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Can't Find the Correct Drill or Wrench Size? Here's How...

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Picture of Can't Find the Correct Drill or Wrench Size?  Here's How...
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Most sized tools are marked by stamped numbers on their sides, shanks or handles.   All too often, I find myself looking for a specific drill or socket, unable to make out the stamped size.  It becomes especially difficult in low or "flat light" where the reflecting edges of the numbers are less defined. 

I've begun using this simple modification to make the stamped sizes stand out.  Now I can quickly locate any size drill, socket or wrench no matter how they're tossed in my tool cabinet drawer.
 
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Step 1: What You'll Need:

Picture of What You'll Need:
1. A set of drills, sockets, wrenches or any other tool identified by recessed stamping or raised casting and difficult to read.

2. Spray paint.

3. Acetone, paper towel and/or Scotchbrite.

Step 2: Paint Your Tool:

Picture of Paint Your Tool:
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Tools such as large wrenches aren't too difficult to read.  The problem begins with small sized tools where the identification marks are hard to find and too small to read easily.   Because the small numbers are virtually the same color as the surrounding material, you rely on reflected light to read them.  That means, you have to pick each tool, tilt and rotate it until you see the reflected stamped marks, then study it, tilting and adjusting it again to read the size.

Wouldn't it be easier just to flip through the pile of tools, reading the sizes as you sift through?

The solution is easy.  We'll simply paint the tool's stamped size a color that contrasts with the tool's metal. 

I've chosen black for my silver tools, but any dark color would work as well.

To begin, wipe the tool with acetone to get all the grease off of it.  When it's dry, spray paint the area around the stamped or cast number and set it aside to dry.

Step 3: Now, Wipe the Paint Off.

Picture of Now, Wipe the Paint Off.
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If you aren't too fussy about a perfectly reflective finish on your prized socket set, a fine Scotchbrite pad will remove a good amount of paint from the flat surfaces of your tools.  It will leave the metal slightly burnished as well.  If this bothers you, don't use mechanical means to remove the unwanted paint.

Take a paper towel and moisten it with acetone.  It needs to be almost dry before you try to wipe the paint away.

What you'll be doing is cleaning the paint away from the raised area surrounding the stamped numbers.  Because the paint within the stamping is below the surface of the tool, the Scotchbrite pad and paper towel slide over it, taking the paint on the surface away, but leaving the paint within the stamping.

Step 4: Throw Em' Back Into Your Drawer...

Picture of Throw Em' Back Into Your Drawer...
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What you'll be left with is a tool who's size is easily recognizable from any angle.  Most wrenches are stamped on one side only, so the most you'll have to do is flip them over as you sift through them.

You'll never get me to believe I'm the only unorganized slob out there.  Or that anyone who actually uses his or her tools doesn't store them en-mass, out of order, tossed in a drawer, left on a bench or carelessly snapped onto a holder.  

I spend far less time looking for that 3/16 socket now that I'm not trying to judge the size and mistakenly picking up the 7/32 or the 1/4.

This really does work for me.

Step 5: Updated Ideas

With all of the exceptional responses and ideas, I've made some changes.  I'm into a project that is presenting me with multiple sizes and measurement systems.  It's an extremely frustrating situation to be in closed quarters, on my back and not able to find the right wrench.

I was thinking of ways to further ID my wrenches when I ran across one I had labeled for my 3D printer.  Using my labeler, I had marked "MBOT" on both sides of the wrench.  This wrench size is the one that fits virtually all of the bolt heads in the machine and one I found myself searching for quite often.  

Like most guys, I don't have single sets of sockets and wrenches.  Somehow, like wire coat hangers, these things seem to propagate unashamedly in my tool box.  Marking one or two for special purposes doesn't affect my storage plan (I use the "rat's nest" method) and when I need that MakerBot wrench, it's as simple as reaching into the pile and grabbing it.

Now, all of my metric wrenches have labels on both sides.

My latest project will be a long-lasting one.  Based on Spikoli's comment about colors, I thought; "Paint is removable... Why not paint the tools to fit the job?"

So that's what I did.

I'm painting the engine components of my car various colors.  Partly because the factory relied heavily on "off-the-shelf" components, and partly because I'm convinced the designers had a warped sense of humor, the job of locating the correct size tool for every bolt is daunting.

