Starter Toolkit as a Gift?
December 2, 2016 9:17 AM   Subscribe

My sweetie recently moved into her own apartment after living with her parents for a while (screw you, Great Recession!). As part of the coming holidays, I’d like to gift her a starter tool-kit that supports both basic maintenance and our geeky building-stuff-together hobbies. It's been close to twenty years since I bought a starter toolkit, so I’m a bit overwhelmed by choice. Hope me?

She was raised in a not-very-handy family, but is intelligent and curious and enjoys figuring stuff out and building things together. She’s mentioned that she feels better when she doesn’t have to rely on me alone as the Giver of Information and Equipment, so I've been introducing her to other people in our local hobbyist communities and showing her all the resources I'm aware of online. I’d like to gift her something that’ll get her started building her own self-sufficient library of gear for both around-the-home maintenance/furniture assembly/etc and also DIY stuff.

I figure the basics include things like: A claw hammer, a driver set (philips/straight/hex), some pliers, some diagonal cutters, wire strippers, probably a set of jewelers’ screwdrivers. Some clamps. A utility knife, a measuring tape, maybe a basic soldering iron, and a box/bag to store everything in. Boxes/bags with good organizational features highly desired. Storage with extra capacity also appreciated, since I imagine this is a beginning and not and endpoint.

I don't want to duplicate too much highly-specialized gear -- I'd love to support her in finding her personal interests in this space and getting the equipment she needs for that, whatever it ends up being! It'll likely be different from my focus, (small electronics and engineering/metalwork/etc, particularly for RC models and art-y installations). I figure the basics are a good thing to have for anybody, though! (But what are the basics? Ha, I'm too far in my own world to necessarily be a good judge of that).

Suggestions for brands? A lot of my stuff is no-name/off-brand/Horrible Freight, but I’d like to go straight to “this is likely to last for a while” with this gift. For electronics tools I know Excelite is at least reasonable, and Craftsman is the go-to for bigger hand tools that aren’t Snap-On, but beyond that I’ve sorta muddled through.

Pink tools-marketed-for-women are explicitly NOT what I’m looking for — I’m looking to come up with a gift that respects her skills and curiosity and initiative, not condescends to her.
posted by Alterscape to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I didn't know I needed in my life until I got one was a Kreg pocket hole jig kit. I love it so.

I think my tool boxes are Husky and they've held up pretty well, but I don't punish them too badly. They mainly live in my garage. I recently purchased this thing and it's pretty grand.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:32 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Absolutely every basic tool kit is improved with a set of Vise-Grips.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:34 AM on December 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My big ones other than what you've said:
-Allen Key
-Small hacksaw

Id also consider a vice, although that might be a bit much for a starter kit.

Most of my tools are Stanley and they work very well after several years service.
posted by threetwentytwo at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: Rather than a vice, maybe some nice bar clamps? (not the squeezy clamps, they suck.)

I'm a very very beginning type of "I grew up knowing nothing about building anything" trying to learn how to build stuff and my game was immediately upped by bar clamps, jigs, and a miter saw.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:38 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A nice Sugru variety pack.
Tapes: packing, electrical, duct, painter's, plumbing
posted by Room 641-A at 9:48 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think it will be hard to find a prefab set that includes all of those things, particularly the soldering iron.

I bought this basic home maintenance set about two years ago, which is now unavailable, but this one is very similar. I can't even tell you how many times I've used it.

I highly highly recommend including a drill as well, I have this one. The time required for putting together Ikea furniture is literally reduced by two-thirds, it allows you to hang very heavy things on walls, put up shelves, etc.

(Also, let her know that for almost any home maintenance thing you can imagine, there are dozens of youtube videos explaining exactly how to do it! I successfully fixed a busted pipe seal, disassembled and reassembled the inside of my dishwasher, and hung toggle bolts from my ceiling to support a massive hanging thing, all with exactly zero experience.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: Wrenches, yes, and a nice socket set.. Add in a good driver and a big collection bits, and you've got something that should cover 80% or more of your general needs.
posted by k5.user at 10:00 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: It'll likely be different from my focus, (small electronics and engineering/metalwork/etc, particularly for RC models and art-y installations). I figure the basics are a good thing to have for anybody, though! (But what are the basics? Ha, I'm too far in my own world to necessarily be a good judge of that).

