12 Tools Every Man Should Have in His Toolbox

by Brett on February 17, 2009 · 200 comments

in Manly Skills, Toolmanship


Your girlfriend needs help putting some furniture together. Your wife asks you to install a ceiling fan. Your kid needs her bike fixed. Of course you have the tools to take on these jobs, right? For many younger men these days, owning a well equipped toolbox is something that only their dads do. Often when these men have a project, they have to go to someone else to take care of their handyman needs. But a man should be self-reliant. He should have the tools and know-how to tackle basic projects around the house.

If you’re one of those younger gents who just never got around to stocking a toolbox, below we’ve included a list 12 basic tools that we think every toolbox should have.

Before You Buy

A few things to remember before you head over to the hardware store and go on a shopping spree:

Fork over the money for quality tools. You can easily go to Wal-Mart and buy an entire 102 piece, Made in China, piece of crap tool set for $30. Fight the temptation. These chintzy tools will probably last you a few uses before they snap or break on you. Invest your money in quality, durable tools that will last a lifetime. If you have no clue about which brand to go for, Craftsman tools are a pretty safe bet. They’re durable and tough, and their hand tools come with a lifetime warranty.

One at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are great tool boxes. You don’t need to buy your complete set of tools all at once (unless of course you have the scratch to do so). Spread your acquisitions out so you don’t break the bank. Another good way to build your toolbox arsenal is to ask for specific tools for presents on different occasions. If you’re a young man just graduating high school, ask for some tools instead of money. That’s when I started my tool collection. I also know of a couple of (lucky) guys whose friends threw them a “Man Shower” before they got hitched. All of their buddies brought a tool or piece of camping gear to bestow upon the groom-to-be. Also, Christmas, your birthday, and Father’s Day are all great times to acquire tools.

Claw Hammer

hammer1Image from 1exile08

A good, solid hammer can be used for driving nails into wood as well as small demolition jobs. My old man would use his hammer for damn near everything, much to the chagrin of my mother. Go for the classic 16 ounce hammer. It’s heavy enough for most basic home repair needs, but light enough for you to carry around without it being a nuisance. While your grandpa probably used a hammer with a wooden handle, you shouldn’t. Wood handles break easily. Go with something that has a long-lasting synthetic handle. Also, when picking out a hammer, you want one that has a good balance in your hand and isn’t head heavy. It’s a lot like picking out a golf club or a baseball bat. So go to the hardware store and try a few out before making your selection.

Flathead Screwdriver


Image by CBJason

A flathead screwdriver has a single blade that fits into the single slot of a flathead screw. Flathead screws have been around for a l o n g time, so it’s likely your great-great grandpa had a few flathead screwdrivers in his tool chest. While the Phillips screw has quickly taken the place of flathead screws in most projects, it’s still a good idea to have a few flathead drivers in your tool arsenal. In addition to driving in screws, flatheads can also be improvised for different uses like light prying, scrapping, and nudging. Quick tip: make sure the electricity is turned off BEFORE you start sticking a screwdriver in a light socket to pry out a broken bulb. Trust me.

Phillips Screwdriver


Image by milliped

Invented by Henry F. Phillips in 1936, the Phillips head screw has quickly replaced the flathead screw in most projects. A Phillips head screwdriver has a four star point at the end that fits into the corresponding screw’s shallow, cross-shaped depression. This design allows a user to apply more torque than is possible with a flathead screwdriver. The depression forces the blades of the Phillips screwdriver to slip out before any damaging over-torquing can occur. As mentioned above, Phillips screws have pretty much replaced flathead screws, so make sure you have a good set of Phillips screwdrivers in varying sizes.

Tape Measure


Image by redjar

Whether you’re building a gun cabinet or measuring to see if that flat screen TV will fit in your den, a dependable 25′ retractable metal measuring tape is a must. Plus, they’re fun for your kids. I remember my brother and I would take my dad’s measuring tape and extend the tape all the way out, lock it, and then watch it retract. It was double fun when the end would accidently pinch my brother’s finger, and he would start crying.

Crescent Wrench


Image by treedork

Of all your tools, this baby will probably see the most action. It’s like having 50 wrenches in one. The crescent wrench is an adjustable wrench with a sliding jaw that changes the width of the wrench. So you can use the same tool on different size nuts and bolts. Remember, when you’re using a crescent wrench, the movable jaw is located on the side towards which the rotation is to be performed. This reduces the chance of backlash.

Socket Wrench (aka the ratchet)


Image by john4kc

When you have a large project that requires you to tighten and loosen a bunch of nuts and bolts, it’s time to put aside the crescent wrench and reach for its more efficient brother. The socket wrench’s ratcheting mechanism allows you to tighten a nut without having to remove and refit the wrench after each and every turn. This can make your life a whole lot easier when you’re taking on larger projects. A 3/8-inch socket wrench with a couple of extenders and a set of sockets should do the trick.

Vise Grip (locking) Pliers


Image by jon m ryan

Vise grip pliers come in handy when you need an extra hand but only have your own two mitts to work with. Vise grip pliers are pliers that can lock in place. Some locking pliers use a mechanism that allows one- handed release of the locking mechanism; others require two hands to disengage. They are versatile tools that can be used as pliers, a pipe wrench, an adjustable wrench, wire cutters, a ratchet, or a clamp. Standard 5-10WR pliers are good for most stuff around the house and garage.

Needle Nose Pliers


Image by Oh my gil

An essential electrician’s tool, needle nose pliers are good for any household project which requires you to cut, bend, grip, or strip wire. Because of their long and skinny shape, they’re particularly useful for getting into small cavities. You can also use them to pinch your younger brother with.