My frustration would be helped immensely if I could quickly choose the tools I need when I begin working on a component.  I've been painting the various parts of my project car's engine compartment in one of three colors (red, yellow, blue), each color loosely relating to a function.  Cooling & running gear, blue: Electrical, red: Engine, yellow...

I really don't care what size wrench I need.  I only want it to fit, be it metric or fractional.  Instead of painting the tool to match the size, why not paint the tool to match the part?  If I did that, when I'm working on the cooling system, I can grab the blue pile, knowing I have just the sizes I'll need.  I have enough spares to assign different wrenches of one size multiple colors, or I can also paint multiple colors onto one wrench.

When the jobs over, I'll wipe everything down with acetone and all will be as it was, ready for the next big project.

Now, you don't have to paint your project in primary colors like I've done, but for permanent or semi-permanent tasks, color coding to the task instead of the size can improve efficiency tremendously.

I like this... I think I'll make another Instructable on it....

That was easy... >http://www.instructables.com/id/Wrench-Sizes-Problem-Solved/<

buskrat1 year ago
Very nice i did a some thing close to this with my snap on set. Instead of painting the whole wrench I used a paint marker and covered over just the numbers and then wiped it off with a rag leaving the paint in the numbering worked good have to keep up on it every couple months though (washing with starting fluid will remove the paint after time I'm just a clean freak though) quick and easy just like 30 min to paint them all 8-26 and 1/4-1 1/2
Then set them back in the rack and let dry over night before using again best to do at the end of the work day
Well, you have done it again! At our house, we have both imperial wrenches, and metric wrenches. I have been using extra strong reading classes to see the numbers. Your idea will really help! Thanks so much for posting :0) BTW, lol what does BFK stand for ;0) lol or is it a "secret code" ;0)
bfk (author)  porcupinemamma1 year ago
LOL No secret code involved... It's just my initials. Now, I'm going to follow you (in the good sense) and also look up your book. I mentor at risk elementary school children and if I can use it, I'll pick it up. And thank you for the patch. I've never gotten one before.

bfk
bfk (author) 2 years ago
Cheese... There's always a critic:) Not only did I remove the offending image, but I've added content based on the ideas that have been posted. Let me know what you think.
finton2 years ago
A great idea bfk, and also good ideas from commenters. I'll have to do this with my spanners this week.
As an aside, I don't suppose that really annoying flashing picture of Felix the Cat could be replaced with something else...? Maybe a picture of "what you'll need"?
spikolli2 years ago
I have done this on a bunch of my tools. I used a paint marker instead of spray paint. I also color coded metric and imperial drills, taps, sockets, and wrenches and allen keys. I have even gone as far as bolts that need occasional adjustment to mark the bolt head with the correct color paint marker. "Oh yeah that bolt is metric"
bfk (author)  spikolli2 years ago
That's an excellent idea. I just picked up a 1/2" socket set that was colored, but there was no rhyme or reason for the colors they picked (i.e. light to dark or cool to warm).

The car I'm working on has both metric and imperial sized fittings, so your color coding idea would be perfect for that (it also uses every size that can be used with a denominator of "32"... I wonder if the bolts can be color coded for size as well).

Perhaps you can do an instructable on how you set things up?

Tell you what Spikolli, if you make an instructable (and let me know about it), I'll send you a year's pro membership... You'll have to remind me about my offer too... I forget easily. :)
Simple but effective! I've noticed that even when you do put your drills back or wrenches, mistakes happen so it's good to be able to read the sizes clearly. Especially as I work with metric and imperial sizes.....well done!
bfk (author)  bricabracwizard2 years ago
Thank you. I've just picked up a 1970 British sports car where both Imperial and metric sizes were used, no two bolts are the same and the engineers seemed to specify everything with denominators ending in "64" and "32" without ever repeating the numerator. I think they switched over to decimals when they ran out of fractions:). I got so frustrated Rummaging through the growing pile of sockets and wrenches around me, I had to do something. They used to race these cars back then. Pit times must have been measured in hours:)
I forgot about Whitworths! lol :) It's a minefield out there......and don't let me get started on the different kinds of philips head screw drivers!
bfk (author)  bricabracwizard2 years ago
Tell me about it. A few years ago, articpenguin put this together:

http://www.instructables.com/id/When-a-Phillips-is-not-a-Phillips/

Enjoy.
Bill WW bfk2 years ago
Yes, that Instructable by articpenguin is great, a history of screws.
Here was the comment I left on his Instructable, applies here also:
MyLEAST favorite screw head: The screws that are designed to take either a Phillips #3 or Robertson (square) drive. Some of the new timber construction fasteners, such as Spax, and some of the common bronze wood screws use this "combination" drive. It is my experience that tools designed to do two (or more) things do neither well.
Bill WW bfk2 years ago
Fastener wrench sizes on British vehicles for  a long time were neither Imperial nor metric; they were Whitworth (BSW, British Standard Whitworth). I had to buy Whitworth wrenches (spanners) when I rebuilt the engine on my 1951 MG. The connecting rod bolt heads were 1/4 Whitworth. But I believe the threads were metric!
bfk (author)  Bill WW2 years ago
That may be why I've been unable to fit several bolts properly with any size wrench I have. I doubt if Lotus was using BSW in 1970, but they did have a tendency to "borrow" items from the warehouse whenever they ran out of stock on the floor. Perhaps they grabbed some metric threaded bolts with Whitworth heads from the 1950s.

Thanks for the heads-up. I'll research a little deeper.
vincent75202 years ago
Why didn't I think of it ????
Brilliant !
Thank you.
bfk (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Thank YOU. Frustration can be a powerful motovator:)
Great idea, very professional looking. I already have half a quart of black rustoleum sitting around I can use.
bfk (author)  Covert Koala2 years ago
:) Thanks... Maybe you could dip them. If you're careful, you might be able to wipe the excess paint off while its still wet. Anyway, have fun with that Rustoleum:)
Bill WW2 years ago
Great Instructable, really applies to me (a bit vision challenged).
But Rimar2000 beat me to it regarding the drill bits! I also made a wood rack for my bits, with the sizes labeled. Should be a photo here. However, this is not foolproof. I have got the bits in the wrong place at times.
I also use this rack to select the correct bit for the screw size. I place the screw in several bit holes until the pilot hole size "seems right" for the screw.
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bfk (author)  Bill WW2 years ago
Ditto on the "vision challenged" issue Bill. I buy my drill sets at Harbor Freight and they come in a metal box with the holes already in them. I've been holding drills up to the screws for decades without ever thinking of doing it your way. Kudos to you and thank you for showing me a better way.
rimar20002 years ago
Very clever!

Regarding drill bits, I fixed the problem –very annoying– to find the correct drill, when I decided to make a wood support. Each drill bit has its own hole, with its measure writed beneath with a sharpie.
I've done that for Allen keys too. The picture is a crop of a larger image but I hope you can see it here:

http://i1207.photobucket.com/albums/bb468/pfred1/Keyholder.jpg

I don't know how much time that block of wood has saved me but I'd probably have to measure it on a calender now.
Clever idea, Fred. This not have occurred to me, I will make another for me, thanks for sharing.
bfk (author)  rimar20002 years ago
Thanks. I have a drill box with the same holes in it, but it seems the drills never seem to make their way back into it. :/
rimar2000 bfk2 years ago
My drill bits support is screwed to the wall, thereby I see it anytime. It is leaning out to be easier access to bits.
tholopotami2 years ago
Simple and useful!
bfk (author)  tholopotami2 years ago
Thanks
pfred22 years ago
I just keep all of my tools in order. Doing that keeps my mental state much more focused. I wrote an article in my lost account that addresses the wrench issue

http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-Wrench-Organizer/

I keep most of my drill bits in index boxes, my sockets on rails, I have tool boxes dedicated to specific types of tools. I still misplace things now and again but for the most part what I need I can access immediately, if not sooner :)

Tossing all of your stuff in drawers with no method of organization is not worth the lack of effort it takes to do. At some point it has to become an esteem issue. I mean take some pride!

Over the summer I bought a bucket of assorted tools and the immediately I arranged what I'd gotten into sets. It only took me minutes to accomplish but has saved me from hours of frustration already. This is what came out:

http://i.imgur.com/EMHrC.jpg

This is some of it now:

http://i.imgur.com/nMwHj.jpg

Much more useful to me than everything tossed together. bfk I do use my tools all of the time and if I didn't keep them organized I'd never get anything accomplished.
You are essentially creating a high-contrast viewing system. SMART!
bfk (author)  audreyobscura2 years ago
"High-contrast viewing system"... I like that. Thanks. I actually have one of those that I use to work on really, really tiny things like watches... Maybe I should transfer it to my shop:)
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