After much thought, and drawing upon my years of experience both in using tools and writing about the tool industry, I put together the perfect bare bones tool kit for beginners and DIYers.
I know what many of you are thinking – “this kit is missing a [other tool type],” and you might be right. Please let me know your suggestions for add-ons or substitutes in the comments section!
Remember, this is a starting point, and I think it’s a very good one.
Thank you to Home Depot for sponsoring this DIY Tool Kit content series! I picked up everything I needed locally, except for the Husky flashlight which I already had available.
Tape Measure: Stanley Powerlock 25′
Everyone needs a tape measure. While you might have a ruler laying around, chances are it’s just 12″ long. This Stanley Powerlock 25′ tape measure is a personal favorite of mine.
Stanley Powerlock tape measures are reasonably durable and have high-contrast markings. Sure, you won’t get the longest possible standout or reach, but I’m okay with that.
This is a time-tested and highly popular design, and one that I’ve never had any issues with.
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Home Depot occasionally has very compelling promos where you can get a Dewalt or Milwaukee-branded tape measure for as low as $10. Those tape measures are usually also very good for the money.
Utility Knife: Stanley Hi-Viz
For some reason, a lot of people don’t like utility knives. They might say “I don’t need a box cutter,” but there are a lot of times when you might.
There are so very many different utility knives you can choose from. For less frequent use, or rather less frequent blade changes, this Stanley Hi-Viz model is still a great choice.
Yes, you need a screwdriver (or I’m told coins can work) to change the blade, but the design is simple and reliable. Plus, the high-visibility fluorescent green paint helps to make the knife easily identifiable and reachable in a tool drawer or box.
There are other models to suit different preferences, such as if you want a folding utility knife, faster blade changes, or more ergonomic grip.
I like this one.
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Multi-Bit Screwdriver: Husky 6-in-1
I don’t like to upgrade tools. Even if I’m shopping based on budget, I try to get something that I can still use later even if I upgrade. That way, I don’t replace tools, I complement them.
This Husky 6-in-1 multi-bit screwdriver has a solid design. I think it would have served me well as my first and only multi-bit screwdriver, and today it would still serve me well as part of a portable tool kit or even in the kitchen drawer.
It has a comfortable handle and typical 4-piece design with two double-ended screwdriver bits and the shaft having nutdriver sockets at each.
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Pliers: Husky 10″ Adjustable
The most difficult selection for this kit has been to pick a single pair of pliers. Is just one pair of pliers enough? Maybe not, but I think this is a good place to start.
A lot of times, you need pliers – any pliers – for a non-slip grip and more leverage. These will do that, and they are east to adjust.
I really like the pushbutton adjustment mechanism and v-groove jaws on these pliers.
Again, this ties in with my “add to and complement” philosophy. With entry-priced pliers and sets, you sometimes get tools that compromise too much with respect to quality. These don’t do that – they’re solidly built and if they’re as durable as other Husky pliers I’ve used over the years, they should be very long-lasting as well.
I should remind you – Husky has a Lifetime Warranty with no questions asked and no receipt needed hand tools warranty. You can find full warranty policy details at this PDF.
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Hammer: Stanley or Anvil 10oz
Hear me out on this one – this is the perfect hammer for users who don’t know they need a hammer, or who don’t yet know what they would use one for.
My local Home Depot stores all have Stanley or Anvil wood-handled hammers for just $6. This is the perfect size for hanging pictures or driving in smaller sized nails.
Even if a user upgrades to something larger for driving in bigger nails, or a rip claw hammer for demo work and other non-nail-driving tasks, a light 10oz hammer will still come in handy for smaller tasks.
If you’re unsure about whether the hammer is future-proof, a 16oz claw hammer might be a safer bet.
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Flashlight: Husky 2AA LED – Virtually Unbreakable
I have grown to really like Husky’s LED flashlights over the years. They’re bright, durable, and I have found them to be quite reliable.
This model – and others like it – do justice to Husky’s claims of being “virtually unbreakable.” It’s drop-tested to 30 feet and waterproof up to 1 meter.
Husky has upgraded the specs over the years, with the current 2AA model rated at 120 max lumens.
They have other versions too, depending on the size and brightness specs you’re looking for. I think the 2AA is a good place to start – it’s large enough where you could find it easily, but also small enough for easy carrying or storage.
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Which Tools Would You Pick?
A lot of people move out to their first real apartment or home and aren’t sure what basic tools they might need, at least not until a task comes along that they’re empty-handed and unprepared to tackle.
I sought to put together a tool kit that offers a good balance between functionality, quality, and value, and I believe I have done that here.
