Tech Geek — Infinitely Useful Tools

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Geek’s are notorious for “hacking”. In their defense the terms “Hacker”, “Hacked”, etc. have gotten a bad rap because its been associated with people who do bad things using “Hacks”. Its like the old saying “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. The truth is, hacking isn’t bad, its bad people who use them that give it the negative connotation that the mainstream stream media uses.

Lets look at what the term “Hack” and its related terms mean.

A “Hack” is simply using something in a way that it wasn’t intended,  to achieve a desirable outcome. Outside of computing, the most famous “Hacker” that you probably know is the TV Character MacGyver. He was notorious for taking a paper-clip and a belt and a french-fry to save the day.

In computing, telephony, and other electronic arts, there are plenty of opportunities to use programs and code libraries in ways they were not intended, to create something new.  A lot of times you hack out of necessity because you have to solve a problem and the tools don’t do what you need.

Now most geeks’s electronic toolkit is packed with all the right tools. Much like when you go to the autoshop, you can expect the mechanic to have all the right tools. However when it comes to geeks and the non-electronic world, generally you won’t find well stocked tool kits and frequently they have to make do with what they have. Its a term we like to call:

Field Engineering

Traditionally field engineers are the MacGyvers of the real world. They carry the parts most likely to be the problem but will resort to non-standard techniques to solve a problem. I remember clearly my freshman year in college and our heater wasn’t working. The gentleman from the Physical Plant Division came in, whacked it with a hammer and it started working. Over the past couple of weeks, my son’s car’s starter is starting to go. A whack with a hammer restarts his car. So our first infinitely useful tool is:

A Hammer

Hammer’s come in many varieties, but the most common is a claw hammer. It has a flat “hitting” head on one side, and a curved set of forked teeth on the other. You can hit things. You can hook and pull things. You can dig with it. It can even be used to cut items and poke holes. It can strip wires and of course be used for self defense.

There are a lot of claw hammers. They come in a variety of weights and handle materials. A medium weight hammer is the most flexible as you can balance the need of mass and velocity for optimum force. As for the handle material you will find fiberglass, wood and steel. There are probably high tech composite handles available today as well. Fiberglass seems to be the best handle choice as wood will break and the steel handles are hollow and subject to bending.

But regardless of what hammer you get, you need to get one that is well balanced. Take it and sit it on a flat surface upside down. The hammer should stand up with the handle near vertical (say 90-75 degree’s from the surface). It shouldn’t lean to either side, or rock too far from vertical. A well balanced hammer is your friend.

Drop Cords

A good, heavy duty “drop cord” is also vital to getting things done. These are the industrial weight electrical “extension cords”. They come in a variety of colors and lengths and are rated either in “gauge” or “amperage”. Gauge is how thick the wires are.  The smaller the number, the bigger the wire.  Most drop cords are in a 12-16 gauge range. However, the amperage rating is probably more important as it tells you how much electricity can pass through. A medium to heavy duty drop cord (or cords) can be real life savers. You want a long one (50′ or more) and perhaps a shorter 25′ footer.

How can they be used? Well mostly they are used to deliver electricity to some place you don’t have it and that itself can be useful. But lets not stop there. It can be used to tie things up. You need to hold a couple of pieces of fence together? Bind it up with the drop cord, affix your repairs and you’re done. You can tow with it. Someone falls overboard on a boat? Throw them a life line. At the end of the day, its about power: to your tools; to your computers; anything that needs juice a long drop cord saves the day.

Wire

Drop Cords above are a class of wire, but due to their thickness, it limits their utility overall, but a nice spool of wire can do wonders. My honey-do list today has me raising a lamp suspended by a decorative chain. I’ll go grab a short run of wire, make a loop and tie it off, creating a way to tie two chain links together. Wire can come in many sources that you don’t commonly think about like bread ties.

