use for bigger tools most of the time. Sadly. The Leatherman has seen all sorts of inappropriate use over the years but i've yet to break it, but it's particularly popular with my female colleagues as an emergency nail-clipper/file. Apparently it works surprisingly well for that.

    • I've never thought of mine as an "emergency" nail clipper.

      • randomusername

        I just use the closest thing sharp enough. But you can imagine a bunch of twenty and thirty-something office women do not see an oily leatherman as the ultimate manicure kit…

    • coupeZ600

      Ahhh…,the Leatherman…. I truly have a love/hate relationship with mine, I've carried one almost every single day since my boss gave us all one as a Christmas bonus back in the Eighties. I hate flying now because I can't take it with me, and many times have considered buying one when I get to my destination and then just giving it away to some homeless person on my way back to the airport. I've busted them in almost every conceivable way, and every single time I send one back they fix or give me a new one. Because of this (and how I can just whip it out and fix something), I've become one of their greatest salesmen, and almost everybody I work with carries one.

      But sometimes…. Sometimes it's just enough tool to let you ruin something (a screw, bolt, piece of rope) and make you wish you had just walked the ten feet over to the tool box to get the right one for the job.

  • jeepjeff

    I would say Perl. But either you think it was designed with tasks it wasn't "meant" for in mind, or you think it's the wrong tool for anything.

    (I'm also a fan of Hammers and J-B Weld. If you can't make it with a hammer, duct tape and J-B Weld, it probably wasn't worth making, anyway.)

  • I don't want to sound smug, but this thing totally ended the 'not having the right tool at hand' problem. Except that all my good tools are in it, and at home I have two channel locks and a claw hammer. They seem to get the household jobs done okay, though.

    I did once use a 60 watt laser cutter to make gaskets for my '63 IH Scout. That was a bit of overkill.

    <img src="http://www.aconcordcarpenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/VETO-PRO-PAC2.jpg"&gt;

    • jeepjeff

      Using laser cutters to make gaskets sounds like just-right-kill to me.

      • Tiller188

        Yup. Very metal (the process as a whole, I mean — the gaskets coulda been cork or paper, but the process? Metal). Also, to borrow from Schlock Mercenary (shameless plug for an excellent webcomic): "Maxim 37: There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire', and 'time to reload'."

  • coupeZ600

    Just a little off-topic, but a buddy of mine who was a school teacher, once was lamenting all the b*ll-sh*t he was getting from the Administration when another friend opined, "It's always the Nail that shows it's Head that gets hammered back Down…"

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Vs the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I think it's telling about a person's personality which nugget they believe to be more true.

      • pj134

        It's a Japanese proverb that the guy assassinated. I think that was the point of coupe saying it. The literal translation is something like "The stake that sticks out gets hammered down" but a better translation would be "The nail that sticks out gets hammered".

        • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

          I'm all in favor of getting hammered!

-->