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What are the tools that every DIY'er should have? This is a community wiki as there is no one right answer.

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    [ITEM NAME]
    [Reason why item is essential/useful/good]
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Can you ever have enough? – Richard Tasker Jul 22 '10 at 12:08

77 Answers 77

A cordless drill
No doubt about it. I bought a DeWalt 14.4V three years ago, and it's been invaluable to me. alt text

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Why cordless? I'm assuming your home has outlets? – Joe Philllips Jul 21 '10 at 19:45
11  
@Joe - everything is easier with a cordless drill. I have a very nice corded drill and I probably use it twice a year. The cordless one I use all the time. – Eric Petroelje Jul 21 '10 at 19:46
6  
Cordless is nice, but I never get much use out of them. Since I work only intermittently on DIY projects I find the batteries brick out on me after only getting to use them 2-3 times. – JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 19:47
3  
My Dewalt 14v cordless sits around for months at a time and still holds a charge. It's a beast. – Adam Robinson Jul 21 '10 at 19:48
4  
LOL! That just begs for a link to this: joke-archives.com/dating/mengifts.html – Vilx- Aug 8 '10 at 6:47

A good weight crowbar
Use it for lifting, prying, removing, bashing, demolishing and most importantly, against zombies and headcrabs.

Crowbar vs Headcrab

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26  
+1 just for the Halflife reference, though it's headcrabs. – Adam Robinson Jul 22 '10 at 12:06
    
Ah! My sleepy head made a headcrab/facehugger hybrid. Fixed. – Ates Goral Jul 22 '10 at 12:43
1  
I prefer a Fubar, purely for the name :) homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xgg/R-100488979/h_d2/… – ManiacZX Jul 28 '10 at 14:42
7  
I can't help but wonder if this is so high in vote counts just because of the Half-Life reference. – Doresoom Nov 18 '10 at 13:29
    
We all Gordon Freeman. – Soner Gönül Aug 7 '11 at 14:45

A good, stiff measuring tape

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12  
Measure once, cut twice! – Joe Philllips Jul 21 '10 at 20:28
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@Joe, something's off about that... :-) – Mike Sherov Jul 21 '10 at 20:39
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Measure twice, cut once, swear thrice! – Ates Goral Jul 22 '10 at 7:36
    
For distances less than two meters, I prefer to use a measuring stick (paintbrushesandrollers.com/images/products/630200.jpg). – Vebjorn Ljosa Jul 22 '10 at 19:23
    
Just don't cut the measuring tape. That really doesn't make the day any better. – BLAKE Feb 21 '11 at 3:15

Utility Knife

For about $10-15 USD you can get 100 utility knife blades, so you don't have to worry about sharpening your knife/breaking the blade (except your eyes of course!).

I use mine for all sorts of stuff.

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My favorite utility knife: stanleytools.com/… – msemack Aug 4 '10 at 20:41
    
I prefer this one: milwaukeetool.com/hand-tools/utility-knives/48-22-1901. Beefy in the hand unlike the Kobalt folder, but because it does fold it's more compact. The gut hook, wire cutters and the one-handed flick open/close mechanism all make it a great general utility knife (though check your jurisdiction; the mechanism may make it illegal as a "switchblade" or "gravity knife". – KeithS May 3 '13 at 19:15

A first aid kit

...that is easy to find!

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...and can be used with one hand – Adam Robinson Jul 22 '10 at 12:07
    
I love how Adam's comment has more upvotes than the answer ;) – Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 3:41
1  
Nah, masking tape is all you need. – Vebjorn Ljosa Jul 28 '10 at 18:44
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Super glue will hold way better than masking tape! – Doresoom Jul 29 '10 at 21:10
    
Super glue is amazing liquid skin. – Wayne Werner Aug 2 '10 at 2:41

A multimeter

a multimeter (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license)

(Image licensed under the Creative Commons)

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Typically referred to as a Multi-meter. – Brad Gilbert Jul 24 '10 at 3:27
    
