28 Best Tools for a Home Toolkit (2023): Stud Finder, Cordless Drill, and More

28 Best Tools for a Home Toolkit (2023): Stud Finder, Cordless Drill, and More

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28 Essential Tools You Should Have at Home

Don’t bolt at the first sight of something that needs repair. You can nail most DIY jobs with the right gear and the right attitude.

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The Best Tape Measure

Stanley Fatmax 25-Foot Tape Measure

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A Utility Knife

Milwaukee Fastback Utility Knife

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A Stud Finder

Zircon 1.5-Inch Scan-Depth Metal and Wood Stud Finder

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The Best Power Drill

DeWalt 20V Max 1/2-Inch Cordless Drill

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Few people enjoy waiting around for the repairperson and shelling out more money in labor cost than the price of the parts themselves. Yet so many people do, because the idea of home repair seems murky and intimidating. Here’s a trade secret: If you’re reading this, it’s entirely within your abilities to handle many small tasks yourself, even if you’ve never turned a wrench before in your life. All it takes is a can-do attitude, a bit of patience, the humility to know when you consult YouTube and the instructions, and the right tools.

You can save a ton of money and time if you’re willing to learn. Instructions on how to construct things can be found in manuals and YouTube videos, but there are certain tools you inevitably need, whether you live in an apartment or a single-family home. We’ve rounded up all the best tools you should have to handle all common household tasks.

Be sure to check out our many other buying guides, including our Favorite Cold-Weather Gear Under $100, the Best Climbing Gear for Beginners, and Emergency Gear to Keep at Home.

Updated January 2023: We’ve updated pricing and availability, and we’ve added clamps, furniture touch-up markers, and wood repair materials.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    The Best Tape Measure

    Stanley Fatmax 25-Foot Tape Measure

    Stanley’s Fatmax has a wider-than-typical tape that is less prone to bending and collapsing when extended across a room. You can supposedly extend it straight through the air, without anyone or anything propping up the other end, for 14 feet before it falls down. As far as length goes, 16 feet is about as small a tape measure as I’d recommend, and 25 is a good size for most homes. This one is marked in standard units, but Stanley also makes metric ones.

  • Photograph: Milwaukee

    A Utility Knife

    Milwaukee Fastback Utility Knife

    In my experience, utility knives don’t vary that much in effectiveness. It’s the replaceable blade that matters much more. That said, the Fastback is the best I’ve used (I have used a bunch!), and you can replace the blade without having to find a screwdriver to take the knife apart. It also folds—you can flick it open and shut it with one hand—it locks securely, and the coating is tough enough to last for years. A nice plus is the built-in gut hook for cutting string and plastic ties without opening the knife. It came in handy more often than I thought it would.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    Zircon 1.5-Inch Scan-Depth Metal and Wood Stud Finder

    If you want to mount anything heavy to a wall, you should always mount it to the vertical structural pieces of wood (studs) behind the wall. This means you need to find them without being able to see them. A stud finder, held and rubbed against a wall, will light up when it passes over a stud, so you know where to drill.

    Builders sometimes run wires along with these studs, and to keep people from drilling into a wire and getting fried like Daffy Duck, they place metal guards over them. Any decent stud finder, like this Zircon, will warn you if it detects one. Plus, you can hold it up to yourself and go “Beep, beep, beep. Stud detected.” It’ll never get old.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    The Best Power Drill

    DeWalt 20V Max 1/2-Inch Cordless Drill

    Twelve volts will do for most home jobs, but if you ever end up having to drill 1/2-inch holes into wall studs to mount a heavy shelving unit or a beefy sound system, you’re going to want the extra torque of an 18V or 20V drill. This 1/2-inch chuck will accept bits as large as you’ll need, and at this price (which includes two batteries and a charger), it’s too good a deal to pass up. The batteries work with more than 200 other DeWalt power tools too.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    My Favorite Drill Bits

    DeWalt Black and Gold 14-Piece Drill Bit Set

    For all but the smallest of jobs, it’s going to go easier if you drill out a hole before driving screws and bolts into a wall. The black oxide coating on these drill bits reduces friction, which speeds up drilling and resists rust. These are good for general use and will handle wood, metal, plastics, wallboard, and fiberglass.

