What constitutes a basic household/woodworking toolkit?
June 15, 2014 9:12 PM   Subscribe

What would you include in a basic, well-made set of tools for household projects? I often find myself building wacky small construction projects. Things like shelves, doghouses, stands, simple woodwoorking / home-improvement tasks.

I'm a renter in my 20s, and over the years I've accumulated a few simple things: a drill, basic screwdriver/toolkit from walmart, a jigsaw. A few random boxes of nails and screws with no thought to size or purpose. The toolbox is poorly made, so it's filled with a random pile of all the tools, nails, and drill bits.

So I'm looking for something well-made, perhaps with a budget of $500 or so; the kinds of tools that won't break because they were cheaply made, but not necessarily overly expensive, either. And also, a basic set of screws and nails to keep around for when you need to hang pictures and construct stands.
posted by mcav to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Of all the random screwdrivers I have I think this wiha set is probably the best.

This Estwing hammer is awesome.

For a good cordless drill I'd get one of these 12 volt dewalt combo things, not because the impact driver is particularly useful but because the set is the same price as the drill on its own.

Bosch jigsaws are the best of the bunch.
posted by foodgeek at 9:34 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm yearning a router! It's the one tool I really really miss having.
posted by jbenben at 9:40 PM on June 15, 2014

I am a big fan of buying what you need as you need it, and buying good quality. So don't go buying a bunch of random tools, but buy exactly what you need to make this week's project, and then do the same thing next week. So don't use your screwdriver as a chisel, go buy some nice chisels. Or if you really need a good circular saw, don't half-ass it with the jigsaw.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:56 PM on June 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Get a finish nailer and a compressor. Super, super useful for doing those trim and other jobs that are so hard to get into place. Best tool purchase I have ever made in terms of ease of use and project impact. I don't hardly ever use a hammer anymore for driving nails.

A good cordless screwdriver. Any name brand 18v is going to be pretty decent. Porter Cable and dewalt are usually top rated.

Get a copy of Taunton publishing's tool guide. All their books are good, but the tool guide is really useful when trying to figure out what features you need and which products are the best.

A decent set of chisels (a 1/4 and 1/2 and a 3/4 will cover most jobs). I have been fairly happy with stanley chisels from the hardware store. They aren't the best but for their price they are a good buy and make sure you buy a water stone to keep them sharp. This is the MOST important part of a chisel-not the brand or steel but how sharp you keep it.

A set of craftsmen racheting wrenches. Really useful for all kinds of things.

A good set of screwdrivers (craftsmen is usually a good standard for home owner tools, you can buy better but for non professional use you don't really need to).

and the rest when you need them for the project you need as you need them.
posted by bartonlong at 10:03 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about or looked into the possibility of tool lending organizations in the Bay area? I recall reading about libraries that had tools that could be checked out. That might give you a chance to get the feel of different kinds and sizes of the common tools.

After conceiving what you want to make you have to determine the steps and methods necessary to build it. There are four processes in building things; measure, mark, cut and join. It's also necessary to hold the pieces while doing those things and a square to make sure the pieces are aligned. For your tool kit, basic or otherwise, you will eventually want to have good quality tools to allow you to perform all of those processes.

There have been a number of similar AskMeFi here and if you do a little searching you'll find some really good advice about specific tools. Stick with the very basic tools until you are sure that you need more. One of your first projects should be building your own tool box. That's a great way to learn the basic processes. Finding free, detailed, tool kit plans that you can download should be no problem for you. Don't obsess about the appearance of your first projects. Learn to do the processes well by practicing.
posted by X4ster at 10:04 PM on June 15, 2014

I disagree; I'm not sure how I lived before I got a Dewalt impact driver. And it's nice to have both so you can drill pilot holes and drive screws without having to switch bits.

A pocket hole jig. Having used Kreg and non-Kreg... shell out the extra cash for the Kreg.

A power sander. I lived for a long time with just a Black and Decker mouse, but now I have a random orbit and a finish sander and I rarely use the mouse.

A Dremel. And an oscillating multitool (like a Dremel Multi-Max), which could also serve as your sander.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:09 PM on June 15, 2014

I would say for that amount of money, don't get a cordless drill, the consumer ones are all gutless, you have to spend proper money to get a tradesman's one that will be satisfying. Far better value in a corded drill. And really, I don't give a rats about a nice hammer, any old one will do.

A small compressor is really quite useful to power a nailgun, a bradder, a stapler, as well as inflating all balls and tyres and blowing out dirty things.

I really like my planer (a Bosch). I agree with Dip Flash's general approach, buy quality, once, and when you need it.
posted by wilful at 10:48 PM on June 15, 2014

Clamps various sizes, C versions and speed clamps. Straight edge of good size. Basic carpentry book, used book store version, the more drawings and pictures the better.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:39 PM on June 15, 2014

My vote is for Dip Flash's approach as well. "Woodworking" is just too broad to be able to outfit yourself for it all at once, even if you had a lot more than $500 to spend. That said, there are a handful of tools you'll use all the time.

