5 basic tools that most DIYers use incorrectly

electric-tools-drills Photo by Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock

We sometimes take our tools for granted, and while there’s a lot to be said for intuition in the workshop, there’s even more to be said for using the right tools, the right way. While you might swear by the latest “lifehack,” it’s important to remember that your tools are impeccably designed pieces of machinery that have either been refined and perfected over centuries, or through hundreds of hours of testing and tweaking in engineer-staffed laboratories.

So it’s important to get back to basics sometimes. You would be surprised how many self-proclaimed DIYers don’t know the right way to use a new tool, or the best way to clean it. Sure, the Brojects bros can sometimes get away with a fun little trick or a new use for an old favourite, but there’s a reason they’re on TV and you’re not. Harsh? Maybe. But it’s the truth!

While some of these might not be news to you, here are five tools that most DIYers have used incorrectly at one point or another.

The screwdriver

No, we aren’t joking.

The screwdriver is one of the first tools anyone learns to use, but it’s so easy to forget the basics when you move onto fancier gadgets. The most common mistake people make when using a screwdriver is using the wrong one. Sure, you can sometimes make your Phillips-head work with a Torx drive, or your Allen-wrench fit in a Robertson screw, but in doing so, you risk stripping the screw entirely. More than that, you’re probably making it harder than it would have been had you just invested in the right tip in the first place. People also like to take shortcuts sometimes, using a tip that’s just a little too big or small when they can’t find the right fit. Take it from us: find the right fit. These sizes are standardized for a reason, and there are few things as frustrating with dealing with a stripped screw.

Another common screwdriver mistake people make is simply using it as something other than a screwdriver. It’s not a pry bar; it’s a screwdriver, and using it to wedge open your paint can (or even pop the top off of a beer bottle) could warp the tool enough to make it a pain to use in the future.

As for attaching pliers to your screwdriver to give more torque, don’t do that unless it’s a design feature on your screwdriver. Chances are you have a drill, and if you’re prepared, you’ll have the bits to match. Jury-rigging these makeshift solutions together are rarely worth the effort, and in some cases, they can actually be dangerous and damaging to use.

Safety materials

Here’s something you don’t hear often: a workshop is the last place you should be cutting corners. We’re talking, of course, about workshop safety.

This one isn’t limited to any one tool, but it’s worth mentioning regardless. Shortcuts might help you finish your project faster, but they also might put you in the hospital. So what kinds of things are people doing wrong?

Sometimes, they’re avoiding workshop safety altogether.

Do your safety goggles look the best? Probably not. But they’re better than losing an eye. Is your dust mask a little stuffy? It’s better than breathing in harmful materials.

There are inherent risks with every tool, but the easiest way to put yourself in danger is by avoiding the necessary precautions, so always make sure your shop is safe before you get to work. Sometimes that means setting up proper ventilation, or it could mean making sure your materials are ready to go and that you have the right tools to work on them. Don’t know how to use your new tool? Read the instructions. Find a YouTube video. Spending a little extra time making sure you aren’t going to hurt yourself is always worth your projects being delayed. You can’t work if you’re in the hospital.


A startling number of people are climbing unsecured ladders. Different situations call for different ladders, and using one that’s being held in place by a wobbly concrete block or balanced on an uneven surface can result in serious injury.

Remember that it’s always better to have someone helping hold the ladder in place if possible, and that you should have three points of contact — two feet, one hand — on the ladder at all times. Always set ladder locks before climbing, never climb to the very top of the ladder, and regardless of how comfortable they are, your Crocs are not appropriate ladder-climbing footwear. Neither are your bare feet. Please, please wear shoes. Sandles don’t count.

Another important tip to remember with a ladder is the 1:4 ratio rule, which means that your ladder’s base is one foot away from the wall for every four feet of height.

These tips might mean working a little slower, but they also might save you a trip in an ambulance.

In the United States, roughly 170,000 people are hospitalized every year because of a ladder-related accident. They’re so, so easy to avoid.

Oh, and one last thing: if you don’t have a ladder handy, borrow or rent one. Don’t just pile a bunch of things on top of one another.

Circular saw

The circular saw is a DIY mainstay, and with good reason. Still, you would be surprised how many seasoned crafters are using theirs incorrectly, and these common mistakes can result in everything from damaged wood to lost fingers. And in most cases, these gaffes are completely avoidable.

The easiest mistake to make is using a blade that’s past its prime, because unfortunately, all blades dull over time. It’s important to keep an eye on your blade, though, because a dull one will put more strain on the saw itself, on the person operating it, and on the material you’re cutting, leaving you with less-than-stellar results that were twice as hard to achieve.

It’s also important to note which blade you’re using. You can’t use a ripping blade to go against the grain — that calls for a crosscutting blade. Conversely, you’ll need that ripping blade to go with the grain. Looking to cut tile or another material? Those have their own blades, too. We know it can hurt your pride sometimes, but don’t be afraid to read the instructions that came with your saw, or seek out a quick guide online. There are thousands of resources at your disposal. Use them.

Power drill

Look, we get it. Your new drill has a killer hammer setting, and you’re desperate to use it. But unless you’re drilling masonry, it’s overkill, and it could damage your tool and whatever you’re drilling. Today’s high-powered, feature-filled drills are packed with, well, features, but everything has its time and place. Similarly, using the wrong drill bits to cut corners could result in you taking however long is necessary to fix the mistake you just made.

Rarely, if ever, will you need to use your drill’s most powerful setting. Similarly, not every bit is all-purpose, so use the right drill bit for the right job.

Also remember that your drill is a drill, not a paint mixer. Don’t use your brand new drill with a mixing rod unless you feel like burning your motor out.

Lastly, don’t forget to drill pilot holes. You’ll reduce strain on your drill and it will prevent what you’re drilling from splitting when you put in the screw.

If you’re serious about tools, TIMBER MART has the selection and knowledge to help. With its expert staff and incredible range of products, it’s more than a store — it’s the starting point to your next great project.