Home improvements of any size, shape or complexity all have one thing in common: they need tools. If all you have in your home is a broken screwdriver, a hammer without a handle, and one wrench you hope will happen to fit whatever bolt you encounter, you need some help.
The following is a basic set of tools that no homeowner should be without. When outfitting your toolbox, buy only quality tools, even if you have to collect them a few at a time. Low-end tools are inaccurate, frustrating to use, and often unsafe, while good tools are a joy to use and an investment that will last you a lifetime.
- Hammer: A 16-ounce hammer with a curved claw and a smooth, slightly crowned (convex) face will work for most of your repairs. Wood, metal, or fiberglass handles are all fine – just look for one that feels comfortable in your hand and has a solid point of attachment between the head and the handle.
- Screwdrivers: Purchase a full set of screwdrivers with hardened tips, including standard and Phillips heads in three sizes of each. Again, look for a non-slip grip that is comfortable in your hand. A handy and less expensive alternative is the 4-in-1, which has the two most commonly uses sizes of both standard and Phillips screwdrivers, all of which interchange in one common handle.
- Tape measure: A 16-foot or 25-foot retractable steel tape measure with a locking mechanism will work for just about every measuring task you’re likely to encounter. For use in the shop or garage, a 10-foot tape is a little less bulky.
- Adjustable wrenches: A set of three good quality adjustable wrenches – small, medium and large – will fit a very wide range of nuts and bolts and should be all you’ll ever need. Check for a comfortable handle and smooth operation of the adjustment knob.
- Flashlight: Flashlights are indispensable. To ensure that it’s operational when you need it, look for one with a heavy-duty metal case that is powered by three or four D-cell batteries.
- Utility knife: Get a metal utility knife with retractable, replaceable blades, along with a pack of heavy-duty blades.
- Putty knives: The well-equipped toolbox will have three putty knives–one with a stiff 1½- or 2-inch-wide blade for scraping, one of the same width but with a flexible blade for puttying and patching, and a 6-inch-wide drywall taping knife, which can be used for larger patching, light scraping, and as a painting guide.
- Paint brushes: Acquire a set of two or three good quality paintbrushes that are rated for use with all paints. For most people, the most commonly used sizes are 1½-inch, 2½-inch, and 3-inch.
- Pry bar: You’ll need a medium length pry bar that is flat on one end and curved at a 90-degree angle at the other. You should also consider adding a smaller version, which is perfect for small moldings, and a large, heavy-duty version for those big tear-out chores.
- Pliers: Get a pair of standard 7-inch or 8-inch slip-joint pliers, and a pair of diagonal-cutting pliers. Look for a comfortable grip, easy operation of the handles, and a slip mechanism that stays in place after it’s moved.
- A saw: You will need something to cut wood, and what you get is usually more a matter of budget. At the very least, invest in a good quality crosscut handsaw with a wooden handle (plastic handles are uncomfortable and break too easily). A more versatile choice is a medium- or heavy-duty 7¼-inch electric circular saw.
- Level: A two-foot long wood or aluminum level (not plastic) is the minimum necessary for most homeowner projects. You can add a four-foot one when money permits.
- Caulking gun: You should have a caulking gun that fits standard caulking tubes.
- Extension cord: At a minimum, you should have a 25-foot grounded extension cord with 14-guage wires. Larger tools may require heavier cords, so be sure and check the tool manufacturer’s recommendations for specifics.
- Cordless drill/driver: Once a luxury item, increases in battery power and decreases in cost have made this one of the most useful tools in your arsenal. Look for a complete kit that includes the drill, an extra battery, a battery charger, and a case. The drill’s power is dictated by the voltage of the battery, which ranges from around 7 volts to a hefty 24 volts. A 9.6-volt unit is the minimum size that’s worth considering – lack of power on the smaller models is simply too frustrating to work with – with the 14.4- or even the 18-volt models being a worthwhile step up.
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