A Real World Tested Tool Kit For Cruisers

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Note that I have made several changes, additions, and subtractions since I took this shot a year ago (read on for the details), but it will still give you an idea of the full kit.

A bit over a year ago I wrote about buying all new tools after letting our old ones go when we sold our McCurdy and Rhodes 56.

In those chapters in our Maintaining a Cruising Boat Online Book, I covered the wrenches and power tools we bought, and over the last few months I have written about other tools in our Tips, Tricks and Thoughts area.

Now, after a year and a half of using these tools on extensive projects while refitting our new-to-us J/109, I'm going to, as promised, report on how this has worked out and, while I'm at it, cover fastener-driving tools.

As you read this, remember that the goal of my tool-acquisition project was to be able to manage most tasks on a cruising boat with the minimum weight and volume of tools.

So those of you with large boats, or who go to remote places (like we used to) where having every tool we might need gets a lot more important, will need to add some specialized and boat-specific tools to this kit.

And these chapters will be of particular use to prospective Adventure 40 owners since, even though you will have those great storage bays, loading them up with too many heavy tools would be a horrible mistake, as so doing would contribute to ruining the boat's sparkling performance.

Let's dig in.

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
A really valuable guide: not only an introduction to tools that I (and I suspect others) have never heard of, but also to some of the features that would never occur, but ones that can turn a project from an ordeal into every-day. As often happens in your writing, it is also valuable that you share your thinking as you work your way to sharing the outcome decisions.
Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Star Tracker

Second this! I have often eyed the wera sets. Nice to see how they can work together. Would there be any interest in a bit of a write up on a kit I’ve found useful? Modified over the years a fair bit, formed the base of the kits for my employees as well, the goal was to have every tool needed for a given service job, with only needing to pull tools from shelves for specific specialized jobs. The absolute core of it is a single bag for around 75% of the jobs, all 3 cover closer to 90%, including enough space for loadouts from the shop for any one job, in one walk down the dock without carrying anything.
So far I’ve yet to need more in my refit save power tools.

3 handy items: 12″ length of speaker wire, separated 1″ at one end with 2 male blade connectors, 5″ at the other two alligator clips on the other. This connects to my 12v cordless tools for a quick 12v power supply to test with. Cost about 2$.
Dentist plaque pick. Tool store picks are too soft, too large. These act as a hook and a mini scraper/knife. Everything from pulling orings to cleaning phone ports. Cost Free.
A pain of bent tip hemostats. Just fished a stainless bolt out of a frustrating spot in a panel.

Marc Dacey

We have been taking rarely used or “overly specialized” tools off the boat and into a trailer for use in a future off-grid home’s workshop. I find your estimates of what is needed on board a light coastal boat persuasive and the focus on quality tools convincing. We have rarely gone wrong with quality tools, although some of them are intended to be a little more sacrificial than others. We call those “deck” tools vs. “pilothouse” or “workshop” (where other boats’ V-berth would be) tools.

Because we are a steel boat with a lot of internal storage, we have some latitude with our fastener spares supply and tool choices. We’ve got 20-year-old Makita corded power tools aboard that are only now starting to show their age. Worth every penny!

For those on a budget, however, it is possible to find exceptional hand tools and, occasionally, power tools at garage and estate sales originating from the usually extensive collections of expired mechanics, hobbyist and tinkerers. For instance, I inherited several very strong chromium-vanadium steel screwdrivers from my late father, along with a German metric wrench set that is probably 60 years old, but looks more or less new. I have obtained grinding and sanding disks and Dremel accessories for essentially pocket change and have also bought, for the princely sum of $5, a new-in-box spiral ratcheting screwdriver (Craftsman, probably) that gives me better control (and length) driving screws home than even the weakest battery drill.

Hand tools were built to last a lifetime in the past, and were priced accordingly, but most descendents of their original owners seem not to know what they have, or have few tools to hand beyond a battery drill and a multi-head screwdriver.

Their loss can be the sailor’s gain. Happy hunting!

William Murdoch

Circlip pliers with a variety of ends; inside & outside, straight & curved, different pin diameters.

Magnetic pick up tool and three jaw pick up tool.

3 lb lump hammer.

