May 25, 2023

What's in My Toolbelt?

As a remodeling contractor, I perform various trades each and every day. Specialty tools aside, there are a handful of tools that are always in my belt regardless of what I am doing. I am picky about certain tools that I use, and over the years I have found what works best for me. 

The belt itself is an old Diamondback Raptor (I think) from 2015 before they changed hands. It is army green and has two main pouches on either side, a hammer holster, and a 6” belt. It is not fancy and does not have any customization. I find it to be lightweight, comfortable, and durable. I have owned many brands of belts ranging from canvas to leather, and this one has been my favorite.

As for the tools, let’s break it down into sections. On my right hand side I have a hammer holster that carries an Estwing dead blow hammer. I use this more than my standard hammer. It has more weight to it, and the dead blow heads allow me to nudge materials into place without damaging them. I also carry a 6 in 1 screwdriver on this side. No real brand loyalty here. I break all of them, so I just buy whatever is available. Pencils are housed on this side as well, in an occidental plastic sheath. I keep a sharpie, Bic mechanical pencils, and a large framer’s pencil on me at all times. I also keep a metal awl in this sheath. I use this for piercing the foil on adhesive/caulk, and holding string lines in place. On this side, I also keep a pair of Klein side cutters and a pair of small Knipex horseshoe pliers. The side cutters are used for cutting wire, nails, and removing staples. The horseshoe pliers are used for removing nails. I also tuck a Stabila torpedo level into this pouch. In my opinion this is a nicer option than most available torpedoes. The last tool on my right hand side is a Lennox utility knife with a retractable blade. These knives last me a long time, they are ergonomically comfortable, and replacing blades is a breeze. I highly recommend them. In the small section toward the upper area of the pouch, I keep a handful of wire nuts and machine screws to avoid a trip to the truck during demo. The tools on my right side are all of my tools that I use with that hand. I try to avoid having tools on the opposite side of which I use them. I want to be able to reach into that pouch, locate the tool I need, and get to work. 

Let’s work our way to the left hand side of my belt. On this side I keep an empire speed square. I prefer the aluminum ones because they last longer and do not rust. I also keep three different size nail sets on this side. My current set is Stanley brand, but use what works for you. I also keep a small 6” Empire combination square. I would love a better one, but for site-work it lives in my dirty pouch and does not need to be super accurate, so an inexpensive box store model fits the bill. I generally tuck a couple of pieces of hand sandpaper on this side as well. My 25’ Stanley tape measure lives up top on this left side. Being that I am right handed, I use my left hand for my tape and my right hand to mark my measurements with a pencil. Under my tape in the small pouch I keep a few hand nails for checking stud locations, tying string, or driving a piece of trim. I also keep a few electrical staples in this area in case I see a loose wire during my work day. The outermost section on my left hand pouch I use to hold miscellaneous nails and screws. When I am performing specific tasks that require large amounts of fasteners, I will empty this section of the miscellaneous fasteners and fill it with the specific fasteners that I need. Toward the rear of this pouch I have a small loop that holds my Stiletto titanium cat’s paw. This nail puller is very sharp, very light, and super strong. The last tools that live on this side are a Blue Point stiff putty knife and a Blue Point Flexible putty knife. I use these for pulling or tweaking trim and protecting walls when using my cat’s paw. I have found the Blue Point brand to last the longest by far. 

I hang a few additional tools off of my belt itself. On the back left hand side I have an Occidental leather pouch that holds my aluminum Starrett angle finder. This was not an inexpensive purchase, but it is durable, light, and better than the plastic options. In the same area on the adjacent side I keep a Lie Nielsen low angle block plane (No. 102). This is the micro-sized bronze hand plane. I use this for adjusting miters and scribes and in my opinion is a must for any finish carpenter. Off of the rear of my belt in the center, I hang a stiletto finish hammer from a low leather Occidental hammer holster with a metal loop. You have to be careful using a metal loop when working around finish materials, but I have done it my entire career, so I am used to it. I prefer the hickory ax handle for my hammer. Ninety percent of the use of this hammer is driving nails with a nail set or removing stubborn nails from framing. I use my dead blow hammer far more than my metal hammer, so that is why my Stiletto hangs from the back. 

That about wraps up the contents of my toolbelt. I try to carry the tools that I NEED on a daily basis without much more. I prefer to have my belt on all day long, because without it I lose everything, so keeping it as light as possible prevents fatigue and soreness. I carry very few fasteners in my belt. They become very heavy and I would rather load and unload them as needed. I have room in my belt for any specialty tools that I may need throughout the day, but as soon as I am done with them, I unload them. I prefer the wider 6” belt that I have for back support and to disperse the weight of my load. I do love the canvas for most everything except for wiping my excess glue or adhesive onto it. The glue and adhesive peels easily off the leather pouches, and it requires a bit more effort on the canvas. So far this belt has lasted me 8 years with no signs of slowing down. I am not a suspender guy, and I do really like the Cobra brand buckle. So much so that I sent my belt to a tailor to remove the plastic buckle that came on the old Diamondbacks and had it replaced with a black metal Cobra buckle. 

My advice to any younger men or women looking to get into carpentry who are having a difficult time justifying a high end belt purchase is to DO IT. This is your number one tool as a carpenter. You should be wearing it 8 hours a day, and it contributes to your productivity, efficiency, and morale. You do not have to be a seasoned carpenter to afford yourself a high quality belt. It will make your days far more enjoyable, and it will last you a very long time.

- Tyler Grace