I know "could use" means "to want" or "to need" but, if I wanted to write the past version of

I'm sure I can use this tool

then, do I have to avoid using

I was sure I could use this tool

and rephrase into something like this below?

I was sure I would be able to use this tool


No. "I could use" doesn't have to take on its idiomatic/slangy usage of "I want". It can also just mean literally, "I could make use of ...". You don't need to rephrase your sentence.

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