The 10 Essential Hand Tools Everyone Should Have

There is no shortage of advice on what tools should constitute a basic toolkit. It can be confusing to figure out what is really needed. I have been doing DIY projects around the home for many years and even though I have a lot of tools I’ll attempt to focus in on the ones that I use most often for basic household projects. First, Let’s consider what essential needs a basic toolkit needs to fulfill. In reality, the needs are pretty basic:

  • To fasten or unfasten
  • To measure
  • To level
  • To cut

Virtually anything you would need to do for your home or apartment could fit into one of these categories. There are pre-packaged tool kits you can buy, but they usually contain low quality tools and may have more that you really need. You can do better by putting your own kit together with good quality tools. In my experience cheap tools can be frustrating to use because they don’t work as well as a well built tool. Save yourself some frustration and buy good tools that will last. So here is my suggested list:

Fastening and Unfastening Tools


This should be no surprise, everyone needs a hammer. They are the ultimate multi-tasker. You can build and destroy with this tool, which cannot be said for most tools. Get a high quality one-piece hammer with a straight (rip) claw and it will last you a lifetime. I like the Estwing 16oz Rip Claw Hammer. $23


Being able to get a good grip on something is important. A good pair of vise grips provides that. They are easily adjustable and can grip nuts, bolts, nails, etc… These are basically unchanged since they were invented 70 years ago, that’s because they are so effective. Again, buy quality and they will last a lifetime. I recommend the original Irwin vice grips 10 inch – $13


Most everything is put together with some type of screw. You could get a full screwdriver set, but I prefer an interchangable bit screwdriver. The will give you multiple bits that should handle just about any screw type you encounter. If you can get a ratcheting one, it really makes short work of putting in or taking out fasteners. My recommendation is the Stanley ratcheting multi bit screwdriver – $15


Most furniture you buy that needs assembly will require hex wrenches to assemble. Even though the manufacture usually supplies a tool that will work, having a good quality set of your own makes it more efficient. The ‘ball end’ wrenches allow for some wiggle room when working in tight spaces and are well worth the small extra cost. My recommendation is tekton ball end hex wrench set 25282 – $16


Similar to vise grips, an adjustable (crescent) wrench will allow you to loosen/tighten most any size nut or bolt without have a box full of wrenches. Cheap wrenches have a lot of ‘play’ and don’t fit as snugly as a good quality tool. My recommendation is the classic – Crescent 8 inch adjustable wrench – $14


This is a tool that is frequently overlooked, but has many uses. I use mine to make holes for drywall fasteners, put starter holes in wood for screws, tap in exposed nail heads, etc.. My recommendation is Dasco Pro Nail Set. $3

Measuring and Leveling Tools


You always need to measure something and the tape measure is the perfect tool . Cheap tape measures are thin and will ‘fold’ if you try to extend them more that a few feet. this is frustrating when trying to measure longer distances. Also, you want a tape measure that can run the length of most rooms. A good quality 25 foot tape measure is well worth a few extra dollars. Trust me on this, you will thank me later. I like the Stanley fat max 25 ft – $21


There is always a need to make sure things are level in a home. Whether it’s handing a picture or leveling a stove, a good quality level is a worthwhile investment. My recommendation is the Stanley 9 inch cast aluminum torpedo level – $10


A combination square is another great multi-tasker. In addition to being a basic square to make sure things are at a 90 degree angle It’s also great for measuring short distances and using it as a straight edge for drawing lines. It has a small level which can be used as a quick leveling jobs. A good quality all metal tool is what I look for. I reccommend the Irwin combination square. $13

Cutting Tool


No DIY kit is complete without a good utility knife. From opening boxes, cutting strings, or trimming a piece of wood or plastic it’s an indispensible tool. You can adjust the blade depth when cutting boxes , it holds replacement blades in the tool, and they are generally indestructable. I have several that are over 20 years old and still work perfectly. My recommendation is an old school Stanley classic 10-099 retractable knife – $7.


OK, I said this was a 10 tools list, but you need something to put you tools in. I like tool bag over tool boxes. They are easier to store and carry and the outside pockets allow you to put frequently used tools in plain sight. Get a 14 to 16 inch bag to make sure you have room to put the larger tools like the hammer and combination square. Plus you will have room for more tools in the future! I like the WorkPro 14 inch toolbag. $14

In Conclusion

There are many tool brands that would be just as good as the recommendations I have here. I wanted to give examples of good products and their approximate prices so you know what to look for when purchasing a quality tool. There is a difference between cheap and inexpensive. Cheap tools are poorly made and can be frustrating to use because they are not built well. Inexpensive tools can still be made well, but are not a name brand. Here is an example: Home Depot has their own brand of ‘HUSKY’ tools. These are less expensive than the name brand tools but in many cases are still made well. If you are on a tight budget and want to save some money, checking out the ‘private label’ tools may be a good option.