15 Tools every household needs
If you find you have too many tools to know what to do with, or not enough tools when you need them, then it's time to go back to basics with this ultimate, easy toolkit...
Ninety percent of being a good five minute fixer is being prepared for most common problems. So make sure that your toolbox is stocked with these essential tools:
1. Claw hammer
Every toolbox should have an average-weight (16-ounce or .45 kilogram) claw hammer, with a twopronged claw opposite the face, for driving and pulling nails and for light demolition work, such as busting sheetrock. Make sure the head is drop-forged steel (and not cast iron, which will chip). Whether it is wood, fiberglass, or steel, the handle should feel comfortable when you swing the hammer.
2. Electric drill / driver
For drilling and driving screws, a good electric drill / driver is a must, and given today’s battery technology, it does not need a cord. For all-purpose use, choose a T-handled tool, which balances the battery weight better than one with a pistol grip. One with variable speeds allows you to use a low-rpm setting for driving screws and a higher one for drilling. Buy a basic set of drill bits and a couple of driver bits. (For driver bit sizes, follow the advice about screwdriver sizes opposite.) Buy a brand you trust, and don’t pay more for packaged extras, such as torches and small circular saws, that you won’t need. If you own two batteries, you can always keep a charged one on hand when the other dies.
The most common and useful type of spanner, the adjustable (or Crescent) spanner, is great for turning square and hex nuts and bolts. A thumbscrew opens and closes its parallel jaws, allowing for quick and easy adjusting. For maximum versatility, buy a mediumsized spanner.
Keep a handful of screwdrivers in your tool kit—at least two sizes of regular slotted screwdrivers (3⁄16 inch and 1⁄4 inch or 4.7 and 6.3 millimeters) and two sizes of Phillips screwdrivers (#1 and #2). Buy goodquality screwdrivers, which are still relatively inexpensive. Keep a cheap slotted screwdriver around for prying and chiseling.
5. Tape measure
Tape measures feature spring-loaded, retractable steel tapes, or “blades.” They come in different blade widths and lengths. For around-the-house use, a 16-foot (5-meter) tape measure with a 3⁄4-inch (2 centimeter) blade is a good, compact choice.
Pliers are handheld levers (the joint being the fulcrum) that help you get a grip on what you’re doing. There are many types—some that lock, others with cutters near the pivot—but for the basic toolbox, all you really need are medium-sized slip-joint pliers and needle-nose pliers.
The former, made to fit the palm comfortably, are highly versatile. They have both flat and curved sets of teeth in their jaws, for gripping objects of different shapes, and feature an adjustable (or slip-joint) pivot, allowing you to grip both large and small objects. Needle-nose pliers, which often feature wire cutters, are not adjustable but come in many sizes. These long, pointed pliers are useful for twisting and looping wire, fishing out dropped screws, and delicate work, such as small-appliance repair.
Two handsaws that will cover most of your needs are a crosscut saw and a hacksaw. Tapering from heel (near the handle) to toe, crosscut saws, used for cutting across the grain of wood, vary in both length and teeth per inch. The longer the saw, the fewer strokes needed to finish the job.
The more teeth on the saw, the smoother the cut. A 12-tooth per inch tempered-steel crosscut saw that is 22 inches (56 centimeters) long is a good all-purpose saw. Hacksaws are for cutting metal. They come with replaceable blades, which also vary in tooth count (14 to 32 teeth per inch) and length (8 to 16 inches or 20 to 40 centimeters long). The thicker the metal, the fewer teeth the blade should have. A good all-purpose hacksaw has an adjustable frame that adapts to both blade lengths.
8. Framing square
The simplest carpenter’s square is an L-shaped steel ruler used to mark straight lines perpendicular to a board’s edge. The combination square is a versatile variant with a base that features a level and allows you to mark both 90- and 45- degree angles.
9. Putty knife
Whether you’re filling nail holes with spackling or scraping old paint from windowsills, a putty knife is a must for any toolbox. These come in various blade widths. A 2-inch (5-centimeter) knife is not too wide for scraping paint or old caulk, nor is it too narrow for spreading fillers.
10. Smoothing plane
Handheld planes, such as a block plane or bench plane, contain razor-sharp blades that lock in at adjustable angles. By drawing a plane evenly across wood, you can smooth and trim the surface or clean up the edges.
Clamps are helpful for holding surfaces together while gluing or when you need a third hand for securing that piece of wood you’re working on. They come in many styles and sizes. Common household clamps are C-clamps, which have an adjustable threaded jaw that closes on a fixed jaw, and spring clamps, which can be opened and closed quickly by squeezing the handles.
12. Spirit level
A spirit level, which has a bubble of air inside a tube of liquid, can tell you if a surface is perfectly horizontal (level) or vertical (plumb). Levels come in different lengths. A 2-foot (60-centimeter) level is practical for household use.
13. Utility knife
Even if you’re just using it to slice up cardboard for recycling, a utility knife can be a handy tool to keep around. For safety’s sake, choose a model with a retractable blade. Standard blades are double-ended (reversible), and extras can often be stored safely and conveniently in the knife’s handle.
A chisel is a sharp, precisely beveled tool used for deep-cutting or shaving wood. If you needed to mortise (or recess) a hinge in a doorjamb, you would tap on a chisel with a mallet. A 1⁄2-inch (1.25-centimeter) chisel is a good general-purpose tool.
15. Wire stripper
An electrician’s multipurpose tool has many uses, including cutting, stripping, and crimping wire. Small pliers on the nose also allow you to grip and twist wire.