I would consider wire strippers, jewelers’ screwdrivers, and soldering irons to be 'not the basics' - imo those are more advanced tools than a total beginner would really need. Those are the sorts of things she could borrow from other people if she wants to try them out, and then buy her own (or have them gifted to her) if she winds up wanting them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: I agree with DirtyOldTown, start with a pair of Vice-Grips.

Klein is a good source of electrician's tools. For a beginning toolkit, I'd replace the diagonal pliers with something like this: Klein 8" side-cutting long-nose pliers

I'd also go for a pair of tongue & groove pliers, aka pump pliers, aka Channellocks. I see that Channellock still makes them. Probably 10" to start.

A simple miter box is very handy. This one is plastic, which I don't like much, but it does have the nice feature that the front face drops below the bottom of the box: this makes it serve as a bench hook, which stabilizes it in use. Of course you need a saw to go with it. If I were only buying one saw I'd probably get something like this toolbox saw: it's small enough to feel comfortable working with the miter box, but as it doesn't have a back it can also be used for the occasional cut through bigger lumber.

I would probably also add an adjustable wrench or two, but unfortunately I don't know one to recommend: my Diamalloy is no longer in production.
posted by mr vino at 10:05 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a similar kit from my dad when I moved out, meant for home maintenance more than hobby stuff, though my hobbies have certainly expanded it. My basic kit was a lot like yours, with the addition of two adjustable wrenches.

I added vise grips later, an Allan wrench set. In addition to a util knife, I added a paint scraper (aka everything scraper) of the kind which takes replaceable razor blades-- it's often more handy than the utility knife. I don't have it in front of me and I'm not sure of the brand, but I have a Stanley (or similar) saw handle which can hold a hacksaw blade as well as a basic tree saw blade.

For bags, I just shop Amazon. I think my toolbags are all Husky stuff, which is chinese and good-enough quality. They don't see much abuse at all, so I can't tell you how much they can take.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:06 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: This Craftsman auto-loading screwdriver is just awesome; it stores 6 bits internally, and swapping them around takes 2 seconds with the bits never being removed from the driver so they don't get lost. The bits themselves are standard 1/4" bits so they can be replaced as they wear out or exchanged for specialty bits (e.g. Torx) that you use often. I have one for work and one for home, and have given a ton away as gifts to rave reviews.
posted by contraption at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thinking about my basic tool kit, a couple suggestions I'd add more on the home repair side of things -- a level, one of those things you use to check if an outlet is live, a stud finder, a good flashlight, and maybe some basic screws, nails, and wall anchors.
posted by possibilityleft at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely Allen wrenches. Wire cutters. A level. Mine has a small power screwdriver/drill.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:14 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: A ratchet screwdriver-- maybe a full size and a short one for tight spaces.

A corded drill and drill bits.

Absolutely vise grips.
posted by travertina at 10:20 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: Vice-Grips are the perfect tool for someone whose hobby is stripping bolts. In all seriousness, they have their uses but I cringe when people consider them to be a multi-tool.

Your basic list is a great start. In addition, every homeowner or apartment dweller should have a small spirit level, a square of some kind (combination or speed), and a cordless drill/driver with a basic set of drill and driver bits. Standard and Metric sockets and wrenches, especially if they ever have to service bikes, grills, cars, or lawn equipment.

If you really want to up her screwdriving game get her a cordless impact driver. I love my Mikata cordless tools.

Personally I prefer real screwdrivers over driver/bit sets but I understand the latter is more practical for a lot of people.

If she works on bikes, get her a few bike tools.

A rubber and plastic (one on each side) mallet has a million uses.

A set of three nail sets.

An X-Acto knife with some extra #11 and #10 blades.

Tape: Masking, duct, packing, and a roll of 3M mounting tape.

A cordless Dremel rotary tool and a basic set of assorted bits.

A drain auger and a plunger.

A set of allen wrenches, both standard and metric.

A container of assorted electrical ties. A million uses.

A bottle of rubbing alcohol and a set of brushes (soft and wire) for cleaning things.

A couple quick clamps. Not great for serious clamping but they come in handy as an extra set of hands. If she's into woodworking or stuff like that then get some nicer clamps for her.

