You need tools. And not just any tools. You need the right tools. That’s why we put together this list. They may not all be essential, but they are all pretty darn useful. With these 70 tools, you should be able to handle nearly any issue that arises at home. You won’t have much need for worry when something breaks. You’ll roll up your sleeves and fix it.
Stanley 12-920 6-1/4-inch Block Plane — $40
A pocket-size plane is perfect for smaller jobs, fitting jobs in finish carpentry, and furniture making. Block planes were specifically developed to cut end grain. A standard block plane is often used as a one-handed cutting tool, and while it's too small to straighten boards, it is unsurpassed in making small adjustments to miters or removing saw-blade marks from the edge of a board that has been ripped to width.
Echo CS-400 18" Gas Chainsaw — $330
If you have smaller jobs close to home, an electric saw might be your best choice. Electric saws are lighter than their gas-powered counterparts. Quieter and cleaner, too. But they're not nearly as powerful and are simply not suited for heavy work, since they're tethered to an exterior outlet by an extension cord.
For most jobs, you want a gas saw. A saw with an engine in the 30- to 40-cc range with an 18-inch bar is perfect for cutting up winter-damaged storm limbs and landscape maintenance work, and it will do just fine for preparing small amounts of firewood. Most important: Don't skimp on the safety gear.
DeWalt Standard Jab Saw — $9.27
A drywall saw, or jab saw, is used for cutting holes for outlets and switches or, when used carefully, for making a reasonably accurate hole for a recessed light. Some saw tips are pretty dull, but you can grind them to a sharper point so that jabbing them through the drywall will be relatively clean. Handles are either wood, plastic, or rubberized. They all work, but if you plan on using this saw day in and day out, opt for a more-cushioned rubberized handle.
DeWalt DW715 15-Amp 12-Inch Single-Bevel Compound Miter Saw - $179
A miter saw is also called a chop saw because the blade comes down into the workpiece like a karate chop. It's a portable precision instrument that every trim carpenter or woodworker must own. This option, with a 12-inch blade, will cut through wide crown, baseboard, 2x10s, or 4x stock.
Milwaukee 6538-21 15.0-Amp Super Sawzall — $140
The reciprocating saw is one of those indispensable tools that proves its worth the first time you go to install a door or skylight or, for that matter, do nearly any demolition task around the house. It's not a precision instrument, but in the right hands, you might think it is. The saw works like an aggressive electric carving knife. The blade reciprocates at tremendous speed and power. There really isn't anything you can't cut with one of these tools.
Bosch 12 Amp 2-1/4-hp Variable-Speed 1617EVS — $149
One of the most popular tools around for making dadoes and dovetails and performing any number of joinery operations, as well as adding a decorative flair to the edge of a surface. General-purpose routers are 1 to 2 horsepower, whereas heavy-duty routers used in cabinet shops usually rate 3 horsepower or better. Typically, the tool will come with 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch collets. Whenever possible, stick with the 1/2-inch collets and bits. The 1/2-inch bits are eight times stronger than the smaller bits and cut smoother, especially in hardwoods and sheet goods.
General Tools 818 Hardwood Handle Scratch Awl — $4.33
The most common Awl is a scratch awl, a layout tool used for marking when a pencil or marker either leaves a line that's too thick or won't leave a mark at all on the chosen workpiece.
Starrett FS-24 Steel Professional Framing Square — $15.25
Also called a steel square or framing square, a carpenter's square is terrific for laying out rafters and stairs. There are two parts to this tool. The 2-inch-wide, 24-inch-long segment is the body of the square, where you'll find the rafter tables and ruler etched in. The thinner and shorter section is called the tongue. It measures 16 inches from the heel to the tip and is used to mark the plumb, or vertical, cuts on, for example, rafters.
Hyde Tools 5-in-1 Painter's Tool — $5.99
This jack-of-all-trades tool has a 5/64-inch-thick blade. It's a scraper, putty knife, pick, paint roller squeegee, and can opener. Some 6-in-1 models have a metal cap on the end of the handle for bumping in loose drywall nails. You'll use it for everything.
Bostitch BTFP02012 6-Gallon 150 PSI Oil-Free Compressor — $99
More than a tool for inflating tires, an air compressor is an invaluable alternate power source for your shop. A home air compressor will handle tasks such as inflating pool toys and powering tools such as nail guns, sanders, drills, impact wrenches, staplers, and spray guns. The big advantage of air power is that each tool doesn't need its own bulky motor. Instead, a single motor on the compressor converts the electrical energy into kinetic energy, making for light, compact, easy-to-handle tools that run quietly and have fewer parts that wear out.
