What tools does a single person moving out on his own need?
October 10, 2006 8:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be moving out on my own soon. What kinds of tools do I need to keep on hand for basic repairs around the house?

I know that for most tools I can wait until a need presents itself, but what are the essential elements of a home tool kit?
posted by JDHarper to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Hammer - get a good quality one. Craftsmen really do last a lifetime.

A pair of pliers - if money isn't super tight I'm a fan of vice grips as well.

Screwdrivers: might as well get a small set of both phillips and flat head. The variety of size is handy. Don't go overboard though.

I think it's important to have a drill. Cordless is great, but corded is fine.

That should handle 95% of what comes up in a typical apartment.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:46 PM on October 10, 2006

What kind of repairs are you looking to do by yourself? It may seem a little trite, but having the right tool for the job is often very important. (Well, knowing how to improvise with the wrong tools is also important).


Hammer, Level, Measuring Tape, Square, Screwdriver with a set of different sized bits, Two Adjustable Wrenches, Needle-Nose Pliers, Hacksaw, Teflon pipe-thread tape, Duct Tape, WD40, and a non-battery-operated Drill with bits of various sizes.
posted by odinsdream at 8:50 PM on October 10, 2006

Seconding FlamingBore's advice. My girlfriend and I really like having an electric drill; even if you just use it for drilling pilot holes for installing IKEA coatracks it's useful. Get one at a yardsale or see if a family member has an extra laying around (my dad had... 3?).

Having said that, it's not essential. Hammer, pliers, screwdrivers will probably have you set. I would shy away from the sets of "8-in-1" screwdrivers, as they seem to be more likely to break, fall apart, have parts get lost, etc.
posted by rossination at 8:51 PM on October 10, 2006

A crescent wrench is often handy, and a nail set (to start screws, define drill point, puncture cans, etc.).

Teflon tape is useful for wrapping threads (e.g., when you change a showerhead or add a filter to the shower). Locktite is handy to have on hand.

And the stuff mentioned above.
posted by LeisureGuy at 8:56 PM on October 10, 2006

Do yourself a favor, get a cordless screwdriver (or use a drill with screwdriver bits).

If I'm not mistaken, Craftsman tools (Sears) are guaranteed for life, as well as being good solid tools...
posted by pdb at 8:57 PM on October 10, 2006

A toilet plunger (is that a tool? I dunno but when you need one, nothing else can substitute)

As others mentioned above, a drill and a small set of drill bits. I prefer a socket screwdriver handle + screwdriver bits as they take up less room than a whole set of screwdrivers and you can also use the bits in your drill, too.

Metal tape measure

Small level

Claw headed hammer

Adjustable pliers

I second the Craftsmen suggestion, they have lifetime warranties for noncommercial use.
posted by jamaro at 8:59 PM on October 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I keep one of these in my car, home and job. Never have to worry about a dead battery and I have an assortment of bits for driving and removing screws, boring holes and even hex bits. Look around at flea markets and estate sales and you can find a good one for <$5
posted by mlis at 9:14 PM on October 10, 2006

Estwing makes damn good hammers. One with a wrecking claw (straight, rather than curved) is great - it doubles as a crowbar/prybar if need be. They're one piece metal with a rubberized grip. I bought a 20 oz wrecking hammer years ago and haven't ever needed to replace it yet.

Craftsman - you can't go wrong with those. Cheaper tools will be more likely to break. If a Craftsman breaks, Sears will replace it for free (so long as it isn't electrical), forever. Inherit a box of antique tools from Grandpa? You can get a free replacement for that rusty, broken Craftsman crescent wrench he left you.

For screwdrivers, you want one big, one small and one stubby for both Phillips and regular. The stubbies are very handy for tight spaces. If you want you might also pick up a very small set of screwdrivers as well, for things like eyeglasses, etc. where the full-sized ones won't fit. Any box of jewelers screwdrivers works well.

Pliers, yes. You want two of them - one standard and one needlenose. Some things can't be gripped well with the bigger jaws.

An adjustable crescent wrench is a good substitute for a socket set. Cheaper to buy just one tool. Pick up a socket set when and if you need it.

A set of hex wrenches (Allen wrenches) is also very handy - Craftsman at one time sold a 3-pack, with English, metric and Torxx wrenches in one package. Each set of wrenches folded up jack knife style into a plastic handle.

