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11 tools everyone should have

Doing it yourself is important if you want to save money, have fun, and be self-sufficient. Step one? The right tools.

By Stacy Johnson Mar 29, 2013 12:19PM

This post comes from Dori Zinn and Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News


Money Talks News logoWhether you rent or own your home, having a good set of tools, along with a little basic knowledge, is essential.


Depending on your skill level, you'll still need occasional professional help, but there are plenty of things you can do around the house with virtually no skills. All you need is a little help from DIY videos, and a few simple tools.

Buy quality

From car insurance to groceries, there are ways to save on virtually everything. But when it comes to tools, if you have a choice, don't cut corners on quality. Every home handyman knows the frustration of screwdrivers that break, hammerheads that come flying off, and pliers that slip.


Tools can be deceptive because cheap and poorly constructed can often resemble expensive and well made. Whenever you can, opt for quality, something you can often determine by price and country of origin. In general, tools made in America will be higher quality than those made in China.


If your budget is tight, don't be afraid to buy used, especially when it comes to quality hand tools. Good tools can last a lifetime. You're better off with a well-used, quality hammer you found  at a yard sale for $5 than a new $5 hammer from China.


Start with a tool bag

Image: Bathroom remodel (© Digital Vision/Photolibrary)There's nothing like needing a tool, knowing you own it, and having no earthly idea where it is.


While a drawer or shelf can hold the bare essentials, having a toolbox or canvas bag to store your tools is preferable. You can easily buy one for less than $20, and I've seen them for $5 at Home Depot during Black Friday sales.


If you don't have the budget for a bag or toolbox, you can cut the top off a gallon milk jug or use a shoe box. The key is having them all in one place and being able to carry them around the house. 


Safety glasses

Many expensive trips to the emergency room started with bypassing a pair of $4 safety glasses.


Useful when you're working with chemicals, dust or spray paint, they're also a necessity when hammering, sawing, cutting the grass, or doing anything that could result in something hitting your face. If you're painting, sanding or using chemicals, your nose and mouth will appreciate disposable respirators. 


Here's a list of 11 essential tools: 


1. Hammer

Useful for everything from hanging a picture to taking out your frustrations, the foundation of every toolbox is a hammer. While wood handles are cheaper, fiberglass is stronger, lighter, more shock-absorbent, and safer. The typical hammer weighs 16 ounces, and has a curved claw on one side to remove nails and pry things open. Look for the words "drop forged" -- they're better made. You can find a good quality hammer for less than $15.


2. Screwdrivers

The next most-used tool is the screwdriver, with flat head and Phillips (also known as "plus" and "minus") being the most common. You can get a six-piece set for less than $8, or a kit with one ratcheting handle and 20 different bits for less than $20. Ratcheting handles allow you to turn the screwdriver with less turning of your wrist. Insulated handles are easier on your hand and safer for electrical work.


3. Level

Handy whether you're hanging a picture or installing shelves, levels come in a variety of sizes and types. But you can easily find a decent torpedo level for less than $5. Or you can convert your iPhone into a level with a $1 app. 


4. Pliers

You'll use them for tightening nuts and bolts, removing nails from a wall, and holding and bending stuff, among other chores. Pliers come in lots of types: Slip-joint pliers allow you to change the position based on the thickness of what you're working with. Needle-nose pliers get you into tight spots. Channel locks open wide. And dikes come with a wire cutter, handy for electrical work. Sets cost about $20.


5. Duct tape

From making a prom dress to making an emergency repair on a leaky pipe or hose, what can it not do? This tape is thick, extra sticky, strong, and cheap -- less than $5. 


6. Shovel

Anyone living in a snowy climate should have a transfer or square nose shovel around. A round nose (or digging) shovel is a must for cleaning up your garden, dirt, debris, or even cutting small roots. Like hammers, shovels come with either wood handles or fiberglass. You can pick up a decent fiberglass-handled shovel for about $20.


7. Ladder

Used for everything from getting on the roof to putting up Christmas lights, they're a necessity for homeowners. For apartment and condo dwellers, a small stepladder can help for changing a light bulb or adjusting decor. If space is at a premium, you can find telescoping ladders starting about $100. Cut the cost is half by going in on a ladder with a neighbor.


8. Tape measure

It's an old saying: Measure twice, cut once. I  keep small, cheap tape measures in my car and a drawer and a 25-foot, better-quality one in my toolbox. You can find one for less than $10. These are also frequently featured in home improvement stores' Black Friday sales.


9. Utility knife

Tired of using your steak knives to open cardboard boxes? Get a utility knife with retractable, replaceable blades. It's safer than a regular knife, and necessary for chores like stripping wire and cutting open that ridiculous sealed plastic packaging everything comes in these days. They're only about $5. 


10. Hand saw

There are saws for pruning branches, cutting wood, going through metal, and many other specialized uses. You can get one handle with blades that will do most of what you want for less than $15. 


11. Power drill

If you're only going to have one power tool, spring for this one. While obviously useful for drilling holes, a 3/8-inch variable-speed reversible drill can also function as a power screwdriver, buffer, grinder, even sander. Models with cords are cheaper and lighter, but cordless drills are more versatile and less hassle to use. You can buy a decent one for less than $40. 


Should you buy a kit?

