Emergency Tools: a Guide to Workshop Survival

About: I am a maker. As founder of MakerBlog, I enjoy sharing my creations with others.

If you have any experience with tools, than you have experienced the "Black-Hole Effect." (Yes. I did make that name up. I think.)

The Black-Hole Effect is an interesting and mysterious phenomenon. It is the cause of all unmatched socks, missing pieces, and lost tools. It seems to select the tools that you most need for the project you are currently working on, and suck them into oblivion. This instructable will not tell how you to prevent that from happening, but, instead, tells you how to replace those tools that are lost to the yawning abyss of nothingness. That said, don't take this tutorial too seriously. Yes, it does contain useful information, but in the ideal situation you will still have all your tools, and will not have to use the following tricks. Enjoy!

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Step 1: The Screwdriver

The screwdriver tends to be the selected tool to disappear into the void of the "Black-Hole". With a bit of observation and consideration you should be able to locate a working alternative. These solutions include the following:

The Ever-Present Dime

Though not my original idea, it is a practical solution. Yes, loosening a screw without a screwdriver is as simple as that!

A Piece of Thin Scrap Metal

Yes, it is possible to loosen a screw using the thin edge of a piece of metal. The good thing about this solution is that you can find pieces of scrap metal practically anywhere!

A Pair of Fingernail Clippers

Fingernail clippers? Yes. Fingernail clippers! To do this, all you have to do is disassemble the clippers, and use the sharp, cutting edge of the clippers to loosen your screw.

Step 2: The Hammer

The hammer is arguably one of the easier tools to substitute. Generally speaking, all you'll need is something heavy, solid, and reasonably flat.

The Rock a.k.a. The Brick

When you think of a heavy, flat object, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the trustworthy rock. Although this idea is definitely not original with me, it is a tried and true method of hammer substitution!

The Piece of Wood

A piece of wood will only substitute for a hammer if it is a reasonably hard wood. The wood must be hard enough to take a severe beating, and heavy enough to actually drive a nail.

The Wrench

The next best thing to using the right tool for a project, is using the wrong tool for a project. If you have an old wrench, it can be used to beat a nail into wood. Do not attempt this if you are in love with your wrenches!

The Shoes

Instructables user "Dan Lynge" commented,

"I have...used Shoes and Boots to drive nails. They need hard heels, with leather instead of rubber, or wooden heels for best effect."

Step 3: The Saw

The saw is fairly difficult to replicate. It requires something sharp and jagged. At the same time, that thing must be relatively easy to handle, and, if you want to cut wood, it must also be flat.

The Jagged Rock

Yes, this is an old solution. No, it isn't easy. You have to find a sharp rock and work long, laborious hours to cut something that is small. But, hey, if you're desperate than this idea is for you, although it is definitely not fun.

The Pocket-Knife

This is the recommended solution. Use your pocket-knife to cut whatever needs cutting. Of course, if you don't have a pocket-knife then this won't work for you. No, it may not be fun, but it beats a rock all to pieces (not literally). It is sharp and portable, and is definitely easier than a rock.

The Cord

Instructables user "Dan Lynge" commented,

"I wonder if a rope or leather braid soaked in a brine would become resilient enough to serve as a saw-blade."

After considering his idea for a while and doing some research, I decided his idea had possibility. Also, if you need to saw something through in a pinch, you can use a metal cable (the thinner the better).

Step 4: The Pliers

Pliers are very difficult to replicate. In fact, I don't know of a good substitute for them. Thankfully, you don't necessarily have to substitute every aspect of a tool to successfully use it. Some of the ideas I came up with are as follows:

The Rubber Gloves

Rubber gloves? Yup. Rubber gloves cannot replace most aspects of a pair of pliers, but they can help you grip things. If you are having trouble gripping something and think you need the ever-absent pair of pliers, try some rubber gloves instead!

The Tweezers

Tweezers are good for replacing needle-nose pliers. They are not as efficient as needle-nose pliers for certain projects, but they'll work in a pinch (pun intended!).

The Teeth

Seamster commented, "To a very small degree, you can use your teeth as pliers! We all do it, but it's important to mind the limitations. Chipped teeth are no fun. : ["

What he says is true. Teeth may be used in circumstances where you need a gentle pull, but it is a really, really bad idea, unless you want chipped teeth. That said, this instructables is about what tools to use in a pinch, and I think this fits pretty well!

Step 5: The Unknown

This list is incomplete without you. My instructable needs your experience, so please comment and leave a tip, trick, or secret that you have learned from experience. Thanks!

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    11 Discussions


    3 years ago

    pocket knife can be used as a bottle opener


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This instructable reminds me of the old engineering saying.

    Rule N°1 : Always use the right tool for the job

    Rule N°2 : A hammer is the right tool for any job

    Rule N°3 : Anything can be used as a hammer.


    4 years ago on Step 3

    Cheap wire saws are just uncoated twisted metal cable with handles.

    Dan Lynge

    4 years ago on Introduction

    over two decades ago, I caged a P38 can opener off of one of the mess sergeants (I think i traded him a cigarette for it). I have used that little guy for much more than opening cans.
    Cutting rope & fabric? Slower than scissors, or a blade, and it's the most ragged-assed cut imaginable, but it will be cut.
    Screwdriver? Flat & Phillips. Torx & other strange types are still a no-go, but a P38 turns a Flat or Phillips screw easier than a dime, as it is completely flat on top & sides, or you can use the 90°square corner for deeper phillips head screws.

    As for a Hammer... Someone below's comment reminded me that I have indeed used Shoes and Boots to drive nails. They need hard heels, with leather instead of rubber, or wooden heels for best effect.

    Saws ... I wonder if a rope or leather braid soaked in a brine would become resilient enough to serve as a saw-blade.

    Pliers - Here in the PNW, clam shells are fairly plentiful, and finding one that's still hinged isn't too hard. They are a bit more delicate than Teeth (especially Dead Clam shells), but it may be worth the effort.

    Anyhoo, I liked your ideas. Hope you appreciate mine as well.

    1 reply
    funtogetherDan Lynge

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for your input! I can't believe I forgot to mention shoes and cord! I'll have to add those to my instructable. Thanks again!


    4 years ago

    I don't know if BeachsideHank is being legitimate or not but I have used my shoe is a few case as a push stick. The rubber bottom provides a perfect grip so you don't slip and en up with missing fingers.

    1 reply

    Yes, I was just kidding, but since you mentioned shoes it made me think about the tip of using the heels of the boater's type footgear- the crepe rubber soles as abrasive belt cleaners on stationary sanders, it really works.


    I've unlocked many people stuck in toilets, using a coin. The lock is one-sides, so only people from inside the toilet can use it. But on the outside there is a screwdriver line for emergencies (if you need to unlock from the outside). Of course, when you are a receptionist, you don't usually have a screwdriver. And it's silly to wait for a handyman, so I simply use a coin and voilà.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    To a very small degree, you can use your teeth as pliers!

    We all do it, but it's important to mind the limitations. Chipped teeth are no fun. : [

    1 reply