Cordless Drill and Bits


Image by puuikibeach

A good cordless drill is an essential tool to have in your toolbox. It can be used for drilling holes into sheetrock or driving screws into a 2×4. When choosing a cordless drill, you want one with lots of power, which is measured by the amount of voltage in its battery. You can get drills that have batteries that go up to 18v. But when you increase voltage, you increase weight. That 18 volt bad boy weighs 10 pounds. 12 volts is a good size. It’s enough power to do most stuff around the house but isn’t too heavy. Also, make sure the drill you get has multiple speeds and is reversible. The reversible feature will come in handy if you need to take some screws out when your treehouse goes awry.

Crosscut Saw


Image by wick

The image of a fine handsaw has long been the emblem of a craftsman at work. A good general purpose handsaw is useful for trimming branches off your tree or cutting lumber for a project around the house. Crosscut saws are used to cut against the grain on a piece of wood. That’s exactly what you do when you trim a branch or shorten a 2×4. If you think you’ll be doing work that requires you to cut along the wood’s grain, get a rip saw as well.



Image by jkdigitalservices

Whether you’re hanging up pictures or putting a mantle over your fireplace, a straight line is absolutely crucial. You don’t want to put a bunch of nails in the wall, only to step back and see that’s it’s crooked. To get the job done right the first time, you need to use a level. There are some sophisticated laser levels available these days, but you can’t beat the satisfaction of finally nudging that bubble into place. Of course if you have the iphone level app, you’re all set.

Utility Knife


Image by eab aod

While it may not be the most exciting of the tools, your utility knife will never be found gathering dust at the bottom of your toolbox. Every project always provides plenty of things to cut and scrape, hundreds of tasks that cry out for the utility knife’s super sharp blade.

Alright. Now it’s your turn. Did we leave any tools off the list that you think should be in every man’s toolbox? Disagree with the ones that made it on the list? Drop a line in the comment box and offer your suggestions.

{ 198 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zach February 17, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Keep a fresh blade in the utility knife! They are cheap and in bulk packs for reason!

2 Chris February 17, 2009 at 10:42 pm

You could always use the old two-tool setup: Duct Tape and WD-40.

If it moves, and it shouldn’t, use Duct Tape.
If it doesn’t move, and it should, use WD-40.

3 Jason Polak February 17, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I think it’s a good idea to have a good screwdriver set with a bunch of different bits. Also make sure you get a few screwdrivers for those really tiny screws in case you have to open up any electronic devices (e.g. for replacing batteries).

Also another tool I’ve found very useful is a crowbar. It can be used for taking out nails and if you live in a cold place like Canada, smashing ice. Nothing can smash ice like a crowbar. For instance we had a lot of ice on our walkway and my crowbar made quick work of it.

Also good is a pair of bolt-cutters. They don’t have to be large ones but if you need to cut, say a screw in half, then they come in handy.

4 Alex V February 17, 2009 at 11:14 pm

A keyless chuck is another important feature on a drill/driver. You can never lose the key, and you can hold it and use the motor to really speed the process up.

Also, safety glasses.

5 Desi Quintans February 17, 2009 at 11:48 pm

These items aren’t actually in the toolbox, but are absolutely essential: a solid workbench and a strong vice. If you’re trying to work on your wobbly dining table or the floor, you’re basically wasting energy.

6 Dave Dominguez February 18, 2009 at 12:40 am

Any suggestions for the toolbox itself?

7 C MacLeod February 18, 2009 at 1:18 am

I agree with Chris, WD-40 is essential.

8 Beat Attitude February 18, 2009 at 2:00 am

pinched by needle-nose pliers…ouchy!

Great list. I don’t have the locking pliers, but have felt their absense once or twice. My own DIY experience brings up the following:

A toolbox is handy for moving from job to job, but nothing beats having your tools hanging up against a wall so you can find what you’re looking for without rummaging in amongst sharp items with your precious wee digits.

I’d suggest that getting a very good, expensive set of screwdrivers (flat head and phillips head) is the best investment. It’s a lifelong purchase.

Also handy is a set of “funny head” screwdrivers e.g. star head for opening electrical devices and allan keys (get good quality again, or they will just blunt and become useless). Usually best to have a multi-changing head set for the one “socket” handle, but again, buy quality and it will last. Be aware though that with quality tools, overtorquing can be an issue, so make sure it doesn’t become a battle between your muscle and the tolerance of the material you’re screwing into!

And what about those “telescopic” magnetic screwdrivers, with an aerial that comes out with a magnetic end, to pick up those screws you dropped into the workings ? Very handy indeed. Saves you from having to turn a washing machine upside down to shake it :)

Cordless drill: definitely, especially for jobs with lots of screwing to do. But for drilling into stone, a £30/ $50 corded drill does a better job than anything but the most expensive cordless ones, I think.

Other useful stuff for your DIY cupboard…
Extension cable plug.
Workbench for cutting wood.
Electric jigsaw cutter: much easier than using a hand-saw.
Head-torch (as used by cyclists) to really see what you’re doing, hands-free.
It can also be worth having a digital camera if you’re working on things like wiring, to take a note of exactly how things were before you pulled it all out!
Gaffa tape, as someone mentioned.
Ball of string.
A big box of screws and rawlplugs, compartmentalised.
Washers of various sizes.
A compartment box for spare nails, screws, bits and bobs etc…
Sandpaper of various coarseness. (also, a wood block to wrap it round)
Paint scraper.
Cloth Dustcover.
Decorators caulk and silicone sealant, with applicator gun.
A rubber hammer/mallet can be useful for jobs where a hammer is too hard, but a shoulder or fist is too soft.
Knee pads for working on the floor for extended periods.
Oh yeah, a pencil. Keep it behind your ear. Very manly.

Also, protective goggles, gloves and a dust mask. It’s not about keeping your skin soft, it’s about stopping rusty nails going into your flesh, shards of metal into your eyes, and asbestos into your lungs.

