A well-equipped toolbox is essential for completing jobs around the home—everything from hanging a picture frame to putting together furniture or doing major home improvements. Here are the tools everyone should own, from the most minimalist toolbox to a kit for the experienced DIYer.
How to Stock Your Toolbox
First, let’s talk about how you’re going to amass all these handy tools. Racking them all up at once could run you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The smartest course is to buy the basic tools you need to have on hand just in case (screwdrivers and a wrench, for example—see the basic tools section below) and any additional ones you need for the project you’re doing; then pick up others along the way with each new project. This will also help you buy the best quality tools you can buy—a necessity if you don’t care for tools that snap or break after a few uses.
Wondering if you should rent or buy? If you’re only going to use it once (like a floor sander), definitely rent. If you’re likely to use it at least once a year, buy.
Look for sales (hello, Father’s Day!) and refurbished tools; you can even buy power tools and more for cheap at government auctions. The suggestions for the basic toolbox below also make for great graduation or housewarming gifts.
Finally, remember to put your tools back in the same place, whether you store them in a simple drawer, an actual toolbox, or a full-fledged workshop. (Trust me, it’s really no fun walking around your house wondering where your wrench is when a pipe is leaking.)
Here’s what you should pick up, from the most basic to more advanced kits.
According to Clint Eastwood’s character Walt Kowalski in the movie Gran Torino, you can do half of your household chores with just three things: WD-40, a vise grip (adjustable pliers), and a roll of duct tape. As the Art of Manliness points out, the vise grips can stand in for pliers, a pipe wrench, wire cutters, a clamp, a ratchet, and, in a pinch, a hammer. Meanwhile, WD-40 has over 2,000 handy uses, and you know duct tape is an essential tool for every would-be MacGyver.
These three things will cost you only about $15. For good measure, add in a quality multi-tool like one from Leatherman or a couple of screwdrivers and you’ve got a minimalist toolkit for most kinds of fixes.
Still, for the other half of your household jobs, most people will probably want to supplement with additional basic tools.
The Basic Toolbox
A universal toolbox should include these 10 essential tools:
- Screwdriver set: From prying the lids off of paint cans to opening child-proof battery compartments, screwdrivers are must-have tools. Aim for flat- and Phillips-head screwdrivers in various sizes; you can often buy these in kits. Look for magnetic tips and comfortable grips to make screwing or unscrewing easier. See Art of Manliness’ how to use a screwdriver for more about screwdrivers than you might care to know.
- Claw Hammer: No toolbox would be complete without a solid hammer. One end is used to drive nails in, the other side to pull (usually bent) nails out of wood or a wall. Bob Vila recommends, in general, a hammer with a 16-inch handle weighing about one pound. Rubber, plastic, or vinyl handles offer shock absorption and a better grip.
- Pliers: Locking, adjustable pliers also known as plier wrenches, lever-wrench pliers, and vise grips are very versatile. Because they lock in place, they can be used as a clamp, or, as mentioned above, in lieu of a wrench, wire cutter, or more. The Art of Manliness recommends a standard 5-10W size for this plier.
- Adjustable Wrench: An adjustable, crescent wrench is like having multiple wrenches in one. You’ll need one to tighten nuts and bolts and loosen plumbing fixtures.
- Tape Measure: You might have heard the saying “measure twice, cut once.” Well, you need a tape measure for that and to do other things like make sure furniture will fit in a room and measuring windows for blinds. Tape measures come in varying widths (from ½ inch to 1-inch), with the wider widths easier to support with one hand when extended. According to Vila, a ¾-inch wide, 16-foot long tape measure is a good size for most jobs.
- Level: No more crookedly-hung photos! A level ensures you don’t hang or install anything (including your flat-screen TV and shelves) less than horizontally perfect. In a pinch you could use one of many mobile apps that serve as a virtual level, but a longer 3- to 4-foot metal level (which can double as a straight edge) will go a long way. For hands-free leveling, a laser level is your friend.
- Utility Knife: For opening boxes, sharpening pencils, and more, the utility knife is a toolbox workhorse. This Old House recommends buying one with built-in blade storage and rubber-covered handles for comfort.
- Work Light or Flashlight: You’ll need a flashlight for your emergency kit anyway, but you could get a dedicated LED light, head lamp, or work lamp to make sure you’re sawing/screwing/nailing or otherwise DIYing correctly in low or no light.
- Electric Drill: Although you can go without a drill for a while or resort to borrowing one when needed, sooner or later, most handypeople will need a drill—and after getting one, find it indispensable. Cordless drills are convenient for working anywhere, but the corded kinds cost less and don’t require expensive battery replacements. Whichever type you get, an electric drill not only drills holes and drives screws, but, with different bits, also sands and grinds materials, stirs paint, and even super-powers your pepper production. Recently launched home shopping advice site Thesweethome recommends the 12-volt Porter-Cable Drill/Driver (about $86).
- Hacksaw: A hacksaw cuts through wood and even metal and plastic pipes. Look for the kind you can easily replace with new blades.
Other: Though not your standard tools, a well-outfit toolbox should also include: safety goggles, work gloves, rags, pencil, superglue, and, of course, duct tape and WD-40.