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 BobVila.com, “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.
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).
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.
LED FLASHLIGHT You’ll need a good flashlight when the lights inevitably go out, a toy rolls behind the bed or when you’re working in a dimly lit area like the back of a closet. “Avoid the gimmicky, no-name, ‘tacticool’ brands that boast about their many hundreds of lumens,” said Mr. Deutsch, who likes Maglite brand flashlights for value and durability.
RUBBER MALLET This low-cost tool is useful for “delivering a strong blow without damaging whatever you’re striking,” Mr. Deutsch said. You can pick one up for about $5 at any hardware store, for those times you need to take a good whack at something without busting it. Recently, Mr. Deutsch had to remove the pedal from his bike, but the fastener wouldn’t budge. “A few gentle taps on the wrench with a rubber mallet, and the bolt was broken loose,” he said.
WRENCHES To tighten or loosen a nut or bolt with ease, you’ll need an adjustable wrench. The Sweethome recommends the compact $22 Channellock 8WCB for its jaw capacity, which “can handle everything from a fat garden hose to a small fastener on a child’s toy.” For assembling Ikea furniture and other tedious tasks, a good set of ball-end hex keys like the Tekton 25282 26-piece Long Arm Ball Hex Key Wrench Set (about $17), the top pick from The Sweethome, will make the project less burdensome.
CORDLESS DRILL/DRIVER If you buy only one power tool, “it should be a cordless drill,” Mr. Vila said. While he prefers 18-volt drill kits with lithium batteries made by Japanese companies like Makita and Hitachi, a smaller and lighter 12-volt drill, like the $97 Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver, recommended by The Sweethome, is powerful enough for most tasks around the home.
NEEDLE-NOSE PLIERS Even if you aren’t snipping wires or making crafts, you will be happy you have these pliers when a chain link comes loose in your favorite vintage bracelet or a toy goes down the bathtub drain. The Sweethome found the Klein J203-8 Heavy Duty Journeyman Pliers a solid investment at $34.
SAFETY EQUIPMENT Whether you are chopping wood or cleaning a ceiling fan, safety goggles will help keep dust and other particles out of your eyes. “Face-hugging goggles provide added protection,” said Mr. Deutsch, who uses Uvex Flex Seal Goggles. “These fit right over my corrective eyeglasses.”
And work gloves will help protect against light abrasions, improve your grip and provide a little added comfort when you are working with certain tools, Mr. Deutsch added. He recommends the Microflex Supreno SE nitrile gloves or the thicker Microflex SafeGrip, made of latex. “Not all disposable glove materials will provide adequate protection from certain chemicals,” he said, pointing out that nitrile gloves won’t protect against methylene chloride, a corrosive chemical found in paint strippers. “So be sure to check a compatibility chart.”