At Pro Tool Reviews, we believe in empowering people and helping them make the best tool choices for their situation. Many of our readers have asked how to build a basic toolset. Even people who don't know how to make crafts often need minor repairs, hanging pictures, and assembling furniture!
We've tried to break down our recommended tools by category. Really, we just hope you consider this a helpful list so you don't forget anything. If you have any questions during the process, we are here to help. Of course, if we've forgotten anything that you think should be on this list, please leave a comment below so we can consider adding it!
When purchasing a basic tool set, there are no substitutes for a certain set of tools. You just need them. With space in mind, our list includes some basic tools and some options if you have the space and/or the budget. While there are prepackaged basic toolsets, many of them may contain lower quality parts. Sometimes building it yourself yields better results.
Actually feeling the tool in your hands (before you buy it) can help you build a toolkit that you know will work for you. Before adding a tool to your collection, you have to make sure you like the weight and size of the tool. For simplicity, we have divided the list into categories. Feel free to jump to any category you need and go from there.
Anyone who's ever bought "requires assembly" furniture knows that you need some basic tools to get by. A basic kit will come in handy when you need to adjust your bike seat, close your blinds, hang a curtain rod, or change your car battery. Find some easy advice below – but feel free to "roll your own" solutions too.
We want to start here – and then tell you that's not the point of this article. We did not create this list to recommend the best power tool brands. If you want a starting point, check out our best cordless drill reviews for some solid options. For the handyman, take a look at our low-cost recommendations. If you want something a little more powerful, we have those too.
Drills form the core of your platform. After you find something you like, consider a kit. Make sure it includes at least an impact driver and a circular saw. We consider "core" tools to include drills, impact drivers, circular saws, and reciprocating saws.
Adding jigsaws, reciprocating saws, sanders, nailers, radios, lights, and other tools can be done later as needed.
Digital multimeter or voltmeter
That's fine if you don't plan to touch any electrical appliances. However, a digital multimeter or voltmeter can really help you with many different problems. It can help you understand how your home's electrical circuits are working — such as when a GFCI keeps tripping. It can even help troubleshoot electronics. You don't need to spend a fortune to get a decent multimeter to measure voltage, current, and resistance (and more).
A good set of starter screwdrivers comes in at least a variety of sizes, both straight and Phillips head types. We also found kits with TORX, square, and even multi-bladed screwdrivers. They allow you to work with more types of fasteners that we find in more and more products. You don't necessarily have to have the best screwdriver set, but anyone's basic kit should serve you well.
Also, consider picking up something like the Klein 15-in-1 Screwdriver for extra flexibility. We like to throw them in tool bags to save space.
Drill and Driver Bits
You definitely want a small basic drill set. If you want to get fancy, you can buy what's called an "index" kit, which includes one of just about every size from 1/16" to 1/2". Alternatively, you can buy some kits ranging in size from 1/8" to 3/8". If you plan to drill metal, read our article on the best metal drill bits.
For drive bits, your time will be easier. Grab some magnetic bits for driving various fasteners. You want a decent combination, as you may end up having to deal with Phillips, Torx, or even square drive fasteners at some point. We really like the high-end Makita XPS impact driver bits. However, you can actually buy cheaper base kits from companies like Bosch, Ryobi, and Craftsman Tools.
We couldn't really create a guide on how to build a basic toolset without recommending a hammer. If you only want to buy one hammer, choose the best framing hammer you can afford. A basic hammer will do, but we prefer something around 19-22 oz as a general rule. Look for a smooth-faced hammer with straight claws. You've probably heard us talk about why we prefer titanium hammers to steel hammers, but you don't need an added expense to get started. If you want something tried and tested, get the Estwing 22 oz Smooth Face Frame.
We couldn't have built a complete how-to article on building a basic toolset without a crowbar! At least one medium-sized trim pry bar will work for most people. Equipped with a pry bar helps save a screwdriver that should not be used for prying. I prefer 15" or longer flat bars. A small trim strip may also help when dealing with base molding and similar, more delicate operations.
Work Lights and Headlights
In the past, small, rugged LED-style flashlights were popular. However, these days we prefer a small work light or work light that illuminates the work area near you. If you don't opt for a rechargeable model, be sure to carry a spare battery.
Headlights go with you while you work, making them indispensable for working in cabinets, crawl spaces, or anywhere you need light directly in front of you.
Next, we want to expand your hand tools and make sure you have some of the most common tools you need to tackle household chores. We also include tools for project building and DIY authoring.
Clips help keep things together while you're fastening or the glue dries. If you build things, you need clips — lots of clips. Get a wide variety of clamps in every size, type and style. You won't regret it. We found the 12" Irwin Quick Grips and Bessey trigger clips to be the most versatile.