My goal was to recommend a bare bones DIYer tool kit that anyone and everyone could use. How would you build such a kit differently?
OR, would you simply go for a “one and done” assortment, such as this Stanley 65pc home tool kit?
If I could add one thing to your kit, it would be a long nose pliers w/wire cutter.
I second this. I’d also add a level and a set of hex wrenches.
I agree about the pliers Scotty, I think an adjustable wrench is also vital.
I would add a digital multimeter. I have been astounded how handy mine has become and how much money I’ve saved by being able to test voltage and continuity. Mine was very inexpensive.
While extremely handy, you would be surprised how many people don’t know how to use even the basic functions.
Maybe an outlet/GFCI tester and NCT?
I add a small flexible putty knife to all kits I start kids up with. Used for small drywall repairs, scraping gaskets or egregious stickers, spreading glue into cracks. Many uses for car or home.
I agree with Scotty. on adding a pair of long-nose pliers with a wire cutter.
Recently I grabbed a folding rule after not having or using one for years and I feel like it’s just as useful as a tape measure and often find it to be less hassle.
I don’t think I would outfit a starter kit much different in terms of types of tools – but I might go (cautiously) slightly upscale.
I don’t have strong tape measure preferences. Powerlock is good. I like Komelon’s autolock tapes a lot too. I probably wouldn’t get a 25′ as my first tape though. Maybe a 16′ so it was more compact. Komelon 16′ is probably cheaper than the Powerlock and still a very good tape.
Utility knife: Milwaukee Fastback – any of them. They’re not expensive, especially during a promo. I’d choose the compact folder, but could be persuaded otherwise.
Multi-bit driver: I would go with Picquic. Nothing wrong with that Husky, I just think a Picquic is a little nicer. More bits too. Chuck them in a drill. I can recommend better still, but in the theme of a beginner kit with tools that are useful as the collection grows, hard to beat a Picquic.
Pliers? Channellock V-groove. Push button is a nice touch on those Husky pliers, but I own some Husky pliers (albeit not those ones) and I consider Channellock a significant upgrade. They still seem pretty affordable to me, maybe I’m aiming too high? This is the only tool where I think I might have gone noticeably upscale. Those 2-pack 7.5 & 10″ water pump pliers are often on sale.
For the hammer, I’m not even going to dispute that recommendation. I have a 10oz Stanley and it has stuck around for years despite being supplanted by far superior options. Sometimes you do just need something light and simple. Hard to beat it at the price (well, I once scored a Estwing 20oz smooth face hammer for $9.99 (Canadian!) as a Lowes door crasher, but I don’t think once-in-a-lifetime-deals-you-may-never-see-again count).
Your flashlight recommendation is ok too – but I would choose an Olight I1R. Even cheaper, similar illumination power, like 1/6th the size, also sturdy. I can appreciate some might want a physically larger light, but I just like the little I1R. Bump up to the I5T if the budget is larger.
Were I trying to make it a “kit”, I would throw it into a little Husky bag.
I agree with this completely, no reason to not buy better tools. Why does beginner mean cheap?
Cost is the primary reason a lot of people don’t have basic tools.
The Olight 1R is a tiny little thing with limited runtime. I would sooner recommend the AAA i3T and AA i5T, but those are also more personal flashlights.
I feel that Husky’s are better all-around “you don’t have to think about it” choice. I have a couple, such as a 2xD in the basement.
I think maybe setting a target budget for each category (or overall) would be helpful if you’re looking for feedback or suggestions to improve. Basically, can we build a better quality, more versatile, longer-lasting version of that 65-piece stanley kit (or any xx-piece).
I think overall it’s a great list and I agree with much of Jared’s commentary, but I also think there’s a benefit in both adoption and future understanding of what to look for when upgrading to owning cheap, no-frills tools (not compromising on quality, just bare-bones if you will). For better or worse, most of the regular readers here tend to be a bit snobbish…we’re not the norm and forget that not everyone sees the benefit of spending a bit more on something they may or may not use very often.
I agree, I am not willing to spend a ton of money on premium tools, but there’s no reason to get cheap tools when you could pay a little extra for something nicer. I think Irwin makes the best pliers and snips because they are cheap but very high quality.
Echo the pliers with wire cutter, I end using my multi tool for that role often but it’s a very handy thing.
I’d add both a dedicated Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, as a lot of common flat pack furniture installs go much fast with two people using screwdrivers.
A simple folding Allen key set is also super handy to tighten/adjust furniture hardware.
I agree for folding Allen keys. I’ve gifted half a dozen pairs of bondhus #12550, combination metric/sae.
Every starter kit with loose keys — the most used sizes are immediately misplaced.
