Dozen Essential Tools You Will Need Around the House

All of us have a collection of tools that we have put together over the years. Some of us have been collecting for many years and have a tool for every job, no matter what the job calls for. And many of us have most of the tools we need, although there are times we wish we had more. But if you are just starting out, you may not even have all the basics, or even know what the basics are. And that brings us to The Dirty Dozen…12 tools that will enable you to carry out many simple home repair and improvement jobs.

I’ll include a rough price guide for each tool to give you an idea of the cost. You will always be able to find less expensive tools, but it has been my experience that you get what you pay for. Saving money by buying cheap tools and then having to run to the store in the middle of a job to replace a tool because it broke is no fun. Paying a little extra for brand name tools will save you time, aggravation and money in the long run.


To have a screwdriver for most screws, you should have at least 2 sizes of flat drivers and 2 sizes of Phillips drivers. Or you can save a bit of money and buy a 4-in-1 driver which comes with interchangeable tips. Make sure the tips are held tightly in the shaft and the shaft is held tightly in the handle.

Slip-joint pliers

These will come in handy when you have to retrieve a ring, spoon, or clog from the p-trap under the sink. A 10-inch slip-joint plier will be big enough to grip the slip nut that holds together the p-trap.


While I’m on the subject of plumbing, a plunger is a handy tool to have around the house. Sometimes it will save you the trouble of having to get out the slip-joint pliers. The rubber bell on the working end comes in two styles – the standard bell shape, for most sinks and tubs, and one that has a collar on the end for use in toilets. The collar fits down inside the drain of the toilet for a better seal.

Measuring Tape

These come in many lengths, from 3 feet to 100 feet and over. But the size most useful your basic toolset will be 20–25 feet. Look for a 1-inch wide blade, which is stiff enough to extend without bending, allowing you to measure long distances, even if you find yourself without a helper. Also look for a blade lock so the blade won’t retract into the case while you are measuring.

For some odd reason, the numbers on a tape measurer are printed for left-handed people. A right-handed person holds the tape in the left hand and marks the length with the right. When done this way, the numbers are upside down. Recently though, I have come across a tape that is made for right-handed people – the numbers are right side up when the case is held in the left hand. If you can find one, it will keep you from many little headaches.


Your first hammer will be serving as more than a hammer. You will use it as a wrecking bar, a prybar and a nail puller in addition to driving nails. A steel handled hammer will stand up to the abuse. Choose a 16-oz. hammer (the weight of the head), which will be heavy enough to get the job done, but light enough not to tire your arm out. If you plan to drive nails all day, a second hammer with a wood or composite handle will absorb some of the force of the pounding, easing the strain on your elbow and arm.

Utility knife

You will always have a sharp blade handy with a utility knife – extra blades are stored in the handle. Look for a retractable blade and a wrap-around tip to keep the blade from popping out when you apply extra heavy pressure.

Electrical tester

Also known as a neon voltage tester, this little item will help prevent accidental electrocution when you are working with the wiring in your home. As you check the wires you will be working on, it will light up if the leads are attached to a hot wire and ground. Don’t work on wiring without one.

Electric drill

A 3/8 inch variable speed drill is for more than making holes. At slower speeds, not only can you drill through metal easier, but you can drive screws with more control. Look for a 0–1200 speed range. While you can find drills in a lower price range, again, you get what you pay for. At the higher price range, you get more power, better quality and the motor and bearings should last a lifetime.


A 6-foot stepladder will get you up to most places in your home. They come in wood, aluminum, and fiberglass and are roughly the same in price. Aluminum and fiberglass are lighter, wood and fiberglass are safer when working around electricity. Personally, I go with fiberglass because it is lighter, does not conduct electricity. In my experience, fiberglass ladders are more stable (a plus if you, like me, don’t like being on ladders in the first place). Choose a Type I Duty rated ladder. They are sturdier and more stable. Every ladder will have a Type label on it.

Adjustable wrench

A good 8-inch adjustable wrench will work on most nuts and bolts. Spend the extra money and get a good quality wrench. Lesser quality wrenches will wear faster, slip more and are prone to breaking.

Putty knife

The closest thing to an all-purpose tool you can buy. Use it to apply putty to cover nail holes, scrape paint, open stuck windows, apply window glazing – its usefulness is limited by your imagination. A flexible blade is more useful than a stiff blade, but the price is right to get both.

Shop vacuum

A shop vacuum is essential if you want to keep a happy home. You never want to use your house vacuum to pick up sawdust, plaster dust, or any other type of construction debris. It will also pick up water for those plumbing jobs that get a little messy and also do a good job of cleaning heating ducts.

There you go – the basic tool list to get you through 75% of your home repairs and a good start on improvements. Remember that good quality tools, while more expensive, will last longer and let you work with less effort and stress.