Finally, if you’re screwing anything into anything, have your cordless drill handy to make a small guide hole. The number of “screwdriver through fingertip” accidents that happen because people are trying to screw in a screw with the screw tip anchored only by their finger and thumb, is frightening.

Additionally, the manly man should be aware of various things around his home, such as where the mains water cutoff valve is, where the fusebox is (and what fuses control what!) that “clockwise = closed” for water pipes etc…

A few hundred bucks and you’ve got all the above stuff, ready for almost any simple DIY task.

9 Richard Band February 18, 2009 at 2:28 am

The only thing I would add is a small tube of petroleum jelly for the basic list. You can use your pencil to clean electrical contacts and put a thin film of jelly to keep it from corroding again in place of dialectic grease, or as lubricant on doors and other things which squeak. My favorite is edge of a paint can lid. The lid seals air tight, but the jelly keeps the paint from drying out and sealing the lid to the can.

By the way Brett, thanks so very much for this blog. It has been very entertaining to read and share while deployed.

10 Ryan Duff February 18, 2009 at 3:12 am

Do yourself a favor and get a magnetic drill bit holder for the cordless drill as well. It gives you a bit more length and its a heck of a lot easier to change out than tightening a little bit in the chuck as shown in the above picture. They cost like $5 and its worth every penny.

11 Mr.A February 18, 2009 at 3:30 am

I never cease to be amazed by the amount of my male friends that can barely use a screwdriver, let alone tell you what a phillips is….

Essential reading for those that don’t know, this is at the very pinacle of manliness in my book. So much so that i’ve linked your article..


12 Stuart Gray February 18, 2009 at 4:00 am

Having a mains indicator screwdriver is also essential. never try to turn screws with it, but if you are unsure whether a piece of metal is live or not, it can save a great deal of pain. Literally.

13 Stuart Gray February 18, 2009 at 4:00 am

I forgot I have a blog as well… :)

14 Mr.A February 18, 2009 at 4:06 am

Vise Grip (locking) Pliers

we call these mole grips…

15 dave February 18, 2009 at 4:19 am

I think it would help to be aware that screws, phillips or flat, come in sizes. There are #1,#2 and #3 size screws and screw drivers. More than any, the #2 is used, particularly in phillips. Also, a nice pair of channel-lock pliers in three sizes will see a lot of action. I have long been a huge fan of Craftsmen tools and their tool boxes. For most homes, a twenty inch tool box with a tray is perfect for tools with room to hold a couple of boxes of screws and nails. I like the compact hand saw such as the Stanley Shark. Happy Homework guys!

16 Matt February 18, 2009 at 4:34 am

Are those vise grips engraved?

17 Paul February 18, 2009 at 4:36 am

My dad started buying me a couple tools a year when I was a kid. I’d get them on my birthday and at Christmas. As a kid they never seemed like great gifts, but I’m so thankful that I have them now. I’ve started doing the same for my son and he thinks it’s really cool.

I think I’d add:
Bar Clamps
Hack saw
variety of pliers, not just needle nose
Alan wrench set

18 C. J. February 18, 2009 at 4:48 am

A set of utility chisels. Great for prying, paring and wasting also great lest you be tempted to do any of those tasks with a a flat screwdriver, tsk tsk

19 Merlin February 18, 2009 at 4:48 am

please, please, please: learn the difference between phillips screws and posidrive screws. . . and then use the correct screwdriver for the screw. Almost without exception, stripping out the heads of screws is caused by using the wrong type of screwdriver.

20 Tom February 18, 2009 at 4:58 am

If I may add a few thing, a good multi-bit screw driver set is necessary. If you don’t have different sized bits you’ll strip the screw heads. Especially if they’re phillips. Every man should also have a decent drill bit set. You can pick up a nice one for 14 bucks with most sizes you’ll ever need. As for brand, I recommend Craftsman for most Joes our there. They’re reliable, affordable, and guaranteed. I also never leave home without my folding Husky utility knife.

21 Tom February 18, 2009 at 5:03 am

Oh, and I agree with Beat Attitude…Buy a Saber/Jig saw. And a Reciprocating/”Sawzall” is great for any demolition work. Also, if you’re going to have a hand saw, a miter box is a necessity.

22 Stuart Gray February 18, 2009 at 5:07 am

To which I didn’t link, duh.


23 A.T. Nelson February 18, 2009 at 5:15 am

For bike repairs, there are two additional tools that will take care of 95% of tune-ups. A small multi-tool specifically for bikes (I use the Hexus, made by Topeak) and a triangle wrench (tri-tool) with 8, 9, and 10 mm sockets. I carry these with me on my bike whenever I go out for a long ride, along with a mini crescent wrench and a patch kit.
Besides these tools, I also recommend a bottle of tri-flow lubricant for cables and some speed degreaser for cleaning and oiling parts, and the biggest hand pump that’ll fit on your bike.

24 Mr.A February 18, 2009 at 5:18 am

re: bike rapairs. I carry a mini monkey wrench, an inner tube and a can of compressed air…

25 John vG February 18, 2009 at 5:34 am

How about a Roberston screwdriver? I’m surprised they aren’t more common (square head). In Canada we use them for all sorts of work from aggressive outdoor deck screws with special anti-corrosive coatings designed for pressure treated lumber, to small-parts fasteners. They’re self centering and stay put on the screwdriver for one-handed work.

A good old C-clamp is a great thing to have kicking around (or a more modern version). The hard part is remembering to use it before your work slips around.

26 Jeb February 18, 2009 at 5:35 am

Great list, and good suggestions from above.

After years of home projects and moonlight construction/electrics/plumbing, I’d say duct tape, WD-40 should be on the list of essentials, likewise the goggles, gloves and mask.

Slightly further down, some sort of petroleum jelly (for keeping things clean) and graphite lubricant (a surprising number of uses, for example, unsticking car door locks.)

