20 Essential Tools for Your Toolbox
Are the tips of your butter knives twisted and bent from using them as a substitute screwdriver? Did you break the only screwdriver you owned while using it as a hammer? It's time to put a real tool kit together for all your DIY home improvement projects!
Hardware stores have thousands of tools on display and can make you feel like you need a workshop-sized space to store tools for common household tasks. I've been a remodeling contractor for many years, and I assure you that you don't need them. Here is a list of 20 essential tools to have on hand that will fit into a small toolbox.
1. Ratcheting Screwdriver: With interchangeable and replaceable bits, it’s no longer necessary to have several types of screwdrivers. Buy just one, with ratcheting action to reduce stress on the wrist.
2. Medium-weight Claw Hammer: Able to tackle the majority of jobs, this is a must-have item. Aim for an 18-20 lb. weight.
3. Tack Hammer: Use this lightweight tool for finish nails or tacks. Larger hammers will bend thinner nails and increase your risk of smashing fingers!
4. Nail Set: Great for setting nails below the surface, these are also handy for making “starter holes” in sheetrock for wall anchors or creating an indentation to help keep screws from sliding out of place.
5. Locking Pliers, aka Vise Grips®: These pliers lock objects in place, acting as stabilizers and increasing mechanical advantage by maintaining tension, without requiring additional hand strength.
6. Needle-nosed Pliers: These can be used to hold short, small nails or tacks in place, bend and cut wire, or other intricate tasks.
7. Ruler: Best bet for household use is a locking 25-35 foot tape measure.
8. Utility knife: You can get as fancy as you like, but replacement blades can be expensive. On the cheap, get an aluminum box cutter. They use razor blades.
9. Razor Blades: To use in your utility cutter, or for scraping glass, removing old caulking, scoring drywall, removing wallpaper, etc.
10. Small Pry Bar: A small finish pry bar is handy for removing nails in tight places a claw hammer can’t reach and provides leverage for removing trim, lifting doors off hinges, and unsticking windows.
11. Hand Saw: These come in a multitude of styles and widths but for ordinary tasks, purchase a PULL saw with removable handle and fine/medium blades. If the blade gets worn or damaged you can buy replacements.
12. Small Hand-held Drill & Drill Bit Kit: This will be the most expensive item in your toolbox, but will be the tool that gets the most use. Cheap models don’t hold up, lose power quickly, and take too long to charge up. Consider a minimum 12 volt (or higher) variable-speed model, with a good quality battery charger. Bits come in multiple sizes – those made from tungsten carbide are harder and retain sharpness longer.
13. Set of Cheap Paintbrushes: One detail brush in addition to a ½”, 1”, and 2” angled brush are perfect for cleaning in tight areas including vents and grooves. They’re ideal for gluing, applying epoxies, liquid cleaners or oil lubricants. Think outside the paint can!
14. 2”-3” Putty Knife: Aside from patching holes, a putty knife is excellent for scraping anything from wallpaper to caulking to dirt…and this is one knife you can use as a substitute screwdriver!
15. Small Level: A 9-12” standard level is what you need to hang pictures and shelves. Consider a 2-footer if you intend to hang doors or install windows.
16. Duct Tape: There are books devoted to listing the number of ways duct tape can be used … yet another toolbox item to enhance the development of household creativity!
17. Assortment of Fasteners: A multi-purpose kit with variety of screws, nails, picture hangers, hooks, tacks and pins is inexpensive and practical.
18. Assortment of Toggle Bolts and Anchors: Like fasteners, you can purchase these in kits – size is dependent on the weight of the item you want to anchor to the wall. Learn how to use them properly and always have a few on hand.
19. String and/or Twine: Once you have a small roll of string in your toolbox, you’ll be amazed at how often you use it. Tip: Need an instant plumb line? Tie something heavy on one end of the string!
20. Small Pad of Paper & Mechanical Pencil: Keep them handy for writing down your measurements, making hardware store lists, etc. Get a heavyweight mechanical pencil to eliminate losing sharpeners and for convenience. It’s worth the extra pennies!