Following are 22 common sense and everyday reminders for tool users.
I started off writing a satirical post mocking the nonsense that passes as editorial content these days, but everything I came up with seemed like valid common sense tips or reminders.
I was tempted to use the phrase “life hacks” in the headline, mocking how everything is a life hack these days, but I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.
Wear Proper Safety Gear/Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Accidents happen. If you’re not sure what to get, here are some recommendations:
Gear-up: Best Tool and Workshop Safety Gear
Read the Manual
In addition to including introductory and safe-usage information, owner manuals often include valuable tips and tricks. And, they can help you learn about the proper sounds, smells, and lights a tool might give off.
Yes, Your New Drill is Supposed to Spark Like That
You might see sparks through the air vents of your new brushed motor tool. That’s usually normal and to be expected.
This one isn’t common sense, it’s more of a “things every newbie tool user learns the same way” kind of thing.
Smoke is Bad
If smoke is coming out of your tool, stop using it. This usually means you’ve overheated the motor and it’s burning up the protective varnish coating the windings. Or worse.
Pencils Leave Thinner Marks when Sharpened
Who would have thought!
In all seriousness, sharpen your wood pencils (or use a suitable mechanical pencil) for thinner and more precise marks. I find that dull pencils are better for things like filling in knife-cut marks in lumber, or marking the waste side of cut-offs.
I keep multiple pencils around so that I don’t have to sharpen the same pencil all the time.
Sharp Tools are Usually Safer than Dull Tools
Sharper tools cut or work with less effort, whereas dull tools require more effort. With hand tools, extra force can sometimes lead to mistakes and injuries. When talking about power tools, dull tooling or accessories often produce more friction and heat. On top of all that, finish quality will usually suffer.
Don’t Stand on Tool Boxes
You probably shouldn’t sit on them either, but if you do so (at your own risk), the fall distance is a lot shorter.
Don’t Stand on the Top Rung of a Ladder
Also read whatever safety information came with your ladder. Read the safety stickers. There are so many ladder injuries, at least some of which could have been avoided.
Weight Ratings are There for a Reason
Will something rated at 100 lbs fail if you put 100 lbs on it? Probably not, but it could, especially if the load is uneven or focused. There’s also a difference between static weight and dynamic weight.
Many products have a safety factor, such as 4-to-1 where something with a 100 lb rating can actually withstand loads of up to 400 lbs before failure, but there’s no way to tell what that safety factor is, if there even is one.
It is Usually Safer to Cut Away from Yourself
What happens if your knife slips, which direction will the blade travel?
Make Sure You Stay Hydrated
I originally meant this post to be a tongue-in-cheek ridicule of all of the very many “AMAZING LIFE HACKS!!!” online content these days, but many people really don’t properly hydrate all the time, myself included. Even mild dehydration can affect your function and performance.
1 inch = 2.5cm (or 25mm)
Well, 2.54, but 2.5 is close enough.
Check the Weather to Avoid Getting Caught in the Rain
Before you roll your eyes, weather reporting has come a long way. I use the standard iPhone weather app (I gave up Android nearly 3 years ago and haven’t looked back yet), and it will tell me things like “rain will start at 4pm.”
Wash Your Hands Before Eating
Or don’t, it doesn’t bother me.
Clean up After Yourself
Tools, metal shavings, sawdust, screws, parts, etc. Cleaning as you go along is almost always easier than having to clean up after long-term neglect.
Preventative and Regular Maintenance
Air nailers require a drop or two of oil (or whatever the user manual specifies), o-rings might need occasional grease or lubricant, filters usually need to be cleaned, etc.
Developing good product and equipment maintenance habits usually pay off over time.
No Open Containers Where You’re Working
Something *will* find its way into your cup.
No Contact Lenses When Working with Chemicals
Here’s one from laboratory safety manuals. Some lab managers might permit them, but there are numerous reasons why contact lenses are a bad idea when chemical vapors or potential splash hazards are present.
No Open Toe Shoes When Working with Tools
Working in labs drilled this into my head too. I try to at least wear closed-toe shoes when working with tools, although there are some exceptions.
Where safety footwear is not required, closed toe shoes can still help protect your feet from sharp, heavy, molten, or corrosive materials.
