Essential tools for the household handyman

After we ran the post Creating a multi-tasking wedding registry for your kitchen, I was asked by a reader about what essential tools a person might keep in his or her collection. Minutes later, I received an e-mail from another reader offering to write us a post on that exact subject. Planets must have been aligned! Here are Reader Dustin Boston’s terrific suggestions for an uncluttered tool box.

I know people who probably own every tool known to man. Sometimes a gleaming 800 piece tool set is a necessity, but for most people 11 tools will get the job done the majority of the time. If you’re looking to start a toolbox, or just clean one up a bit, this list should help:

Adjustable wrench

An adjustable wrench–or crescent wrench–is used for loosening or tightening a nut or bolt. I prefer the 10″ version because it can be used on larger bolts if necessary.

Circular saw

For most people, a handsaw is clutter. First, nobody wants to work that hard. Second, most household projects are big enough to warrant the use of something more efficient. A circular saw will make quick work out of non-precision woodworking projects like cutting a 2×4 or plywood.

Drill and drill bits

Everyone will tell you to get a cordless drill. Don’t. The batteries will die and you won’t replace them. If you just get a drill with a cord you’ll be much happier and there will be less clutter filling your toolbox.


A lot of hammers these days are made with plastic and rubber, but any old hammer will do. I use a claw type hammer with a nail puller on one end. A ball-peen hammer with the rounded head is useless for most household projects.


There is very little art to choosing a level. Plastic, metal, and wood are all fine, just get something that works for you. You don’t need one that’s 5′ in length, but at the bare minimum you’ll want one at least a foot long. I’m not sure if the 45 degree angle vial actually has a use so just stick to one that has horizontal and vertical.


There are probably 1,000 different kinds of pliers, most of which can be used in the home. However, you can get by with just two: a slip joint plier and a needle nose plier. That’s it.

Screwdriver kits

You need two types of screwdrivers: a Phillips head screwdriver (which looks like a cross) and a slotted screwdriver. I like the Master Mechanic screwdrivers from True Value because they have a lifetime warranty. Get a 1 pt. an 2 pt. Phillips, a 4″ and 6″ slotted, and an eyeglass screwdriver kit with one Phillips and one slotted. Don’t mess with stubby screwdrivers, battery powered screwdrivers, or the 4 in 1 screwdrivers.

Tin Snips

Although tin snips are intended for cutting sheet metal, they’re actually really good for cutting wire and plastic without any problem. And, they’ll last forever. Sometimes the little latch will break, but you can manage without it. I recommend tin snips over diagonal pliers because they are more versatile.

Socket wrench

You’ll get the most use out of a 3/8″ socket wrench with a Standard measurement, 6-point socket set. A metric set will really only be useful if you have an Asian car that you plan to rebuild.

Stud finder

A stud finder is indispensable for hanging pictures and shelves. Don’t get fancy, their only purpose is to locate a board in the wall.

Tape measure

A 12 or 16 foot metal retractable tape measure will do for most household jobs. They come in a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes, so go crazy. But remember, you only need one. One note of caution: if you can fit it in the palm of your hand it’s probably too small to be useful.

Utility knife

For starters, don’t be foolish when using this item and end up in the hospital. Simply use it for things like safely cutting cardboard or rope, and you should be fine.

Bonus tips
Make sure you have a classic toolbox with a nice strong latch. If you can fit all of your tools into it (minus the power tools and level) you’re in good shape.

Put your toolbox, level, and drill into a big bucket or basket with handles or wheels. When you have a project, just pick it up and carry the whole thing wherever you’re working.

Over the past five or six years I’ve managed to hobble together a coffee table, heavy duty garage shelves, a planter box, and a chicken coop. I’ve hung countless pictures, secured unsafe dressers, installed ceiling fans and more with just the tools listed here.

57 Comments for “Essential tools for the household handyman”

  1. posted by Unklegwar on

    If you don’t already know what tools you need, you aren’t much of a handyman.

    Buying these tools won’t make you any handier, just like buying a guitar won’t make you Eddie Van Halen.

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Unklegwar — I think you’re missing the point of the article. It’s not about buying, it’s about getting rid of everything else. Or, if you’re just moving into your first home, deciding the items to put on your wedding registry. Did you read the initial post that this one is building on? Checking it out may help you to better understand the author’s intent.

  3. posted by Some Dude on

    Seriously? This list is pretty ignorant of the uses of most tools. No use for the 45º mark on the level? Don’t buy a battery powered drill-driver? Metric sockets only useful if you’re rebuilding an asian car?