I think a set of Hex wrenches for metric and standard are also needed too. Something as an upgrade from the Ikea free ones.
Needle nose pliers, Yes.
I would also add an awl. World’s first cordless drill.
I’d say a large and small adjustable wrench are pretty important. A lot of plumbing supply lines have small, chrome nuts. Those pliers will trash them. Having two different sizes is pretty nice. I’d pick them over end wrenches for cost, simplicity, and size. Many large adjustable wrenches will go much larger than a standard end wrench set.
Also, I used to love those Stanley utility knives. But over time the locking mechanism starts to get sloppy and I find it collapses when you push too hard. I much prefer the Olfa sliding blade or a folding style with the quick change feature. Downside of the latter is almost never having a new blade when you need it.
I feel silly for not thinking of an adjustable wrench. Of course!
I did contemplate a Knipex pliers wrench, but dismissed it as silly expensive for the types of tools debated here.
While Channellock would be my recommendation, for the budget conscious (and more in keeping with this category of tools) I would go with Crescent.
A painter’s 5-in-1 tool is a very handy addition to any tool box! Also, this doesn’t get mentioned very much, but some sort of sharpening system; ideally, water stones. Touching up kitchen knives, the 5-in-1, pocket knives, etc. Sharp tools make a huge difference in quality. All the other stuff everyone has mentioned are great ideas too!
Needle nose pliers, crescent wrench, non-contact voltage tester.
Would second on possible adjustable wrench, allen key set.
I might also consider changing out the 25′ tape for a 12′. The size is more compact, fits well into the average junk drawer and still is enough for most around the house measuring jobs.
One other addition might be a pair of quality scissors/shears that can handle diverse materials including plastic clamshells and maybe up to thin wire. I keep an old pair of trauma shears in the kitchen drawer just for such occasions, but something like the engineer scissors highlighted in past posts would be good too.
Gotta have hex keys in a starter set along with a very basic wrench set
Agree, but which set? I have an old old cheapo and not sure what would be worth the upgrade since they ‘work’.
The level and nutdrivers in that packaged kit will likely get used.
Many DIY-ers – would also like some painting tools (brushes, roller frames/covers, roller trays and an extension pole and perhaps a paint cup)
A razor-blade scraper might also be useful – as would a putty knife – and a some taping/spackling knives
If they own a car – a tire pressure gauge might be a good addition – same goes for a bike – but a bicycle road kit might be another whole topic
A scratch awl or ice pick will also likely find some use
For plumbing – you might add a force cup (plunger) a small drain snake and ultimately a closet auger
I completely agree with you, and Leo above, that painting tools are good for a DIYer. I think a newbie could get by with a single stiff 3″ scraper or putty knife or painters tool. You can scrape old paint or whatever gunk you need to, plus it makes a passable drywall knife for minor repairs, and can be used to apply concrete filler, wood putty, etc, too.
I agree about the plunger and the snake too, but like I wrote in my other post I wouldn’t so much call those “tools” as “essentials”. I can’t believe I forgot those, thanks for pointing them out. Might as well add a dustpan and broom to the list.
Others have already made a lot of great comments. Here’s my short list for a basic DIY tool set:
Utility knife, claw hammer, needle-nose pliers with wire cutter, water pump pliers (“channellocks”), adjustable wrench, N-in-1 screwdriver, tape measure, torpedo level, set of hex wrenches, a folding hand saw, putty knife or painter’s tool, and a 4-in-one file/rasp. If budget allows: cordless drill/driver with an assortment pack of bits.
Flashlight is obvious though I’m not sure I’d consider that part of a “tool kit”, it’s more of a “life essential”. If we’re talking about things like that: sharpening tool of some kind, magnifier, first aid kit, safety glasses, tweezers, work gloves, a stout pair of scissors.
A paint can opener so you don’t ruin the screwdriver…
For the first time homeowner or apartment dweller, I would just buy a little kit like the one above. Even if you like it and buy more/nicer tools you can always hand it down to someone.
I guess being a starter set maybe setting a price limit to limit what is going to be bought. becasue I could make a 100 dollar starter kit easily and still think of it as starter kit.
Agreed on the most items I don’t know that I would inflict the basic old school utility knife on a person when there are newer better options for similar dollars.
adjustable wrench yes but again money discussion I’d throw down a basic set of combo wrenches in SAE and some common size range. Now if I was going to someone to work on a car/truck etc – then I’d instead get them a set of metric ones covering 6mm to 19mm. And I’m the guy that would probably also put a conversion chart on their pouch common metric sizes to SAE equal.
hex keys – absolutely. I get probably a bondhus set with ball end and both SAE and Metric. because of flat pack furniture.
agreed on the pliers set and the needle nose add on.
