Having the right tool for the job certainly speeds things along. But for the casual do-it-yourselfer, having more tools than necessary can be an encumbrance, both practically and financially.
Here, drawn from our experts' recommendations, are some essential tools for every household, along with features to look for:
¢ Curved claw hammer. Sixteen-ounce versions of this toolbox stalwart are ideal for driving and yanking nails. Look for steel or fiberglass handles and expect to pay from $10 to $30.
¢ Screwdrivers. A set of these will cost from $12 to $20 - cheaper than if bought individually. Be sure your set includes slotted drivers with tips 1/4, 3/16 and 5/16 inches wide, and Phillips drivers ranging from No. 1 (the smallest) to No. 3. Ergonomic handles will lessen your effort.
¢ Slip-joint pliers. Use this tool to hold and twist fasteners and hardware. Preferable are pliers with an integral wire cutter and a flush-rivet design for tight spots. Cost: $8 to $18.
¢ Utility knife. Plastic-handled ones are fine for drywall and paint that makes windows stick. An all-metal handle, however, can take more abuse. The best have a multiposition retractable blade and blade storage. Look to pay between $5 and $12.
¢ Level. At just $15 to $30 for a 24-inch model with a rigid aluminum frame, bubble-in-vial spirit levels remain the cheapest, most reliable way to tell whether a surface is level (horizontal) or plumb (vertical). Laser levels can cost many times more and are better suited for people who always seem to be hanging new wallpaper or installing paneling and cabinets.
¢ Cordless drill. Models with 14.4 and 18 volts offer the best balance of power and light weight. Look for drills with two batteries for use in tandem, chargers that recharge in an hour or less and multiple speeds. Expect to spend from $70 to $200. We like the 18-volt Ryobi P810 ($100) and the 14.4-volt Bosch 32614-2G ($155). Both are CR Best Buys, combining relatively low price with high performance.
¢ Combination wrenches. These are essential for tightening and loosening hex-head nuts and bolts. Buy a set (about $30 to $50) consisting of standard and metric wrenches with an open end on one side for tight spots and a closed end on the other for grip.
¢ Tape measure. You'll need a 25-foot measure with easy-to-read markings, a 1-inch-wide tape for stiffness and bend resistance, and an end hook secured by three rivets. Price: $12 to $18.
¢ Hand saws. Crucial considerations are blade length and tooth size, measured in points per inch. (Fewer points mean larger teeth and faster cuts.) Most useful for the do-it-yourselfer is a 15-inch, 9-point saw for quick wood cuts. To cut metal, look for a hacksaw with a high-tension frame, a closed-handle design and easy tensioning. You can expect to pay from $12 to $40 for the wood saw, and $15 to $25 for the hacksaw.
¢ Corded circular saw. After drills, circular saws are the most common power tool in a home workshop. Battery-powered models offer go-anywhere convenience, but their corded cousins still outperform them. We recommend a 7-1/4-inch model with a carbide-tipped blade. You can pick one up for as little as $60. From our most recent tests, we recommend the Ryobi CSB140LZK ($70), the Makita 5740NB ($90) and the Hitachi C7SB2 ($100). Although less powerful than the other two, the Makita cuts slightly deeper. All four are CR Best Buys.