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Buying Guide

Must-Have Tools for Homeowners

Measuring Tape
A tape measure sits on a piece of lumber in a garage.

Whether you’re planning to replace an installed appliance such as a wall oven or looking to upgrade an entire room, a tape measure is right at the top of list of tools. Pick up an easy-locking ¾-inch-wide model to start. Skinnier tape measures may fall out of place, and fatter ones can be overkill. As time goes on, you may want to add a smaller, pocket-size model to take with you on shopping trips.

A man holds a hammer and another man uses a sledgehammer.

Find a hammer that has a comfortable grip. Vibration-dampening coatings on the grip can also come in handy. Since you’ll probably utilize your hammer for the occasional demolition in addition to pounding nails, choose a model with a straight or “rip” claw in lieu of a curved claw. Make sure the head of the hammer is smooth (as opposed to dimpled or checkered) to avoid surface damage and nail slippage.

While a standard hammer or claw hammer is synonymous with a home toolbox, a sledge hammer may not be thought of as essential; however, it is a tool to keep in your toolshed. Strong enough to break concrete and rocks, sledge hammers can help with any interior or exterior wall projects or blacksmith projects.

A set of screwdrivers sits on a workbench.

One of the best tools to own, a good-quality screwdriver set should include a variety of flat head and Phillips head sizes, the two basic styles that will be used most often. Magnetic heads come in handy, but be sure to have a pouch or Ziploc bag on hand to keep up with them if your set doesn’t include storage. Some people prefer to use screwdriver bits with their cordless electric drills to make things push-button simple, but it’s important to keep a couple of simple metal screwdrivers in your collection. The most common sizes you will use are 1/8-inch tip flat-head, 3/16-inch tip flat-head 0 Phillips-head and 2 Phillips-head.  You may also opt for an electric screwdriver to finish home projects quicker. 

A set of pliers pulls a nail from a piece of wood.

Pliers are essential for holding tiny objects firmly when you need to manipulate them. With enough torque applied, they can pull, pinch or bend metal into shape as well. Make sure you get a good set including long-nose pliers, combination pliers and locking pliers to cover your needs. 

A set of wrenches is displayed on a counter.

At the very least, you’ll need a few adjustable wrenches in different sizes. They can manipulate hex nuts and bolts, which is invaluable when it comes to home repair and assembly. Combination wrenches will cover the gaps they can’t reach. As you grow more comfortable with your wrenches, expand to a ratchet and socket set to make bolt manipulation quicker.

Also worth having on hand is an allen wrench or hex key set. Handheld and ideal for driving screws and bolts with hexagon-shaped sockets, you will often use these to put together furniture and other everyday home decor items. 

Two levels displayed side by side on a piece of wood.

These hand-sized tools are must-haves for tasks varying from installing new kitchen cabinets to simply hanging a new picture frame. While there are several types of levels available, low-tech analog models with a floating bubble are quite accurate and inexpensive.

A black flashlight sits on a rock.

While smartphone camera “flashlights” work in a pinch, you need a dedicated LED flashlight on hand that doesn’t depend on whether you remembered to plug up your phone. If your lights go out unexpectedly or you need powerful light that helps you probe around when you hear noises in the middle of the night, a trusty LED flashlight cannot be beat.

Most batteries will run on alkaline or rechargeable batteries. While rechargeable flashlights cost a bit more, their run time and fast charging will pay off in the long run. It's also important to consider having a few different size flashlights on hand, in various rooms, in case of emergencies. 

Utility Knife
A person cuts a hose with a utility knife.

A high-quality utility knife does everything from opening heavily taped bags and boxes to cutting away carpet edges to scraping away resin or paint that may keep a window stuck.

Nails & Screws
Various nails and screws on a counter.

Having a good assortment of nails and screws on-hand will help you tackle any number of household projects, from hanging pictures to finishing flooring jobs. You can often find them prepackaged in sets. 

Wire Cutters
A person uses a pair of wire cutters to cut electrical wire.

For projects like craft projects and electrical repairs, wire cutters, or wire strippers, are essential. From lightweight styles to stripper and cutter combinations, this tool is meant to cut aluminum, copper, brass, iron and steel when needed. For comfort, look for a pair that features a cushioned grip. 

