When I was a young boy, around ten or twelve years old, my father gave me my first tool set. He found an old Sears metal hip-roof tool box at his work that no one was using and loaded it with a good assortment of wrenches, pliers, sockets, screwdrivers, and a hammer, all of which were from his own collection that he had duplicates of. I was so proud. Finally I had what I needed to work on my bicycle and motorcycle. As we were assembling the set, and he was pointing out what I would need and what I would not, he gave me an important piece of advice. He said, “Son, always buy quality tools. Cheap tools just make the job harder.”

Around that same time, my grandfather echoed that sentiment when he gave me a ½” socket wrench set. It was a very old set in a metal box that had most of it’s blue paint chipped off. He told me that he had bought it from Montgomery Wards when he was a young man to work on the used Model A Ford he had. He told me, “If you start with a quality set of tools, they can last a lifetime.”
When I entered the trade, I followed their advice. I learned that quality tools make a difference.

Some of those first tools they gave me even made their way into my professional tool collection and are still with me to this day about thirty years later. I learned that a diagnostic technician is only as good as the accuracy of the measurements he takes. I also learned that having every tool you need at your fingertips makes for a heavy tool kit that is hard to carry around.

As I moved into commercial service, a full heavy tool kit quickly became a hindrance as lugging around all that bulk and weight around big buildings all day was taking too much time and effort. (At one time, I even took to using a two wheel dolly to cart my tools everywhere!)

I decided to pare things down to a small bag that weighed less than ten pounds total. I looked at every tool and balanced how much it weighed vs. how often I used it and came up with a pretty short list of what was absolutely necessary to carry around.

It came down to a 15 in 1 screwdriver, an 8” crescent wrench, 10” channel locks, red nut driver, yellow nut driver, four combination wrenches, a small cordless impact driver, an assortment of bits, an all in one multimeter (with temperature) and two small pressure gauges for measuring refrigerant pressures.

This is what I called my 80 / 90 kit. It would get me through about 80% to 90% of all the situations I would ever find myself in. If I needed to go to the truck for tools, I would also probably need some kind of part or supply too, so it wasn’t a wasted trip. Working this way caused me to begin to think more and do less. Interestingly, my call times fell and my accuracy went up. I was running more calls per day and callbacks fell to an insignificant level. Even my time spent walking between the unit and the truck went down.

There is an old saying that says, “The whole world looks like a nail if you are holding a hammer.” I had essentially rid my daily carry kit of the equivalent of several metaphorical “hammers”. I couldn’t just go and tear into things with my tools, I had to stop and think. That long walk to the truck to get tools to tear something apart really needed to have a good reason to be necessary.
Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t the tools at all that make the tech, but rather the knowledge and understanding of how the basic concepts of HVAC applied in the field that then led to the decision of when, why, and how to apply the tools. The tools essentially became extensions of my mind.

Now, as a service trainer, I place much of my focus on helping my students develop the mental side of their craft. Quality tools and having the right tools and test instruments for the job is, of course, very important. Even more important is knowing how, where, when, and why to deploy those tools.

Continuing education throughout one’s career to develop and hone one’s “mental tool kit” is the best and fastest way to increase your earning power in the field regardless of your current position in the industry. Learning to work with tools is the first step for any tradesman. Learning to work without them is the next step.

Eric Shidell ~HVAC Service Mentor~

Join the conversation: How much does your daily carry tool kit weigh? Type it in the comments section below.

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