When you can fit your finger on the size of the fastener head, an adjustable wrench definitely qualifies as one of the handy tools you need in any basic tool set. Look for mid-sized models. We especially like the Milwaukee monkey wrench, but you can get cheaper tools.
With this type of referral, you have many options. Not everyone needs a set of wrenches right away, but most would benefit from owning these tools. If you plan to work on your own vehicle, they will certainly help.
Find a set of metric and standard (SAE) wrenches. While a basic set of wrenches will work perfectly – we also like ratchet models, which allow you to quickly loosen nuts without having to lift and place the wrench with each turn.
Wire cutting pliers
Wire cutters (side cutters or diagonal pliers) should feel solid in the hand, yet light at the same time. These are useful for cutting wire, rope, wire, and more. I might also include a pair of wire strippers – but I dabble in electrical work. In fact, there are many kinds of pliers – and each has its place. Check out our best pliers article to see some of the best pliers in every category we've got our hands on.
Needle nose pliers
We separate these pliers for a reason. Needle nose pliers help you reach into tight places to tighten or grab otherwise out of reach. Sometimes common pliers are "thumbs". When you need this tool, no other tool can replace it.
Jaw pliers (vices)
Locking jaw pliers are great when you can no longer grab the fastener head with a wrench or screwdriver. Irwin Vise Grips are still the gold standard, but the Milwaukee Torque Lock pliers also impressed us.
A pro might settle for a nice set of T-handles, but we like sets that fold down. They offer multiple tools attached to a single handle. Stay away from loose kits as they can easily get lost.
Find a good 3/4" wood chisel. Use it to adjust strike plate position on doors or to cut hinges. Do not use it on any metal or for prying. Take good care of your chisels, they should last a long time.
While a caulk gun (see below) is great for a variety of home projects, it's an introduction to the tools you'll need for painting. We don't recommend sprayers – leave them to the professionals, or when you really want to get serious about your work.
When thinking about how to build a basic tool set, you probably don't immediately think of a caulk gun. However, everyone's sink, tub, or window needs caulking at some point. You might as well get one of these now and keep it handy. Stay away from the cheapest models unless you have very strong hands. We recommend something with more leverage. Of course, if you're securing everything with caulk, you might want to consider picking up a cordless caulk gun.
oil paint brush
Buying the right brush means knowing what you want to accomplish. There are some basic brushes that make retouching and small projects easy. You'll also want a nice angled brush for easy cutting in when painting larger areas of your home. We recommend at least one high-quality 3-inch brush, one angled 2-inch brush, and a variety of smaller disposable debris brushes.
Putty knife and 5-in-1 tool
We can't overlook the convenience of a putty knife for applying filler and removing loose paint. 5-in-1 tool helps you quickly scrape, clean paint rollers, open paint cans, and more.
The 1/4 piece rubber sanding block is the most portable size. Use it to sand down small areas when patching drywall.
When building your basic tool set, you need reliable layout, measuring and cutting tools. These provide some of the most basic tasks for any job. This includes cutting cardboard boxes, hanging items (TVs, mirrors, even doors), and measuring spaces for furniture or rugs.
Torpedo Levels and Box Beam Levels
We can really tell you how to build a basic toolset without including some levels. The most convenient size is a torpedo level. This compact spirit level fits easily in most tool boxes or tool bags. If you can, also grab a 2-foot aluminum spirit level, such as the Sola Big Red 3 spirit level or whatever is suggested in our best bubble level buying guide. The 2ft spirit level gives you all the utility of a smaller size spirit level. Plus, because it's made of a rigid material, it can be used as a straight edge when lining up items or making precise cuts with a utility knife.
We recommend looking for a knife with a regular, easy-to-change blade, both folding and standard. Our favorite is still the Milwaukee Fastback utility knife, but we also like the OLFA Aluminum MXP utility knife. The latter has a segmented snap-off blade that will keep your edge nearly infinitely sharper.
Scissors, scissors and scissors
Be sure to get a good pair of heavy-duty scissors, which cannot cut through thick materials. Again, we recommend a pair of aviation shears for cutting thinner sheet metal. We love the Milwaukee straight aviation shears, but honestly, there are many brands that make great products.
25ft tape measure
The 16ft tape is a good start, and honestly, it's our favorite. If you only want one, buy a 25-foot compact to cover those longer distances. We love the Stanley Fatmax tape measure as well as the Milwaukee Wide Blade tape measure and its sturdy Stud tape measure.
Check out our best tape measures article for more of our top picks.
