Tools Hub

Overview of tools

The capacity to use sophisticated forms of communication (language) is considered one of the main features that distinguish Homo sapiens from its animal kin. Intimately bound up with language is the ability to formulate and pass on ideas – a crucial part of the inception, improvement and refinement of technology. The story of linguistic development is therefore also the story of the use of tools to shape, extract and harness natural resources. In effect, humans became the first animals able to influence their surroundings by using specifically designed objects – something which has had a profound effect on scientific innovation and the built environment.

Tools can be described and grouped relative to their function. Tools that “move” items usually use some kind of compression to apply the appropriate amount of force. Consider a lump hammer. Applied with sufficient force to a fencing post, the lump hammer should be able to force the post into the ground – provided the surface into which the fencing post is being driven is sufficiently soft to allow it to penetrate, the surface area is a sufficiently sized target for the hammer and the material to which force is being applied is strong enough to take the impact. Some tools that move items also supply torque (a twisting force that moves a target object through a rotational axis. Essentially the magnitude of torque can be described as the relationship between the length of the “arm” providing the leverage, the amount of force applied and the angle of the lever arm relative to the object to be rotated about an axis) – to an object. An adjustable spanner, for example, is able to attach itself on to a nut as a consequence of a small wheel that tightens the clamp. The nut can then be twisted round and loosened or tightened, depending on the engineer’s preference.

Cutting tools are designed to make incisions or cuts into virtually any material. Crosscuts, axes, knives and saws are all common examples of tools that cut. The blade - or keen edge - of the cutting tool should always be harder than the material that it is cutting into, as persistent use of incorrect blade types will result in decreased performance and “dulling” of the edge over time. Cutting tools have reached a high level of precision, with some hand tools offering laser guides and manufacturing processes – such as the creation of car parts – using computers to produce cuts within incredibly fine margins of error.

Fastening tools are tools that are able to secure or bond materials together, either by use of adhesion techniques, welding or nailing. Common in construction, industry and manufacturing, these tools are also used in domestic situations to accomplish maintenance or conversion tasks on existing structures.

Shaping tools allow for the accurate duplication of original materials. A jig, for example, controls the motion of another tool and – until comparatively recently – was commonly used in metalworking and woodworking to produce “copies” of existing structures. Developments in technology have made the task of duplicating a tool’s path a simpler affair and the information is often stored digitally and managed using computer controlled machines.

Measuring tools are an essential part of construction, manufacturing, industry and science. From rulers and spirit levels to sophisticated digitally controlled sensors, the ability to accurately measure and quantify has rapidly grown more complex since the advent of the industrial revolution. The advent of transistors (in essence a semiconductor device that switches or amplifies electrical power) saw the rise of new and more powerful computational devices that are able to measure physical attributes of an object or “thing” - quantity, size, rate of change, power etc. – to a demonstrably high degree of accuracy.


History of tools

Human beings have been using tools since the beginning of the Stone Age – circa 2.6 million years ago. Original archaeological investigations assumed that early man only used tools (often knapped flint) to hunt and kill prey species. However, subsequent studies revealed that tool use was often more sophisticated than previously imagined. Many sites have been uncovered that suggest that tools were used for eating, creating clothes, woodworking and grain harvesting - although the tearing and piercing of animal flesh remained essential to early humans’ gradual ascension to the top of the food chain.

At an unspecified point in human history, metal tools gradually replaced stone tools. Techniques were developed that freed metals from rock and early evidence of copper, tin and lead mines are distributed over parts of the Middle East. By 6000 BCE, copper smelting had become commonplace in this region and knowledge of these technological advances began to spread to other parts of the world. In terms of constructing tools that would last in contact with abrasive or wearing surfaces, copper proved to be too soft to be effective. The addition of tin to molten copper produced bronze – a harder, stiffer composite with more native durability. This was the leap forward that propelled the world into the Bronze Age and provided humanity with tougher tools able to handle more difficult tasks.

Modern tools make use of light alloys as well as stainless steel. Steel – essentially an alloy of iron manufactured with additional carbon for extra strength - was a known quantity to ancient metalsmiths. Engineers, in what is now Western Iran, were manufacturing steel by the first century BC, but the techniques they applied did not lend themselves well to mass production. Steel-making on a scale that would impact the world only became a reality in the 1850s, when English inventor Henry Bessamer (1813-1898) opened the way for mass-production by developing a new technique that involved piping air through molten pig iron.

Steel has defined the structural shape of the modern world to the extent that it has completely supplanted iron as the construction material of choice. The addition of steel rivets in bridges, vehicles and buildings, for example, has led to stronger structures that have the added benefit of being more hardwearing.

