Buying a Basic Tool Set
Here at Pro Tool Reviews, we believe in empowering folks and helping them to make the best tool choices for their situation. We think that everyone should have a basic tool set. Even if you are not the handiest person (or so you think), we are pretty sure you are capable of making minor repairs, hanging pictures and assembling furniture! And of course if you have questions along the way, we are here to help.
In a basic tool kit, you will need on a regular basis a certain collection of tools for which there are no substitutes. In consideration of space, we will list a basic tool with some other options that are sometimes better if you have the room and budget. While there are pre-packaged basic tools sets available, we have found many of these to be either lacking in some respect or have some pretty low quality pieces. One advantage of you building your own kit is that you will get to feel the tools in your hand to make sure they are the right weight or size to fits your needs. We divided our list up into a few major categories to help keep a focus on the main areas you will want to cover:
Safety, Organization and Cleanup
We start here because it is always a good idea to do things in a safe manor before you jump in. Also cleanup needs to be thought about at the beginning of a project because it will often save you time in the long run.
- First Aid Kit – Always good idea to have around even if you are not fixing things!
- Goggles or safety glasses – Get some that are comfortable and fit your face well.
- Work Gloves – These don’t need to be heavy leather ones, just something to protect your hands. We actually prefer the synthetic leather types that fit snugly for most projects because they offer good protection and let you still “feel” things.
- Dust Mask – The cloth/paper type will work for simple and low-dust applications.
- Drop Cloth – Very handy for protecting or covering things from paint and dust. Make sure to get one that is at least 8ft by 10ft in size.
- Flash Light – LED is the best type, but get something that you know will be reliable along with some extra batteries.
- Extension Cord – 25 feet is a minimum and spend the few extra dollars and get one that is a 12 AWG wire. See our FAQ about extension cords selection.
- Vacuum Cleaner or Dust Extractor – Starting out, most will be fine with their household type with a hose attachment. For the more industrious, we recommend at least a 6 gallon wet/dry vacuum.
- Tool Storage – Whether it is a tool box, plastic tote or a bucket, something is needed to keep your collection of tools organized and in one place. Choose something that fits the amount of space you have and the quantity of tools you own.
Tool Kit for Measuring and Cutting
This group of tools has to do with some of the most basic tasks that you will perform. These tools are useful for cutting up cardboard boxes to hanging mirrors so they level to measuring how big a room is so you can buy the right size rug.
- Utility Knife – Look for a knife that utilizes common and easy to replace blades, both folding and standard styles work fine.
- Scissors – Make sure to grab some that are heavy duty and able to cut thick materials.
- Tape Measure – A 16 ft length tape is a good start.
- Level – The most convenient size is a torpedo level which is named for its shape and is compact and should fit inside your tool box easily. If you have a little more space, our suggested level would be an aluminum 2 foot level. This is a good choice for two reasons; you get all the usefulness the small size level and since are made of a rigid material, it is very useful as a straight edge when you are trying to line things up or make precision cuts with a utility knife.
- Hack Saw – This type of saw uses replaceable blades and is used for cutting hard materials like metal and plastic.
- Wood Saw – Look for a general purpose type hand wood saw. These types of saws usually have shorter blades and sharp teeth that will cut wood both with and against the grain.
- Carpenter Pencils – We like these better then regular pencils because they hold up longer due to the larger graphite lead inside.
Tool Kit for Building and Fixing Things
Now-a-days with many big box stores selling assembly-required furniture, it is very handy to have some simple tools. These tools also can come in useful when you need to do things like adjust the seat or take the training wheels off a bike, put some blinds up, or hang new curtain rods.
- Screwdriver Set – A good starter set will come with multiple sizes of both, straight and Philips head types as a minimum. Sets with TORX or multi-tip type screwdriver handles are handy too. The Screwdriver Buying Guide can help to make sense of all the types of screwdrivers out there.
- Drill – Features to look for would be a 3/8” keyless chuck with a variable speed motor. Cordless or corded is fine.
- Drill Bits – a small basic drill index with at least a hand full of sizes that range form 1/8” up to 3/8” is good along with some magnetic bits for driving various fasteners.
- Hammer – Look for a smooth faced hammer with a straight claw and a head that weights around 16 ounces. Check out our Hammer Buying Guide to take the guesswork out the different types that are available.
- Pry Bar – A smaller sized trim pry bar will work well for most folks. Having a pry bar will help to save your screwdrivers which should not be used for prying.
- Adjustable Wrench – Definitely one of those handy to have items for when you can put your finger on what size the fastener head is.
- Wrench Set – This is the type of item that not everyone will need right away but many will benefit from having. Look for both a set of metric and standard (SAE) wrenches. See our Wrench Buying Guide for more insight into these.
- Wire Cutting Pliers – These should be sturdy feeling in your hand and are useful for cutting wires, rope, cord and things craft projects.
- Needle Nose Pliers – These are the ones you use to reach in a tight place to tighten something or use for bending some wire.
- Locking Jaw Pliers – These are often a last resort type of tool for when a fastener’s head gets so messed up that a wrench or a screwdriver will not grip it anymore.
- Allen Wrenches – Though not used very much, they are one of those tools that can’t be substituted by any other. We like the folding style sets where they are all attached to a single handle so you can’t loose them.
- Caulk Gun – Everyone has a sink, bathtub or a window that will need to be caulked at some point so you might as well get one of these now and have it handy. The lowest cost versions of these will work just fine.
- Clamps – These come in very helpful when fixing a broken toy or piece of furniture. Clamps help to hold things together until the glue dries or the fasteners in place. There is a wide variety of types and styles available, but we feel the most versatile are the 12” Quick Grips made by Irwin tools.
- Paint Brushes – Good to have for touchups and projects. We suggest at least one high-quality 3 inch brush along with a variety of smaller sized disposable chip brushes.
- Chisels – Look for a 3/4” wood chisel which can be use for things like adjusting the strike plate location on a door to removing old caulk.
- Putty Knife – Handy for spreading fillers and for removing loose paint.
- Sanding Block – A rubber 1/4 sheet sanding block is the most convenient size to keep around.
These are the things that you will find helpful to have around and will use up.
- Easy Anchors – Pick up a variety pack that will allow you to hang and attach things to a wall with extreme ease and holding power.
- Nails and Screws – Small kits are often sold that house various fasteners in different lengths and sizes in a convenient plastic case.
- Duct Tape – From what we have seen, this stuff can temporally fix almost everything. Like holding the bumper on your car after a fender bender to fixing a broken chair back.
- Masking Tape – Good for paint so you keep a nice straight line, but also used for a host of other things around the house.
- Electrical Tape – Not used as much, this tape is usually black in color, waterproof and works well to insulate exposed wires like on your vacuum cleaner cord after you have sucked it up a few times and pulled it back out.
- Caulk – There are two types of caulk to keep on hand, one is painters or Alex caulk which is good for fixing cracks in trim and drywall. The other is a silicone base caulk for your sinks, tubs or windows. All caulks are labeled for their use.
- Sand Paper – Get a variety pack that has rough, medium and fine grids because you will never know what you might need to sand.
- Clean rags – Good for clean up, applying stain, protecting surfaces and detailing your car.
While this list is not necessarily exclusive of what you need, it will definitely get you on a good start to where you will be able to tackle most simple and even some more complicate home projects. Half the battle to doing things is often having the tools to do them. For some of the bigger tools, rather then buying them right off, you can start by borrowing or renting them so that you get a feel for what you like and that way you don’t have to break the bank in the process.