Having traveled with thirty or so cordless drills and tens of other tools recently, I decided to look a bit closer into what the rules are when it comes to flying with power tools, hand tools, bolts, nuts, and other hardware.
If you are looking for a quick answer, here you go: in vast majority of cases, you can travel with your tools and hardware. Depending on the tool, you might be able to carry it on, however, I recommend checking all of them in to avoid any potential issues at security. The only exception to that are batteries from your cordless tools which need to be carried on.
While this article is based on FAA and TSA rules for traveling with tools and batteries, they can serve as a rough guideline for your other travels as well. In either case, though, if you are not sure whether or not you can travel with a certain tool or piece of hardware, make sure to get in touch with the local authority as well as your airline.
Now, let’s look at the situation in a bit more detail.
Flying with Power Tools
The general rule when it comes to flying with power tools – whether corded, battery-powered, or engine-powered – is that all of them need to be in your checked in luggage and are prohibited in your carry on.
However, when it comes to battery and engine-powered tools, there are some other things to keep in mind besides the above as well.
Flying with Cordless Power Tools and Spare Batteries
Battery-powered tools such as cordless drills and saws can technically travel in checked in luggage with their batteries attached, but they have to be prevented from shorting and from accidentally activating.
As such, when it comes to battery-powered tools, I recommend you to remove their batteries and put them in your carry on luggage – only putting the tool itself in your checked in luggage.
When it comes to spare batteries, they all need to go into your carry on. You can carry an unlimited amount (as long as they are within your airline’s allowance) of batteries with a per-battery capacity of up to 100 Watt hours.
While most power tool batteries should be within that limit, if you are unsure – and if there is no Wh capacity mentioned on the battery – you can calculate it as follows:
watt hours (Wh) = volts (V) x ampere hours (Ah)
So, for example, the 18 V / 4.0 Ah battery attached to the drill on the picture abovehas a capacity of 72 Wh, well within the 100 Wh limit.
For full rules regarding flying with batteries, check this document prepared by the FAA.
Flying with Engine-Powered Tools
Engine-powered tools such as chainsaws, trimmers and generators are prohibited from both carry on and checked in luggage if there is any fuel left in them – even in the form of residual vapors.
If the equipment is completely purged of fuel then it is technically allowed to be carried in your checked in luggage, however, airlines might still refuse to carry it if it ever contained fuel in the past.
If the tool is brand new and never contained fuel, you should be able to check it in.
Flying with Drill Bits and Other Power Tool Attachments
Just like the drills themselves, you cannot carry drill bits in your hand luggage. And, given that sharp objects are prohibited from carry on luggage in general, things such as power saw blades should be packed in your checked luggage as well.
On the other hand, given that – as you will see below – tools under 7-inches long are allowed, in theory you should be able to carry on Phillips and socket bits. However, I would still pack everything in checked luggage to avoid any potential delays at the security check since the final decision rests on the security screening officer.
Flying with Hand Tools
The general rule is that any tool such as a screwdriver longer than 7 inches from end to end must be checked in.
However, given that there is also the general rule of not being able to carry on sharp items and the fact that the security screening officer makes the final decision about whether or not you can carry something on, I recommend you to put all tools in your checked in luggage.
If you, for one reason or another, you insist on taking your tools into the cabin, here’s a list of some of the tools that are technically allowed in the cabin based on TSA’s website as long as they are under 7 inches long:
- Multi-tool without blades
A separate rule applies to scissors which can be carried on if they are under 4 inches long from their pivot point.
Flying with Screws, Bolts and Nuts (and Other Hardware)
Finally, now that we’ve taken a look at both power and hand tools, let’s quickly look at hardware.
Given that screws are sharp – and sharp items are generally prohibited from carry on luggage – check them in. The same applies for nails, of course. As for bolts and nuts, you might be able to carry them on given that they are not sharp and are not listed on the TSA’s website as a prohibited item. However, you will be better of just checking them in as well.
And, the same applies to all other hardware such as metal brackets, washers, metal wire, and so on.
As you can see above, in most cases, you will have to check your tools and hardware in. The notable exception being hand tools shorter than 7 inches and scissors with blades shorter than 4 inches.
However, I recommend checking in even those – as well as any screws and other hardware you might have – in order to save yourself potential hassle at the security check. After all, the general rule is that sharp items are not allowed onboard and the final decision is made by the individual officer screening you.
The one thing that you MUST carry on, though, are spare batteries for your cordless power tools.
One last tip: if for some reason you decide to carry on tools, make sure that you arrive at the airport early enough to have enough time to go back from the security check to the check-in counters in case the security staff determines that you must check the tools in.
And, before you head to the airport, make sure to check TSA’s (or other authority’s depending on where you are located) latest rules, as well as your airline’s rules to avoid any potential troubles.
If you have any experiences with flying with tools and hardware, I’d appreciate if you could share them in the comment section below.