Hand tools are the mainstay of any well-equipped workshop. Choosing the right ones will go a long way toward helping you complete your projects. The best hand tools for you will depend on the type and complexity of your projects.
To help you find the best products for your tool box or workshop, we put a number of popular products through their paces. Each of the hand tools and tool sets reviewed in this guide met our standards for construction quality, effectiveness, user convenience, and working comfort. Continue reading to learn more about our shopping considerations and how each product performed in our tough tests.
- BEST OVERALL: Craftsman CMMT99448 102-Piece Mixed Tool Set
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Workpro 322-Piece Home Tool Set With Carrying Bag
- BEST SCREWDRIVER SET: Klein Tools 85078 8-Piece Screwdriver Set
- BEST SOCKET SET: Craftsman CMMT12024 135-Piece Mechanics Tool Set
- BEST PLIERS SET: Irwin Vise-Grip 8-Piece GrooveLock Pliers Set
- BEST CHISEL SET: DeWalt DWHT16063 4-Piece Wood Chisel Set
- BEST HACKSAW: Klein Tools 702-12 High-Tension Hacksaw
- BEST TAPE MEASURE: Stanley 8-Meter/26-Foot Tylon Tape Measure
- BEST LEVEL: Bosch GLL 30 Self-Leveling Cross-Line Laser
Editor’s Note: We’re in the middle of testing even more of the top hand tools on the market right now. Check back for our honest reactions after getting our hands on best picks.
With such a broad category to assess, we approached product testing with a focus on build quality, user comfort and convenience, and choosing the right tool for the task at hand. We recorded measurable features such as size, weight, and number of tools in each kit before testing each tool according to its type.
For driving tools like ratchets, wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers, we installed and removed bolts, screws, and nails of different sizes. For cutting tools such as saws and chisels, we cut metal, plastic, or wood. For measuring tools, including the measuring tape and level, we measured in different environments and lighting.
We tested all tools for durability by dropping them onto a concrete floor—three times from waist height and three times from shoulder height—noting any obvious damage and then working with them again. All of the tools in this guide survived our durability test unscathed and proved to be effective and comfortable to use.
Our Top Picks
Whether shoppers are looking for a whole set of tools for auto and home repairs or only need to fill in with a few screwdrivers, our lineup can point them in the right direction. We tested these tools with an eye toward quality, practicality, and convenience. Read on to learn how they performed in testing and why we include them among the best hand tools available.
The Craftsman 102-piece mixed tool set is a great choice for those who need a compact all-in-one tool kit for the home or garden shed. This kit includes a good selection of Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) and metric sockets with ¼-inch and ½-inch drive ratchets, as well as an adjustable wrench, screwdrivers, hex keys, slip joint pliers, long-nose pliers, groove joint pliers, 12-foot tape measure, utility knife, and a 16-ounce claw hammer. Craftsman’s quality shines through with the bright chrome finish on the socket set and finely geared ratchets, magnetic-tip screwdrivers with cushioned grips, and durable chrome vanadium steel and alloy steel construction.
We used this kit to tune up a lawn mower and appreciated that it included most of the tools we needed. However, since this kit lacks deep well sockets, we had to borrow one from another set to remove the spark plug. Beyond that, we found that the ergonomic ratchet handle design felt comfortable in hand, and the tightly geared drive mechanism worked well, including in a few spots where space was constricted. The grippy handles on the screwdrivers were easy to use, even once our hands became a little greasy. And we noted that the pliers all operated smoothly without a break-in period. All of the tools had a strong, durable feel. We liked that the kit included a thoughtful combination of the most necessary tools, packed into a space-saving low-profile storage case.
Read our full review: Craftsman CMMT99448 102-Piece Mixed Tool Set
- Tool count:102
- Tool types: Ratchets/sockets, screwdrivers, hex keys, bit driver/specialty bits, adjustable wrench, pliers, hammer, utility knife, tape measure
- Carry case: Molded plastic
- Kit includes a thoughtful assortment of tools for many home repair and DIY projects
- Legendary Craftsman quality hand tools are built to last a lifetime
- Comes with ergonomic handles and comfortable grips reduce hand fatigue
- Well organized and easy to store and carry, thanks to its low-profile hard-sided case
- Kit does not include deep well sockets or wire strippers
- Breakaway-blade utility knife feels less durable than razor blade types
Get the Craftsman 102-piece hand tool set at Amazon, Lowe’s, or MSC Direct.
