Looking to start a simple home toolkit
December 29, 2012 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Looking to buy a toolbox with essential tools

I'm not a handy man, but often engage in simple around the house fixes. Most recently tightening a hex bolt for my shower head, installing a Dyson vac wall mount, shelves, and putting together a home theater stand.

I've purchased several 5$0 "tool kits" in plastic suit cases in the past and the quality of the tools was garbage. On top of that, fitment of tools into the suit case is hit or miss and they typically fall out when I open it. Annoying.

I want to start over and buy essentials piece by piece over time - hoping for quality over quantity.

My father recently gave me cordless Dewalt Drill, and a Black and Decker Rotary Tool w/ accessories. I'd like to build around that.

Here are my basic needs/questions:

1) I want a "tool box" (not a bag) thats large enough to hold the drills/charges/tools on the bottom. I was looking at this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003GSL6I8/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_2?ie=UTF8&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

2) Need a way to store small accessories/bits/screws/anchors/etc.

3) While looking at screwdrivers, I ran into this kit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000MF754W/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_1?ie=UTF8&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER which looks good (For the price). Does this look worthy?

4) The Dewalt that my father gave me does not have any bits. I was looking at this kit: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004SL30RC/ref=oh_details_o01_s02_i00

5) What tools in your opinion are must haves? I'd prefer sets to have their own enclosures so that pieces do not get lost.

Any advice (and Amazon links) would be great!
posted by Highest_Of_Fives to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What I always wind up using:

1. A hammer
2. Screwdrivers (Philips head and flat head)
3. Set of allen wrenches
4. Crescent wrench (adjustable)
5. Pliers (flat and needle-nosed)
6. Snips (wire, also a pair of scissors, wire strippers included)
7. Utility knife
posted by xingcat at 5:14 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

3) While looking at screwdrivers,

I bought that one on a whim. It's a piece of crap.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 5:18 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the allen wrench sets. I bought a couple of these from Sears a few years ago and they're invaluable for tightening up furniture long after you've lost the little allen wrench that came with the kits.

Xingcat's list is a good one. If you're at all interested in opening up recent electronics (say, to upgrade an older Mac or somesuch), you'll want to take a look at some of the toolsets specifically for such things, thanks to all of the bizarro fasteners that are in use today.
posted by jquinby at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2012

Must haves not already mentioned:
- Vice grips
- Level
- Measuring tape
- Square
- Plumb bob (but you can just make this with string and a little weight)
posted by illenion at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2012

The best hand tools are produced by MAC (a division of stanley/proto tools) or Snap-on for hand tools/automotive tools and Festool for electric. They are also really, really expensive. For general household use (not really renovation but just basic maintenance) stanley and craftsmen are good ones to go with for hand tools. For electric dewalt, skil, ridgid, and so on are good. Anything from harbor freight or ryobi is not so good(there are exceptions to all this). Buy Fine Homebuilding/Tauntons press tool guide and you won't go wrong.

Here is the tool box i would recommend.

Don't buy tools from a kit, they will always be crap (except for things like a socket set)

Basics from craftsmen (both my local hardware store and sears sells craftsmen):
in addition to xingcat's list I would add the following

8 and 16 oz ball peen hammer
set of metric and standard racheting combo wrenches (open end on one side and box ratcheting on the other)
a 3/8 drive ratchet with a set of both metric and standard deep sockets and 4" and 8" extension
a large and small pry bar with the kinks and ends for pulling nails (much better than a hammer)
A large and small channel lock adjustable pliers
a large crescent wrench
a 1/2" chisel
one of those tools that you can put next to a live wire and it will beep when it is live
one of the tools you plug in an electric socket and it lights up to show you if the wiring is right
a couple of good led flashlights with magnets on them

I just pick up Dewalt screwdriver and drill bits in kits and plan on replacing them as needed. They are wear items, get lost and so on.
posted by bartonlong at 5:30 PM on December 29, 2012

For #2, I have two small sets of drawers - similar to this. Whenever I have leftover pieces or whatever, I chuck them into a drawer.

