Tools & Materials
16 Strange Specialty Tools (and What They Are Actually Used For)
Turns out, there really is a tool for everything. Check out this list of strange specialty tools.
The Shingle Froe
This simple tool might look like it was assembled by cavemen, but it is actually still in production today and widely available. The shingle froe was introduced by colonial settlers, who used it to split shingles and other types of lumber while building the earliest homes in America. Today, you can use it on any project that requires strong wood panels and boards with straight grain. You’d need to use a maul to pound the froe’s blade into the wood.
Unless you’re a fireman or rescue worker breaking into a burning building, you probably haven’t used this primitive-looking tool for prying and demo projects—but you can easily buy a Halligan bar online and feel like a demolition hero. Usually three to four feet long and weighing in at a about 12 to 14 pounds, the heavy-duty hand tool is typically made of high carbon steel, which is some of the strongest you can find, though it can be pretty hard to wield and is susceptible to fractures.
Demolition work can get messy in a hurry. Learn how to protect a home during a remodel here.
Stanley #1 Odd Jobs
In 1888, Stanley Tools introduced its “Convenient Tool,” the original Odd Jobs, which was later marketed as “Ten Tools In One.” For 47 years, carpenters relied on the versatile metal gadget as a tri-square, spirit level, miter square, scratch awl, rule, marking gauge, mortise gauge, depth gauge and beam compass. It was discontinued in 1935, but some manufacturers, like Garrett Wade and Woodpeckers, still sell modern versions. Check out ads for more vintage tools here.
Lignatool Set Schnittführung
We found the Lignatool Set Schnittführung SF400, a precision cutting tool designed to guide the blade of your chainsaw, being sold all the way over in Austria. It uses a laser to align cuts perfectly. The sophisticated piece of equipment costs about $2,766, but sadly, the manufacturer, Wimmer-Maschinen, doesn’t appear to ship to the U.S. (yet).
Worried about thieves stealing your expensive tools? Check out this great tip for theft prevention.
Hydraulic Torque Wrench
This tool, which uses hydraulic power to exert torque and get a fastener in place when it’s just too tough to do on your own, may seem like a modern concept, but it was actually invented in the 1960s. Quieter, lighter-weight versions can be found on the market today, at pretty hefty prices, from Grainger and Hytorc.
Pneumatic Planishing Hammer
There are a lot of different kinds of hammers, but most of them don’t look anything like the one above. If you are familiar with Amish woodworking, you know the concept of pneumatic tools: they don’t actually use electricity, but instead run on compressed air fueled by a diesel generator. This work of art with an equally creative name, the pneumatic planishing hammer, is used by modern welders to shape and smooth large swaths of metal—a task that used to require manual hammering. Non-pneumatic planishing hammers are also available.
Japanese Ryoba Saw
Fine Japanese woodworking tools are coveted for their precision and minimalist design. The Japanese Ryoba saw is among the coolest. The lightweight, two-side hand saw with rip teeth on one side for cutting in the direction of the grain, and cross-cutting teeth on the other side meant for going against the grain. Its long handle is ergonomically designed to give the woodworker full control.
It doesn’t get much simpler than an adze, a sharpened piece of metal attached to a wooden handle and used to carve and shape wood. It’s been used since ancient times to do everything from creating wooden beams out of tree trunks to hollowing out bowls. Modern adzes are now used not only for woodworking but also for gardening. In fact, the head of an adze can be found on Halligan bars, a firefighter’s favorite tool after the good, old-fashioned ax.
Every woodworker has a chisel in their tool collection. But you’re really cool if you can call yourself the owner of a power chisel. It’s everything you rely on your old-school chisel and hammer for, but without the required elbow grease—meaning you can do your fine detailing faster, more efficiently, and with less down time waiting for your hand to stop cramping.
You know how you have to remove the cartridge from some faucets to fix an annoying leak? There’s a tool for that! This lightweight, hand-held gadget is so simple yet so useful, and one of those tools plumbers don’t realize they need in their belt until, well, they need it.
What might appear to be a blood pressure tester without a sleeve is a device that acts as a shim, letting solo DIYers hold a window or door in position while they work. You can also use an inflatable shim to align cabinets or level appliances, and you don’t have to worry about leaving marks or scuffs behind. You can inflate or deflate the device as needed for a perfect fit.
Creusot Steam Hammer
What use would you have for a 100-ton steam hammer modeled to look like the Eiffel Tower? Probably not a whole lot, but in 1876, during the Industrial Revolution, French and British engineers introduced this mammoth tool—the first ever steam hammer—to the world. The Cruesot Steam Hammer, intended to shape and strengthen iron and steel, was retired in 1930, but it remains a pioneer and icon of its time.
A spud wrench is a wrench with an adjustable or standard box wrench on one end and a tapered spike on the other. The spike can be used to line up bolt holes when installing pipe fittings, doing automotive work or—in the case of iron workers—for lining up bolt holes in girders and beams. Some have offset handles for better leverage or access to parts. There are other types of wrenches that carry the moniker “spud,” so make sure you know that you are buying the right thing before making a purchase.
And yes, we know there is another tool called a “closet spud wrench” that is used in close quarters for closet spuds, basket strainers nuts and spud nuts.
It should come as no surprise that most torpedo levels are tapered or torpedo-shaped. What is surprising is how many uses people find for them. They’re small—6 inches to 12 inches in length—and have vials that indicate plumb, level and, sometimes, 45 degrees. Because of their diminutive size and shape, they’re ideal for working in tight spaces. Some have magnetic edges giving plumbers and those working with metallic parts a “third hand” while working.