I am going to try and give some guidance to those out there that do not have a basic set of tools. In this post I am talking about fixing and maintaining mechanical things, everything from your car to a lawn mower to a washing machine. First and foremost you need a set of screw drivers, some pliers and an adjustable wrench. This will let you do some very basic repairs and maintenance such as tightening loose screws, changing some filters and things like this.
My recommendation for buying these things are:
Screwdrivers – You need at least three sized of both slotted and Phillips. You can often get a package of 15-20 screwdrivers of different sizes and lengths for about $20 and this is the best value. Make sure it has Phillips sizes 0, 1, and 2. I don’t think you need the larger sets as you will get a bunch of items you will not use. In time you will find that you need special screwdrivers such as square or torx, but you can then buy them as needed. At this point I would avoid the driver with the interchangeable bits as it doesn’t work as well as a plain old screwdriver. You can add it in the future as you build your tool collection and it is a way to have the more specialized tools by just buying the bits.
Pliers – I recommend a pair of needle nose, linesmen and arc or grove joint pliers. Again you can often get these in a set but the sets will usually include a set of slip joint pliers (which I consider useless) and pair if diagonal cutters (which you don’t need unless you are doing a lot of electrical work). A pair or two of locking pliers, commonly called vise grips, are also very handy. You should plan on spending $10-$20 per item, the bigger it is the more it costs. I want to caution against trying to go cheap on the arc or grove joint pliers, commonly called channellocks. The cheaper ones will slip out of joint when you are putting pressure on them which can damage what you are working on, or worse your hand.
Adjustable Wrench – This is commonly called a Crescent Wrench and is used for turning nuts and bolts. I recommend the 10″ size if you are buying one and a small 4″-6″ one if you want to get two or find a good deal on a set.
These tools will only let you do the most basic of repairs. To really take something apart to work on it you will need a set of sockets and combination wrenches. Most of the stuff I’ve worked on that has been made anytime in the last 25 years has been a combination of standard (inch) and metric sizes, so you will need both. If you can afford it spend $125-$200 and get a set that includes 1/4″, 3/8″ & 1/2″ drive sockets and ratchets. This will give you a large range of sizes so you can select the appropriate size for the work you are doing. If you cannot buy all three drive sizes as a large set, start with the 3/8″, then 1/2″ and finally 1/4″. Over time you can add specialty sockets as you need them for specific jobs.
Tools are an investment that everyone should consider. Good hand tools never wear out, there are many of my hand tools that I have had my whole adult life. The biggest problem is losing them, so make sure you get a tool box to store them in as well.