Every new homeowner needs a tool set unless they expect to hang pictures and draperies by driving nails with the heel of their shoe and hire a handyman for every little repair that will inevitably be needed. The question becomes not “why a tool set?” but “what does a homeowner tool set consist of?”.
The first concern is often cost and is a valid one. A small tool set for the first time homeowner should be able to be assembled for $200 – $300 and can be spread out over time as necessary. This is a small cost for the returns it can offer – quick, easy repairs and easier work on everyday tasks. A homeowners tool set can be put together for much less, but be aware that cost usually correlates to quality – low cost tools are usually of low quality and will often either not do the job or at best make the task much harder. Be prepared to buy not the most expensive, professional quality, tools but a collection of good quality tools intended for occasional use by a homeowner.
As the homeowner expands his or her abilities and does more and more difficult and complex repairs and work around their home (and you can learn to do home repairs) additional tools will inevitably be needed. A good way to absorb the cost of these tools is to build the cost of the tool into the cost of the work to be done – your collection of tools will slowly increase to the point that more tools are seldom needed.
It would be highly unusual for a new homeowner to purchase all the tools they will ever need at one time. Instead, the object is to begin a tool collection by buying the most commonly needed tools while considering their cost as well. With that in mind, here is a select list of the most important tools, along with a second list of tools that would be nice to have, and perhaps might be purchased at a later date.
Must Have Tools For The Tool Set
A list of the most common and useful tools for the new homeowner, in no particular order:
Hammer A hammer is absolutely necessary. Choose a good quality hammer of the proper weight; you should be able to swing the hammer as if hitting a nail without undue difficulty, so pick carefully among the wide variety of sizes and weights available. A hammer with rather straight claws is probably more useful for the homeowner rather than sharply curved claws.
Toolbox If it is within budget and has a place to “live” a roll around toolbox can be very nice, but a smaller toolbox is quite adequate for most homeowners tool sets. Buy your tools first and pick a toolbox suitable to hold perhaps twice as many tools as you have – you will be buying more through the years. Try to find a toolbox with one or two trays or drawers as it will be much easier to find the tool you need if they aren’t all just thrown in a pile in the bottom of the toolbox. Another option might be to make your own tool storage area if space is available. If you need just a small general purpose toolbox, fine! Enlist the help of the kids to build a toolbox for you, and start them on a lifetime of woodworking fun at the same time. Or maybe build your own tool storage. The homeowner in the photo below turned an almost useless closet under a stairwell into his tool storage area.
- Screwdriver set A high quality screwdriver set is a must – don’t settle for cheap junk here! Most homeowners will also use their screwdrivers as chisels and pry bars (not recommended) and a cheap set will not last at all. The set should contain both small and large phillips and straight blade screwdrivers, with at least one very large straight blade.
- Vise Grips A good set of vise grip pliers can take the place of many tools, so make sure you have a pair of these locking pliers.
- Needle Nose Pliers Needle nose pliers have a long “nose” on them that is able to reach into small places and hold or retrieve parts and pieces and is a tool used constantly around most homes. Make sure they have a place on them to cut wire with unless you also purchase a set of wire cutters.
Pry Bar A 10″ – 12″ pry bar can be incredibly handy for prying apart wood or other materials as well as pulling nails and is not expensive. Get one if possible; even a cheaper one is useful.
Tape Measure Spend a little more here and get a good quality tape measure with at least a ¾” wide blade – the smaller ½” blades just don’t do the job. A 16′ tape should be adequate though a few dollars more will buy a 20 or 25 foot tape and can make room measurements much easier and more accurate.
Electrical tester Non contact testers are very nice as they are simply touched to an insulated wire or the tip inserted into a plug in, but require working batteries to operate and are fairly spendy at around $20 and up. A cheap, two wire tester will also work but requires either a bare wire or a plug in to check – they can’t be simply held to a wire or broken appliance to see if it is “hot”.
Drill The only power tool that classifies as a “must have” is a drill. A cordless drill can be handy and nice but is more expensive and is not always the best choice for a homeowner – a comparison of some cordless drills is good reading for a new homeowner considering one. A better choice for many homeowners not intending to use a drill very often would be a corded drill, preferably with a ½” chuck although the smaller 3/8″ chuck is usually large enough. A small assortment of drill bits (from 1/8″ to 3/8″ plus perhaps a few spade bits) and a few screwdriver bits will also be necessary to go with the drill. Make sure it is a variable speed, reversible drill of at least moderate quality such as Ryobi or Craftsman and not one of the super cheap drills available at discount tool stores – such drills are worth even less than they cost. If possible a drill should have a keyless chuck.
Chisel An unusual addition, perhaps, but a chisel will save a huge amount of wear and tear on the screwdriver set. Make sure it is not a plastic or wooden handle – no one takes the time to find a mallet to strike it with – a hammer is always used and will destroy a plastic handled chisel. If the metal chisel blade travels all the way up the handle to be struck by the hammer that is one thing, but if the hammer is struck on a piece of plastic stuck on top of the metal chisel blade it will simply shatter.