  • Photograph: Harbor Freight

    A Small Tool Bag

    Harbor Freight Hercules Tool Tote

    You don’t need a metal toolbox at home. Your toolbox is going to live an easy life on a closet shelf, not banging around a construction site. Fabric makes it lighter, and having an open top makes it easy to pop in and grab something for a quick job. Harbor Freight is hit or miss on some products, but this tote is the best I’ve come across. The quality of the fabric and construction makes this a great deal, and I like it better than the brand-name totes. It has 22 pockets on the inside and outside, perfect for tools you want to keep easily accessible. You can fit the bigger stuff, like a power drill or hammer, in the wide main compartment. 

    Depending on where you live, the Harbor Freight tote may only be available for store pickup. In that case, check out the Kobalt 12-Inch Tool Tote for $30. It has fewer pockets—12, compared to the Harbor Freight’s 22—but it’s made of a tough 1680-denier fabric and also has a sturdy padded metal handle.

  • Photograph: Home Depot 

    A Mallet for Whacking

    Stanley 16 Oz. Mallet

    A lot of furniture needs a few whacks during assembly, but if you hit it too hard with a regular hammer, you can cause damage. Some jobs need a rubber mallet to snug pieces together without chipping off bits of plastic or wood. Sixteen ounces for a mallet is pretty light, but it should be heavy enough to bang together furniture and shelving units without being cumbersome for most people.

  • Photograph: Home Depot 

    A 20-Ounce Hammer

    Plumb 20 oz. Claw Hammer

    This hammer ticks the necessary features for general, around-the-home use, such as having a smooth head. It’s at the top end of that 16- to 20-ounce range that’s perfect for handling most jobs, and it’s got a curved claw to pull out nails, which you want. A straight rip claw is more versatile but unnecessary for most people.

  • Photograph: Lowe’s

    To Get a Grip

    Irwin Quick-Grip Bar Clamp Two Pack

    There are many types of clamps, but the bar clamp is arguably the most versatile. It can give you an extra hand when you need to keep two parts on a project together and free up your hands to secure it or consult the instructions. These plastic models won’t do the trick for big jobs working with heavy objects, but they’ll suffice for the majority of simple home repairs. These Irwins can grasp objects and surfaces 6 inches thick or thinner and produce a clamping force of 140 pounds, which is nothing to sneeze at.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    Hex Keys

    Bondhus L-Wrench Standard and Metric Set

    Yeah, you can use the cheap ones that furniture makers include when you buy something that uses Allen bolts (excuse me, hex bolts). But as with screwdrivers, you’ll feel the difference with a good set of hex keys. I’ve bent cheap hex keys while torquing something down and then brought out the Bondhus to finish the job with no problems. The keys in this set, in metric and standard measurements, have a rust-resistant finish and fit snugly in any hex bolt you’ll come across. And believe me, apartment dweller or homeowner, there are many hex bolts in your future.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    A Good Level

    Stanley 48-Inch Box Beam Level

    A good level is an absolute necessity for work around the home. This one is accurate to plus or minus 0.0005 inch. It’s made of aluminum for toughness, and the ends are capped in plastic so you don’t end up scraping the hell out of your walls when you’re using it. Get a 48-inch level. It’s one of the typical sizes, and longer levels are more accurate than the short ones.

  • Photograph: Amazon

    The Best Screwdriver

    Channellock 6-in-1 Screwdriver

    It’s easier to spot the difference in quality when using screwdrivers. I’ve started plenty of jobs with a junk one, only to have it cam out of the screw’s head or start to strip a stubborn screw. A better screwdriver makes the job go as smooth as butter, and Channellock’s 6-in-1 is real quality.