William Murdoch

The circlip pliers in the miscellaneous tools link’s link to McMaster Carr bring up a pair of pliers that have only one tip diameter and are either straight or curved, so to get two tip diameters and both straight and 90 degree curved pliers, you’d need four pairs of inside/outside piers. Powerbuilt (and others) make combination sets with multiple tips. https://www.powerbuilt.com/products/combo-internal-external-snap-ring-circlip-retaining-pliers?pr_prod_strat=use_description&pr_rec_id=6298fb59b&pr_rec_pid=5850346815642&pr_ref_pid=3529367519304&pr_seq=uniform and https://www.powerbuilt.com/products/combo-snap-ring-pliers?pr_prod_strat=use_description&pr_rec_id=6298fb59b&pr_rec_pid=11085469188&pr_ref_pid=3529367519304&pr_seq=uniform

I didn’t see the the two pickup tools in the article’s links.

I’ve used the lump hammer to “encourage” a wrench in a tight spot where I could not fit a cheater, to drive wedges, to unstick from the deck a bronze portlight needing removal for re-caulking, to tighten the nut on the output shaft of a Kanzaki KBW10 transmission using a screwdriver as a chisel, but mostly it has been a backing hammer when I strike something from the other side or a portable anvil when my vise is inconvenient.

Star Tracker

My favorite for these is by crescent. Reversible, affordable and covered every circlip I’ve encountered in 15 years fixing boats.
Knipex 8″ diagonal cutters are another handy one, cut everything up to #8 ss screws by hand, #12 using a vice for leverage.
One last one, the bluepoint (snap on cheap line) automatic wire strippers. The only I’ve found to work perfectly on marine wire. No nicks and a clean strip by touch only when needed.
I second the 2lb over 3. Do prefer an estwing one piece mechanics one(shortest handle). By the time I need a 3lb, it’s time to re think my approach and or grab a large sledge. The 2 gets in everywhere. And the square head is great to use sideways when it have only a few inches to swing.

Marc Dacey

I have a four-jaw pickup tool, the center of which has a reasonably bright LED light.

It’s already paid for itself. I believe I got it as an afterthought from McMaster-Carr.

William Murdoch

I’m off to get one. I was similarly impressed with the utility of a LED light on a battery drill/screwdriver. My wife even uses the pickup tool to get the odd dirty sock or whatever out of the bottom of the hanging locker. Maybe it will be a mother’s day present for her..

Robert Berlinquette

Great article, have already purchased Wera screwdriver, will be looking at the other tools you mentioned, including the hammer with the rubber/plastic ends. I’d like to see the extended tool list recommendation. Also I work in the Lineman Trade and we use Milwaukee power tools for all our line work. These tools are heavily abused in all weather/temperatures and hold up. Granted these Milwaukee tools are made for the line trade not Home Depot.

Star Tracker

I’m Milwaukee entirely now on that end. The best coverage for tools on boats(at one time I had about 70, for a single boat now only 10). Next will be a hole hawg to use for winches as well. The cordless chainsaw is ideal for my little wood stove, and the 18v transfer pump is great for everything but gasoline. Milwaukee recently replaced 4 tools that went for a swim. The longest running is a brushless cordless grinder that has easily 3000 hours of fibreglass grinding at 36 grit. By comparison I never seem to get more than 6 months out of my corded metabos.

George L

30 years ago, a friend of mine said “when I do a job for the first time, I buy myself really good tools and it costs me as much as hiring someone to do the job for me. Next time, I do it for the cost of the materials and faster than the guy I would have hired”.

This advice has served me well and often the quality tools weren’t that much more. I picked up a lot of Wera tools in the tool shop around the corner for peanuts. Sometimes it is confusing, though – some brands, e.g. Bosch have similar looking consumer and professional lines. Buy the latter when discounts come up.

As we start the buildout, I will revive the many nice tools I assembled, Wera, Festool, the ancient Craftsman set, and replenish as needed. The kit suggested here is spot on. I would add proper marine electric hand tools.

Matt

I have often found the same thing.

