Toolbox Know-How: Basics and Beyond

Outfit your kit and be prepared for life’s inevitable DIY tasks.

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A well-equipped toolbox is essential. From hanging artwork to assembling IKEA furniture to building custom shelving, it seems there’s always a do-it-yourself project to tackle. And while each job may require its own set of speciality tools, there are some universal necessities.

No matter if you’re a first-timer or an experienced DIY’er, here are my recommendations for your kit, plus a few considerations for when you’re making a purchase. The list is divided into three categories – basics, the must-have items; better, the make-your-life-easier items; and bonus, the take-it-from-me-you-need-them items.

BASICS

1a. Hammer: Look for a medium-weight hammer (16-20 ounces) with a rip claw and a steel or fiberglass handle. My pick is the Stanley 51-163 16-Ounce FatMax Xtreme AntiVibe Rip Claw Nailing Hammer.

2a. Screwdrivers: For a basic toolkit, standard flathead and phillips head screwdrivers will do. This set of rugged flat head screwdrivers are reminiscent of tools used in the US Army over 20 years ago. Or you can opt for an all-in-one six-way screwdriver.

3a. Toolbox: For around the house, a basic tool box does the trick like this one from Lowe’s that has a vintaged-inspired design. For a sturdier mobile option, try this one, which has a stackable modular design, allowing you to add units for additional storage.

4a. Utility knife: Choose one with a good grip and safety features, such as an auto-lock slider and a blade-securing swivel lock. Remember to keep extra blades handy so that you’re always working with a sharp edge.

5a. Measuring tape: With a 25-feet metal tape blade, rubber non-slip grip and smooth recoil, the FatMax is a go-to option, in my opinion.

6a. Cordless drill: Higher voltage means more torque, but more power means a heavier tool. I recommend a 12-volt variable-speed drill with an adjustable clutch, which will allow you to drill through a variety of materials, and a keyless chuck for quick-and-easy bit changes (find more shopping info here). The Ryobi HJP004 has all of these features, weighs three pounds, and costs $50 – it’s a great option for the hobbyist. The Milwaukee M-12 is more expensive at $99, but weighs only two pounds, boasts a longer battery-life and is top-rated by professionals.

7a. Scissors: Utility snips or shears: Scrap the craft scissors and opt for a heavy-duty, multipurpose tool that can cut through cardboard, rope and even light wire.

8a. Level: Buy one that’s at least nine inches long and magnetic, with 45-, 90- and 180-degree bubbles.

9a.Picture-hanging kit: Personally, I look for kits that include D-rings, which I use for hanging large art and mirrors. Sawtooth hangers are ideal for smaller, lightweight pieces.

10a. Screws and nails: Pick up some all-purpose packs of screws and nails. A bonus when buying packs is the included plastic case with dividers, which you can reuse once empty.

BETTER

1b. Adjustable wrench and socket wrench set: The socket wrench allows you to tighten nuts and bolts without having to refit the wrench after each turn. A definite time-saver.

2b. Hex keys, also known as Allen wrenches: If you’ve ever assembled IKEA furniture, you know hex keys in multiple sizes are handy tools to have.

3b. Long-nose pliers: These are perfect for bending or cutting wire, gripping hardware and working in narrow places.

4b. Stud finder: It’s even better than Tinder – this device will detect wood and metal studs and also locate edges and live electrical wires, which aids in hazard-avoidance.

BONUS

1c. Waist Apron, aka Nail Apron: Keep the tools needed for your current project close by. It will save you from digging through your toolbox every five minutes for screws. I love this Carharrt Men’s Duck Nail Apron and its colorful counterpart for women, but I might need to splurge on this handmade Denim Waist Apron w/Leather from Tenden.

2c. Tapes: Scotch, painter’s, gaff, duct, electrical, masking and mailing – they’re all handy. If I had to pick three, I’d go with painter’s, gaff, and duct.

3c. Guns: Not firearms, but rather a staple gun and a glue gun. They are vital for securing materials like wood, felt, leather and plastic for construction projects and crafts alike.

4c. Flashlight and/or headlamp: I prefer a headlamp for the hands-free approach when working in dark or dimly-lit areas, but a flashlight is convenient when you’re searching around in cabinets or taking a look under the car hood.

5c. Floral wire: Not just for flowers, floral wire is especially useful when you need to secure an item with something less pliable than twine or rope.

6c. Lighter: Whether you’re starting a fire or lighting candles, it’s nice to have a multipurpose lighter available.