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Build a solid tool set for home repairs

Adrian Sainz
The Associated Press
In this undated photo provided by Ryobi Power Tools, a cordless 12 volt cordless power drill is shown. (AP Photo/Ryobi Power Tools) ** NO SALES **
AP | Ryobi Power Tools

A reliable home hand tool kit is essential for any homeowner. Quick repairs, such as replacing a showerhead, to subtle home improvements, like new book shelves, require a basic set of tools.

There are a few paths a consumer can follow, from buying all the tools at once in a complete set to building as you go.

A large set with dozens of pieces may comfort the consumer with the thought it provides everything necessary in one purchase of $100 or more. But these sets also include tools that will probably sit unused forever, especially if the user is Average Joe and not a construction worker, auto mechanic, electrician or similar professional.

Meanwhile, building a kit as projects present themselves streamlines the number of tools in the home. This strategy, though, requires trips to the store as projects pop up.

And there’s a middle ground: Buy a basic set of well-crafted tools, then add to the collection as needed. It can take years to build the perfect set of hand tools.

Popular Mechanics editor Roy Berendsohn says do-it-yourselfers should break down projects into three steps: preparation, execution, and cleanup. Each phase requires tools.

“It’s analogous to cooking dinner,” Berendsohn says. “You buy groceries, you cook dinner and you do the dishes. DIY projects are the same.”

Individual tools, and all-in-one tool sets, can be found at big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, chains like Ace Hardware and True Value, locally owned hardware stores, and the Internet.

The large home improvement stores and the national hardware chains have a variety of brands. The more well-known names include Stanley Black & Decker, Dewalt, Husky, Milwaukee, Kwikset, and Ryobi. Craftsman tools are available at Sears and Kmart.

tool quality

Experts agree on one thing: Even if it may be a bit more expensive, buy the best tool you can from the outset. Look for tools that are made with heat-treated metals, which make them harder and more durable. If it looks cheap, it probably is.

“The better the tools you have, the better the project will go,” said Bob Cheal, author of “The Handyman Business Guide for Success.” ”The well-made tools, you never have to replace them.”

There’s a wide selection of every kind of hand tool on the market, manufactured in different places using various materials. Tools made in China and Taiwan are popular and less expensive, though quality varies.

Experts like Popular Mechanics’ Berendsohn recommend American-made tools, or look to European countries like Great Britain or Germany with a long-standing reputation of building quality, long-lasting hand tools.

Still, that does not mean that tool technology will not improve over time and lead consumers to check out the latest advance. Also, tools like saws, screwdrivers and chisels can get worn and need replacing.

Here’s a list of 10 essential tools that belong in every home.

1. Hammer

One of the oldest, most basic human tools, the hammer is required for driving and removing nails. Head weight, handle material, balance and weight distribution are the main qualities of a hammer, said Bob Bachta, director of marketing for Vaughan & Bushnell Manufacturing Co. in Hebron, Ill.

Hammers can weigh from 2 to 32 ounces, but the typical weight for a DIY hammer is 16 ounces, Bachta says. A strong handle material like wood or steel is important; different materials absorb the vibration of striking a nail in different ways. Cushioned handles help with gripping. A strong hammer can be purchased for $10.

2. Tape Measure

Every home needs a tape measure, to measure distances for everything from hanging curtains to arranging furniture.

A good tape measure has 25 to 35 feet of length, has a sturdy end piece and a locking mechanism. Tape measures can run from about $7 to more than $30.

3. Screwdriver

Assembling furniture, installing closet shelves, replacing the batteries on children’s toys, and countless other projects require a screwdriver to get the job done.

A home should have at least two types of screwdrivers, a slotted or flathead and a Phillips head. (Phillips screws are the ones with indentations that look like plus signs.)

Multi-bit screwdrivers come with interchangeable bits, which eliminates the need for several different sizes and reduces toolbox clutter.

Manual screwdrivers can cost as little as $5.

Cordless power screwdrivers and drills take the physical strain out of the job. But they are no substitute for manual ones, advises the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Manual screwdrivers can reach into more places and are less likely to damage the screw, the home inspectors group said.

Expect to spend at least $30 to $35 for an entry-level cordless drill.

4. Saw

A good sturdy saw is elemental. A crosscut saw is effective in cutting through wood, while hacksaws can cut through iron, steel and plastics.

5. Utility knife

A utility knife allows users to easily cut through materials, such as cardboard boxes or even drywall. Get a sturdy utility knife with a solid retractable blade. Think about spending at least $8 to $10 on a utility knife.

6. Adjustable wrench

Popular Mechanics recommends using a 10- or 14-inch wrench that is big enough for residential plumbing fittings. Be careful, however. If used improperly, the adjustable wrench can damage a bolt or nut. Screw the jaws all the way closed to avoid damaging the bolt or nut.

A good-quality, small adjustable wrench can be bought for about $10.

7. Pliers

There are a few different types of pliers from which to choose, and having one or two in the tool kit is a good idea.

Slip-joint pliers allow the user to easily grab hold of a nut or bolt, and the jaws feature flat and curved areas for gripping many types of objects. The jaw size can be adjusted for different jobs.

Needle-nose pliers are good for electrical work and the narrow tip is good for use in tight spaces.

Locking pliers function as regular pliers, but also can serve the purpose of a wrench. They have a strong grip that allows the user to remove nails or staples.

A small set of pliers costs about $10 and up.

8. Level

A level is used to ensure that shelves, pictures, and appliances are correctly oriented. A 9-inch torpedo level is good for smaller jobs. Expect to spend at least $15 for a small level.

9. Safety Glasses

Choose safety glasses that are not too heavy and have a clear lens for all projects involving a hammer or power tools.

10. Heavy-duty tape

Heavy duty tape is water resistant and sticky enough to fill a variety of roles, from electrical work to sealing boxes for storage.


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