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Outfitting a Basic Toolbox

Less can mean more when you choose fewer tools of better quality

Does the world of home improvement ever seem hard to navigate? With all the gadgets and tools to choose from, what instruments are instrumental to your home tool kit?

We asked some experts to give us their tool tips.

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Tools should be user-friendly, they suggest. "Comfort and durability are key," says Lee Wilkins, marketing manager at Stanley, a hardware manufacturer, in New Britain, Conn.

"Your hand is an extension of the tool, so it's important that they are easy to hold." Hammers and utility knives with rubber grips, are best, says Mr. Wilkins.

Dedicated tools are usually better than two-in-one utensils. "[Multipurpose tools] are definitely convenient, but they are not always as efficient," says Wilkins. Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers are an essential part of your toolbox.

"It's a good idea to own a six-piece screwdriver set," says Bob Sheldon, a spokesman at Stambaugh Hardware Co. in Youngstown, Ohio. "That way, you'll be more than prepared to face any task or any fastener."

Karen Dale Dustman, author of "The Women's Fix-It Book," also approves of these interchangeable bits. She also recommends investing in a screw gun or cordless drill (about $40). They are fast, powerful, efficient, and whizzes at taking screws out as well.

Ms. Dustman suggests the purchase of a miniature hacksaw. "They are only about 4 inches long, and they fit into all those unexpected small spaces. I found them useful in trimming my vinyl mini-blinds."

Mr. Sheldon recommends a torpedo (pocket-size) level and a tape measure - the longer the better.

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Keeping tools organized is a key to success in home repair. Dustman suggests a small, open tote box.

"Start a hope chest," she suggests. "It has saved my neck countless times." Dustman recommends collecting left-over debris - like extra dry-wall screws and wire - and keeping it in a container for later use.

Finally, all the experts recommend buying better quality, pricier tools, because it will save you time and money in the long term. And with the right tools, you will be more apt to tackle do-it-yourself tasks.

WHAT TOOLS DO WHAT

* SCREWDRIVER SET

Purpose: Driving the most common sizes of slotted and Phillips-head screws.

What to look for: 6-in-1 screwdrivers with extra tips stored in the handle are the most convenient and handy.

* CRESCENT WRENCH

Purpose: Turning nuts, bolts, and plumbing fittings.

What to look for: 10-inch is a good all-purpose size.

* HAMMER

What to look for: Choose a hammer with a slightly curved face and beveled edges to prevent chipping. Insist on a drop-forged steel head.

* PLIERS

Purpose: Gripping, bending, tightening, crimping.

What to look for: A 10-inch length is the handiest; quality pliers have sharp teeth that grip better than cheaper models.

* UTILITY KNIFE

Purpose: For miscellaneous cutting and scoring. Before discarding a dull blade check the other end; the blades are reversible.

What to look for: Knives with retractable blades.

* CORDLESS DRILL

Purpose: Drilling holes up to 1-inch in diameter in wood or metal; driving screws.

What to look for: Attachment for a sander. High battery voltage means more power and longer use between charges. 7.2 and 9.6 volt models are most common.

* LEVEL

Purpose: From hanging pictures to setting fence posts, you need a bubble level to judge level and plumb. You can also buy a torpedo (pocket-size) level with a magnetic strip along one edge that clings to metal surfaces.

* WIRE STRIPPERS

What to look for: Spring-loaded handle that opens after each squeeze. Adjustable stop-nut lets you set the opening for different wire diameters.

* MINI HACKSAW

Purpose: Cutting metal and plastic.

What to look for: Better hacksaws have sturdy frames and use levers rather than wing nuts to tighten the blades.

* TAPE MEASURE

What to look for: 25-footers will be suitable for most households needs. Coat tape with silicone spray to keep it sliding smoothly.


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