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As homeowners tackle fix-it and DIY projects with increasing interest, having the right tools to get the job done has become increasingly essential.
Whether you’re a new homeowner or just newly interested in home improvement, you’ll want to have a well-rounded tool box so you can quickly and efficiently tackle common house projects.
You can buy a starter tool set, or you can create your own by selecting your preferred must-have tools. Follow this list so that you can work like an aspiring pro, whether you know how to organize a tool box, or not.
1. Tape measure
It’s likely that you will use a tape measure more than any other tool in your tool chest.
A 25-foot tape measure is perfect for most home projects. Durability and rigidity are important qualities.
Even if you think you won’t need to measure anything as long as 25 feet, smaller tapes tend to collapse when you extend them, and are more prone to ripping or breaking.
2. Claw hammer
Hammers come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate a wide range of specific applications. A basic hammer with a claw is a good starting point for anyone building up their tool box.
Opt for a hammer with a comfortable grip. Wood hammers that get a lot of use can split overtime and leave you with painful splinters: instead, go for a steel or fiberglass handle with a rubber grip.
Another must-have tool is a cordless drill. Opt for a cordless drill, such as this one by Dewalt. We tested it in our labs and it’s our top performer, and great for larger jobs.
Whatever drill you buy, make sure it’s a 20-volt: While there are great compact options—such as Bosch’s 12V drill—you’ll find that less powerful drills can struggle to penetrate tougher materials.
If it’s not included, also buy a drill bit set and a screwdriver bit set that includes a variety of Phillips, flathead, and square bit sizes.
4. Handheld, multi-bit screwdriver
A drill will be indispensable in most situations where a screwdriver is necessary, but sometimes you’ll need a softer touch.
Instead, you may prefer a handheld screwdriver when you don’t want to strip a screw or are worried about damaging the object you’re tinkering with. You’ll often have this issue with delicate or expensive equipment, such as televisions or computers.
Also, if you’re working in tight spaces, sometimes a drill is simply too big. A multi-bit screwdriver is a great space saver. It’s also worth having a short one for especially tight spaces.
- Get the Klein Tools 32500 Multi-Bit Screwdriver at Amazon for $14.97
- Get the Klein Tools 32561 Multi-Bit Stubby Screwdriver at Amazon for $9.97
5. Torpedo level
Whether you’re hanging a picture, installing cabinets or building a deck, you’ll want to make sure the piece in question is level and plumb.
A torpedo level is a good tool for smaller projects and can double as a straight edge.
If you plan on doing larger construction work, such as building walls or building a deck, you’ll want to consider a six-foot level or even a laser level, but a torpedo level is a great place to start.
6. Adjustable wrench
Doing any kind of plumbing work? An adjustable wrench will be your best friend, since you’ll likely be loosening or tightening nuts or handling pipe.
These are also useful for car repair, and a 4-piece adjustable wrench set like this one gives you some choices depending on the project at hand.
7. Allen wrench
An Allen wrench or hex key is used for tightening bolts with hexagonal sockets. If you’ve ever assembled flat-pack Ikea furniture, you’re probably familiar with an Allen wrench. Folding varieties, like this Stanley one, is economical in cost and size.
8. Safety equipment
The two most important pieces of safety equipment are eye and ear protection—and you shouldn’t go without it.
Safety glasses keep dust and debris out of your eyes, as well as any foreign objects, such as screws, nails. or wood chips.
You can also cause damage to your hearing over time with prolonged exposure to loud noises, like hammering and drilling. Without ear plugs, you can cause acute damage to your ears when operating in a small space where sound reverberates.
- Get 3M Virtua Anti-fog Safety Glasses at Amazon for $8.19
- Get Flents Ear Plugs (50 pairs) at Amazon for $11.99
9. Permanent markers and pencils
They’re not obvious choices so to speak, but they are must-have tools for the tool box.
Permanent markers are useful for marking on wood, metal, or plastic, and it’s not a bad idea to keep a few carpenter pencils on hand, too. These can be sharpened with a utility knife easily, which is nice, since pencils tend to break in tool boxes and job sites.
- Get Sharpie Permanent Markers (6-pack) at Amazon for $6.63
- Get Irwin Carpenter Pencils (6-pack) at Amazon for $4.99
10. Utility knife
You can find a million uses for a utility knife, from cutting fabric and paper to sharpening pencils to opening packages.
Utility knives are retractable or foldable, and the blades are easy to replace. That makes them safe and easy to keep in your pocket for any small task that might arise.
A small flashlight will come in handy whether you’re fixing the drain in the cabinet under your sink or you’re looking for your breaker panel when the power goes out.
A rechargeable LED flashlight means you’ll never run out of batteries. The Anker Bolder LC40 offers a great value for its price and is near the top of our list for best flashlights.
12. Stud finder
A lot of DIY home projects involve hanging items on a wall, such as televisions, pictures and shelves. Typically, when hanging these items, you’ll want to locate a vertical wall stud that you can screw or nail into, which helps properly support the weight of heftier items.
A stud finder makes locating the vertical wall stud easy. We tested this Craftsman in our labs, and we like it for its performance and being easy to read.
When it comes to pliers, needle nose pliers are a go-to for your tool chest. These are a common tool for electricians, because the plier nose is great for grabbing and pulling at wires, while the cutting section, often located near the joint of the handle, allows you to cut and strip wire. They can also be used for non-electrical-related tasks such as pulling at things in tight spaces or cutting picture frame wire.
Groove joint pliers, meanwhile, are great tools for securing and holding items such as pipes or nuts. They are often used in tandem with an adjustable wrench to hold a bolt while tightening a nut.
- Get Crescent 6.5-inch Needle Nose Solid Joint Pliers at The Home Depot for $13.70
- Get Klein Tools 16-inch Pump Pliers at The Home Depot for $53.22
14. Quick-grip clamps
Quick-grip clamps are useful in carpentry and woodworking to secure something to a work table or to hold components together while you fasten them, whether by gluing, screwing, or nailing.
The benefit of quick-grip clamps, compared to other types of clamps, is that you can clamp and release them with one hand. You’ll want multiple, so a 4-pack is a good start.
15. Speed square
A speed square is so named because it allows the user to quickly make measurements on lumber, mark 45- or 90-degree cuts, or check angles of existing pieces.
Having a speed square at hand is useful in residential projects, such as framing walls, building decks or stairs, or assembling cabinetry.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.