There are any number of “must have” lists out there, but one that I think is perhaps overlooked or glossed over is a list of tools that everyone should have readily on hand. Whether it’s an emergency repair or a small DIY project, everyone should have immediate access to some very basic tools. The following is what I think of as a BASIC tool set. My collection is somewhat more extensive, however compared to some mine would be considered basic so don’t be intimidated. Of course, these are just my tools of choice. You can get by with cheaper tools but let’s face it, when it comes to tools you really do get what you pay for. I would much rather buy something once and have it the rest of my life than to have to replace it over and over. I can’t tell you how many tools that I have that were my fathers and even grandfather’s before being passed to me. I already have a collection of tools started for both my son and daughter that will be passed to them to get them started when the time comes. So without further ado here is my list of basic tools. Below you will find a link to a list of “nice to have” tools, the more you use your tools the more uses you will find for them, so the collection tends to grow over time.
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1.STORAGE – A good tool storage system is a must have. Tool boxes are a love hate kind of thing with me. I love the thought of a portable toolbox that has some basic tools in it that I can grab and take to my current project. Sadly what I have found is that invariably the tool that I need is always on the bottom of the box. So I have graduated to a tool “tote” or bag. I usually throw the tools that I think I will need for any given project into the tote. However if you are just putting a collection together this is an easy and efficient way to keep your tools ready to use, all in one place and organized (something I struggle with). Having said that I do love me an old school tool box that can take a beating and in a pinch be used as anything from a stool to a wheel chock.
2. TAPE MEASURE – Never underestimate the amount of frustration a crappy tape measure can bring into your otherwise happy little project. I cannot tell you how many tape measures of mine have met their demise because they fail to return well or perhaps will only extend a couple of feet before that infuriating little SNAP and down comes the end of your tape and with it your hopes of getting a measurement without involving someone else. Do yourself a favor and buy one with a very readable scale, plenty of return strength and enough rigidity to extend at least 6 feet without folding. This is what I’m currently using and so far am happy with it. Also, do yourself a favor and buy one longer than you think you will need, they don’t stretch.
3. HAMMERS – OK, so here’s the thing. I love hammers, not just a little but with a burning passion rivaled only by my love of family. I probably have close to 100 hammers in different shapes and sizes. Old, new, big or small I love them. So for me to narrow it down to a must have is hard because for me they are all must haves. However, if I could only pick 2 (yes, you need to have AT LEAST 2) I think you are pretty safe with a 20oz claw hammer and a 12oz ball peen hammer. I personally like Estwing hammers. They are US made, have all steel handles that won’t break and have a nice cushioned grip. I have several Estwing hammers that were my Dad’s and they are as good today as they were ~50 years ago when he bought them. The bonus is that they are actually reasonably priced.
4. UTILITY KNIFE – Pretty self explanatory in uses but what is not as obvious and what I love about utility knives is being able to have a fresh, razor sharp edge whenever needed. Blades are inexpensive, so do yourself a favor always put a fresh blade in when you start a new project. A dull knife is a dangerous knife. I have knives that are 20+ years old and some that are less than 20 days old. When the folding knives first came out I thought they were a great idea and I do own a couple, but I have found that when it comes to all day long use it is hard to beat the reliability of the old screw together knife.
5. SCREWDRIVERS – Ok, so you need a way to change the blade in that utility knife you just got. Oh yeah, and put together/repair just about everything built by man…. EVER.. Seriously, you have to have a set of screwdrivers. And like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. My trash can has seen its fair share of cheap screwdrivers, so just do yourself a favor and buy a good set. It should have a #1 & #2 Phillips in a couple of different lengths as well as small to large flat head, regular or slothead screwdrivers in different lengths. Also, you didn’t hear this from me but regular screwdrivers are great as lightweight prying tools, scrapers, chisels and all around poking and probing devices. Screwdrivers are a close second to hammers in my love life. I am pretty fanatical about my screwdrivers. I have them as short as 1 inch and as long as 4 feet but hey that’s just my obsession. This set should get you started and do just about any task you might need around the house.
6. PLIERS – Pliers, one word that means so many things. If there is a job to be done, there is a set of pliers made just for that task. Everything from your standard slip joint pliers to highly specialized fencing pliers and everything in between. You can make up for a lacking tool collection with a good set of pliers. My Ag-Mechanics teacher would be very disappointed if he reads this, but let’s face it – most of the time we use the tool that we can reach, and we don’t always reach for the right tool. So for everything from plumbing repairs to holding small delicate items pliers are the way to go. Do yourself a favor and start with a really good set. Some things like channel pliers (generically referred to as Channel Locks) are best to have duplicates and perhaps even a variety of sizes. However, to get you started this is a pretty good set.
7. WRENCHES – Ok, here is where you can start heading down some serious rat holes. If you have room and a big tool box you can have a wrench for every occasion. However for this list we are only talking about the bare minimum. Again, I would probably be tied to the flagpole and lashed by my both my Dad and my shop teachers but once again you would be amazed at what you can get done with an adjustable wrench (also generically known as a Crescent wrench, but that is a brand name not it’s actual name). Here again, it is best to get a decent set of wrenches in a variety of sizes. I have been around shops my whole life and I can tell you that basically every mechanic I have ever known will laugh if you grab an adjustable wrench, but here is the dirty little secret….. They all have them stashed in their tool boxes somewhere.
8. SAFETY – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention safety. Every time you use any of these tools you should think about your safety. It’s all fun and games until you have something in your eye or are bleeding when a simple precaution could and should have prevented the pain and suffering. I am not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you that every time I pick up a tool I put my safety glasses on, but I will tell you that I try to. Here are a few items that you should have
Glasses – No brainer, get good ones. They even have them for those of us that require a little extra boost to our vision. They’re inexpensive and a requirement.
Hearing protection – You can go with basic ear plugs or huge ear muff style protection, but do yourself a favor and get something that is comfortable and easy to use. You will be amazed how loud some of this stuff is that we do. I generally use these. You can put them in your ear at the beginning of the project and comfortably wear them all day.
Gloves – You should always have a good pair of gloves on hand (see what I did there). This is pretty obvious but hey, if I didn’t put it here Wanderstead Wife would ask me why I didn’t. For the most part I have switched over to using the Mechanix type glove found here.
9. MISC – So here are some items that I personally think that every tool container should contain that you may already have on hand. Electricians tape or black tape, pencils, Sharpies, ruler or straightedge, flashlight, small level and of course duct tape. Yep, I said it and I’ll say it again. Duct tape. There is usually a reason for certain urban legends or myths to get started and Duct Tape is one of them. I won’t even begin to try to tell you all the ways you can use duct tape but let’s just put it this way. Always keep some handy.
And that’s it. Get those items and you should be able to tackle lots of the small jobs around your own homestead. I hope this helps, and if you feel I missed something let me know. If you want to take it to the next level, check my list of Wanderstead Husband nice to have tools. Or you can just jump headlong into the tool obsession like me and end up trying to figure out where to put your 101st hammer. Now, get out there and get something fixed!