Three tools I can't live without

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Words and photo: Andrew Potocnik

It was really a very simple question, but when I was asked about three tools I couldn’t live without, I had to think long and hard. So here they are, although one is not a tool, but an essential aid for me.

Vernier calipers for accurate measuring of diameters (inside and out) and depths of holes. I have a pair of digital ones which allow even greater accuracy, but the batteries drain too quickly for my liking, and I hate to see things go to waste and not be re-used when the time is right (a hang-over of my upbringing as the offspring of WWII refugees who never let anything go to waste). Manual verniers keep going and going without needing to be reset or thrown out unnecessarily.

A 3" nail ground to a fine point, always kept in the right hand pocket of my dirty dust coat and used for punching centre points, scratching dimension lines, digging out grit or imperfections from wood, lifting staples from upholstered material, lifting folded nails so pliers can grip them, scratching guidelines when chainsawing green material, and the list goes on.

Masking tape used to hold mitred frames and box sides in place while glue dries, laid on dark timbers so temporary markings can be clearly seen either for cutting or drilling, bundling wood for a future project, writing notes to self so I don't forget, or simply holding paper notes scribbled at obscure moments in place. I do tend to come up with ideas at some of the most unusual of times, so masking tape helps to bind those ideas into concepts that can later be resolved.

I spent many years working as a manual arts teacher at high schools and enjoyed in engaging students in the joys of working with wood and how the simplest of tools can be so valuable and used for many purposes.

Students always knew that pencils I picked up off the floor and benches were in my right pocket, while a tape measure was in the left. It wasn’t uncommon to feel students rummaging through my pockets as I stood talking to another of their colleagues, searching for a pencil or tape measure to use. I wonder how often they found one of their own pencils in the dusty pocket of my dust coat.

Andrew Potocnik is a wood artist and woodwork teacher who lives in Melbourne. Learn more at

Which tools can’t you live without? Email your top three to – we’ll publish the best responses here on our website.



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