7 Overrated Tools You May Not Need

Cropped image of a man's hands grabbing a tool from his toolbox.

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Bad or useless tools abound in the world of home improvement. Some after-market tool manufacturers deliberately try to cheat DIY home renovators with flimsy tools that do not live up to their promises. Other bad tools seem to have good intentions but they too fall short of their promises. Let's take a look at tools for fixing or remodeling homes that are overrated, useless, redundant, or just plain goofy. In other words, these are tools that you can pretty much confidently leave out of your toolbox.

  • 01 of 07

    Yankee Driver

    Yankee driver tool

    The Yankee driver is sort of like a predecessor to the cordless drill, designed to drive screws with less effort than turning a manual screwdriver by wrist action. The mechanism of the Yankee driver, which involves a set of spiraling slots in the shaft and a spring action mechanism, allows you to push the handle straight down to twist the shaft and drive the screwdriver bit mounted in the tool's chuck.

    There is a nostalgic appeal to the Yankee driver, largely because most of us recall a father or grandfather using one. And it is fun to play with—an unusual tool with an interesting and rather ingenious mechanism. If you have one around the house, you (or your kids) might be a little fascinated by it as a symbol of a bygone era. 

    In its day, the Yankee driver was of great appeal to DIYers and craft people tired of wrists that ached from manually driving screws. The problem is that the tool never worked very well. Or rather, it worked only under the most optimal conditions. The screw has to fit perfectly into the hole, and there can be no resistance at all—zero friction. The slightest angle when driving the screw will cause the drive bit to jump out of the slot. 

    In reality, the Yankee driver is only practical when driving or removing screws in metal. Wood—especially hardwoods—render the Yankee driver virtually useless. And although in theory a drill bit can be chucked into the tool, using it to actually bore a hole is a laughable exercise in futility. 

    The Yankee driver began its slide into obsolescence about the time that people realized the screwdriver bits could be chucked into power drills, and as cordless drills came into their own, the Yankee driver began to gather serious rust. If you have a Yankee driver, it's time to move along with the times: Get a nice lithium ion 18V cordless drill. And leave the Yankee driver to your children to play with.

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  • 02 of 07

    Painter's Tape (to Eliminate Chipping)

    Painter's Tape

    Scott Olson / Staff / Getty Images

    This useless tool is a tool combined with a technique. This tool's technique is so pervasive, so embedded in home remodeling culture, and so often repeated that it has now become a belief that no one dares question—ever. Duplicated thousands of times over, it goes something like this:

    When cutting material, here's a fantastic hack for eliminating chipping: lay down a strip of painter's tape and cut through the tape.

    While cutting through painter's tape rarely hurts, it rarely ever helps. It's one of those feel-good hacks that makes you think you're doing it the right way—the truly professional way.

    The real way to prevent plywood veneer chip-out starts with a few of the usual tips like using an 80-tooth blade, making sure the blade is sharp, going slow, and avoiding binding. And yes, you can even lay down painter's tape, too. Painter's tape will never hurt, and there might even be the off-chance that it prevents a chip.

    But what really prevents chipping is to cut with the board upside-down (the good side facing down, if you're using a circular saw) and to set the saw at zero clearance or just a bit past that. You want the blade to barely clear the board on the other side. A blade that reaches far beyond the other side will mercilessly chip away the board.

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  • 03 of 07

    Magnetic Stud Finder

    Magnetic stud finder

    DIYers seeking a very cheap and easy way to locate studs are often drawn to the cheap magnetic stud finder, purported to sense metal screws or nails inside the wall. This small tool that costs only a few dollars has a magnetic rod inside a plastic view window that is supposed to jump to attention as it crosses over a steel nail or screw in the wall.  As the argument goes, if you find the nails or screws holding the drywall, you have then found the stud.

    Today, a much better option is an electronic stud finder, which works by detecting density changes in the wall. For $20 or so, you can own a very effective electronic stud finder and stop throwing away $5 magnetic stud finders that don't work. 

    In reality, this tool works well in one situation only—on plaster walls where the construction used wooden lath nailed to the studs. In this situation, there are many tiny nails embedded in each stud, and the tool has many targets to react to as you pass it across the wall.

    The magnetic stud finder is very frustrating to use on drywall construction, as the magnet is so weak that it will react only when it passes directly over the head of a screw or nail. And because drywall is nailed at wide intervals, detecting a stud is mostly a matter of accident.  This means that you have a lot of sweeping and dragging across the wall to find a fastener.

    One type of magnetic stud finder that actually does work is the type that uses rare earth magnets. Far more powerful than the older type of magnets, rare earth magnets do a great job of finding fasteners, even from an inch away.