    I hardly agree.

    A battery powered drill driver is WAY more convenient than one that tied to a wall by a tangled mess of extension cord. Even the $100 variety from craftsman, dewalt, etc come with two batteries, a charger, and a carrying case. And at that price it’s probably going to be at least 14.4 volts, probably 18. Just get the cordless drill. I use mine more than any other tool in my house, and as a home owner of 5 years, I’ve not worn out either battery yet.

    And as for the uppity remark about metric sockets, I beg to differ. We live in a world market and we’re the only ones backward enough to use “standard” measurements on our hardware. That futon you just bought from ikea? It’s gonna have metric hardware. The mounting bracket for your new plasma TV? Metric hardware. Doing any work on any car that’s not a chevy, ford, or chrysler? It’s gonna have metric hardware, yes, even the european models. How bout that neat bookshelf you got a pier 1, some assembly required? It was made in china, metric hardware and all. The list goes on… I have a tool chest full of both and my metric sockets get used 80% of the time. I can rarely think of an instance where I’ve needed 5/8″ instead of 10mm.

    And finally, given that this post is on unclutterer, I can’t believe you didn’t just recommend most people go out and buy a nice leatherman. A $60 leatherman would have covered half the tools on your list and it fit’s in the palm of your hand. Indispensable for quick home repairs.

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @SomeDude — We like the Leatherman, and discussed it in our post about the Swiss Army Knife:

  5. posted by Aaron on

    To your list I would add: duct tape, assorted nails and screws, WD-40.

  6. posted by Matt Tennison on

    I too have to disagree with the Standard socket issue. I have worked on many cars from different manufacturers. Ford, Chevy, Kia, and Dodge/Chrysler ALL use Metric bolts. A metric set is absolutely essential.

  7. posted by Beverly on

    All I can say is thanks! I need to declutter the garage (since my spouse won’t) and this is very helpful to me. Neither of us is handy so there are a LOT of tools we have that need to find homes with someone else.

  8. posted by cait on

    i think this post is going to go the way of that “essential clothing for women” post from a while back. standard socket wrenches are just the july/08 version of “tea length skirt”

  9. posted by Nick on

    Up here in Canada, a Robertson (square) screwdriver is used more often than slot, or Phillips. As different screws have different size heads, you will need a few different sizes. Red Robertson (#2), Green Robertson (#1), and Black Robertson (#3) screwdrivers are most frequently used.

  10. posted by Brian on

    Okay, I understand it’s a single person’s opinion and that there’s room for debate. But really…this list only applies if you rent an apartment or small home. And it’s barely appropriate there. I’d change his list this way:

    I know people who probably own every tool known to man. Sometimes a gleaming 800 piece tool set is a necessity, but for most people 11 tools will get the job done the majority of the time. If you’re looking to start a toolbox, or just clean one up a bit, this list should help:

    Adjustable wrench: Frankly, a good set of slipjoint pliers like Robogrips will sub for an adjustable wrench _most_ of the time. But if you need one, sure. 10″ is excessive for most small jobs, but whatever blows your dress up.

    Circular saw: Make sure you get one with a fence, or invest in a cheap piece of metal stock as a cutting guide for plywood sheets, and you’ll be much happier without adding significant clutter.

    Drill and drill bits: Everyone will tell you to get a cordless drill. Do. You don’t need to spend a mint. An 18V Ryobi with two batteries and a keyless chuck will quickly become one of your most-used tools. Mine has a magnet on the base for holding loose hardware (screws, bits, etc.) and can drill everything from drywall to masonry. It set me back less than $100, and you won’t be constantly hunting an open outlet and an extension cord.

    Hammer: There are lots of kinds of hammers for a good reason…they all do essentially the same thing in different ways. “Any old hammer” is not necessarily okay. If you typically have plenty of room to work (pulling a nail out of a large, flat wall, for instance) a standard hammer with a curved claw is fine. If you have less room and/or want greater leverage, get a hammer with a rip claw. The claw is straighter, and can double as a wrecking bar for lightweight demolition. In any case, invest in a hammer with a fiberglass or graphite handle. They’re not a lot more expensive, and will last darn near forever.

    Level: Oy. Dustin’s advice…well, nevermind. Look, stay away from plastic levels. They break. Wood is okay. Aluminum is best. If you care enough to USE a level, then you bloody well want whatever you’re doing to be level, right? Don’t break the bank, but get a little quality. And for a lot of household stuff, anything larger than an 8″ bullet level is overkill, but that’s up to you. Personally, I use an Empire level, and it’s been absolutely phenomenal.

