Whether you're an expert do-it-yourselfer or are just starting out in home repair, certain basic tools should always be in your tool chest. It's a waste of money calling a contractor, plumber or electrician every time some minor little thing goes wrong in your house. Having the right tools gives you the ability to do most minor repairs, plus allows you to consider doing those home improvement projects you're itching to tackle.

Tape Measure

Tape measures translate into many industries: home improvement, sewing and even stonework. They make it possible to do jobs neatly and correctly, fitting pieces together without gaps. A good tape measure for basic home use is ¾ inches wide and 16 feet long. This covers most DIY home improvement tasks. A good tape measure has a solid locking mechanism that holds the blade in place and a solid spring inside to keep everything tightly together when not in use.


Known as a torpedo level or just a level, this tool contains three glass tubes almost filled with a liquid, with enough empty space to create a bubble. Vertical lines are marked on the tubes. When you hold the tool on a surface and the bubble is squarely between the two lines, the surface you are testing is level.


The basic handsaw is relatively inexpensive, easy to use, safe when used correctly and can substitute for electric saws in many home improvement projects. A handsaw has a blade that measures about two feet long with a tapered edge. Grasp the handle like you're shaking hands, but far more firmly when cutting boards.

Electric Drill

A good electric drill is a versatile workhorse. It can drill holes, stir paint, sand wood smooth and even drive screws. A drill set consists of a pistol-shaped handheld device and a number of various-sized, interchangeable bits that lock into the barrel as needed. Cordless drill models do the same job using a battery pack. The cost is a bit higher, but if you're going to do a lot of work, the convenience of not dragging cords around may be worth it.

Claw Hammer

A claw hammer may be the carpenter's most basic tool. One end of the head is a heavy, smooth surface meant for hammering in nails and the other end is a curved, split blade used to pull nails back out again. A good general purpose hammer weighs about a pound and has a 16-inch handle, but it's best to try out different versions to find one that fits your hand comfortably.


Screwdrivers have two basic blade or head styles - flathead and Phillips - plus a number of lesser-known shapes such as star blades. A good screwdriver set will include a variety of sizes and shapes. Screwdrivers used for electrical work have plastic handles to prevent electrical conduction, while others usually have wooden handles.


When working with two pieces meant to be together, a clamp will hold them in place while you do the work. Both C-clamps and bar clamps hold wood together while you hammer or screw and will keep glued pieces in place while the glue dries. Clamps have a screw mechanism to slowly tighten the edges, allowing you firmly hold the pieces together without crushing.

Staple Gun

A staple gun is nothing more than a huskier version of your basic desk stapler. It's useful for more jobs around the house than you might imagine. Staple guns are the best tool for roofing jobs, insulation and even furniture recovering. While a very simple tool, staple guns offer the ability to quickly and easily fasten things in place.

Locking Pliers

Otherwise known as vice grips, locking pliers grab onto a metal object and, through the use of a screw mechanism, clamp on and hold to allow you to work on the area without movement. The most common set, from eight to ten inches long, is best for the homeowner's basic toolbox.

Carpenter's Square

Not really a square, this L-shaped tool allows you to carefully measure and cut wood to the right dimensions for framing, roofing and making stairs. Its edges allow you to mark and cut precise 90 degree angles for professional results.

Plumb Bob

Sort of the opposite of a level, a plumb bob allows you to determine if something is perfectly vertical. A common plumb consists of a string with a heavy weight attached at one end. Hold the end of the string and allow the weight to fall freely. The line of the string will indicate a perfect vertical, allowing you to mark for wallpaper, woodworking or masonry work.

Handheld Circular Saw

This might be the most serious tool in your box, but a handheld circular saw is a versatile workhorse. Its powerful blade will cut through wood and other materials quickly and accurately. Designed for cutting boards to size, it's crucial for anyone who plans to tackle any type of heavier woodworking project.

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