Makita 9557PBX1 4-1/2-Inch Angle Grinder — $76
As the name suggests, this tool is good for grinding metal. It's also great at cutting, polishing, or filing metal. For hardscaping projects such as cutting brick or bluestone, simply install a diamond wheel, and you can make some intricate designs and patterns out of stone. Angle grinders are also handy tile tools. You can use them not only to cut tile, but to make repairs in an existing tile field. You can also use them to put an edge on a lawnmower blade or round-nose shovel. Rusty metal, flaking paint, crumbled mortar, or spalled concrete: The grinder has a wheel to deal with any of them.
Jackson 60-inch Handle 14-Tine Kodiak Forged Bow Rake — $25
Rugged and simple, the bow rake remains the best device for raking heavy material, such as gravel or tangled sticks. The bow acts as a shock absorber, protecting your arms while you work. Turn it over, and the straight back can also be used to level soil.
Yost Tools 302-Y 2" Malleable Iron C-Clamp — $6.08
Clamps come in many different styles, sizes and models—and, as any woodworker will tell you, you can't have too many. C-Clamps get their name from their shape. (They're also sometimes called G-Clamps.) They can pin down lumber for making cuts, or, by clamping a belt sander to a bench, C-Clamps can transform a sander into a grinder and are ideal for honing a workpiece.
DeWalt DWE6423K 5-inch Variable-Speed Random Orbit Sander — $69
If you're in the market to buy just one sander, make it a random orbital sander. This tool combines orbital motion with rotation and, armed with the right sandpaper, can handle almost any job requiring abrasive action, from stripping paint to producing a nearly mirror finish on wood or metal.
Worx Clamping Sawhorse Pair with Bar Clamps, Built-in Shelf and Cord — $60
A pair of sawhorses can be used as a temporary work table, holding lumber for cutting, and as tool stands. You'll use them nearly every day.
DeWALT 14 Gallon Poly Wet/Dry Vac — $139
They look like small garbage cans on wheels, and their appetite for workshop waste is nothing short of voracious. Designed to pick up debris a household vac would choke on in seconds, wet-dry vacs also inhale liquids with blinding speed and have cleanup compartments measured in gallons, and the mess goes into a watertight, washable drum instead of a bag.
Garden Star 70018 Easy Barrow Wheelbarrow — $40
Modern wheelbarrows come in almost every shape size and material. This one is for lighter-duty work. (For contractor-duty jobs, try an option from.) A raised rim around each tray bolt prevents the edge of a shovel or mortar hoe from catching on them. You'll use this for everything from hauling crushed stone to a new batch of mulch.
Newborn 930-GTD Caulking Gun — $8.38
Never buy the cheapest caulk gun. For only a few dollars more you get a professional-grade tool that has a trigger with crisp action, which will be important when you're laying a bead of caulk or adhesive. A good caulk gun keeps steady pressure with a no-drip feature that actually works. And the poker rod is actually long enough to puncture the nozzle seal on the tube of caulk.
Kreg R3 Jr. Pocket Hole Jig System — $39
A pocket hole jig is a tool for making quick, strong joints in wood. It allows you to drill a hole at a very shallow angle into a piece of wood. A screw is then driven through the hole and into an adjoining piece of wood to create a tight, strong joint. This tool will help you get great results when building cabinets, bookcases, and entertainment centers. And it will deliver those results almost immediately.
Seymour Structron Hercules Post Hole Digger PD48 — $58
Squeeze the handles together, drive the tool into the ground, separate the handles so the scoops grab up some dirt, remove the dirt, ad repeat. It's a tough slog, especially if the ground is hard. So make sure you buy a good-quality tool. A dull cutting edge will make using a post-hole digger even harder than it already is, so run a file over the edges every once in a while, just to keep them sharp.
Fiskars IsoCore 10-lb Sledgehammer — $49
Few tools combine brute force and finesse as elegantly as a sledgehammer. Swing it overhead to deliver bomb-blast destructiveness or to fire a wood-splitting wedge through a big log. Handle it like a putter to salvage architectural elements such as a post-and-beam barn frame that needs knocking apart. Most of us are better off with an 8- or 10-pound model that we can swing easily, not a 16- to 20-pounder.
