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Must-Have Tools for the Home Workshop

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You can accomplish many home improvement projects with just a few basic tools. If you plan to spend some time building and repairing things in the garage or need to make your house more useful and better looking, this short list of tools will get you started.

With careful shopping, you should be able to fill this list with good-quality, long-lasting tools for less than $300. That's money you will probably make back on your first project or two.

Power drill

A good power drill is one of the best investments most DIYers can make. It can drill holes and drive screws and bolts much faster than can be done with hand tools. If you think you will need the tool infrequently, you may want to buy a moderately priced corded drill. But nearly everyone will appreciate owning a cordless drill. Decent 12- or 14.4-volt cordless drills can be bought for $50 to $90. Look for a 3/8-inch model that either recharges quickly or comes with two batteries.

Research various types of cordless drills on Consumer Search.

Circular saw

A corded 7 1/4-inch circular saw is indispensable for cutting lumber and sheet goods like plywood. Avoid the cheapest saws, as they will be underpowered for some cutting chores. A good 15-amp saw can be purchased for a bit over $100.

Research various types of circular saws on Consumer Search.

Level

A level is used to determine plumb (perfectly vertical) and level (perfectly horizontal). Levels come in many shapes, sizes and price ranges.

The most useful level is a 2- or 4-foot carpenter's (or spirit) level. If you plan to do a lot of home remodeling, you will appreciate having both. The best bargains have tough aluminum frames.

A 9-inch torpedo level is easy to store in a tool box and is useful for checking short spans. Do not rely on the accuracy of a torpedo level over long spans.

Tape measure

A 25-footer with a 1-inch wide tape will handle nearly every measuring need you have.

Stud finder

I've owned several basic, battery-operated Zircon models that have proven to be reasonably reliable with drywall walls and ceilings. On thicker plaster walls, I've often had success using the metal-sensing setting on the stud finder, which can detect the nails used to secure wood lath to studs.

I also frequently use a $15 Stud 4 Sure magnetic tool, which can quickly locate the screws or nails holding drywall to studs. You can have the same success with a few rare earth magnets.

See also DIY Stud Finder.

Hammer

A curved claw hammer can drive and remove nails. I favor a 20-ounce version with a smooth face and straight (as opposed to curled) claw. Some will prefer a lighter hammer, but I wouldn't go below 16 ounces. Steel and fiberglass handles are best.

Screwdriver

I have a dozen or more screwdrivers, but the one I use most often is a 4-in-1 model that allows me to switch quickly between straight-slot or Phillips-head needs, in two standard sizes.

Utility knife

One of the cheapest tools you can own, yet one that will come in handy on a regular basis. Look for a model with a retractable blade--and always retract the blade before setting the knife down. Blades are inexpensive, so change them often. Dull blades are more likely to cause injuries (and poor results) than sharp ones.

Socket wrench set

A socket wrench set is a bit like having a power wrench. A 3/8-inch socket wrench with a couple of extenders and a set of sockets will make quick work of tightening and loosening nuts and bolts. For small, quick jobs, an 8- or 10-inch adjustable wrench is handy to have.

Pliers

Slip-joint pliers (often called "Channellock pliers" after the manufacturer that first produced them) are the most versatile type of pliers and belong in every toolbox.

Safety glasses

Don't even think about operating power tools or high-impact hand tools (such as a hammer) without donning eye protection. If you normally wear glasses, you can buy safety glasses that fit over them.
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