Learn about the must-have tools in my toolbox & how to invest in quality tools without breaking your budget.

My Toolbox

My Toolbox & How to Invest in Quality Tools

As a general contractor and an avid DIYer, I’ve used many tools from many different manufacturers. As a general guideline, you will get what you paid for when you purchase tools. That being said, there are a few hand tools that have lasted me decades and performed beautifully, even though I bought the less expensive models.

Over the years I have upgraded some of my tools for a better model because I found less expensive power tools didn’t last as long or they didn’t perform as well as the mid-grade or contractor grade tools. Therefore, when I invest in tools for my toolbox, I aim for brands I trust to last a long time and perform well for years to come.

As a homeowner who plans on using tools for the occasional weekend projects, you will be well served by mid-grade power tools and be able to save money by skipping the contractor-grade power tools. But, let’s talk about the different levels of power tools.

 Contractor Grade Power Tools:

What do I consider a contractor grade tool? These are the tool brands that cost more because they are built to perform better under tough job site conditions. For the most part, they can handle excessive use, changing weather conditions, and the abuse of being thrown around and dropped on a regular basis.

  • DeWalt
  • Hilti
  • Festool
  • Milwaukee
  • Makita
  • Bosch

Because they are built to last, you can expect to pay top dollar for contractor grade tools.

Entry-Level Power Tools:

What I consider entry-level tools are the power tools with a cheap price tag and therefore cheap construction. You’ll find a lot more plastic on these tools and they aren’t built to handle being dropped a lot. Often entry-level tools won’t have the same power as the contractor-grade tools. Another quality you give up with an entry-level tool is accuracy. I’ve found that blades may not be calibrated or tend to drift from a set angle. In addition, the user may find the tools hinder the ability to get quality results on a project (but new DIYers will mistakenly assume it was their fault instead of the tools.)

I don’t need to name brands for the entry-level tools, you’ll know which ones they are by the price tag compared to the other tools in the same category. Plus, I’m not an advocate for buying entry-level tools.

Buy Mid-Grade Tools and Save More Money:

I am a big advocate of purchasing mid-grade tools vs. entry-level. Why you ask? It boils down to a simple explanation. If you save money by buying an entry-level tool, you will likely have to replace that tool within a few years for one of these reasons:

  • Breaks
  • Precision isn’t where you want it to be
  • Not Powerful Enough

Here’s a good example: Sue wanted to buy a miter saw and to save money she bought an entry-level miter saw with a single bevel for $130. This saw lasted her a few years, but then parts started breaking off the saw (and she realized she could save time by upgrading to a sliding miter saw with dual bevel cutting capabilities.) Now she will likely have to spend $400 for a mid-grade miter saw. All in, she’s spent $530 for miter saws. Whereas, if she had purchased the $400 saw upfront, she would not need to replace it because it should last longer and will perform the tasks quickly and with precision.

This same equation holds true for less expensive power tools. Pay $50 for a cheap jigsaw and it will likely break or not perform the precise cuts. In a year you have to buy a new jigsaw for $125. Wouldn’t you have been better off spending a little more upfront to buy the mid-grade tool?

Mid-Grade Power Tool Brands:

  • Porter-Cable
  • Rigid
  • Kobalt
  • Craftsman
  • Metabo (was Hitachi)

This is only a small list of mid-grade brands. Within each tool there will be other brands to choose from. I recommend purchasing from a well-established manufacturer (no off-name brands.) And do your research on the tool you are going to purchase before you buy it. Reading Amazon reviews is one of the best ways to learn about the quality and reliability of a power tool.

How to Decide on the Right Power Tool for You

If at all possible, visit the tool department of a local store. Hold the tool in your hand, or feel the grip. As a woman, I find some power tools are made too large for me to comfortably grip. And if a drill or hand-held tool is too heavy, I’ll opt or a lighter weight version. For that reason, occasionally I’ve eliminated a tool from consideration even though it was an excellent tool.