I agree with xingcat's list of tools. I would add a rubber mallet. I also have a bunch of ratchet wrenches, which I find handy and because I like the noise they make. They're not essential, just easier for certain situations.

Everything else is a "buy when needed." You've hit upon one of the great truths of tools - if you're buying a bunch of otherwise unrelated tools, they're probably not that great.
posted by neilbert at 5:31 PM on December 29, 2012

A claw hammer and a copy of The Art of Fixing Things.
posted by drezdn at 5:37 PM on December 29, 2012

I like xingcat's list; the Klein Tools 11-in-1 driver goes a long way for home repair duty. There's also a ratcheting version.
posted by holgate at 5:40 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the best approach right now, if it is possible, is to get off Amazon and go to a giant hardware store, where you can pick up and examine a wide range of tool boxes and tools spanning a wide price range. Especially the toolbox - it's hard to judge if you like it from pictures.
It sounds like you're in the USA - there are big box stores (Lowes, Home Depo, Ace) that have a wide selection of good tools and good prices, and you can just browse. (There is also Harbor Freight Tools, which has lower prices but often not the same quality - however I think cheap tools are useful for a few specialized things that you won't need very often but still benefit from having available now and then)

Also, you might be interested in Cool Tools.
It's about highlighting time-tested tools that are really good. Some of it may be stuff that falls on the wrong side of walk-before-you-can-run, but everything now and then you'll probably have a moment of "There's a tool for that?! WHY DID NO-ONE TELL ME!!?" :-)
posted by anonymisc at 5:53 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

xingcat has a great starter list.

I'd only add three more items, and leave the rest as neilbert says "buy when needed" -

Electrical Sniffer - Snips/strippers are on the list already. You've got a death wish if you're doing electrical work without a basic tester.

Rubber Mallet. Hammers are useful for 95% of your "I should hit this" problems. That other 5%, you'll fuck it up with a hammer.

Channel Locks or a 2nd crescent wrench. Better than half your uses for the crescent wrench will also involve holding the *other* side still too. Have fun doing that with your hand ;)
posted by ish__ at 5:53 PM on December 29, 2012

Thanks for all of the suggestions. I live in NYC and prefer to shop on Amazon/Online because the local brick and mortar's charge about double for everything. Ack...
posted by Highest_Of_Fives at 7:02 PM on December 29, 2012

xingcat has a great list and I agree with anonymisc that your best course of action is to go somewhere you can handle and examine the tools.

Here are some suggestions from common stores:
1. Hammer
I prefer wood handled ones and for most around the house work you'll want a curve claw finish hammer similar to this. This is definitely one of those things you'll want to handle before buying.
Like ish__ a soft faced hammer or mallet like this one is good for those more delicate pounding situations. I use mine a lot knocking things apart or together on my car (sometimes not even in anger.)

2. Screwdrivers
The Klien screwdriver holgate linked to would be excellent. Here's a similar one made by Ideal. I'd avoid ones that don't store all the bits in the handle or shaft (I like the shaft ones.) I feel like having to carry a case of bits around makes it no longer just a screwdriver but a more specialize tool that involves a ritual of pulling out the handle, searching through the 40 bajillion bits to find the Phillips head, picking it up, dropping it, finding it again, sticking it in the end of the handle, doing the job, removing the bit, dropping it, finding it yet again, putting the bit and handle back in the case, realizing there's another screw on the other side. Compare this to grabbing the screwdriver, is the Phillips bit out, good to go, otherwise flip the shaft and get the job done.

3 Allen wrenches (also called hex keys)
Ball ends (example) will often be your friend, but sometimes not. I'd start with sets of standard and metric ball end keys and then get regular ones if you run in to problems.

4. Wrenches (adjustable and otherwise)
A good medium size crescent wrench will take care of most nuts that you can't get with a socket set. Channel lock and slip joint pliers are good for bigger, odd shaped things. Needle nose for the small fiddly work like pulling that screwdriver bit you dropped out of the disposal. Diagonal cutters for trimming thick wires and as a last resort getting a good bite on some stubborn fastener.
This set covers what you'll use the most.

