Answer: Where Can I Find That Tool?

Answer: Where Can I Find That Tool? Googler Daniel Russell knows how to find the answers to questions you can't get to with a simple Google query. In his weekly Search Research column, Russell issues a search challenge, then follows up later in the week with his solution—using whatever search technology and methodology fits the bill. This week's challenge: Where can I find that tool?

Quick answer: You need a "tap and die" set—you'll use the tap to add threads to the new hole, and you use the die to put threads onto a bolt. Your best bet to find a tap and die set is at Sutliff True Value hardware store, 10 miles away across the water on Kodiak Island.

How did I figure this one out?

Determining what tools you need: It's pretty clear from my description of the problem that you need to re-make the threads in the hole and the damaged bolt. If you were lucky enough to grow up knowing what a "tap and die" are, then you're halfway done. Most of us didn't learn about metalworking at our uncle's knee... so we have to look this up.

Answer: Where Can I Find That Tool?

Luckily, it's not hard: A query like [tools to make threads] quickly leads you to a number of articles, most of which talk about "tap and die." It won't take long for you to figure out that a tap is a thing you screw into a hole (like the one on the back of your truck) to make the threads.

A die is another cutting tool that you basically screw onto a metal cylinder to cut new threads and make it into a bolt. (You'd use a die nut or rethreading die to clean up the threads if they're just slightly damaged.)

So now you know you need to get a "tap and die set."

Answer: Where Can I Find That Tool?

Unfortunately, the query [tap and die set Ouzinkie] isn't very productive. It's a very small town; not large enough to have its own hardware store with a lot of specialized metalworking tools.

Here's a tip to know: When you're doing a search that's very localized (that is, you want to search in a given region of the world), a Google Maps search is the obvious choice. So I turned to Google Maps to figure out where Ouzinkie is (it's way out there, near Kodiak Island).

Generally, if you zoom Maps to a reasonable view and do a query in Maps, you'll be able to find whatever product or services that exist within that view. In other words, the view in the Map will limit your search to that region shown.

But Ouzinkie is pretty remote, and the obvious search for [ tool and die set ] on the map gives you... nothing.
Answer: Where Can I Find That Tool?

What now?

When you're stuck like this, you have to shift strategies. Earlier we talked about how sometimes an effective strategy is to look for something more specific. That is, look for a specialization of the thing you seek.

Problem is, "tool and die" is already pretty specific. If a search for "tool and die" didn't show anything, it's unlikely that something more specific will work either.

What's more general than "tool and die"? You could look for "metalworking tools" or "threading tools," but since we want to buy (or borrow them), it might make sense to look for something that HOLDS a tool and die set... and that would be either a hardware store or a welding supplies shop.

Answer: Where Can I Find That Tool?

The easiest thing to do is to go back to the Maps view of Ouzinkie and search for [hardware store]. Ah ha! There's a "Wood Products" hardware store in Ouzinkie (But they were closed when I called... and it's not too likely that a "wood products" store will have a tool and die set, although they might.)

Luckily, there are a number of hardware stores not that far away in the town of Kodiak on Kodiak Island. The most probable store is Sutliff's True Value hardware store, so it's worth heading down to the ferry and taking a hop across the strait (But I think I'd call first).

Several readers pointed out that a mechanic at the airport might have a tool/die set, and that's true. In small towns, it's a good chance that you could just borrow it from an local mechanic, and that the best search strategy might be to go there and ask around. True. Don't underestimate the value of local knowledge in a case like this!

But this is the search engine strategy, and there are two search lessons to take away here:

1. Map search is great for searches in an area. It would be crazy-making to try and find all of the stores or businesses of a given type—but Maps search makes that easy.

2. Sometimes you need to expand your search to the super-category Here, we rewrote our search for [hardware store] as a place to find "tool and die set." That's often a great strategy to employ—think about what would be a larger or more abstract description of the thing you seek... or, as in this case, a description of the place where your real search target might be found.

Better get on the ferry. I heard it's supposed to snow tonight.

Search on!

Wednesday Search Challenge (Feb 8, 2012): Where can I find that tool? | SearchReSearch


Daniel M. Russell studies the way people search and research—an anthropologist of search, if you will. You can read more from Russell on his SearchReSearch blog, and stay tuned for his weekly challenges (and answers) here on Lifehacker.

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