You can also ask a salesperson for help or opinions. Don’t tell them you are new to power tools. Just ask for their opinion and let them talk. Ask what tool they would purchase if they were buying one for themselves. You should aim to buy a quality tool (especially power tools) that will last your lifetime. As mentioned above, a cheap tool will either break or not have the power to do the job you need it to do.

Battery vs. Corded Tools

Up until a few years ago, I would have recommended corded tools for all power tools except a drill. The reason being a battery-powered tool couldn’t compete with a corded power tool. However, battery technology has come a long way and personally I’ve begun the switch to mostly battery-powered tools. The benefit of not having to drag a power cord around and not blowing a fuse are big time savers for me!

If you choose to purchase a battery-powered tool, you’ll probably want to stick with the same brand (and battery line) for all your power tools to make it easier for storage and keep your costs down on purchasing batteries. (Be sure to look at the variety of tools available for the battery line you are considering. I also recommend choosing the largest volt batteries you can handle, as they will have a longer run time and more power. Although Ni-Cad batteries are almost a thing of the past, you should always purchase Lithium-Ion batteries which don’t loose charge memory as much as the Ni-Cad batteries did.

What Tools Do You Really Need?

(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

Every DIYer and homeowner needs a few basic tools to use on screws, nuts, and bolts. Plus, some pliers, a hammer, and tape measure.

A multi-piece set (shown below) is a great place to start if you have a limited budget.
My ToolboxThis will give you a wide variety of tools for minimal cost. The set shown above can be purchased on Amazon.com for approximately $50 – $60.

If you decide to buy hand tools a la carte, these are what I recommend for your toolbox.

Homeowner essentials:

One of the most indispensable tools every DIYer needs is:
Cordless Drill, Impact Driver with screwdriver bits and a small set of drill bits

Glossary of Tools:

Screwdriver bits:

My Toolbox

Hand Tools:

My Toolbox

My Toolbox


For Electrical DIY:

  1. Electrical Instructional Guide
  2. Wire Cutters/Strippers
  3. Voltage tester

electrical tools
For the committed DIYer:

Once you begin a few DIY projects, you’ll likely be hooked on it. To expand your toolbox, you’ll want a few more tools:


My Tools:

For your convenience, I’ve created a list of all my tools in one spot here.My Favorite Tools

Remember, aim to buy a quality tool (especially power tools) that will last a lifetime. A cheap tool will either break or not have the power to complete the job you need it to do. However, you don’t need to buy contractor grade tools or break the bank to get a good tool. Look for mid-grade tools.

How to Save Money on Tools:

There are two times a year you can count on good deals on tools:

  • Father’s Day
  • Black Friday (Christmas time.)

If you can wait for either of those time frames, you’re likely to score some good deals on tools. Another potential time to find tool deals is on Amazon Prime Day.

Price Matching:

Many of the big box home improvement stores will usually price match tools that are priced cheaper at a competitor if it is the same make and model. Be sure to bring the ad with you. Below are Lowe’s and Home Depot’s price match terms:

Home Depot’s Price Guarantee:

In-store pre-purchases: If you find a current lower price on an identical, in-stock item from any other retailer, we will match the price. Just bring the ad, printout, or photo with you to the register for validation. (This may involve the associate contacting the competitor).

Online purchases: Our Price Match Guarantee includes the price of the item(s) plus shipping cost. Price Match items must be available from competitor to ship to customer’s location. We will only honor requests submitted directly from the person who made the purchase.

Lowe’s Price Guarantee:

Shop any Lowe’s store for in-stock products. Then, find an in-stock, identical product (brand, size, model number) from a local or online retail competitor with a lower price. Present a Lowe’s store associate with a printout, local ad, photo, smartphone display, or app showing the competitor’s lower price. Price matches for online items will only be compared to competitors’ localized pricing online. A Lowe’s store associate will verify the product is in line with our policy and match the price on the spot.