    Pliers: For the needlenose, I recommend investing some coin in a Leatherman Skeletool, which has about a gazillion uses, weighs next to nothing, and consumes almost no toolbox space. For the slipjoints, go with Robogrip or similar. Get something with good padding on the handles.

    Screwdriver kits: A plain old Stanley kit from your home center is perfectly fine. But if you’re smart, you bought a *cordless* drill, and it doubles as a screwdriver for all but the most delicate jobs, and for those, you bought a Skeletool, right? If you insist on having a standard screwdriver around, get a sturdily-built four-in-one from Ace or the home center. Less clutter, more function. Dustin implies there’s something wrong with them…there’s not. Just don’t buy the cheap impulse-purchase models sitting on the checkout counter.

    Tin Snips: In the “basic home kit,” I don’t see much application for tin snips. But if you’re going this way, buy Wiss. They’re well made and last forever. Make sure you buy straight or center cut, not left or right cut.

    Socket wrench: Invest in a $40 kit from the home center than include standard, metric and deep-throat sockets. You’ll get far more use out of it than a wrench with six sockets, and it’ll come with its own case to keep it neat and organized. It’ll let you do everything from setting a lag screw to rebuilding your engine.

    Stud finder: If you’re reasonably good and a have a fine nail, you can get by without one. But if you need one, avoid the cheap magnetic kind. Get a Zircon electronic sensor.

    Tape measure: Get a 25″ model. If you’re like me and don’t read ruler hash marks well, get one with the fractional inches marked on it. Saves time, mental energy, and swearing when your cut’s off by 1/16th.

    Utility knife: There are several brands of folding, lockback utility knives that use standard blades and save space in your kit. I recommend them.

    Toolbox: Don’t bother with a box. Get a five gallon bucket and a Bucket Boss or similar bucket apron to start with. It’ll hold everything, including your cordless drill and your circular saw, and will probably set you back less than a good quality metal box.

    Remember, if you buy cheap, you’ll buy twice. Or more. *Invest* in your tools. They’re not disposable. Get quality, midrange handyman equipment, and you won’t go wrong. Settle for cheaply made crap, and you’ll end up frustrated and out-of-pocket the same price as the good tool would have cost you to begin with.

  11. posted by Brian on

    Sorry…forgot to remove Dustin’s first paragraph. My bad.

  12. posted by cv on

    I disagree a bit on the screwdrivers. I’d say get a ratchet screwdriver that has a bunch of bits that store in the base. That way when you need a different size for a particular project or you chew up the end of the flat head opening paint cans or strip the end of the Phillips on a tough screw, you can get a new, cheap bit and not add to the clutter in the toolbox. Remember, you’ll be using the drill for any big projects anyway.

  13. posted by Lisa on

    Circular Saw: I bought one several years ago (when we bought our first house) and have used it maybe twice. I find it intimidating, frankly, so now it’s clutter. My hand saw is usually all i need, and when I do need something more powerful (usually a jigsaw or reciprocating saw), I rent one.

    Screwdrivers: I bought one at the local hardware store that comes with several bits that are stored on the shaft (philips, flat, allen). The bits are all standard 1/4-inch (so they can be swapped out if you have others you use more often). Plus, it rachets, which makes things easier, and it has nice big rubberized grip. They also sell them with socket bits.

    Cordless drill: I replaced my cordless with a corded model. The cord isn’t long enough, which means I often put things off rather than deal with the drill and the necessary extension cord. On the other hand, it seemed like my cordless always needed to be charged just when I wanted to use it.

    You should add safety glasses to the list.

    Also, if you’re doing anything like putting together furniture, I would get a rubber mallet. I find I use mine much more than my hammer. (Also great as a tenderizer.)

  14. posted by Ed Eubanks on

    I had a lot more critique to offer, but Some Dude and Brian already remarked on most of it. I will add the following about screwdrivers: if you’re just looking for a toolbox that will tackle the occasional “handyman” task around the house, replace or supplement your True Value set a Klein 5-in-1 Screwdriver. Frankly, you’ll get by with the Klein 95% of the time, and only when you need an extra-long reach or a very short driver will you find it inadequate. (You want to get the Klein model– it’s made to be a pro-level tool, so it actually works. The cheap knockoffs will only frustrate.)

    I will add my voice to say that I’m a bit disappointed with this post.