    Made in the US, it has Phillips #1 and #2 and slotted 3/16-inch and 1/4-inch heads, plus the shaft can be used as a 1/4-inch and 5/16-inch nut driver. This combination screwdriver will cover your bases for regular home repairs and maintenance, and it takes up a lot less space than a set of full-size screwdrivers.

  • Photograph: Amazon

    For Smaller Screws

    Wiha 7-Piece Precision Screwdriver Kit

    Every so often, to repair things such as eyeglasses and electronics, you’re going to need a set of very small screwdrivers. For whatever reason, manufacturers tend to use soft, tiny screws that deform easily, so good precision screwdrivers are especially important. None of the combination precision screwdrivers I’ve ever used has impressed me, so buy a full set. They won’t take up much room since, you know, they’re tiny. Use six of the seven you get in this kit. You can stick the Phillips #1 in a drawer somewhere if you get the Channellock above.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    For Just a Touch-Up

    Varathane Wood Touch-Up Marker Kit

    Furniture is a high-wear item. The longer you live with it, the more knicks, scrapes, and dents it’s going to accumulate. Sometimes you don’t even have to hit it with anything for the stain or wood veneer to wear off and show a lighter shade of wood. Make your furniture look new with these markers in different common wood stain colors. They dry quickly, and it takes just a few seconds to apply them.

  • Photograph: REI

    The Best Multi-Tool

    Leatherman Wingman

    This one’s a luxury, not an absolute necessity. But while a multi-tool is a jack of all trades, master of none, it’s often supremely handy to have a small tool in your pocket or on a shelf that you can grab for quick jobs. The Wingman is one of my favorite affordable multi-tools. It has 14 tools built into it, and in contrast to a Swiss Army Knife, it has oft-needed needle-nose pliers. Check out my guide to the Best Multi-Tools for more recommendations.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    The Best Stepstool

    Gorilla Compact Step Stool

    You don’t need a big ladder for most indoor jobs. A step stool will do in almost any instance, and it’s a lot easier to store by being slim enough to slide under or behind a couch. The Compact model weighs 14 pounds and holds up to 225 pounds, while the Pro-Grade model weighs 16 pounds and holds up to 300 pounds. Both will give you a boost of 4 feet if you stand on the top step, which is enough to reach all the way up a wall to mount curtain rods and wall decorations.

  • Photograph: Amazon

    A Magnetic Parts Dish

    Titan 4 1/4-Inch Magnetic Parts Dish

    It’s easy to lose screws, nails, and bolts in the carpet when you need them, and then when you find them it’s usually by accident with your feet … in the middle of the night. You don’t need anything fancy for a parts dish—it’s just a bowl of magnetized steel—but it’ll keep all your little metal bits in one place when you’re working. If you tip it over, they won’t be going anywhere.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    An Adjustable Wrench

    Crescent 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench

    Home tool kits are all about saving space, which is why I recommend an adjustable wrench as a stand-in for an entire wrench set. Eight inches is a good size to give you enough torque for big jobs without being too unwieldy to handle the small stuff. You adjust the width of the jaws by spinning the knurl, all the way up to fit a 1 1/8-inch nut.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    Some Pliers

    Channellock 4-Piece Plier Set

    Pliers will be some of your most-used tools, and here it pays to fork out the money for a good set that’ll last forever. As the saying goes, buy once, cry once. The large tongue-and-groove pliers are what you need for large pipes, such as in plumbing. The cutting pliers will go through anything, and if you have kids who get toys packaged with those little plastic ties, these’ll save your sanity. The slip joint and needle-nose pliers are catch-all tools to save the day.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    Eye Protection

    HDX Safety Goggles

    Protect your eyes from wood dust flying from the electric drill and caustic chemicals splashing around. You don’t need to spend big on a pair of safety goggles. These HDX-brand ones will work just fine, and they’ll fit over a pair of regular glasses. Have a pair for everyone who may be working in the area at the same time, so if you have a helper, buy them a pair too. For certain jobs—particularly those without a risk of chemicals splashing—you can get by with a pair of HDX Safety Glasses for $7, which won’t fog up as much as goggles.

