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Ten Critical Tools You Need to Stock Your Toolbox

Every time I hang a picture or measure a window, I carefully place my toolbox back in its place: an inconvenient corner in the back of the closet, next to the ironing board, underneath the winter coats, and behind a cabinet. Because I can’t actually see in the closet, the next time I go to take out my toolbox, I have to squat down and reach blindly past the ironing board, beneath the coats, and around the cabinet to lug it out. When am I going to learn that I use my toolbox on an almost daily basis?

A well-stocked—and easily accessible—toolbox can make anyone’s life a little, be she a homeowner, renter, or college student. The ten most basic tools listed below will put you in the right direction on the path toward complete tool sufficiency.
Toolbox

Not one to overlook the obvious, I would like to point out that the toolbox itself is an essential element of a well-equipped toolbox. My first toolbox was actually a plastic tackle box with a removable tray. It worked like a charm, holding my claw hammer, Phillips head screwdriver and a random assortment of nails and screws. Now I’ve graduated to a fancy toolkit made of molded plastic where all the various tools and accessories snap into a particular place. If, like me, there are certain tools you use once a decade, the molded plastic option at least gives you a clue of whether the missing tool is long and skinny or short and square.

Home Repair Manual

Although technically not a tool, a good home-repair manual can open doors—literally! Peruse the selection in your local bookstore or check out some online reviews of the most popular ones. All repair manuals will have the same basic information, so base your decision on the wording that makes the most sense to you and the pictures that you find the most helpful.

Hammer

Most often used for driving nails and breaking things apart, the hammer typically consists of a handle and a head. The most essential hammer to have in your toolbox is the claw hammer, which is useful in both driving in and removing nails. Other implements in the “hammer” category include: framing hammer, upholstery hammer, ball-peen hammer, rubber mallet, wooden mallet, and sledgehammer.

Screwdrivers

Screwdrivers tighten or loosen screws by applying torque. The typical hand-held screwdriver has a head that engages the screw, a shaft, and a handle. Screwdrivers vary in both size and head shape, and are identified by the screw heads they are used to tighten or loosen. The most basic screwdrivers are the slotted and Phillips—every toolbox should have a couple of each in varying sizes. Additional screwdrivers include: PoziDriv, Robertson, crosspoint, Torx, and Hex.

Pliers

Pliers are used to increase gripping ability and leverage. However, within this category, pliers can perform slightly different functions. Cutting pliers sever or pinch off materials. Gripping pliers, as described above, are pretty self explanatory and include flat nose pliers, round nose pliers, and needle nose pliers. Gripping pliers are the most common variety, and are a tool no toolbox is complete without. Finally, crimping pliers are used in electrical work to crimp electrical terminals and connectors.

Tape Measure

Although tape measures can be made of cloth, ribbon, or metal, most toolbox tape measures consist of a stiff metallic ribbon, housed in a plastic case, which is self-retracting but can also be locked into place. Twenty-five feet is a good, all-purpose length.

Saw

A saw is used for cutting—the type of material to be cut varies with the saw. A saw consists of a serrated blade, handle, and can be powered by hand, steam, water, or electricity. For your basic toolbox, a relatively small hand saw may be all that is required for minor projects around the home. In addition to the hand saw, back saws have a thinner blade that is reinforced by a steel or brass back. Frame saws stiffen the blade by placing it in a frame. For example, a hacksaw is a frame saw.

Putty Knife

A putty knife has a flat, flexible blade. Rather than being used for cutting, a putty knife is useful for—you guessed it!—scraping and applying putty. Not too much to describe about this simple tool, but I can tell you that it’s handy in many different situations, and one of the most inexpensive tools on the list. Why not get it?

Wrenches

A wrench is used to create additional leverage in turning nuts, bolts, or other stubborn items. The most basic wrench is an open-end wrench, which is a solid piece of metal with a U-shaped opening at one end that grips the sides of a nut or bolt. More advanced wrenches include: a box-end wrench, which features an enclosed opening and is typically used with nuts or bolts that are hexagonal in shape; an adjustable end wrench or Crescent wrench (so called after the original patent holder’s brand name, Crescent Tool and Horseshoe Company); a socket wrench, and the Hex key or Allen wrench.

Awl

An awl is a woodworking tool, very useful for starting holes before drilling. Quite simply, the scratch awl is a steel spike with a sharpened tip at one end and a handle on the other. In actual woodworking, a scratch awl is used for scribing a line to be followed by a hand saw or chisel.

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