But the most essential of all things to throw in your tool box? First Aid kit. If you’ve ever spent 10 hours with two fingers wrapped in paper towels and duct tape, you know how essential gauze, and antibacterial, and proper bandages are.

27 lou February 18, 2009 at 5:53 am

a rubber mallet is key

28 Mark Rough February 18, 2009 at 5:56 am

Only things I would add would be a regular pair of pliers and a couple clamps.

29 Nesagwa February 18, 2009 at 6:01 am

Make sure you get a 0 and 00 phillips and flat on top of the 3, 2 and 1 size. Youll need them for any electronics or eyeglass repair.

Also, for the socket wrench. Make sure you buy an imperial and a metric set. Im sure many of us have run into the situation where something calls for both (especially in Japanese cars where they seem to mix and match between the two standards without any apparent reason.)

30 Zyxthior February 18, 2009 at 6:10 am

Great list, can’t disagree with anything on it, but like and above poster already mentioned, safety glasses are very very important.

No matter how many tools you have, the project you start to work on you will suddenly realize that you don’t have THAT specific tool that you need….I’ve been building my workshop/garage for 4 years now and it’s always the case…

Oh….I need that specific tool…..

31 David February 18, 2009 at 6:14 am

“Finally, if you’re screwing anything into anything, have your cordless drill handy to make a small guide hole. The number of “screwdriver through fingertip” accidents that happen because people are trying to screw in a screw with the screw tip anchored only by their finger and thumb, is frightening.”


While a pilot hole is always a great idea, Robertsons put flathead and Phillips to shame. I replace them when ever I can with Robertson.


32 Ned Van Nostrand February 18, 2009 at 6:23 am

Not sure if anyone has mentioned it, but every man’s tool box should include a pair of channel locks. They are more versatile than a crescent wrench and come in handy both in the house and the car.

33 W. Claspy February 18, 2009 at 6:38 am

One comment on the hand saw- and a more general comment on edge tools.

Edge tools will do more harm than good (and cause a lot of frustration and injuries) if they are not properly sharp. For chisels, this means understanding how to put an edge on the blade. It doesn’t matter what method you use- oil stones, water stones, sandpaper-on-glass, just pick one, learn it well and use it.

Hand saws- 90% of currently available new, mass produced hand saws are junk. Uncomfortable handles, cheap steel, and dull when new. One way to beat this rap is to buy a vintage saw. Ebay is not a bad source. Then you can either learn to sharpen the saw yourself (a bit steeper learning curve than chisels, but not impossible) or send it out to someone who specializes in sharpening saws. Sawing with a properly sharpened hand saw is a treat!

34 Chester Baldwin February 18, 2009 at 7:01 am

That’s a very good list of tools.

Even though you have vise grips and needle nose pliers listed already, I don’t think any tool box is complete without a pair of just plain old pliers, for applications that are too big for needle noses, and too small for vise grips. Also, although, they aren’t always absolutely necessary, a good pair of channel lock pliers come in very handy at times.

I really enjoyed the article.


35 Michael February 18, 2009 at 7:04 am

I would include a flashlight, a magnet, and a pair of safety goggles.

So many simple jobs turned complicated when I dropped a bolt or nut and could get them with out a magnet. Being able to see what you are doing is essential as well. Sawdust in your eyes is no fun either, not to mention a waste of time.

36 Andrew February 18, 2009 at 7:05 am

For a similar post, check out “10 Tools Every Man Should Have” from June on Primer Magazine.

37 Kris February 18, 2009 at 7:06 am

Instead of two separate screwdrivers, get a 4 in 1 set which has 2 sizes of Phillips and 2 sizes of slotted screwdrivers in one handle.

You have to have some ChannelLock pliers because sooner or later you’re going to need to do some plumbing. A 6″ and 12″ set do well.

Also a set of Allen (hex head) wrenches for all the setscrews you will need to turn. You can get them attached to a ring like you keep your car keys on.

Along with the cordless drill, you need a set of drill bits (to drill pilot holes for your screws) and driver bits (to drive the screws).

A pair of diagonal cutters – not only for electrical work, but for cutting wire ties and those annoying metal rings they put around bags of ice.

Last comment – Craftsman makes good quality hand tools, but Lowes & Home Depot also have their own house brands that have a lifetime warranty. Check the label before you buy.

38 Greg February 18, 2009 at 7:08 am

I would be remiss if I did not mention the advantages of a framing hammer versus a plain claw hammer.

A claw hammer has a curved pry bar (the claw) on the back, which is useful for getting a nail out of a board, and that’s about it. A framing hammer, however, has a flatter claw which not only can remove nails (without mangling them) but can pry art two boards easily, making them 1000 times more useful for any sort of demolition.

Also, if your patching a roof and happen to slip, the flat claw of a framing hammer can be used as a hook to catch yourself.

39 Tyler February 18, 2009 at 7:14 am

DIdn’t know I’d need it ’til I had it, but having some form of prybar that isn’t as damn curvy as a claw hammer has proven amazingly useful. I don’t go anywhere without my atwood anymore, but there are far cheaper equivalents out there.

40 Adam February 18, 2009 at 7:27 am

I’ll try not to duplicate any of the comments, but here’s what I’d add, especially when a lot of your work is done on cars:

You’ll need a bigger socket set, my 64 piece husky one is great, comes with 3 wrenches, a few extentions, and a very valuable spark plug socket.

Zip ties? Very useful and easy to throw in there.

A breaker bar for those stubborn/rusty bolts.

A can of WD-40 and/or PB Blaster.

A rubber mallet.

Extra skin for your knuckles, or just get some decent work gloves.

41 David February 18, 2009 at 7:41 am

Great post. There are a lot of men out there today who have no tools and/or no idea how to use them.

