90 Idioms About Tools

By Mark Nichol

Hand tools have inspired a tool box full of metaphorical words and expressions. Here’s a list of many of those handy idioms.

1–5. angry/mad enough to chew nails/spit nails or ready to eat nails: enraged

6–7. another/final nail in the coffin: one of/the last of multiple factors that contribute to a failure

8–9. ax: a guitar or other instrument a musician might play while making a chopping motion (noun), or fire, reduce, remove, or terminate (verb)

10. ax to grind: grudge or motive

11. bed of nails: difficult or unpleasant situation

12. between the hammer and the anvil: facing a dilemma

13. bury the hatchet: end a dispute or feud

14. chisel (someone) out of: cheat to get something away from someone

15: chisel in: deceive or manipulate to get a share of something

16: chiseled: toned or well defined (as in facial features or body)

17. clamp down: impose controls or restrictions

18–19. coffin nail/coffin tack: a cigarette (or, rarely, a drink of liquor)

20. crowbar: insert or remove with force

21. drill: hit or propel with force

22. drill down: investigate or get to the root of

23. for want of a nail: abbreviation of a proverb illustrating that the lack of an insignificant part can have significant consequences for the whole

24–25. hammer (something) out: argue or negotiate toward an agreement, or play a piano loudly

26. hammer and tongs: with great determination and energy (as in “going at it hammer and tongs”)

27. hammer away: discuss something excessively or tediously

28. hammer home: press a point

29–30. hammer: a vehicle’s accelerator (noun), or do something with great force or persistence (verb, as in “I tried to hammer it into his thick skull”)

31. hard as nails: unfeeling or unsympathetic

32–33. has a screw loose/with a loose screw: is eccentric, mentally unbalanced, or strange/has eccentricities or is mentally unbalanced or strange

34. has one’s head screwed on right: is capable or sensible

35. hit the nail on the head: be accurate or right, or explain perceptively

36–37. nail: arrest or identify (or have sex with, but this sense is vulgar)

38. nail (one’s) colors to the mast: express opinion publicly (from the idea of attaching a flag to a ship’s mast to identify one’s national origin)

39. nail (something) down: agree on or accomplish something

40. nail (someone’s) ears back: severely scold someone

41–43. nail (someone)/nail (someone’s) hide to the wall, or nail (someone) to a cross: see “nail (someone’s) ears back”

44–45. nail (something) down: discover, or make certain or final or win decisively

46–49. nail Jell-O/jelly to a tree/the wall: try something futile (akin to “herd cats”)

50–51. on the nail: in full (as in “pay on the nail”), or under discussion (both British English)

52–53. put a wrench/monkey wrench into: disrupt or sabotage (the British English term is spanner)

54. put a nail in the coffin of (something): cause something to end or stop

55. put the hammer down: accelerate a vehicle

56–57. put/tighten the screws on (someone): pressure or threaten someone, or make something more difficult for someone

58. saw away at: move one’s arms as if in a sawing motion

59. saw wood: snore loudly

60. sawed off: short (said of a diminutive person or a shotgun with part of the barrel removed)

61–64. screw: cheat or deceive, or a jailer (also, copulate, or someone to copulate with, but these senses are vulgar)

65–66. screw around/off: waste time or act aimlessly

67–70. screw (someone) around/screw around with (someone): bother or harass (“screw around with (someone)” also means “copulate with” or “be promiscuous,” but these senses are vulgar)

71. screw around with (something): fiddle or play with

72. screw (one’s) courage to the sticking place: have courage or resolution

73. screw (someone) out of: cheat or deceive to deprive someone of something

74–75. screw (one) over: betray, or see “nail (one’s) ears back”

76. screw the pooch: make a significant mistake (vulgar)

77. screw up: make a mistake

78. screw up (one’s) courage: force (oneself) to be brave

79. screw up (one’s) face: make an unpleasant expression

80. screwed: in trouble

81–82. screwed up: made a mistake (verb phrase), or flawed or ruined (adjective)

83. take a hammering: suffer a severe attack or loss

84. tool: an unlikeable or easily deceived person

85. tool around: drive quickly but aimlessly

86. tools of the trade: whatever is associated with, or required to do, a job

87. tough as nails: determined

88. turn of the screw: an action that worsens a bad situation

89. under the hammer: for sale (alluding to an auctioneer’s hammer)

90. wrench: mechanic

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1 Response to “90 Idioms About Tools”

  • Susan Oleksiw

    Number 10 is incorrect. Having an ax to grind meant something similar to having an ulterior motive. A man comes to the knife sharpener with an ax that needs sharpening (grinding) and the sharpener says, here, you can do it yourself. And the man with the ax says, I don’t know how, can you show me? How did you do that again? In the end the man with the ax gets the man with the sharpener to do the job for him. A man with an ax to grind is someone who wants something he’s not telling you about openly.

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