  15. posted by Anne on

    great article!
    I had a house warming 20 years ago as a younger and single woman…I asked for tools and plants.
    The response was fantastic…the ladies that came brought tools recommended from hubbies and dads! I had an awesome little tool box.
    I had used the bottom of high heel shoes for a hammer before!
    When I finally did get married, my tools were better than my husband to be!

  16. posted by allen on

    Brian’s advice is much more on target, I feel.

    I DO live in an appartment, and even then, Brian’s advice is more useful.

    Note on Ball-peen: The round-end is meant for when you hammer in little nails, and you don’t want to mark around the nail with hammer marks (like when you are putting in trim). When you need to do a project like that, DO BUY THE BALL-PEEN.

    If you do electric work in your own home:
    Invest in a wire-stripper. they are like US$7, and will last you for YEARS. If you take a few minutes to look for one that has a “loop” hole, you can use it to very quickly bend the wires for your outlets/switches/&c.

    Screwdrivers: Stubby ones are designed for when you don’t have much space to work with. If you don’t have much space: GET THEM. You’ll probably want to get a fine-nosed philips, & a bigger one. Same for flat-heads.

    Level: If you are hanging photos/leveling electric boxes, get a small Torpedo-Level. (the 8 inchers) If not, aim for around 4 feet, or so. And Brian is RIGHT ON about the Aluminum. the plastic warps. (don’t worry about it for the Torpedo level though)

    Socket Wrench: Do you work on your own car? NO? Then you don’t need this.

    Pliers: If you do electrical, invest in a cheap-O Linemen’s Pliers. They will save you a lot of hand-cramping as you twist and straighten wires.

    Circular Saw: Only get this if you are owning your own home. I own a condo, and i don’t think i’ll ever use a circular saw more then 4 times in the next five years. BORROW this from a friend.

    Tape Measure: Brian is SO right about the 25 footer. They cost US$3, people.

    Craftsmen from Sears have the best life-time garauntee out there. My grandfather would buy crappy, beat-up handtools from garage sales, take the craftsmen to sears, get a brand new one just by going to the service desk (no questions asked), and he’d have a brand new tool for just a few pennys.

    If you can’t afford Craftsmen starting out, stanely is your next best choice. Just upgrade your bits to Cratsmen as you go.

  17. posted by allen on

    I do agree that the corded drill is the way to go, however. I’m still using the one my dad bought like 15 years ago. They don’t have battery problems, and i just bought a heavy-duty extenstion cord that always stays with it.

  18. posted by Celeste on

    ITA on the slip joint pliers, which lots of us just call channel locks.

    I’d also add a roll of electrical tape because it’s just a good general mender, and some scissors for cutting anything junky (tapes, cords, sandpaper, packaging).

    Finally I’d add a little pad of paper and a pencil, because if you’re taking measurements you may need to write them down or make a supply list for the hardware/home store.

  19. posted by sylrayj on

    I have enjoyed this article and the comments, together. When I was a girl I would borrow my mom’s hammer and saw and go ‘build forts’ until she bought me my own ‘Little Jr.’ style of kit. But that’s all the exposure I’ve really had to tools. I hope to go over the post and comments and consider what things our household could probably use, and keep the list somewhere for when we decide we want to try to fix or build something. Thank you, everyone!

  20. posted by Marie on

    Goodness, who knew that a conversation about a tool kit could get so heated? As a renter in a new apartment with few handyman-type skills, I would be overwhelmed by much more than what is listed in the article.

  21. posted by infmom on

    We’ve been adding tools to our collection for 35+ years now. While my husband staggers at the very idea of getting rid of some of them, I have noticed that the number of tools we actually use is pretty much what you’ve got on the list.

    However, I’d suggest some other essential items be added. Two locking pliers (usually referred to as Vise-Grips). Those can be used to clamp stuff while you’re gluing, to grab stuff when you’re doing some task that seems to need three hands, and hold tight to just about anything that slips out of regular pliers or a wrench.

    Believe it or not, I actually find a non-powered drill to be more useful than a powered one of any kind, more often than not. Usually I just have to drill one or two holes. Rather than go out to the tool storage area, get the power drill, get the heavy duty extension cord, get the box of drill bits etc etc etc I just take my little Fiskars hand drill out of my sewing cabinet and turn the handle a few times.

    Both metric and standard sockets are worth having. And a set of small screwdrivers that includes standard, Philips, and Torx. Nowadays a lot of stuff comes with really, really small screws.

    Do not waste money on a circular saw unless you regularly cut big slabs of stuff. For the average household, a jigsaw is a better choice. It’s smaller, more versatile, and easier to store.