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  • 04 of 07

    Foam Paint Edgers

    Easy edge paint trimline edger
    bjphotographs / Getty Images

    Painting is both the most common home improvement project and a messy annoyance. Of all the home improvement projects you can do, painting offers the most potential for making a big difference for a modest cost. But painting is so tedious and messy that many people end up hiring a professional painter after they have attempted it a few times. For those that continue to do their own painting, the gadget manufacturers have dreamed up hundreds of devices that say they will make the work easier and faster. Most homeowners soon learn that most of these devices are really aimed at coaxing dollars out of your pocket.

    Foam painting edgers are a prime example of this kind of device—one that promises to simplify the one painting task that people often have trouble with—"cutting in" or edging around trim moldings, windows, and doors. But foam painting edgers are fraught with problems, beginning with the fact that foam is a terrible material to use for painting. Even after hundreds of years of evolving painting technology, the best material to apply paint remains good old horsehair or nylon bristles mounted in a brush. 

    In the best of circumstances, edging is a difficult task, even with a regular bristle paint brush. Foam just complicates matters—giving something that looks more like a smear than a brush stroke. Because the foam does not adequately hold the paint, you are continually dealing with dripping paint, too.

    Improve on foam painting edgers by learning the "cut-in" technique with regular paint brushes. Or, get in the habit of using blue painter's tape to form an edge.

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  • 05 of 07

    Adjustable "Crescent" Wrench

    High Angle View Of Wrench On Floor
    Saktanong Chaipunya / EyeEm / Getty Images

    The classic adjustable wrench, often known by the trademark name Crescent, which earned its name thanks to the shape of its jaws, is a standard feature of most home workshops. This tool is essentially an adjustable open-end wrench, designed to replace a large collection of fixed open-end wrenches. 

    The adjustable crescent wrench is found in almost every toolbox and home workshop, which is something of a puzzle because few tools are less effective than this one. Adjustable wrenches have a terrible habit of loosening, no matter how tightly you adjust them, and this is exactly the wrong characteristic for a tool that needs to tightly grip a nut or bolt in order to work properly. 

    In tests, we found that no brand of adjustable wrench really performed adequately. The Crescent brand adjustable wrench had the least amount of play in the head; the Sears Craftsman adjustable wrench had a bit more (about 1 mm), and a no-name KR brand adjustable wrench had about 2mm of play.

    As an alternative to the frustrating adjustable wrench, you will be better served by a good collection of open-end wrenches or a ratchet wrench with a good selection of sockets

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  • 06 of 07

    Channel-Lock Pliers

    Channel-lock Pliers

    This tool goes by many names, including "tongue-and-groove," or "channel-type" pliers—or by the popular brand name, Channellock.  LIke the adjustable crescent wrench, this tool has an adjustable head. In theory, a pair of channel-type pliers is supposed to make it unnecessary to own several pairs of standard pliers. In practice, some people find this the most annoying and useless tool since the adjustable crescent wrench.

    Channel-type pliers have a slot design in the head that includes notches for adjusting the tool for different gripping sizes. These notches are the problem with this tool since they never seem to give you the size you need. And because you end up adjusting the tool just a little too small or too large for the fastener, you often end up stripping the bolt head or nut you're gripping. Most people who insist on using channel-type pliers find that they need to own several pairs of different sizes—which contradicts the whole idea of having an adjustable tool in the first place. 

    One place where channel-type pliers can be helpful is for plumbing work, especially in making the connections for drain traps. Other than this, channel-type pliers are most useful simply as a crude gripping tool. 

    A single pair of channel-lock pliers is perhaps necessary for the workshop. But for most purposes, having a good collection of specialty wrenches is a better idea. A good pair of name-brand Vise-Grip pliers can also be a good alternative. 

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  • 07 of 07

    Off-Brand Vise-Grip Pliers

    vise grip pliers on white background
    dlerick / Getty Images

    The Vise-Grip is a toolbox classic, around since 1924, when it was first manufactured in Nebraska. The Vise-Grip performs admirably, capable of functions you can't imagine pliers doing. You know that a tool has reached stratospheric heights when it can be used for things it wasn't intended for.

    Yet the world is filled with off-brand Vise-Grips—pliers that look like Vise-Grips and purport to do the same thing, but which fail miserably. There is no problem with using non-brand-name, less expensive versions of popular brand-name tools—provided they work. But the true Vise-Grip is a fairly delicate device, and you likely will be sorely disappointed if you buy a non-brand knockoff made by a shadowy manufacturing plant in a third-world nation.

    When it comes to a pair of locking pliers, you are best served by going with the original Vice-Grip (now sold by Irwin)—or at least a model from another name-brand tool manufacturer, such as Crescent or Craftsman.