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Hand-Tool Checklist

Martha Stewart Living, Volume 143 October 2005

A 16-ounce model is an easy-to-handle option for most people. If your hammer is too heavy, you might bend nails; too light, and you might have to use extra strokes to drive them in. For comfort and a good grip, look for a style with a rubber handle.

Cordless Drill
For basic tasks, 9.6 volts will do the trick; for heavy-duty jobs, such as drilling into brick, choose a 12-volt model. A keyless chuck (the mechanism that allows for changing bits) means you don't have to keep track of a key.

A multi-head tool has interchangeable tips, which saves space. One with "ratchet action" means you won't have to reset the tool after each turn. Four regular screwdrivers are also adequate: a small and a large each of the flathead and Phillips.

Staple Gun
Use this versatile tool to install screens, attach upholstery, and cover objects (such as a bulletin board) with fabric. Pick a small- or medium-size version; it will fit well in a toolbox and is easier to handle than larger models.

There's no need to purchase an entire wrench set when you've got an adjustable one, with a moveable lower jaw that can be adapted for almost any job. Use it to loosen bolts that are too tight (pliers tend to strip them) and to assemble furniture, toys, and bikes.

Measuring Tools
The best material for a straightedge is metal, because wood and plastic tend to get nicked by cutting blades and are more easily scratched. Use a 25-foot-long measuring tape to calculate longer distances.

Use slip-joint pliers for tightening and loosening nuts and bolts (a too-tight nut, however, calls for a wrench). You'll also need a needlenose pair, perfect for twisting wire. In addition, the thin tips on the pincers are also useful for working in a cramped space.

One with a 15-inch steel blade is long enough for a variety of tasks and short enough to fit in many tool kits. Look for "general purpose" on the label, which means the saw cuts both with and against the grain.

Stock up on the basics: nails, screws, and all manner of hooks, including eye and cup hooks. Don't forget anchors appropriate for your walls and picture-hanging wire. Keep each type separate, sorted in an organizer with small compartments.

Safety Equipment
Wear protective glasses when working with harmful chemicals or sawing. Leather gloves prevent blisters and injury, and also improve your grip for jobs such as carrying firewood; latex ones are handy when working with paint or grease.

Use carpenters' glue on wood and paper. Tapes in 1- to 2-inch widths are valuable as well: masking; painters'; duct, for holding items together temporarily; and electrical, for wrapping wires and cables.

This tool tells you when something is perfectly straight. Move it around until the bubbles balance inside; that's how you know where the straight line lies. A carpenters' level can identify 45-degree angles, but a torpedo is tiny enough to fit in small spaces.

Dedicate a pair of standard scissors to the toolbox so you won't ruin the household pair when, say, cutting sandpaper. For more detailed jobs, use a utility knife with a retractable blade that can be locked, so it won't be likely to pop out of place while you are cutting.

For help in a pinch, include these items: a pencil; a flashlight, for repairs in dark spaces; 100-grit sandpaper, for smoothing edges; felt pads, for preventing scratches underneath items; and a bottle of adhesive remover, for eliminating tape and glue residue.

Putty Knife
The primary purpose of this tool is for smoothing over putty, mending plaster, and the like. However, it can also function as a scraper, for peeling away loose paint and caked-on glue. Opt for one that has a 1 1/2- to 3-inch-long blade.

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