If you happen to live in Canada, like I do, then you will definitely need to add a set of Robertson screwdrivers to your list. These have a square head and come in five colour-coded sizes:#00 = orange #0 = yellow, #1 = green, #2 = red, #3 – black (if you are an electrician, you’ll call these #4, 6, 8, and 10, respectively). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robertson_screwdriver. Don’t bother getting a #00 or #3 — you’ll probably never use them.

42 jurisnaturalist February 18, 2009 at 8:42 am

Block plane and Carpenter’s square.
A Leatherman will often handle, 70% of screwdriver and plier / wirecutting tasks, if bulk is an issue.

43 Kevin February 18, 2009 at 8:45 am

Definitely a chisel, hex wrenches, bit of caulk, prybar and I always had a small box w/ dividers in it holding spare screws, nuts, bolts, washers, wire nuts, etc…

44 John Crabtree February 18, 2009 at 9:36 am

I see someone’s already mentioned regular pliers, but I’ll go ahead and toss in my 2cents. For tightening garden and washing machine hoses, a pair of regular (slip-joint) pliers are the best. I’d also strongly agree with the Channel-Locks. I’ve used mine for opening tight jars in the kitchen and other uses.

Great article! Thanks.

45 Beat Attitude February 18, 2009 at 9:52 am

Who would have known that men could talk so excitedly about tools for so long :)
LOL especially me!

46 Colin February 18, 2009 at 10:00 am

Don’t forget the 12 or 16oz insulated coffee mug (plastic or steel) and directions to the coffee shop. ;->

In place of the cordless drill I’d go with a cordless impact wrench. It’ll easily drive a 4-in lag bolt into whatever and drill holes (if you have a drill-bit holder for it).

47 Dom Parker February 18, 2009 at 10:05 am

Comment from the UK!!! Big thumbs up for both duct tape and WD40 but what about a good quality multi-tool? I invested c.£80 in a Leatherman about 10 years ago and find it indispensible. Also, angle grinder anyone?? I’d find more use for that than a cross cut saw.

48 Eric February 18, 2009 at 10:10 am

Having not read previous comments and at the risk of repeating some of those before me here are 2:

Duct tape
Stud finder

49 Paul February 18, 2009 at 10:22 am

Great list.

I would replace the cordless drill with 2 things – a cordless screwdriver and a “corded” drill. Why? You can get both for the same price of a cordless drill, the cordless screwdriver is a huge timesaver, the “corded” drill will always have power when you need it, and less battery maintenance/replacement cost.

Plus you can drill and screw without changing bits – huge timesaver.

Also if you cut an allen wrench and chuck it into your drill, you can assemble Ikea in about 1/4 the time.

50 Tyler @ Building Camelot February 18, 2009 at 10:29 am

…and if you have kids, you must own a pair of wire cutters. The packaging for baby and kid’s toys is amazingly secure and damn difficult to get through unless you have a pair of wire cutters handy.

51 Jarrett February 18, 2009 at 10:34 am

A Leatherman multi-tool. Try the Wave or the Blast. I’m a GM at a brewpub and I find daily uses for a multi-tool. And maybe a pencil.

52 Liam Strain February 18, 2009 at 10:46 am

The Stanley #1 Odd-job. – It’s an inside mitre and try square, a depth gauge, a scribing tool for arcs and circles, a T-square, a depth marking scribe (for marking out mortises), a plumb level, and a 6″ maple, brass-edged rule.

Use to be a hammer, a saw and an Odd-job was all you needed to build anything.

That and a couple rolls of Gaffer’s tape. :D

53 Bill February 18, 2009 at 11:15 am

If you work like MacGyver, you can get it down to:
- Victorinox Swiss Army Knife
- roll of duct tape
- watch
- paper clip
- string, wire, or line
- matches
- small flashlight

The rest you just find along the way.

54 OneCitizenSpeaking February 18, 2009 at 11:18 am

The two most essential tools to add to your toolbox is a heavyduty rubber covered flashlight — double “C” or double “D” cells — preferably LED and a small chisel to keep you from using your flatblade screwdriver as a combination prybar and chisel. My chisel is 1/2 inches wide and 6 inches long. Indispensible.

While rather uncommon, I also have 1 set of screw extractors and a nut-splitter in my kit for times when WD-40 just doesn’t do the job.

One additional tip: most of the quality tools (SnapOn, Craftsman, etc) come with a lifetime replacement guarantee — which makes your quality tool purchase just that more attractive.

I would like to see you add another segment regarding where to put your tools: box, bag, pail?

55 William White February 18, 2009 at 11:28 am

Your list is right for about 1965 but things have changed a lot since then. No one uses those crappy old stanley utility knives any more. Can you say Olfa cutter? Stanley wonderbars are critical, the 6″ and 12″, For god sake get a hammer with a steel shaft. A good nail set, a 1/4″ and 3/4″ chissel, A 10″ shelf level, a multi bit screw driver that changes bits on the fly and has removable bits that can fit into the cordless drill, Sears 19volt is the best for the buck right now. A good sawzall, circular and jig saw, palm sander and cord reel, mitre square and you are good for most small jobs. The vice grips are of course a given.

If you want to step up, air tools are very cheap now, electric hand plane, chop saw and table saw. Get the light cheap ones the good ones don’t travel well and are really only for builders. Always have a good 1/2″ hammer drill available as the cordless stuff always goes dead on the second last screw and keep everything razor sharp, dull tools are dangerous and hard to work with.

30 years in Renovation

William White

56 Manbearpig February 18, 2009 at 11:34 am

Actually, that is not a picture of a crescent wrench, but of an adjustable wrench made by Craftsmen. To be a true Crescent wrench it would have to be made by Crescent.