I've had mine for a number of years, and lost one of the lead wires. However, I had a wire with clips on both ends. Clip a 16P nail into each clip; one in the socket, the other as your tip. Don't use for anything over 12V, of course! – GalacticCowboy Aug 12 '10 at 16:37
    
I've got one of these and never really learned to use it. Mostly I just stick to a voltage tester with an LED. – JohnFx Sep 27 '10 at 1:11
    
Yes, the picture is of a multimeter, not any tester. – XTL Nov 28 '10 at 11:38
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I'm giving this a downvote. I don't think every DIYer needs one of these. I have no idea what one of these even does. – samthebrand Mar 27 '12 at 17:26

Needle-nose pliers

enter image description here

These are the most often used tool in my toolbox, not that they ever make it back into the toolbox.

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I think I saw mine migrating through the bathroom yesterday...can't remember how they got there. – Doresoom Jul 22 '10 at 13:23
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My wife has requisitioned a few pairs over the years as weed pullers for the yard. Nothing like finding my pliers caked with dirt... thanks, dear! – Jared Harley Jul 28 '10 at 22:06
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I'm sure she says the same thing about her good fabric scissors when she finds you've been using them for home improvement tasks, Jared ;) – Wayne Werner Aug 5 '10 at 15:31

Speed square

alt text

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You can get them for about $3 ($1 if you wait for a sale) at harbor freight. The measurement markers aren't as nice as the more expensive variety, but they're just as square. – Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 3:36
    
Pardon the ignorance, but what do you use this for? – Portman Jul 29 '10 at 19:22
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@Portman: It's like a protractor for DIY projects/construction in general. – Doresoom Aug 3 '10 at 19:21
    
You can use it quickly cut a straight cut on a 2x4 with a circular saw. Any other uses? – Greg Nov 22 '10 at 21:53
    
These come in different sizes, but I like a small (7") one in my back pocket. – Jay Bazuzi Nov 4 '12 at 22:54

Hammers and screwdrivers.

You aren't going to get much done without them...

A good jigsaw can be very helpful for many tasks as well.

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What type of hammers? What type of screw drivers? – Joe Philllips Jul 21 '10 at 19:53
2  
@Joe Phillips - given your name, I assume you were fishing for a specific kind of screwdriver.... I have made do with one simple claw hammer for years now. Screwdrivers really should be bought in bulk, I seem to lose/break them a lot. – Josh Goldshlag Jul 21 '10 at 19:56
    
Wasn't actually fishing but you raise an interesting point. Phillips screwdrivers are the best! But seriously, I don't think it's necessary to have a sledge hammer which is why I asked. – Joe Philllips Jul 21 '10 at 20:28
    
-1: This is two answers – Novelocrat Aug 5 '10 at 19:46

Locking pliers
Commonly known by the genericised trademark "Vise-Grip"

enter image description here

I find that I use it one way or another on every project I do.

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Also called "the wrong tool for every job". – XTL Nov 28 '10 at 11:39
    
I deliberately bought a small vice-grip to stop me over-using it. – staticsan Jan 4 '11 at 23:46
    
Aka mole grips - superb name. – Umber Ferrule Dec 13 '11 at 13:13
    
This tool can do everything...but usually it breaks something in the process. – Malfist Jun 26 '12 at 12:09

A power miter saw (compound if possible).

It will cut anything you'd cut with a circular saw (other than large sheets), and you'll also be able to cut any trim pieces you'll ever need. Adding and replacing trim is a relatively easy thing to do and can quickly add value and better the appearance of a house. Few things come as close the a bang-for-the-buck arena.

alt text

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This is next on my wish list... – Doresoom Jul 21 '10 at 21:15
    
Next to my cordless drill, this is probably my most used power tool. The disadvantage of course is that they are big and expensive. Can't beat them for framing or trim work though. – Eric Petroelje Aug 4 '10 at 15:28
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Sure it's on the must-have-list, but as a replacement for a circular saw? That's just crazytalk. The two saws have totally different uses. – Commander Keen Oct 6 '10 at 12:33
    
@Commander Keen: I'm not so sure that they're totally different. Yes, you can do things with each that you can't do with the other, but a miter saw can do just about anything that a circular saw can (save for, as noted above, cutting large sheets like plywood). Is there something I'm forgetting? – Adam Robinson Nov 1 '10 at 18:35
    
@Adam: What else do you use a circular saw for? I prefer a plunge saw, and have sold my circular saw though. – Commander Keen Nov 3 '10 at 13:32

Non-Contact Voltage Tester.
This comes in very handy to make sure you turned off the correct circuit breaker before doing any electrical work. And really helps if you have some funky wiring in your house and not everything in a single box is on the same circuit.