  • Photograph: Amazon

    A Caulk Gun

    Newborn Smooth Hex Rod 10:1 Ratio Caulking Gun

    Caulking guns got fancy in the past decade or two. Who saw that coming? The predominant type had ratchet designs that would ooze caulk everywhere when you stopped squeezing, and you had to hurriedly unscrew the rod to make it stop. But this smooth-action gun lets you release the trigger, and caulk won’t dribble. In the handle, there’s a hole that cuts the tip off a new tube of caulk, as well as a puncture tool that unfolds from the barrel to break the seal. The 10:1 ratio and padded trigger make squeezing out caulk easier on the hand muscles. For general-use caulk, I recommend DAP Kwik Seal for $5.

  • Photograph: Lowe’s

    A Caulk Smoother

    Allway 3-in-1 Caulk Tool

    The old-school way is to use the tip of your finger, but why cheap out and risk making it look sloppy? Caulking is typically highly visible, so make sure it’s smooth and even with this caulk tool. It’s the best I’ve ever used. The silicone head can be taken off, rotated, and put back on for three different widths, depending on the width of the caulking bead you’re applying. And because it’s silicone, sticky caulk comes right off with no trouble. On the other end, there’s a very effective metal scraper for removing old caulk.

  • Photograph: Home Depot 

    Quality Shears

    Wiss Titanium Tradesman Shears

    There are certain jobs that will break or jam up regular scissors. When I was cutting thick rug pads to place under area rugs, these Wiss shears were the only thing that could finish the job. They come in handy when you don’t have enough room for wire cutters and can snip off plastic shipping ties and even cut thin wood shingles. They’re made by Crescent, a quality tool company that’s been around for generations.

  • Photograph: ACE Hardware

    A Yardstick

    Empire Aluminum Yardstick

    Levels are your go-to when you need to make something absolutely parallel or perpendicular to the ground, and tape measures are great and necessary, but a good yardstick should be in your tool kit too. It’s handy when a tape measure won’t sit quite flat enough against a wall to trace a line. This one from Empire has standard markings and not metric. It won’t fit in your tool tote, but it’s thin enough to stick in the closet (or almost anywhere).

  • Photograph: Amazon

    A Ruler

    Westcott Metal Ruler

    Sometimes a yardstick is too big and unwieldy and you’ll need to break out the foot-long ruler instead. There’s no need to spend big on a ruler, but some of the cheap competitors have wavy edges that make them useless for drawing straight lines on walls. This Westcott has a perfectly straight edge and costs little more than a street taco. The reviews are correct, though—don’t try to remove the barcode sticker. It’ll pull off the cork material on the back. No matter. The label doesn’t get in the way of using it.

  • Photograph: Home Depot

    More Drill Bits

    DeWalt Maxfit 30-Piece Driving Bit Set

    You’ll get a variety of bits in this kit of 15 1-inch bits and 11 2-inch bits. Not just the usual Phillips and slotted, but hex and Torx bits too. The two nut drivers are 1/4-inch and 5/16-inch, popular sizes in case you need to drive bolts instead of screws. For you butterfingers out there, the screw lock sleeve is magnetic, so the bits are less likely to tumble out of your drill and disappear. DeWalt counts the sleeve and the case as parts 29 and 30, in case you were coming up short on your mental math.

  • Photograph: Lowe’s

    Mounts for Hanging Things

    Wall Anchors

    For anything more substantial than a coat hook or picture frame, you should upgrade the hardware used to mount items to your walls. Screwing brackets directly into wall studs is the most secure method, but due to positioning it may not be an option. Buildings built or renovated in the past 30 years may have metal studs, too, which also removes that option.

