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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.