Being able to build something or repair the things that surround you every day is one of the greatest skills a guy can have. It’s a skill that is not only helpful but will also save you money. Instead of calling the repair guy, you can grab your toolbox and get to work. But you need the tools to get the job done. Let The Graying Area’s Must-Have Hand Tools List be your point of reference for putting together a great tool kit.
I know that putting together your own tool kit can be a little intimidating. So, this list takes most of the hard work out of it. Whether you’re a guy that just bought his first house, you’re tired of paying for repairs, you’re picking up a new hobby, or you’re looking to start a new handyman career, this article is perfect for you.
The Virtue of Hand Tools
Before you guys get all upset about me not mentioning power tools, I get it. I love power tools too. They’re loud, cool, and do the job faster (in some cases) than hand tools. But if you get used to using hand tools, you’ll be much better with power tools. Plus, that’s a whole other article, and I really need the content. So, sit back and enjoy the show.
One of the most important and useful hand tools you’ll ever own is a hammer. A good hammer can drive and pull nails, close paint can lids, break objects apart, pry things open, and more. But, that little hammer your parents got you when you finally moved out of their basement isn’t going to cut it; you need the real deal. The following three hammers will check most of the boxes.
The Best Hand Tools List #1: The 16-ounce Claw Hammer
Most guys can go their entire lives with one hammer: the 16-ounce straight claw hammer. My personal favorite hammer is from Estwing. This all-steel hammer’s usefulness will outlive yours, as they’re basically indestructible. And, it’s just the right size for most general-purpose jobs.
The Best Hand Tools List #2: The 23-ounce Framer
For heavier-duty work like framing and demolition, you might want to step up to a 22-ounce framer. These hammers are heavier and a little more difficult to aim, but they can drive long, thick nails with fewer strikes (and you’re less likely to bend the nails). I’ve been swinging a 23-ounce Vaughan for years, and though it might be close to retirement at this point, it’s still an excellent framing hammer.
The Best Hand Tools List #3: The Rubber Mallet
While technically not a hammer, a rubber mallet is an excellent addition to a tool kit. They’re the proper tool for sealing paint cans, thumping wood into place without denting it, and other around-the-house jobs. You can’t go wrong with a Stanley.
You might consider a sledgehammer as well, but you can wait until a heavy-duty job requires one.
You can’t have a tool kit without a great screwdriver. You’ll use one on almost any job you complete around the house. From wiring switches and outlets to assembling just about anything your kid hands you to put together.
The Best Hand Tools List #4: The 11-in-1
There are lots of different screwdrivers out there. They vary in shape and size. Luckily, you can get away with owning just one: the 11-in-1 screwdriver from Klein. This is, hands down, one of the best purchases you’ll be making for your tool kit. This screwdriver has #1 and #2 Phillips driver bits, 3/16-inch and ¼-inch regular bits, #1 and #2 square drive, and T10 and T15 Torx bits. It’s worth every penny you pay for it.
Another tool you need to keep in your tool kit is at least one good set of pliers. You’ll be able to tighten and loosen fasteners, grip small objects, assemble and disassemble pipes, and way more. Unfortunately, you’ll probably need a few types.
The Best Hand Tools List #5: Pump Pliers (or Channellocks)
In my opinion, as well as the opinion of most guys in the know, pump pliers are by far the most useful pliers you can own. They’re incredibly adjustable, and the design of the jaws and teeth allow them to grip just about anything. They come in a few sizes, but the 10-inch set from Channellock will get you through most projects. You’ll want to upgrade to larger (and smaller) sets as you go.
The Best Hand Tools List #6: Slip-Joint Pliers
Most guys are familiar with Slip-Joint or adjustable pliers. They’re a fine general-purpose set of pliers, but they’ve also rounded and stripped more fasteners than any other type of pliers in history. But it’s worth owning a set anyway, and Channellock’s are my favorite.
The Best Hand Tools List #7: Linesman Pliers
If you’re going to be doing any electrical work at all, you need a pair of linesman pliers. These pliers have built-in blades that cut and strip wire (in the right hands), as well as hatched jaws that grab onto electrical box knock-outs and other small items.
Some tradesmen even refer to them as “Kleins,” named after the electrical tool supply brand. Those are also my favorite brand and one of the best hand tool names in the business, so be sure to check them out.
The Best Hand Tools List #8: Needlenose Pliers
Needlenose pliers are a strange tool: there aren’t many uses for them, but when you need them, they’re the only tool that will do. Again, check out a pair from Channellock.
The Best Hand Tools List #9: Diagonal Cutters
Diagonal cutters also go by a far less politically correct name, but for our purposes, let’s keep it clean. These tools have sharpened edges for cutting through wire and softer metal. While not essential tools, they’re lighter and easier to cut with than a pair of linesman pliers, so they are worth having. Go with Klein again.
Measuring and Marking
Your home renovation or handyman business isn’t going to go far if you’re guessing on every measurement and cut. These measuring and marking tools will help you tackle most projects, and in most cases, they complement each other.
The Best Hand Tools List #10: Measuring Tape
If you’re going to be building, fixing, painting, or estimating anything, you’re going to need a great measuring tape (extra points if you just call it a “tape” and confuse everyone around you).
If you buy a cheap tape, you’re going to regret it very early on. My personal favorite? The 25-foot Stanley Fat Max. It’s tough, durable, and long enough for almost anything you’ll be tackling but small enough to fit nicely in a tool pouch or toolbox.
