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Home-Repair Tool Basics

Drills and Fastener Tools
There are many different types of drills and fasteners on the market. Sifting through all of the choices can be confusing, so in this section we'll provide the details you need to pick the right drill or fastener tool.


Three sizes of chuck to hold drill bits in place are available for power drills: 1⁄4-inch, 3⁄8-inch, and 1⁄2-inch capacity. The two most popular sizes are 1⁄4 and 3⁄8 inch. The 1⁄4-inch chuck has a capacity of 1⁄4-inch drills in metal and 1⁄2-inch drills in wood. A 1⁄4-inch drill can handle only a limited range of drilling operations and shouldn't be used for difficult jobs, but it's the least expensive type of electric drill.

Hand and power drills are vital home-repair tools.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Hand and power drills are vital home-repair tools.

The 3⁄8-inch drill can make 3⁄8-inch holes in metal and 3⁄4-inch holes in wood; a hole saw can also be used with this tool to cut holes up to 3 inches in diameter. Many 3⁄8-inch drills have a hammer mode that permits drilling in concrete along with a reversing feature that is handy for removing screws. A variable-speed drill is also a handy tool to own; the rotation can be started slowly and then sped up. A variety of attachments and accessories are available, including wire brushes, paint mixers, and even a circular saw attachment.

Power drills come in corded and cordless models. Cordless drills, which use an onboard battery and typically include a recharger, are becoming increasingly popular.

How to Choose the Right Drill Bit
The drill bit you choose depends on the drill you're using. The following table will help you pick the correct drill bit.

Drill Bit
Drill Type
 Twist Hand, power, or drill press
Small-diameter holes
in wood and metal
 Spade Power or drill press
Holes up to 11/2 inches
in wood
 Auger Braces
Holes up to 11/2 inches
in wood
 Expansion Brace
Holes up to 3 inches
in wood
 Fly cutter
Drill press
Holes up to 6 inches in wood; smaller holes in other materials
 Hole saw
Power or drill press
Holes up to 3 inches in wood

The two main types of hand drills used are the push drill and the hand brace. Push drills are good for making pilot holes and for setting hinges. A hand brace is particularly handy when working in restricted areas because of its ratcheting mechanism.


Fastener tools are often the first to be selected for the handyman's toolbox. They are simply tools that help you apply fasteners, such as nails, bolts, and adhesives. Fastener tools include hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, and clamps. Here's an overview:
Hammers: The most popular hammer is the carpenters' curved-claw nail hammer; 16 ounces is a good size for men and 14 ounces for women. It is steel-headed, wood- or steel-handled, and used for driving nails and other fasteners. The claw at one end of the head is a two-pronged arch used to pull nails out of wood. The other parts of the head are the eye and the face. A flat-face, or plane-face, hammer is good for beginners to use, but it is more difficult to drive a nail flush to the work surface with this hammer.

A rubber mallet comes in handy when you're trying to unstick painted windows or have to do light hammering on surfaces that can be damaged. Other specialty hammers include a ball-peen hammer for working with metal and a mason's hammer for brick and concrete projects.

Screwdrivers: Every toolbox should have one set of high-quality screwdrivers that are only used for tightening and loosening screws. There are many types of screwdrivers, which vary depending on the screw head each is designed to fit. Following are the most popular screw heads:

  • Standard head. Also known as a flat, slotted, or straight screwdriver. Make sure the tip is the correct width and thickness to snugly fit the screw-head slot.

  • Phillips head. Also called cross or X-head screwdrivers, Phillips heads fit into a cross-shape recess in the screw or bolt head.

  • Torx head. Torx head (or similar designs called Robertson) screwdrivers fit into a square or hexagonal hole, which allows more torque for tightening or loosening the fastener.
Wrenches: The purpose of a wrench is to turn a bolt head or nut. Selecting the appropriate wrench depends on the fastener's design and size. It can also depend on how difficult the fastener is to reach. Wrench types include open end, combination, adjustable, and Allen. Here's a tip: When using a wrench, pull it toward you rather than pushing it away. This gives you more control and reduces the chance of injury if the wrench slips.
  • Box end. A box, or closed, end wrench is used where there is room to place the wrench mouth around the fastener. Box end wrenches are available in 6- and 12-point versions to match the number of sides on the fastener. Hexagon fasteners have 6 sides, or points, and are the most popular.

  • Open end. This type of wrench is used for turning fasteners in locations where a box end wrench cannot encompass the fastener.

  • Combination. A combination wrench has ends that perform specific tasks. One end may be open and the other closed, one may be offset and the other straight, or the two ends might be of fractionally different sizes.

  • Adjustable. An adjustable wrench can be used on a variety of fastener sizes. The disadvantage is that it is less stable than a fixed-size wrench and can easily injure you or damage the fastener. An adjustable wrench should be used only if the correct size wrench is not available.

  • Socket. Socket wrenches fit over the fastener, making removal easier and safer than with other wrenches. Sockets come in standard and extended depth; extensions are available to make removing fasteners easier. They are often purchased in sets by drive size.

  • Allen. Called by the Allen brand name, these are used on fasteners with a hexagonal hole in the head. Allen wrenches are available with L- or T-shape handles.
Pliers: Think of pliers as an extension of your fingers, only stronger. They are used to grasp and hold a part. Pliers should not be used as wrenches to tighten or loosen fasteners. Common types of pliers include slip-joint, groove-joint, needle-nose, and locking.
  • Slip-joint. This type of pliers has two settings in the handle to allow for two widths. Once the correct width is selected, the handles are closed together to force the jaw around the part and hold it securely.

  • Groove-joint. Groove-joint pliers are similar to slip-joint except they use an elongated hole in the handle with grooves that allow multiple widths.

  • Needle-nose. This type has jaws that come to a point for securely grasping small parts or wires, especially in tight locations.

  • Locking. Sometimes called by the Vise Grip brand name, locking pliers are adjustable and can be locked to hold a part in place.
Clamps: Clamps are essential for some home-repair projects, like holding parts together while glue dries. Spring clamps, which look like large metal clothespins, are inexpensive and are used for clamping small jobs, such as gluing veneers to core material. C-clamps are also useful and come in a wide range of sizes.

Clamps are essential for home-repair projects.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
There are many different types of clamps.

They are made from cast iron or aluminum and have a C-shape body. A screw with a metal pad applies tension on the material being clamped. Because C-clamps can exert a lot of pressure, buffer blocks of scrap wood should be inserted between the jaws of the clamps and the material being clamped. Screw, bar, and strap clamps are used by woodworkers.

Electricians and plumbers, on the other hand, are more inclined to use tools such as continuity testers and pipe wrenches. In the next section, we'll take an in-depth look at the tools of the electrical and plumbing trades.