Also, I’ve generally found that unless a job:

requires *really* specialized skills (eg. internal rebuild of a variable-cam-phasing valve train), orhas a legal requirement to be done by a licensed contractor (eg. main AC service panel upgrade; geothermal heat pump installation), orinvolves dozens of man-hours of labour that’s easy to explain quickly and the rest is just tedium (eg. hanging vinyl siding; sanding the old antifouling paint)then the overhead involved in tendering a project, selecting contractors, scheduling them, supervising them, and dealing with the punchlist often ends up being worse than if I had just done the work by myself in the first place. This seems to hold equally true whether I value my time at an engineering consulting rate or if I value my time at nil.

So I’m now 100% in “Camp Buy Good Professional Tools And Learn To Use Them Well”.

Jacob Lejdström

Yes Please, do write about offshore tools as well

Augustus Wilson

Excellent article. I am interesting in getting at least some of those tools. For world cruisers, one consideration for power tools is voltage and in some cases whether they will work with 50 or 60 cycles. Battery powered tools get around that issue to some extent, but we have a Makita right angle drill and the battery charger we have for it only works with 110-120V. Another concern is that, even in Imperial England, imperial fasteners are becoming increasingly harder to find, especially nyloc nuts.

George L

I have used European 50 Hz tools on US 60 Hz, going phase to phase to get 240 V. It worked fine.

i have used 60 Hz US tools with a transformer on 50 Hz power, also worked fine.

in the UK which uses 230 V power, many building site tools are 115 V and used with a transformer (outside the site proper) for security reasons.

England has gone metric in the 70ies.

Bob Hodges

Great article. I also discovered Wera tools and they are worth every penny. I’m about 80% complete on my on-board tool kit and this article is very timely.

Jim Crain

Hi John,

Another pesky trawler guy here with a thought about ratcheting end wrenches. I note that the Wera wrenches shown above are the type that require the wrench to be flipped to change direction of the ratcheting wrench. If you use them long enough you may find the need of a good grinder to get the wrench off of the bolt that you are backing out. Consider the bolt that must removed in close quarters with an unknown length. You start backing it out and reach a point of no return. The wrench is stuck in that you cannot reverse the direction and there is no room to remove the wrench. Having had this happen with the ensuing swearing session and grinder cutting the tool off the bolt I will only have the ratcheting wrenches that have a lever to reverse the direction of the ratchet onboard. Something to think about. Jim

Andrew Wedekind

More useful recommendations, thank you, John. One rabbit hole I’ve been down is tool storage and in particular how to minimise corrosion (includng looking at sealed containers and desiccants…) You mention you use a tool bag and tool rolls so I assume you are relying on some sort of surface coating to stop rust: what to you use?

Rajesh Mehta

John,
I find a pass thru ratchet set – I have one from Gearwrench – very handy.. For one thing these eliminate the need for deep sockets and are handier when reach with a wrench is difficult (the ratchet being easier to use). They have some basic extensions too. Craftsman and others make such sets by the way. Some of these kits also have adaptors so regular sockets can be used.
Video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw-ihOjjF1o

Stein Varjord

Hi Rajesh and John,

I’ve also seen the pass through socket/wrench sets and been tempted by the neat idea. Many different brands have them, including Bahco, the Swedish company now owned by Snap-On. However, I have never tried them. That means my ability to make a good conclusion is not the best, but my reasoning for not going that way might be useful.

Firstly, I observe that the parts of pass through sets are noticeably bulkier than their non pass through counterparts. They also have noticeably less material thickness some places, as they need to be hollow. They cannot have universal joints, wobbly links or anything like the Wera wrench head John mentions here. That means they are far less flexible and practical in normal use and perhaps less robust. This just to gain an advantage I rarely need.

When developing my tool set, my goals are the obvious:
1. I want to be able to solve any realistic problem.
2. I want the job to be fast and easy.

Since we want to minimise size and weight, some sort of limitation are needed on both points. A hard look at point 2 is especially efficient. We cannot totally predict all problems we may have to solve, but we can predict very well which tasks we will have to do somewhat frequently. The tools for those frequent tasks need to satisfy also goal 2, fast and easy. The work process for unusual problems can be a bit slow and fiddly, as long as it’s possible to get it done. This means I look for tools that are the nicest to work with for most tasks, and are simultaneously ABLE to fix more fiddly tasks.