With an outstanding selection of tools and a starting supply of emergency fasteners, all at an affordable price, the Workpro 322-piece tool set is a great choice for new homeowners or RVers. Metric and SAE sockets—both regular and deep well—with ¼-inch and ⅜-inch ratchets, regular and precision screwdrivers, diagonal cutters, lineman’s pliers, long-nose pliers, adjustable wrench, SAE and metric hex keys, 25-ft/8-meter tape measure, spirit level, 16-ounce claw hammer, utility knife, wire stripper, wire brush, and scissors round out the tool assortment. The kit also includes a roll of electrical tape, drywall anchors, picture-hanging hardware, 4-inch cable ties, and replacement utility blades.
The Workpro tool kit came in handy for hanging pictures in the living room, repairing a porch light fixture, and assembling a new garage cabinet. We appreciated the set’s inclusive nature, with most of the hand tools needed for a wide range of home repairs.
The tool quality was pretty good overall, especially for the modest price, and the handles were well cushioned and comfortable to grip. But we noted a few exceptions: The tape measure housing arrived with a large crack, although this did not negatively affect operation. The spinner handles of the precision screwdrivers, as well as the plier joints, moved somewhat stiffly. Also, the handles on the 6-inch pliers and diagonal cutters were a bit undersized for large hands.
We really liked the convenience of color-coded clip bars to keep all of the sockets organized in the soft-sided carry bag—one color for SAE sockets and the other color for metric. The screwdrivers were comfortable and included a set of stubbies for low-clearance work. Plus, the tool bag had plenty of inside and outside pockets to organize the tools for work, yet for storage and travel, we found it best to pile everything inside and sort it out at project time.
- Tool count: 322
- Tool types: Ratchets/sockets, screwdrivers, hex keys, bit driver handles/assorted bits, adjustable wrench, pliers, hammer, utility knife, scissors, wire stripper, spirit level, tape measure, wire brush
- Carry case: Soft sided
- A nice diversity of tools for home repair and maintenance projects
- Generally good-quality hand tools for a modest price compared to similar options
- Rugged soft-sided carry case with lots of pockets to keep tools organized
- Bonus features include electrical tape, picture hardware, drywall anchors, and cable ties
- Some of the tool handles are slightly undersized for larger hands
- Some of the tools operate stiffly and may require a break-in period
- The 322-piece count seems slightly inflated, counting single-use supplies (cable ties, tape, hardware kit, and blades)
Get the WorkPro hand tool set at Amazon or Sears.
The Klein Tools 85078 screwdriver set features a general purpose assortment of the most commonly used screwdrivers. The eight-piece set includes two stubby screwdrivers with #2 Phillips and 5/16-inch slotted tips; two 3-inch screwdrivers with #1 Phillips and 3/16-inch slotted tips; two 4-inch screwdrivers with #2 Phillips and 5/16-inch slotted tips; and two 6-inch screwdrivers with #3 Phillips and ¼-inch slotted tips. The heat-treated chrome-plated shafts have internal flanges inside the hard plastic handles for a solid, twist-resistant blade anchor. A cushioned rubber overmold on the handles offers a comfortable nonslip grip.
In our screwdriver tests, the Klein Tools set offered the best fit into most screw heads and the most comfortable grip of all the models we tested. Although the tips were not premagnetized, which can be a very convenient feature in certain situations, anyone can do that at home easily enough, so we did not take off points for that. We liked that the kit includes stubby screwdrivers, since we often find ourselves lacking in clearance above a screw. We also appreciated the the big #3 Phillips and ¼-inch slotted tips, since using an undersized screwdriver damages screw heads. Possibly the best feature, and one of the simplest, was the rubber overmolded handle that simultaneously increased the girth of the handle for easier gripping, cushioned the grip, and reduced slippage. Working with them was a pleasure.
- Tool count: 8
- Tool types: Slotted and Phillips screwdrivers
- Carry case: Not included
- Kit includes stubby and standard sizes #1, #2, and #3 Phillips and slotted screwdrivers
- Hard plastic handles with rubber overmold offer durability and a comfortable grip
- Screwdriver type and size are embossed on the handle tips for easy reference
- Shafts are heat-treated and chrome plated for extended durability
- Kit does not include precision screwdrivers, which may be a drawback for some shoppers
Get the Klein Tools screwdriver hand tool set at The Home Depot, Grainger, or Acme Tools.
