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The 10 Tools You Need for Basic Home Repair

Jan 30, 2024Jan 30, 2024

Updated December 2, 2022

Doug Mahoney

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If you spend enough time in your home, you’ll probably start to notice little things around the space that require your attention—a door that won't close right, for example, or a loose handrail. If you want to test the DIY waters, or you just can't wait for a contractor to take on these projects, you can easily tackle home repairs with a set of basic tools.

As a staff writer at Wirecutter, my job includes evaluating and testing the infinite array of tools and figuring out which ones are the best fit for around-the-house use. I’ve been using tools on a near-daily basis for more than 20 years, including a decade working in construction as a carpenter, foreman, and site supervisor. If you’re starting from square one, I recommend getting a basic and inexpensive toolkit and slowly upgrading certain items as you take on more advanced projects and gain more skills.

A basic tool kit should have all of the essentials and minimal filler, offering tools that will get the job done. Such kits tend not to have additional features or conveniences like padded handles. Decent kits like this are usually under $50, which isn't that much considering how many tools you get and that an upgraded screwdriver alone costs about $25.

After our tests of 11 of these kits, the Anvil Homeowner's Tool Set, which is sold exclusively at Home Depot, emerged as our favorite. It isn't a flashy collection of tools, but it covers all the basics, including a tape measure, a hammer, a screwdriver, wrenches, a utility knife, and a level. You also get clamps and a pair of scissors. Nothing else we found offered a better selection of tools at a decent quality level for as low of a price.

The screwdriver I use most often for tightening hinges, assembling furniture, and swapping out toy batteries is the Megapro 13-in-1. We’ve tested almost 30 screwdrivers, and nothing else comes close to matching the distinct features of the Megapro. The six double-headed bits—all you could ever need for around-the-house work—are stored in a spinning carousel that pops out of the back of the handle. The teardrop-shaped handle perfectly fits the hand, and the storage cap at the end spins freely, so you can bear down on the screwdriver and still turn it, a big help for loosening a stuck or rusted screw. This tool is also one of the longest standing Wirecutter picks. We’ve been recommending it since we first started writing about screwdrivers in 2013.

Tape measures are essential for spacing pictures on a wall, measuring a room for painting, or checking if a piece of furniture will fit. A good tape measure is accurate, easy to read, and designed with a durable blade, which is always the first thing to break. The Stanley PowerLock Tape Measure, a classic of the genre, excelled in our tests. Not only is it the cheapest, but it also offers the best combination of accuracy and durability. Even after scrubbing the blade with 60-grit sandpaper, we could clearly read the measurements.

Cheap hammers with wooden or fiberglass handles can break, or the head can loosen over time. The Estwing E3-16C is a single piece of steel from tip to tail, making it virtually indestructible. The curved claw is great for nail pulling, and the padded handle is grippy but not squishy like some others. I’ve relied on Estwing hammers for decades and can attest to their longevity: The one I use most is almost 20 years old and hardly shows any wear at all.

Wrenches really shine with bathroom upgrades such as replacing a leaky showerhead or installing a new bidet. Cheap wrenches loosen as you use them and can strip the corners of a nut. They also have minimalist handles, which make it difficult to really lean into a stuck bolt. The Channellock 8WCB WideAzz 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench is an upgrade in all respects. The smooth and easy adjustment holds over time, the handle has excellent padding, and the jaws come to a point, so the Channellock can fit in tight spots. For such a small wrench, it can easily cradle the end of a garden hose, something that most similarly sized wrenches can't do.

To avoid disaster, you should hang heavy items, such as a set of shelves or a big mirror, on a stud. But finding those studs isn't always easy. Electronic stud finders are notoriously unreliable and require a fussy calibration each time you use them. I’ve always had much better luck with small, inexpensive, magnet-based stud finders such as the C.H. Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder. This little tool, hardly more than a plastic covering over two powerful magnets, finds the screws that are in the stud holding up the drywall.

Some projects, like putting up curtain rods or hanging closet shelving, simply need a drill. But don't be put off by the massive tools that contractors use. Smaller, 12-volt models are lighter and easier to handle, and they have more than enough power for around-the-house work. The DeWalt DCD701F2 Xtreme 12V Max Brushless 3/8 in. Drill/Driver Kit sunk more than 100 3-inch screws into solid wood in our tests and has the most comfortable, form-fitting handle we’ve ever used on a drill. It also has an LED light that illuminates the front of the drill for when you’re putting up that closet shelving.

Repairs and upgrades typically require precision, and you can't achieve that in low light. Unlike flashlights, headlamps offer hands-free lighting that is always directed where you’re working. It's also easy enough to hold a headlamp like a flashlight when you’re inspecting under sink plumbing, say, or trying to see into a crawlspace. The Vitchelo V800 is a bright, easy-to-use headlamp that's inexpensive enough for you to have one dedicated to your toolbox. It can emit a red or white light, but the two-button interface lets you easily ignore the red one, unlike on a lot of other models.

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