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Open Diff: Tool chest or black hole?

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I have a confession to make: I am a tool hoarder. Were I loyal to one brand of automobile or motorcycle, or even a single nationality, this would pose less of a problem, but over the course of three-and-a-half decades driving or riding vehicles from around the globe, I’ve amassed quite a collection of single- or limited-purpose tools.

Take my collection of oil-filter wrenches, for example. There are strap wrenches of varying sizes and articulation, supplemented by slip-on cups of every size. Need one that fits inside the recessed tunnel of a BMW Oilhead? I’ve got you covered. Need to remove the always-overtorqued-by-the-dealer canister filter from a late model Toyota? I’ve got that style as well, along with the oversize socket (34mm, if I remember correctly) needed for the E46 BMW 3 Series.

Brake pad reset tools? I’ve got them in all shapes and sizes, contained in a neat little kit too large to fit in my roller chest. Electronic synchronizer for balancing BMW motorcycle throttle bodies? Check on this as well, and it stayed with me even after I sold my first BMW twin. Why? Because I might need it again someday.

The problem with collecting tools such as this is that they take up room in what may otherwise be a well-organized toolbox. Add in the general-purpose screwdrivers, Allen keys, wrenches (standard and metric, of course) and ratchets (in 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch, with extensions and sockets in standard and metric sizes), plus protective gear like goggles, gloves, and knee pads, and eventually, chaos ensues.

A while back, we had one of the first perfect-weather Vermont summer days, so I opted to jump on the now-for-sale bike instead of in the truck for my commute to the office. Shortly after leaving home, I discovered a problem: no directional signals. Not sure if this issue extended to the brake light as well, I opted to return to the garage and swap vehicles. Later diagnosis showed a simple fix: A blown 15-amp fuse.

Knowing that I have a stash of assorted fuses stored in my tool chest, I checked the top bin, repository for all things miscellaneous, first. Pushing aside the electrical tape (in a rainbow’s array of colors), I dug past the grounding strap (for work on sensitive electronics), under the assortment of files and rasps, through several sheets of partially-used sandpaper, and even in the pile of pens, pencils and air gauges that have found their way into the collection over the years. Nada.

Next, I checked the pseudo-electronics drawer of my cabinet, where I found my multimeter/tune-up gauge, my timing light, plenty of miscellaneous connectors, a butane soldering iron (one of mankind’s great inventions, if you ask me), a complete dental pick set, and even a variety of interior trim removal tools that somehow migrated from the drawer above. Not a single fuse to be found.

Eventually, after digging through the remaining drawers, I came up with a previously opened pack of 20-amp fuses, but no 15-amp examples. That means I put my assorted fuse stash someplace logical, like in the breakdown kit carried on long-distance road trips, though we haven’t taken one since moving to Vermont four years ago. The red breakdown bag is currently lurking somewhere in my basement, buried beneath a completely unorganized collection of homeowner tools, like the belt sander I purchased for a project in 1998, and haven’t needed since. I tapped out at this point, since searching the basement clutter will take nearly as much effort as searching the tool chest. For a few dollars, the local autoparts store sold me enough 15-amp blade fuses to last a lifetime, assuming I don’t misplace them again.

Which brings me back to my tool organization, or lack thereof. When wrenching was an every-weekend event, I knew, from memory, where every single tool or component in my collection was located. These days, with my mechanical skills tested only on infrequent oil changes, the picture is less clear. Blame it on age, or blame it on the fact that we’ve moved more in the past decade (four times, two of them cross-country) than most folks do in a lifetime.

Am I alone on this, or do you also suffer from tool amnesia? What tips do you have for keeping things organized, and how fastidious are you with the sorting of your hand tools?