There are always things to fix when you move into your very first home. If you’re an amateur at do-it-yourself repairs, you can be overwhelmed by the numbers and kinds of tools on sale in local hardware stores. But here are some basics to start with.
Prices might confuse you. We consider it worthwhile to invest in good quality tools, but it’s difficult to know what the right price should be. Junk tools generally wear out as soon as you get comfortable using them. So avoid bargain bins. A good tool can be kept a long time and will perform the way it did when first purchased. For a wrench, ratchet or screwdriver, you can’t beat Sears. For anything electric, we like Milwaukee, DeWalt and Bosch.
Here are a dozen basics put together in a poll of our staff. Some items you may already have; others you haven’t thought of before. It’s a great list of ideas for Father’s Day, too.
A set of five or six is probably sufficient. A set of 10 might be too much. You want a couple of sizes in screwdrivers with Phillips heads and a couple with flat heads. More expensive screwdrivers will have sharper heads to make your job easier. If most of your tools are out in the garage, you might also want more screwdrivers in other areas, like the kitchen or utility room, or in your car. I always look for slip-resistant handles -- wood or rubber.
2. A solid claw hammer
You want a 16-ounce claw hammer, with curved prongs in back for pulling nails. Look for a hammer with a steel handle covered with black rubber. Some homeowners prefer a fiberglass or wooden handle. Avoid wood handles; they’re for the folks that use a hammer every day. A smaller hammer might be good as well for little jobs.
3. Adjustable wrench
One six-inch adjustable wrench is probably sufficient. The wrench has a fixed jaw and a movable jaw that you can adjust to the size of a nut and bolt in order to tighten or loosen it. In a cheaper wrench, the movable jaw can wear out quickly or not adjust accurately and firmly, resulting in stripped bolt heads.
There are many, many kinds and sizes of pliers for sale. Here are some of the many names they can have: slip-joint, water-pump, linesman, locking and needle-nose. The water-pump style is the kind is used for plumbing or for bolts and nuts on bicycles. Needle-nose pliers are used for bending, cutting and shaping wires or reaching into tight spots you can’t get into with your fingers. You can use snub-nosed six-to-eight-inch pliers to turn fasteners.
5. Utility knife
This tool can open packages and cut wallboard, vinyl flooring, carpeting, plastic and more. Splurge on a better knife for a few dollars more. It will be easier to open and change the blade. If it’s your first one, buy one with a good retractable blade. The fixed blade styles can be easier to use once you get used to using the knife, but start with the retractable.
6. Allen wrench set
An Allen wrench is an angled tool with a hexagonal head used to repair or tighten appliances or parts. It only works with hexagonal screws or bolts often found in bicycles or on garbage disposals.
7. Small retractable steel tape measure
You need more than one of these around the house. New homeowners are constantly measuring for furniture, window coverings, appliances and more; it’s easy to misplace your one and only tape measure.
8. A level
A level can help you hang pictures or put up a shelf or make sure that a door is hung properly. Although the old-fashioned kind is popular, you might also want an electronic laser level. It can project a beam of light, usually red, across a wall so that you can line up where the hooks or hangers for your picture or mirror should go.
9. A square
A carpenter’s square is used to measure off a perfect right angle.
10. An electronic stud finder
As you move the device across the wall, a light flashes and a beep sounds when you reach a stud. Then you mark the spot so you can put in a bolt or nail.
11. Pry bar
This long, flat bar can help you lift or move something that you otherwise couldn’t with your bare hands. The longer the bar is, the more weight you can lift.
12. Cordless drill-driver
This is the only power tool on our list. Use it to drill holes or to drive in screws. You simply pull off the drill/driver off the battery apparatus and stick on some other equipment. You can often buy one with sanding, sawing and precision cutting attachments. Generally, we recommend buying at least a 14-volt unit. If you can pull the trigger and then grab the collet (the collar holding a tool) with your gloved hand and actually stop it from spinning, that means you have a piece of junk in your hands.
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