    I heartily recommend the Duluth Trading Company catalog for tools and sensible tool storage, and GarrettWade for the most gorgeous assemblage of eclectic tools known to humankind.

  22. posted by battra92 on

    I will add one more thing my toolbox can never be without … Gaffer’s tape! No, not duct tape, gaffer’s tape. This is great stuff which comes off leaving no residue behind.

  23. posted by Tink on

    Good list overall. I’d make one change — instead of the circular saw, get a miter or compound miter saw. It’s essentially the same thing, but instead of holding the saw blade in your hands, above your legs, it goes on your workbench. If you don’t screw it down, it’s still mostly portable.

  24. posted by Colin on

    “If you can’t afford Craftsmen starting out, stanely is your next best choice. Just upgrade your bits to Cratsmen as you go.”

    Stanley makes perfectly good tools, but I’ll chime in here with a slightly different approach: If you can’t afford Craftsman starting out, wait a week or two. Sears constantly runs sales on their hand tools, and if you don’t need them instantly, you can get a smoking deal with a modicum of patience. In many cases, we’re talking sales that make them cheaper than the cheap crap. Patience, grasshoppa, and you won’t be burning money by buying tools twice.

    As for cordless drills, current battery technologies are miles ahead of what we’ve had. If you think corded won’t work for you, buy a modern LiIon cordless, be it Ryobi or whatever. You’ll need to keep it topped off if you only need to drill or drive things once every blue moon, but it’s a hell of a lot nicer to walk in and drill instead of fighting with an extension cord, snaking it through the house, and smacking yourself in the face with said cord. (On the other hand, corded drills are considerably cheaper if you can go without the conveniences of a battery.)

  25. posted by Kevin (ReturnToManliness) on

    Check out this tool over at 4body4men. It is called the FuBar from Stanley. It looks AWESOME and does all kinds of thing that the traditional BFH can’t do…

  26. posted by Mike Dunham on

    I’d echo several of the comments, but just overall, this list seems to be kind of all over the map. If you’re really targeting the “home handyman”, you don’t need a circular saw. If you need a circular saw, you probably need several other things. The rest of this post will assume you’re a budding “home handyman”.

    Odd that a corded drill would be recommended (I happen to agree, since they tend to be more powerful), but an extension cord didn’t make the list. Get an extension cord, and a 3-to-1 adapter so you can plug in more than one thing at your workspace.

    A tip if you really are starting from scratch – pick out your toolbox BEFORE you pick out your level, to make sure the latter sits inside the former. Everything else should fit inside the toolbox that accommodates your level of choice. Better yet, don’t bother with a toolbox; get a 5-gallon paint bucket instead. It’s cheaper, will do the same job, and has another use if you need it during the job (most people would be surprised how handy an empty bucket is, for a lot of different projects – if nothing else, you can flip it over and sit on it).

    Instead of tin snips, get a pair of wire cutters. Great for wire (of course) and for zip ties and other hard plastics, plus it should be a lot smaller than tin snips. Soft plastic and even relatively soft metals like aluminum can be cut with the utility knife (you may have to replace the blade, but that’s what it’s for). Don’t get tin snips until you actually have to cut some tin (or other similar metal), which comes up pretty rarely for the “home handyman”.

    Don’t buy a stud finder. Use your fist instead.

    Finally, I didn’t see allen wrenches on the list. A serviceable set should be pretty cheap.

  27. posted by allen on

    For allen wrenches (my favourite kind of wrench ^_^), I’d suggest people invest a little more money to get the “swiss-army style” folding ones. This will keep all your allen wrenches together. There are both standard & metric ones of these, and as far as i can tell, it is all over the map for what you’ll need!

  28. posted by L on

    @ Marie- I agree, it can be overwhelming to a new renter/ someone with few handy skills or little interest in building their own furniture or what not.
    I personally have a little toolkit from Ikea (not affiliated!) it was under $8 and contains what I would consider the basics.
    Is it good quality? Not especially but it has lasted 6 years with a fair amount of use and everything fits nicely into it when I’m finished.

  29. posted by Layton on

    My father put together a basic toolbox for my husband and I as a Christmas gift the year we got married. Ten years later we still find what we need in that box, no matter what the task or repair job at hand. I don’t even know the names for a lot of the stuff in there, I just know that I’m always able to find something in that box that can get the job done. What a great gift!!

