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




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

About: Old inventor, reverted back to my 10 year-old self. A shop full of tools, a boat, race car, 3D printer and a beautiful wife who wants me to invent things for around the house... Now how cool is that?

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.

Step 1: 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:

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.

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...

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... ><



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    34 Discussions

    Hopefully all CNC tools will become smaller than garages with prices to match. Desktop 3D printers were the first to reach that size/price point and the type and cost of lasers and cooling is all that's needed to break the barrier of laser cutters. Desktop CNC milling machines are already starting to appear. I have a laser etcher, still in the box, but it's only 300 watts and doesn't do metal, which is a deal breaker for most of us.

    By the time you graduate from high school, much of this will be available, and more. Machines will eventually allow everyone to be a master builder. The only thing they won't be able do is come up with the ideas of what to build. Having the mind to do that, you have a joyful future ahead of you.

    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

    Happy anniversary. Ours was this past Tuesday.

    I'll PM my email so we won't clog up this thread with commiserations:)

    I've discovered there isn't a school or business that turns down a volunteer. I've been able to do some very exciting and wonderful things because of that discovery. Once I'd been vetted, the world opened up and it's been like I'm 10 years old again, playing model maker, soldier, race car mechanic and mentor to real 10 year olds.

    I understand what you're saying about school. A couple of years ago, I said yes a little too often and ended up with 12 kids. By the end of the semester, I was as beat as the teachers. I've cut back, which is sad because there are so many kids without a good male influence and due to irrational fears, there aren't many male volunteers. The only bad thing about volunteering is, it doesn't pay well... But the good things are, you get to feel really good about what you do, you get thanked a lot by teachers and parents and you won't get laid off. That more than makes up for the lack of pay.

    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)

    1 reply

    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.


    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.

    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"?

    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"

    1 reply

    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!

    6 replies

    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!

    Tell me about it. A few years ago, articpenguin put this together:


    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.

    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!

    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.