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Hand Tools & Tool Sets

To the beginning DIYer, the wide world of hand tools can look scary and unfamiliar. While the question, “What’s the difference between a Phillips and a slotted screwdriver?” may cross your mind as you eye up your next project’s instructions, rest assured a good set of hand tools will quickly become as familiar as your silverware set. Whether you grab a premade tool set or choose to put your own together, here are some tips on finding those essential pieces:

What kinds of hand tools should a beginner DIYer have in their toolbox?


If you’re just starting out, there are plenty of tool sets that provide most of your essential hand tools. Look for one that includes the following or put it together yourself:
• Screwdriver set: If you’re still stuck on the difference between a Phillips and a slotted screwdriver, don’t worry, a good set will have you covered. Most screwdriver sets come with at least a few different sizes in both Phillips (with an X-shaped tip) and slotted (with a flat tip) styles. If you’re building your own set, grab at least a few different slot sizes in each style. You might also opt to purchase screwdrivers with shorter handles to make work easier in those hard-to-reach places. Specialty screwdrivers, such as those used to build computers or loosen screws on jewelry, may also be useful depending on your needs. On a related note, though they’re referred to as a wrench, an Allen wrench set is another important hand tool to consider. These are perfect for tightening or loosening bolts with a hexagonal slot that you typically find when putting together furniture or bikes. Again, grab a few different sizes in both metric and U.S. measurements.
• Wrench: An adjustable crescent wrench is the handyman’s go-to tool for loosening bolts or tightening pipes. Plumbing and automotive work may require specialty styles like a pipe wrench or oil filter wrench, so grab an additional wrench or two that suits your needs.
• Tape measure: Look for a measuring tape that’s at least 12 to 16 feet long and about 3/4 of an inch wide. If you’re a pro, you may consider a longer tape to tackle larger projects or even a laser measuring tape for extra precision.
• Hammer: Your standard style is the claw hammer, which is perfect for driving nails and removing them. Look for a design with a 16-inch rubber, plastic or vinyl handle to increase your grip and provide extra shock absorption. Other styles tend to be more specialized, such as a sledgehammer, mallet or ball-peen hammer, but more than likely you’ll be all set with just a claw hammer.
• Level: Most everyone enjoys adorning their walls with photos and art, so it’s a great idea to invest in a level to make sure those frames are straight. The most common style, a bubble level, features small tubes filled with ethanol or another liquid. A small bubble inside the tube and two lines marked on the outside make it easy to determine whether your surface is crooked or not. If that sounds like too much work, a laser level shines a straight, colored line across your surface to remove the guesswork from straightening your portraits.
• Pliers: If you need to get a firm grip on a piece of metal or a screw, pliers will come in handy. They can also be used to bend or manipulate many kinds of material. It’s usually a good idea to at least have one pair each of side-cutting, slip-joint, tongue-and-groove plus needle-nose pliers on hand for a variety of tasks.
• Utility knife: This handy, universal tool is perfect for opening boxes and packages, trimming excess material and dozens of other tasks. Some feature a storage compartment for your blades in the handle, which can be helpful when it’s time to replace them.
• Putty knife: This is a must-have for filling holes with spackle, applying glue or grout and other tasks. You can also use it to scrape off old or excess paint or residue and remove wallpaper.
• Multitool: Screwdriver, pliers, knife, can opener. These handy contraptions can do it all, which is why they tend to be a favorite for many a handyman. Keep them close by for small jobs or tasks that may not require specialty hand tools.

Is there anything else I need besides my hand and power tools?


Though hand tools are certainly less dangerous (usually!) than their powered counterparts, you’ll still want to wear the proper safety gear. Safety goggles can protect your eyes from debris, flying nuts and bolts or out-of-control hammers. Work gloves will keep your hands from bearing the brunt of your work and protect you from sharp, jagged edges and other hazards. Proper footwear is also important — you never know when a heavy piece of equipment may fall to the ground. Other helpful items include a vise or clamp set to hold projects together, rags for cleaning up, a pencil for marking measurements, glue, WD-40 and duct tape.
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