Tool Buyers Guide: Identifying A Tool That Will Last A Decade

If you're looking for tools that will last a decade or more, following these important guidelines can provide you with long-lasting tools of all sorts.

When it comes to tools, there sure are a lot of choices these days. With the proliferation of Big Box stores, it seems every department, drug and convenience store carries their own line of tools. But with some smart shopping, you can find great tools that will last a decade - or several decades and beyond - if you know where to look, and you want to invest a little more money to start.

There are many types of fine tools, but we will concern ourselves mainly with three: general hand tools, in particular hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers, plus measuring tools and socket sets. What exactly should you look for in a tool, and what qualities make a tool especially durable and dependable?

When it comes to hand tools, machining, or the way that a tool is finished, is everything. Add to that the quality of a tool's composite materials (the handle of a hammer or the grips of pliers), and you've got one high-grade tool that will last. But what specifically should you look for in durable hand tools?

Hammers in particular can take a beating, if you'll pardon the pun. Since these are impact-type tools, you'll want to look for a quality hammer made with a steel core head. Of course, heavier hammers - think 48 ounces or heavier, for the average home-use tool box - are often forged steel, which is normally tempered, according to top tool-maker Craftsman. If a claw hammer is what you need, make sure that the claw itself is reinforced; this can also prolong the life of the hammer. If you need a dead-blow (mallet) hammer, rubber is ok. But the most long-lasting dead-blow hammers these days are covered in polyurethane, according to Craftsman's website. Finally, hammers are only as good as their handles. To this end, fiberglass handles are highly recommended. If you simply must have a wooden handled hammer - and there are many handymen among you who feel this way - hickory is obviously the best you can buy, due to the relative strength of the wood.

How do you know a screwdriver will last? Nickel-chromium plated screwdrivers are good, but when it comes to long-lasting ones, screwdrivers with chrome combined with steel, specially machined, are what will really impress you with durability. Top quality screwdrivers are often coated with cobalt; this is so they won't rust. According to Craftsman's website, screwdrivers made with the compound butyrate in the handles will outlast normal plastic, due to hardness specifications.

Want a set of pliers that'll live as long as you do? (Who doesn't?) In pliers, two things in particular are important: the composition of the material, plus the design of the grips themselves, as these are the workhorse of the good pliers. Craftsman mentions that high-quality pliers should be made of heat-treated steel, and coated for rust protection. Also, it is vital that the gripping (sometimes called the cutting) edges of the pliers are laminated or contain an extra coating, which is sometimes accomplished with nickel plating. If a set of pliers loses its teeth, after all, it will be as worthless as an old lion, so make sure that the teeth are reinforced in some way.

Let's switch gears now, and examine measuring devices. Tape measures are a bit different than hand tools, in that quality and durability often depend on a mechanical apparatus. We'll take long-time top quality tape measure maker Stanley's advice when examining what makes a tape last.

Since tape measures are normally made of plastic, it is important to make sure that the tape itself is coated. Many high-quality tape measures are now coated with a special substance that resists heat, which can ruin a measure in short order. This is an especially important feature for the handyman who works outside a lot. Some of the more high-quality rules are even coated with the trademarked Mylar coating, which is a trusted name in plastic reinforcement. Whatever you do, make sure the measure you buy has some type of reinforcement in the slide itself, as this is the most vulnerable part of the tape measure.

Strong springs are every bit as important as the protective coating on a tape measure. If the spring goes bad, of course, you will be left with a pretty worthless piece of junk. Stanley recommends investing in measures with heat-treated springs, which are more durable then their untreated counterparts. In general, of course, the longer the tape, the more important the strength of the spring, so always make sure that the packaging indicates that the springs have been treated or reinforced in some way.

What if you're in the market for a socket set? You can buy a cheap one at any old department store, of course. But if you want a set of sockets that will last ten years, twenty years, or beyond, than you really should need to do your homework. Really great sets are made to last for several reasons, not the least of which is the way the tools are coated. According to SK, a manufacturer of quality socket sets, the really good socket set is made to be longer-lasting because they resist any corrosion or corruption of the finish. This means a chrome finish, a vital feature of the top-quality socket set, which will resist rusting for many years, if not life.

Have you ever had to throw away a socket wrench because the edges become dull, dented, or soft? Many sets feature a hexagon design, which SK's website says helps the socket grip where it's supposed to - not on the corners which can cause wear and tear, which can make a socket set worthless well before its time. Sure enough, top automotive tools maker Snap-On corroborates this information; their sockets offer not only chrome finishes but also a pentagon design, which is also highly effective in a socket set, as it allows for maximum proper gripping. Snap-On's website explains that these pentagon-shaped types of sockets are used by utility companies everywhere to control important gas and water shut-off functions, so you know that these particular socket features are important.

We've examined several lines of tools that can last a decade or more. Whether you choose hand tools, measuring tools, or socket sets, you can be assured by following the finer points we've mentioned here that the tools you buy today will be in working order when you hand them down to your kids. Just don't be surprised if you're a retired grandparent when your kids hand your former tool set down to their own kids!

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