5. Snips
If you're doing any electrical work then a good pair of wire strippers is invaluable. Sure you can use the cutting blades on you needle nose pliers or a knife but it's not worth saving ten bucks. A nice pair of scissors can be had just about anywhere and the diagonal cutters above should be included in this group.

6. Utility knife
Plenty of good ones out there, but buy one that doesn't need tools to change the blade and stores extra blades in the handle.

Let's see, what else. The toolbox you linked to seemed fine, but you might want to look at something bigger so as you tool kit grows you already have space allocated for it. The screwdriver set had already been commented on. The drill accessory set that you linked to looks great and all the bits in it should fit in whatever screwdriver you end up buying. I couldn't tell from the picture but a bit holder with a sleeve will come in handy.

Just saw your comment.
It's hard to tell quality online other than knowing about the brand. Shooting for the most for the least is going to provide you with certain times when you're frustrated but don't know why. Because, being stuck with a tool that doesn't feel good in your hands or interferes with your work will make that work less satisfying and increase the likelihood of a mediocre job. Even if it is just hanging a picture.
posted by highway40 at 7:46 PM on December 29, 2012

Buy as you need tools, for projects. Cry once, rather than crying every time you use the tool. Many new homeowners or hobbyists outfit themselves in one fell swoop, and find they bought a ton of junk tools.

For the drill, buy Dewalt bits. If you're only ever dealing with soft woods and drywall, titanium is good; if you're also dealing with harder materials, or just want longer-wearing bits, pick up a cobalt bit set. You'll break, lose, or dull them over time; you can resharpen cobalt bits, but titanium tends to fail more rapidly once heat wears the coating off of them.

I'd nab a Stanley metric and imperial socket set, assuming you're building Ikea furniture (or whatever.) If you're actually working on a car, plan on Snap-On instead -- and potentially an impact-driver ready socket set, should you ever need more than hand strength for a stuck bolt. A good, sharp backsaw is nice to have, as is a good, sharp crosscut saw. A hacksaw is handy. Hammers, wrenches, vise grips, needle-nose pliers, and other basic hand tools all have their place; if you're working with wood, a great set of chisels, planes, and scrapers is worth its weight in gold.

The list goes on and on; start by identifying your project(s), and then research and acquire tools accordingly. The commodification of tools does not lead to quality results, sadly, and it's hard-to-impossible to just click a button and be ready for anything.
posted by ellF at 8:07 PM on December 29, 2012

I am just here to say go to a real store to buy tools, not Amazon. Not to sound too sassy, but perhaps the problem isn't that the stores in NYC charge too much for everything, maybe you just don't realize how much a good tool costs. (I have lived in NYC and bought plenty of tools there)

You should be able to get reasonable quality tools in a big box store for basically the same price you would get them anywhere else in the country. If you are shopping for tools at a Lowes or a Home Depot just buy the higher to mid-range tools and begin to familiarize yourself with the different professional brands for the different trades (Snap-On/Crescent for wrenches, Klein for electrical, etc.)

There is a reason that some tools are more expensive than others, they are better and they are well worth the cost. A good hand tool should easily last a lifetime, the crappy ones will last a few projects and will be a pain to use. When it comes to power tools the one important thing to know is that all these new "features" and gadgets are useless. Buy something that is built to be dropped off a ladder, not something that has a lighted tip. For the most part you can feel how well a tool is made if you hold it. It should be heavy, all the moving parts should have little slack, and it shouldn't be made in China. The metal from China will break or wear out almost immediately, honestly.

And when it comes to tool boxes, I have always preferred the metal ones with drawers. Easier to organize and use and not such a pain to dig through, although not really suited for keeping hammers and drills in. Maybe the plastic are great, I don't know, never use them, but the metal ones certainly don't break.
posted by Bengston at 8:38 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a small studio apartment and a car so I keep essentials.

