Once upon a time in college, I watched my roommate try to install a shelf using nails and a rock as a hammer. Although it was pretty funny, and seemed like it was going to work, he soon discovered that the included wood screws really should have been used instead, because the weight of the books on the shelf made it fall off the wall. This debacle proved a couple of things: 1. The right tool for the right job is vital. 2. You’re never too young to start amassing your own tool collection. It may take a while (and a lot of birthdays) to really collect a full-on, Dad-approved workshop of tools. It will also take some cash, but don’t waste your money on cheap tools, and stick to American brands. We make great tools here in the U.S., so you should buy them. On your road to table saws and wood clamps, this list of 10 toolbox basics will get you through most honey-do and DIY projects.
What's traditionally referred to as simply a hammer is technically a claw hammer, with the claw referring to the nail-pulling cleft opposite the head. Besides its obvious use as a nail-driving implement, a sturdy, trusty hammer is also invaluable for small demolition jobs. In general, hammers have either a smooth or a waffled surface. Serious carpenters prefer a waffled surface for its superior driving force. When you’re investing in something you’re likely to have the rest of your life, you may as well get the best and spring for the waffle face. The problem with a waffle-face hammer is the damage it does to the wood surface when the waffle comes in contact. That problem is solved by the ingenious folks at Hardcore Hammers who have recessed the waffle and surrounded it with a smooth surface, creating a driving hammer and finishing hammer all in one. That’s hardcore.
Also known as a crescent wrench, an adjustable wrench is mainly used for loosening and tightening bolts. A mainstay tool for the toolbox, the versatile adjustable wrench can also be used for bike repairs, loosening up a rusty outdoor faucet, or even to help ease a stripped-head Phillips screw out of the wall. A good size for home use is a 10-inch handle with a capacity of an inch or more. Klein Tools started out in 1857 when Mathias Klein made his first pair of pliers. Five generations and a lot of tools later, Klein Tools are still made in the U.S. and still operated by the Klein family. Although the company started out making pliers, nowadays they make a heck of a good wrench too.
Besides your hammer, your screwdrivers will be your most-often-used tools. The two basic types are flat-head and Phillips, and you’ll need at least one of each. Screws are invaluable to any construction or DIY project for their superior joining ability (as opposed to nails), not to mention the fact you’ll find a million uses for a flat-head screwdriver around the house (like opening a can of paint). One of the most trusted and biggest American-made tool companies is Craftsman, and they offer a great eight-piece screwdriver set (4 flat-head, 4 Phillips) for less than $20, making the screwdriver one of the best values in your tool collection.
Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to buy an electric screwdriver over a drill. The electric screwdriver will never have the power of a drill, and it can be used only for driving in screws. An electric drill, on the other hand, can be used for sanding a deck, drilling a drain hole in a ceramic plant pot, stirring a bucket of paint, or removing old, stubborn screws. One thing to remember when buying an electric drill is that generally, the drill bits and other attachments are not included and need to be purchased separately. A 19-volt drill should be powerful enough to tackle all your small jobs and DIY projects. Make sure to choose a cordless model for freedom of movement, and try to get one with two battery packs so you can always be charging one while you’re working. The electric drill also serves as a great primer for graduating up to other handheld power tools, like a circular saw or hedge clippers. You can get a great cordless drill for around $120.
Levels are available in many shapes and sizes for various applications and professions. The level you want for most home projects, and the one you’re probably most familiar with, is the torpedo level. Inside a torpedo level are small vials full of a colored liquid and an air bubble, with a line across the middle. Position the level on whatever surface you’re checking, line up the air bubbles across the lines, and you’re level. Torpedo levels are a must on any small construction project, invaluable when hanging artwork and photos, and a great way to drive yourself crazy checking how level your floors are. Master carpenter Henry Ziemann invented the modern, vial-encased level in 1919 and launched the Empire Level Manufacturing Corporation. Five generations later, the company is still producing levels, easily recognized as Empire levels by their patented blue vials (while most other levels contain yellow vials), and are widely considered the gold standard, or blue standard, in levels for carpenters.
All pliers are handy, but none as much as the svelte, skinny needle nose, or long nose. Most often used in any project involving wire, whether bending, cutting or simply holding wire, you’ll use the needle nose. It's also very handy for craft projects like fly tying, or smaller jobs like eyeglass repair. Especially useful for prying a broken key out of a lock, there are dozens of ways you’ll use this unsung hero of the toolbox.
The retractable blade utility knife, aka a box cutter, is a little tool that packs a lot of use in its small frame. A utility knife has a plastic or metal body made up of two parts held together by a screw, encasing an extremely sharp razor blade that retracts into the handle. To change the blade, unscrew the body and pop in a fresh razor. In addition to opening boxes, a utility knife can be used to slice through just about anything from linoleum to wallpaper. Just remember to be careful, because the blade is extremely sharp and can slice through a finger easily.
In any type of construction project the rule is: measure twice, cut once. For this, you’ll need a durable tape measure. Tape measures come in a variety of widths and lengths. For most around-the-house jobs, 25 feet is a good length. It’s also a good idea to get a wider width for those times you’re working alone. A wider width (1 inch to 1.5 inches) will provide more stability and can stay rigid up to at least to 10 feet.
SMALL HAND SAW
Never underestimate the handiness of a small hand saw, especially for the new homeowner. You’ll use it for small and large repair jobs, cutting tree limbs, and building a DIY doghouse. A particularly satisfying tool to use, the hand saw requires a little TLC so it doesn’t rust between uses. Before storing your saw, wipe down the blade with a rag sprayed with WD-40. If it does get rust on it, lightly sand it off with a fine grit sandpaper, then oil it with WD-40.
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Once you’ve amassed a few tools, you’ll need a place to store them. Most of us don’t have a home workshop or a garage, so a toolbox is key. The problem is, most toolboxes are clunky, metal and heavy, and what do you do if you need to transport your tools to another location? Enter the modern solution: The Gear Bag from Best Made Company. Designed specifically as a portable, rugged alternative to metal tool boxes, the Gear Bag is constructed from waxed canvas, has Kevlar handles and brass hardware, and even has handy rings on the outside to easily transport an ax. And if you happen to be in the market for an ax, Best Made specializes in handmade axes as well.