One way to get the above tools in one fell swoop -- with the possible exception of saws and a power drill -- is to buy a pre-assembled kit. These are useful if you're not going to use tools often and are also a great to have in the car or boat.


While not the way to get the highest quality, kits can make shopping easy and cheap. You can find a decent home improvement tool kit for less than $30.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Apr 30, 2013 5:40PM
First paragraph had the best advice about tools, skip the bargain bin and harbor freight. Personally I prefer Channellock for pliers, Klein for screwdrivers, and craftsman or Snap-On for sockets and wrenches. I used to be a big fan of all craftsman tools, until they started branding cheap crap from China. The screwdrivers are now made of zinc, the tips break easy, and good luck finding one with a straight shaft. Huge disappointment craftsman!
Apr 30, 2013 7:35PM
If you buy an $8 screwdriver set, be prepared to spend more & buy a *decent* set after you booger up the tips on those cheap Chinese POS.
Mar 30, 2013 5:18PM
An adjustable wrench and a set of socket wrenches are needed for certain nuts and those in hard-to-get-to places.  I would add that you can look online and find car tool sets that have most of the small stuff in the article for less than $20.  I had to help replace a battery in a car which had a clever cover over the clamps requiring a small screwdriver and didn't have the tools to do it, so I got such a set.  I have a 56 piece set with a zipper that opens/closes a 9" x 7" x 1.5" case with a socket set (up to 9/16" shallow plus a deep 5/8" sparkplug socket) with driver and extension, an Allen wrench set, a screwdriver set (various regular, Phillips, specialty, etc. bits), pliers, plastic ties, and an electrical testing sensor.  It also fits virtually every screw, nut, and bolt around the house except plumbing.
Apr 30, 2013 7:18PM
Get a Hammer, if this won't fix it, you have an electrical problem!!
Apr 30, 2013 5:20PM

Most important ..........lessons on how to use.

Apr 30, 2013 10:24PM
If you are reading any list to see what tools you should have... then you really shouldn't have a tool box.
Apr 30, 2013 8:36PM
you can get a kit that includes a ladder? You said the only exceptions are saws and power drills.
Apr 30, 2013 5:11PM
Zip ties, duct tape and a hot glue gun. If it can't be fixed with these, throw it away
May 1, 2013 5:38AM

When I think tools, I think ounces and not pounds.  And most of them should easily carry in a MOAB 10 bag and/or on a backpack.  Your basics:  an axe, 2 handsaws, an entrenching tool, a quality multi-tool, paracord, duct tape, at least 2 reliable means of starting fire, and a minimum of 3 knives.


The number one thing I look for in an axe and an entrenching tool is whether or not it can be used one-handed.  If you can't use it one-handed, you don't want it because it can not effectively double as a means of self-defense.  Two handsaws are a must; nothing's worse than one person watching another person cut wood because no one brought the right gear with them.  The multi-tool is a no brainer, and you should spend the extra money on a real one; you get your screwdrivers and pliers in one space-saving unit.  Paracord is one of man's ten greatest inventions, and there's no reason to not have at least a few hundred feet on you at all times.  For about $7 per 100 feet, you get something that takes up next to nothing in terms of space or weight and has a minimum breaking point of 550 pounds.  For duct tape, I like the electrical tape-sized rolls of Gorilla Tape; 3 or 4 of them take up next to nothing in terms of space.


Now for the two most important tools: fire and knives. The only reliable fire starters out there are Doan's bars and ferrocerium rods. They're cheap enough for you to have multiples of each. Anything else can be counted on to fail. Fire means you can cook food, stay warm, and dry out wet feet or clothes.  In terms of knives, start with a low-cost, full-tang tanto point.  It's a log splitter and spear head for $10, so having multiples is definitely worth considering. Next are folding tactical knives.  This is where you start spending the extra money. You want something that opens easily with one hand. Finally, there are survival knives; you want a real one, you want a Ka-Bar.


Two other items I'd throw in are sharpeners and space blankets. Lansky makes a tungsten carbide sharpener which is real good for entrenching tools and machetes. Smith's makes a pocket diamond stone which works for just about any knife and is under $7. Space blankets are an emergency shelter in a bag; all you need is paracord. On these, buy what is often listed as the GI aluminized casualty blanket. It's silver on one side to reflect heat and either olive drab, red or orange on the other.  These will not rip apart because they are heavy duty and have corner grommets.

Apr 1, 2013 11:12AM

For the not-so-handy do-it-yourselfers...... 3-in-1 oil if it does not move but it should.....Duct tape if it moves and it shouldn't..........Hammer and bigger hammer, bandaids and first aid kit. 

"Stud Grabbers" great for hanging tools & stuff in basement or garage, no tools required, hold about 20 lbs each, easy for anyone who has limited strength in their hands or not experienced with power drills etc.  Lots of good buys on tools at tag sales especially estate sales or old folks who are downsizing.

Apr 30, 2013 8:28PM
Do not buy cheap tools.  Ever.  More latitude on a hammer than pliers.  Get a good electric drill. 
May 1, 2013 3:03PM
Yep,everyone needs to have basic tools. it helps if you know how to use them. as a carpenter,i have too many tools,well you can never have too many. once you start collecting you cant stop. but every homeowner needs a few tools around. good thing for online help on proper use.
Mar 29, 2013 4:52PM
What a waste of an article...the tools you need are the ones that finish the job youre currently working on.
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