Must-Have Tools for Every Skill Level

By: Michelle Bondi

Must-Have Tools for Every Skill Level



TOH puts together tool kits for the beginner, semi-skilled, and experienced DIYer

Tool School

A tool chest usually starts with a small investment on the part of a new and inexperienced homeowner and grows over time as new projects need to be completed and skill level improves. On these pages, TOH put together tool kits for the beginner, semi-skilled, and experienced DIYer. Just remember that no experienced DIYer's kit is complete unless it contains the tools from the beginner and semi-skilled collections.

Skill Level: Beginner

You can fix almost anything with some basic hand tools.

Screwdriver Set

The simple beauty of screwdrivers makes them the ideal tools to tighten cabinet hardware, install light switches, and crack open the lids on metal paint cans. This 10-piece set includes all the common slotted and Phillips-head sizes, as well as stubby versions to get into tight spots.

About $12;

Tape Measure

Keep it on hand to measure anything from the wall area for a paint project to the thickness of lumber at the home center—where you'll learn that a 2x4 is not exactly 2 by 4 inches. The tough composite case's bright green color makes this Stanley Hi-Vis 12-foot tape measure easy to find.

About $5;


Keeping your collection of drivers, screws, and bolts in an easy-to-haul toolbox keeps things organized and handy. The large-capacity plastic box has a single metal latch that closes securely. A removable tray is great for assorted fasteners.

About $14;


A 16-ounce smooth-faced claw hammer has a nice mix of heft and versatility for driving nails into walls to hang pictures, knocking together ready-to-assemble furniture, and building birdhouses. The curved claw is useful for pulling out the nails that inevitably get bent. This Plumb model has a fiberglass handle that's nearly unbreakable.

About $13;

Duct Tape

For quick fixes around the house, this supersticky tape adheres to just about anything and has a thick, woven backing that is thicker than most rolls, yet easy rip to length. Use it to repair torn tarps, broken buckets, and just about everything except ducts.

About $9;


With a rechargeable worklight that you leave plugged in, you won't have to go looking for fresh batteries the next time the breaker trips or when you have work to do inside a dark sink cabinet. The 25 LEDs are rated to last for 100,000 hours and deliver up to 8 hours of light per charge.

About $40; Snap-on at

Set of Pliers

Use them to straighten bent power-cord plugs, replace old showerheads, slice wiring, and get a good grip on just about anything. This well-made kit from Channellock includes tongue-and-groove, side-cutting, needle-nose, and slip-joint pliers.

About $40;

Utility Knife

You'll be reaching for this tool again and again to open boxes, sharpen pencils, mark mortises, and shave wood. Spend a little more upfront for one with a comfortable rubber-covered handle and built-in blade storage. Then you're more likely to pop in a fresh blade rather than forcing a dull one, which isn't safe.

About $8;

Putty Knife

Just the tool you need to spread a smidgen of spackling compound, reglaze a window, or scrape off paint or wallpaper. This one has a flexible 2-inch-wide blade.

About $7;


Less intimidating than a power saw and faster to set up, this handsaw is good for trimming lumber or molding stock because it cuts on the pull and push strokes.

About $13;

Adjustable Wrench


You need one to tighten and assemble all manner of swing sets and appliances as well as plumbing fixtures. This pair of Crescent wrenches has 6- and 10-inch-long handles. Opt for the longer handle when you need extra leverage to free a stuck nut; go for the shorter handle when space is tight.

About $20;

Skill Level: Semi-Skilled

You've done some repairs over the years, but now you're ready for more ambitious projects.

Multibit Screwdriver

Store all the bits you'll need in the handle. Its ratcheting-action handle drives screws home quickly with less fatigue than a regular screwdriver; the bit holder does double duty as a nut driver.

About $20;

35-Foot Tape Measure

A longer tape helps mark off bigger projects. This one has a beefier end hook that grips corners better than smaller tapes.