DIYers need more tool versatility for different projects. The Craftsman 135-piece Mechanics Tool Set comes equipped with 72 regular and deep well sockets in SAE and metric sizes as well as three ratchets in ¼-inch, ⅜-inch, and ½-inch drive sizes. The 72-tooth ratchet gears minimize arc swing. For even more ratcheting flexibility, the kit includes 6-inch drive extensions for ½ and ⅜ drives, a 3-inch extension for the ¼ drive, a ⅜- to ¼-drive adaptor, and a ⅜ universal joint drive adaptor. The kit also includes ⅝ and 13/16 spark plug sockets, eight combination wrenches in SAE and metric sizes, a ¼-inch bit driver with 17 specialty bits, and a set of hex keys.
The Craftsman mechanic’s tool kit proved to be a well-equipped pick. Right away we noted the flexibility built into this set. Using the general purpose ⅜-drive ratchet as a starting point, adding the ⅜-inch to ¼-inch drive adaptor as needed, it is compatible with SAE sizes 5/32, 3/16, 7/32, ¼, 9/32, 5/16, 11/32, ⅜, 7/16, ½, 9/16, ⅝, 11/16, ¾, and 13/16; and metric sizes 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19—a respectable 31 different sizes of regular and deep sockets, or 55 of 72 sockets included in the kit.
The other ratchets, drive extensions, deep well sockets, and drive adaptors increased the functionality. We used the smaller ¼-inch ratchet and bit driver for electronics and other smaller detailed work. The big ½-inch ratchet was good for removing lug nuts to rotate a set of truck tires and would be nice to have around for other heavy-torque projects.
The ratchet handles here are the same design as those used in our Best Overall pick—a comfortable ergonomic design with a short arc swing for easier use in tight spaces. The directional switch and socket release buttons operate smoothly. We also liked the large clear size markings on the sockets and inside the carry case. The only problematic issue we noted is how tightly some of the sockets fit into the carry case. It was difficult to remove and replace them with our bare hands.
- Tool count: 135
- Tool types: Ratchets and sockets, wrenches, hex keys, bit driver/assorted bits
- Carry case: Molded plastic
- Kit includes an excellent assortment of SAE and metric sockets in ¼-, ⅜-, and ½-inch drive sizes
- Three different ratchets—¼, ⅜, and ½ inch—offer adaptability for different types of projects
- Box wrenches, hex keys, a bit driver, and 17 specialty bits add to the kit’s functionality
- The heavy-duty molded plastic carry case is clearly labeled, features a rugged metal hinge, and closes securely with 4 latches
- The ½-inch drive sockets fit too tightly into the carry case for easy removal
- There may be more tools than the casual user would need
Get the Craftsman mechanics hand tool set at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Blain’s Farm & Fleet.
Get ready to pull, twist, and grab pipes, fittings, bolts, and more with the Irwin Vise-Grip GrooveLock Pliers Set. It boasts six of the most commonly used types of pliers, plus an adjustable wrench and diagonal wire cutter. The set contains long-nose pliers, linesman’s pliers, slip-joint pliers, and three pairs of GrooveLock pliers that adjust to various widths. The pliers’ handles come with nonslip comfort grips, and the steel is high-quality chrome vanadium. This set is designed to last for years, and it contains the pliers a DIYer or budding electrician needs.
While equivalent tools included in our Best Overall and Best Bang for the Buck selections were perfectly capable for completing a project, these Irwin Vise-Grip tools make work more comfortable and less frustrating. The overall tool quality felt and performed exceedingly well in our tests. The handles were generously proportioned for comfortable use in large or small hands, and the moving parts moved smoothly with no break-in period.
We especially liked the uniquely designed groove-lock pliers with push-button width selectors that do not slip out of place accidentally. We also appreciated the fractional and millimeter markings on the jaws of the adjustable wrench that indicate the precise measurement of the bolt or nut in its jaws. This kit was excellent in most respects, but we would have gladly traded one of the groove-lock pliers for a pair of Vise-Grip locking pliers.