57 Santa February 18, 2009 at 11:54 am

A good work of advice is once good solid tools are acquired, always remember who you lend stuff out to. I’m had stuff borrowed, stolen, & never returned over the years and they can be expensive to replace.

58 mark February 18, 2009 at 12:05 pm

this is the gayest post ever. should be called the best housewife toolbox.

59 Adam Snider February 18, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I can’t believe that guys don’t have a basic toolbox stocked with these sorts of tools. Honestly, I think that even women should have a tool box with at least a hammer and some screwdrivers if they live alone. Independence and the ability to do minor repairs around the house is important for everyone—regardless of gender.

As for not getting a hammer with a wooden handle…I can’t bring myself to do it. There’s something appealing about a wooden handle that gets worn and polished from use over the years. My father’s hammer is not a special hammer in any particular way, but the fact that the handle shows that is a tool that has been used and has served it’s owner well for decades gives it a real nostalgic quality. I hope that my own hammer will one day tell a similar tale.

60 Dr. Badwrench February 18, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Let us not forget:

A set of metric and standard allen wrenches, and Torx, too
A half-round file (and knowing how to properly use one, push only, no back-and-forth)
Wire cutters
Channellocks or “water pump” pliers
Pipe wrench
BFH (Big F***ing Hammer)
Propane or butane torch

Just a side-note, I may have read this wrong, but this article said to me “basic tools for around-the-house stuff or emergencies”, not “let’s build an addition onto the house, rewire the kitchen and put in a third bathroom”. I keep basic stuff at my place, pretty much as described in the article, plus a few other hand things, and basic wrenches and sockets, etc. I don’t need my full roll-away, service cart, shop equipment, and welding gear at the house. That is what the shop is for.

I am a mechanic by profession and could go on at length on why everyone needs a 135 amp MIG welder and oxyacetylene torch setup at home so they can do this or that, but I know not everyone has the ability, need or desire to do so. Not everyone needs a sawzall or block plane or even a circular saw to do basic around-the-house repairs. Think simple. Think “everyman”, like what would Jimmy Stewart need?

61 Nathan February 18, 2009 at 1:08 pm

These are things every one has in there tool box. Except maybe the drill.

62 Steve Maslin February 18, 2009 at 1:17 pm

This is Rubish, If you live in a community with people you don’t need to own a tool kit per male. Living in community is a manly thing, sharing what you own etc, The art of manliness has gone down hill. Most of the blogs don’t help me one bit and are just trivial like this one.

63 Mike February 18, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Bicycle spoke key.

64 Ozzy February 18, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Craftsman tools have gotten worse over the past 5 years or so. Used to be, if you broke one, you walked into a Sears and walked out with a new one. Now, they don’t do that anymore. Might just be our local (WV) stores, but…

65 Drake February 18, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I’d go with a rip hammer instead. The only real difference is that you have less leverage pulling out stubborn nails, but you can use the claw in in more situations.

66 oracle989 February 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Can’t forget these, and if they have been mentioned before this comment, then I concur with that mention, and I know a few of them at least have:
-hack saw
-C clamp
-a set of good, heavy work gloves
-T-square, or if you can’t fit that, at least a good metal ruler that will keep it’s edge
-at least some bandages of assorted sizes
-good pair of lineman’s pliers
-a bit of twine
-If you’ll be doing much lawn work at all, a bow saw
-not in the box, but a dedicated and sturdy workbench
-bar clamps
-that one tool you saw in the store and thought “Meh, I’ll never use that…”
-wire strippers
-a pen light, if nothing more substantial
-if you intend to do much at all with wood, a circular saw will be your best friend, and a jig saw just may come in a close second

To Mr. Maslin in the comment above mine, saying that owing your own tools is useless would be akin to saying that you need not own a TV or a car, because you can borrow someone else’s. Rather than being the community parasite, why not be a bit self-reliant and have your own set?

67 Alex S February 18, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I don’t recommend doing electrical work without knowing what your doing, by any means, but wire cutters and strippers are essential for me. If working in an old building, a multimeter is also essential to avoid killing yourself in case of a faulty breaker.

You may also want tools such as a coaxial compression tool (NOT a crimper – crimped ends on coax are not weatherproof) and specialized stripper for coax cable to install cable or satellite hookups, as well as a crimper for Ethernet and phone cables (for networking and phone connections).

On that note, they’re not tools, but I like to have plenty of bulk coax and cat5 cable around in case I’m stricken with the desire to move around my home theater and home office, as well as the correct ends for each of those cables. Making your own cables is significantly cheaper than buying them, although Ethernet and phone cables do take a bit of practice to get right. A short stretch of coax cable is also very convenient for electrical testing, as its got tons of insulation and the copper core is stiff enough to insert into terminals or whatever you may be doing.

68 Chris H February 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Ahhh the Canadian in me feels a bit of pain whenever screwdrivers are mentioned. For although Philip’s invention is an improvement over the old flathead design, nothing beats a Robertson. No need for magnetic bits in Canada. Good old Robertson screw stays right on the end of your driver all by itself.

69 Greg February 18, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I’ll never forget the day that my father took me to Sears for my first set of tools. I always had a small toolset growing up, but when I was moving out to go to university he took me to get my “tools for life.” Years later, and now in a foreign country, I still have those tools and use them daily. My set even includes the same claw hammer that my father used when I was growing up. I hope to pass them along to my sons when they are ready to head out on their own. Good tools never let you down.

70 Bobtrumpet February 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm

My comments:

Hammer – Unless you are a professional carpenter where you’re pounding nails for a living year after year, the wood handle will be more comforatble and last just as long as a synthetic handle.

Crescent Wrench – “Crescent” is a brand name. The tool is actually an adjustable wrench. Crescent is one of the better brands, though.