If you already own some power tool solutions, you may be less likely to use hacksaws and wood saws. Still, not everything can be easily cut with power tools. Consider a hacksaw, which uses replaceable blades and is great for cutting hard materials like metal and PVC. Also, a basic wood saw will come in handy when you need to cut wood cleanly.
In our opinion, no one has (successfully) built a better mousetrap in this space. Answering the question of how to build a basic toolset requires including these toolkits. Carpenter pencils are better than regular pencils because of the larger graphite lead inside.
Security, Organization and Cleanup
We couldn't finish this article on how to build a basic toolset without touching on security, organization, and cleanup. While buying a basic set of tools is your primary concern, it's also helpful to know how to store them and protect yourself on the job site. Thinking about security, organization, and cleanup from the start can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
First aid kit
Even if you're not fixing things, it makes sense to keep a first aid kit handy! You can find tons of first aid kits on Amazon. Choose one that suits your specific needs.
Always carry tinted and clear safety glasses with you. Note: While sunglasses may help keep objects out of your eyes, safety glasses are specially rated to ensure that high-speed objects do not penetrate. Find something that is comfortable and fits your face shape.
These come in all shapes and sizes. You don't need heavy leather gloves either. Work gloves offer anything from knuckle and hand protection to cut protection. Many now offer areas that allow you to use your smartphone without removing your gloves. Overall, we prefer thinner gloves for most projects. They provide good protection while remaining tactile.
Cloth/paper types are suitable for simple and low dust applications. For anything involving long-term work, we recommend N95-rated masks. Better models include a vent, and some even offer rechargeable fans to expel the hot air you exhale. For extreme work, consider a respirator.
All you need is a good 50-foot extension cord. We actually prefer several 50 foot wires to one 100 foot wire because longer wires are harder to manage. Spend a few dollars more for wire that uses 12 AWG wire. For more information on how this affects your power tool, see our extension cord size chart article.
We recommend at least a 6 gallon wet/dry vacuum. The prices of these products have dropped significantly over the years, making them very affordable. Check out our Best Shop-Vac Reviews article for some great recommendations. This article can also help you understand the difference between shop vacuums and dust collectors. All in all, a shop vac cleans up the mess, while a dust collector removes dust and debris from tools cutting concrete, masonry, or wood.
Not to be confused with plastic, rags can come in handy to protect floors and furniture from paint and dust. Make sure to get at least 8 feet by 10 feet. Unlike plastic, paint won't stain rags — making them the preferred "tool" of choice for professional painters. Also grab some clean rags when you buy these. These are great for cleaning up, applying stains, protecting surfaces, and more. You may also want to buy a small box of blue shop towels.
You need some way to store and organize your tools. That could be a tool box or tool bag. Even a bucket will suffice with the right tool storage accessories. Choose something that works for the amount of space you have and the number of tools you have. And you may need more than one solution—especially when you consider your work vehicle as well as your shop or garage.
Below is a brief list of consumables that you'll find helpful to have on hand. You don't want to run to the store every time you need something as basic as duct tape or caulk.
- Wall Anchors – Consider purchasing a variety of sets that allow you to hang and secure items to the wall with extreme ease and keep them strong. Also, check out our article on how to use drywall anchors for more information.
- Nails and Screws – The small kit comes with a variety of fasteners of different lengths and sizes in a convenient plastic case.
- Duct Tape – This stuff fixes almost everything temporarily, as far as we know. It's like holding on to the bumper of a car to repair a broken seatback after a fender bends.
- Masking Tape/Painter's Tape – Great for painting so you can keep nice straight lines, but can also be used for many other things around the house or job site.
- Electrical Tape – Usually black, this waterproof tape does a good job of insulating exposed wires, like the wires on a vacuum cleaner cord, after you've sucked it up a few times and pulled it out…
- Caulk – There are two types of caulk to have on hand. Alex caulk is ideal for repairing cracks in paintable trim and drywall. The other is a silicone-based caulk for sinks, tubs, or windows. All caulks are labeled for use. Watch out if they can be painted!
- Sandpaper – Get a variety of packs with coarse, medium and fine grids, because you never know what you might need to sand. Match the paper to your tool of choice so you have what you need.
- Blue Nitrile Gloves – Great for working in the car or anywhere your hands can get oily, these disposable gloves come in an affordable box.
We're sure this list doesn't contain everything you might need. Hope it puts you on the right path. Whether you plan on tackling simple to more complex DIY projects, or even if you're a future professional, the tools on this list can help you plan. Often half the effort of completing a project has to do with not having the right tools.
We purposely do not include power tools in this article. Our focus is on teaching you how to build a basic toolset that will prepare you for a variety of jobs. In the end, some of these tools may be stopgap when you know your preferences. It doesn't matter. Each of us learns as we go.