What’s in Your Toolbox?
9 Essential Items Every Homeowner Needs
When a picture needs to be hung, or a drawer-pull tightened, or a light-switch cover replaced, any homeowner willing to demonstrate even modest do-it-yourself skills shouldn’t be without a basic tool kit. Along with a pair of safety glasses and a bigger toolbox than you think you need, here’s what the kit should contain.
1 – Screwdriver — Various types of screwdriver exist, but the two most common — flat head and Phillips head — will handle most projects. The flat head is more versatile, but only because it is frequently, and often unadvisedly, used as a scraper, chisel, pry bar, paint can lid remover, or lousy substitute for a Phillips head. A Phillips head, whose blades form a kind of cross, doesn’t slip off the screw or strip it as easily as a flat head does. Get a small, medium, and large version of both, with the large flat blade hefty enough so that when you are tempted to use it as a pry bar you can do so with some authority.
2 – Hammer — A good medium weight claw-footed hammer will weigh 16 oz. and have a steel or fiberglass handle. Jobs it is best suited for involve pounding or removing nails, such as when hanging pictures. At times, though, as when assembling furniture or dispatching a crawling insect, a rubber-headed mallet will do a better job of not marring surfaces.
3 – Pliers — For many tasks that require gripping, bending, or twisting, a standard pair of 8-inch slip joint pliers, with insulated handles to lower the risk of electric shock, will be adequate. As you get further into projects you may want a pair of needle nose pliers for getting into smallish spaces, lineman pliers for bending or cutting wire, and channel locks for grabbing hold of pipes, such as when tightening a leaky showerhead. Advanced DIYers may want a pair of locking pliers, or vise grips, which can clamp onto objects like frozen nuts and bolts without slipping.
4 – Wrench — In a pinch, a pair of pliers can often do a poor job of tasks better suited to a wrench. But to avoid skinning your knuckles and using inappropriate language around the house, a wrench will often be a better choice. Again, there are many types, each with a specific job it does best. But to begin with, an adjustable wrench, also known as a crescent wrench, will be the most useful. A crescent wrench won’t, however, take the place of an Allen wrench, also known as a hex key, for use with bolts that have a hexagonal socket in their head. Allen wrenches are often needed to assemble Ikea-type furniture. They’re often included with the packaging, although a small set of them will be helpful for other projects as well.
5 – Electric drill — The one power tool that should be in a basic tool kit is an electric drill, which can also serve as an electric screwdriver. It’s needed for hanging picture frames or other wall art requiring fasteners more substantial than nails, as well as for mounting such hardware as towel bars, drawer pulls, and coat hooks. Cordless models are more expensive but also more convenient. You’ll need a small selection of drill bits, most usefully from 1/8” to 3/8”, as well as a few screwdriver bits.
6 – Hand saw — A cross-cut saw, about two feet long and with 10-12 teeth per inch, will do fine for cutting across the grain of any wood up to the size of a 2X4, after which you’ll probably want a power saw. A hacksaw, which is more fine-toothed than a regular handsaw, is necessary for cutting metal or plastic.
7 – Utility knife — Essentially a one-sided razor blade, a utility knife is also known as a box-cutter for the very good reason that it is often used for knocking down cardboard boxes. Utility knives are also useful for trimming everything from carpet to excess amounts of glue on crafts projects. The best, whose handles are made of metal, not plastic, can be opened and closed with one hand, lock in various positions, and store spare blades in the handle.
8 – Level — Various types, from more than 4 feet in length to less than a foot, use a bubble suspended in liquid to determine when a surface is perfectly horizontal or vertical. They are handiest for preventing arguments when hanging pictures.
9 – Tape measure — A good tape measure will have a locking, retractable metal blade 25 feet long and an inch wide. Along with the usual measuring tasks, it is indispensable for calculating how much coverage a can of paint will get you, estimating the cost of carpeting a room, or seeing if a moose head will fit through the front door.
For convenience, most of these tools can be purchased as part of a pre-assembled kit. But the kit may also include more than a hundred other tools, half of which you’ll never use. And the overall quality will probably be second-rate. Better to buy individual, good-quality basics, then add to them as your needs, and skills, grow.