16foot tape is probably plenty – might even consider something smaller.
maybe a small rafter square – empire or swanson
I would not give a novice a MM and certainly not a cheap one. While I agree most home owners should know some basics – many people are scared of electricity.
Second order add on – socket set.
Bondhus? Great tools yes, but IMHO overkill for you this list is targeted to.
So which hex set would be appropriate?
Take your pick: Bondhus Tools via Home Depot. I have their straight drivers, L-wrenches, and T-drivers, and have recently bought their folding sets for testing.
I prefer the ball hex, with black “ProGuard” finish. I had a bad experience with a coated set, but overall Bondhus is a fantastic brand.
Koko The Talking Ape
I’ve said this before, but I would replace the flashlight with a cheap headlamp. You can always hold it in your hand if you want, but you can’t wear a flashlight on your head. And headlamps often have a wider beam, which is more useful for DIY work.
And yet again, a screwdriver that takes standard 1/4″ bits (so the Picquic is out.) Plus a Pozidriv #2 bit, for IKEA furniture.
I personally would go with a 12 or 16 oz hammer instead of a 10 oz. A midweight hammer can do most everything a little hammer can, and it can drive and pull bigger nails too.
I think the utility knife has to have tool-less blade replacement, like a Milwaukee. Easy replacements mean beginners don’t use dull blades for way too long.
And sure, add a torpedo level, needle-nose pliers, also a pair of diagonal cutters and a 1/4″ or 3/8″ ratchet and sockets.
Koko The Talking Ape
Oh and metric hex wrenches if they ride bikes. Hex insert bits will do.
I’ve gone through this exercise before for when people get a new place and I try to imagine what projects or problems they may face and try to tailor the kit to that. In addition to many of the good suggestions already made would like to suggest the following:
Eye protection- Remember, there is no more important safety rule than to wear these safety glasses 🙂
Eveready lantern- cheap, lots of light, batteries last a long time, yellow easier to find in low light. At one point it was more expensive to get the replacement lantern battery than it was to buy a new one with battery.
Penny cutters or similar- for opening those awful plastic clamshell packages
16′ tape measure- for measuring furniture and appliances to make sure they fit through the door. No need for 25′ for that.
Topedo level- for hanging pictures and leveling the appliances etc.
Painter’s multi-tool- for scraping, cutting, prying etc
Duct tape- too many uses to list
Allen wrench set- make sure it has one that fits the garbage disposal. If the original disposal wrench is available, tape it to the side so it doesn’t go missing.
Micro screw driver- for fixing glasses, opening battery covers, etc.
Sharpie and pencil
Leatherman style multitool- just in case. Doesn’t have to be LM brand, just a decent one that doesn’t have the blades flop about.
Last but not least- a small tool bag that fits the tools you just gave them so they have a home and don’t wind up in the back of some kitchen drawer.
Also, it’s very important to show them how to shut off the utilities as well as the individual circuits / water shut off valves. Label them if needed so they don’t have guess. You have a Sharpie in that tool bag, right? Also, show them how to un-jam the garbage disposal.
A name brand drill/driver should be in a bare minimum kit. I help friends with small things often. In town I bring my own tools. I was out of town visiting friends and they needed help installing cabinet knobs which is a simple task most any homeowner might try. You have to have a drill. The one they had was a generic no name pink drill that had a battery which couldn’t keep a charge for a single hole. It took more than an hour to drill 4 holes, charging after each hole. Cheap tools are bad.
A positive angle for cheap/crappy/terrible tools is that a lesson about them should be learned, too.
I reckon this Gedore set would be a great starter, it has most of the items people are suggesting, and it comes in a foam and pocket lined L-Boxx. 90 UK pounds!
The link isn’t working. It comes up when searching for the ID on ebay, but the product listing itself seems to have been taken down.
That assortment looks to be priced at hundreds of dollars. 90 GBP might just have been for the L-Boxx. I see some listings for just the tool case or foam inserts for under $100, and many mistakenly show the full tool kit.
I’d substitute an Olfa knife for the vanilla utility knife, or a utility knife with a quick-change function. Way too many people out here happily leave dull blades right where they are, which is both dumb and dangerous.
Koko’s headlamp is hard to beat, too. With lithium cells, too.
If we’re talking bare bones, I need a set of tools because I just bought a house to fix easily fixable things, here’s my add and drops.
slip joint pliers, about as universal as it comes.
Crescent-style adjustable wrench – massively handy when not owns socket set.
