Photo: Charles Schiller

What You'll Learn

  1. The Essentials
  2. Where to Find It
Ancient Romans and medieval Vikings carried folding pocket knives (on their belts, because they had no pockets), and Civil War troops packed blades that might have also included a corkscrew, button-hook, tweezer, cigar fork, cartridge extractor, or wood saw. In the late 19th century, officers in the Swiss Army made famous the uber-knife, which ingeniously built more than one function into each of the blades in its easy-to-tote package.

Today's soldiers are more likely to carry a multi-tool, the modern version of the folding knife, invented in 1975 when Tim Leatherman of Portland, Oregon, added a pair of needlenose pliers to the equation. In 2002, a Green Beret medic serving in Afghanistan used a Leatherman tool to perform an emergency leg amputation.

Hopefully you won't ever need a multi-tool to avoid gangrene, but you will find a bucket of more mundane uses for these overstuffed essentials, from tightening up a loose cabinet handle to stripping a frayed lamp wire. That's not to say that the chronically prepared won't find more inspired applications for the tool's myriad features. To see what we mean, just see below.



SERRATED KNIFE
Primary use: Cutting meat
Also good for: Opening the hard-plastic packaging encasing a new tool

SAW
Primary use: Pruning trees
Also good for: Sawing dowels and wood plugs flush on a furniture repair

SCISSORS
Primary use: Cutting paper, fabric, or loose threads
Also good for: Liberating yourself from a jammed seat belt in an accident

SMALL-BIT SCREWDRIVER
Primary use: Fixing eyeglasses and electronics
Also good for: Spearing the olive at the bottom of the martini glass

LARGE FLAT-BIT SCREWDRIVER
Primary use: Tightening loose cabinet and drawer handles
Also good for: Popping the child-proof cap off a can of spray paint

NEEDLENOSE PLIERS
Primary use: Pulling nails
Also good for: Holding small brads as you get them started with the hammer

REGULAR PLIERS
Primary use: Turning stubborn bolts
Also good for: Cracking walnuts to eat with the olive from that martini glass

RULER
Primary use: Measuring small distances
Also good for: Spacing drip irrigation holes at regular intervals





WIRECUTTERS
Primary use: Snipping electrical wire
Also good for: Breaking the plastic straps wrapped around a circular-saw shipping box

HARD-WIRE CUTTERS
Primary use: Slicing through thick copper and metal wires
Also good for: Clipping heads off finishing nails so you can pull moldings without dings

LARGE PHILLIPS BIT
Primary use: Attaching hooks and fixtures to walls and doors
Also good for: Reaming dried paint out of window hardware

WIRE STRIPPER
Primary use: Removing electrical insulation
Also good for: Deburring the hole in the back of the entertainment center so TV wires don't fray

BOTTLE/CAN OPENER
Primary use: Opening a bottle of beer at the end of a long day
Also good for: Cleaning paint, caulk, or other house crud from fingernails...and then opening a bottle of beer

FILE
Primary use: Sharpening axes and knives
Also good for: Cleaning off rusty pruning shears that have sat unused over the winter

RASP
(other side of file)
Primary use: Shaping wood
Also good for: Knocking down a sharp corner on a wooden kids' toy

KNIFE BLADE
Primary use: Carving wood
Also good for: Unsticking a painted-over window sash

Ask TOH users about Hand Tools

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