Financial Resource Center


Top Tools for Home Repair

by David Tenenbaum / November 20th, 2020

You'd be surprised how many people try to do top-flight home repairs with bottom-of-the-barrel tools — or none at all. Many people ignore tools altogether. You know the type: They ask for help on a simple home project — a loose knob or a door that won't latch. You ask for their tools, and they show you a drawer of junk: one screwdriver, a battery, scissors, and a box of thumb tacks. 

The fact is that you need tools to do home repair. Although more tools are better than a few, start with the essential, versatile tools, then move to the optional, specialized ones. You'll encounter less economic pain if you plan to buy a few tools before each repair.

The basics

So, what should be in your toolkit?

  • A retractable tape measure is a must for measuring and layout.
  • A 16- or 20-oz. hammer, with a straight or curved claw. A wood handle costs less, but a fiberglass or steel handle is stronger.
  • Buy a selection of straight and Phillips screwdrivers. 
  • Locking pliers, often called a "Vise-Grip," are strong and adjustable. Get a 10" size with a curved jaw. 
  • A utility knife, with replaceable blades, is handy for electrical, drywall, and roofing repairs.
  • A square will draw 90° layout lines. Try those inexpensive, triangular plastic squares.
  • Arc-joint pliers, such as Channel Lock, adjust to a wide variety of sizes.
  • An adjustable wrench turns nuts and bolts without damage; 8" is a good all-around size.
  • Needle-nose pliers are excellent for electrical work.
  • An electrical tester will confirm that a circuit is shut off, and safe to work on. The simplest tester should do the job. 
  • A wire stripper for removing wire insulation for home electrical repairs. Most also cut wire.
  • A wood chisel, say 1/2" or 3/4" wide, is essential for removing wood to install door locks and hinges. 
  • A wood plane or a Surform brand plane will shape wood and remove rough edges.
  • A hacksaw will cut plastic and metal pipe, or very fine pieces of wood.
  • Hand saws are affordable and easy to use for simple, short cuts. 
  • Power wood saws make it easier to cut long, straight lines. They come in a few options:
    o    Hand jigsaw: For making straight or curved cuts in wood, plywood, and drywall, a jigsaw is versatile and affordable.
    o    Power miter box ("chop saw") saw: For cutting across the grain.
    o    Circular ("Skil") saw: For straight cuts in wood or plywood, a portable circular saw is fast and fairly accurate.
    o    Table saw: You can buy a small table saw that mounts on a workbench. The main use is ripping—sawing parallel to the grain.
  • The drill. a 3/8", variable speed, reversible drill is mandatory in every toolkit. You'll also need some drill accessories:
    o    A selection of drill bits, sized 1/16" to 1/4".
    o    A selection of larger bits is also handy. 

Plan to stash your goodies in a toolbox, so you can bring the whole kit to a repair. 

Don't try to buy everything at first. Start with a few quality screwdrivers, a utility knife, a locking pliers, a hammer, and a tape measure, then buy the tools you need for the next job. Home repairs are easier when you’ve got the right tools, so the sooner you start your collection, the better. 


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