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Let's start with something to fill. A good, usable toolbox can
save as much time on a job as having the right tools inside.
"A lot of people don't get one and their stuff is all over the
place and it takes them a half-hour of frustration to get
what they need for even the simplest job," says David
Tenenbaum, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Home
Repair and Maintenance." He prefers a soft canvas bag with
lots of pockets that drapes over a five-gallon bucket. Rub-
ber-bottom soft bags are a slightly heavier alternative.
Most builders prefer a steel-shaft version with a vibration-
dampening rubber grip. Tenenbaum suggests a 16-ounce
steel (or fibreglass) shaft hammer with a smooth (not che-
quered) head to avoid unnecessary marring. Choose a
model with a straight or "rip" claw, not a curved claw;
they're much more useful for demolition. "And sandpaper
the face of the hammer once in a while so nails don't slip
off," Tenenbaum adds.
"A 12- to 15-inch pry bar is incredibly handy," says Tenen-
baum. "There is one made of hexagonal steel that is infi-
nitely superior to ones that are made of spring steel, which
tend to bounce when you hammer them."
Also known as locking pliers, vise-grips are the pit bull in
your toolbox: Simply adjust the screw drive in the handle
and clamp it on to anything that needs viselike
stabilizing, typically metal or PVC pipes. When
you're done, the lever in the opposite handle re-
leases the jaws. Channel-lock pliers are a good sec-
The long, tapering, forged head that gives needle-
nose pliers their name is particularly useful in elec-
trical work where spaces can get tight. Get a pair
with a wire-cutting blade near the hinge.
SCREWDRIVERS (MIXED SET)
You'll save money and get the most use out of a
good-quality mixed set that includes 1/4- and 3/8-
inch flat heads and No. 1 and No. 2 Phillips head drivers.
Magnetic heads come in handy, too. Tenenbaum advises
against cordless electric screwdrivers; instead, he uses
screwdriver bits with his corded electric drill, which provides
more torque and never needs recharging.
Tenenbaum regrets the years he spent without this handy
plier-like tool that scores and strips the casing off varying
gauges of wires to speed electrical jobs. "I tried to strip
wires with diagonal pliers for years, and it's so easy with
wire strippers," he admits. "I don't know what I was think-
TAPE MEASURE (16-FOOT)
You'll thank yourself for getting a good-quality, easy-locking,
3/4-inch-wide model. The half-inchers just don't stay in
place when extended; the one-inchers are overkill.
Forget the fancy gadgets with dials and displays: You only
need the cheapie with two probes and a light to indicate
that an electrical current is present. "Remember to test it in
a working outlet each time before you use it to make sure
it's still working," Tenenbaum warns. "Remember: If it's
dead, you're dead."
REVERSIBLE DRILL WITH BIT SET
This 3/8th-inch reversible drill is the only electrical tool that
you absolutely, positively have to have. Although stores are
filled with cordless varieties, stick with a corded model:
They're lighter, cheaper and never run out of juice.
1/2-INCH STEEL CHISEL
One of the most ancient tools is also essential as well.
When you need a chisel (and you will), there's really no ac-
ceptable substitute. And forget
the plastic- and wooden-handled
varieties. "The expectation that
you're going to go and find a
mallet to hit your chisel is just
ridiculous," says Tenenbaum.
"You're going to reach for a ham-
Having a utility knife with re-
placeable blades comes in aw-
fully handy, and again, when you
need one there's really no substitute.
If you invest in a circular saw, you may find few situations in
which you'll need a handsaw. But many power-averse folks
will feel more comfortable with a short handsaw. A good
choice is the 12-inch FatMax by Stanley; it's lighter and cuts
straighter and faster than traditional handsaws.
9-INCH TORPEDO LEVEL
These palm-size levels with the bubble that floats to centre
are essential to levelling everything from picture frames to
kitchen cabinets. If you need to level something long, simply
add a board to the level. And don't be tempted by the vari-
ous laser levels on the market. "I was given one and I've
never used it at all," says Tenenbaum. "I don't understand it.
Bubbles are incredibly accurate."
There simply is no substitute for effective eye protection.
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