Your Basic Tool Kit

Here, in the author's view, are the essential tools you need for a basic tool kit.

| August/September 1991

When, as a first-time home owner, I had to borrow things to get the simplest household jobs done, it wasn't long before I assembled a half-dozen or so hand tools that would take care of just about anything that cropped up. Now that I've put together a moderately impressive workshop, I still look to that old reliable basic tool kit for quick fixes in and around the house.

There's something to be said for the luxury of being able to carry most of what you need in a small kit bag. For one thing, a fabric gripsack is compact and inexpensive and can be left packed so you're never in doubt as to what's inside. Moreover, a bag is considerably more supple than a toolbox and has no sharp comers to suffer or lids that refuse to close. Finally, because there's only a handful of items in it, there's little worry that things will get buried at the bottom.

Linemen often use a leather carryall that's just about perfect for this purpose; more realistically, local and mail-order surplus retailers usually have military engineers' bags or tool grips available in canvas for less than $10. I use an oil-stained nylon athletic bag my wife discarded last year. At any rate, it's apparent that there's no need to get fancy. The bag should be at least as long as your largest tool, needn't be wider than 8" or so and no more than that in height. Try to choose a design that has top handles, a closable opening and a stiff bottom with metal feet.

Power tools have their own carrying cases or at least can be carried separately. And though their convenience can't be argued (unless you happen to be somewhere without power), it's sometimes easier, often necessary, and almost always more satisfying to simply do the job by hand.

Setting Out to Buy

I'm by no means an elitist, yet when it comes to tools I try to buy the best I can afford—within my ability to use them. If the biggest mistake is to spend good money on junk tools, the second biggest is to spend even better money on superb tools you don't really need. The dollars you save may allow you a greater variety when you put your package together.

Fortunately, it's not all that difficult to spot quality when it comes to tools. Finish, feel, and attention to detail will separate the cosmetic marques from the working brands, even if you're ignorant of reputation. Generally, you'll find that the old name brands remain reliable, though newly imported lines (especially among higher-priced Japanese, German, and English products) easily rival our traditional "Yankee" quality. In short, you get what you pay for, and if you shop carefully, you may get even more.

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