Dasco Pro 15 Punch & Chisel Kit — $49
In theory, you use a center punch to start holes in metal. In practice, it's far more useful than that. You can tighten a loose handle on a knife or shovel by centering the punch on the rivet and then firmly striking it with a ball-peen hammer, expanding the rivet's head. In a pinch, you can also use a center punch like a steel pencil to mark a line on wood or metal. Or you can use it to countersink a large nailhead or drive down the stub of a broken nail or staple.
Hyde Putty Knife — $7
The putty knife is more than a single implement. Rather, it's a group of tools, ranging from knives with flexible, thin blades to heavy-duty models that are ground with a tip like a chisel (which, not surprisingly, are called chisel-edge putty knives). Better tools have a high-carbon steel blade; plastic, disposable ones are perfect for the no-scuff application of putty on painted surfaces.
DeWalt Safety Glasses — $7
DIY projects may come and go, but you won't get a second shot at good vision—protecting your eyes should be your first priority. Opt for high-impact safety glasses over those rated "basic impact." For maximum protection, wear high-impact goggles because they cover more of your face and the area around your eyes.
Stanley 12-inch Adjustable Wrench — $11
For portability and convenience, you can't beat the time-honored adjustable wrench, which enables you to turn a wide range of nuts and bolts with a single tool. If you're going to own just one, make it a 10- or 14-inch model so that it's big enough for residential plumbing fittings. Pull it so the reaction force is applied to the fixed jaw, not the movable one.
Ridgid 10-inch Pipe Wrench — $21
A pipe wrench may not be versatile, but when you need to hold a pipe and fittings, nothing else will work. The body is rigid and heavy, and the teeth bite forcefully into smooth, round surfaces. While most pipe wrenches are cast iron, spring for an aluminum model if you face a long day of plumbing.
Stanley 69-piece 3/8-inch Socket Wrench Set — $53
Reach for a socket wrench when you need to tighten fasteners or loosen frozen ones. The 1/2-inch drive is the heavy hitter of the socket wrench kingdom, followed by a switch hitter, the 3/8-inch drive, which is big enough to do light-duty automotive work yet small enough for some appliances. Reserve the 1/4-inch drive for appliance and electronics repair.
If you want more options, check out a list of our favorite socket wrench sets.
Tekton 8-inch Flat File — $11
If the deadly twin-engine Heinkel 219 had been available in larger numbers, some World War II historians speculate, Germany might have stopped the Royal Air Force bombing that hastened the end of the war. As it was, fewer than 300 of the gun-bristling night fighters were made. Today, one remains, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Will Lee is slowly piecing it back together. Along with a rawhide mallet for hammering aluminum, the aircraft restorer's go-to tool is a metal file. He relies on four dozen files to finesse excess metal—both single- and double-cut, triangular and those he's cut down to shave rivets. "With a file, I can get right down to the lines I've scribed," says Lee, who did electrical work and built prosthetic limbs before joining the Smithsonian in 1990. He prefers hand tools for the most precise fits. "I seem to have more control doing it the way I've been doing it for years," he says.
Irwin 12-inch Combination Square — $12
Used for marking out, measuring, and testing the squareness of corners, the combination square is versatile and accurate. For maximum precision, first position your pencil (or the scratch awl stored in the head), then gently slide the square to the pencil (or awl) and strike your line. Check the tool's accuracy by marking a line 90 degrees to a straightedge. Flip the square and make another mark next to the first. If the two lines are parallel, the square is, well, square.
Tekton Combination Wrench Set — $43
No one knows who invented the combination wrench or when, but it was popularized in the U.S. by Plomb Tools in the 1930s, a period of social and technological ferment. As automobiles became more numerous and sophisticated, so did the tools to work on them. New steel alloys and forging methods have only improved the wrench with the passage of time.
Today's wrench is thinner, sleeker and stronger than the bulky ones it replaced; it weighs half what it did in the '20s. While it is hard to improve on perfection, in 2006 Craftsman introduced a new twist in its Cross-Force Combination Wrenches, turning the handle so your palm presses on the tool's broad face, not the narrow edge. Back when blacksmiths forged tools, they would inscribe the year onto the head as if to announce that it would last decades, maybe centuries, into an uncertain future. A fine set of wrenches, bearing dates or not, exudes the same sense of permanence.