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Toolbox 101

A well-stocked toolbox is an easy thing to take for granted -- until it is too late. A set of basic tools is a necessity for new homeowners, renters and kids going off to college. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Living at home with parents certainly has its perks. Not the least of which is having access to years' worth of accumulated tools and equipment.

From dad's workbench to the ubiquitous kitchen junk drawer that always seems to have just the right tool for the job, it's easy to take for granted how important it is to have some common tools on hand.

That is until one of those tools is needed but not available.

One of the best gifts for college freshmen moving away or new homeowners and renters is a basic toolbox.

A solid starting toolbox with enough equipment to tackle the most common household tasks can be assembled for around $100.

Troy Daniels, co-owner of Red Wing Ace Hardware, identified the following as tools everyone should have in their collection:


Few tools are more iconic than a 16-ounce claw hammer. Even fewer are more useful.

"For hanging pictures and things like that, I always say just a medium hammer is all you'll need," Daniels said.

For indoor tasks and jobs around the house, Daniels said he recommends a wooden handle over fiberglass.

Although the fiberglass handles tend to be more durable, many people prefer the feel of a wooden handle when pounding nails.

Hammers come in a variety of weights and sizes, but 16 ounces is the best for common tasks, Daniels said.

Price: $6.99-12.49


The selection of screwdrivers at Red Wing Ace Hardware can be overwhelming. Between the different sizes, materials and head types, it would be easy to buy several to cover all the bases.

But Daniels said he recommends a four-in-one screwdriver to save space and money. With interchanging heads, this versatile screwdriver can be adjusted to fit flathead and Phillips-head screws of varying sizes.

"It has all the different things on there," Daniels said. "They are wonderful."

More expensive screwdrivers with cushion grips and additional head options are available, but they mostly come down to personal preference.

Price: $4.99 and up


"You can go all over the place with levels," Daniels said. "Anywhere from $4 up to $100."

Newer models also have advanced features like lights and lasers to help make leveling easier.

Daniels said a basic two-foot level will fit most situations, whether it's making sure a picture frame is hanging straight or a shelf is lined up properly.

"Most people won't need a four-foot level in their house, and if you get a short one, sometimes you need it a little bigger," he said.

Price: $12.99 and up

Tape measure

Often going hand-in-hand with the level is a tape measure, and it's a tool "everybody needs," according to Daniels.

Like most other tools, tape measures come in countless styles from several different brands.

The most popular size for household tasks is a 25-foot tape measure, Daniels said.

When it comes to added features, his personal favorite is a self-centering model by Lufkin.

The blade of the measure is clearly labeled with fractions of an inch, and even has red markings listing the center point of any measurement.

Price: $5.99-10.99

Utility knife

No frills necessary when it comes to a retractable utility knife. A sharp blade and sturdy build are the most important elements to look for.

Popular for breaking down cardboard boxes, utility knives also can be used to cut drywall, fiberglass insulation and vinyl tiles.

Price: Start around $4.99

Crescent wrench

Useful indoors and in the garage, a crescent wrench is key when it comes to tightening nuts and bolts with hex-shaped heads.

"Probably the easiest thing to use is a crescent wrench," Daniels said. "They cover so much stuff. They do everything."

Although crescent wrenches can't fit into cramped spaces as well as a socket wrench, their adjustable design allows one tool to cover several different tasks.

Crescent wrenches also are handy for vehicle repairs.

Price: Around $13.99


Along with a good wrench, Daniels said no one should be without a handy pair of pliers.

A basic pair of six-inch pliers can be used to hold an object in place, as well as bend or straighten it as needed..

The criss-crossing handles joined at a fulcrum amplify the power in a person's grip, allowing them to apply a great deal of force to a specific location.

Price: $4.99-10.99

Box saw

"A small saw is not a bad thing to have around," Daniels said.

It won't be enough for large building tasks, but a box saw is perfect for trimming branches and cutting two-by-fours.

They're also small enough to easily store along with other tools.

Price: Less than $20


Of course no basic tool collection would be complete without something to put it all in. When it comes to storage, the era of the plastic or steel toolbox may be over.

"Nowadays totes and tool bags are popular," Daniels said. "They're so much nicer than having a toolbox lying around, and you can easily see all your stuff in them."

Their open design and numerous pockets and dividers make keeping tools organized a cinch.

Price: $40-60

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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