Contemporary tools have combined knowledge of metalwork and the use of plastics (mouldable synthetic or semi-synthetic solids) and electrical engineering techniques to produce power tools. The first power tools started to appear at the end of the nineteenth century, when knowledge of electrical distribution had developed sufficiently for tasks that were traditionally done by hand to become automated. Robert Bosch started the Bosch Company in 1886, and worked in the proto-automobile industry on components with integrated electrical parts. By 1932, Bosch had designed and delivered its first power drill to market. Whilst Europe was proving to be a hot bed of innovation, American inventors were also keen to exploit what they saw as gaps in the market. The world’s first hand-powered radial arm saw was introduced to engineers and technicians by Raymond DeWalt. DeWalt had wanted to mechanise the process of cutting with accuracy, and his saw afforded users the chance to reduce their workload whilst increasing cutting efficiency. The success of DeWalt’s initial offering meant he was able to set up the DeWalt power tool company – a business that is still extant today. Elsewhere, Black and Decker – a company set up in Baltimore in 1920 by Duncan Black and Alonzo G.Decker, devised the first power electric drill. Black and Decker are recognised as the originators of the “pistol grip” style of power tool and their influence on the development and use of such tools can still be seen in the market today.


Overview of tools and their technical and scientific elements


Soldering iron

A soldering iron is tool used for “soldering” – or connecting – two workpieces together. Widely used in electrical wiring as well as plumbing, the soldering iron is considered an essential piece of equipment for electronics engineers working in applied circumstances, such as amplifier technicians in the music industry. In essence, the soldering iron uses principles of resistance to pass electrical current through an element that creates heat. The heat energy then aggregates at the tip of the device, which is usually manufactured from copper or copper with iron plate. The tip is applied to one of a number of different types of solder (depending on the properties of the two workpieces to be joined) and then applied to the target area(s).

Soldering irons area generally available in three types: low-power, cordless and temperature control. Low-power irons commonly find use in electronics work where the 15-35 watt output proves sufficient for most circuit work. Cordless irons use natural gas combustion or battery power to offer soldering capabilities where mains power is unavailable and temperature controlled irons contained built in sensors that regulate heat levels.

Most soldering irons work with what is known as “soft solder”. These are typically tin/lead alloys used in electronics applications and feature a 63/37 tin/lead mix that melts at 188 degrees centigrade.



Essentially a type of fastener, a rivet can be made out of a number of different materials – including steel and plastic.

Solid head rivets are comprised of a shaft and head. They are compressed by means of a hammer or a gun designed to deform them and ensure the surface that is being fastened is properly secured. Typical examples of the use of solid rivets include bridge structures – where stainless steel rivets are used – and the aviation industry, where solid rivets are driven into the frame structure of aircraft. Composites are more commonly used here, with titanium and nickel alloys a regular feature.

Setting rivets on this scale is usually accomplished by using power tools that squeeze them through the target holes using hydraulic or pneumatic power.

Semi-tubular rivets contain a hole that is designed to reduce the amount of power required to force the rivet through the target area. In real terms, semi-tubular rivets require 75 percent less force than their solid counterparts and are only swollen at the tail end, meaning that they are popular with engineers looking to apply them to pivots or places where a certain degree of movement is expected. They can be used with a variety of tools, including manual squeezers and pneumatic squeezers and are usually available in 1.6mm to 9.5mm diameter options. Other sizes are available, but are not commonly used outside of highly specialised work.


Blind rivets

Blind rivets incorporate a mandrel (or clamp) along their central shaft. The rivet and mandrel is placed inside a drill hole through the materials to be joined, then the mandrel is pulled through the rivet using a special tool. At this point the blind end of the rivet expands, snapping the mandrel. Commonly used when access is only available from one side, the blind rivet is usually made from steel, copper or alloy and are available in flat head, flush head and countersunk head varieties.


Plastic rivets

Although unable to take similar stresses to their metal counterparts, plastic rivets are common in electronics, furniture and appliances, and are available in a variety of different types. Depending on the application they usually require less time and effort to work with than solid or semi-tubular rivets and represent a good option for project work at home.

Common head types of plastic rivets include the locking variety that simply pushes into place. These are regularly used in electronic applications as their smooth head makes them very discrete. In the same way ratchet rivets connect – or mate – with each other from either side the target material and work well where and smooth head finished is required on both sides.


Electrical tools

Electrical tools are devices that use an actuating mechanism to power moving parts that can then be applied to a designated surface or area. They range from screwdrivers, to drills and saws and include many other types of cutting, measuring and moving devices amongst their number. Common power sources include electricity, fossil fuels and batteries.

A battery powered drill, for example, works by converting the power supplied by the battery to torque force that drives the drill bit. Unlike standalone drills that run off AC power from the mains, these drills do not have wired attachments and are thus a more convenient option for engineers and technicians that are obliged to move around a lot in the course of their work. In general terms battery powered tools cannot produce as much torque as mains powered tools. Improvements in battery voltage capacity in rechargeable devices has seen an improvement in this regard however, and whilst 18 volts is still a common battery voltage, some 36 volt options can supply similar amounts of torque to a drill connected to the mains.


Manufacturing perspective

Power tools, rivets and soldering irons are at the centre of manufacturing and industry and are important “shapers” of the modern world. Many projects that once required arduous manual labour are now mechanised, making the process of delivering small or large-scale projects far quicker, easier and more energy efficient.