Level – hanging pictures
More user friendly box cutter. The Husky foldout is sooooo much nicer to use than these ancient Stanley cutters.
Channel lock style adjustable pipe wrench. Overkill for this set
Allen key set. Nope. If you need one it comes with the thing you bought which is likely furniture.
All in all, I pretty much agree with this. It’s a good start IMHO (Better with my changes though., lol)
Wouldn’t change a thing, but would love to see a high end version of this list.
I constantly swap tools in/out of the utility drawer from my toolboxes. The ones that I keep in the house are usually upgrade orphans, but I find I use these more often than expected. The fact these tools have to fit in a drawer really limit what I put in there.
Doesn’t this kind of cover it?
Missed that one. Good read thanks for linking it!
Thanks – I’ll see what I can do!
Crescent wrench and 1″ chisel.
I’d probably add a pair of heavy duty scissors. Last thing you want is a someone new to tools using a razor knife to cut everything.
A 10 oz. curved-claw hammer is about worthless. I guess you could hang a picture with it, as you could pounding with a rock….
A 16 oz. straight-claw steel-handled hammer can do a TON of things- because of the steel handle you can pry HARD, with it, even kick it like a pry bar. The straight claw acts as a makeshift hatchet, a digging tool, or even a scraper. I bet I have 75 hammers, and NONE have a curved claw head…. a 10-oz. hammer should belong to a ten year old girl, MAYBE….
A set of end wrenches and sockets (old US- made vintage Craftsman) a Nebraska- made Vice Grip, and old Diamond brand adjustable wrench, a few levels, all bought at garage sales, auctions, etc. Excluding the knife and tape measure, and MAYBE that cheap 6-way screwdriver, the rest of that stuff is just new junk…
I’m a 40yo man, and I use an 8oz curved claw for most things because I do a lot of installation, finish work, and clean fabrication. I have about 30 hammers, and they are a wide range of styles.
If I were to recommend 1 hammer for someone who doesn’t know tools, it would absolutely be the 10oz. Anvil brand hammer down at home depot. (rip claw version by the way). It’s more controllable for people with less experience or smaller hands, still has plenty of oomph if you have a clean swing, and doesn’t drag your pants down.
If I’m going bigger than 10oz, I’m probably pulling a framing hammer, a 2 or 3 lb dead-blow mallet, or a sledge. 16oz doesn’t really accomplish anything for me. Especially in the age of engineered screws and nail guns.
I think this is a good assortment. I much prefer picking individual items over those “all in one” kits. The all in one kits are always filled with execrable tools in several categories.
I endorse the tape measure choice. I have had that tape measure for forever and it’s perfect for DIYers.
The kit needs a decent adjustable wrench – emphasis on decent. My instinct is a full wrench/socket set, but that’s overkill for most homeowners. However if they don’t have an adjustable wrench, they will inevitably end up mangling a bolt with their pliers. I personally wouldn’t want something less than those Spanish-made Channellocks, but I don’t think they’re usually in store at Home Depot. Lots of people are going to only pick from what is on shelves.
I think that would be a good point for investigation – which adjustable wrench in-store doesn’t suck?
We did this about two years ago. My wife’s family lives in another country where tools are expensive. We wanted to provide a basic tool set to three different relatives – budget was about $100 for each set. Most of the tools were Husky – each set had a 16 oz claw hammer, 6″ adjustable wrench, three pliers (needle, slip, adjustable) 6 in 1 screwdriver + a standard and a phillips screwdriver, Stanley 3/8″ SAE and metric socket set, 25′ tape measure, Defiant LED headlamp + and batteries, Craftsman folding utility knife, small pry bar, and a tool bag.
How about a non-crappy set of precision drivers?
I would add an adjustable wrench to both kits
Add needle nose pliers, torpedo level, and adjustable wrench, as many others have said. Otherwise a great start for a first tool kit.
And you picked my very favorite utility knife and tape measure for your list, so nice job! Seems silly, but that hideous green knife is about impossible to lose track of unless you drop it down a hole. I’ve probably lost a dozen of the old-style silver Stanleys, but have yet to lose one of my green ones over the last few years 🙂
The screwdriver is way too basic for my tastes. I’d recommend a skil 4v cordless, the electricians model, a harbor freight flex head ratcheting screwdriver, or the VIM HBR5 Bit Ratchet instead. Depending on how much you want to spend. Also the utility knife is heavy and too simple, so I’d prefer either https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01A0JZUWI/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_glt_fabc_ST0E2M2KM72ZXRK0M4PS?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1 or if you like heavier, this one https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08H759G99/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_glt_fabc_2X9489RZDM3J1XP1AEZB