Cordless drill..Awesome choice , My wishlist would be the new B&D Matrix set
3 way Level to see if things are straight/level
Get a drill bit kit.
Tape measure
Duct Tape
Flashlight (a good one- look up fenix/streamlight)
Screw drivers ( Large( Big screws) /Small (small screws..duh) /extra small/precision (eyeglass/computer) .. Philips and flat bit can get you through 90%.
- Also screw drivers can be used as a crowbar in a pinch/Tape the end if you are using it for things that can scratch( hence the duct tape)
1/4" Socket set .. immensely helpful for cars although a 10mm will go through most.
Rubber mallet instead of hammer
Crescent wrench for odd bolts/jars etc

List should get you through most things, you can buy more things as you do more projects.
Also for things that you are going to use
handful of times - Harbor freight tools
frequently - craftsman/stanley
posted by radsqd at 9:39 PM on December 29, 2012

As much as possible, you want good quality. Like these ball-tipped Allen wrenches, they last longer, and you can turn from angles.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:02 PM on December 29, 2012

The above advice is all pretty good. Can I add one more suggestion? As ellF says, above, it's a pretty good idea to just buy tools in onesies and twosies, as you need them. To that I would add: Pawnshops! It can be pretty fun to visit a series of pawnshops and paw through their stuff. The prices can be good, and you'll be recycling as well.
posted by Alaska Jack at 11:27 PM on December 29, 2012

In lieu of a took box, consider a tool bucket organizer. No, you don't get a bucket with this--just a canvas or acrylic sleeve. Buy a five-gallon bucket at your local hardware store, and fit the sleeve around this. You can even use an empty joint compound bucket in a pinch.

These aren't as permanent or sturdy as toolboxes, but they come with an advantage that can't be overlooked--due to the multiple pocket design, it's far, far easier to find a tool in comparison to scrounging around on the bottom of a tool box. Plumbers and electricians always schlepp these things around on job sites, and they're incredibly convenient for storing and schlepping tools around the house as well.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:30 AM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thank you all! Ive been reading a ton. A quick list of your suggestions:

1. A hammer
2. Screwdrivers (Philips head and flat head)
3. Set of allen wrenches (http://www.craftsman.com/craftsman-26-pc-standard-and-metric-ball-end/p-00946274000P?&prdNo=4&blockNo=4&blockType=L4 )
4. Crescent wrench (adjustable / medium)
5. Pliers (flat and needle-nosed) (http://www.lowes.com/ProductDisplay?partNumber=253677-16878-50954&langId=-1&storeId=10151&productId=1072409&catalogId=10051&cmRelshp=req&rel=nofollow&cId=PDIO1)
6. Snips (wire, also a pair of scissors, wire strippers included)
7. Utility knife
- Vice grips
- Level
- Measuring tape
- Square
8 and 16 oz ball peen hammer
set of metric and standard racheting combo wrenches (open end on one side and box ratcheting on the other)
a 3/8 drive ratchet with a set of both metric and standard deep sockets and 4" and 8" extension
a large and small pry bar with the kinks and ends for pulling nails (much better than a hammer)
A large and small channel lock adjustable pliers
a large crescent wrench
a 1/2" chisel
Dewalt bit set

bonus: The Art of Fixing Things.

I like the bucket organizer suggestion to get started. Still dont know how ill deal with small screw boxes and such. As for the tool "Box", the one suggested above is awesome but will not fit in the closet. I will keep looking! thanks again!
posted by Highest_Of_Fives at 10:22 AM on December 30, 2012

Ohh, this one looks like a good balance of both size and compartments http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009CP4FAK/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
posted by Highest_Of_Fives at 4:09 PM on December 30, 2012

I don't think you'll be needing ball peen hammers for around the house fixes. A regular claw hammer will do for most things.

You may be tempted to get one of those 25ft monster tape measures, but you'll find a small 12ft tape is easier to carry in your pocket and is plenty long for the majority of situations.

You can keep small screws and parts in an organizer(s) like this one from Stanley.
posted by orme at 5:39 PM on December 31, 2012

Thanks. I have both already. This is awesome.... Parts ordered!
posted by Highest_Of_Fives at 7:50 AM on January 1, 2013

Can't go wrong with Craftsman, and Sears sells online. McMaster-Carr also has a great website (Mcmaster.com) with many tools, and they sell Cresent-brand cresent wrenches, Channellock-brand channellocks and Visegrip-brand vicegrips.
posted by 445supermag at 7:05 PM on January 1, 2013

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