I rarely need things from my tool kit, but when I do need them, I need them now. Assembling a good tool kit can be hard, though—How do I know what I need? How can I afford all of these expensive tools? Why do I need a tool kit if I’m not a handy person anyway?
Well, my friend, in order: You know what you need by reading this post! I’ll give you tips on how to build an affordable tool kit at the end of the post! And just because you’re not handy yet doesn’t mean you won’t soon become handy with the right tools! (Also, there may come a time in your life when you need to tighten a screw or assemble some new furniture, and you can’t call your friend to come over with her tools to do it for you). I’ve included links to all of the tools I’ve listed, just in case you don’t know what any of them are.
The Very Basic Tools
If you get nothing else, get these things. I call these the basic tools because when you’re assembling furniture, these are the things that it will call for instead of providing for you.
Hammer – When you need a hammer, it’s honestly really hard to make do with anything other than an actual hammer. Believe me, I’ve tried many things when I needed a hammer and didn’t have one: A shoe, a vitamin bottle, a piece of wood, a mouthwash bottle, the handles of other tools, etc. Surprise, surprise, these so-called “hammer substitutes” did not work (and I usually just ended up breaking things).
Screw Drivers – At the very least, try to own a larger flat head screwdriver and a medium-sized Phillips head screwdriver. If you have the budget or opportunity, try to have a variety of sizes.
Tip for the tool-less: The best screwdrivers have wider grips. Essentially, this gives you more torque and makes turning screws easier.
The “I want to work with more than just nails or screws” Tools:
These things are what most other lists would consider part of the basics. However, as far as I’m concerned, if you have any of these in addition to you hammer and screwdrivers, you’re head and shoulders above the majority of the class.
Adjustable Wrench (or a Crescent Wrench, or a Spanner, if you’re British. It goes by many names.) – Make sure you spring for the adjustable version. Getting a plain old monkey wrench might help you with some things, but then you’re stuck with only that one (or two, if it’s double ended) size. Getting an adjustable wrench means that you automatically have every available size of monkey wrench.
Hex Keys/Allen Keys – In my college, my set of Allen keys were practically gold when it came to reorganizing a dorm room, because all of our school-provided furniture needed Allen keys to be disassembled and readjusted. For this reason alone, they will always have a special place in my heart (and toolbox).
Tip for the tool-less: Most furniture that you have to assemble yourself will actually come with a little Allen key for you to use, which is great. You don’t need to actually buy a set of these as long as you make sure you hold on to the freebies when you’ve finished putting together that desk!
Pliers – If you’re only getting one pair of pliers, I would get a pair of flat-nose pliers, because you can get a pretty strong grip on most things with those. If you get the chance, though, do pick up some needle-nose pliers, too. They’re great for small things.
Tape Measure – Sometimes, you just want to know how long something is.
The Fancy Tools:
These are the tools that you shouldn’t bother with if you don’t see yourself becoming a very handy or crafty person. You’ll need these if you plan on building your own furniture, disassembling things that came already put together, or trying some of those really big Pintrest projects that you put on your “Maybe Someday” board. That’s not to say that you should pass these up if your uncle is offering them to you for free, or you find a great price at a yard sale, because these are great tools, but don’t just run out and buy them because you think you should.
Electric Drill/Screw Gun – Electric drills are great. If you have a screwdriver bit, it makes screwing and unscrewing things like 800% faster. Plus, if you have a drill bit, you can suddenly improvise or make your improvements to things that would never have been possible before. However, chances are that you won’t ever need to drill a hole in anything in your day-to-day life, and a screw driver is just as effective as a screw gun, even if it is a billion times slower.
Socket Wrench/Ratchet – I love socket wrenches. If I had to pick a favorite tool, they would be my choice. They’re super useful, and really quick. (Plus, something about the sound they make is just so satisfying!) The thing is, though, pretty much anything you might need a socket wrench for can be done with an adjustable wrench (even if it does take longer), and unfortunately, this utility doesn’t work the other way around: If you have a set of socket wrenches, you still need to buy a regular wrench.
Hand Saw (or an Electric Saw, for that matter) – You don’t need a saw in your basic tool kit. Chances are, if you’re the kind of person who anticipates frequently using a saw, you’re the kind of person who already owns a saw.
Level – Unless you are a particularly meticulous person, anything that you would want a level for you can get close enough by eyeballing or using the level on your smartphone.
Clamps or Vice Grips – Basically, these are for when you need another hand but none is available (or it would be too dangerous to put a hand that close to whatever you’re whacking with a hammer or sawing at). You’re more likely, though, to end up using them to hold something in place while glue dries, and most of the time, a stack of books with suffice for this.
Everything Else – Pretty much any other tool I haven’t already listed can also fall under the “Fancy” category.
Odds and Ends
These aren’t technically tools, but I keep them in the same place in my closet, and I consider them fairly essential, so I’m including them in this list.
Duct Tape – It’s duct tape. It holds the world together, and it may have to hold your apartment together, too.
Flashlight – Most people don’t actually own flashlights anymore, because 99% of the time, we can just use our phones to light up anything we need to see. However, that last 1% of the time, like when the power is out or your phone is dead or lost, it’s really great to have a flashlight.
Batteries – I don’t use batteries often, but when they die, you can bet I want a replacement on-hand.
Super Glue – It’s not entirely necessary, but we’ve all had that moment when we really wanted something fixed.
Box Cutter – It doesn’t have to be a box cutter, just make sure you have something sharp to open boxes with other than your keys.
Matches/Lighter – Similarly to the flashlight, you may only need it twice a year, but you should have them around.
Zip Ties – You’d be surprised how useful these little guys can be. It’s worth it to have a few on hand.
How to Acquire Your Tools
Now that you know what you need, you need to figure out how to get it all. Tools are one of those things where you pay for quality. While you can get many of these tools from the dollar store, that’s really not the best idea. Sure, they’ll probably work, but they may also snap in half mid-use. For about $8, you can get a little toolkit from IKEA with the basics in it. It’s not going to be phenomenal quality, but it will certainly get you through all of your furniture assembly.
I got almost all of my tools for free when my friend was moving and needed to get rid of things. He had plenty of duplicates, so I walked away with nearly a full toolbox. If you can find someone who’s looking to slim down their collection, this is the best way to start your own set.
If you can’t find someone who is just giving away tools, try to find them at yard sales or somewhere like Goodwill or Salvation Army. You’ll pay much less than you would at a hard-ware store, although you do run the risk of getting worn out or poor quality items. If possible, bring a handy friend with you while you’re looking so you know whether you’re being ripped off. It also doesn’t hurt to learn what the best brands of tools are before you go scavenging. If you’re choosing between two wrenches, it’s nice to know which one originally cost $10 and which one cost $100.