The Best Tools

By Linda Pescatore

January 2, 2009 5 min read

THE BEST TOOLS

Six essential items that every homeowner needs

Linda Pescatore

Creators News Service

The economy may be at a standstill, but your house won't stop creaking, squeaking and leaking just because you have less money for hiring contractors and handymen.

Whether you find the prospect of maintaining or remodeling your home appealing or appalling, acquiring a few basic tools will save you time, money and drudgery. If you wait until you need them, you might not find the best deal -- and without the right tool, you might put off doing a job until it's too late.

"So many simple things need just a little tightening, a little adjustment or a little loving care to avoid the frustration that often comes with owning a home," said Danny Lipford, host of the nationally syndicated Emmy-nominated television show "Today's Homeowner." He also is featured on the Weather Channel as a home improvement contributor and on CBS' "The Early Show."

Even the least skilled homeowners can feel empowered by owning a few affordable, easy-to-use tools. In addition, being self-sufficient has advantages. "It's so frustrating to try to get anybody over to do some of the small things," he said.

After two years of declining sales of home improvement products to consumers, the Home Improvement Research Institute projects that such sales will increase slightly in 2009. As manufacturers chase your dollars, that may mean you'll pay lower prices.

You can also save by looking for package deals, which are offered by quite a few tool manufacturers. "Over the last few years, the combination kits that they've put together are so unbelievably reasonable compared to buying the individual components," Lipford said.

For example, some companies might bundle a drill and saw that use the same type of rechargeable battery with a charger that both can share. "Then you're set up," Lipford said.

But don't judge products on price alone. Shop for tools in the middle price ranges, Lipford advised. High-priced, professional-grade tools are pricier and heftier than the average homeowner needs, but go too cheap and you'll end up replacing broken tools, not to mention risking injury.

Here are the six power and hand tools that, according to Lipford, every homeowner needs. Remember to take the time to read your manuals and always observe recommended safety precautions:

* POWER SCREWDRIVER: Look for a good quality piece with interchangeable bits. Having just four -- a large and small Phillips head and a large and small slotted bit -- would "take care of 99 percent of anything you would ever encounter around the home," Lipford said. You'll spend about $12 to $25.

* HAMMER: This trusty old standby is indispensable for pounding, whacking and striking nails, and a claw will also help pry nails out, too. A wooden-handled model weighing 14 to 16 ounces should be comfortable enough for both sexes yet still get the job done, according to Lipford. You'll spend about $15.

* PLIERS: Adjustability is key here, since you'll use these to grip and pull a wide variety of items as well as handling various nuts and bolts. Look for one with a slotted adjustment that goes from tiny to an inch or more. You'll probably spend around $15.

* UTILITY KNIFE: A razor-sharp tool makes easy work of cutting wallpaper, carpet and vinyl flooring, or precisely trimming caulk around the bathtub. Look for a retractable model for added safety. The price? About $7.

* CIRCULAR SAW: This handheld tool comes corded or cordless in a variety of sizes. "It's one of the most versatile tools that does so many things around the house," Lipford said, citing tasks like trimming small boards or plywood or even cutting holes in your floor. You can spend as little as $50 for a basic model.

* CORDLESS DRILL: It's "one of the truly most useful things," Lipford said. A quality set with a variety of attachments will allow you to complete a wide range of tasks beyond just drilling holes. Use a steel brush accessory, for example, to repair a rusty piece of outdoor furniture. You can even stir paint with a special attachment. And while most sets will allow you to attach bits just like a screwdriver, Lipford doesn't think a drill should replace a screwdriver. "With a drill, you're not going to be able to get in some of the real tight spots that you need to -- inside a drawer, hanging blinds or inside a closet," he said. A small 12-volt drill might cost $30, with more powerful 18-volt models going for about $10 more.

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