Building Your First Tool Kit

A Basic Tool Kit for New (or Seasoned) Homeowners

Whether you've recently moved out of Mom and Dad's, bought your first home, or lost 190 pounds of ugly fat ("getting divorced"), you've embarked on a great adventure. Part of that adventure is something old hands call home maintenance. Whether the economy is booming or tough, it always makes sense to do your own simple repairs around the house. That way you'll keep the handyman and the handyman's bills at bay. As a newbie, you're going to need a basic toolkit to do even the simplest maintenance. Yeah, tools may not seem like much fun and you have other places to spend you money. But what do you think will be more useful six months or a year from now: The hottest plasma TV, or the tools you need to hand it on the wall? OK, maybe a bad example...

Here's a list of basic tools every homeowner should have in his (or her) arsenal, all simple and none terribly expensive.

Fastening Tools

  • It's a good bet that the first tool most people ever buy will be is a hammer. A general-use claw hammer is suitable for most applications; it not only drives nails but pulls them as well with the claw end. You can find hammers in weights of 12 ounces to nearly two pounds, but a 16-ounce hammer is a good general-use size. Anything lighter than that is good for driving tacks and not much else, while heavier hammers are intended for the pros who put up framing on houses. See more about hammers.
  • It's pretty much impossible for modern man or woman to function without screwdrivers; several of them. A basic set of screwdrivers that includes the common sizes of regular and Phillips screwdrivers will be enough for most common maintenance tasks. Besides assorted sizes, you'll also want an assortment of lengths. Don't cheap out on screwdrivers: a crappy screwdriver is almost as bad as no screwdriver at all. It may be better than Mom's butter knife, but only a little!

Measuring and Marking Tools

  • Every basic toolkit needs a quality tape measure. Buy one that has a high-impact case and a locking tape. A 12- or 16-foot tape should be fine, and only set you back $7-10. If you want something bigger, a 25-footer will measure bigger spaces. Don't scrimp on this either: a good tape measure will last decades.  See more about measuring  tools.
  • Get that shelf level! A laser level may look cool, but will set you back a pretty penny. Plus, Murphy's Law dictates that a battery-operated tool will die right in the middle of the job. A carpenter's level, also called spirit level, is just as accurate in the right hands.

Gripping Tools

  • A good tool kit will include assorted pliers. You first pliers shoule be needlenose or long-nose pliers, followed by some good slip-joint pliers. Some people love so-called "vise grips" or "channel locks" (generically known as locking pliers), but my experience is that they're misused as much as they're used correctly. While you're getting pliers, pick up a set of wire cutters.
  • And then there are wrenches... Probably the best place to start is with a medium-sized (eight-inch) adjustable wrench. Some call this a "crescent" wrench, though that's a brand name. You can get larger and smaller adjustable wrenches, too. If you expect to do maintenance on a vehicle, you'll want combination wrenches and a socket set, but that's a little more advanced. See more about wrenches.
  • Any DIYer will say that the first few hundred clamps is a good start. But the next time you wish you had three hands, you'll be glad there are some pf those slick, one-handed clamps in your tool kit.

Cutting Tools

  • A hacksaw comes in handy for many projects. This inexpensive saw and its even less expensive blades cut metal or plastic.
  • Utility knives, or box cutters, aren't just the preferred weapon of hijackers. A utility knife can be used to cut just about anything around the house. Find one with a retractable blade and blade storage.
  • Get a combination saw for cutting wood. Not many people use hand saws these days, but good ones are nearly as fast as circular saws - and less dangerous.


Not everyone takes wood shop any more. For the rest of us, there are instruction books. Here are some candidates for your bookshelf:


  • Be safe in your workshop. Your toolkit should include safety glasses at the least, plus hearing protection and gloves to protect your hands. See more about safety equipment.
  • What does someone who has everything still need? Something to keep it in! Sure, you could shell out big bucks for a rolling tool chest  that will last a lifetime. But if one of those isn't in the budget, a Bucket Boss is a clever, economical  solution. You can store and tote all your tools from one job to the next. What: you didn't know that once you start your own maintenance the fun never ends?!

More Power!

Lots of people will want to start out with power tools, but this starter set of hand tools will get the job done without costing an arm and a leg. If you do feel the need to buy a power tool, start with a good quality drill-driver. That one power tool is in more homes than any other, and gets more use as well.

On the subject of costs

Never buy cheap tools: this is one place where you generally get what you pay for. Sure, most people will never need the high-end tools the guys in the big big white trucks sell, but the tools you find in the bargain bin will invariably need replacement sooner than later. Quality tools can last decades, even lifetimes.

Learn more about Hammers

Learn more about Measuring Tools

Learn more about Wrenches

Learn more about Power Tools

Learn more about Shop Safety

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