  30. posted by Richard on

    I’d swap the circular for a jig saw. Unless you’re cutting tons of plywood or 2x4s, a jigsaw will do fine on the big stuff and great on the small stuff. Jigs are also usually smaller, so it’ll take up less space.

    I’d add a dremel or similar tool to the list too. I can’t count the number of times I’ve used it for sanding, cutting (metal and wood), trimming off stripped screws or nails that just weren’t coming out, grinding, etc. They’re incredibly handy.

  31. posted by alisonann on

    I concur with the re-writes, but here’s my two cents…Cordless drill all the way, it doesn’t seem like you are reducing clutter much by having to haul a huge extension cord with you to get any work done. We have a Dewalt set with interchangeable batteries-one is always on the charger, one on the tool, haven’t lost one yet. Also, putting your tool box in a bucket seems overkill, use the bucket as your tool box (add a bucket buddy and you won’t regret it.) For those who shop at IKEA or other “some assembly required” furniture shop I would recommend a multi-size allen wrench, they look like a pocket knife, but have 8-10 different size wrenches instead of blades.
    If you live in an old house, a stud finder, while it could find you the stud won’t be of much use if you have lathe and plaster walls or your studs have petrified over the years.

  32. posted by Bob Allen on


    Cordless vs. wired drill — go with the cordless. It’s much, much more convenient to use than having to drag out and then rewind an extension cord to use with the wired drill. Outlets are never where they can be reached with the relatively short cord of the wired drill. When the batteries die, you will likely just replace the whole set — at least for my Craftsman, replacement batteries were **MORE** expensive than a new drill.

    Screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, pliers, drill bits — get a good brand. Craftsman or better. It does make a difference.

    Toolbox — consider a softside tool bag unless you’re going to carry it in your car trunk or in the back of a pickup where it could turn over and dump out the contents or unless you’re working in a dusty/dirty site.

    Circular saw — not for everyday, around the house, handyman kinds of things.

  33. posted by ChristineB on

    I couldn’t agree more about allen wrenches. I have the multi-pocket knife type, too those things come in handy all the time.

  34. posted by Big Daddy on

    Big Daddy here, you guys AND gals lay off my man Dustin. He gave some pretty straightforward off the rack advise for those handy men and chics who are just starting out. Clearly he was not addressing those of you who are old pros with a chamfer cutter, he was just trying to steer ’em clear of those Molly Mechanic 24-in-1 tools they advertise on QVC. Big Daddy out.

  35. posted by Doodaddy on


    But even more: basically, buy tools only as you need them five times. The first four, borrow them from other people, so you’ll know what works best. When you are ready to buy one, buy “enough” of a tool (that is, not the cheapest) but not “too much” of a tool. How do you know?

    Oh, and stud finder? Yes. Electronic, definitely — the little magnetic ones are worse than useless.

    My rechargeable power screwdriver is my most useful tool, hands down. Major time saver.

  36. posted by Some Dude on

    Forget the swiss army style allen wrenches. Get a set of allen sockets to go with the “standard” six point set you’re already buying if you listen to Big Daddy’s “man” Dustin.

    Allen sockets have changed my life when it comes to “assembly required” furniture.

  37. posted by Dustin Boston on

    What I’ve simply done is to summarize the tools required for most household jobs, not all. And although this list is good for apartment dwellers, it will likely be most valuable to homeowners.

    At the very least, it is informed: My grandpa, dad, and his brothers have all owned a hardware store (and still do). Every member of my family, including uncles, aunts, wives, cousins, *and me* have worked hardware at some point. I may as well have been raised by a hammer and a awl.

    My point (get it) is that these tools are the tools which seem to be the most common and useful on a regular basis (with a few exceptions). It’s at least worth considering that the other stuff may just be clutter.

  38. posted by Tubin on

    The original list cannot be complete without a vise grip pliers and a pipe wrench. Virtually every plumbing job is made infinitely easier with those tools. The Vise grips can do much of what your typical adjustable pliers can do, so perhaps substitute them in.

    I don’t agree with the circular saw. Household jobs rarely require a lot of wood-cutting all at once; when they do, rent a powertool from home depot for the weekend. For cutting the occasional board to length, get a Japanese-style pullsaw – teeth on both sides, one side for ripping and the other for crosscut.

    I like my cordless drill… and the original batteries lasted about a decade before I had to replace them.

    Buy a racheting screwdriver with multiple bits. Mine is one of those 14-in-one. You’ll be grateful you did, the first time you’re assembling something with more than 5 screws.

    I’m slowly moving over to using a laser level instead of my long aluminum one. It doesn’t take up much space and it’s often actually easier to use.

