20 "Must Haves" for the Best New Homeowner Tool Kit Set
Why a New Homeowner Tool Set?
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.
Secondary List of Nice to Have Tools
While there are a thousand tools that might someday be nice to have for a new homeowners tool set, experience has shown that some are better than others. A list of recommended tools that are either inexpensive, extremely handy or commonly used:
- Circular Saw As noted above, a circular saw is preferable to a hand saw and should be high on the list of secondary tools to be purchased in the future. Interestingly enough, circular saws are available for a left handed person and should be chosen for a "lefty" even though more expensive - they are not only much easier to use but are safer as well. If you expect to use the saw reasonably frequently a cordless circular saw is a good match to a cordless drill.
- Stud Finder A stud finder can save a lot of holes in a wall looking for a stud to hang a picture on and makes a good addition the the basic tool set.
- Random Orbital Sander As a replacement for the older vibrating sanders the random orbit sander is a far superior tool and should be considered for purchase down the road. Excellent for sanding a table top prior to refinishing or fixing a dent in a hardwood floor, they are neither extremely expensive nor difficult to use and make a good addition to the tool set.
- Staple Gun Most often purchased for a specific task, a staple gun will have multiple uses and is a welcome addition. A word of caution - staple guns often use proprietary staples so make sure that staples are readily available before choosing one.
- Dental pick An odd tool for the homeowner tool set, but quite inexpensive and useful for removing O rings from faucets as well as other small tasks.
- Jewelers Screwdriver Little more than a very small screwdriver set, they are often necessary to open battery compartments on toys and other items as well as working on watches or eyeglasses. Do not buy one of the common $2 sets, but rather choose a better quality - it will last much longer and be easier to use.
- Socket set A small SAE socket set, again from ¼" to ¾" will be useful. Make sure it has a 3/8" ratchet, not just a 1/4" with an adapter. Many times either two wrenches or a wrench and a socket are necessary for working with bolts and the socket is much faster than a wrench if it can be used. A metric set of both sockets and wrenches will probably be necessary to do any automotive work.
- Laser level A very nice addition to your tool set might be a laser level. These useful tools are of considerable help in simple tasks such as hanging pictures as well as more complex work around the house.
- Power Tools As time passes and the homeowner develops more and more of an actual shop it can fill with power tools, and they are the most fun of all. A router to make decorative edging and strong wood joints. A biscuit jointer for even better joints. An air compressor makes a wonderful addition to any shop, no matter whether it is producing wood cabinets or restored cars or pumping up basketballs and bicycle tires. The list goes on and on.
Where and What to Buy
Small common tools such as have discussed here are available at a wide variety of stores such as Home Depot, Lowes and even WalMart in some cases. Again, a caution however - do not buy the cheapest thing around just because it's cheap. It isn't worth it and can ruin some early experiences at home repair or even home improvement projects.
Common brands for the homeowner might include Craftsman, Ryobi, Stanley and Makita. Black and Decker tools are generally considered a cut below these although their Workmate folding workbench is highly recommended. Black and Decker tools are often quite adequate for the homeowner tool set while Dewalt and Milwaukee are more of a professional quality. In general stay away from the discount tool stores such as Harbor Freight - most of what is there is little better than junk. While they might be appropriate for a single task or for a tool that will see either light or very little use it will in general not last well at all. Such stores sometimes carry better quality tools as well as the cheap stuff, but prices are usually in line with other stores if they do. Pawn shops can be a viable source for hand tools - power tools are more questionable as they are used and in unknown condition. With the power of the internet Amazon can offer some very good prices on tools and has a good assortment of choices.
Some of the pre-assembled tool sets are of reasonable quality and can make a great housewarming or Christmas gift for a new homeowner. Even if the recipient is a little unsure of the gift at first sight they will change their mind the first time they need to do simple task that would be next to impossible without the proper tool.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Can you recommend brands for each type of homeowner kit? Dewalt, for example, doesn't have a lot of the hand tools you recommended and for novices like me, I have no idea what brands are good vs low for each type.
I like Craftsman for the homeowner. The major brands sold at either Home Depot or Lowes are also fine. I would stay away from Black and Decker for power tools, or anything on the low end; Ryobi and similarly priced power tools are fine, although not up to contractor quality.
© 2010 Dan Harmon