- Tool count: 8
- Tool types: Pliers, adjustable wrench, diagonal cutter
- Carry case: Soft sided
- This nice tool selection includes groove-lock, slip-joint, long-nose, and linesman’s pliers; diagonal cutters; and adjustable wrench
- High-quality tool steel with cushioned nonslip grips offers durability and comfort
- Everything is packed in a heavy-duty tool roll bundle for easy transport and organization
- Surprisingly, a set of Vise-Grip locking pliers is not included
Get the Irwin hand tool set at Amazon, Acme Tools, or Northern Tool + Equipment.
Wherever wood must be notched, trimmed, sliced, or scraped into shape, a good set of wood chisels gets the job done. This set of four DeWalt wood chisels is designed to provide comfort and control for many years of demanding use. Bimaterial synthetic handles offer cushioning and controlled grip with a hardened metal strike cap for improved durability. Tempered and hardened chrome carbon-steel blades, in 1-inch, ¾-inch, ½-inch, and ¼-inch widths, sharpen easily and hold their edge well with extended use. The blades are lacquered for increased corrosion resistance.
At about half the price of comparable chisels from brands popular with fine woodworkers, this DeWalt four-piece chisel set presents a great value for the quality. The blades arrived sharp enough to work with, held their edge well in our tests, and were easy to sharpen on a stone.
The bench chisel design was ideal for a wide range of wood chopping and paring. We used this kit to make half-lap joints in pressure-treated lumber and to create a notch for a gate latch. The chisels felt good in hand with good grip and cushioning and consistently cut smoothly even with infrequent sharpening. This set could even make a serviceable start-up kit for making furniture or other fine woodworking projects with the addition of paring chisels for delicate slicing and mortise chisels for heavy, detailed chopping, and maybe ⅛-inch and 1 ¼-inch chisels of this same design. Our only objection is the lack of a protective storage option, such as the simple plastic blade covers some other sets include.
- Tool count: 4
- Tool types: Wood chisels
- Carry case: Not included
- Tempered, hardened chrome-carbon steel blades sharpen easily and hold their edge well
- Blades in this set are lacquer coated for improved corrosion resistance
- Bimaterial handles with metal strike caps offer comfort, control, and durability
- Kit includes 4 bench chisels, sizes 1 inch, ¾ inch, ½ inch, and ¼ inch
- Blade covers are not included for safe storage; improper storage could dull the blades
- Not a comprehensive set; additional chisels will be required for fine woodworking projects
Get the DeWalt hand tools at Amazon, The Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Acme Tools, or Rural King.
High hacksaw blade tension eliminates the blade bending and twisting that occur in regular hacksaws, leading to faster, cleaner cuts. The Klein Tools high-tension hacksaw features an adjustable blade tension system that produces up to 30,000 pounds of tension for fast, precise cuts. Additionally, a slot at the front of the frame serves as an attachment point for a reciprocating saw blade for use as a jab saw.
The kit includes a 12-inch 24-teeth-per-inch (TPI) bimetal hacksaw blade and a 6-inch 24-TPI bimetal reciprocating saw blade. Dual blade-mount posts accommodate straight or 45-degree “flush” cutting. A rubber hand grip improves grip, slip resistance, and user comfort, while an onboard blade storage compartment keeps additional blades (not included) at the ready to replace broken blades or use when a different type of blade is needed.
When we tested the Klein Tools hacksaw, we started by tensioning the blade as tightly as possible by hand. Without a tool to test the pressure, we noted that it was only tight enough to strongly resist manual twisting or bending by hand.
When we were cutting 4-inch PVC pipe, we found that the tool’s generous throat depth (the open space between the blade and the upper saw frame) made it surprisingly easy to finish the cut. With very little interior taper, the Klein Tools hacksaw had a throat depth greater than 4 inches along a 7.5-inch length of the blade. The long length allowed for longer cutting strokes, which made the work go fast.
We also noted the ease and precision of the cuts. On PVC and steel alike, the tight blade moved very smoothly and with little vibration. This hacksaw was definitely built to tackle harder jobs with ease.