Stud Finder
A person uses a stud finder on a wall.

This handheld tool finds any nails or screws placed in the wall, making it easier to get the project right the first time when hanging shelves, pictures and more. Easy to use, stud finders are available in affordable magnetic options or more professionally used models that use technology to scan the wall. 

Carpenter's Square
A set of combination squares are used on a woodworking project.

Used in woodworking, metal and masonry projects, a carpenter's square, or combination square, is made up of a metal ruler and interchangeable heads to help measure right angles. This handy device can also check depth, measure level and plumb as well as measure the center of a circle. 

A sander is used on wood.

When it comes to power tools, sanders are a key part of many painting projects, so investing in a good handheld sander will help you save time and create smoother surfaces for sealing and painting. While you shouldn't use handheld sanders for larger jobs, like flooring projects, a handheld style will help you smooth fences, furniture and complete smaller household tasks. There are also variety of power tools accessories for items like sanders, drills and saws that you may consider investing in for future projects.  

Cordless Drill and Drill Bits
A set of drills sit on a workbench.

One of the more common power tools every homeowner should have, the cordless drill will likely be one of the most used tools in your collection. The convenience of wireless electric power makes quick work of lots of small projects. Invest in both a good-quality drill and good-quality drill bit sets.

Your drill can come in handy in a huge range of applications beyond making holes and driving nails, making it one of the best tools to own. Your drill is limited only by the drill bits you have on hand, so it’s essential to invest in a few good sets. You’ll want to make sure you have a good assortment of metal drill bits, wood drill bits, and universal drill bits to cover indoor and outdoor projects.

A metal toolbox with drawers open sits on a workbench.

Many overlook the necessity of having a tool box to organize their tools. Without this central repository, even the best tools end up scattered inside random drawers, garage shelves, basements or other parts unknown. Start with a relatively modest and inexpensive tool box, then buy larger, sturdier ones as your tool collection grows. You can also use tool bags with lots of pockets and compartments to keep things in order. Consider storing other essentials such as glues, solvents, painter's tape, putty knife and a painter's key in your toolbox. 

A clamp is used on a piece of metal.

Ideal for holding work in place, clamps or vises can be used for woodworking projects such as building furniture or electrical projects like welding. Available in screw clamp, angle, bar, locking and more, clamps are relatively affordable and a great idea for the at-home carpenter. 

Wrecking Bar
A utility bar sits on a counter.

Able to demo most materials, including wood, glass and metal, a wrecking bar, also called a utility or pry bar, does the job of a hammer, pry bar and nail puller. Efficient and cost-effective, this tools can pry up boards, nails, moulding and more quickly. 

A plunger sits next to a toilet in a bathroom.

While the most common use of a plunger is to fix a clogged toilet, they are also essential to have on hand in case of any home flooding, like a basement or bathroom issue. Often an overlooked item when it comes time to stock up your tool box or garage, plungers are a must-have for any homeowner. 

Extension Cord
A red extension cord is ready for use.

A convenient and safe way to power electric devices, extension cords are ideal for jobs that require distance. With a plug on one end and a socket on the other end, extension cords are available in a variety of lengths and sizes. Always take care when using extension cords and be sure to select that right option based on job size, wire gauge and length. 

There is a difference between indoor and outdoor extension cords, and one size is not fits all. 

Outdoor extension cords will have more insulation and protection to withstand the elements. They will also have a different plug, usually three-prong, to fit into outdoor outlets. If you are planning to use an extension cord for outdoor projects, always purchase an outdoor cord. Indoor cords are typically used for computer equipment, lamps, etc. and don't require extra insulation. 

Tip: Never combine a three-prong cord with two-prong cord, as it can be dangerous. 

While this list of tools isn't all you should consider keeping in your tool shed or garage, these basics will help you take care of most everyday home repairs. Whether you're hanging shelves or fixing squeaky floorboards, keeping must-have tools, and tool sets that feature popular hand tools, in your toolbox will help you complete projects faster and easier. 


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