One Minimalist's Tool Kit

The roots of my minimalist bent
go back to traveling by air in the 40's and 50's, then, later, taking long motorcycle trips.  The strict limits of small aircraft and motorcycles severely restrict size and weight of what one could bring along, so, from the time I was old enough to assemble what I wanted to bring along, these restrictions coached me to keep things light and simple... habits which have served me well through the decades since.  The images on this page will also show the age and extensive use of many of these tools, some of which date back to the 1950's.

If you are in any way a "mechanic" you have a lot of tools.  In my case the sum of my tools would fill a small van to overflowing so, there is never the possibility of traveling with all, or even most, of my accumulated tools that have become so important throughout my life over the past seven decades.

Such a dependency on tools also sparks interest in the wide variety of "travel tool kits" and "multipurpose tools" that seem to be on sale everywhere. Closer looks, or, in some cases using them, expose their limited value in the real world.


Screwdrivers are always included in tool kits.  It's been interesting to watch their basic designs evolve over the decades and adjust to new and different bits that have been introduced since the Phillips tip first appeared to challenge the common flat bladed screwdriver that ruled for hundreds of years before.

Phillips head screws and Allen wrenches were new designs back when I was acquiring my first tools, so, while some were too exotic and too expensive to include back then, they are indispensable today and have been joined by
square, torex and other special bits.  Not only that, these bits have evolved with "security" variants as manufacturers have striven to deny the common man access inside devices he has paid his hard earned cash for.

These exotic bits have also grown in size... my current BMW motorcycle uses a number of large Allen head cap screws so the largest Allen wrench I need to carry rivals the size and weight of a medium Crescent wrench.

So, some screwdrivers have evolved into a standard, changeable hex based "bit" approach.  A nice part of that evolution is that these "standard bits" add the potential for keeping traveling toolkits small. 

The above i
s one of my favorite screwdrivers... the Picquic "Stubby."  It's been with me for about a decade and serves a multitude of needs.  The handle holds six standard bits, so, with just the addition of one short and one long extension, it essentially becomes 28 different screwdrivers counting only the bits stored in the handle.

Add a hex to 1/4" socket adapter and the "Stubby" becomes a socket driver.  Include a 1/4" to hex adapter along with other standard socket adapters and combinations of socket extensions can extend it's reach even further.

An old film can keeps two dozen additional Torex and Allen bits together further expanding the driver possibilities and still taking up less space than one full sized screwdriver.  The stubby can't handle the torque needs of the larger bits, but a 5/16" socket drive can... again, keeping the total mass of the larger bits to a minimum.

There are even options for the very large Allen sizes... cut a one and a quarter inch length off of a large generic Allen wrench and it will fit into the matching socket to be driven with a 3/8" socket drive.

Most cars now sport bolts with Torex heads that are equally as large as this Allen head drain plug wrench.

Another tool that is indispensable when needed is a right angle screw driver.  The Harbor Freight ratchet screw driver shown has been made even more useful in tight spaces by shortening the hex sections of commonly needed screwdriver bits.

In addition, if your minimal tool kit only contains the stubby screwdriver handle shown above, this ratchet offers the ability to easily increase the amount of torque you can apply to any bit.

 While 1/4" screwdriver bits cover most of the possibilities, I've found it's necessary to add a few smaller screwdrivers to allow getting at smaller recessed screws... double ended bits save space again.  I've been looking, but haven't found an adapter to let the smaller yellow hex bit work in the 1/4" stubby, but... I haven't stopped looking.

Wrenches and Pliers

Vice Grips are ideal for the minimalists since they can always do the job of pliers and Crescent wrenches in a pinch, but many times there are no replacements for sockets, drivers and extensions.

The above socket driver was an impulse purchase while waiting in line at a local auto parts store but I will never regret buying it.   It's socket driver
head is a combination 3/8" and 1/4" drive.  In addition, the head is jointed further increasing the number of places where it can be used.

Add to that its relatively short handle and it's perfect for a small tool kit.  Another option is to carry a tube of some type, such as a tubular spark plug wrench such as those that are required for the current BMW motorcycles with deeply recessed plugs, and that can be used as a handle extension for the above socket driver.  Hot Tip! Carry a 3/8" socket that fits your car's lug nuts.

Short and medium length 3/8" extensions can be combined to give three separate extension lengths and a set of 1/4" to 3/8" adapters can be added to both make the extensions usable with 1/4" sockets as well as being combined themselves to create either a 3/8" or 1/4" short extension thus eliminating the 3/8"-1/4" adapter shown above.

If you are a "real" minimalist, consider setting up a collection of mixed Metric/English sockets from standards selected to fit both bolt sizes.


When using 6 point rather than 12 point sockets, you should be able to experiment and delete a few more sockets.

The screwdriver ratchet shown above can also serve as a small socket driver with the addition of a hex to 1/4" drive adapter.  The hex screwdriver extensions then preclude the need to carry 1/4" socket drive extensions.

Electrical Tools

A volt/ohm meter has always been included in my tool kits since the are essential for troubleshooting electrical problems.  I've been using the small Beckman DM73 shown above for longer than I can remember, but, since it's no longer available, others, such as this pen type Craftsman VOM are have some extended capabilities such as non contact voltage detection, but the Craftsman is huge (some 3-4 times as large) compared to the DM73.  When you are considering any VOM, assure that it includes an audible continuity tester.

In addition to a small VOM, proximity voltage detectors are not only useful tools when working around AC voltage, they can end up being life savers.  They come in both powered and non powered versions... the small white one above is perfect for a super minimal tool kit and doubles as a small screwdriver.

Depending on your skills, an electrical crimp tool may be essential... no suggestions since the one I carry is no longer available plus there are now so many different crimp methods.

There are a few "non standard" items in the kit as well.  A "Diamond Deb" nail file confiscated from my wife many years ago has been used countless times and is smaller and more compact than any standard shop file.

While they normally ride in pockets rather than toolkits, you are unlikely to find a mechanic who doesn't carry a good pocket knife such as the Gerber clip knife

Almost forty years ago, I added a mini thumbscrew tubing cutter to my tool kit and am constantly amazed at how often a tubing cutter has been needed.

A small tapered reamer has, likewise, done the job of many drill bits over the decades.

The extendable magnet shown above has proven it's worth so many times that it will always have a place in the tool kit.  As an example, one day I dropped the Gerber knife through a sewer grate while pulling my motorcycle keys out of my pocket, but this tool allowed me to immediately recover the well used, and loved, Gerber.

And, yes, all of the tools
shown above (except for the ruler) fit into the old and well worn audio CD carrying case shown at the top of this page.  It's still large enought to contain a number of other items such as the tywraps, heatshrink and film cans of small necessaries such as electrical crimps and terminals.