- Tool count: 1
- Tool type: Hacksaw
- Carry case: Not included
- Secures a 12-inch hacksaw blade with up to 30,000 psi of tension
- 2 sets of blade attachment posts for straight or 45-degree cutting angle are included
- Onboard storage for extra saw blades; great for keeping items organized
- Includes an attachment point at the front of the saw for a reciprocating blade
- Bulky frame takes up a lot of tool box space
- Stiff blade tensioner makes it somewhat difficult to reach maximum tension
Get the Klein Tools hacksaw hand tool at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Acme Tools.
Greater flexibility increases tool functionality. This Stanley 8-meter/26-foot tape measure provides operational flexibility by displaying both U.S. and metric measurements side by side. This tape measure eliminates the need to convert plan measurements from one system to another. It includes highlighted markings for standard U.S. framing and joist spacing; clear, bold numbers; and a protective and anti-glare Tylon coating for improved durability and visibility. The True-Zero spline provides accurate interior and exterior measurements, and the rugged plastic housing features a rubber comfort-grip system.
Our first requirement for a tape measure is accuracy, so we tested the Stanley tape measure’s True-Zero hook first. Using a midsection of the tape, we marked 2 inches from the edge of a board, then attached the end hook and measured for comparison. It matched. Similarly, with a slide caliper opened to 5 inches, we measured the opening by placing the tape measure against the inner side of one jaw and extending the tape to the other side. The housing is marked 3⅛ inches wide and the tape extended to 1⅞ inches, for a total length of 5 inches. We concluded that the accuracy was dead-on.
In addition to accuracy, this tape measure felt good while working. Visually, the tape’s uncluttered appearance, large block markings, and matte finish made it easy to read. The retraction spring was strong. The lock worked well when engaged and did not produce unwanted drag when disengaged. We also liked the feel of the curved, cushioned housing, but it tended to fall over when casually placed on a flat surface. Sometimes that was a minor inconvenience while marking multiple locations on a long run, but one that we were willing to overlook for the generally positive attributes of the tool.
- Tool count: 1
- Tool type: Tape measure
- Carry case: Belt clip
- Includes both feet/inches and centimeter measurements; ideal for most projects
- Includes highlighted markings for conventional wall framing and floor joist spacing
- Tylon coating leaves a matte finish that eliminates glare for improved visibility
- True-Zero tip ensures accurate measurements and grips surfaces securely
- USCS or metric measurements can only be measured from one side of the tape
- The housing does not stand up very well because of the curved rubber grip
Get the Stanley measuring tape hand tool at Amazon.
The Bosch GLL 30-foot self-leveling laser projects crossing horizontal and vertical lines for all kinds of leveling and aligning projects. The level mounts to either a tripod (not included) or any convenient location such as a board, pipe, or ladder via the included universal clamp mount. A smart pendulum self-leveling system allows for quick start-up, with an indicator signal that indicates out-of-level condition. The perpendicular leveling lines are visible up to 30 feet away. Certified accuracy of +/- 5/16 inch at 30 feet assures a precise layout.
Our first test was to gauge the accuracy of the Bosch GLL 30. We screwed it onto the universal mount, which we then attached to a step ladder. We set the laser to project on an intersection of two walls 20 feet away so that the horizontal line appeared on both walls and the vertical line appeared at the interior angle where the walls met.
When we first switched on the device, the line flashed to signal “out of level,” so we adjusted the position. Then the line remained solid, so we aligned our spirit level with the line projections on each wall. This confirmed that the line was indeed level. Assembly and adjustments took less than 2 minutes.
We used the Bosch GLL 30 laser level to mark matching locations for shelving on the two walls. As a comparison, we had done an identical project using a spirit level a few days earlier. This time we held the shelf brackets on the wall so that the line projected through the screw holes. We marked the locations for all hardware on the same level and then repositioned the level to the next height as needed. By eliminating the need to measure the height and level for each set of holes, the laser level reduced the project time by almost half compared to our prior project.
The laser level was easy to assemble and use and priced comparably to a high-quality spirit level. It did not come with a storage case, but the shipping box was sturdy enough for storage. The two issues we noted were that this level is not suitable for outdoor use due to diminished visibility in bright conditions, and indoor use requires both a support of some kind and a direct line of sight—both of which may be challenging for certain applications.