Second-Hand Tools:

Some of my best tools were purchased from a retired woodworker who was selling all his tools because he was moving. YOu can look for used tools in local online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List. Also look on Ebay for second-hand tools. Although it’s a little riskier buying second-hand tools (because you don’t know how well they were maintained), saving a lot of money might be worth the risk.

I hope this list gives you some good information so you won’t feel overwhelmed when buying tools. Feel free to email me or ask me questions in the comment section.

Happy DIYing!

Power Tool Tutorials:

Learn how to use power tools in under 10 minutes!

My Toolbox
Miter Saw Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Jig Saw Tutorial (with Video)
My Toolbox
Pneumatic Finish Nailer Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Cordless Drill Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Table Saw Tutorial (with Video)
My Toolbox
Dremel Trio Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Power Hand Sander Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Circular Saw Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Caulk Gun Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Band Saw Tutorial (with video)
My Toolbox
Tomboy Tools Impact Driver
My Toolbox
Irwin Universal Saw
My Toolbox
Irwin Groove-Lock Pliers
My Toolbox
Wagner Paint Sprayer

My Toolbox

My Toolbox


72 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. White Eyelashes
    White Eyelashes says:

    Very thorough list, Brittany! My “go to’s” also include a rubber mallet (I even have one with a white rubber head that doesn’t leave marks), tin snips, a good file, decent chisel and a rubber strap wrap wrench. This last wrench, for me, is indispensable. I use it for everything from removing plumbing fixtures without leaving any marks to opening jars! Thanks always for getting so much information out there. What a tremendous public service you provide.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      I actually have a rubber piece that goes over my hammer in case i need to use a mallet type for delicate jobs. I’ve also recently acquired a 3 pound sledge hammer for those tear outs that require more force. light enough for me to use but still does the job!

  2. David Letterman
    David Letterman says:

    I’m glad to see 3 things in your list of must haves. Both Home Depot’s Improvement 1-2-3 (which I have not read nor used), Home Depot’s Wiring 1-2-3 (this one is VERY HELPFUL from ordinary switches to Ethernet cable lines going into the plastic end pieces (RJ45’s.) The third thing I saw that was remarkable was the Ryobi Cordless Drill. When I went to purchase a new cordless drill I was informed that although all of the companies had standard warranties on their products; (please check before purchasing!!!) Ryobi (at that time, 3 years ago) was the only manufacturer that guarantees their batteries for LIFE!! At that time a new battery costs around $100.00.

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    Brittany, I admire your handiness, and your list is perfect for a DIY’er

    If I might add one thing: It is important to buy “FORGED steel” tools and not “cast steel”. I find forged steel tools tend to be American or German for the majority, and cast tend to be Chinese/Taiwanese, etc. though it is not always the rule.

    For normal use (replacing a electric socket cover, hanging a picture, etc) a cast steel tool may work ok. HOWEVER, when applying any heavy torque (hard turning motion) or pressure a cast steel tool can break!
    I have seen some terrible on the job accidents using simple hand tools like wrenches and screwdrivers because the tools were cast steel and could not hold up to the force being applied, breaking and injuring the user. If a forged tool fails it will bend and not break (no metal shards impaling you, getting in your eyes, etc).

    With that said, I prefer Sears Craftsman tools (make sure they are Craftsman and not Companion). I have yet to see any Craftsman made of cast steel, and even better it comes with a very simple lifetime warranty, if a hand tool (non electric) fails, bends, rusts, whatever, you can take it to the store and get a current replacement for free with no hassle. I dont work for Sears, I just love their policy. You pay a little more, but you get piece of mind.

    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      Mark, thank you so much for this tip and I’ll keep my eyes open for tools that are forged steel.

      I am sorry to tell you that Craftsman no longer has that lifetime guarantee. And that goes along with their quality tools. I bought a set of Craftsman driver bits and the phillips head ones were stripped after only a few uses. I tried to bring them back to Sears and was told they don’t have that coverage on their tools anymore. This is a real shame. I will be steering clear of them from now on. I have found that IRWIN makes great tools that stand up to a lot of abuse. I’m not sure if they are “Forged Steel”, but I’ll have to find out.