Non-Contact Voltage Tester

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Or even just checking to see if there's an electrical cable inside the wall where you're getting ready to drill... – Jared Harley Jul 28 '10 at 22:08
    
Actually most aren't that sensitive, unfortunately. I have one of the ones in the picture, and you have to pretty much stick it into the plug to get it to light. – KeithS May 3 '13 at 18:39

Screwdriver set

screwdrivers

Your exact types will differ by country, but you likely want:

  • Slot-head (2 or 3 sizes)
  • Phillips (atleast size #3, maybe #2 and #4)
  • Robertson (atleast red, green, and black)

Rubber handles will save your hands after a bit of use. Also, try to find black tipped drivers, as this means they're hardened and shouldn't wear down as quickly.

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What is a Robertson screw driver? – Joe Philllips Jul 21 '10 at 20:41
    
@Joe : Robertson heads have square sockets en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_screw_drives – Doresoom Jul 21 '10 at 21:59
    
Add a flexible shaft, and ratcheting screwdriver that takes different heads, and you sold me. – JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 22:11
    
And perhaps a flat-head that doesn't slip out of the screw. – Adam Robinson Jul 22 '10 at 12:05
    
Screw Driver Tips: Look for ones with a softer rubber handle. Your hands will thank you when you are trying to drive in several screws in quick succession. Also, look for ones with the black tips, as these are hardened and less likely to get chewed up from regular use. – msemack Jul 26 '10 at 13:06

Set of standard and metric allen keys.

alt text

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Frankly, I've never had a job where I needed an allan wrench that didn't come with one. I have a drawer full of these from buying cheap furniture. – JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 22:12
    
True. There are those edge cases where you need to disassemble/reassemble something and having an organized (and sturdy) set of allen keys can save the day. – spoulson Jul 22 '10 at 19:03
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The cheap ones that come with Ikea furniture slip and get rounded too easily. They are also too short to be comfortable. I am glad I have one that is longer and of better-quality steel. – Vebjorn Ljosa Jul 22 '10 at 19:15
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These seem to be useful for grinding down into other, more useful, tools – Joe Philllips Jul 22 '10 at 21:41
    
The Ikea ones are cheap, but then I have 500 of them so they are pretty much disposable. – JohnFx Jul 23 '10 at 4:01

Quick clamps.

alt text

about a million times better than these:

alt text

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A reciprocating saw (a.ka. sawzall) -

  1. Makes short work of any tearout job.
  2. Gets into places that other saws can't.
  3. Great stand-in for a chainsaw outside (for small stuff)
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A poor man's version would be a jab saw - I picked one up for $10 or so when I needed to put a junction box in my ceiling. – Doresoom Jul 22 '10 at 15:05
    
best. tool. evar. – dave thieben Aug 5 '10 at 17:48
    
The more HP the better, and get good, appropriate blades (wood for wood, metal for metal, etc). – BryanH Jul 14 '12 at 2:15
    
This, and a good drill, are the two must-own power tools for any homeowner. The last point on the list is critical; a nice long wood or demo blade will make mincemeat of that dead branch in your backyard, and the "trash tree" saplings that have gotten beyond the ability of your bypass loppers. – KeithS May 3 '13 at 19:21

A circular saw of course.

And don't skimp - you'll use it enough that it's worthwhile to spend the money and get a decent (and light) one.