- Tool count: 1
- Tool type: Laser level
- Carry case: Not included
- Projects a perfectly level horizontal reference line and 90-degree vertical line
- Works along line of sight, including rough surfaces as well as interior and exterior corners
- Includes a self-leveling feature that eliminates time-consuming setup calibration
- Flexible mounting options; tripod (not included) or “anywhere” mounting bracket
- Not all indoor projects can accommodate the needed mounting structure and line of site
- Not rated for outdoor use due to diminished visibility in bright light
Get the Bosch laser level hand tool at Amazon, The Home Depot, Ace Hardware, or Lowe’s.
When it comes to hand tools, the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies. Good, dependable, and long-lasting hand tools cost more than their inexpensive cousins, but if shoppers consider each one to be an investment in their workshop, they’ll be glad they purchased quality tools. But if a budget is tight, there are many affordable options that will get the job done. Regardless of investment level, make sure to get the most from purchased tools with proper tool maintenance.
If buyers don’t work on automobiles, they might not have much need for a metric socket set, but if they only work on cars, a demo hammer won’t top their hand-tool wish list. Before buying hand tools, shoppers will want to think about the projects they’ll be doing most often to decide which tools they need. Some tools cross over, such as files that can be used for home plumbing or for removing sharp bits from engine bolts. But buyers will want to focus on collecting the tools that will help complete their main projects first; they can always build an all-purpose collection later.
Hand tools often come in sets so that buyers can choose from various sizes for different projects. A good collection should include screwdrivers and wrenches that vary in width and length. Long handles are necessary for reaching hard-to-get-to screws and nuts, while miniature versions may be necessary for tightening or loosening tiny nuts and screws. For the best results, users will want to keep all sizes of the same tool together so they won’t have to hunt through numerous places to find the one they need.
Tools may come with both comfort and nonslip grips, but the working part of most hand tools is steel. The method in which steel is formed, however, gives it different properties.
- Carbon steel: This type of steel includes high carbon, medium carbon, and low carbon, and the higher the carbon content, the harder the steel. Carbon steel is found in a wide range of hand tools, with varying degrees of carbon.
- Chromium vanadium: Tougher than carbon steel, chromium vanadium is an alloy (steel mixed with additional elements) used in many automotive socket sets.
- Chromium molybdenum: Another alloy steel, chromium molybdenum is found in the best screwdrivers and wrenches and is more expensive than chromium vanadium.
- S2: An alloy that contains carbon, silicon, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, and manganese, S2 is very hard and impact-resistant. It can be found in a few high-end hand tools.
Number of Pieces
Is there such a thing as too many tools? Probably not, and that’s why many hand tools come in sets of various sizes, including screwdrivers, sockets, and wrenches. Shoppers can purchase a general hand tool set that may come with a hammer, a few screwdrivers, a utility knife, a handful of wrenches, and a measuring tape for under $20. In contrast, larger sets that contain many sizes of hand tools can easily run over $100. Some shoppers prefer to collect their hand tools one piece at a time to ensure they get the best tool for each project.
Weight and Balance
Hand tools run the gamut in size and balance. Opt for tools that are substantial in weight but not so heavy that they can’t be used efficiently. Take a hammer, for example: A carpenter might choose a 25-ounce framing hammer, which generates enough head speed to drive nails in just a couple of swings, but if users are not used to wielding that size of a hammer, a 16-ounce hammer will create less hand fatigue, and they may be able to control it better. Consider skill level when selecting tools by weight.
Hand Tool Storage
Shoppers may be just starting their hand tool collection, but before long, they may have a plethora of tools, and the best way to keep them organized is to store them in appropriate containers. For mechanics, that probably means a rolling metal tool box that features a dozen or more shallow drawers for sorting out sockets and wrenches. For home DIYers, easily carried tool bags or boxes are useful. Let’s not forget the convenience of a handy tool belt. Additional workshop tool storage, such as pegboard walls and shelving, will help keep tools organized and within reach when they’re not in use.
Most of today’s hand tools have been around in one form or another for decades—some for a whole lot longer—and for good reason: They simplify construction, maintenance, and repair tasks. Power tools are great, but some workshop and around-the-house tasks require the use of hand tools.
For inserting and removing a variety of fasteners, including flathead and Phillips screws, users want at least six to 10 individual screwdrivers in a variety of tip sizes and lengths. For those times that they don’t want too much torque that can come from a powered drill, a screwdriver is just the ticket. It allows them to tighten a fastener by hand to just the right snugness. The best screwdrivers have case-hardened tips that won’t chip or bend. Screwdrivers with magnetic tips are available for easier screw retention, but this can be done at home with a small rare-earth magnet.