Grab a good tape measure. The last time I bought one it was Komelon brand from either Lowes or Home Depot. The tape is 12' long, which is long enough for sizable carpentry projects but rolls up into a small-enough case to fit comfortably in a pocket. The tape is 5/8" wide, which is rigid enough to support its own weight when extended several feet horizontally, which is great when you're working alone. I liked the locking mechanism, which prevents the tape from retracting when I don't want it to. And it was cheap.

You'll need a square. Get one of these.

Bar clamps. At least 2 to start, preferably more. Jorgenson "Pony" clamps dominate the market, with small Bessey clamps a distant second. Both are good. They work differently, so personal preference matters. It will be tempting to get very long versions with the idea that the long bar will make them more versatile, but a 6" capacity will do 90% of the time, so get some short ones because having a 24" bar will usually be an awkward PITA. It's nice to have one or two of those one-handed quick-grip type clamps around, but they're relatively expensive and don't grip tightly enough for many tasks so I wouldn't make it a priority.

A utility knife. Not a snap-off blade type, and not one of the cute smaller models but one that takes standard-sized utility knife blades. Folding or retracting doesn't really matter but get one that makes changing the blade easy, because you'll have to do it frequently.

You'll want a good drill / driver, for example, and a good rechargeable version has significant advantages over corded types -- keyless chucks, adjustable clutches, 2-speed transmissions and good electronic speed control are all fairly standard on good quality drills, and you don't really need the big 14 or 18-volt models unless you're drilling large holes or driving lag screws all the time. I use a 9.6 volt Bosch that cost me $99 about 10 years ago, and I've used it extensively in professional woodworking environments. Other woodworking pros have borrowed it and commented on how light and comfortable it is, and that despite the fact that it's an old ni-cad powered model. The newer lithium ion models make it look like a dinosaur. But wilful is right in a sense: don't buy some craptastic $40 homeowner model just to get cordless. Buy quality or don't buy at all. Get a small set of twist drills (1/16" through 1/4") and a set of spade bits for larger holes, along with a magnetic screwdriver bit holder and a selection of bits. A Kreg pocket-hole jig to go with it is nice but rather specialized; I'd wait on that until you need it.

You'll want a nail hammer. Not a teeny little tack hammer, and not a big framing hammer with a checkered face but a nice general-purpose hammer. The Estwings mentioned somewhere above are lovely, but there are others that will work very well for half the price. I have a wooden-handled Craftsman that feels good in the hand. After several years of commercial use I managed to break the handle off and Sears gave me a new hammer. Wherever you shop, pay close attention to the balance and ergonomics; there are some really poorly designed hammers on the market. The handle's shape should be simple so that you can hold it in a variety of ways, not some complicated eyecatching monstrosity that's designed for only one grip. Pick up a couple of nailsets along with it so you can set finishing nails flush or below the surface of the work. If you find yourself contemplating a project that involves hundreds of finishing nails, that's the time to consider a compressor and air nailer.

Saws are trickier to suggest, because they tend to be a little more specialized to the task. Depending on what you're doing, you might want a circular saw, a jigsaw, or a chop/miter saw. There are various types of handsaws that can do the job more cheaply, but they take more practice to use and are just as specialized. Buy the saw you need for the project you're about to do.

Get a chisel or two if you like, but here's the thing about chisels: They are dull when you get them, and they tend to get even duller quite quickly. Unless you plan to get a bench grinder and some sharpening stones and learn to use them (a significant extra expense and learning curve), fine edge tools like chisels and planes will be only marginally useful.

Routers are cool, but you don't need one at this point.
posted by jon1270 at 4:18 AM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Bosch jigsaw mentioned above can do the work of a circular saw or a chop/miter saw in my opinion, especially if you're not doing a lot of cutting. It will cut through 2x lumber like it's cutting butter. That along with a drill and a sander are the basic power tools you need for routine home projects.
posted by mareli at 5:18 AM on June 16, 2014

mcav , You identify yourself as a 20 year old renter. How much space do you have to dedicate to tools and how much work space? What are you going to be building? Re-thinking my response to your question this morning as I walk into my home workshop I look around and consider how many and what kinds of tools would best fill your needs for a "basic" tool kit.

The air compressor is in a shelter next to the door where I can kick it on as I go by. Do you have room or a real need for a compressor?

Inside on the right behind the door is a storage rack with small parts drawer bins. It's 18" deep, 36" wide and 5' high. There are thirty-six, 18" long, bin drawers with dividers which are full of screws, nails, bolts & nuts and other stuff. No matter how many different kinds and sizes are in there I still find that I have to go to the hardware store for a couple more or a different size. I'd suggest that you just plan on buying nails, screws or other fasteners as you need them for your specific project. They're cheap so just buy extras and build your inventory as you go.