About $32;

Bucket-Liner Tool Organizer

Keep your growing collection of tools organized around an inexpensive 5-gallon bucket where everything is in view. Stash smaller items in the fabric pockets and one or two larger power tools in the bucket.

Bucket Boss, about $25;

18-Volt Nickel-Cadmium Drill/Driver and Circular Saw

You need these tools to drill lots of pilot holes, drive lots of screws, and cut up lots of lumber for your projects, and because they're cordless, you can take them anywhere. While lithium-ion batteries would weigh

less than these nickel-cadmium ones, they often raise the cost of NiCd kits of the same

voltage by nearly 50 percent. This Porter-Cable combo kit offers two popular tools at a rock-bottom price.

About $90;

4-Foot Level

A must-have for hanging pictures, installing cabinets, or laying a patio. A sturdy metal one like this is less prone to dings than a plastic one.

About $25;


Come fall or spring, you'll appreciate its help hauling yard debris. Bigger tubs hold more, but are also ungainly when full. The 4-cubic-foot steel tub on this wheelbarrow will carry compost, soil, or bags of mulch with ease.

About $35;

Stud Finder

Until you're seasoned enough to knock on the wall to determine the location of the stud, use this bit of technology to avoid surprises. The rechargeable 4-volt lithium-ion battery in the Tek 4 stud finder works in a host of other Ryobi products.

About $40;

Socket Set

A good socket set with a ratcheting handle speeds the assembly process of anything held together with nuts and bolts, including decks and play sets, and lets you get them nice and tight. This kit includes eighteen ¼-inch-deep sockets, with an extension bar, ratchet, a case to keep all the pieces in order, and a lifetime warranty.

About $15;


Strapped to your hip or tossed into your glove box, a good multitool puts a knife, pliers, and screwdrivers close at hand, saving you from multiple runs back to the toolbox. Packed inside the 5-ounce stainless-steel body are 12 different tools.

Kick multitool, about $30;

Skill Level: Experienced

From drywall repair to window trim, you're ready to tackle almost any project, big or small.

18-Gauge Brad Nailer

Installing crown molding is much easier when you can shoot nails rather than hammer them, and when you don't have to drag a hose and compressor around. This gas-powered nailer is reliable and a cinch to stash on your tool belt while you're on a ladder.

About $230;

Miter Saw

From deck-building to finish carpentry, the key to neat finish work is accurate cuts. That's what a miter saw delivers. This dual-bevel, sliding compound miter saw has built-in lights that illuminate the cutting table, and a large chute evacuates dust and chips around back.

About $650;

Laser Level

Leave behind the chalk-line dust. When installing kitchen cabinets and bookcases, set plumb and level lines instantly with the push of a button.

About $100;

Table Saw

The workhorse of any garage workshop is an accurate table saw that can handle all the lengthwise rip cuts. This one folds up and out of the way so that you can pull the car in.

Bosch, about $600;

Worm-Drive Saw

If you're going to have one corded tool, make it a circular saw with the power to cut through stone, concrete, and, of course, wood. Worm drives weigh a bit more than sidewinder saws but can handle heavy-duty jobs. This 7¼-inch saw has a magnesium housing to keep the weight just under 14 pounds.

About $190;


Whether you're painting a room or laying some sod, the job goes easier with tunes playing in the background. Ridgid's durable radio keeps your MP3 player safe from dust and moisture and is the only one you can control with a remote.

About $150;

Rolling Tool Storage

With all the tools in your collection, you need a rolling tool chest to haul them around. This one expands into four storage sections, including a large base toolbox, while a telescoping handle and beefy wheels make it easier to haul around.

About $100;

Multifunction Oscillating Tool

Depending on the attachment, this tool can sand, cut, slice, and grind with safe, easy-to-control, super-fast back-and-forth oscillations. The 9-foot cord allows for plenty of freedom, and starter kits include two cutting blades and a detail sanding pad with sandpaper.

About $120;

Random-Orbit Sander

There's no better tool for smoothing out mill marks and getting projects ready to finish fast. Tool reviewers say this sander has good dust collection and vibration control.

About $116;


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