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Tools are things of mystery and power. Our relationship with them is truly primordial. With us from the beginnings of our species, tools are a symbol of the experience and breadth of knowledge of any craftsman, tradesmen, professional or hobbyist and are one of the great indicators of human ingenuity.A man that treats his tools with respect is a man that respects himself and his trade. Click To Tweet
We know this. Today we are interested in the how not the why. As our library of tools expands and evolves, so must our knowledge of their proper care.
Cleaning and Storing Your Hand Tools
For the regular maintenance of simple hand tools, the condition that you store them in is much more important than the way you clean them.
There is nothing wrong with using a solvent, like WD-40, to clean your tools. However, WD-40 is not a lubricant, and won’t prevent rust in storage conditions. As it evaporates, it attracts water molecules that cause oxidation and rust. To prepare your hand tools for storage, use a true lubricant. Putting a little engine oil on your shop towel and rubbing it into your tool works well. It protects the inside of your engine, it can protect your tools. Teflon, silicon or grease-based lubricants are ideal. Rub in a light coat with a towel unless you want a toolbox full of sludge.
Don’t use solvents or lubricants to clean the rubber handles on your hand tools. Solvents will eat away at the rubber, and lubricants can slowly absorb into the handles causing them to harden and crack over time. Dish soap and water is all you need there.
If you have expensive hard-to-find hand tools, you should take the extra step of controlling humidity. Although you certainly can, you don’t have to dehumidify your entire shop. Controlling the humidity in your toolbox or cabinet with Silica gel packs or a GoldenRod should be sufficient.
Maintaining Your Power Tools
This should go without saying, but people like me need to hear it. Read the equipment manuals that come with any tool that you want to keep in service. There has been more than one painful occasion where I was certain that I was doing the right thing to maintain my tools up until the moment of failure.
Pay special attention to any maintenance that must be performed regularly on any internal components. Gear assemblies, O-rings and motor shafts may all require semi-regular inspection, cleaning and lubrication. Be careful not to void manufacturer warranties. Lithium grease and Ballistol are two lubricants that you will learn to love. After each use, clean out any areas in your tool where dust might have entered with an air compressor, or a small paint brush. Take a small piece of painter’s tape and wrap it around the power cord creating a tag at the base of the tool, and label the date that you perform any regular maintenance.
It might seem obvious, but taking care of your power cords is the easiest way to prolong the life of your power tools. While in use, maintain awareness of your cords in order to avoid snagging, twisting or allowing them to come into contact with the moving parts of the equipment. When you store your power tools, don’t wrap the cables tightly around the equipment or twist them as you coil the cord which can damage the wire beneath the insulation. Coil your cords loosely in a way that doesn’t put strain on the internal wire.Taking care of your power cords is the easiest way to prolong the life of your power tools. Click To Tweet
It is important to know what type of batteries your tools use in order to maximize their lifespan. Older nickle cadmium (NiCad) batteries should be drained to at least 40 percent capacity after use, some manufacturers recommending a complete discharge. Unlike NiCads, which don’t build up heat until the end of their charging cycle, newer lithium-ion batteries (LIB) are much more sensitive to temperature extremes, and build up excess heat during the charging process. They also quickly lose capacity if stored while discharged. Despite these disadvantages LIB batteries provide more consistent voltage until drained and can be safely stored with a full charge. Best practice is to store all batteries away from extremes in heat or cold.
Protect the Integrity of Your Air Compressor
Air compressors are an exciting addition to any garage. If you want to keep yours in service, it will require regular maintenance. In addition to maintaining the engine components, maintaining the air tank is critical. As the compressor pulls air out of the environment, water vapor travels with it and collects in your tank. After each use, open the valve at the bottom of your air tank to release the collected moisture. If you neglect this, rust will slowly eat away at the bottom of your tank transforming your air compressor into a bomb with potentially fatal consequences. Even if you don’t use your compressor regularly, periodically filling the tank and opening the valve will stop moisture from collecting inside. Always unplug any hoses from the compressor after use and dry the plugs with a towel to prevent corrosion.
Guidelines for caring for your tools could easily fill a library. Most of us would easily love to own that library. As a general principle, know your tools. If your tools have moving parts, they almost certainly need lubrication and to be kept free of dust and debris. Despite perpetual attempts to bond, metal and moisture should not be friends. If you’re forcing your tools, something is probably wrong: They’re not sharp enough, they’re not lubricated enough or they may not be the right tool for the job. For the sake of the gods, read the manufacturer’s instructions. Then, verify those instructions with people that actually use the tools. Try not to be a tool. Respect your tools. Even the simplest tool has more innovation than we can conceive of. Take care of your tools, and they can serve you for a lifetime.