Basic Tool Kit

Even if you aren’t very handy, we recommend that every homeowner have a basic tool kit. Armed with a few basic tools and the information available here on the Handyman Joes website the tool kit will pay for itself many times over.

If you didn’t grow up around tools, putting together even a basic kit can seem a bit like interpreting a Greek manuscript. A walk down the tool aisles of any home improvement store will reveal dozens of different hammers, screw drivers, saws and other basic tools. Each has a use for those who venture into more complicated home repairs, maintenance and upgrades, but the average homeowner only needs a few basic tools.

Let’s start with a container for the tools. If you don’t keep your tools all in one place you’re unlikely to be able to find them when you need them. A tool box is nice, but you may need nothing more than an empty drawer in the kitchen or a storage area. The choice is yours. We recommend an inexpensive tool box/bag, however, to make it easier to carry your tools to the room in your home in which you will use them.

Tool Bag or Box
Tool box or tool bag? There are literally hundreds of choices for tool boxes and tool bags. If you follow our suggestions here, your kit will be relatively small. You won’t need a big tool box on rollers or a $100 soft-sided bag with the logo of some tool company on it. In fact, you can probably get by with an $8.00 tool bag from Harbor Freight (sometimes on sale for $6.00). Although we don’t recommend buying many things from Harbor Freight (the quality is often not up to par), their 11″ canvas tool bag (SKU 35539) is a pretty good buy at $6.00 – $8.00. The average homeowner is not likely to wear out the bag or fill it so full of tools that the handles will pull off. If you want a little more room, Harbor Freight also carries a 15″ canvas tool bag (SKU 32282). These bags are available at your local Harbor Freight store or online at

OK, you have your tool bag. Now, what to put in it …. Let’s start with a hammer. Even for jobs as simple as hanging a picture you’re likely to need a good hammer. For the average person, we don’t want a hammer that’s too heavy nor do we want want that’s too small for some of the larger, easy jobs around the house.

Hammers come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. We recommend a curve claw hammer, for most homeowners. A fiberglass handle is nice as it absorbs shock better than a steel handle. A quality wood handle is OK too. For a person with relatively strong arms, we recommend a 16 oz. hammer. For someone with not-as-strong arms, we recommend a 12-14 oz. hammer. Take a couple practice swings in the store with hammers of different weights to see how the different weights feel. Some stores will even allow you to drive a nail in a piece of wood if you ask nicely. Good sources for hammers – and most of the tools to follow – are big box home improvement stores, hardware stores and Sears stores. A good hammer will cost about $20.00.

Most homeowners should also have a good set of screwdrivers. Basic screwdrivers are either “flat head” or “Phillips head”. Flat head screwdrivers have a flat blade (the end that fits into the head of the screw). Phillips head screwdrivers have a blade that looks like a plus sign (+) when viewed from the pointed end (the end that fits into the head of the screw). Most stores sell sets of flat and Phillips screwdrivers in various sizes. Many stores also sell combination drivers that use one handle and allow the user to change out the blades to the desired type and size. Whether you purchase a set of screwdrivers or a combination driver is entirely up to you. If you decide to purchase a set of screwdrivers, you probably won’t need a set with more than five different drivers. Most basic combination drivers will have two different bits, each of which can be reversed to give the user a selection of four different size-type bits (one on each end of each bit). A good combination driver will cost about $10.00 – $12.00. A good set of screwdrivers will probably run about $20.00.

Several wrenches should also be a part of any basic tool kit. A pair of Crescent wrenches (sometimes called adjustable wrenches – Crescent is a brand name), one larger and one smaller, should be in every homeowner’s tool kit as should a set of hex wrenches, sometimes called hex keys, in SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers, i.e. inches) and Metric sizes. A good adjustable wrench should cost between $10.00 and $15.00. A good set of SAE and Metric hex wrenches should cost between $15.00 and $20.00.

Putty Knife
A putty knife is handy for repairs to small holes and dents in drywall. Putty knives come in various widths – usually narrow, medium and wide. You may want to purchase one in each width. Wider knives are useful for working with larger areas. Putty knives are available with steel blades or made entirely of plastic. While the steel-bladed knives will last much longer, plastic knives are much less expensive. A good quality, steel-bladed knife will cost about $6.00. Plastic knives are usually less than a dollar.

Sanding Block or Sponge
A sanding block can be as simple as a piece of scrap wood. The purpose of a sanding block is to provide support for sandpaper to ensure that sanding is done evenly. Sanding sponges are another alternative. The down side to sanding sponges is that they are thrown away after they sanding surface wears out. If you’re doing much sanding, this can be more costly than purchasing sandpaper. However, a pack of six sanding sponges usually runs about $10.00 at most home improvement and hardware stores so you’re not likely to break the bank purchasing them. They are very convenient – which may be worth a bit more expense. Like sandpaper, sanding sponges come in various “grits”. The higher the grit number, e.g. 220, the smoother the sanding surface. An 80 grit sanding sponge (or sandpaper) will remove quite a bit of material with each pass and usually will leave small striations that will have to be sanded out with finer grit sandpaper/sanding sponges.

