Bad tools abound in the world of home renovation. Some tool manufacturers deliberately try to cheat DIY home renovators with flimsy tools that do not live up to their promise. Other bad tools seem to have a good heart; they are just not up to snuff.
And then there is the category of tools that are archaic and no longer relevant, yet somehow they still linger on the tool marketplace.
Sure, it's easy to pick on those "As Seen on TV" Billy Mays-type of tools.
After all, they practically have failure designed into them. But what about those tools that aren't so readily obvious as failures?
Let's take a look at the most useless tools in the world; why we think they are bad; and a few suggestions for better tools that you might find helpful.
Yankee Driver Is a Bad Tool That People Are Nostalgic For
The Yankee driver is sort of like a predecessor to the cordless drill. It has been around forever, and I don't know if it ever really worked. But I have never been able to get it to work and I don't know of anybody else who has.
Embarrassing confession: I happen to have real affection for the Yankee driver. I like it. It's fun to play with. When I was a kid, I often played with my Dad's Yankee driver.
The premise of the Yankee driver is that you are supposed to be able to push on the shaft of this screwdriver-like device, and the screwdriver bit at the end will rotate in response to the pressure.
The problem is that it does not work. Wait, take that back. The Yankee driver will work, but only under the most optimal conditions. The screw has to fit perfectly into the hole. There can be no resistance at all, zero friction. And the stars in the sky must be perfectly aligned.
The Yankee driver might work if you were trying to force the screw into a stick of butter, but whoever needs to do this? Seriously, about the only instance where the Yankee driver might work is if you are trying to turn the screw into a very well established hole in metal. Forget wood. And don't even think about trying to create a hole with the Yankee driver.
Move along with the times: get a nice lithium ion 18V cordless drill. And leave the Yankee driver to your grandson to play with.
Magnetic Stud Finder Is a Horrible Tool, Hands Down
Ah, now here is a great idea! What you want to do is find metal drywall screws or nails within a wall. The reason you want to do this is because you need to find a stud.
Q: What is the one thing that is most attracted to metal?
A: Well, a magnet, of course.
So you invent a thing called a magnetic stud finder. You place a weak magnet on a little flippy rod-thingy. Encase it in a transparent plastic box.
When you drag the magnetic stud finder across the wall, the magnet senses the metal embedded in the wall and the little flippy rod-thingy moves.
One huge problem with this idea is that the magnet is not strong enough to really snap to attention when it senses screws or nails. It has to be right on top of the screw or nail in order to move. This means that you have a lot of sweeping and dragging across the wall to do.
The very instant the magnetic stud finder senses the fastener below, you need to be ready with your carpenter's pencil to make a mark on the wall. You did have your carpenter's pencil in your pocket, didn't you?
A better option is something called the Magic Stud Finder, which uses super-powerful rare earth magnets, or an electronic stud finder.
Foam Painting Edgers Are a Good Idea That Just Don't Work
Painting is a pain. I think that a lot of people get tanked up on caffeine on Saturday mornings, head down to The Home Depot intent on painting their house, drag gallons of paint and supplies home... and then promptly burn out on the whole idea. Painting has great promise--of all the home renovation projects out there, it's the sexiest--but it rarely lives up to the promise.
Ever wonder why people hire professional painters?
Naturally, there are plenty of devices out there that claim to be able to help you speed up your painting project. Foam painting edgers are a prime example.
Leave the "edging" part of this to the side for a moment. The main problem is that foam is a terrible material to use for painting. Even after these hundreds of years of evolving painting technology, guess what is the best material to use for painting?
A: Good old horsehair bristles or even nylon bristles. Foam just does not cut it.
With that in mind, factor in the added difficulty of dealing with edging. Edging, by itself, is a difficult task with regular bristled paint brushes. Foam just complicates matters. What you get is something that looks more like a smear. Because the foam does not adequately hold the paint, you are continually dealing with dripping paint, too.
Improve on foam painting edgers by learning the "cut-in" technique with regular paint brushes. Or, get in the habit of using blue painters tape to form an edge.
Crescent Wrench Is Bad Because It Loosens On Its Own
I have long been sour on the crescent or adjustable wrench. Perhaps long ago, in my childhood, I barked a knuckle while trying to use a crescent wrench--who knows? There may be entire populations of tool-users out there who successfully use crescent wrenches, but don't count me in.
The first problem is that "adjustable" is never a good term you want to apply to a wrench. You see, adjustable wrenches have this terrible habit of slowly loosening, no matter how tightly you have adjusted them in place.
No matter how hard you tighten them down, they had considerable play.
I even tested three separate brands with a thickness gauge to see how much play they had. The Crescent brand adjustable wrench had the least amount of play; the Sears Craftsman wrench had a bit more (about 1mm); and the no-name KR brand adjustable wrench had, I would conservatively estimate, 2mm of play.
Generically known as "tongue and groove pliers," the more popular name is the brand-name Channellock. In my estimation, Channellock vies with the crescent wrench for the most useless title. Like the crescent wrench, it is adjustable--but at least it does have a positive locking device (notches) which prevents the adjustable wrench from de-adjusting.
Those helpful notches are the trouble: they never seem to give you the size that you want.
And because you end up sizing too far in or out, you end up stripping the bolt head, nut, or whatever you've clamped onto.
If Channellock has any use, it's good as a crude gripper of work material.
2.5 Years Later: Reassessment of ChannellockSorry, but I'm standing by my views of the Channellock. Even early in its history, the Channellock was advertised as being a tool for "all 'round usefulness," which can "grip anything from a cotter pin to a 1 3/4" hex nut." Champion DeArment Tool Co. (later renamed Channellock) wanted Channellock pliers to be the one set of pliers in your house for all needs.
Readers here rightfully attest to Channellock's use for their own specialized needs--one reader mentions how he likes to use it for conduit. But as an "all 'round" useful tool, Channellock fails.
4 Years Later: Re-Reassessment of ChannellockWell, the world can breath a collective sigh of relief. I recently bought a Channellock-like tool for one specific task. That task is over, and now this tool hangs from my pegboard. I have no idea what else to do with it, but I felt I had to come clean.
Before we go any farther into the subject of this sacred cow, the Vise-Grip, let me emphasize one thing: Off-brand, off-brand...off-brand!
The Vise-Grip is a toolbox classic, around since 1924 and proudly manufactured in Nebraska (more on that in a bit, though). The Vise-Grip performs admirably. It does things you can't imagine pliers doing.
Yet the world is filled with off-brand Vise-Grips--pliers that look like Vise-Grip and purport to do the same thing, but which fail miserably.
I have a knock-off Vise-Grip that sounds like a Dr. Seuss book, because it goes, "Spring, sprang, sprung" all the time (see photo of pliers which managed to disassemble itself). I hold onto the thing for entertainment value.
I'm no brand junkie. I'll use any off-brand tool--as long as it works. But a Vise-Grip is too delicate a device to trust to shadowy pirate Chinese tool makers.
Oh wait... I see now that even Vise-Grip brand Vise-Grips are no longer made in Nebraska. Even the King of All Pliers has moved to China. We'll have to see what happens to Vise-Grip now...