Your wire should be sufficiently large enough gauge to be strong enough to not break under reasonable stress and it needs to be small enough to fit into small holes. It shouldn’t be so thick that you can’t reasonably bend it into shape. It can be used for binding, poking and connecting things.

Gaffer’s Tape

Most people know the utility of duct tape. There is even a book that has nothing but projects to do with duct tape. It is probably the penultimate infinitely useful tool. Have a table with a short leg? Fold up several layers of tape and put it under the leg. But a better all purpose tape that few people don’t know much about is Gaffer’s Tape. Gaffers and Duct Tape share many common properties and almost all duct tape projects can be done with Gaffers. So why Gaffers?

Duct tape’s non-sticky side is glossy. Gaffer’s is more of a cloth which can give it a different resistance to movement. Duct is kind of sticky on its non sticky side. And sometimes having a less tackiness is useful. Gaffers tape also tends to leave less glue residue after use, yet its almost as sticky. With its cloth base, it can tear into easier to manage strips that have smoother edges. Duct tape is more water resistant. Your tool box can’t go wrong with either or both.

Flat bladed Screw Driver

Referred to as a flat-tip or slotted screw driver is a great tool that when combined with a hammer and pliers creates the base trifecta of minimal tools. A screwdriver is useful for turning screws, its purpose, but its useful for poking, creating holes. It can act as a lever. You can use it for gardening in place of a trowel for planing plants. In a pinch it can be used for cutting as well. It can be a wedge or a chisel. Its a beautiful must have tool.

What about pointy screw drivers (they are called “Phillips” BTW!)? Most screws that need a Phillips head screw driver can be turned by a flat tip as well. The big problem with a screw driver is you need a variety of sizes to cover the range of possible screws. But looking for a medium length, medium head can cover most uses.

Pliers

There are a billion variety of pliers. This tool is highly customized for a specific usage. There are two more general use pliers that will work in many circumstances. Both are called “Channel Lock” pliers. The one in the photo to the left has the grip perpendicular to the handles and the other has it parallel to the handles (more like scissors).

Pliers can be used for gripping, pulling and twisting things. Don’t have your screwdriver handy? Use your pliers to turn the screw. Need to beat on something and don’t have your hammer? Pliers can make a great make-shift hammer. Many pliers will also include wire cutters and stripers built in.

Hockey Sticks

This is my personal favorite. Being around 5′ long with a curved blade on the end has many utility uses around the house and elsewhere. We had a large snow fall which had turned into an ice pack on the roof. I used the hockey stick, opened the windows in the bonus room and used it to push the ice off the roof. I’ve used a hockey stick to clean the gutters. With a small notch cut in the tip of the blade, its great for hanging Christmas lights on the trees. Any time you need to reach something, like the hanger that fell behind the dryer.

Need to kill a spider on the ceiling? Use some wire and a paper towel, wrap it around the butt-end of the stick. Poke the bug, getting the goo on the paper towel, then remove your towel and dead bug and away you go. It can be used as a rake, a hoe, or an extension to your hammer or screw driver.

Summary

You can always find utility in the strangest of locations. But when you need to so something and you don’t have the tool, perhaps you can find something around the house that will get your job done for you. Of course you could always go to the tool store and pick up your specialty tool.  You can never have enough tools.

What are some of your tools?

Leave a comment below and let us know about a tool you use in a way not intended?

4 Responses to “Tech Geek — Infinitely Useful Tools”

  1. AsKatKnits

    A stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer at work. At home, knitting needles and a spinning wheel.

    I am thus self sufficient!

    AND, I know the difference between a Phillips and a Flat Head Screwdriver.

    A genuine Renaissance woman!

  2. Speedmaster

    The three things you need to fix anything in the universe.

    1. Duct Tape
    2. WD-40
    3. A Hammer

    * If it moves and it shouldn’t – use Duct Tape
    * If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40
    * If neither of those work, use the hammer

    If the hammer doesn’t work, get a bigger hammer.

    Found this on the net a while ago
    Regards ;-)

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