Don’t Defeat Safety Guards or other Safety Features
I read through injury reports a year or two ago, and was shocked at how many major injuries were caused by users defeating or remove blade guards on circular saws. It wasn’t all finger and hand injuries, but legs!!
Avoid Snag Hazards Around Spinning or Fast-Moving Equipment
Ties, loose-fitting clothes, long hair, gloves, non-breakaway lanyards, and more pose similar hazards, where they can catch and draw you into fast-moving equipment. Entanglement can severely injure or kill you. Also, for the visitors and synths out there, also be sure to tuck in your tails or any loose wires.
Some Supplies and Materials Have Expiration Dates
Many types of materials degrade with time or exposure to air.
While it might not pose much of a problem to use old glue or tape on non-critical projects, such as repairing a toy display model, there are very many tasks and applications where it’s a better idea to use fresh supplies.
It pays to be mindful about what types of products have shelf lives or expiration dates. Angle grinder cut-off discs, for instance, have expiration dates, presumably because the adhesive binding everything together can weaken or become brittle as it ages.
Random Question: Have you every used toothpaste in any way other than to brush your teeth?
I’m sure you’ve seen the “x-number of awesome secret genius uses for toothpaste!” posts and video online, with uses ranging from “scrub your toilet with toothpaste” and “restore car headlights,” to “fill holes in drywall.”
If you need a mild everyday abrasive, buy a cheap box of baking soda and make a slurry with a bit of water!
Bonus Lifestyle Tip
If you squeeze a melon to check for ripeness, and your finger pokes through the skin, just cut it up and put it in the refrigerator. 12 years ago, I somehow thought it was a better idea to just duct tape over the hole for a temporary patch. (I culled that post just now.) Duct-taping food products seems like a bad idea, even if it’s just the rind.
Life hack: reflect upon past choices and learn to laugh at yourself.
There are some… interesting posts in ToolGuyd’s archive. If you ever want to dig around, you can visit older posts by year, e.g. https://toolguyd.com/2012/, or month, e.g. https://toolguyd.com/2013/04/.
A very enjoyable read. Thanks for reminders and a little levity.
Cutting away from yourself tip – I think you meant direction and not directly.
Thank you! *fixed*
Cut toward your Chum and not your thumb………..
Cut toward your buddy, not your body LOL.
Disagree on the pencil thing. Depending on a thin enough marking line is a recipe for disappointment. Learn to mark in a way that does not depend on the thickness of the line.
True, but there are times when thinner is better.
I’ve gotten in the habit of v-marks. But other times, I want to mark hole centers, and that’s where a sharpened tip is so much better.
There are also times when other marking tools are better than a graphite pencil like:
a single bevel marking knife
a steel, carbide or diamond pointed scribe
a lumber crayon
a white dressmaker’s pencil (better for dark wood)
a fine point sharpie (come in silver and various colors)
I never understood why people don’t clean as they go. I’m not taking about taking time away from getting the job done, but if you are going past the garbage throw stuff away. It’s easy and makes the cleanup quick. If I’m done in a room I clean it and close the door if possible.
This is me. I always use the excuse it’s easier to clean up when all done. I think it has to do with the mindset of hating to do things twice perhaps? I would rather take multiple tools and put them back into my tool box rather than multiple trips to put each tool away when done with it? I don’t know for sure but I haven’t been able to change from the habit of waiting till done.
Cleaning as you go, or cleaning when you’re done, are both good practices. Either approach is far better than having to clean at the start of the next project.
The same applies broadly. Cleaning a pot when you’re done cooking or after the meal is better than waiting until the next time you need that pot. Worse is when you grab clean pots for each occasion and then find yourself with x-number of dirty pots to clean before you can cook.
No no, these are genuinely good tips. Reminders that, no matter how “Pro” someone is, we all need to remind ourselves that we take things for granted. “Of course I turned the power on! I do this for a living!” (The whole Neighbourhood is experiencing a Blackout. The Power is not, in fact, “On”) and similar things like that.
No, A Life Hack is making use of something in a way that eases your work you have to do at just living your life/doing your job. That is a Life Hack. Everything else is just a Common Sense Checklist.