A spool of thin bailing wire for making all sorts of projects and repairs. You can find this at Home Depot in the same aisle they have screws and nails. Comes in a roll with a little cutter on it. You can buy small sets of assorted screws and picture framing hardware there as well.

I used to really love Craftsman tools but Sears is a very sad place these days and I don't suspect their lifetime guaranty will still work when the stores are all closed. I find the stuff Home Depot sells is pretty good. Avoid Harbor Freight. Seriously. Nobody should encourage them to continue selling such crappy stuff.
posted by bondcliff at 10:24 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Clarification: I am expecting to buy a bunch of stuff individually and put it into a tool-box/bag, rather than expecting an all-in-one kit to do what I want. So answers like bondcliff's are totally in the ballpark of what I was hoping for. I just threw out a bunch of 'best answers' because they have all been super helpful, including the "dude, your 'basics' are not as basic as you think they are." Not sure why I blanked on "spirit level," for example! Please keep 'em coming!
posted by Alterscape at 10:43 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: I have used my socket set far more often than I thought I would & every time it has made the job much easier than it would have been otherwise. The little universal joint adaptor that you can fit inbetween the socket and the driver has saved my bacon on a number of occasions for a start. In the UK, the Halfords "professional" branded tools are actually pretty decent quality, not up to Snap-On levels certainly but certainly "good enough". There must be equivalent brands in the US.

A set of ratchet spanners are also worth having

I use Allen keys on a regular basis for bike maintenance, but have yet to buy decent ones with proper handles. Should probably rectify that...

Pliers definitely.
posted by pharm at 10:54 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: "Starter" soldering iron --> frustrating soldering experience --> possibly thinking "this is not for me"

Borowing your excellent soldering iron, which you show her how to use and leave _at her house_ for a predetermined amount of time with a kit which _she will find useful_ after it is done --> awesome soldering/kit experience --> possibly thinking "What else can I do?!?"

Here's the best kit. It's a kitchen timer which we have used almost every day for the past three years. It uses its battery, but it's really loud and quick and simple to use (downside: hard to read).

The vast majority of electronics kits make something useless that just sits around and takes up space, and also seems silly if you actually show it to anyone. For an adult woman, over the age of, say, 12, this is not something you're willing to spend time on.
posted by amtho at 11:19 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: 1) include a box of "mixed nails and brads" -- this is what i use every time I have to hang something, whether a calendar or a painting

2) I recommend looking at fishing tackle boxes to organize all of this -- often inexpensive, durable, and built to have some shelves and other sections to make things findable. Maybe they're too fancy these days, but worth a look.
posted by acm at 11:21 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I suggest a cordless drill. Mine's a Makita.
posted by jgirl at 11:24 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: I actually wouldn't go too far toward getting a big set of wrenches - I was gifted one and was very pleased, but until I was a homeowner I didn't really use that set at all (except the one time I tried to fix a thing in my car and it turned out my car was entirely metric) I'd go for just a pair of adjustable crescents (one small, one medium), there's unlikely to be much call for giant extra-torque situations. And unless she comes up with an interest that specifically calls for sockets, those aren't likely to get used much. I mean, include them if you want, but it could get overwhelming instead of joyful.

For apartment life, mostly it's mounting things to the walls then covering up the holes you made, so I'd go with stud-finder, anchors, level, and spackle knife.
If she needs a soldering iron, she also needs a wire stripper (this kind, not something that takes practice to use), wire snippers, and a multimeter, and possibly tiny-tip needlenose pliers.
posted by aimedwander at 11:30 AM on December 2, 2016

Best answer: My uncle gave me an old lunch box (a round-top black one, which I still have!) with a claw-hammer, tape measure, phillips and slotted screwdrivers (couple different sizes), a hand-drill/bits, and a couple of adjustable wrenches. I actually advise against vise grips - it's really to f*** things up with them! (of course, ymmv) Oh, and an ice-pick - small one, very useful for pilot holes for drilling, as a small pry-bar, etc.
I still own many of the tools, and added to it slowly over the eyars
posted by dbmcd at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2016