Front and center on the pegboard above my primary work bench are measuring tools; 4 tape measures, 3 steel rulers, a vernier caliper and a 12" combination square. Below them is a cup in which there are a couple lumber pencils, some standard pencils, a metal scribe, an aluminum scribe and a soapstone for marking steel. The felt tip markers are red, green, black and silver - because a black pencil line is hard to see on walnut and other dark woods. The drawer to the right holds more measuring and marking tools; digital and otherwise. A good 10' or 12' tape measure along with a 12" combination square should be fine for your needs. I like the tape measures that you can read either right or left measuring.

The single tool that I use most frequently sits on my workbench. It's the cordless drill/driver. As said above - look for deals and buy good quality tools. The best brands are Makita, Bosch, Hitachi and DeWalt IMHO. DeWalt seems to be phasing out their 18V cordless tools as the 20V tools supersede them. That means that there should be bargains out there. A good cordless drill paired with a matching cordless saw will carry you through an awful lot of projects. Agreeing with what was said above - Bosch markets the best of the jig saws, other brands are pretty good. I like the convenience of the cordless circular saw. Getting straight cuts with it requires clamping your work down and clamping a good straight edge to it. A four foot aluminum drywall square works great. Also learn how to square up your drill so you get good straight holes to put things together.

A couple of fold up or knock down saw horses are worthwhile for layout and assembly of projects Stanley makes some good ones. Watch Craigslist for folding tables that can be used as a workbench. With good planning, an adequate number of clamps and appropriate adhesives you can build a lot of stuff.
posted by X4ster at 8:38 AM on June 16, 2014

Jig saws are great for fine work and cutting curves. For the detail carpenter and furniture maker, they are essential. They are not a great choice for cutting straight lines in plywood or rapid, precise cuts. A manual jig saw can be even more precise, and do more delicate work.

Circular saws are tools for cutting long straight lines, which is useful for breaking down sheet goods. They can also be used free-hand, and thus make a good saw to bring to the work, rather than taking wook to a bench. As such they are the saw of choice for general construction. Circular saws can be challenging to make very precise cuts with though. The manual version is actually two saws: the cross-cut and rip full-length hand saws. For small jobs, a manual saw can be almost as fast as a circular saw.

Mitre cross-cut saws make very precise cuts for a large number of repetitions on long, thin stock. They are excellent tools for finish carpentry, wood or engineered flooring; baseboards, mouldings and casings. They are less useful for general carpentry tasks, and less mobile than either a jigsaw or a circular saw. You bring work to a mitre saw. The manual version is a box or hand mitre saw. These are great for furniture, but you really want a power tool for finish construction.

More specialized saws include: the reciprocating saw ("Sawzall"), an essential tool for demolition, but not much use for other kinds of work; a table saw, which can do many of the things a circular saw can do, but more accurately and more quickly, but is less flexible and much more expensive---this is a shop tool.

Hand saws are generally cheaper than their power equivalents and are useful to have as a supplement to a power tool. A good set of saws, even just a combination (hybrid rip/cross-cut) and a drywall saw (a reciprocating saw blade in a handle) will go a long way. If you find you need to make a lot of a particular kind of cut, putting down flooring, or making a deck, for example, upgrade to the power versions.

For saws in particular, I'm still skeptical of the battery versions. A good circular saw draws a lot of power, and I'm not sure a battery could go all day. A battery jigsaw and reciprocating saws also might work, but as light duty tools. Cordless works great for drills and drivers, but I'm still not convinced it's good enough (and light enough) for saws.
posted by bonehead at 9:14 AM on June 16, 2014

Out of all the tools I use, clamps are involved in almost every project. They are like an extra set of hands. I've got huge 4 foot long bar clamps, I've got a really nice set of 1' ratcheting clamps that you can operate with one hand, a slew of those crappy metal spring ones with the rubber coating on the ends, and even some tiny metal ones on an iron base with a magnifying glass mounted to it. Repairing drawers, building little tables, just holding things down while I cut/drill/sand it, even soldering. Clamps clamps clamps.
posted by Big_B at 4:18 PM on June 16, 2014

Oh man saws, I didn't even think about em at first but I love my Shark hand saws.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:01 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's nothing like a great toolbox saw. I have some really nice hand saws and power saws (most of those types I listed above), but my favourite utility saw is this pull saw designed by Japanese plumbers. Aggressive tooth, narrow kerf, cuts on the draw, the perfect size to fit in a toolbox, cheap to replace if I damage or dull it. I've had something like this in my tool kit now for two decades and they've been great problem solvers for me over the years.
posted by bonehead at 9:23 AM on June 18, 2014

If you're in SF, go to a coworking space instead of buying tools.
posted by sninctown at 6:45 AM on May 3, 2015

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