    If you do a lot of repairs, keep an “oh, crap” box of small parts that you can go grab when you say “oh, crap, I need a little screw/washer/nail/hinge/etc”. Saves many a trip to the hardware store – and takes up less space than that circular saw I crossed off the list!

  39. posted by gumnos on

    I find that most drills come with a few screwdriver bits, which allows you to use your drill like an electric screwdriver. Drills offer igher torque when you need it, and usually have simple controls to prevent overdriving/stripping the screws. Thus I find an electric screwdriver a uni-tasker that can easily be replaced with my multi-tasking drill (though there are still times an old-fashioned screwdriver is in order, 5 of those fill most jobs — a big and little version of both Phillips & flat-head, and an eye-glass screwdriver)

  40. posted by Brooklynchick on

    First, have to echo that Craftsman tools are the best.

    Second, lots of towns and municipalities have tool lending libraries so you can borrow tools you need only rarely – better even than owning!

  41. posted by Mac McGann on

    I have also have to take exception to the corded drill recommendation. I have used cordless drills since they hit the consumer market. The new lithium ion batteries have taken the cordless drill to new heights. If I had to limit my tools to one, it would be my cordless drill.

  42. posted by Sarah on

    Alright, are we in the 21st century? Can we get beyond the word “HANDYMAN”?? That’s really retro. Women love and need their tools too.

  43. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Sarah — We did a nice big Thesaurus search before we ran this article and could not find a more appropriately descriptive word than “Handyman.” “People who use tools in their homes” is a ridiculous amount of words to convey the same meaning. We didn’t mean anything negative by it.

  44. posted by Susan on

    Need an emergency flathead screwdriver? Use a sturdy butter knife. Have drywall and need to find a stud to hang a picture? Knock on the wall to find the general area, then hammer the nail in as many times as it takes to hit the stud. Chances are your test holes won’t show after the picture is hung. If the holes do show, use some drywall compound (or white toothpaste) on your finger to fill the holes. If your walls are white, you won’t even need to paint. Don’t use spackle to fill holes in the wall.

  45. posted by Deb on

    I second the wire cutters. I worked an industrial job for five years and had a tool belt on each day that only contained channellocks and a wire cutter.

    Also, I agree with the Dremel. They are the size of a flashlight and I use mine for tons of jobs I don’t have any other tools for even though I have a great selection of the things mentioned in the posts above.

    Please add safety glasses to your list and USE them! I could not work without my leather gloves either. They make them small enough for women’s hands nowadays!

    How about a post about painting tools and gardening tools now?

  46. posted by jgodsey on

    ‘some dude’ is right, this list is designed to generate discussion and discord, because it is pretty badly selected.

    Much modern furniture and equipment use metric size nuts so metric wrenches do come in handy.

    As for pliers nothing beats Linesman pliers as an all around tool. When you have to chose ONE tool to climb a ladder with, you take them. They cut wire, can act like a wrench, can pull nails if you get a grip on it and if you really stuck, it’s a hammer.

    a Corded drill is handy to have around like a corded phone, for when the cordless hasn’t been charged.
    If you have a corded drill you rethink doing anything because you have to take it out and find the extension cord. With the rechargeable always plugged in, you are more likely to deal with things RIGHT NOW.

    Circular saws are practically useless in an apartment or house without a workshop area. Have anything that needs cutting with a circular saw, cut AT the store/lumberyard. Home Depot makes cuts for free.

    Get a large back saw and a mitre box, it will do you for anything smaller than a 2×6. No electric cord to plug in.

    And having ONE stubby screwdriver can save your sanity. They invent these things for a REASON. Many things are assembled in the factory and the final result may not have clearance for a 6″ screwdriver handle at every screw point.

    As for tape measures, my 6 foot tape measure has saved my ass more times than i can count. Use it for measuring shelves, spaces for furniture and then take it with you when you are shopping for used or new items. Get BOTH 25 foot and a 6 foot.

    Another tip, DON’T BUY A METAL TOOLBOX, looks great, but it will fill up quick. Buy a name brand plastic one with a good handle, get it slightly bigger than you think you need but not bigger than the bottom of your closet. It weighs less and you will be more inclined to carry it. The bucket and canvas aprons are good for intermediate projects, but not long term storage for your tools. your tools get destroyed and the bucket collects dirt, nails and rust.

    btw channel locks are not the same as slip joint pliers. You need both of those as well.

    and buy GOOD BRAND NAMED TOOLS. nearly every brand name hand tool is guaranteed for life. master Mechanic, Stanley, Craftsman and so on. Don’t skimp on tools. If a tool breaks it can injure you and screw up your job. It is not worth it to be cheap.

