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The Right Tool for the Job
Safety, effectiveness, and preserving your tools: these are the obvious benefits of always choosing the right tool for the job, both in the house and in the garden.


If you're just getting your first toolbox together you might benefit from guidance on how to use your new tools and how to pick the right tool for the job.

The main points about choosing the right tool are:
  • it's in the interests of your own safety and the safety of others;
  • the right tool is designed to do the job most effectively; and
  • correct usage will increase the life of your tools.

Always remember to clean and maintain your tools. If they become unserviceable, dispose of them.  Make sure they are stored (and secured) safely to guard against the curiosity of children and to prevent them being stolen or used to break into your house.

And always read and follow all manufacturer's safety instructions and warnings.

The Right Tool for the Job

Tool tips

Look at the suitability, capacity and condition of the tool you are about to pick up.
Here are some rules of thumb on tool selection and usage:
  • Don't grind, weld or heat tools because this could make them unsafe.
  • Never exceed the capacity of a tool.
  • Don't use tools showing signs of excessive wear or breakage.
  • Don't use suspect tools such as hammers with chipped heads, insecure or cracked handles, excessively mushroomed chisel or punch ends.
  • Always check that the handle of any tool is tightly fitted before use.
  • If you lift anything heavy like a toolbox, watch your back and don't strain.
  • If you have a toolbox with multiple drawers, close one drawer before opening another or the whole box might tip over. Close and lock the cover or drawers before moving the toolbox.
  • Make sure you are well balanced when using wrenches and spanners, always pulling the wrench towards you rather than push it.
  • Never hit a spanner with a hammer to loosen a nut. Try a little household oil on the reluctant part.
  • Choose the right size tools - don't use metric tools on imperial fasteners, and vice versa.
  • Keep your free hand clear when driving home a screw in case the screwdriver slips.
  • Never use screwdrivers as chisels, levers or punches (not even someone else's,since this is friendship-ending offence).
  • Avoid damaging a screwdriver or a screw head by always selecting the appropriate pattern, i.e. Phillips and Pozi head.
  • If you need extra torque, select a screwdriver with a hexagonal shoulder to take a wrench, but never use pliers.
  • When cutting wire, always wear eye protection and cut at right angles and avoid twisting the wire. Use the throat rather than the tip of cutting edges.
  • Lock-grip pliers should not be used as a permanent clamp because components can move due to vibration or shock.
  • Remember the rule of thumb for choosing a hammer - the head should have a diameter about 10mm larger than the surface you wish to strike. Avoid hitting with the edge of the hammer.
  • Always wear appropriate safety gear.

Garden tools

The right tool makes any job easier and this is equally true in the garden. If you are just starting out, here are a few basic tools that will get you started. Don't spend a fortune until you've had a chance to try a few and see what your preferences are.
  • Spades and Shovels - You may prefer one with a round, pointed blade or a square blade, depending on its main use. Heavy spades made from forged steel allow you to dig deep into heavy soil and you can use the back of the spade to break up clumps of soil. Handle length is a matter of preference but many people favour shorter handles because they allow great manoeuvrability.There's a huge variety of spades ranging in blade width and handle length - just see what feels best before you buy.
  • Forks - Both long handled pitch forks and small hand forks are used for improving the physical structure of the soil and to promote healthy root growth. Avoid those that are made from weak metals as they will bend easily and be ineffective. The strongest have square, rather than flat tines
  • Trowels - Most planting will require you get down on your knees with a trowel. Steel blades will last longest and soft rubber handles are easier on the grip. There are also ergonomic designs to take the stress off your wrist. A narrow blade is good for digging in solid soil but a wide, rounded blade removes soil faster. You'll probably end up with a couple of different shaped trowels and if you're a keen gardener this is how it should be.
  • Pruners - Good pruners make an essential job easier and will make a cleaner healthier cut on the plants. They can be costly, so try holding a few different pruners to see what feels comfortable in your hand.
  • Hoes - Hoes are the nemesis of weeds and can also be used to break up soil that isn't too compacted. For strength, look for a rolled steel blade that is riveted to the handle. Smaller blades allow you to get in between plants.
  • Rakes - You'll probably need two rakes: a flexible one (like a light bamboo rake) for lightweight materials such as lawn clippings and leaves and a sturdy metal rake for furrowing and grading soil and mulch.

  • Stainless steel heads are easier to dig with than carbon-steel because the soil doesn't cling to them as much and they don't rust.  Otherwise, forged tools are the most durable.
  • Garden tools with long handles will give you more leverage but you may have to sacrifice some control. How far the load is from your body is also a consideration.
  • Keep your timber handles from drying out and splitting by rubbing them with linseed oil (thinned slightly with mineral turps for penetration).
  • Protect metals blades with a coat of oil or petroleum jelly.
  • Use a steel brush to clean off tools after each use.
  • Check and tighten the screws and fasteners often.


Ignoring all the jokes about left-handed hammers and screwdrivers, the reality for left-handed people is that most tools, particularly power tools, are made for use by right-handed people. This means that if you want to use these tools you often have to make adjustments to your body position and balance which compromises the effectiveness of the tool and, possibly, your own personal safety.

With grip strength reduced by about 25 per cent in the non-dominant hand, the options appear to be either learning to use the tool with the non-dominant hand or using it cross-handed, but both options have inherent problems and risks.

Some left-handers make it easier to use the non-dominant hand by increasing the grip and diameter of the tool handles, using soft tape around the handles like that used for tennis racquets. This helps improve slip resistance and overcomes a reduction in grip strength and force, but not completely.

Some left-handers avoid using circular saws altogether because they do not like steadying the saw with their right hand close to the blade. They also find that trigger lock buttons are difficult to activate and de-activate and that thumb controls are on wrong side for a left-hander.

When choosing power tools left-handers need to take note of the position of the on-off switch. Fortunately, many are now centrally mounted.

But a word of caution - it may be easy to use power tools in a cross-handed manner and ignore the more obvious safety issues until it's too late. Before you buy any power tools, pick them up to see how they feel and how you might be able to adjust to them. Of course, this goes for right-handed people too.