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How To Abuse Your Tools



By Roger Bergman, Jan 1994

Several people have asked me recently how best to abuse their tools, so in response to their persistent demands, I have made this list of the best and most commonly desired ways to abuse your tools.

 The Hammer

The hammer is surely the best choice for beginners who do not yet know how to misuse tools.  Around the bicycle shop, we call it the “All-purpose Fine Adjustment Tool” or sometimes “The Convincer.”

Use a tiny hammer for hitting large objects; use the biggest hammer you can find for miniature and delicate work.  If a gentle tap doesn’t work, lift the hammer as high as you can and really whack away.  Be sure to bang on the ends of screwdrivers, wrenches, and even your fingers.  Never mind the hammer for striking nails; use wrenches and pliers for that (see below.)

Use the hammer for straightening bulges on rims and for persuading screws and bolts to go where they are reluctant to reside.


One of the nice things about pliers is that you can always find them sooner than anything else, so they are always handy when you seek to abuse something on the spur of the moment.  Try using the end of the handle to pry something heavy.  Unfortunately, pliers are usually so rugged that you many have to use them as a hammer in order to do them any real harm.

To damage the object you are working on is much easier: use pliers for turning nuts until you round off their edges and corners.  Also, squeeze very hard so that the pliers slip off and injure your knuckles.  If you have tightened a nut with pliers, you may relax and bask in confidence that it is not torqued on right.  If you save your pliers for holding things, pulling cables, or bending soft metal, you will completely fail in your attempt to ruin either the tool or your work.

Vise-grips, or the generic “locking pliers,” are a particularly clever invention, designed and intended specifically to damage your work, even if the tool itself is hard to ruin.  Adjust the jaws so that the tool does not clamp tightly and you will round off the edges on your nuts and bolts even quicker than with ordinary pliers.  Or, if you wish, hold axles and other threaded or bendable items under very tight pressure to render them hopelessly useless.

 Ah, the screwdriver!

 There are lots of ways to misuse the screwdriver, and they start with driving screws.  Choose the size of your screwdriver carefully, for if you use the size blade appropriate to fit the slot on the cap of your screw, everything will probably go smoothly, and we don’t want that!  We want the screwdriver to slip out, to strip the slot on the screw, or as a last resort to leave the screw too loose.

 By the way, screwdrivers, especially new ones, are wonderful chisels when used with a hammer to gouge wood, metal and flesh.  If this does not damage the blade of the screwdriver, you will probably have to use the screwdriver as a drift punch.  Doing this, you may also be lucky enough to crack the handle.

 On the bicycle, the screwdriver is second only to an ice-pick for puncturing inner tubes as you pry the tire off and onto your rims.


Wrenches are also easy to misuse, even for a beginner.  You will think of the ordinary ways yourself, of course, such as hitting things with them, using the wrong size openings on different nuts and bolts, and tying them onto a fishing line to use a sinker.  But you probably never thought of placing a wrench on a seized bolt and the placing a pipe on the end of the wrench to get extra leverage.  It might work, but you may also break or bend the wrench or the bolt.  Bolts are designed to withstand normal torque.  By extending the handle, you are likely to exceed the strength of the tool’s material, and surely the strength of the material you are working on.

 General Rules

Sorry, folks, but you can’t take credit for someone else’s creativity if the parts are already cross-threaded or mismatched and forced together.  Sometimes the tools and/or the work are casualties when removing such badly mated parts.  Moreover, it isn’t really fair, because it is easy to damage a cross-threaded headset, bottom bracket, or other part with a large wrench and lots of force, and hard to recover from this mistake.  As a generalization, if you use parts that mate well, the tools will work well on them.

Lend your tools.  This is a great rule.  If you forget to abuse a tool, the borrower will surely take over and if the tool isn’t damaged, it will never return.  I’m sure there are genes for this behavior, or maybe it’s part of the autonomic nervous system.  Once I lent a screwdriver to a neighbor, who smiled at me three days later when I asked for it.  “Oh, darn,” the neighbor said without a trace of remorse, "I’ll bet my father took it back to Virginia by mistake!”  I don’t know why I don’t have this instinct for borrower’s irresponsibility.  I will sometimes go out and buy a new tool to return to a lender who was kind enough, for example, to loan me an odd-size drill bit I needed on a Sunday evening.

Did you ever leave you tools outside overnight?  I’ve done it lots of times.  It often works.  Even if I find the tool, and if it hasn’t rained, then condensation from the changing temperatures makes it necessary to clean and oil the item.

Keep your tools in disarray!  This is the best guideline of all for abusing your tools.  You won’t know what you have or where it is, and you will waste time looking for tools and parts that get lost among them, but the less obvious results are wonderfully insidious: you will be able to borrow and misuse other people’s tools!  You will go out and buy new tools to duplicate those you already have (contributing to the clutter!) And best of all, you will be tempted to use inappropriate tools as substitutes.

Have a great day, and don’t forget your butterknife.


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