Ratchets and Wrenches
Wrenches are basic hand tools for tightening and loosening nuts and bolts. For heavy-duty mechanical repairs and maintenance, a socket set with ratchet handles and interchangeable sockets that fit nuts and bolts of different sizes may be a better choice. Ratchets feature a square-shaped “drive” that retains the socket and a catch-and-release gear to turn the nut or bolt in a single direction without the user needing to remove the socket and reposition it with every turn. If shoppers do a good amount of mechanical work, using a socket set will save them a lot of time.
Pliers and Wire Cutters
Designed to grab and pull, a good set of pliers will come in handy for multiple purposes, from pulling up a corner of carpeting to gripping the edges of a stuck nut to turn it. Pliers come in various sizes. For the best results, consider buying a pair that comes with cushioned nonslip handles that will make it easier to get a good grip when pulling something. Wire cutters resemble pliers, but they feature sharp edges designed to cut wire in two. Some pliers come with both gripping jaws and wire-cutter blades.
Hammers and Mallets
They may look alike, but hammers and mallets have distinctly different uses.
- Hammers: Designed for driving nails, a good-quality hammer is an investment that will last for years. Hammers with long straight claws are useful for demolition, while hammers with curved claws are better at pulling nails. Solid steel hammers with a full tang (steel running from the head to the tip of the handle) last the longest, but hammers with wood handles offer reduced impact shock, which is easier on the joints.
- Mallets: A mallet is used to strike something without damaging it. It has a larger head than a hammer, and instead of being made of steel, it is often made of fiberglass, wood, or other synthetic materials.
These sharpened steel blades are designed to be struck on the handle with a mallet or hammer for use in carving wood and cutting through hard materials, such as bricks and stones. Chisels come in various sizes, with blades ranging in size from ⅛ inch wide, which are used for fine carving, to blades 2 inches wide or wider for breaking stones and other hefty materials. Wood chisels and masonry chisels are constructed differently for their unique requirements, so be sure to buy those appropriate for the task at hand.
Hacksaws and Files
Hacksaws and files help cut and smooth metal and PVC pipes, so most plumbers have a few of each in their tool boxes. The hacksaw features a C-shaped frame that holds thin saw blades that can be swapped out to cut different materials. While most blades are intended for cutting metal or PVC, a blade for cutting wood is available as well. Files are used to remove rough edges or metal burrs from the cut ends of metal and PVC pipes.
Basic measuring tools for home repairs include tape measures, rulers, and levels. These are essential tools for project planning when it comes to estimating materials and layout as well as in completing the project itself. Cheap instruments may work initially, but accuracy is often tied to durability, so it pays to buy quality. It is also important to consider factors such as size, readability, and convenience features that may include one-handed or hands-free operation.
If you’re just getting started collecting hand tools for your workshop, you likely have some questions about which ones are essential and how to care for them.
Q. What are essential hand tools?
Essential hand tools are those that let you make home or auto repairs and complete around-the-house projects. While a lot of specialty tools are out there, the most commonly used tools include screwdrivers, hammers, ratchet sets, utility knives, and tape measures.
Q. Which tool material is hardest?
In hand tools, that’s probably S2, an alloy that contains carbon, silicon, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, and manganese. Most hand tools, however, are made from other types of steel, including carbon steel and case-hardened steel.
Q. What are the factors affecting tool life?
Moisture is the natural enemy of metal hand tools, and leaving tools outside in the weather will reduce their useful life quicker than anything.
Q. How do you keep hand tools in good condition?
Good tool maintenance practices will keep your hand tools in top working condition. Keep them dry, clean, and stored in a dust-free environment. Additionally, use your tools only for their designated use—if you use a screwdriver in place of a chisel and hit it with a hammer, it likely won’t hold up to the abuse.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Since 1996, millions of readers have trusted BobVila.com for helpful advice on repairs, renovations, and tools. Mark Wolfe is a staff writer and veteran product tester at BobVila.com. He offers honest and thoughtful recommendations based on decades of DIY home, auto, and lawn equipment repairs and maintenance along with his 20-year career in landscaping and nursery work.