If you can find a pre-packaged "home tool kit" type set, most or all of these will be included. But buy quality tools - I have some off-brand hand-me-downs that are still in use, but they don't hold up so well. Pliers don't close properly, wrenches slip more often, screwdrivers bend or have cracked handles... my father-in-law's toolbox is full of these types of tools, while my dad (who spent a little more on his tools) has a pile of stuff I'd love to inherit, because it's still in good shape after years of use.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:19 PM on October 10, 2006

In addition to the usual stuff listed above, I find I use wire cutters fairly often for fixing cables and snipping through rat tail closures. A multiple Allen wrench tool can be useful at times as well. If you're geeky or ride a bike you'll need a few additional tools for those pursuits as well.
posted by zadcat at 9:23 PM on October 10, 2006

I don't think you necessarily need to go out and buy a lot of tools right now, just don't be afraid to buy them when the need arises and soon you'll have plenty.

Avoid at all costs the temptation just to wander down to Walmart and grab whatever "51 piece tool set for $8.82" they happen to have. Crappy cheap ass tools are the devil. They can make jobs harder than necessary, they can needlessly injure you, they do not last as long, and in some cases they can damage the object/thing you are working on (e.g. stripping a screw head.)

I recommend that you find your local hardware store that is not a Home Depot or other big name chain. The best are the mom and pop kinds, but often you have to settle for "store that used to be mom and pop but was bought out by Ace Hardware at some point but are still run by the same owners." I have found that these types of stores have a much better selection (for example, when you need a particular machine screw in an obscure thread) and this includes quality tools.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:34 PM on October 10, 2006

I would add:

A utility knife

A good quality electrical tape (aside from electrical work, it is very handy with your bike as well)
posted by eebs at 9:41 PM on October 10, 2006

I got this tool kit when I got my own house. It has served me well. It gives you all of the basics in a convenient case.

You can buy better stuff (like power drills) when or if you need them.
posted by oddman at 9:43 PM on October 10, 2006

I would suggest that a water-pump pliers is essential. There are a fair number of things you may end up wanting to unscrew which are too big for anything listed above, like faucets.

They're also really good for opening stuck jar-lids -- as long as you are careful not to crush the jar by mistake.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:02 PM on October 10, 2006

Rather than getting an electric drill, I'd suggest a Yankee Screwdriver. (Scroll down about half way on this page to see one.)

Despite the name, they're not really all that useful for screws. But they come with drill bits and work really well for making the occasional small hole in wood.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:08 PM on October 10, 2006

I use my cordless drill, with screwdriver bits, hex bits and all that stuff all the time. One of those magnetic screw guide tube thingies is useful, too. If you do a lot of IKEA, their hex bits are metric, which can be difficult to find.

Teflon thread tape, plunger, hammer, screw drivers (phillips and flat) and pliers get used frequently, too. Wrenches are nice, metric and English. Socket wrenches don't get used as much, but, when I need them, they make life so much easier.

Gorilla glue, locktite, a dremel, a hacksaw and a circular saw see a good bit of use. I love my pruning knife. My trenching shovel gets a lot more use than I thought it would.

I'm fond of yard sales for a lot of my tools, but, if you don't know what to look for, it is hard to go wrong with Sears.

Second on the non-chain hardware store. You might pay a little more, but they'll tell you how to fix just about anything.

I also go through a lot of 2" paint brushes.

It really depends on what kinds of things you think you'll be doing. To start, cordless drill with all the bits, hammer, a few screwdrivers, tape measure, glue, duct tape and pliers. And don't forget a whetstone. Sharp chisels, shovels, saws, etc. work a lot better. Plus you can do your kitchen knifes.
posted by QIbHom at 11:34 PM on October 10, 2006

I bought it as a afterthought, but I'm very happy to have a level. And the box-cutter has been helpful as well--though I often wish I had a standard pair of scissors as well. I have a small, cordless Craftsman electric screwdriver, but I wish I had a more powerful electric drill. I'd prefer to take it easy with a more powerful drill than have to put up with a too-weak drill.
posted by mullacc at 11:41 PM on October 10, 2006

These are the minimum tools I'd start off with. I've mainly geared this to fixing things when getting to a store is not practical.
If I'm renting (i.e. I have a landlord or maintenance guy to complain to for major emergencies) these are the tools I'd absolutely want to have:
Plunger, Screwdrivers (phillips and flat), Electric Drill, Electrical Tape, Hammer, assorted screws and nails, superglue, duck tape, box cutter (ideally one suitable for scraping sticky stuff off glass too)