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How would you respond to the "power miter saw" answer that suggests it can do the job of a circular saw for many projects? – msemack Aug 4 '10 at 15:00
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@msemack - I would agree. I have a 10" sliding compound miter saw that I use FAR more than my circular saw. But a good miter saw is big and expensive. A circular saw has more utility than a miter saw, and is much cheaper and smaller (easier to store). The disadvantage of the circular saw is speed and accuracy. Much easier and faster to make nice cuts with a miter saw. – Eric Petroelje Aug 4 '10 at 15:25

Good levels of different sizes

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+1 I just put in shelving in my pantry that's exactly 47" in width. Too bad all I had was my 48" level and a 12" level. :/ – Doresoom Jul 26 '10 at 14:41
    
I have a 4' level, 2 different 2' levels and a couple of bullet levels (4", 9"). And they all get used pretty regularly. – GalacticCowboy Aug 12 '10 at 16:50

A good set of channel lock pliers (multiple sizes).

Use them on almost every job, especially plumbing.

alt text

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And never buy just one - especially for plumbing. Seems like if you need one you always need two (one to turn something and the other to keep the opposite side from turning) – Eric Petroelje Jul 21 '10 at 22:20

5-in-1 Tool:

5-in-1 Tool

Great for scraping, pealing, poking. I use it all the time (and it is stronger than a putty knife).

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So that's what that half round is for! I rather like mine, and I found it on the road so that was an even better deal ;) – Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 20:38
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Is the half round for cleaning off a paint roller? – dotjoe Aug 5 '10 at 13:48
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That is what I have used the half round for... cleaning paint off a roller... but I bet there are other uses too! – Jeff Widmer Aug 5 '10 at 13:58
    

A dremel with various bits: cut-off wheel, stone, sandpaper, polisher, etc.

alt text

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+1 Love the dremel. When I first bought it I walked around the house LOOKING for projects to use it on. – JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 22:09
    
I have two... well three Dremels. I got my first one when I was 16, and it's still going strong. One tip - buy the $13 Harbor Freight rotary accessory kits when they go on sale - it comes with more cutting wheels and they're almost as good as the Dremel ones. Plus it comes with a ton of other accessories. – Wayne Werner Jul 22 '10 at 3:08
    
What are some things you use it for? – Vebjorn Ljosa Jul 22 '10 at 19:10
    
After cutting something metal, such as carpet threshold trim, you can use it to deburr and polish up the edges. – spoulson Jul 23 '10 at 11:59
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Just heed the warning sticker about "...not for home dental use." Unfortunately, I have a friend who actually used one to buff a chipped tooth D-8 – Jay Sep 6 '10 at 20:59

Complete socket wrench set for 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" drives and box/closed end wrenches. Should include shallow and deep sockets. Places like Sears will carry an affordable portable fitted toolbox with all the sockets and wrenches.

alt text

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more for fixing cars then normal DIY – Walker Jul 22 '10 at 8:36
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There are plenty of hex bolts around the house that need sockets and wrenches: Decks use lag bolts and carriage bolts. Some water and gas line fittings need box end wrenches (sometimes an adjustible wrench won't cut it). etc. – spoulson Jul 22 '10 at 14:21
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Use case: Toilet base bolts diy.stackexchange.com/questions/279/… – spoulson Jul 22 '10 at 15:51
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Image is overkill - a couple of adjustable ones have done all I need around the house so far... – MGOwen Jul 29 '10 at 5:40
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Yes, 12 point sockets are typically for engine building and specialty. Emphasis is on obtaining 6 point sockets. – spoulson Sep 29 '10 at 11:56

Rubber mallet - good for things where a hammer will just dent things - also good for adjusting things with taps.

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I use mine far more than I use my hammer... – mwolfe02 May 6 '11 at 20:55
    
@mwolfe02 See this answer, maybe you won't need the mallet so much. – Tester101 Nov 16 '11 at 17:11
    
Usually called a "deadblow". – lecrank Jan 10 '12 at 22:27
    
The deadblow and rubber mallet are slightly different; they do mostly the same jobs, but a rubber mallet is solid rubber and can bounce back when you're really pounding on something. Hence the deadblow, filled loosely with lead shot and thus it has all the bounce of a sandbag. Because the deadblow has a hard shell, though, it can be more damaging to the surface being struck than a solid rubber mallet. – KeithS May 3 '13 at 18:47

Fire extingusher

I have something similar to this Kiddie Single-use from Home Depot because of its ABC rating:

Suitable for use on Class A (trash, wood, & paper), Class B (liquids & gases) and Class C fires (energized electrical equipment). The Full Home unit is fitted with a pressure gauge that provides at-a-glance status, is manufactured from lightwieght aluminum and a tough nylon valve assembly.

