Over the years I have often wished for a small, portable toolkit for use in performing regular maintenance tasks on the go. In my chosen profession (clinical engineering/biomed), I find myself usually doing light-to-medium work on-site the majority of the time, so it makes sense to keep a small packet of general use tools available.
Since working on larger devices necessitate multiple pieces of test equipment, that would call for either a full-blown site visit or transport to the shop. I didn’t need really heavy-duty tools for a portable kit. Still, while portability is key, functionality is even more key, so I set about to build a do most-everything, every-day toolkit.
My day pack has a larger variety of items in it (a 1/4″ socket set, comprehensive bit set, power and cable kit, as well as basic EDC items like notepads, pens…and a tiny pistol), but this really serves as the heart of what I’m trying to accomplish with it. I’ll go more into the assembled whole later, but for now, witness my portable toolkit:
- Maxpedition Beefy Pocket Organizer – I got this at a local gun/pawn shop on clearance. I like Maxpedition products (even if the company head is a prig) as they are generally well-made and virtually a standard unto themselves.
- Tiny Craftsman adjustable wrench (vintage) – This is a tool from my office that was one of the first ones I ever used. I like having a sentimental tool in my kits (my truck kit has one of my dad’s hammers in it; a previous EDC kit had a folding hex of his) as a form of encouragement. This little guy is inobtrusive and works nicely as a “good-luck charm”, though I have used it a time or two.
Here’s what it looks like opened up:
¡Ay, caramba! Let’s break it down.
Left side (this is a “flatter” side of the pouch, so I try to keep the thinner stuff here):
- Craftsman multi-bit precision set – I work on a lot of electronics, so I like having a set of precision drivers at hand at all times. I like this as it has a nice pouch of its own, and it has picks, to boot. However, I’m not a fan of the way the bits are held in the driver; they tend to work loose easily. I’m thinking seriously about replacing it with this little set, as I keep one in my range bag/gunsmith kit and in my desk at work.
- Craftsman small slot & Phillips driver – Again, I work on a lot of stuff with tiny screws. A small dedicated flat-blade and Phillips driver are nice to have on-hand.
- Craftsman pocket LED light – I bought a set of these for my coworkers one Christmas when Sears had them for five bucks a pop, and I have gotten far more use out of it than I ever expected. The magnetic base is a bonus: working on the back-side of a large autoclave in a poorly-lit back room in surgery brought that one home.
- Irwin Vise-Grip mini tongue-in-grove plier – You always need a decent set of pliers, and these work pretty well on a wide variety of surfaces. As the Bard said, “though she be but little, she is fierce.”
- Craftsman adjustable wrench, 6″ – I’ve gotten more use out of this thing than I can ever tell. Shockingly enough, reversing the head makes for a pretty decent small pipe wrench. I’ve worked on two water heaters with it.
- Irwin Vise-Grip locking plier, 5″ – See below.
- Irwin Vise-Grip locking plier, 6″, needle-nose – Admittedly I haven’t had cause to use these, but I have a set at work that are slightly larger that I’ve used for all sorts of purposes from extricating screws with stripped heads to hemostats for infusion pump testing.
- Olfa XA-1 box cutter – I carry a knife in my pocket, but sometimes you need something really sharp and really flexible. I’ve most recently used this to trim back some sheetrock while replacing some sockets.
- Stanley Wonder Bar – Pry bars are one of the more useful things you can have…while bigger is generally better, I’ve found lots of use for this doo-dad. Most recently I pulled up some carpet in my house, and this did an admirable job of pulling up the tack strips and the nails holding them to the concrete slab below.
- Electrical/vinyl tape, gray (generic) – You will always need tape for something, and this stuff is good for a great many things. This is more convenient than carrying a roll of it as it provides a bit of hand-grip to the little pry bar without taking up any room to speak of. If I need duct tape, I’ll go to the truck…otherwise its getting stuck on with this!
- Leatherman Wave – This is the requisite multitool in the kit. I’m not a fan of multitools in general, but their sheer handiness cannot be denied. And the Wave (original: not the “Plus”, the OG Wave) is one of the best. Particularly when you add the driver extension, ratcheting extension, and bit sets to the mix…then you can really wring some real functionality out of this device. And the fact that the extensions can handle standard 1/4″ bits is icing on the cake (I keep a set of these in my larger day pack).
- Klein 10-in-1 folding driver – For those times when you need a larger driver, this fits the bill: two slotted, two Philips, two Torx, two square, 1/4″ and 5/16″ drivers, and the ability to put it in pistol-grip formation.
- Stanley LeverLock tape measure, 12′ – I find myself using this more often than any other tape I own. I like the compact-ness of it, but I also love its normal-on retention as opposed to the conventional normal-off operation.
- Craftsman LED head lamp – If one hand’s good, two hands are better: you need a head lamp. It is not rechargeable, and I like that because there’s nothing worse than needing a flash light and only having a dead one that can’t take a quick battery change.
- 8″ zip ties w/rubber band (generic) – Zip ties are about as useful as paracord (which I don’t have in this kit but I do in my day pack) and possibly duct tape. You need this, and they just live out of the way in the hinge of the pouch.
- Southwire compact electrical strippers – I replace a lot of power plugs and switches in my line of work. Sure, you can use dikes (or your teeth), but…this is the way™.
- Fluke VoltAlert 1AC-A II circuit tester – Getting shocked sucks. Ask me how I know. Check it before you wreck it.
- Craftsman magnetic pickup tool – Never appreciated until needed. Then it’s priceless.
- Lowes Build and Grow 4oz hammer – Don’t laugh at my itty-bitty baby hammer…you’d be surprised how often I use it. Sometimes you just need a quick tap-tap-tap to work something loose or flatten a proud trim nail, and while it can deliver a sharp blow it isn’t going to bash holes into stuff.
- Mechanix gloves – Gloves aren’t always needed, but if you’re torquing down on something you really should have some and save those hands. I like the Mechanix because they generally wear better than the house brands, and I like the FastFit because I hate fiddling with velcro straps on gloves. These are not top quality ruggedized gloves, but they work great for light to medium or occasional use. And they’re comfy.
- Craftsman diagonal cutters – Anything my pocket tool (a Gerber Armbar Drive, which is my current favorite, which deserves an article by itself) isn’t fit to cut with its on-board cutting tools will be visited by this small set of dikes. I most often use it to trim back insulation.
- Craftsman needle-nose pliers – Needle-nose pliers are an essential tool to keep around. I used to keep a larger plier for this, but I generally will use the locking plier or tiny not-Channellock for anything bigger.
You’ll notice a number of these items were sourced at Lowe’s: this is because there is a Lowe’s local to me. A Harbor Freight is nearby, and my general-use tool kit is home to a lot of their stuff (which as I use it more gets better quality tools commensurate with my experience with them), but their selection is not as good for the form factor I was buying for. An Ace Hardware opened relatively recently, so future iterations my incorporate items from there, but the selection will still be better at the Lowe’s. If I visited the next large-ish town nearby I could avail myself of their Home Depot, but I honestly don’t think I’d do any better and really don’t want to be in the epicenter of Roll Tide Nation any more than I need to be.
Good work depends on having the right tools. Expedient work depends on having tools right now. This covers the latter. What do you think of this assortment? Leave a comment below.