Cordless Drill – while nice for light work, anything heavy really requires a corded model. When the battreies on my 12V cordless finally died, and I couldn’t get new ones, I just went back to the corded model. It takes little more time to find an outlet, but you’ll always have the power you need. Plus, the NiCd/NiMH batteries used just don’t last as well in high current-draw applications with constant drain-and-charge cycles. Not sure about the new Li-Ion batteries in cordless tools, but they cost out the wazoo in comparison.

71 Curt Weil February 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Some pretty good comments. I have two sets of tools: my workshop and a green plastic box about 18″ X 6″ X 8″ high, which I keep in my kitchen. In it is an assortment of screws, nails, cup-hooks, etc.in a divider-box and spice jar, some electricians tape, a multi-screwdriver, small hammer, small torpedo level, regular pliers, small needle-nose pliers, some very small screwdrivers, both Phillips and straight, a small tape-measure, etc.
Sure beats going out to the workshop when my wife wants a plate-holder hung.

72 John G February 18, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Good list. One minor correction, though. You list needle nose pliers but picture a set of long nose pliers. You should have a pair of long nose pliers in your tool box. Needle nose pliers are not a bad addition, but if you don’t have both, you should choose the sturdier long nose variety (as pictured) that also usually include a wire cutter feature. Needle nose pliers usually do not have a wire cutter.

73 Evan Coglizer February 18, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Allen Wrenches are a definite must
Also a good dripless caulk gun
And a speed square for any form of carpentry

74 RagPicker February 18, 2009 at 8:33 pm

My lovely wife has more tools than that in her own tool box. So does my 10 year old son.

But then, I’m a Master Plumber with a tool fetish. What can I say?

75 Mike M. February 18, 2009 at 8:39 pm

+1 on Craftsman tools. Very good no-questions replacement policy.
And get a second set of Vise-Grips. They are good for too many things.
And toss in a tube of superglue.

76 Greg Throne February 18, 2009 at 10:03 pm

hey Ozzie–

I know what happened to that most excellent Sears Craftsman warranty. It used to cover their power tools as well. Then the low-life types started buying brokent Craftsman Power tools at garage sales, etc and…you guessed it! Took them to Sears and exchanged them for brand new tools, which were then sold out of their car trunks. Next week, repeat. And that, my friend, was happening 20 years ago. No wonder the warranty disappeared.

77 OneCitizenSpeaking February 19, 2009 at 12:38 am

I couldn’t resist passing this along to fellow tool lovers who want to see how crazy our government really is.

Here is the link to a 21-page PDF document which explains the difference between a screw and a bolt. It is from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and was reviewed as recently at January 28, 2008.

“What Every Member of the Trade Community Should Know About: Distinguishing Bolts from Screws — AN INFORMED COMPLIANCE PUBLICATION

It is available at : http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/trade/legal/informed_compliance_pubs/icp013.ctt/icp013.pdf

Happy reading!

78 Jeremy February 19, 2009 at 3:58 am

My dad always has one tool that seemed to work for a lot of things. It was a metal pipe with concrete in one end. It was tough enough to knock down anything that needed knocking down and the “open” end could be used as a cheater in situations where you need leverage. A great to to have laying around.

79 Greg Throne February 19, 2009 at 6:29 am

Per OneCitizenSpeaking’s comment on the US Gov’t document. That one ain’t too bad. The problem with the document is that the writer had to assume zero technical knowledge on the part of the reader/user. The document also is a customs inspection manual, so there’s probably a few dozen pages of federal law specifying what tariff to apply to a threaded stud versus a carriage bolt versus a wood screw. It’s not just the government. I have a 100 page manual for a five-year old cell phone…that includes a wallet card with more instructions for voicemail & texting!

80 Scordo.com February 19, 2009 at 6:47 am

Love the theme!

I posted a similar”Tools Every Homeowner Should Own Series” a few months back, here’s part 1 and part 2:



Vince from Scordo.com

81 Craig February 19, 2009 at 10:37 am

This post is needed. It is amazing how many men DO NOT have any tools and don’t know how to use them. I could add 5 or 6 tools but as a starter, a good pair of wire cutters( or dikes) is something overlooked but needed.
I do agree that quality tools are worth their weight in gold but, a crappy Chinese screwdriver beats a butter knife any day.
My wife and I agreed sometime ago to give a complete tool kit (with toolbox) as a wedding gift in place of a toaster or some other gift they will get 10 of.

82 Jones February 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

yeah, this speaks to me, my grandfather was a pack rat, almost as much as my great grand father. when the one passed on and the other packed up his old shop, we seperated all the tools, and made 5 or 6 complete tool sets out of them.

now some of these ive seen in the comments, but they deserve special mention

robertson screwdriver


the crowbar is a nice idea, but im a fan of the 18- lb wrecking bar, if a hammer cant do it, the wrecking bar certainly can

a box of 40 timbits, my neighbour and my dad would always send me to tim hortons for one saturday morning, and we would eat them all through the day while they worked on things and i ‘helped’

83 Robert Heffern February 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Wheres the Duct tape, towel and WD-40?

84 hubs February 19, 2009 at 5:34 pm

…and a roll of duct tape. duh.

85 Ali Attarwalla February 19, 2009 at 8:05 pm

A set of Alan wrenches seems like one of the things I use the most. But my favorite tool of everything is ….


The vertical turret milling machine. Seriously, I love this thing. I can make almost anything accurately with it. The only problem is the price.

86 Ray Noble February 20, 2009 at 3:11 am

One needs a PENCIL in every toolbox

87 jeff February 20, 2009 at 9:04 am

You missed the most important tool, even before a claw hammer any man should have a GOOD pocket knife. I’m amazed at how few people carry them any more. When I forget mine, I have trouble getting through the day.

