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- Everyone should have a kit with the tools necessary to tackle basic home projects or repairs.
- You'll get better value from investing in the essentials rather than buying a preassembled toolkit.
- A carpenter and an experienced DIYer shared 16 tools they rely on time and again.
Every homeowner and renter should have a kit with the tools necessary to tackle basic home projects and repairs. A well-rounded collection of reliable, high-quality tools will have you prepared to confidently tackle any small issues that arise, whether it's loose cabinet hinges, leaky faucets, or a picture frame that needs hanging.
However, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the many tool types, sizes, and prices. For this article, we pooled our experience in carpentry and DIY to recommend basic tools. As a residential carpenter, Alex spent years executing a wide range of home maintenance projects, and as a self-taught DIYer, Caroline has accomplished countless builds and home improvement tasks. With this combined experience, we've compiled this list of 16 essential tools every homeowner or renter needs.
Here are the essential tools everyone should have in their toolkit
25-foot tape measure
25 ft. Stanley PowerLock Tape Measure
Fiskars DIY Tape Measure
Whether you're framing out a tool shed, making sure that couch will fit before ordering it online, or locating the center point of a wall for hanging a picture, you need a tape measure. Even if you think you can "eyeball it," confirming with a tape measure can save you a lot of time and money. There are many options to choose from, but you can't go wrong with the classic Stanley PowerLock. It's simple to use, affordable, and practically indestructible. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
For smaller projects or on-the-go measuring, I love my Fiskars tape measure. Since it extends 16 feet, it might not be great for measuring entire rooms, but it's lightweight and easy to hold, making it perfect for in-store measurements, making sure a Facebook Marketplace find will fit in your car or DIY projects. -Caroline Mullen, freelance reporter
Channellock 131CB 13-in-1 Ratcheting Screwdriver
With the wide variety of screw shapes and sizes being used today, you'll need more than one or two screwdrivers on hand if you want to be prepared. A complete set of individual screwdrivers is great, but a multi-bit model is sufficient for most small tasks. Instead of a fixed tip like a standard screwdriver, a multi-bit has an interchangeable head that allows removable bits to be swapped in and out. These bits are all self-contained in its handle, so you can customize the driver to fit any type of screw you come across. This Channellock 131CB 13-in-1 Ratcheting Screwdriver is nice and durable, and even though I own dozens of other screwdrivers, I never go anywhere without this one. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Irwin 16 oz. Hammer
Hammers are invaluable when it comes to generating force and leverage, and this 16-ounce Irwin Hammer is a good mid-sized model for general housework. In addition to heavy-duty tasks like driving nails or performing small-scale demolition, you can also modify the striking area to make it even more versatile. When working on projects that require a gentler touch, you can place a wooden block between it and the hammer while striking. The softer wood will absorb any dents or damage from the hammer head, while still transferring energy. This technique is great for tapping stubborn Ikea tabletops into place. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Irwin Vise-Grip Original Locking Pliers Set
These vise grips might see a little less action than some of your other tools, but when you need them, you're going to be glad you have them. Their adjustable jaws can lock in place, instead of having to maintain pressure like regular pliers, allowing you tackle the really hard stuff, like loosening stripped nuts, or grabbing and pulling out a key snapped in a lock. Having a full-size model, as well as a needle nose option — like the Irwin Vise-Grip Original Locking Pliers Set — will provide the versatility to cover heavy-duty jobs as well as more precision work. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Retractable utility knife
Stanley Utility Knife
The reason I like retractable knives over folding models is because they're so much more versatile. You can fully extend the blade for heavy-duty projects, or retract it to a tiny point, perfect for opening delivery packages without damaging their contents. I've had a classic Stanley Utility Knife in my toolbag for as long as I can remember, and would recommend it to anyone. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of newer models, but it's built like a tank and as reliable as they come. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Rubbermaid 3-Step Steel Step Stool
Even though you've probably done it in the past, using a dining room chair, barstool, or countertop to reach elevated items is extremely dangerous. A dedicated step stool like this one is not only much safer, but provides the sturdy foundation you need to get your work done faster. This Rubbermaid 3-Step Steel Step Stool can handle up to 250 pounds, and the rubber handle on top makes it easier to keep your balance when working. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Drywall anchor kit
Crown Bolt Hollow Wall Anchor Pack (118-Piece)
