Here’s a smart investment every homeowner should make. These 15 tools are the absolute basics for a kit to last a lifetime. And you can buy them all for about $200.
1. Toolbox: $30
A good, usable toolbox can save as much time on a job as having the right tools inside.
2. Hammer: $15
Sandpaper the face of the hammer once in a while so nails don’t slip off.
3. Pry bar: $15
A 12- to 15-inch pry bar is incredibly handy. There is one made of hexagonal steel that is infinitely superior to ones that are made of spring steel, which tend to bounce when you hammer them.
4. Vise grips: $10
Also known as locking pliers, vise-grips are the pit bull in your toolbox: Simply adjust the screw drive in the handle and clamp it on to anything that needs viselike stabilizing, typically metal or PVC pipes. When you’re done, the lever in the opposite handle releases the jaws. Channel-lock pliers are a good second choice.
5. Needle-nose pliers: $8
The long, tapering, forged head that gives needle-nose pliers their name is particularly useful in electrical work where spaces can get tight. Get a pair with a wire-cutting blade near the hinge.
6. Screwdrivers (mixed set): $20
You’ll save money and get the most use out of a good-quality mixed set that includes 1/4- and 3/8-inch flat heads and No. 1 and No. 2 Phillips head drivers. Magnetic heads come in handy, too.
7. Wire cutter/stripper: $10
This handy plierlike tool scores and strips the casing off varying gauges of wires to speed electrical jobs.
8. Tape measure (16-foot): $4
You’ll thank yourself for getting a good-quality, easy-locking, 3/4-inch-wide model. The half-inchers just don’t stay in place when extended; the one-inchers are overkill.
9. Electrical tester: $2
Forget the fancy gadgets with dials and displays: You only need the cheapie with two probes and a light to indicate that an electrical current is present.
10. Reversible drill with bit set: $40
This 3/8th-inch reversible drill is the only electrical tool that you absolutely, positively have to have. Although stores are filled with cordless varieties, stick with a corded model: They’re lighter, cheaper and never run out of juice.
11. 1/2-inch steel chisel: $10
One of the most ancient tools is also essential as well. When you need a chisel (and you will), there’s really no acceptable substitute. And forget the plastic- and wooden-handled varieties.
12. Utility knife: $4
Having a utility knife with replaceable blades comes in awfully handy, and again, when you need one there’s really no substitute.
13. Handsaw: $15
If you invest in a circular saw, you may find few situations in which you’ll need a handsaw. Many power-averse folks will feel more comfortable with a short handsaw. A good choice is the 12-inch FatMax by Stanley; it’s lighter and cuts straighter and faster than traditional handsaws.
14. 9-inch torpedo level: $9
These palm-size levels with the bubble that floats to center are essential to leveling everything from picture frames to kitchen cabinets. If you need to level something long, simply add a board to the level. And don’t be tempted by the various laser levels on the market.
15. Safety glasses: $6
There simply is no substitute for effective eye protection.