Hand Tools

A homeowner's must-haves

Power tools are certainly handy, but sometimes, all you really need is a little elbow grease. Hand tools don't require electricity to run and are perfect for those little jobs around the house, such as hanging pictures and paintings or assembling furniture.

The Essentials

Perhaps the most essential hand tools are the hammer and the screwdriver. These items should be at the top of any handyman's (or handywoman's) wish list. Hammers come in a variety of sizes, but one good-quality, medium-sized hammer should be enough to accomplish most tasks. Just be sure the weight is comfortable for repeated use.

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Screwdrivers, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated. With a variety of heads required to fit different types of screws, one screwdriver is rarely enough. Look instead for a screwdriver set or a screwdriver with changeable heads. This is probably the most economical way to get the variety you'll need.

If you prefer to purchase your screwdrivers separately, you'll need at least a Philips-head and a flat-head to start.

Other essential items are pliers for gripping, turning or crimping and a utility knife for cutting. A knife offers the most versatility, but some pliers also include cutting blades, and a pair of wire cutters is still the safest and easiest option for cutting wire.

All About The Wrench

The main function of a wrench - also called a spanner or even a spanner wrench - is to turn nuts and bolts into (or out of) place. Because there is such variety in the size and shape a nut or bolt can take, there are also numerous sizes and shapes of wrenches. Wrench sets are an affordable way to provide yourself with some selection and increase your odds of having the right wrench for the job. An adjustable wrench (sometimes mistakenly called a monkey wrench after its predecessor) can also be useful in this regard, but the options may not be quite as numerous.

Some wrenches are designed with a particular purpose in mind. For example, a pipe wrench has an adjustable head and serrated jaws perfect for gripping pipe and pipe fittings, and a torque wrench measures the amount of rotational force being applied. Some torque wrenches use a dial or meter to display the reading, while others simply slip if a certain level of force is exceeded.

For fasteners in tight spaces, a socket wrench has a long cylinder or sleeve, called a socket, designed to fit over the nut or bolt at one end and lock into a handle or drive mechanism at the other, allowing the nut or bolt to be turned from a distance. One of the most popular drive mechanisms is a ratchet handle, which transfers the back-and-forth motion of the handle into a rotation of the socket, continuously turning the nut or bolt. This prevents the user from having to adjust the position of the socket with each turn, as is required with a conventional wrench. A socket wrench with a ratchet handle is sometimes referred to as a ratchet wrench or simply a ratchet.

Finally, an Allen wrench doesn't really resemble a wrench at all, but since it is used to loosen or tighten nuts, bolts and other fasteners, it technically is one. Allen wrenches are L-shaped pieces of hexagonal wire of various gauges that fit into specially designed recesses on certain bolts and screws. Also known as an Allen key or hex key (and by several other names throughout Europe), this wrench is extremely easy to use and very cheap to manufacture, so it is often included with assembly-required furniture items.

Additional Tools

While the essential tools are certainly enough to get you started, you may find that certain projects require an additional tool or two. It's usually best to wait until this situation arises before investing in these extras. Hand tools aren't necessarily expensive, but they do take up space, and no one likes to see a bunch of never-used items cluttering up the workbench.

If you've got any kind of demolition project in mind, you'll probably find yourself in need of a sledge hammer. A mallet can also be useful for smaller demo projects.

A staple gun will come in handy for installing carpet or insulation, tacking wiring into place, or upholstering chairs, ottomans and sofas.

Finally, although a power saw may be optimal for its speed and efficiency, a hand saw can be useful for those high-up or far-away projects out of the reach of an extension cord.