Indispensable Tools for Your Basic Tool Kit [Slideshow]

Owning the right basic tools makes life easier, whether it’s having the right screwdriver to assemble new furniture, a wrench to tighten faucets and training wheels or a hammer that will last a lifetime. Here’s a look at what you should have in your basic tool set to help you tackle virtually any home improvement project.

At the least, homeowners should have a hammer, a tape measure, a screw driver and wrench. “If you have those, you can accomplish almost anything,” Charlotte Gooding, Home Depot’s senior merchant for hand tools, storage and automotive, says.

  • Hammer: A lightweight, 16- to-20-ounce traditional finishing hammer. The handle can be wood or fiberglass, depending on personal preference.
  • Wrench: An 8-inch adjustable wrench, also called a crescent wrench, lets you adjust almost anything.
  • Screw drivers: A 10- to-14-piece screw driver set that includes both slotted and Phillips heads is invaluable. In addition, a precision screwdriver set is helpful for smaller projects, such as adjusting tiny set screws on towel racks and eyeglasses. Magnetized tips help you hold the screws.
  • Tape measure: “The most popular size is 25 feet,” Gooding says. “The Stanley Powerlock, made in America, is iconic.” With rigidity to 7 feet and positive locking, it’s both practical and user-friendly.

Starter Tool kits

Basic tools kits are a great way to save money and begin to invest in a tool collection. “Kits are comprised of the most-needed tools in the most popular sizes,” Gooding says. They generally cost less than buying the same tools separately. “For entry-level tools, private-label tool sets are a good investment,” Gooding says.

Multi-tools are another option. “These combine multiple layers of functionality in one device, so you don’t have to carry as many,” Gooding explains. Examples include the Leatherman 13-Tool REV Multipurpose Tool, the Crescent adjustable pass-through wrench set, the Milwaukee 6-in-1 diagonal cutters and the Crescent Flip-and-Grip Wrench-Multi-tool.


“As people gain more experience, they may have specific requirements for certain projects and will look for individual tools to expand their toolbox,” Gooding says. Worthwhile additions include:

  • Pliers. Slip-joint, needle-nosed and lineman’s pliers are among the most common. They are handy for gripping, bending or compressing objects and cutting and twisting wire. Homeowners may use them when mounting pictures and in many other household projects.
  • Cordless drill. “You can do the job with a fixed or ratcheting screwdriver, but a cordless drill makes repetitive tasks much faster,” Gooding says.
  • Allen wrench. Also called a hex key, this fits hexagonal bolts and screws and is useful when assembling manufactured furniture.
  • Level. Horizontal bubble levels are the most common. Use one to ensure your towel racks or picture hooks are perfectly aligned.
  • Utility knife. Also called a box cutter, this is easier to grip than a kitchen knife or scissors when opening packages and breaking down cardboard for recycling. Utility knives come in a variety of colors to make finding them easier on a cluttered workbench or job site.

How Can You Recognize Quality Tools?

“It’s particularly important to invest in high-quality mechanics tools, like ratchets and ratchet wrenches, which perform under extreme stress,” Gooding says.

“In hand tools, the ‘forged steel’ mark is one of the key indicators of quality,” she explains. This means the tool is made of a single piece of steel. Forged steel has the strength to withstand the high torque exerted by wrenches, making them last longer. That’s true for hammers, too. Steel shafts are more durable than fiberglass.

Lifetime warranties also indicate better tools. Many competing brands offer warranties of one to five years.

For power tools, look for a good lithium ion battery platform, so batteries can be swapped among a variety of tools. “This is extremely important if you’re using them every day in high-intensity situations,” Gooding says.

Owning a basic tool set and adding to it as you take on larger projects is a good investment. Having the tools you need when you need them is invaluable in maintaining and improving your home in big ways and small.

Now that you know the best tools to own in a basic tool kit, put them to use with a home improvement project. Check out this list of 10 home improvement projects that can add value to your home.