88 Daniel February 20, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Great list. These are all essential. I also get a lot of use out of wire cutters. I know you can use needle nose pliers and vise grips for that, but sometimes you just need a good pair of wire cutters. Also a crow bar for heavier prying. You mentioned a flat head could be used for light prying, but for heavy a crow bar would come in very handy.

89 Daniel February 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Oh, I forgot… It also pays to have a good supply of miscellaneous screws and nails. You never know when you might need them. I don’t know how many times I have needed just one screw or nail and had to make a trip to the store because I couldn’t find the right one. I now keep a small container of random screws and nails. I can usually find the right one for any last minute fix.

90 ed February 20, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Re: Claw Hammers
You recommend synthetic handles and a poster suggests a steel one, but be advised; wood handled hammers offer the best shock absorption of the three. For a long job, all of that impact being transferred to you wrist, forearm and elbow can be fatiguing.

91 Ben February 20, 2009 at 8:44 pm

You guys do realize that Craftsman makes all their tools in China now don’t you? Also, Stanley as well as a number of other “classic” American tool and knife companies (Buck Brothers, Mac, Porter Cable, Gerber, etc…) make a bunch of their tools in China as well. When buying new tools (regardless of what tool), check the packaging to see where it’s made. Though these Chinese tools are supposedly made to the company’s specifications, they still don’t match up to the quality of the old tools these companies made years ago. For a hammer, buy an Estwing. For a saw, buy a Disston or Crown (if going for Western style saws). For sockets and wrenches buy tools made by Armstrong tools (Snap-On, some Mac, S&K, and a few other companies). If you have a sawzall, use Lennox blades. For a circular saw, buy Freud blades. For chisels on a budget, buy Marples Blue Chip or Narex bevel chisels. Regardless, tools made in the US, Europe, or Japan will outlast and outperform at least 95% of tools made in China, India, or Mexico. Most new power tools these are made in China these days, so if you’re buying them, stick with tools that are UL Listed. Companies have to meet higher quality standards to get UL Listed, so you’re less likely to buy a tool that will die in less than a year. Don’t use a keyless chuck on your drill (corded or cordless) if you can avoid it unless you are using it as an overgrown screwdriver. A keyless chuck can’t get the same grip on drill bits that a keyed chuck is capable of and you are highly likely to have your bits spin in the chuck and get damaged. You can always tape the chuck to the cord of your drill to prevent losing it and always remember to tighten the chuck using two holes to ensure a tight grip. There’s a lot more that can be done, but these are the major things I’ve learned in my 28 years of life. I’m sure some of the older, wiser readers have a great deal more that they could suggest.

92 Ryan February 21, 2009 at 7:11 am

A pair of needle-nose pliers are a better non-specific tool for removing a broken bulb than a screwdriver.

After making sure the power is off, insert the needle nose pliers and spread the jaws so each side is putting pressure on the sides of the broken bulb’s “cup”. Slowly turn until the cup starts coming out.

93 Ken February 21, 2009 at 11:20 am

Cordless tools are great, but I go extended periods between uses and I don’t really have a good place to keep the chargers going. I also wonder about batteries on chargers for extended periods, such as months.
Since this is my situation I really prefer corded power tools, a good heavy duty extention cord and I am set.

94 Victor February 22, 2009 at 7:07 am

Lots of great ideas here, and I’d like to add that I have four different toolboxes:
My bicycle repair box, as I do my own maintenance and have built up bikes;
My plumbing box;
My everything-else box. Yes, this does mean some redundancy, and it also means every now and then I go to the fourth box:
The Wall, where the most commonly-used tools are kept. Okay, so it’s not exactly a toolbox, but tools are stored there. While the previous owners of this house did some pretty hideous things to the basement, the one thing they did do that was a blessing in disguise was use pegboard for the walls. My little workshop has tools hanging in one place, and it’s absolutely great.

One additional tool: I don’t leave the house without my Swiss Army knife–the Huntsman.

95 David February 22, 2009 at 9:01 pm

To summarize the article and comments: if you’re a young man with no tools, on a tight budget, there are about 50 tools/supplies you must have. And don’t skimp; buy the good stuff.

Anyone else see the dilemma? I agree with most everyone’s suggestions, but they can’t all be had on a tight budget. Even if you buy them one at a time / as needed, it won’t be long before you need them all.

One solution is to start out buying your tools used. There are plenty of good quality tools that can be had for pennies on the dollar at yard sales, estate sales, used-tool-stores, craigslist, etc. They’re often better than new cheap tools, and the re-use is better for the environment. Finding the right used tools does take more time, but hey, most young people have more time than money, right?

96 Tool Guru February 27, 2009 at 8:32 am

I agree with every single one of your selections. There are a lot of great sales right now on these tools online. Do some searching and you should be able to find most of these tools at low prices. Thanks for the entertaining article!

97 Cara March 2, 2009 at 10:57 am

I would say this is a great basic list but that a pry bar should definitely be added.
The claw on the back of the hammer can get some things but not all.
Everything else I would mention has already been listed.
Excellent stuff.

98 Kevster March 3, 2009 at 11:18 am

I find I need a Robertson screwdriver way more often than a Phillips or slotted screwdriver. Probably because I live in Canada, and Robertson screws are generally the default.

In fact, when I DO need a Phillips, it annoys me. The screws don’t stay on the tip, they strip easier, they require more torque… A Phillips pales in comparison to a Robertson.

99 Kevster March 3, 2009 at 11:26 am

When my wife and her brother and sister were teenagers, one year their father got each of them a nice solid toolbox and one or two tools. Then for each subsequent birthday or xmas they each got another tool. By the time they moved out, they each had a well-stocked toolbox to help them on their way.

100 Jamie March 5, 2009 at 12:08 am

This is all very good advice but I would have to say a multi-meter and a small soldering iron has helped me more than you can believe, I’ve repaired remote controls, speakers, DVD players etc. and I’m no sparky but the tools and google can help very well

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