The Right Tool for the Job

From rock knife to iPhone, these tools make your job easier. 

I appreciate a well-designed tool; I attribute that part of my personality to my German ancestors. Regardless of the task, I value a tool that makes it easier, faster or neater.  Forbes assembled a list of its most important tools ever, about 10 years ago. To help with the decisions, the magazine had a mix of academics, writers and readers vote on its picks. The criteria were limited to a somewhat narrow definition of a tool. They didn’t count simple machines, like levers, wheels and pulleys. Also eliminated were very complex machines like cars and computers. The name of the game was something hand-held.  

The Forbes panel of experts picked the knife as the number one tool. Knives made of rocks are likely the original human tools. The rest of the top five included the Abacus, compass, pencil and harness (one example of this would be a yoke for an ox). Five of the top 20 tools were related to cutting something.  

Tools are valuable if they do something revolutionary. The lighter is a revolutionary tool, compared to starting a fire with a flint. Tools are also valuable if they best fit a specific task you do over and over. If you are a roofer and you find a pair of shoes that have great grip on your most popular type of roof, those are great tools. An added bonus is that you are better at your job if you aren’t falling off a roof.  

Efficient use of a tool makes you look more professional. Watching a glass blower make something cool at the end of a piece of pipe is a good illustration of that. The tool isn’t complicated, but it allows the artist to best create something new.

Bad tools also are a quick way to create distrust in the eyes of a customer. I was at a hotel once and watched a service technician walk down the hall in front of me carrying a dirty, old, white five-gallon bucket. As I passed him, I looked down and saw the following tools: two channel lock wrenches and a rusty screwdriver.  

What could that guy have possibly fixed well with those tools? Even a simple hose tightening would have scarred the metal components. Whether it is fair or not, I judged that this guy probably wasn’t going to do A+ work with that set of tools. Customers pay attention to your appearance, truck and tools. Know that you may be starting on the wrong foot by showing up with some combination of those things that appear underwhelming.  

One of my favorite tools is a Rennsteig ferrule crimper I received as a gift a few years ago from my dad. Unlike a normal crimp tool, it squeezes from six different directions and is calibrated to release when you get the right amount of force into the handle. In Europe, they use these tools when they are terminating low voltage wires. The ferrules keep the little strands of a stranded wire from bridging a terminal. Some of the ferrules also have little labels attached so you can write information right where the wire terminates. This tool is not required to do a good job, but it makes doing a good job easier. 

The other tool I use all the time would have to be classified with slightly different criteria than the Forbes list. I imagine you may have one of these tools, too. The smartphone is probably the most helpful device I own. It allows people all over the world to find information and communicate with each other immediately. It is a conduit to information on all corners of the earth, in the same palm-size as an ancient rock knife.  

Within my smartphone, here are some of the apps that help me with 2016 hydronics problems:

  • Wi-Fi signal strength finders are helpful to troubleshoot smart thermostat locations.
  • Photo/PDF scanners let you take a few photos and combine them for one nice black and white PDF that looks like it was scanned by a computer.  
  • Decible meters help put a numeric value on noise using the microphone in your device. Is that boiler as loud as a jet engine? 
  • Convertbot is a good one for converting units. You can toggle anything from weight to money.
  • The compass app that comes on an iPhone can be used as a level. Don’t build your house with it, but it gives you enough accuracy to straighten up a picture on a wall or double check a vent.
  • Wordreference.com has an app for translating words that shows actual context of words with examples, instead of 1:1 word replacement.
  • Trello helps you keep track of things with lists. You can share, assign and schedule tasks, and keep track across any device.
  • Dropbox or Evernote can save important PDFs to folders from your computer and save them to look at offline. Install manuals are good choices because there is rarely reception in the basement mechanical room.  
  • The camera takes pictures of your jobs for marketing purposes. Take pictures of your jobs so you know which components you used in case you need to fix them some day.  

Some classic tools aren’t improved with technology, but most are. Don’t fight the technology. Sometimes I see people fumbling with electronics, as if the machines are deliberately trying to tangle you up. They aren’t. Your phone or computer doesn’t have the ability to be vindictive.   

Hopefully, the future of tools will give us exponentially longer-lasting batteries and new ways to smoothly connect the pieces of our lives. In a perfect world, everything will be cordless and solar-powered. Or maybe everything will be perfectly simple. Either way would be great.  

If you happen to be going to the AHR Expo in Las Vegas at the end of the month, spend some time looking around the tool manufacturer booths. You may find something that revolutionizes your workweek. You may just find a cool twist on something you have worked with all your life that makes something faster, better, neater, or more professional looking. 

Max Rohr is a graduate of the University of Utah. He is the REHAU Construction Academy Manager in Leesburg, Virginia. He has worked in the hydronics and solar industry for 16 years in the installation, sales and marketing sectors. Rohr is the Radiant Professional Alliance (RPA) Education Committee chairman. He can be reached by email at max.rohr@mac.com and on Twitter at @maxjrohr.

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