A small box or I-beam level is an essential for hanging pictures, shelves, television brackets and virtually anything else you want to hang on the wall. The level doesn’t have to be large or expensive, but it should be of good quality. A 24″ long level should be adequate for most homeowners. Basic levels are usually made of plastic or aluminum. Either material is acceptable. Some levels have hardwood inserts. These are usually higher-quality levels and not necessary for the average homeowner. Make sure your level has bubbles for horizontal and vertical level and plumb. You may also want a level with a 45° bubble. A good quality 24″ level should be in the $20.00 ballpark.

Stud Finder
The walls of most homes are framed with 2X4’s or 2X6’s, often called studs (or joists in floors and ceilings). A stud finder is used to find these pieces of wood – not to find good-looking men! Why would you want to find a stud? A stud provides support. When hanging anything heavy on a wall or from a ceiling, it is important to nail or screw into a stud. At times it is acceptable to hang something heavy on a wall utilizing a wall anchor but it is usually better to attach heavy items to studs. The stud finder will save you from having to put several holes in the wall to find the studs – well worth the $12.00 – $20.00 it will cost.

Measuring Tape
There aren’t many projects around the house that don’t require some kind of measurement. A good tape measure will pay for itself hundreds of times over. “Measure twice. Cut once,” is an old adage used by many skilled tradesmen. Take an accurate measurement, step back, look things over then take the measurement again. A tape measure will make this much easier than trying to use a ruler or yard stick. Look for a tape measure with a positive blade (the part with the measurements on it) lock. Some tape measures require the lock to be released to pull out the blade (sometimes called a LeverLock). If you do much measuring, you will appreciate this feature. The thicker and wider the blade, the farther you will be able to push it without support. Make sure the blade recoils quickly without the need of any assistance. A 16′ – 25′ tape should be adequate for most home owners and cost between $10.00 and $15.00.

Caulk Gun
Caulk keeps moisture from getting into places where it shouldn’t. Arguably, maintaining good seals with fresh caulk is one of the most important preventive maintenance tasks that you can do around the house. To lay down a bead of caulk, you need a caulk gun. Caulk guns can be as cheap as $2.00. You might want to spend a little more and get a slightly better quality gun – say $10.00 – but either way, you’ll quickly spend more on tubes of caulk than you will on the gun. That’s OK. Both the tubes of caulk and the gun are worth it. Make sure any gun you purchase will accommodate standard, quart-size tubes. A couple convenient features to have on the gun include a tip cutter and seal punch. Most caulk guns will come with a swing-release plunger.

Utility Knife
“No knife, no life,” is a common saying among outdoor enthusiasts. While your life may not depend on it, a utility knife is an absolute essential for projects around the house. From something as simple as opening the clamshell containing a new product to cutting packaging tape to scoring drywall a utility knife is … well, very utilitarian. One of the nicest things about utility knives, when compared to traditional knives, is that when the blade gets dull you simply throw it away and put in a new blade (please dispose of the blades safely). You never have to sharpen a utility knife. A supply of blades is relatively inexpensive and the blades are very, very sharp. You can spend as much or as little as you want on a utility knife, but we recommend that any utility knife at least have the following features: some sort of retracting mechanism, a blade lock, standard replace-able blades, a handle made primarily of metal, the ability to change the blade without the use of a tool. You can purchase a knife will all of these features for less than $10.00. You’ll want to pick up a pack of spare blades when you purchase the knife. A pack of five blades should be less than $2.00.

Along with your tool kit, you might want to keep a few supplies on hand. First and foremost, every tool kit should have a roll of duct tape and a roll of electrical tape. These two products are useful for much more than sealing duct work and electrical connections. Quick-set spackling paste is handy for filling nail holes and making other small repairs to drywall. There are even brands that change color as they dry so you know when you can paint over the repair. You may also want to keep several tubes of different types of caulk on hand. (Stay tuned for an article on the different types of caulk on the market.) A small assortment of nails and screws can also come in handy. Even just a handful of each type might save a trip to the hardware or home improvement store and help you finish your project more quickly. With this small set of tools and a handful of supplies most homeowners will be able to complete quite a few simple projects on their own. At Handyman Joes, we don’t mind doing small, simple projects, but most homeowners will receive more value if they reserve our services for larger or more complex projects. As our library of articles and videos grows, please feel free to take advantage of the information and complete projects on your own. Of course, if you ever feel like a project is beyond your skill set or you would just rather be doing something else … give us a call. We’ll take care of it.