Eye Drop bottles make perfect fluid droppers. Purified Water, Alcohol, Peroxide, Olive Oil, Cooling Fluids. When the Eye Drops are gone, these are like high volume Pipettes. They’re pocketable, compact, and this saves you from choosing to toss them or recycle them. They are technically Medical Waste. But, reuse them like this, and they’re a magnificent friend to have!
Now That was a Life Hack. It’s not common sense, it’s rather out-of-the-box, and yeah… Sometimes it’s the solution you never thought you needed, but here it is.
Only other one I swear by is “Bread Tabs are a great way to mark the end of a roll of tape.” Annoying things, Bread Tabs, right? Twist Ties and those Sticker seals were replaced by these little thin pieces of plastic that are dangerously close to being Guitar Picks? (Plectra for the technical musicians out there.) Well, don’t throw them out, and add to the excess, non-biodegradable plastic in the world… Keep them… use them to mark the end of a roll of tape. Never lose the end ever again. Bonus: Never fight to peel the end out and get started either! Bread Tabs also have enough space to be labelled or written on. Two identical-looking gaffer’s tape rolls? One of which is rated for higher tensile strength and possibly grip? Label it on the tab, and stick it under the edge so the “jaws”are stuck to the tape, and the label can be seen easily. Voila! All your tape, all types, all ages, ready for organization, storage, and easy ID and recall when you need it.
That’s a real Life Hack. Who is going to think of this stuff? Who is going to make this connection? I found out from someone, and now can’t get enough! How is anyone going to know if I don’t share? That’s what makes a Life Hack a Life Hack. Everything else is a handy tip.
Good stuff. My grandfather had little bread tabs on every roll of tape. Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome! The bread tab thing isn’t common sense, but those who know about it, like your Grandfather, Know it is a life saver.
There’s a variant that means you clip it to cables to label them, but… That one is somewhat limited by the diameter of the cable. So, it’s not as universal as the others.
Your Grandfather must’ve been extremely well organized!
I’m curious what the point of the bread tab is on the tape? I get the idea of making it easy to find and pick up the end of the roll, but why use the bread tab? I’ve always achieved the same thing by just folding a little bit of the tape against itself, sticky-side-to-sticky-side. I picked that up watching my elementary school teacher do it. No need for a bread tag or any other object, just use the tape itself.
I do label some tapes that look similar; I just write it on the inside of the roll with a sharpie. Again, no need for a tag.
I’ve got three to add:
1) Use the right size tool for the job. Trying to do delicate work with heavy-duty tools, or trying to do heavy work with a light duty tool is asking for trouble. In first case you can easily lose control of the tool for a moment and damage your work. In the second case you can overload the tool. In both cases there are risks to your personal safety as well.
2) Never trust any sort of lifting device (jack, crane, forklift, heavy equipment, a rope you tossed over the rafters) for supporting a load. Always use jackstands, cribbing, etc, to support a raised load when working near it.
3) No gloves around stationary power tools like bench grinders, disc and belt sanders, drill presses, etc. Gloves are an entanglement hazard for these machines. If the machine catches your glove it can easily mangle your hand. On the other hand, if your bare hand should contact the tool you are likely to receive a minor cut instead.
Trying to explain to people why an impact driver isn’t great for installing cabinet doors is headache inducing. Unless they’re trying to learn how to fix stripped screw holes, which is a useful talent.
Knowing about your drill’s clutch is in the same category.
I follow an older gentleman on Youtube who is a very talented carpenter and wooden boat builder. Just the other day I saw him mention that he never uses a power tool to drive screws for hull planking because “its impossible to control the depth of the screws”. While I can see that is something that could give a beginner trouble, there is absolutely no reason why power tools couldn’t be used so long as they are careful to set the clutch accordingly. I’ve done far more delicate work by experimenting with clutch settings with scrap before doing the actual job, or simply being very careful with trigger control. It seems there are many power tool users out there who don’t realize that their drill, driver, or impact wrench has a whole range of settings between “off” and “balls to the wall” and that for many if not most jobs there is simply no reason to pull the trigger all the way.