You might consider a long pair of tweezers (8"-10"), a magnet on a long retractable metal rod, and a dental mirror. These are all good for working at funky angles or for when you drop something critical and it rolls under something! Hardware stores have all of these, including the dental mirror.
posted by jgirl at 11:56 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not a tool but I was gifted this book when I bought my first condo and it has been a handy reference to have around since.
posted by bowmaniac at 11:58 AM on December 2, 2016

You might consider a long pair of tweezers

My dad has a pair that open when you squeeze them and close when you don't. They're awesome.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:03 PM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think box cutter has been mentioned.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:07 PM on December 2, 2016

the magnet is an excellent idea. even for my dad, who is as handy a guy as you a likely to find, that is a tool that seems to always be getting put to use.
posted by lescour at 12:22 PM on December 2, 2016

Things I didn't see above. A hot glue gun comes in really handy (and some 2 part epoxy that comes in syringe form). Some InstaMorph moldable plastic (little beads that you heat in hot water to soften and shape that cool down to hard plastic). Like a vise, a soldering doohickey that's a cast iron base with a couple of alligator clips and a magnifying glass that holds tiny crap in place while soldering. A metal straight edge / ruler. A cutting mat. WD-40, compressed air, 3-in-1 oil, graphite, lock-tite.

Building an Inexpensive Toolkit for Beginners - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 3/26/2013 this video has a bunch of good ideas.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:32 PM on December 2, 2016

If she's the type who would like to add a shelf to a closet or actually build a set of shelves, she'll need a circular saw. Battery powered, with an extra battery to keep in the charger while working. I prefer the size with the 5.5 ?" blade, but the standard size is also fine.

Also, if it's not already been mentioned, I'd include a pull saw (aka Japanese saw)—thin blade that cuts on the pull stroke.
posted by she's not there at 1:10 PM on December 2, 2016

Most ones I'd mention have already been listed, but --

- If she has a bike, then definitely bike tools
- Pocket knife
- Voltmeter
- Headlamp (or at least a good flashlight, but headlamps are just SO unexpectedly useful)
- Heavy duty fishing line and/or twine and/or wire
- Superglue and/or some all-purpose heavy duty glue
- Chisel
- File
- Sandpaper! Woodworking + no sandpaper or the like = sad woodworking

Does she go hiking/camping a lot? Maybe something Leathermanish if she doesn't already have one.

And if she's a super special lady, AN ANGLE GRINDER. (For no particular reason, other than, well -- who wouldn't want one?)
posted by miniraptor at 2:53 PM on December 2, 2016

I was coming to say a pack of assorted nails and screws but somebody already got them. I'd like to suggest a pack of assorted cup hooks. Also, I found (in gardening) a roll of paper-wrapped wire which has come in very handy as twist ties for many projects. I remember how excited I was when I first discovered a ratchet screwdriver -- magic!
posted by MovableBookLady at 2:57 PM on December 2, 2016

For soldering, a third hand.

For your electronics needs I suggest Adafruit and Evil Mad Scientist, two women-owned shops. Lenore at EMS has always been a huge help and very patient with my questions.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:12 PM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was coming to say a pack of assorted nails and screws

drywall anchors. Good ones.

Also a stud finder. No, silly, the kind for walls.
posted by amtho at 5:28 PM on December 2, 2016

I actually really like the FIXA tool kit from Ikea. Small, reasonably well made, and had pretty much all the tools I needed to do basic repairs.
posted by Tamanna at 7:19 PM on December 2, 2016

Yeah, don't forget the stupid-simple stuff, like an awl, a headlamp (for working in tight spaces), a cheap dental mirror (for seeing inside/behind stuff), a long handle with a magnet and/or grabber, and the like.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:20 AM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and here's a thing my dude got us and I have been _so_ _grateful_ for it: cushioned contractor-grade knee pads. So wonderful, and not something most people think to get for themselves.

Also: a level, for making those wall shelves level.

Also: a countersink bit for the drill. _really_ handy, small, thoughtful.
posted by amtho at 9:53 AM on December 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

A Zip-It for unclogging sink and shower drains and clearing them of hair and other gross stuff. [Caution: super gross hair clog pictures.] I got mine at RiteAid for $3-4 dollars and it works better than homemade versions I've tried.

Lightbulbs aren't a tool, but but I'd at least throw in some 40w appliance bulbs.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:01 PM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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