The Best Hand Tools List #11: Speed Square
If you want to learn to cut boards accurately, you need to mark them accurately first. A speed square will help, as you can mark 90 and 45-degree angles right out of the box. Once you learn to use a speed square, you can also use it to mark roof pitches and angles. And, once you step up to power tools, you can use your speed square as a guide for your circular saw.
This might surprise some of you, but my favorite speed square is plastic. I’m a huge fan of Swanson speed squares, and their orange plastic options are cheap, durable, and hard to lose. I’ve broken plenty of them over the years but never lost one.
The Best Hand Tools List #12: Combo Square
If you’re going to be getting into any type of furniture building, in-depth trim work, or any other precision-oriented tasks, a combo square is essential. These squares have sliding rules that lock into place. With a combo square, you can measure depths or thicknesses and transfer corresponding marks without actually measuring anything. And, most of them come with a scratch awl built into the bottom for marking when there isn’t a pencil nearby. Irwin’s an excellent brand to go with.
The Best Hand Tools List #13: Torpedo Level
Whether you’re hanging a shelf or some pictures, you’ll want to ensure they’re level (in most cases). A torpedo level will help. These small levels fit in a toolbox, and they’re light enough to rest on top of a picture frame. Many are also magnetic, so they’ll stick to steel plumbing pipes. Irwin’s the way to go here.
The Best Hand Tools List #14: Bubble Level
Now, when it comes to framing, door installation, cabinetry, and heavy-duty repairs, you’re going to need a longer level. My favorite combination includes a 24-inch and 48-inch level, though you can make an argument that a 72-inch level has its place. You can buy them in a set, but these 24-inch and 48-inch Craftsman levels are great for your first tool kit.
All the good ideas and plans in the world won’t cut wood; you need a saw for that. There are other cutting tools you’ll want to keep as well.
The Best Hand Tools List #15: Utility Knife
Let’s start with the obvious: You need a great utility knife. Your utility knife will cut open boxes, trim shims to size, and score wood and plywood to prevent tear-out. Also, they’ll sharpen your pencils in a hurry, so they’re worth keeping on hand. Go old school with your utility knife and choose a Stanley 10-099.
The Best Hand Tools List #16: Box Saw
Box saws are called box saws because… Wait for it… They fit in a toolbox. They’re meant for cutting lumber as their teeth are too coarse for fine trim work. I’ve owned an Irwin box saw for years and it’s still very sharp (though I don’t actually store it in a toolbox).
The Best Hand Tools List #17: Pull Saw
A few years ago, the traditional Japanese pull saw became popular in the US, and I have to admit, I use mine all the time. They’re accurate, easy to use, and I find myself working in more comfortable positions. Again, go with an Irwin.
The Best Hand Tools List #18: Hack Saw
If you’re cutting metal (or even PVC in some cases), a hack saw is the best hand tool for the job. These saws have interchangeable, disposable blades and an open frame to reduce friction. You don’t need a high-end hack saw, but Lenox’s 12-inch has blade storage in the handles and a tool-free blade change.
The Best Hand Tools List #19: Chisels
It doesn’t matter if you’re a woodworker, timber-framer, or just a handyman: A good chisel is worth its weight in gold. A general-purpose chisel set like the Stanley FatMax set will cover most of your needs.
Hammers and saws are great, but if you need to fix your car, a lawnmower, or even a bike, they won’t do much good. Instead, you need high-quality hand tools.
The Best Hand Tools List #20: Wrenches
If you’re doing any type of mechanical work, whether it’s automotive, appliance repair, or small engine work, you’re going to need a great set of wrenches. I would suggest going with two sets from Craftsman, an SAE set and a metric set, to ensure you’re covered. You can even get them in ratcheting models.
The Best Hand Tools List #21: Adjustable Wrenches
Grabbing an adjustable wrench from your toolbox can save you quite a bit of time, so it’s worth having a pair or two of these manual fastening tools. Again, a Craftsman set is more than sufficient. Just beware that an adjustable wrench is great, but it isn’t a replacement for a standard wrench. They’re far more likely to strip a nut or bolt.
The Best Hand Tools List #22: Socket Set
If you really want to make your mechanical life easier, it’s worth investing in a good set of sockets. Personally, I’ve owned this set from Craftsman for over 20 years, and other than the ratchets needing a bit of oil, the set is still great. It has both metric and SAE sizes, as well as ¼-inch, ⅜-inch, and ½-inch drive sets.
Now that you have all these tools, what can you do with them? You’re going to need somewhere to store them all, and hint: not in a bucket or the back of your closet. You need a high-quality, long-lasting storage option.
The Best Hand Tools List #23: Tool Box
When it comes to storing the majority of your hand tools, a metal toolbox is the way to go. These boxes are durable and heavy-duty. Homak makes one of the best metal toolboxes in the industry, but you might be able to find something more affordable at your local home store.
The Best Hand Tools List #24: Tool Bag
If you’d prefer something a bit lighter, you should check out a heavy-duty canvas bag. These bags have leather bottoms and metal-reinforced mouths for durability and easy loading. Klein makes the best tool bag, though they might be a little light on organization.
The Best Hand Tools List #25: Mechanics Tool Box
Storing your ratchets, wrenches, and other tools in a standard toolbox just won’t do. Instead, you need something with plenty of drawers for storage. A Craftsman is a good choice as it’ll be durable but affordable.
Well, there you have it. That’s The Graying Area’s Must-Have Hand Tools List. You don’t have to buy it all at once, but putting together a collection with these tools will have you prepared for almost any project or repair.
What are your thoughts? Did I leave something off? Got a tip for a new homeowner or future tradesman? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to get your take on this list, as well as some ideas for future content you’d be interested in reading. A best hand tools reviews series, perhaps?
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