Pass through sockets and ratcheting wrenches are good stuff for a workshop where we have all kinds of tool sets, but they have to be an extra there too. None of them can can replace the normal socket set and the normal non ratcheting wrench set.
– The latter two are nicer to work with most of the time.
– Able to solve far more hard problems.
– There’s no task the latter can’t do that the former can.
Adding speed to a relatively few tasks is not a good enough reason for me to have the extra cost, bulk and weight of another two sets of wrenches and sockets. I have more time than weight tolerance. 🙂

If there is a specific frequent task that is cumbersome with a non ratcheting wrench, I might bring the one I need for that job, not the whole set. The pass through socket system gets a fail in my book because normal sockets are almost always much nicer to work with.

Reminder: I’ve never tried pass through sockets, which limits the validity of my opinions.

Rajesh Mehta

Stein,
Very thoughtful observations, though I believe the pass thru ones I have are lower profile and lighter (and hence easier to use in tight spaces) than conventional ratchet/socket combos. Point well taken about wobble options, but I’ve found the pivoting head suffices for my uses. I have regular combination wrenches on board of course – I turned to the pass thru ratchet to eliminate the assortment of deep/mid length sockets (we’re all after less tool clutter!). One slight issue with these pass thru sockets is they are likely more difficult to replace than regular ones while boating.

By the way, your note about Snap-On/Bahco got me wondering about who owns what tool brands these days:
https://www.buildfanatic.com/brands-of-power-tool-and-who-owns-them/

Marc Dacey

There is also the issue of having a sailing partner who has seen you take a lot of duplicated tools away from the boat to take back space. I dare not get very many more tools without a really compelling argument.

Francis Livingston

I have worked with hand tools my entire life and there is one tool that stands out as being a shining example of a tool designed by the Devil. I am referring to that piece of annoyance commonly know as a Crescent Wrench, aka an adjustable wrench.

That tool always requires fiddling and adjusting no matter who makes it and despite that it never fits a fastener properly. It cannot be racheted so it must be taken off of the fitting and then refitted and tightened every time one wants to tighten or loosen a fastener. Invariably using one results in skinned knuckles or a damaged fastener. It is a horrible product.

Recently I discovered a far better solution. It is a tool, made by Knipex, called a “plier wrench”. It looks like a pair of slip joint pliers but there are no teeth milled into the jaws. It can handle a wide variety of fastener sizes. It is designed in such a way that when one applies pressure to the handle it increases the grip of the jaws on the fastener and, best of all, if one relaxes pressure on the handles the jaws can open enough to allow repositioning of the tool without having to remove it from the fastener.

An additional advantage of the design is that the jaws close so tightly that grabbing and bending sheet metal like things is easy.

The only downside, like Wera, Knipex products are not cheap. Ya get what you pay for.

Rajesh Mehta

Those Knipex pliers are fantastic – good mention.
The ones without the teeth on the jaws (the smooth-sided ones) are essential.

Marc Dacey

I have a Knipex “toothless” wrench and it, along with some large and elderly screwdrivers and hex wrench sets, are among the few tools I keep out of the tool locker and in an easily accessible rack in the pilot house. I learned of it on AAC, of course. I probably lay hands on it more than any other tool, because it won’t damage a bolt head the way the toothed versions do. It cost me about C$55. Worth all the pennies.

P D Squire

If there is a chance the Electrical Toolkit chapter foreshadowed above could be advanced I’d be grateful.

I’m about to quantify my electrical needs, which will involve measuring actual current draw on certain appliances for which I’ll need a multi-meter with AC/DC current clamp. As a landlubber, the obvious choice would be Fluke but they are expensive and I’m not sure they’re particularly marine. Some assemblies, screws, probes, & springs look like they might attract rust pretty quickly in damp, salt air.

Of course, if you or your readers have recommendations of damp/salt-ready meters and or how to damp/salt-proof meters, I’d be very grateful to hear at this time, pending the eventual electrical-toolkit chapter.

Marc Dacey

I am on year seven of owning a Mastech 2108 clamp-on meter and it is still in decent shape. I believe it cost about C$80. I have used (borrowed) Flukes and they are definitely a first choice…but I have not had enough problems with a middle-tier meter to justify the cost the way I’ve gone “pro” with certain hand tools.