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Assemble a Basic Tool Kit

Basic Tool Kit

A handful of well-chosen tools will help you take on almost any job around the house. Here's how to begin stocking your toolbox.

Before You Shop for Tools

  • Be realistic about your long-term DIY goals. If you’ll only use a hammer to hang pictures, you don't need to spend extra on a professional-grade model. On the other hand, if you see yourself building a deck or framing a wall in the years ahead, consider purchasing a high-quality model.
  • Basic tools often receive the most wear. Buy the best quality you can afford for the jobs you’ll do. You don’t want to put a project on hold while you replace an undersized or broken tool.
  • There’s no such thing as a too-big tool bag. You’ll fill it up eventually.


Your Basic Tools

Here's an assortment of tools that will see you through simple projects, such as hanging window coverings or filling nail holes in drywall.


If storage is tight, buy a screwdriver with interchangeable tips. Otherwise, opt for a set of separate screwdrivers in sizes you’ll use most: three sizes of slotted-screw drivers and three Phillips-head screwdrivers in #1, #2, and #3 sizes.


A 16-ounce claw-style hammer will handle most jobs around the house. The more you use one, the more you’ll appreciate a cushioned grip.

Measuring Tape
Tape Measure

Buy a 25-ft. model with a blade lock. The blade should be at least 1-in. wide to keep it from collapsing when extended beyond a few feet.


Two must-have models: 8 in. needle-nose pliers and 10 in. groove-joint pliers. Groove-joint pliers are particularly useful for plumbing projects because of their wide-opening jaws. Your hands will thank you for getting pliers with padded grips.

Also, a pair of locking pliers works almost like a portable vise, letting you focus more strength on turning jammed screws or pulling out bent nails.

Utility Knife and Blades

A basic model with a retracting blade will work. Options include non-slip handles and tool-free blade changes. Buy a supply of replacement blades and avoid using a dull blade.

Adjustable Wrenches

You’ll find a use for these even if you eventually add a set of combination wrenches or a socket set to your tool bag. Buying added quality in these tools will yield jaws less likely to slip and damage your fasteners.


A 9-in. “torpedo” level comes in handy for leveling everything from pictures to a new clothes dryer. Before you drop one in your cart, double-check the bubble accuracy by centering it on one of the professional-quality 3-ft. or 4-ft. box-beam levels in the store.

Stiff-Bladed Putty Knife

A model with a 2-in.-wide blade can handle everything from applying wall patching compound to scraping away loose paint.


Start with a 3-ft. version and add longer ones as your projects require. The wider the body, the less it will flex during use.


Whether you’re setting up tools or marking lines to cut, you’ll need an accurate square. Popular types include a try square (also called a “miter square”) and the triangular squares such as the Swanson Speed Square. The type doesn’t matter as much as its accuracy, so check it before leaving the store using the tips below.

Inaccurate squares lead to inaccurate work and tool adjustments. To check whether your square lives up to its name, hold it against the straight edge of a notepad or a piece of wood with a straight edge. Place the square along the long edge at its center and mark a pencil line dividing the surface in half. Then flip the square over, place the blade as close as possible to the first line, and draw another line. If the two lines aren’t parallel, try another square.


Any sturdy flashlight will do for starters, but you’ll soon wish you had one you don’t have to hold while you work. Options include flashlights that can be tilted and aimed where you need light and ones with a headband for hands-free aiming.

Mill File

Eventually, you’ll come across some dangerously sharp metal edges that need to be dulled or dull edges that need to be sharpened (such as a lawnmower blade). A 6-in. mill file offers two flat faces. To keep them in good shape, clean them with a stiff-bristle or brass-bristle brush.

Safety Glasses, Gloves, Hearing Protection and Breathing Protection
Safety Goggles

Accidents do happen. To keep them from happening to you, make a habit of wearing safety gear. Even if you wear eyeglasses with impact-resistant lenses, flying debris could damage them and even find its way to your eyes. If you don’t wear glasses, today’s safety glasses can protect you in style. If you do wear glasses, consider a pair of goggles large enough to slip around them. As you add power tools, such as circular saws, you’ll want either in-ear or muff-style hearing protection. When working in dusty conditions, a respirator provides a more comfortable way to protect your lungs than paper masks.

Power Drill

You can find both corded and cordless drills to fit any budget, so which should you choose? If you’re thinking of dozens of projects where you’ll regularly drill holes or drive fasteners, choose a cordless model between 12 volts (for small jobs) and 18 volts (for pretty much anything). If you only use a drill infrequently, pick up a corded drill and a heavy-duty extension cord. You’ll get more power at a lower cost and won't have to wait for a battery to charge. A little extra money will buy you even more power and a 1/2-in.-capacity chuck—the part that expands and contracts to grip drill bits and accessories of different diameters—that handles larger bits than a 3/8-in. chuck.


Someday, you may add a miter saw or table saw to your workshop, but you’ll always find uses for a 7-1/4-in. circular saw. Add to its versatility by equipping it with blades suited to specific projects: a 24-tooth blade for rough carpentry, a 40-tooth blade for finer cuts in hardwoods (and with less splintering), and 180-tooth blade for smooth cuts in plywood and MDF (medium density fiberboard).


After a few projects, you’ll soon get tired of working on the ground or on a tipsy card table. A simple pair of sawhorses can provide a steady surface at a comfortable level.

Combination Wrenches
Combination Wrenches

Sets come in two types: SAE (or standard) wrenches are sized in inches (1/4 in. and 1/2 in., for example) and metric wrenches sized in millimeters. Choose SAE wrenches if you’ll be working on fasteners around the house. For automotive repairs, though, you may need a metric set (or both). By the way, they are called combination wrenches because one end is enclosed and studded with “points” that grip the corners of a bolt or nut. The other end is open and useful when you can’t slip the closed end in place.


Woodworkers have a saying: You can’t be too rich or have too many clamps. Start your collection with ones sized for the types of repairs you’ll do the most. A couple of 24 in. bar clamps that you can tighten with one hand will handle many medium-size projects. If most of your repairs are minor, pick up some smaller versions.

Power Sander

Your best bet for most projects is a random-orbit sander with a 5-in. pad. For most work, you’ll need sanding pads ranging from 80-grit (for coarse sanding or paint removal) to 220-grit sandpaper (for fine woodwork).

Shop Vacuum

The more tools you own, the more sawdust you tend to make. Choose a model that can be fitted with a collection bag that traps fine dust particles − a handy feature for cleaning up after drywall repairs.

Shop for Tools

Tools Beyond the Basics

The more you use your basic tools, the more uses you find for them. Soon, you’ll need tools that do more than drive fasteners and patch walls.

  • Carpenter’s square (or steel square): Here’s the tool to measure perpendicular lines extending out from walls, lay out notches for step supports, and check for square wall corners and wall-to-floor angles. As with any square, check it for accuracy before leaving the store.
  • Pry bar: Before something new can be installed, something old usually has to go. If it’s a big something, opt for a 15-in. or larger pry bar. A 7-in. bar handles smaller jobs, including removing nails.
  • Wire cutters: Many types of pliers have these built in, but they’re seldom as handy to use or durable as a set of dedicated wire cutters.
  • Stud finder: Hang a heavy mirror from fasteners driven into plain drywall and you’ll soon be shopping for a new mirror. Instead, use an electronic stud finder to locate a solid spot for your hanger hardware. Some units also help you locate hidden water pipes and electrical lines so you can avoid sinking nails or screws into them.