    E-Z Ancors have excellent holding power and can be used for a wide variety of jobs. These plastic bolts mount into wallboard, and then a metal screw inserted into them splits the end deepest inside the wall, holding it into the wallboard like a fish hook. You just need a screwdriver to mount them. For heavier jobs, use the 75-lb version for $15, although the holes are a little bigger. For extraordinarily hard wallboard or if you may go into a wooden stud, use the metal E-Z Ancors for $19.

    For the heaviest items, such as televisions, indoor bike racks, and shelves used to hold books, break out the big guns and use toggle bolts. They’re extremely strong, and I’ve used them in dozens of applications over the years. The downside is that you have to drill a half-inch hole in your wall, which is rather large. But hey, that’s what wall putty is for.

  • Photograph: Amazon

    Other Handy Essentials

    Odds ‘n Ends

    Duct tape for $6 will fix everything that can be fixed with tape, and super glue will fix everything else. Duck, Gorilla, and 3M are good brands. Scotch tape for $5 is good to have in your tool kit too. If you don’t have a pair already, get yourself some household scissors. The Westscott KleenEarth Recycled Scissors for $5 have lasted me through years of tough jobs, and the plastic handles are made of 70 percent recycled plastic.

    Wood cracks as indoor humidity fluctuates with the weather. Left unaddresed, these cracks can widen and spread. For hairline cracks, use Elmer’s Carpenter’s Wood Glue for $2 and use your clamps to hold the piece together while the glue drives. For larger cracks, dents, and missing chunks of wood furniture, use Elmer’s Wood Filler for $4. Once it dries, you can touch up the filling with paint, wood stain, or a furniture marker.

    Grime and grease have a way of defeating common hand soaps that leave you looking like you just cruised into town on the Exxon Valdez. Dish soap works wonders, but the heavy-duty option is Fast Orange for $8, a powerful hand cleaner that goes on dry hands and washes off with water. Its grittiness helps scrub anything off your paws.

    Have an eraser and a carpenter’s pencil for $5 handy—those are the flat pencils that won’t roll away if you put them down. You don’t need to buy spackle until you’ve got a hole in the wall that needs filling, like when you’re moving out or rearranging wall decor. DAP DryDex for $8 is a solid spackle. Use a Husky 2-Inch Flexible Putty Knife for $10 to apply it.

  • Photograph: Alvaro Medina Jurado/Getty Images

    A Bit of Knowledge

    Handy DIY Tips

    There are a number of all-purpose tips that you can use to simplify your DIY jobs and reduce headaches. An old trick is to put a square of masking tape or painter’s tape on the wall before hammering a nail into it, as it’ll keep the plaster from cracking. Unlike other tapes, these likely won’t take your paint off when you remove them.

    Whenever you remove screws or bolts to take something apart, put the screws or bolts back into the holes. That way, when you need to reassemble it, you’ll know exactly where they are without having to hunt down loose hardware that—face it—you’ll never find.

    Take lots of photos when you’re disassembling anything. I learned this working on cars, but the principle is the same in the home. Use your phone to photograph each step, and put the pictures in a separate photo album so that you can easily find them in the future. When you need to reassemble whatever you just took apart, you’ll see exactly where and how everything fits back together.

    If you’re working on something symmetrical—say, replacing faucets on a two-sink counter or taking apart legs on a table—do one side at a time, rather than taking both apart or putting both together at the same time. This way, if you get stuck you always have the unmanipulated other side as a point of reference.

Matt Jancer is a staff writer for WIRED who focuses on reviewing outdoor gear. Previously, he spent a decade as a freelance writer covering automobiles, motorcycles, and lifestyle stories for magazines. Some of his longest gigs were at Car and Driver, Outside, Esquire, Playboy, and Popular Mechanics

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