10 Tools Every Homeowner Should Have

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Doorknobs get loose, windows need unsticking, the faucet always ends up dripping—and houses don't usually come with a super. Here's are the 10 tools that will get any homeowner through the most common projects around the house.

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1. Tape measure - Pretty much every single household repair or upgrade requires measuring something. Painting the living room? You need the room's square footage to know how many gallons to buy. Replacing your sofa? Gotta measure door openings to see if it will fit. A tape measure is so ubiquitous, in fact, that when we make tool lists for step-by-step projects at This Old House, we leave it out. It's understood. A 25-foot tape should be big enough. While you're at it, grab a flat, fat carpenter's pencil, which won't break or roll away, to mark up your measurements.

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2. Utility Knife - I keep one of these in my back pocket (blade retracted, natch) whenever I work around the house. You use it to cut packaging, scrape paint, strip wiring, or score around old hardware you're removing. It's easier to control and much more sensible than a kitchen knife—at least with a utility knife you can replace the blade when it gets dull and you won't end up giving yourself lead poisoning by slicing up dinner potatoes after you cut through old paint.

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3. Screwdriver - Here's a secret: you only need one. At the counter of every hardware store is a display of $5 four-in-one screwdrivers with a reversible shaft and two-sided bits at each end of the shaft. These give you two common sizes of Phillips head and two sizes of flat heads. Fun fact: When you take a bit out, the opening in the shaft fits around standard-sized hex-head bolts.

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4. Hammer - If you're only going to have one hammer, make it a lightweight finish hammer with a curved claw (the better to pull nails with, my dear). Unless you're planning on framing a new addition yourself, you won't need anything heavier than 16 ounces. If that seems a little weighty, go with a top-of-the-line titanium-head hammer. The lighter, stronger metal means the same size finish hammer now weighs only 10 ounces, and even the hardest blows don't reverberate up your arm.

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5. Putty Knife - A small flat knife has a lot of uses, from filling dings in the walls to scraping paint. Get one that's stiff but still bends slightly under pressure.

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6. Saw - Every once in a while you're going to need to cut something, and if you value your fingers, leave the kitchen knives out of it. The good news is, new hybrid saws slice on both the push and the pull stroke, giving you steady control and a straight, easy cut. You should also throw in a Japanese saw, aka pull saw. Japanese saws have thin blades that slice through trim or flooring like butter.

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7. Wrench - No wrench, no plumbing fixes-that's the bottom line. Dripping faucets, clogged sink traps, and stuck radiator valves all require the turning strength of a wrench. Get two: a Crescent wrench (the kind with the thumb wheel to widen and narrow the jaws), and a larger monkey wrench, just in case you have to turn off a stubborn plumbing valve in an emergency.

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8. Pliers - Pliers give you extra gripping power or the ability to hold small things better than your sausage-like fingers can. A set of pliers that includes needlenose, tongue-and-groove, and wiring-cutting pairs will cover all your basic pinching and snipping needs around the house.

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9. Light - It's the Murphy's Law of home repair that all emergencies will take place in the back of the cabinet under the sink or in the darkest corner of the basement, and you're gonna wish you had a light. Our favorite trick: Rather than gripping a flashlight between your teeth, strap on a head lamp and work totally hands-free without chipping a tooth.

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10. Drill/Driver - I am here to attest that 9 out of 10 times, simple upgrades-like hanging shelves, attaching door hardware, or even assembling IKEA furniture-require a drill/driver. Aside from the hand screwdriver and the utility knife, that's the tool I reach for most often. Though it's a bit of a splurge, you can get a decent 12V Li-ion one for around $150. Just don't forget a set of drill and driver bits, too.

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More about essential tools from This Old House:
Must-Have Tools for Every Skill Level
Why We Love Tools
Random-Orbit Sanders
Squares
Levels
Nail Pullers
Tools for Kids

DISCUSSION

AmphetamineCrown
AcetyleneCrown

My personal take, some reacting to comments below...

1. I use duct tape and I use WD40 and I use zip ties. But I don't consider them "tools."

2. I hate multitools, up to and including the types of screwdrivers recommended as #3. Go to Sears and buy the giant assortment of screwdrivers for $20—I swear using a purpose specific screwdriver of the right size gives you better torque, better feel for when something is going to strip, and is easier to use. Note that different shank lengths have a purpose. In this regard, recognize that there are different sizes of phillips head and standard screws too... Pays to use the right size. I've personally switched pretty much everything I can to Robertson (square head) drive. When I buy something that has standard or phillips screws, I throw them out and go to my assortment from McFeeley's.

3. I think the recommendation for adjustable wrenches is a bad one. Same with the recommendations by a lot of commenters for vise grips and channelocks. While I own adjustable wrenches, visegrips and channel locks, they tend to get very little use as wrenches (visegrips make great welding clamps though). Adjustable wrenches, visegrips, and channelocks—especially for people that who do not use tools on a regular basis—are great for turning hex head bolts into round bolts. Round bolts are considerably more difficult to turn even with the proper hardware. Invest in a decent socket set—even a 1/4" drive—and a set of open/closed end wrenches and keep your nuts hexagonal.

4. For things around a house, I'd include a stud finder—even though I hate them—a level, and a battery operated laser level (not for use as a level, but rather for straight lines when hanging shelves and cabinets). The laser level I have is a little Ryobi that has a suction cup and sticks itself to most walls. I love the thing.

5. Don't expect to make very pretty cuts with a handsaw unless you have a lot of experience. And, there are different saws for cross cutting and ripping. And, hand saws work best when work is clamped. All in all, if you cut a lot, I'd invest in a chop saw or compound miter saw. If you don't, find a neighbor that has one you can borrow. And for God's sake, a hacksaw is not used for wood. It is a metal saw.

6. Multimeter. Learn how to test for hot wires and continuity. 'nuff said.