When studs are unavailable, drywall anchors are the next best option for mounting things to your wall. Since drywall itself is too brittle to screw directly into, anchors are inserted first, providing a secure foundation for your screw to bite into. This kit has a variety of options for use in drywall. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Putty or painter’s knife
Warner Progrip Flex Painter's Knife
An angled putty knife or painter's knife is endlessly useful around the house, whether you're tackling ambitious DIY projects or just checking off a few to-dos. This one is 1.5-inches wide and slightly flexible, which makes it perfect for spackling small areas of drywall, scraping off peeling paint, or occasionally chipping off dried paint or spackle. It also has a soft rubber grip that's comfortable to hold for long periods of time and won't slip out of sweaty hands. -Caroline Mullen, freelance reporter
Magnetic stud finder
The Stud Buddy Magnetic Stud Finder
When mounting heavy items (like a TV, wall mirror, floating shelf, or coat hooks), it's always a good idea to secure them to wooden studs behind your drywall. I've found electronic stud finders to be highly finicky, and have reverted back to a magnetic stud finder that senses metal nails or screws in the wall, which is usually a sure sign that you've found a stud. This one simply magnetizes to the wall when a stud is detected and fits easily into a toolbox or work belt. -Caroline Mullen, freelance reporter
Ratcheting wrench and socket set
Ryobi Drive Ratchet and Socket Set
Unfortunately, not every piece of furniture or light fixture is put together with Phillips head screws — some are joined with nuts or bolts, which are hexagonal in shape and require tightening from the outside, not from a drive (the straight or cross-shaped notch in the head of a screw). A simple ratchet wrench and socket set will allow you to loosen or tighten nuts and bolts on any number of things. -Caroline Mullen, freelance reporter
Tacklife SC-L01 50 Feet Laser Level
Even a tiny leveling discrepancy can throw an entire project out of whack, so accuracy is essential. Self-leveling lasers like the Tacklife SC-L01 ensure that you're always working with a perfectly straight line, saving you time and frustration down the line. They're simple to set up, and instead of manual levels that require you to smudge up your wall with messy pencil marks, the laser is projected where you want it all day. They're great for small projects like hanging picture frames or mounting a floating shelf, as well as larger projects like lining up patio pavers or installing kitchen cabinets. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Bosch 12-Volt Max LED Cordless Work Light FL12
When working in areas of low light, even simple projects can become frustrating and time consuming. Instead of propping up your cell phone or juggling a flashlight, adjustable work lights are designed to sit on their own, and allow you to angle their beam exactly where you want it. This Bosch 12-Volt Max LED Cordless Work Light is compact enough to fit anywhere, has an impressive range of motion, and is bright enough to attach to a tripod for wider illumination. Its integrated magnets are really useful when working in cramped areas, allowing you to anchor it pipes or the side of large appliances. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
CLC Custom Leathercraft 125L Handyman Flex Grip Work Gloves
Work gloves not only protect your hands from wood splinters and sharp edges during home improvement projects, they also provide a solid grip on tools and material. I appreciate the snug fit of the Handyman Flex Grip Work Gloves, which makes it much easier to control intricate hand tools and pick up screws and nails from my toolbox. Their touch-screen-friendly fingertips allow you to keep them on when answering phone calls, which really comes in handy when working outside in cold weather. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Bosch 12V Cordless Drill
The power and functionality you get from a cordless drill makes it useful for a wide variety of tasks. This compact little Bosch 12V model is one of my favorite tools, and a great option for anyone. It's powerful enough to handle most drilling or screwing tasks, without the added weight and bulk of larger power drills. Its small size comes in especially handy when assembling lightweight or particle board furniture, material that larger drills can easily damage. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
NoCry Professional Knee Pads
Proper knee protection isn't just for professional tilers or roofers. Even if you only find yourself kneeling for short periods of time, the cumulative effect on your kneecap can cause serious joint problems down the road, like bursitis and osteoarthritis. Not only that, they also protect against sudden injuries, like accidentally kneeling on a stray screw or nut. I've been a big fan of these NoCry Professional Knee Pads for several years. They're super-comfortable and not too bulky, making them great for indoor jobs like replacing lower cabinet doors, or installing baseboards. -Alex Rennie, freelance reporter
Miter box and backsaw
Stanley Deluxe Clamping Miter Box with 14 i.n Saw
If you're not ready to invest in a power saw but need to make a couple of cuts on trim or small pieces of wood, a miter box is your new best friend. This handy set clamps pieces firmly against the side of the box, so you don't need to hold them steady with your spare hand while you saw. It's ideal for making 90-, 45-, and 22.5-degree angle cuts, and the lip on the edge keeps it steady on a work surface without having to clamp it down. -Caroline Mullen, freelance reporter
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