Letter Re: A Guide to Assembling an Off-Grid Carpentry Tool Box, by B.F.

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Good morning, Hugh,

In reference to “A Guide to Assembling an Off-grid Carpentry Tool Box, by B.F.” posted Saturday 5/23, which is an excellent treatise on carpenter’s tools, I’d suggest adding an assortment of mechanic’s tools to the “prep list.”

If one peruses estate sales one can often turn up mechanic’s tools– wrenches, screwdrivers, punches, files, pliers, et cetera– in fair to excellent condition at extremely reasonable prices. I never turn down the opportunity to pick up more. Having maintained my own vehicles and performed home repairs for decades I have a good idea what tools are necessary and what are perhaps not necessary but quite useful to have, and what are beneficial luxuries.

Since I’m quite familiar with my older vehicle, I have a rather complete set of tools specific to it in the vehicle, all of which would be useful on nearly any vehicle. The toolbox in the garage is much larger, as it contains copies of the vehicle tools as well as those tools I’ve found necessary, and handy, on tasks in the house and around the property and on the equipment. I won’t burden readers with a list of everything, since each should be familiar enough with their own needs to come up with a specific list, but I will suggest making sure you have wearable LED headlights, very good ones, and plenty of batteries for them (four words: Amazon Black Friday Sales).

Pro tip: buy batteries, in all the sizes you use, in bulk and replace them on a schedule to make sure you have light when you need it; this is especially true for those lights not used frequently. For me, New Year’s and July 4th work well as reminder dates. Some get replaced annually, some bi-annually, a few (my pocket light, for example) monthly. Rechargeables have their place, but I’m not a big fan of them for general use; they seem to always be low on charge when they’re needed. FYI on LED lights: incandescent flashlights will get dimmer as battery output drops, but LEDs will simply stop when battery voltage drops below the minimum LED input voltage necessary. “Simply stop” means “instant darkness”, which is why one replaces batteries on schedules.

A word on vehicle tool kits: Many people, faced with a worn or non-performing tool, will purchase a replacement and, not wanting to sacrifice the small remaining value in the old tool, “put it in the car or truck” for emergency use. This is an error. If one has to perform emergency vehicle repairs it will frequently occur at inopportune times and locations with few additional resources. You may find yourself under a vehicle, in the mud, well after sunset, trying to repair something with a tool that is nearly worn out, while your new, well-performing tool is at home in the garage, barn or carport, where you have a hard floor, lighting, a roof, and possibly even heat. Make life easier on yourself and keep the better tools in the vehicle. Worst case, if one is working around home and needs the “better” tool, retrieve it from the vehicle.

It also doesn’t hurt to expand the vehicle kit a bit. For example, your vehicle may be metric, but adding some SAE tools (or vice-versa) allows one to provide assistance on others’ vehicles, or perhaps perform work on other equipment or household items. Organization is the key. I use the medium (7″ X 13″) cloth electrician’s equipment zipper closure bags to keep sockets, ratchets, and extensions together, as well as to hold SAE and metric wrenches while keeping them separated.

As I accumulate surplus mechanic’s tools I package them in military-style canvas mechanic’s kit bags, occasionally adding to them with new tools and accessories purchased on sale at closeout prices. End-of-year sales at home centers have produced some very good values. The local Lowe’s, for example, was selling a very good socket, extension, and ratchet set, with both SAE and metric, for $39.95 leading up to Christmas. The last weekend of the year the few remaining sets in the display were marked down to $9.88 to get rid of them. I bought all three. Cheap (not just “inexpensive” but “cheap”) LED flashlights were available in a package of 6 for $10. That allowed adding a flashlight and two sets of batteries to each kit. Pro tip: when so doing, do not install the batteries in the flashlights. Instead, tape over the terminal ends with painter’s tape and put the batteries in a plastic freezer bag (or large pill bottle if you have one that size). This makes them easier to replace on a schedule, and if they deteriorate and leak they won’t ruin anything else.

When hard times come, there will be people with broken vehicles and equipment but no tools with which to repair them. Gifts of tool sets to family and friends will be welcomed and valuable as barter with others. I’m quite willing to trade a tool kit in which I’ve invested $15-25 for assistance, expertise, or other supplies. – N.K.

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