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The Starter Tool Kit – The New York Times

16-OUNCE HAMMER A hammer can be a very personal thing, with weight, comfort and grip all factoring into the fit and feel. Bob Vila, the original host of the television series “This Old House,” prefers Estwing’s steel shank wrapped in leather rings. Not only does it do a “good job absorbing the impact,” said Mr. Vila, whose videos can now be seen at, “I remember it being in my father’s toolbox.” Sal Vaglica, a senior editor at This Old House magazine, prefers Fiberglas, but to find “the right balance of heft and comfort,” he suggests trying out a few in the store.


Bits for a screwdriver.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

MULTIBIT SCREWDRIVER “Don’t bother buying kits with five different lengths and types of screwdrivers,” Mr. Vaglica said. “Instead get a multibit version that stores all the common bits in the handle.” His favorite: a $20 ratcheting screwdriver from Lee Valley. Ratcheting screwdrivers contain a gear-and-pawl mechanism that isolates the handle from the stem, allowing you to turn the screw many times without having to reposition your hand. MegaPro makes a $27 all-in-one version recommended by The Sweethome.

LEVEL “Start with a two-footer, because it’s the right size to help level and plumb projects like floating shelves, pictures, kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and patio pavers,” Mr. Vaglica said. “Look for a metal box-beam build” with rubber bumpers on the ends, to help absorb the shock when you inevitably drop it, he added. “Johnson and Empire are two good brands.”

For hanging pictures, installing shelves or adjusting the legs on the washer-dryer, The Sweethome recommends the Sola PH 22 Flooring Level (about $19). More aggressive D.I.Y.-ers might want to splurge on the aluminum Sola MM 5 25 (about $42).

UTILITY KNIFE For breaking down boxes, cutting drywall or stripping wires, a utility knife will ease the job. “You don’t have to go fancy or spend a lot,” said Stuart Deutsch, the founder of ToolGuyd, a site that features new tool previews, hands-on reviews, industry news and the occasional D.I.Y. project. His suggestion of a solid option: the Milwaukee Slide-Out (about $8).


A tape measure.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

TAPE MEASURE How wide is your window? What size sofa will fit in your living room? “A tape measure will help you quickly answer these and other questions,” said Mr. Deutsch, who uses the 25-foot Stanley PowerLock Tape Measure (about $10). For something “small and pocketable,” go with the 10-foot Komelon 3110 (about $4), he said.

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