The roots of my minimalist
bent go back to traveling by
air in the 40's and 50's, then, later, taking long motorcycle
trips. The strict limits of small aircraft
and motorcycles severely restrict
size and weight of what one could bring along, so, from the time I was
old enough to assemble what I wanted to bring along, these restrictions
coached me to keep things light and simple... habits which
have served me well through the decades since. The images on this
page will also show the age and extensive use of many of these tools,
some of which date back to the 1950's.
If you are in any way a "mechanic" you have a lot of tools.
In my case the sum of my tools would fill a small van to overflowing
so, there is never the possibility of traveling with all, or even most,
of my accumulated tools that have become so important throughout my
life over the past seven decades.
Such a dependency on tools also sparks interest in the wide variety of
"travel tool kits" and "multipurpose tools" that seem to be on sale
everywhere. Closer looks, or, in some cases using them, expose their limited value in the real world.
Screwdrivers are always included in tool
kits. It's been interesting to watch their basic designs evolve
over the decades and adjust to new and
different bits that have been introduced since the Phillips tip first
appeared to challenge the common flat bladed screwdriver that ruled for
hundreds of years before.
Phillips head screws and Allen wrenches were new designs back when I
was acquiring my first tools, so, while some were too exotic and too
expensive to include back then, they are indispensable today and have
been joined by square, torex
and other special bits. Not only that, these bits have evolved
with "security" variants as manufacturers have striven to deny the
common man access inside devices he has paid his hard earned cash for.
These exotic bits have also grown in size... my current BMW motorcycle
number of large Allen head cap screws so the largest Allen wrench I
need to carry rivals the size and weight of a medium Crescent
some screwdrivers have evolved into a
standard, changeable hex based "bit" approach. A nice part of
evolution is that these "standard bits" add the potential for keeping
The above is one of my favorite screwdrivers...
It's been with me for about a decade and serves a multitude of
needs. The handle holds six standard bits, so, with just the
addition of one short and one long extension, it essentially becomes 28
different screwdrivers counting only the bits stored in the handle.
Add a hex to 1/4" socket adapter and the "Stubby" becomes a socket
driver. Include a 1/4" to hex adapter along with other standard
socket adapters and combinations
of socket extensions can extend it's reach even further.
An old film can keeps
two dozen additional Torex and Allen bits
together further expanding the driver possibilities and still taking up
less space than one full sized screwdriver. The stubby can't
handle the torque needs of the larger bits, but a 5/16" socket drive
can... again, keeping the total mass of the larger bits to a minimum.
There are even options for the very large Allen sizes... cut a one and
a quarter inch length off of a large generic Allen wrench and it will
fit into the matching socket to be driven with a 3/8" socket drive.
Most cars now sport bolts with Torex heads that
are equally as large as this Allen head drain plug wrench.
tool that is indispensable when needed is a right angle screw
driver. The Harbor Freight ratchet screw driver shown has been
even more useful in tight spaces by shortening the hex sections of
In addition, if your minimal tool kit only contains the stubby
screwdriver handle shown above, this ratchet offers the ability to
easily increase the amount of torque you can apply to any bit.
While 1/4" screwdriver bits cover most of
the possibilities, I've found
it's necessary to add a few smaller screwdrivers to allow getting at
smaller recessed screws... double ended bits save space again.
I've been looking, but haven't found an adapter to let the smaller
yellow hex bit work
in the 1/4" stubby, but... I haven't stopped looking.
Wrenches and Pliers
Vice Grips are ideal for the minimalists since they
can always do the job of
pliers and Crescent wrenches in a pinch, but many times there are no
replacements for sockets, drivers and extensions.
The above socket driver was an impulse purchase while waiting in
line at a local auto parts store but I will never regret buying
it. It's socket driver head is
a combination 3/8" and 1/4" drive. In addition, the head is
jointed further increasing the number of places where it can be used.
Add to that its relatively short handle and it's perfect for a small
tool kit. Another
option is to carry a tube of some type,
such as a tubular spark plug wrench such as those that are required for
the current BMW motorcycles with deeply recessed plugs, and that can be
used as a handle extension for the above socket driver. Hot Tip!
Carry a 3/8" socket that fits your car's lug nuts.
Short and medium length 3/8" extensions can be combined to give three
extension lengths and a set of 1/4" to 3/8" adapters can be added to
both make the extensions usable with 1/4" sockets as well as being
combined themselves to create either a 3/8" or 1/4" short extension
thus eliminating the 3/8"-1/4" adapter shown above.
When using 6 point rather than 12 point sockets, you should be able to
experiment and delete a few more sockets.
The screwdriver ratchet shown
above can also serve as a small socket
driver with the addition of a hex to 1/4" drive adapter. The hex
screwdriver extensions then preclude the need to carry 1/4" socket
A volt/ohm meter has always been included in my tool
kits since the are essential for
troubleshooting electrical problems. I've been using the small
DM73 shown above for longer than I can remember, but, since it's no
available, others, such as this pen type Craftsman
VOM are have some
extended capabilities such
as non contact voltage detection, but the Craftsman is huge (some 3-4
times as large) compared to the DM73. When you are considering
any VOM, assure that it includes an audible continuity
In addition to a small VOM, proximity voltage detectors are not only
useful tools when working around AC voltage, they can end up being life
savers. They come in both powered and non powered versions... the
small white one above is perfect for a super minimal tool kit and
doubles as a small screwdriver.
Depending on your skills, an electrical crimp tool may be essential...
no suggestions since the one I carry is no longer available plus there
are now so many different crimp methods.
There are a few "non standard" items in the kit as well. A
"Diamond Deb" nail file confiscated from my wife many years ago has
been used countless times and is smaller and more compact than any
standard shop file.
While they normally ride in pockets rather than toolkits, you are
unlikely to find a mechanic who doesn't carry a good pocket knife such
as the Gerber
forty years ago, I
added a mini thumbscrew tubing cutter to my tool kit and am constantly
amazed at how
often a tubing cutter has been needed.
A small tapered reamer has, likewise, done the job of many drill bits
over the decades.
The extendable magnet shown above has proven it's worth so many
that it will always have a place in the tool kit. As an example,
one day I dropped the Gerber knife through a sewer grate while pulling
my motorcycle keys out of my pocket, but this tool allowed me to
immediately recover the well used, and loved, Gerber.
And, yes, all of the tools shown above (except for the ruler) fit into the old and well worn audio
CD carrying case shown at the top of this page. It's still large
enought to contain a number of other items such as the tywraps,
heatshrink and film cans of small necessaries such as electrical crimps