I’ll add 3 more:
1)Knowing when and how to shore an excavation is also important. Knowing what the angle of repose for the soil/conditions of the worksite can save a life
2) Match your PPE to the work. Natural fiber clothing (wool/cotton) do not melt or support combustion like synthetic fibers will. So that nylon jacket (as an example) is not good for welding or working where an arc flash is possible
3) Working with machinery when tired or lethargic is a recipe for an accident. Recognize that circadian rhythms can influence how alert you are.
Catch that video of the OSHA guy showing up right before the trench collapses? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wmcD3aM8X4
Cave-ins may not be on the to ten list of accidental deaths – but they are preventable.
The same goes for folks killed by entering confines spaces with air that is not fit to breathe.
Confined spaces are sneakier than walls of unshored dirt. I read a story of guys on a ship entering the anchor chain locker, three dead, one after another. Lots of salty steel without air exchange – rust took all the oxygen out of the air. If anyone sees someone pass out in a space for no apparent reason, stay out or you’re next.
“Read the Manual”
I don’t understand what this means.
Here’s a reason…. A few times I’ve bought a power tool and started using it out of the box the second I got it home without even cracking the manual.
Fast forward months or years and I flip through the manual and see there are features or capabilities I wasn’t aware of.
There really are benefits, not just for the safe use of tools.
I bought a product recently, and it rattles when unpowered. I panicked, but looked through the small folded-up user manual, and wouldn’t you know, it’s supposed to do that.
It’s probably hard to write a list like this without imparting real knowledge – yet I’ve encountered may sites achieving this exact feat. Looks like Toolguyd couldn’t avoid it, but I suspect the challenge is even greater when the author knows something about the subject matter.
Some of the stories that come in through my news feed are just ridiculous.
This was an actual headline by a prominent tech site: “Everyone says to turn off your lights, but does that actually matter?”
The article then proceeded to talk about 40W light bulbs or similar, as if most households haven’t already moved to LED.
Don’t get me started on “best tool” buying guides. Even some woodworking magazines have moved to “content experts” that clearly don’t have any authority in using or discussing tools.
And the stock images! “Best cordless drill” with a “hero” image of an impact driver.
But, there are important reminders here. I not so subtly tried to sneak in some safety PSAs. =)
I can vouch for the “no loose clothes or loose hair” rule. Someone got their hair caught in a bench grinder in my high school shop class, and it was horrific.
> Wash Your Hands Before Eating
Washing after the bathroom is a nonnegotiable. No one wants to touch your junk sweat.
Oh, that too.
My 7th grade Phys Ed teacher instructed us to wash your hands before going to the bathroom (as well as after).
That’s a good idea too depending on the activity.
That was an old joke at work…
What’s the difference between an engineer and a technician?
An engineer washes his hands after having a p*ss.
A tech does before and after..
That looks like a nasty scalp lac. Also need some dry skin relief.
You mean the cantaloupe?
Yes but some looked twice.
No open containers I 💯 agree with. At lunch time when I go to 7-11 their are quite a few people in line from the trades with 3 pk tall boys/ or a 6 pack. No thanks. Don’t need that kind of liability on my job sites
My dad worked on construction crews in high school and college. Said every day the old timers (who probably didn’t actually live to be very old) would go to the corner bar with their lunch pail and have a shot and a beer with their sandwich they brought from home.
What a life!
Well, I more meant open containers in the literal sense, but that works too.
Many years ago I was placing rocks around a flowerbed. I sat for a second and grabbed my glass of beer. Right before taking a drink, I noticed the beer was really foamy. Apparently a bird had flown over and perfectly targeted my beer!
I’ve worked around way too many guys who leave open spit bottles from their chew. So disgusting I don’t even want to see them.
A) “common sense” – so rare it’s practically a goddam superpower
B) “common sense” is usually neither
In your opening remarks under the section “Weight Ratings are There for a Reason” the sentence shown below probably was meant to be …safety factor instead of …safety factory
Many products have a safety factory, such as 4-to-1
Thank you! *fixed*
I lived by the contact lens one when I used to work around a lot of corrosive materials. It is good advice.
A couple more:
1. Before using a table saw, jointer, bandsaw, etc., I count my fingers. Then, I resolve to finish the job with the same number of fingers I started with. Helps to promote a higher level of consciousness.
2. I avoid using dangerous tools when I’m mad.