A reliable hand tool kit is essential for any homeowner. Quick fixes, like replacing a shower head, to subtle home improvements, like new book shelves, require a basic set of tools.
A consumer can take several paths, from buying all the tools at once in a complete set to building as you go.
A large set with dozens of pieces can reassure the consumer that it provides everything needed in a purchase of $100 or more. But these sets also include tools that will likely sit idle forever, especially if the user is Average Joe and not a construction worker, auto mechanic, electrician, or similar professional.
Meanwhile, building a kit as projects come up streamlines the number of tools at home. This strategy, however, requires in-store trips as projects arise.
And there’s a middle ground: buy a basic set of well-designed tools, then add to the collection as needed. It can take years to build the perfect set of hand tools.
Popular Mechanics editor Roy Berendsohn says DIYers should break projects down into three stages: prep, run, and cleanup. Each phase requires tools.
“It’s like cooking dinner,” says Berendsohn. “You buy groceries, you cook dinner, and you do the dishes. DIY projects are the same.”
FIND THE TOOLS
Individual tools and all-in-one tool sets can be found at big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, chains like Ace Hardware and True Value, local hardware stores, and the Internet.
Large home improvement stores and national hardware chains have a variety of brands. Well-known names include Stanley Black & Decker, Dewalt, Husky, Milwaukee, Kwikset and Ryobi. Craftsman tools are available at Sears and Kmart.
Experts agree on one thing: although it may be a bit more expensive, buy the best tool possible from the start. Look for tools made with heat-treated metals, which makes them harder and more durable. If it sounds cheap, it probably is.
“The better tools you have, the better the project will be,” said Bob Cheal, author of “The Handyman Business Guide for Success.” ”Well-made tools, you never have to replace them.”
There is a wide selection of hand tools of all types on the market, made in different places using different materials. Tools made in China and Taiwan are popular and less expensive, although quality varies.
Experts like Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics recommend tools made in the United States, or look to European countries like Britain or Germany with longstanding reputations for building quality, durable hand tools.
However, this does not mean that the technology of the tools will not improve over time and encourage consumers to discover the latest advances. Also, tools like saws, screwdrivers, and scissors can wear out and need to be replaced.
THE TOP 10
Here is a list of 10 essential tools that belong in every home.
1. Hammer: One of the oldest and most basic human tools, the hammer is necessary for driving and removing nails. Head weight, handle material, balance and weight distribution are key qualities of a hammer, said Bob Bachta, marketing manager for Vaughan & Bushnell Manufacturing Co. in Hebron, Illinois.
Hammers can weigh anywhere from 2 to 32 ounces, but the typical weight for a DIY hammer is 16 ounces, Bachta says. A strong handle material like wood or steel is important; different materials absorb the vibrations of striking a nail in different ways. Padded handles make it easy to grip. A mighty hammer can be purchased for $10.
2. Tape Measure: Every home needs a tape measure, to measure distances for everything from hanging curtains to arranging furniture.
A good tape measure is 25 to 35 feet long, has a sturdy end, and a locking mechanism. Tape measures can range from around $7 to over $30.
3. Screwdriver: Assembling furniture, installing closet shelves, replacing batteries in children’s toys, and countless other projects require a screwdriver to get the job done.
A home should have at least two types of screwdrivers, a slotted or flat head and a Phillips head. (Phillips screws are the ones with indentations that look like plus signs.)
Multi-bit screwdrivers come with interchangeable bits, eliminating the need for multiple different sizes and reducing toolbox clutter.
Manual screwdrivers can cost as little as $5.
Cordless electric screwdrivers and drills take the physical strain out of work. But they don’t replace manuals, advises the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Manual screwdrivers can reach more places and are less likely to damage the screw, the home inspectors group said.
Expect to spend at least $30 to $35 for an entry-level cordless drill.
4. Saw: A good sturdy saw is essential. A crosscut saw is good at cutting wood, while hacksaws can cut iron, steel, and plastics.
5. Utility Knife: A utility knife allows users to easily cut materials, such as cardboard boxes or even drywall. Get a sturdy utility knife with a solid retractable blade. Consider spending at least $8 to $10 for a utility knife.
6. Adjustable Wrench: Popular Mechanics recommends using a 10 or 14 inch wrench large enough for residential plumbing fittings. Be careful, however. If used incorrectly, the adjustable wrench can damage a bolt or nut. Screw the jaws fully closed to prevent damage to the bolt or nut.
A good quality small adjustable wrench can be purchased for around $10.
7. Pliers: There are several types of pliers to choose from, and having one or two in the tool kit is a good idea.
Slip-joint pliers allow the user to easily grab a nut or bolt, and the jaws feature flat and curved areas to grip many types of objects. Jaw size can be adjusted for different work.
Needle nose pliers are good for electrical work and the narrow tip is good for use in tight spaces.
Locking pliers work like regular pliers, but can also be used as a wrench. They have a strong grip that allows the user to remove nails or staples.
A small set of pliers costs around $10 and up.
8. Level: A level is used to ensure shelves, pictures and appliances are oriented correctly. A 9 inch torpedo level is good for small jobs. Expect to spend at least $15 for a small level.
9. Safety Glasses: Choose safety glasses that aren’t too heavy and have a clear lens for any projects involving a hammer or power tools.
10. Heavy-duty tape: Heavy-duty tape is water-resistant and sticky enough to perform a variety of roles, from electrical work to sealing boxes for storage.