Even if you don’t consider yourself handy—and there’s no shame in that—having a well-equipped toolbox is a must for every homeowner. You never know when you’ll need to screw a cabinet handle back in, hammer down a floorboard, or tighten a loose pipe until a professional can do a permanent fix. Your toolbox doesn’t need to rival that of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s, but there are some basics you’ll want to gather up.
We asked Mike Sexton, owner of Double Check Handyman and Shed On Site in Fredericton, New Brunswick, to give us some insight to the 10 tools every home should have.
1. A hammer
This is probably the one everyone thinks of, but not all hammers are created equal.
“There are a couple of different kinds,” says Sexton. “Don’t get a framing hammer with a straight back, get a standard one. Hammers come in different weights, so get around a 16-ounce hammer.”
A comfortable grip is also key when choosing a hammer, and you can also find some with vibration-dampening coatings. Something else to look for is a flat head, rather than dimpled or checkered. This will avoid nail slippage when you do need to hammer something.
2. A wrench set
Anyone trying to put together furniture knows the importance of a wrench—more specifically, they know the frustration of not having the size you need. Adjustable wrenches are available, which you may think is the best choice as they give you different size options, but Sexton actually recommends having multiple wrench sets on hand.
“Get an adjustable wrench and a small set of metric and standard combination wrenches, which have an open end and a closed end, like a circle with ridges on the inside,” he explains. “The reason for this is often you need to hold a bolt on both ends to loosen it. The adjustable will hold one side, and the other wrenches will hold the other end.”
3. A tape measure
Whereas wrenches and hammers have specific criteria to look for, the same isn’t required for a tape measure.
“Almost any tape measure will do,” Sexton admits. “A 25-foot tape measure is best, and is still compact. There’s no need to get a high priced one.”
Skinnier tape measures are more susceptible to collapsing when you have them extended too far, so opting for one with a ¾-inch-wide tape is a good idea.
4. A screwdriver or screwdriver set
Phillips, flat, hexagon, square—there are multiple heads for screwdrivers, and those who are less handy may not always know what they’re looking for. So, when you’re adding a screwdriver to your toolbox, what should you choose?
“Either a set or a multi-tip screwdriver will work,” Sexton says. “I prefer a multi-tip, since there’s less looking around for stuff when you need it.”
A multi-tip screwdriver comes in a couple different varieties as well, so it all depends on personal preference. Some come with a case of removable magnetic tips you can swap in and out as needed. Others include all the tips in the handle with switches you push up to unveil the tip you need (think of those multi-coloured pens we used to have in high school).
5. A set or pair of pliers
Pliers can come in handy when you need to manipulate smaller objects, like when you’re trying to hammer a nail into something or bending a rogue staple back to avoid catching yourself on it. There are a few types of pliers, but there are only two you really need to consider for a basic toolkit.
“You can get a set of pliers, or a good pair of needle nose and something called ‘linesman’ pliers,” Sexton explains. “Those two will do the job 99% of the time.”
Sexton also specifically advises with pliers, you should invest a bit more in a quality pair or set. Ones that are too cheap can break quickly and end up causing more frustration than needed.
6. An Allen wrench set
Though it sounds similar to a regular wrench set, Allen wrenches, also known as hex keys, are entirely different. These hexagon-headed tools are most recognized from the IKEA assembly method, and while they seem basic, they can definitely come in handy in a pinch.
“Make sure you buy a combination set of both metric and standard,” Sexton shares. “Most brands will do.”
Allen wrench sets can be purchased either as individual hex keys in a case, or hinged together like a Swiss Army knife so you don’t lose track of any size.
7. A level
Moving into a new home usually involves hanging pictures and artwork on your walls, in which case you’ll want to invest in a level. These can also come in handy when setting up furniture to make sure the feet are all installed at an even height, letting you know if you need to add any jambs under one side.
“Don’t buy a discount level, most of them are not truly level,” Sexton cautions. “A small six-to-eight inch level is great. If you need to go up a size, then go for a two-foot level.”
8. A utility knife
You’re going to have a lot of boxes to open as you unpack your new home, and you never know when you’ll need to take on a handy project like replacing the screen in your windows. Having a utility knife on hand will make these jobs quicker and save the life of your scissors.
“Buy a normal size utility knife, not the miniature style,” Sexton suggests. “Also, make sure you have a pack of extra blades. You don’t need to get specialty blades, the standard blades will work for almost everything.”
9. A flashlight
Most of us have flashlights on our phones, so the idea of having a physical flashlight feels a bit silly. But while your phone flashlight may be great for a short while in the event of a power outage, Sexton explains having a headlight is actually better suited for your toolbox.
“You can get a normal flashlight, but I highly recommend getting a headlight with a band that goes around your head and has the light in the front. Alternatively, you could get one of each. You won’t always be able to hold a light while you’re using your hands to do things. I exclusively use headlights for work.”
10. A drill or driver
Power tools might be intimidating to some, but having a drill or driver is a good idea for every home.
“A driver is a tool that looks like a drill, except it makes a quick hammering noise when turning,” Sexton explains. “Its purpose is to make driving difficult screws much easier. Having both a drill and a driver are great, but if I had to make a choice, I would default to a driver.”
If you’re getting a drill and driver, Sexton shares there are different options.
“You can get small drill bits that fit in a driver, and it can double duty as both. Ideally, you should get both a drill and a driver, and often they are sold in kits. Cordless is best, but don’t forget to charge the battery. Corded drills can work, but drivers are typically only available as cordless.”
Ready to take it a step further? Build yourself a functional starter workshop with these six tools.
Other things to consider
In addition to these 10 tools, Sexton shared a few other things you might want to consider keeping in your toolkit.
- Spare batteries—at least 20 AAA and AA batteries on hand, plus a few C batteries, and some 9V batteries, too. Alkaline can sit for years and not lose their charge. Rechargeables are great, but they lose their charge too quickly, and get forgotten.
- An oscillating tool—oscillating tools are great for making cuts on things in difficult places. Cordless is great, but corded will also do.
- An emergency pipe repair—Sexton recommends the ‘Kibosh Rapid Pipe Repair’. Get a 1/2 inch and a 3/4. If you get a leak in a pipe, this can plug it immediately and prevent potentially costly damage.
So if you’re not a handyperson, it’s always advised to call in the professionals when things go wrong. However, having these tools in your home can be gamechangers in the event of an emergency.