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8 basic tools every adult should own

One landlord I had years ago in Brooklyn told me my stash of tools was even better than his own.

Hyde Putty Knife 1 ¼”, $5.78 at Amazon

Hyde Putty Knife 1 ¼”, $5.78 at Amazon

Amazon/Hearst Newspapers

I’ve always loved tools. Probably because I grew up with parents who were into DIY home improvement projects – on the house we grew up in, and at the apartments and restaurant that my family owned. I know that sounds a little like my folks had lots of money but, my family was just middle class and both of my parents worked all the time. My three brothers and I are prime examples of generation X latch-key kids.

At any rate, my brothers and I were always enlisted to aid my dad in his renovation and repair endeavors. So, I grew up around tools and with the knowledge of how to use them. As an adult, I own an inordinate number of them, mainly because even now my dad gifts me some kind of tool every Christmas. I’ve done a lot of my own renovations and repairs throughout the years, and even when I was renting, there were a handful of tools that I used regularly. One landlord I had years ago in Brooklyn told me my stash of tools was better than his own and routinely used them when fixing something for me.

There are all kinds of fancy and very specific tools out there, many of which most people will never need but there are some basic tools that every adult should own.

16-ounce Claw Hammer

Edward Tools Harden Forged One Piece Steel Claw Hammer
Edward Tools
amazon.com
$13.95

A 16-ounce hammer is a good mid-size, all-purpose hammer for pounding in and removing nails. As someone who has broken hammers before, I’m not a fan of those with wood or fiberglass handles. This one is a one-piece forged hammer, meaning the head and handle are all fashioned from a continuous piece of steel. The handle is an ergonomic, non-slip version, which means the chances of it accidentally slipping out of your grip are low.

Hyde Putty Knife 1 ¼”

HYDE 02050 and Silver Putty Knives, Professional, 1-1/4 in. Blade Wdth, 1 Pack, Black
Hyde
amazon.com
$6.92

Putty knife widths are probably a personal preference thing. I have used various sizes and my favorite – and the one I’ve used the most – is a 1 ¼” wide Hyde stiff putty knife. Putty knives also come with flexible blades but I’ve never found them that useful.

I have had the same 1 ¼” putty knife for thirty years  – which is a testament to its sturdiness. I have used it to scrape paint, linoleum floor residue, varnish, wax, layer upon layer of grease, and all sorts of unidentifiable gunk. I’ve used it to pry up linoleum flooring and wood paneling. It's an extremely useful tool for all sorts of jobs.

Adjustable wrench

beyond by BLACK+DECKER Adjustable Wrench Set
beyond
amazon.com
$16.39

I have a full set of these but the size I use regularly is the six-inch. Adjustable wrenches, most commonly used for anything with a hex bolt, will grip a variety of fasteners on bicycles, toys, and furniture. 

Plier Set

CHANNELLOCK HD-1 Ultimate 4-Piece Pliers Set
Channellock
amazon.com
$51.95

Pliers come in a large variety of sizes and styles. This set from Channel Lock, consisting of four pairs including a needle nose, tongue and groove, diagonal cutter, and slip joint, will help you to complete a range of home improvement projects.

Diagonal cutters snip through wire and thin metal. Tongue and groove pliers are adjustable with a channel that locks them to a specific size for a secure grip around things like pipe fittings (which crescent wrenches will often just slip off of).

Needle nose pliers are great for pulling out staples and the like. Slip joint pliers are used for gripping pipes and these also have a wire cutting shear.

Hand Saw

CRAFTSMAN Hand Saw, 12-Inch Hacksaw
Craftsman
amazon.com
$11.98

A 12-inch hack saw that will cut through wood, plastic, and laminate is useful – especially if you find power saws a bit frightening (I do and I own several). You can also buy replacement blades for a hacksaw and/or blades designed to cut through specific things like metal.

Flathead and Philips head screwdrivers

CRAFTSMAN Screwdriver Set
Craftsman
amazon.com
$9.98

Screwdrivers come in a lot of sizes and you can buy them in sets of 10, or 12, or more. With two sizes of both flat and Philips head screwdrivers, this small 5 piece set will likely be sufficient for most people. The 5th member of this set, the offset screwdriver, allows you to get into close, cramped corners where regular screwdrivers do not fit.

Not all screwdrivers are created equal. I like Craftsman because the handles are comfortable and sturdy (some screwdrivers have cheap plastic handles that break). Craftsman also has a lifetime warranty.

20-volt Cordless drill/screw gun

BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Cordless Drill
BLACK+DECKER
amazon.com
$39.00

A cordless drill/screw gun isn’t necessarily an essential tool but it makes many tasks much easier. Pre-drilled holes for screws are very helpful when dealing with hardwoods. With a screw gun, you can also insert many screws quickly without breaking a sweat.

The higher the voltage on a drill, the more power it will have to penetrate thicker and/or denser wood. You can also buy specific drill bits made for metal.

Tape measure

CRAFTSMAN Tape Measure
Craftsman
amazon.com
$13.00

As I am also a pattern maker for clothing, my life is filled with measuring devices. A good, simple, metal, self-locking, 25-foot tape measure (or longer) is essential if you need to determine how much paint or flooring to buy – or for any other instance where you need to make sure something will fit in a specific place. 

Armed with these tools, you’ll be equipped to tackle many common, simple home improvement tasks. Be warned though that it's entirely possible that a tool obsession will result and you’ll end up like my dad who believes that you can never own too many tools.