Whether you want to be like Tim the Tool Man Taylor, or just work on a few projects around the house, you're going to need some basic hand tools to help you do the job right. Which ones do you need?
That depends on what the project is. A good hammer, some screwdrivers, a couple of different pairs of pliers, and several wrenches should get you started; a small level and a vise or some clamps come in very handy as well.
Grab a Hammer
Which hammer? That will depend on the purpose. Hammers can be used for several different tasks, so choose the one that's best for the job. The most common kind of hammers is nail hammers; these are designed for pounding nails and removing bent nails.
In comparison, a finishing hammer is much more lightweight. This is useful for hammering small finishing nails or other light hammering jobs. Another hammer that is useful for delicate jobs is a soft-face hammer. This is also referred to as a mallet hammer. These have a rubber or plastic coating and are used to pound chisels or to pound easily damaged surfaces.
A ball peen hammer is also useful to keep around. These are good for pounding on metal or rivets, as well as to shape surfaces. These have a flat end and an ended with a rounded metal ball. Another hammer used for heavy-duty work is the sledgehammer. Generally, these are used for wrecking jobs, such as tearing out drywall or breaking up metal parts.
Buy a set of quality screwdrivers that have durable handles and sturdy shafts. Most basic sets of screwdrivers include slotted screwdrivers, which feature tapered tips that will fit into the top of a slotted screw. They also contain Phillips screwdrivers, which feature an x-like design, designed to fit into a matching screw top.
Some more comprehensive sets will also contain specialty screwdrivers, like Torx, hex or square screwdrivers. Some include a multi-tip screwdriver, allowing the user to change the tip to meet the occasion.
Pick up a wrench
Mechanics use wrenches for tightening or loosening objects like bolts or nuts. Use the right wrench for the job. High quality wrenches are made by Craftsman, Stanley, and other tool companies.
A crescent wrench is designed to fit partway around the surface of the object being maneuvered. They are sold in variable sizes. A box wrench is similar, but it is enclosed on all sides and must fit the object fairly precisely in order to work.
A combo wrench is just this - a combination crescent wrench and box wrench. Another special type of crescent or box wrench is the offset wrench. These feature a crescent or box design that is extended outward from the end of the wrench so that they can be gripped and used more easily.
Another choice that many tool users prefer is an adjustable wrench. These can be used for different sizes of objects. Some, like the pipe wrench, can be used with leverage to aid in tightening or loosening an object.
Others prefer sets of ratchet and socket adapters. These also work for objects of different sizes. Another advantage offered by sockets is that they have locking bearings. These allow nuts to be moved in only a forward direction. Therefore, the user avoids stripping the threads from the screw or nut.
Gripping with pliers
Pliers can be used to clamp or hold things in place, to cut, to pry, or to twist. It's a good idea to keep at least one pair of each variety around for home use. For tight or narrow spaces, use needle-nose pliers to clamp objects tightly. To get a strong grip, if there is plenty of room, use locking pliers.
Slip-joint pliers are perfect for holding onto larger objects. Standard slip-joint pliers have two settings, but those with tongue-and-groove designs have multiple settings, and may be opened as much as four to five inches in width.
Don't forget a level
Whether hanging a picture or building a wall, having a level handy will help to make sure the work is properly aligned. Buy a vial lever or a sensor level and work with confidence. A vial level has a small glass vial with a tiny air bubble inside. When the level is placed on top of an object that is evenly aligned, the bubble floats evenly in the middle of two markings on the sides of the vial.
Sensor levels are sometimes easier to use. These have sound or light indicators that advise the user when the object is level. The easiest level to use is the laser level, which can be useful to gauge whether an object is level over short distances.
A clamp is a tool that is used to hold objects together. Frequently used clamps are C-Clamps, bar clamps, spring clamps, and hand-screw clamps. A C clamp is one of the most frequently used hand clamps, and has a frame shaped like a C with a screw handle.
A hand-screw clamp has jaws that are made of wood, with metal screws that can be tightened to clamp the jaws onto an object. These are useful for objects with delicate surfaces or finishes. Spring clamps are also good for lighter items; these have a single spring that is used to tighten several narrow strips of metal together to hold objects.
Bar clamps are also useful tools. These have round bars, and clamps can be adjusted along the bar to hold items of different sizes. These usually have handles for adjusting the clamps and triggers to release the items being held.
Some tool users prefer vises to clamps. These are not really hand tools; they are mounted on a bench and can be swiveled around to hold or turn items. Those used specifically for woodworking have jaws made of wood so that they do not damage the wood's surface or finish.
After collecting these basics, you may decide to add other hand tools to your arsenal. Don't try to get started without the essentials though, or you'll find yourself driving to the hardware store halfway into a project.