    Start with the basics and then add as you go. Tools attract other tools, and DON’T LEND THEM. Offer to do the task with your tool, but don’t let other people walk off with your investment.

  47. posted by Angie on

    Laugh if you must, but a little upholsterer’s nail claw, about the size of a conventional screwdriver, will get into places no clawhammer will reach, pull out nails which have lost their heads, will open paint cans, and take up practically no space.

  48. posted by Weak Girl on

    It sounds like the Cordless vs. Corded Drill argument is nearly beat to death, but I have another thought that might help someone just starting out. I would not recommend buying a cordless drill unless you’ve actually tried working with one. I have very little upper body strength, and the weight that a battery adds to a standard-size, high-quality cordless drill makes it so that I cannot effectively use it – I mean, I can barely lift it, and certainly not above my head.

    I found that the extension cord I needed to plug in my corded drill has come in handy for other reasons as well. I also don’t miss having to keep cordless drill batteries charged.

  49. posted by Ian on

    You only need metric if you’re working on an Asian car? Sorry thats just plain wrong. All European, and a lot of American cars (My Chevy TrailBlazer for one) use metric nowadays. If you buy something from Ikea, guess what? It uses metric if you need to use a bolt.

  50. posted by Hustle Strategy on

    a stud finder? that doesn’t seem to be a requirement, but all good. Everything else looks great. I would swapt the stud finder for a decent cordless drill though. nothing like saving time with a screw driver…

  51. posted by Tools You Need on

    […] Essential tools for the household handyman For starters, don’t be foolish when using this item and end up in the hospital. Simply use it for things like safely cutting cardboard or rope, and you should be fine. […]

  52. posted by C C on

    I am a woman, 53, and love my tools!
    I’ve thrown away too many to ever suggest buying cheap! Go for the best -always. (I prefer Craftsman with their lifetime warranty.) Start simple. I like the idea of borrowing first. This helps you whittle down the amount you really ‘need’ from recommended lists.
    Cord vs. cordless drills…I began with a manual drill, moved to a corded, then to a cordless, had battery failure returned to corded – hated it, and returned to cordless with new, better batteries. I’ve had the same drill/driver for 20 years now. It’s a 14.2 Makita I never got rid of it. When battery technology upgraded, I did, too.
    I agree some may have difficulty with the weight of a cordless drill and should be careful not to drop it on the foot!
    I liked reading the suggestion about a miscellaneous box. Often I find what I need faster there than going to a store.
    I own a circular saw. I would NOT recommend it to a beginner handyman. A small jab saw or borrowing a power saw would be a better option.
    I agree also about not lending your tools. Go with them and help. There’s more opportunity to help and teach a new generation. You might even get a free cup of coffee and a precious thank you!
    Have fun but be careful!

  53. posted by mike smith on

    It’s fun to read about tools and handyman stuff, thanks for a great article. There are two things I thought I’d add.

    The 4-in-1 or 6-in-1 screwdrivers are actually a good idea. One tool to take to the “job site” and cuts down on trips back to the bucket – “because all I need is a phillips”. Famous last words

    Also you can pull the entire assembly out of the handle and chuck it up in your drill for a handy drill bit extension on-the-fly.

    The second tool I’d add is patience. Take your time and think the project through.

  54. posted by Lynne on

    I can do basic things around the house, but the one thing that always worries me is: when I drill through something, how can I be sure there isn’t wiring on the other side? Handymen with some knowledge may laugh at me, but I would really like to know if there is some way of knowing.

  55. posted by remodelista, expanded (in beta)! « The Improvised Life on

    […] me to useful sites I didn’t know about, like Unclutterer, where I found a good post about essential tools to have for projects and figuring out […]

  56. posted by Jim K on

    I think I’d go with a jigsaw instead of a circular saw for most people’s needs. The old models weren’t too good but they have improved. I recently bought a Bosch jigsaw and was amazed at the quality of its cut — and it will cut curves. Try that with a circular saw. It’s also much less intimidating for the people this kind of list is aimed at.

  57. posted by 2-in-1 Stubby Quick Change Pocket Screwdriver on

    […] the leap for a stubby screwdriver.  One of our favorite blogs, Unclutter, suggests in their article “Essential Tools for the Household Handyman” to avoid these niche tools altogether.  They say all you really need for most jobs is one each […]

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