  • Mult-Purpose Dry Chemical
  • UL Listed / Rated 1-A, 10-B:C
  • Suitable for use on most common fires

Better to have it and not need it!

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A lot of insurance companies give discounts if you've got one of these in your home. – Doresoom Jul 29 '10 at 16:48

A Block Plane

Fits in a toolbelt or toolbox. Comes out every time something almost fits. Saves eight million trips back to the table saw. Handles simple rounding and shaping.

alt text

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I'm surprised no one has mentioned them but I think a good set of chisels are invaluable. Any time you're working with wood, a sharp set of chisels can be the key to getting a good fit and finish.

alt text

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a good set of chisels is worth its weight in gold. I use mine all the time – Wayne Werner Aug 1 '10 at 4:18

Safety Glasses

alt text

Not really a "tool" per se, but one thing I ALWAYS and is stress ALWAYS make sure I have in my tool box and wear all the time.

Had a friend that got metal in his eye and had to have the metal drilled out, creeped me out so much that I now wear safety glasses anytime I do any kind of work around the house.

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It took a trip to the emergency room (brake cleaner blowback) to cure me of "I don't need no stinkin' sissy eyewear"-syndrome forever. I'm so very lucky I didn't blind myself, and I'm never taking chances. Also, hearing protection, gloves and appropriate shoes :) – BryanH Jul 14 '12 at 2:17

A good-quality stud finder

alt text

See also: What should I look for when choosing a stud finder?

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how does one identify a good stud finder? I have two and neither are that great at finding studs. tapping on the walls is usually more effective. – mmccoo Jul 21 '10 at 20:00
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Yeah, can someone recommend a specific model of stud find that performs well? I have tried a few and they are pretty in-exact. – msemack Jul 23 '10 at 15:06
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i've bought about a dozen stud finders in my lifetime. in my experience, zircon stud finders are the most reliable, consistent and accurate. the big home improvement places usually carry 2-4 different kinds. make sure to buy one that has an LCD display to show you the strength of the reflected signal. – longneck Jul 28 '10 at 14:19
    
never had luck with the "tapping" method. I usually end up with 3-4 holes instead of 1. – dave thieben Aug 5 '10 at 17:49
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xkcd.com/952 – Doresoom Sep 16 '11 at 16:38

A small pancake compressor. You can easily borrow / rent the tools, but having the compressor for so many jobs comes in handy. Can also be used without a tool to blow stuff off, fill tires, etc.

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I have a cheap $40-60 Harbor Freight 3 gallon oil-free compressor. I think I've probably used that more than any other single tool I've purchased - I fill tires, exercise balls, drive my nail/staple guns, airbrush... it's quite excellent! – Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 3:44

A Good Multi-tool

enter image description here

My personal favourite tool was my Gerber - though I know some people also like/prefer Leathermans. This is one thing where going cheap is not worth it. Anything Gerber, -Leatherman, -SOG, or any other quality tool brand really shines when compared with a cheap $10 variety. Seriously - save up for a few months and buy a good one. You'll be very glad you did.

I used mine almost daily until I lost it :'(

I'm saving up for a new one :D

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Multitools are useful because once you're up the ladder/stuck in the crawlspace, there's always that one extra tool you didn't bring with you. Sure, the screwdriver might suck, but at least it's there. – Alex Feinman Jul 28 '10 at 21:09
    
That or a swiss army knife. I can't live without it anymore. – Toon Krijthe Oct 4 '10 at 11:00
1  
I routinely cut down 1-3 inch thick trees/weeds with the mini-saw on my leatherman. – Yitzchak Jun 10 '12 at 15:31

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