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.
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.
Hammer — A good medium-weight, claw-footed hammer will weigh 16 ounces 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.
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.
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.
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 inch to 3/8 inch, as well as a few screwdriver bits.
Hand saw — A cross-cut saw, about 2 feet long and with 10 to 12 teeth per inch, will do fine for cutting across the grain of any wood up to the size of a two-by-four, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Sidebar: 7 tool tips from Ace
Can’t find the right tool in your garage? Steamboat Ace Hardware helps people doing a wide variety of home projects. “The tools required for fixing a toilet flush valve differ from those for replacing a faulty light switch,” says owner Marc Swanson, “but there is a core group of tools every homeowner should have.” His advice for shopping includes bringing in what you’re looking for. Whether it’s a light bulb or a weird screw, nothing beats having the item in hand,” he says. “If you can’t bring it in, snap a picture on your phone. That helps us get an idea of what the problem is.” Below, Swanson offers some more advice on the above tools.
Screwdriver: We recommend a multi-bit that allows you to change between different-sized Phillips and flat head bits. It eliminates the need for multiple screwdrivers in your toolbox.
Cordless drill: A drill is critical for so many home projects, big and small. If you have a really old drill, upgrade to a newer one with a lithium-ion battery. Lithium batteries don’t go flat when not in use, so your drill is always ready to go. You’ll want a drill bit set to go with it.
Pliers: Have a few in your arsenal — they’re one of the most indispensable tools you can have in your kit. Groove joint pliers: The wide jaws of these pliers make them uniquely useful in many plumbing repairs — you don’t always need them, but there is no substitute when you do. Locking pliers: Also known as vice-grips, these pliers are the ultimate MacGyver tool. There’s a reason that every auto mechanic, electrician and carpenter has at least two of these because they are adaptable to so many tasks. Needle nose pliers: These are adaptable to so many jobs around the home, from stove controls to wirework.
Crescent wrench: A crescent wrench is useful when doing small plumbing projects, like disconnecting water supply lines or securing the occasional nut and bolt. If you really need to apply some torque to a nut or bolt, or you have a handful of fasteners to deal with, a proper set of wrenches or a socket set is preferable. Still, the versatility of the crescent wrench makes it a desirable item in your toolbox.
Hammer: Driving in nails is the most obvious purpose of a hammer but they have tons of other uses, like setting door hinge pins or hanging picture frames. Unless you’re a carpenter, you really don’t need anything fancy. Any of the Ace brand general purpose 16-ounce hammers will do the trick.
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