Building a Better Toolbox

It can be overwhelming to stroll the aisles of your local hardware store piecing together your toolbox. You could easily walk out with way more tools than you need and a bill that would eliminate the possibility of hiring a handyman if you screwed anything up. What you need is a smarter toolbox. One pared down to just well-made necessities. Here’s how to build a better toolbox.

Toolboxes

For starters, you’ll need the box that will actually hold all those tools. If you’re going with the basics, an enormous toolbox that’s about as portable as a sumo wrestler isn’t needed. Even if your home isn’t a fixer-upper, you’ll be tossing your toolbox around for some time, so make sure you get one that can take a beating. While it doesn’t have to be gigantic, unfortunately there are some on the market that barely fit a hammer, so here are a few of decent size and solid structure we recommend.

  • Trusco 2-Level Cantilever Tool Box – $84
  • Snap-on 870110 20-Inch Wide Mouth Tool Bag – $45
  • Best Made Co. Front Loading Toolbox – $94
  • Kobalt Ballistic Nylon Zippered Closed Tool Bag – $70

Hammer

Let’s start with perhaps the most basic tool: the hammer. Man hit thing–could it be more simplistic? And while the idea is primitive, the hammer is still one of your most valuable tools. You’ll obviously be using it to drive a few nails, but you’ll quickly realize it can assist you in a variety of tasks from breaking things apart to bending some back in shape. A cheap hammer is not only a pain to use, but it can also be dangerous. We’ve used ones where the head slipped off just about every nail it faced. Go with one of these solid options.

  • Estwing E16S 16-Ounce Straight Claw Leather Handle Hammer – $28
  • Cole Bar Hammer – $99
  • Stiletto TBM14RMC TiBone Mini-14 ounce Replaceable Milled Face Hammer with a Curved 16″ Titanium Handle – $220

Screwdrivers

A top-of-the-line power drill will change your life, but even if you invest in one, you’ll still need some handheld classics from time to time. For your basic toolkit, a dependable set is all you need. Make sure you have a few different size flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers, and if you want to cover a few more of your bases, pick up a star and hexagon to boot. You want to pay close attention to the comfort of the grip. You’ll be grinding your palm on these guys for years, and if they hurt out of the box, it’s only going to get worse with time.

  • Wera Kraftform Plus 334/6 Screwdriver Set with Rack and Lasertip – $31
  • Klein Tools 7-Piece Cushion-Grip Screwdriver Set – $58
  • Craftsman 17-Piece Screwdriver Set, #31794 – $30
  • Matco Tools 5 Piece Top Torque II Green Screwdriver Set – $101

Wrenches

Not only will quality wrenches last you a lifetime, but they won’t slip as easily as some cheap models. A few adjustable wrenches are a good place to start. You’d be just fine buying a good set of open wrenches, box wrenches, and combos, but in the interest of keeping your toolbox from becoming a black hole of hand tools, the less the better. As time goes by, you’ll probably want to invest in a good pipe wrench, a few nut drivers, and socket sets to round out your tool box, but for starters, these are ideal.

  • Bahco 31 R US Alligator Adjustable Wrench – $27
  • Channellock 8WCB WideAzz Adjustable Wrench with Code Blue Grips – $25
  • Knipex 10-Inch Pliers Wrench – $55

Tape Measure

If you’ve never fixed a damn thing or built something in your garage, you’ll be shocked at how often you’ll need your tape measure. We’d recommend one of decent size so it can handle most of the tasks you need it for from cutting small strips of lumber to putting new baseboard down in your basement. Here are a few that fit the bill.

  • Komelon SL2925 Self Lock Speed Mark 25-Foot Power Tape – $10
  • Smithworks Pencilman – $20
  • Tajima G-Plus 30 – $20
  • Stanley FATMAX® Xtreme® Tape Rule – $30

Pliers

Your fingers are only so nimble and strong. When you need to get a solid grip on something tiny and sharp, your fingertips will be thankful you have a good pair of pliers.

  • Klein Tools D203-6 Standard Long-Nose Pliers Side-Cutting Yellow 6-Inches – $19
  • Knipex Flat Nose Pliers – $22
  • NWS High Leverage Combination Pliers – $26

Utility Knife

A good utility knife is more than a glorified box cutter. Keep one with the rest of your tools and it will come in handy in tasks both large and small.

  • Lenox Locking Tradesman Utility Knife – $23
  • Stanley 6-Inch Classic 99 Retractable Utility Knife – $7
  • Milwaukee Fastback Flip Open Utility Knife – $16

Power Drill

We won’t say a power drill is a necessity, but they’re so helpful in so many ways that we figured we’d at least provide you with some good options. Keep in mind that the difference between a shitty one and a good one that will last can be pretty extreme. Each of these gets our stamp of approval.

  • Porter-Cable 12-Volt Max Compact Lithium-Ion 3/8-Inch Drill/Driver – $89
  • Black & Decker 12-Volt Max Lithium-Ion Drill/Driver with 1 Battery – $49
  • Makita 18-Volt Compact Lithium-Ion Cordless 1/2-Inch Driver-Drill Kit – $309

The Others

Obviously no two tasks are alike, so it goes without saying that each time you open your toolbox, you may need something new or something you don’t use as often. Since it would be impossible to cover everything you could need, we’ll toss you a few other things that are more likely to pop up.

  • Level – $8
  • Folding Hand Saw – $33
  • C-Clamps – $9
  • Staple Gun – $27
  • Flashlight – $4
  • Allen Wrenches – $8
By Related Items: Features, Tools.


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  • Greg

    This was awful. Aside from the poor function of most of these tools that were recommended, how about a little style? Why not looks for a wood handled craftsman screw driver like the one your grandfather used. They cost less than $5 at any garage sale or swap meet and we can be honest, the technology hasn’t changed that much in the screw driver world. And you don’t need a hammer to hold your nails. Unless you are dead on the mark your nail will land in a variety of locations, which is why you are re-hanging the picture in the first place. Also, don’t buy any tool that uses a marketing gimmick name like Wide-AZZ or Lasertip. These are for guys with chinstrap beards, not the rest of us.

  • Scott

    Greg-
    If you’re prying a can of paint open, then yes, stick with the swap meet screwdriver. Otherwise, you dont know what you’re missing…

  • Ben

    Screw drivers have indeed improved. If you have never chipped the tip of one of those “screw drivers your grandfather used” you would find the hardened tip of the Klein tool drivers to be far superior. Also Klein makes some nice insulated models for electrical work.