      • LadyLancer
        LadyLancer says:

        Perhaps you were unaware, but the company that gave Craftsman it’s legendary name no longer work for Sears. Some four years ago they moved to Home Depot and make the Rigid brand for them. By the way, Ryobi is the baby brother to Rigid, and their tools have improved in durability since the change-over.

      • SLR
        SLR says:

        Your site is outstanding! One comment, however. The Craftsman warranty lives! For Craftsman, Craftsman Professional and Craftsman Industrial Hand Tools, Mechanic’s Tool Sets, Sockets/Ratchets and Drive Tools, Wrenches (Non-Torque), Auto/Specialty (Non-Electrical, Non-Hydraulic), the warranty states “If this hand tool ever fails to provide complete satisfaction it will be repaired or replaced free of charge”. Power tools are subject to a 90 day warranty. Apparently (and yours is not the only instance I’ve encountered), Sears employees don’t always get it right.


      • Brittany Bailey
        Brittany Bailey says:

        Wow, that’s good to know! The funny thing is that I asked a Sear’s employee a few years ago and he told me that the warranty no longer applied to hand tools. I’ll check again.

  4. Libby
    Libby says:

    I have lived for years with odds and ends of tools that I have picked up here and there. When doing a project or having help doing a project I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t find what I needed. So I decided it was time to buy a ‘decent’ set. I went to Harbor Freight Tools and they had a medium sized plastic, 4 drawer cabinet type tool box stocked with all types with several sizes of all of the basics and lots more. It was on sale for $35 from it’s normal $70. I’ve been very pleased with everything in the box and keep noticing things I didn’t realize was there – like wire strippers, electrical tester, etc. It’s kind of fun now having most anything I need all in one place! They aren’t ultra top quality tools, but they will replace anything if it breaks – lifetime guarantee, no documentation needed. You just take in the broken tool and they hand you a new one (that’s what I’ve been told – haven’t had to experience yet).

  5. Mel
    Mel says:

    So I came over after the lovely comment you left on my blog and loved what I saw, but the fact that you’re a ryobi girl – now I love you, I have been collecting them that INTERCHANGEABLE BATTERY IS THE BEST INVENTION EVER! I didn’t mean to do the cap lock but I’m leaving it because I do love ryobi 🙂

  6. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I work in a huge manufacturing site and the conversation between mechanics always goes something like this:

    “I’ll need a screwdriver.”
    “Philips or Flathead?”

    I almost wonder if it’s a regional thing.

    “Soda” “Pop” “Coke” …same thing.

    Ditto to Jake. Kreg Jigs is probably the best invention ever. Next to the Battery Operated Brad Nailer, instead of a pneumatic air gun 🙂

  7. Jake
    Jake says:

    Great list. I don’t care what you call each tool(or screw) just so you know how to use each one safely. Make sure you have eye and hearing protection as well as a few masks when working in really dusty conditions. I may have missed it but include a Kreg Jig. It is a really useful tool.

  8. RobinB
    RobinB says:

    It’s a FLATHEAD! Never heard it called anything but and my brothers & sons are all carpenters and my father was a contractor. In all fairness, maybe Crystal grew up hearing it called a standard screwdriver but that does not excuse her rudeness about it. To each his own……
    Thanks for the list PHG. Have started collecting a few tools so that I can start making some of the awesome stuff I see on Pinterest. This helps. Luckily I have my flathead screwdriver already! 🙂

    • Randy
      Randy says:

      I’ve been in residential construction and remodeling for 32 years. I’ve heard all the names mentioned here for the screwdriver in question. They are all correct. What is important to take note of here is the fact that this is a GREAT article on an EXCELLENT site from an obviouslly very talented young lady. I am very impressed and will recommend.