Utility knife Such knives, also known as a box cutter or razor knife, will save your good steak knives a lot of damage.
Saw If a corded circular saw is within the budget it is the way to go, but if not a 24″ hand saw will do most jobs, it just takes more effort. You might consider letting a saw go until one is actually needed and make the decision then as to powered or not.
Torpedo level Laser levels are useful but are far more expensive than a simple torpedo level and are more difficult and time consuming to set up before use.
Tongue and Groove Pliers Also know as “channellock” pliers (a trade name) or “water pump pliers” these pliers are very useful for holding larger objects such as plumbing pipe. Although rather spendy, the Knipex pliers are some of the best around.
Wrenches A small set of SAE wrenches, from ¼” to ¾” is necessary, as it is surprising how many nuts and bolts are around the home that will need a wrench to tighten. A metric set would be nice, but is not usually needed around a home – buy a metric set as well as the SAE set only if funds are available or if you work on your car. A set of Allen wrenches can also be useful and is not expensive; they would have priority over the metric set of regular wrenches.
Tack Remover Little more than a very small pry bar, a tack remover is inexpensive and can save hours of time when removing tacks or staples from such things as upholstery and picture frames. Well worth the 2 or 3 dollar cost. I highly recommend at one of these little tools; for the cost they may be the most valuable of the lot.
Square If a small plastic framing square is what’s in the budget buy that, but a larger square of perhaps 24″ can be extremely useful both as a square and as a short straight edge. Note that the larger square will likely not fit into the toolbox and plan accordingly.
Clamps Small, spring loaded clamps have become quite popular and are not expensive. Stock your toolbox with two to four of the clamps as the possible uses are extensive.
Safety Glasses A must for many projects, make sure your toolbox has a pair.
Wire Strippers Wire strippers are again not expensive and make any kind of wiring task much, much easier. Wire can be stripped with wire cutters, a knife or even sometimes a match but the strippers are far superior to any of them. If possible include a set of these in the tool set.
Pre-assembled Tool Kit A final option is to get much of the preceding list in one package; a tool kit already assembled. For many, this is the optimum choice as prices are generally lower and it’s already put together for the. One such kit is show below, but if it doesn’t look like what you would like, Amazon has many more.
1. BEST OVERALL: Crescent 170-Piece Mechanic Tool Set
A sturdy plastic case keeps every tool secure, whether you’re transporting or storing. The chrome vanadium steel alloy tools include wrenches, sockets, screwdriver bits, pliers, screwdrivers, ratchets, and hex keys, with multiple extension bars and size adapters.
The case only weighs 20 pounds and has a sleek design that makes it great for mobility. While it doesn’t have some of the more specific adapters, like a breaker bar, it does contain a good variety of the standard DIY tools that you can find in a superior mechanic tool set, and it comes with an easily-referenced warranty.
2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: DekoPro 168-Piece Mechanic Tool Set
The DekoPro 168-Piece Mechanic Tool Set is an amazing purchase for new DIYers. The price is low enough that purchasing this large 168-piece set isn’t a huge investment, and a month-long warranty guarantees the tools for the first thirty days. The set weighs only 13 pounds, making it a great mobile case to carry around the house.
The set includes the most essential DIY tools, including a hammer, utility knife, tape measure, screwdrivers, wrenches, sockets, and even a small, 10-inch hacksaw. While it doesn’t have the wide variety of sockets and bits that a larger specialty tool set may have, it has the supplies needed for the most common DIY tasks, including thermostat replacement and pre-fabricated furniture assembly.
3. UPGRADE PICK: Craftsman 450-Piece Mechanic Tool Set
This full-polish chrome finish mechanic tool set comes with 450 different pieces—but keep in mind that 419 of these pieces are sockets, bits, and hex keys. The set also comes with ratchets, wrenches, extension bars, hex keys, and a screwdriver adapter, making it well suited for automotive work.
At 43 pounds, you won’t be moving it around much, but the sturdy design is perfect for a work truck, or garage. The four-tiered storage box is made of durable plastic and uses basic locking mechanisms on the sides of the drawers to keep them in place during transportation. Backed by a lifetime warranty, the set is worth the higher price tag if you work in an industry that will see you use all the included pieces.
4. BEST SOCKET: DeWalt 192-Piece Mechanic Tool Set
Designed for the auto shop, the DeWalt 192-Piece Mechanic Tool Set specializes in sockets and high-end ratchets, with three different ratchets that feature a 72-tooth gear system for higher torque. The kit weighs a substantial 37 pounds, making this one mechanic tool set that is more useful for its storage capabilities, than its mobility.
Laser-etched markings on the sides of the 126 individual sockets identify the size and measurement unit of each. The set also includes screwdriver bits, a screwdriver adapter for the ratchets, extenders bars, universal adapters, and hex keys, all covered under a limited lifetime warranty.