We have all done it, used a flathead screwdriver as a pry bar or a wrench as a hammer in times of need, but these common mistakes can lead to disaster not only for the tool, but also for the parts you are working on. As the saying goes, there is a proper tool for every job, using the right tool makes the job faster and easier most of the time. To help you avoid these common mistakes, we have put together a list of the 10 most common tool mistakes along with the right tool do the job.
Screwdriver pry bar
The most commonly misused tool is the screwdriver. You likely have a number of them in your tool box, and several others around the house. They are versatile and handy to have, but they are also designed for one purpose: installing and removing screws. That is it. Using a screwdriver as a pry bar is simply asking for trouble. Not only are you nearly guaranteed to bend the shank, rendering it nearly useless for its intended purpose, but it could break, sending the broken pieces into your hand, or into whatever you are working on. Don’t wreck your hand because you were too lazy to get up a grab the pry bar you should already have in your tool box. A small iron pry bar costs just a few bucks, use it.
Wrong sized screwdriver
Did you know that there are different sizes of Phillips and flat head screwdrivers? While many folks know this, there are just as many that don’t realize how important this really is. The most common Phillips size is the #2, but they go all the way down to size #0 (even smaller for jeweler sizes), up to size #4, which is large by huge. The largest size was commonly used for attaching door hinges and things like that on pre 1960s cars, it is much less common these days, but #1-3 sizes are in everything. A #3 screw driver will not fit a #2 screw, but a #2 driver will fit in a #3 screw. The problem is that there is not enough contact and you will strip the head. This goes for the smaller versions as well. Make sure the screwdriver fits snug into the head before turning. Technique is important too, make sure you apply pressure on the screw head while turning.
Flathead screwdrivers should be snug and fully seat into the slot. Too narrow will be strip, too thick will do the same.
Pliers and a screwdriver for more torque
The torque applied to a screwdriver is a direct relation to the size of the handle. A stubby screwdriver does not allow for the same torque application as a longer thicker-handled driver. When needing more torque, DIYers may grab a pair of pliers (locking or otherwise) to apply more torque to the tool. This does several things- it damages the handle, but more importantly, it increases the risk of introducing side pressure to the screw, which will lead to stripping the head. Instead, use a longer driver with a bigger handle. There are some screwdrivers that have a hex on the shank for a wrench, this is OK, because the tool is designed for it. If you need more torque, use an impact driver to get the job done. There are both cordless and manual impact tools for screwdrivers. The cordless one are just like what you are thinking- a drill shaped tool, but the manual impact tools are different. You hold the tool with the bit in the screw and hit the back side with a hammer, this operated the internal ratcheting mechanism that applies the force. These are really handy for the #3 and #4 Phillips screw sizes.
OK, we get it, you need to drive that bolt out of the hole and you have a screwdriver next to you, but the punch set in 15 feet away. Go ahead, grab the screwdriver and give it a whack. Maybe the bolt comes out, maybe you break the tip of the screwdriver in the hole and now you have two problems. All because you were in a hurry. We have all done it, but we know better. Don’t take the risk, use the right punch (check out our guide to punches and chisels here) for the job and not the screwdriver. A mushed tip on a screwdriver is useless.
This is probably the worst possible option for a chisel. A flat blade screwdriver is neither sharp enough, hard enough, nor is it shaped correctly for use as a chisel. Just don’t do it, OK? This is how eyes get put out. A shattering screwdriver send shrapnel all over the place, why take the risk when it will not work in the first place?
A light tap on a bolt with a ratchet to push it in or out of a hole is, but anything beyond that is just silly. First, wrenches, screwdrivers, and ratchets all have rounded edges and are too light to be used for hammer. A glancing blow is far more dangerous than you may think. Busted fingers, dented sheet metal, and and angry you are not good things. A hammer is designed to take the abuse of hitting things, all those other tools are not. Use a hammer, not a wrench.
Pliers as a wrench
If you like rounded nuts and bolts that are nearly impossible to remove, then the plier wrench is for you! There is only one time when pliers are OK to use on a bolt or nut, and that is when it is already stripped and you are using locking pliers. Regular pliers are never acceptable substitutes for a proper wrench of the correct size, and no, you should use a metric wrench on an SAE bolt or vice versa.
Wrench as a tubing bender
This is one of those weird ones. A common trick to bending tubing is to use two wrenches against each other to bend hard lines. And while it may get you home, it will also certainly put a kink in the line that you have to replace later on. There are so many inexpensive tubing benders available that you should never resort to this type of tomfoolery. Even if you only bend a hard line once, get the right tool, you will be happy you did.
Another on the list of common tool mistakes is to use a box-end wrench on a ratchet or another wrench to gain leverage on a stubborn bolt. Using leverage is a not a bad thing, but a wrench will slip and leave you with busted knuckles and you still didn’t get the bolt loosened. Instead, use a proper breaker bar or a piece of thick-wall pipe to give you that extra leverage you need.
Torque wrench breaker bar
Many torque wrenches have been destroyed because they were used as a breaker bar. Sure, they are long and heavy duty, but the torque measuring components are not designed to operate backwards, and applying torque on then will at the very least knock them out of calibration, and completely destroy them in the worst. Use a proper breaker bar without any ratcheting mechanism instead.
The bottom line is this – if you are on the side of the road and trying to get your vehicle repaired, don’t be so concerned with damaging a tool, getting on the road is more important, and your tool selection is probably limited. If you are in your garage, however, there is no reason to use the wrong tool for the job at hand. Take the time to get the tool you need to get the job done right.
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A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.