If I own then to the above I'd add:
Pipe Wrench, Pipe Pliers, Hacksaw, Pipe Clamps (the things that are circular with a screw you tighten to grip cylindrical objects), soft rubber hoses in various diameters, extended lighter (great for lighting pilot lights), Industrial Scissors, regular pliers, adjustable wrench, needle nose pliers, assorted bolts and nuts, a bit of scrap plywood and 2x4s, general purpose saw (the kind with a pointy tip, ideally with blades for wood, drywall, metal and pvc), wood glue

I didn't include a level, measuring tape, circular saw, pruning shears, and more because I could get by in a pinch without them (but they would definitely be on a "must buy eventually" list).

I've geared the list above to things I wished I had on hand when some type of emergency occured (storm, plumbing, cracked window) ... lots of good advice here, and kudos to people above for identifying the plunger, easily overlooked, but truly indispensable when needed.
posted by forforf at 6:29 AM on October 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Some tiny screwdrivers (ie slightly bigger than an eyeglass repair kit) will come in handy because very often I find myself unscrewing things with scres slightly bigger than eyeglass screws.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:54 AM on October 11, 2006

Get a good 50 ft. extension cord. And with the hand tools, get good ones. Craftsman hand tools are excellent, but the Home Depot brand are also pretty good and come with a lifetime guarantee.

Power tools you can pick up used in many cases, especially if you're not looking for a really specialized piece. Cordless drill/drivers and stuff like that you can get cheap used, but you can get a really nice "corded" version for $30 new from Makita.

Long story short: Look for value rather than price.
posted by Mister_A at 6:56 AM on October 11, 2006

I think what a lot of people are suggesting is overkill. I've been out of college for six years and I've never needed a drill -- or pliers for that matter.

Are you going to be a renter? If so, you don't want to do any repairs on your living space. Those are the responsibility of your landlord.

I got a little beginner's tool box kit when I moved out on it own, and it contained a level and pliers. I haven't used either in the past six years, but I guess they're there if I need them.

These are the tools I have used:
* Hammer
* Flat head screwdriver (1)
* Phillips head screwdriver (1)
* Adjustable wrench
* Box cutter
* Tape measure

I also went out and bought a 25 foot extension cord, which is long enough to go from inside my home to my parked car, just so I can vacuum the car out from time to time. That's as long as I need.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:15 AM on October 11, 2006

All of the suggestions above are good. The only thing I think was left off was super glue and maybe picture hangers. You can get kits of small nails, eyelets and picture hanging wire, and the picture hanging doo-dads you use with the small nails at Target or Wal-Mart.

The small jewlers screwdrivers are also great for breaking into locked bedrooms or bathrooms. This will work if the outside door handle has a small hole in the center of it. Just stick the screw driver in and pop open the lock.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:20 AM on October 11, 2006

There is only ONE essential tool all domiciles should contain.

As you said....any little jobs that come up..then you can buy what is required and start your little home repair box collection which would likely contain (eventually) all these things that have been listed.

BUT the one thing you really should have??

posted by skinnydipp at 9:29 AM on October 11, 2006

I say hammer, measuring tape, and Leatherman Charge or equivalent. I still don't have a crescent wrench, and it hasn't really bothered me.

Also, Scotch® Exterior Mounting Tape 4011. I love this stuff, extremely sticky, but comes off cleanly. It's not just for exteriors! (Find it by the color and "5 lb." on the package.)

Electric drills are more ownage and less expensive than you think, though one's growing bit collection may cost a bit. I recommend corded for reliability and frugality.
posted by trevyn at 10:25 AM on October 11, 2006

Get a Leatherman, a measuring tape, and a hammer. Store them with the plunger.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:26 AM on October 11, 2006

Oh, and I would not buy a used cordless electrical tool. In my experience, it's the batteries in them that usually die, and replacement batteries often cost almost as much as a new tool.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:29 AM on October 11, 2006

Here is a what makes a good, basic household tool box, according to Cole's Hardware in San Fran.
posted by 7878ponce at 2:06 PM on October 11, 2006

Buying a cordless power drill was one of the best decisions I made this year. Comes in handy for EVERYTHING - from hanging pictures to changing locks to (oops) re-hanging a door that fell off the hinges to bolting my crappy desk back together.
posted by radioamy at 8:47 AM on October 12, 2006

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