  9. summer
    summer says:

    And as I continued to read comments, I saw that I’m not the only one offended for you. And just for the record I’ve never heard of a FLATHEAD referred to as either of their ‘options’. Anyway thanks again. As YOU have your own blog, clearly you’ve received plenty of ignorant comments and just as clearly know how to take the high road much better than I. I can’t wait to get started on a project. though the first I have planned is actually not building related, but a tied rag rug, I’m still very much looking forward to diving into something soon. 🙂

  10. summer
    summer says:

    To the rude nitpicker chics who commented, maybe it’s a regional thing but I do believe that where I come from flat head screwdriver is perfectly acceptable. As is just calling it a ‘regular’. As examples of each were also clearly shown, maybe we lesser than bright chics could still pick up what was being laid down. To the creator of the list..well done you! I grew up loving tools and using them and spending time watching and helping my dad and am still fairly handy. You and others have recently inspired me to start using my few skills and much improving them. Thank you!

    • Renee Woodcock
      Renee Woodcock says:

      Your’re correct–it is called a flat head screwdriver. As a matter of fact, I’ve never heard that called a “regular”
      screwdriver. I’m from the south & it is technically called a flat head screwdriver…

  11. ROR
    ROR says:

    Your list makes me feel pretty good about MY toolbox! I had thought it was kind of measly, but I’m only missing two of your essentials and have my eye on a few of the others. Palm sander was the most recent purchase… clearance at Home Depot for $20!

  12. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Seriously? I just don’t get how people don’t just “live and let live”. If you want to call it something different, just get on YOUR OWN BLOG, and MAKE YOUR OWN LIST. ( I personally have never heard it called a “slot”.) I’m sure that it has different names in different parts of the country. (BTW…Pretty Handy Girl–Just found your blog through Pinterest, and I love it. Thanks for the information and keep up the good work!)

    • Suzanne Perkins
      Suzanne Perkins says:

      You go girl, this is a great sight just found it today and you have some wonderful DIY’s. Your list is
      very informative, it will help anyone get some serious work done. My dad always said straight screw driver
      and he called the philips a (go to H—) so, call them what you like, you just keep doing what your doing your site is a keeper. 🙂

  13. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    For the love of all the DIYer’s out there please call a thing by it’s proper name. It is not known as a ‘flat head’ screwdriver (or bit) it is a “standard” screw driver.

    • Carlyn
      Carlyn says:

      Better yet, call it a ‘slot’ screwdriver. I agree, flathead is definitely wrong! But overall, this is quite a good tool list.

      • Dorie
        Dorie says:

        I will third the referring to it as Flat Head. Perhaps it’s a regional thing? Gramps and father both avid DIY guys, and they both taught me Flat Head. Not sure what the big deal is anyway. Anyone who has to ponder what FLAT HEAD means when it comes to screwdrivers is probably not coming to a DIY site 🙂

      • Marti
        Marti says:

        I’ve heard it called by all these names. I prefer flat head or slot head to regular simply because it eliminates any doubt what you’re talking about. Snap-on tools calls it a flat head and they are probably the best made, and that’s good enough for me.

      • Melissa
        Melissa says:

        Plus and Minus! Lol, I love that!
        But really, all the menfolk in my life call them flathead or Phillips, and insisting on a different more ‘proper’ name would only get me the ‘Woman, you know nothing’ look, which I assume we are trying to avoid.
        I’m in Washington state, btw.

    • Susan R
      Susan R says:

      I’m part of the “flathead” crew too – never heard it called anything else ! @Sarah, love the plus and minus idea ! Have to show my son that trick !

    • Andy from Workshopshed
      Andy from Workshopshed says:

      Yup, they get called “flat head” over here in London, UK too. We also have the fun of the cross heads coming in both Philips and Posidrive forms which are very slightly different.

      I also recently got myself a “stubby” claw hammer, that’s great if you need to do any nailing in a confined area.


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