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I am not a native English speaker. I was wondering how to express the situation in which one uses a tool for something other than what it was meant to be, and in a bad way so that you are not doing your best, or you are hurting yourself with your ignorance about the tool you use.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 15 down vote accepted

This is my favorite:

What you're doing is like slicing a loaf of bread with a hammer.

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There is a related proverb, that says:

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

which means, according to the Wiktionary:

  1. With limited tools, single-minded people apply them inappropriately or indiscriminately

  2. If a person is familiar with a certain, single subject/has with them a certain, single instrument, they may have a confirmation bias to believe that it is the answer to/involved in everything.

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A common phrase for this is:

You're trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

The idea is that you can't fit a square peg in a round hole; you should be using a circular peg instead.

Other than that, feel free to pick your favorite from one of these:

You're using the wrong tool.
You should use a voltage meter.
You shouldn't use an ammeter, because you're trying to measure voltage, not current.
You might find this easier if you use a compass, instead.

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1  
I wonder what task it is that can be done with either a voltmeter or a compass but not with an ammeter. :) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 30 '11 at 22:02
    
Do you say "you should use a voltage meter" when somebody is using the wrong tool? –  kiamlaluno Aug 30 '11 at 22:29
    
If you measure a voltage from a sufficiently powerful source using an ammeter then you will at least blow a fuse, or destroy the meter. –  starblue Aug 31 '11 at 8:41
    
I think the compass is a joke, as it would be equally unsuitable to the task as the tool used. –  starblue Aug 31 '11 at 8:42
    
Actually, voltage and current are directly related so even though the tool is not ideal you can infer voltage from current readings (via the resistance of the meter). So it's a bad analogy –  Eran Galperin Aug 31 '11 at 9:44

A phrase I grew up with is "a Glasgow screwdriver."

This is in fact a hammer, and refers to the practice of fastening screws with a hammer instead of the correct tool.

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A native English speaker, in a natural situation, would probably say:

That's the wrong thing to use. You should use this (hands over the correct tool)

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2  
The question asks “how to express the situation,” not what to say in that situation. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 30 '11 at 22:04

"You can't stomp a snake with both feet in a bucket". (From Dave Barry, originally)

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Though not quite exactly what I think you are asking for (the wrong tool can be dangerous to use), I like this from Robert Frost's poem Two Tramps In Mud Time:

Except as a fellow handled an ax They had no way of knowing a fool.

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In addition to the hammer-nail answer, what immediately hit my head was the old saying:

A fool with a tool is still a fool.

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