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I now happen to need a wrench to make some changes to my bed. I also realize that sometimes I may need other tools in my life as well. I was wondering

Which way to build one's own collection of tools is better, buying one after another, or buying a tool set?

I am living in U.S., if that helps.

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You need to be more specific about what tasks you intend to perform. –  Jay Bazuzi May 22 '11 at 16:42
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possible duplicate of Tools that every Do-it-Yourselfer must own –  Niall C. May 22 '11 at 16:44
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buy every tool you can find, it helps the economy. –  shirlock homes May 22 '11 at 18:10
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I have to refrain from commenting on the "nuts" in bed. Not my particular style. sorry again.......silly mood here. –  shirlock homes May 22 '11 at 18:14
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@shirlock: I like your tool buying/economics philosophy! –  Doresoom May 23 '11 at 1:13
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9 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Choose high quality for the most commonly-used tools.

There are a lot of crappy tools out there, many of them sold by Harbor Freight at rock-bottom prices. Those tools only make sense if you plan to use them very rarely, and if you will use them very gently, and if you can't rent them nearby.

For the tools you use most often, buy the best quality you can find. Working with good tools is a joy; working with crappy tools is very frustrating.

Don't buy every tool you could imagine using. While "the right tool for the job" makes the job go smoothly, buying all the "right tools" means you'll spend all your time organizing your extensive tool collection.

Buy tools that match the work you like to do. I haven't seen your bed, so I'm not sure how it's put together. It sounds like you plan on only very minor tinkering. With that in mind, I recommend you buy:

  • an adjustable wrench
  • a flathead screwdriver
  • a philips-head screwdriver

These 3 tools will let you do a lot of tasks. I'm guessing that will be enough for you. Beyond that, see the question that @NiallC linked to.

Regarding kits:

Kits sometimes sell on false abundance. That is, you see 100s of shiny bits and pieces and think "everything I could need, wow!". They may have duplicates (my socket set has four 10mm sockets!). They may have items you'll never use. And they may have low quality, hiding behind the size of the collection.

Kits often come in a nice case, making it easy to organize and store your tools. Unfortunately, if you need 1 more bit/socket/attachment/whatever than what comes in the kit, you don't have a good place to put it.

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+1 for decent quality. I cannot tell you how many of my friends' screwdrivers I have thrown out because they were made of white metal instead of something durable. Life is too short for crappy tools. –  Alex Feinman May 23 '11 at 14:17
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Your comments about kits are dead on. I've accumulated way too many kits that are like 95% of what I need, but are always missing something (or have 4 of the same thing). –  msemack May 25 '11 at 14:19
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Single tools or tool set?

Umm, this question is not a simple one. If you need an assortment of household tools (hammer, mallet, screwdrivers, pliers, vice-grip, measuring tape,...), I'd go with buying them individually. Any of the big box hardware stores will offer different choices for these tools, buy the specific version of a tool that feels right to you.

There are other tools that are best bought in sets (drill bits, combination wrenches, sockets, pipe wrenches, etc) which are good when you need a variety of sizes. A different size of pipe wrench is used when there is not enough room, or you need more leverage, if you are working on a bike or an engine you will need different size sockets/combination wrenches, etc.

As far as storage goes, toolboxes are available in several sizes.

As far as quality, cheap may be good enough. Buying craftsman (from S ears) will cost more, but the lifetime warranty is a plus. I started with a set of no-name metric sockets for working on my car, after cracking several of them, I bought another metric set from Sears. I have cracked a few of the second set which I have always been able to have replaced.

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It is best to avoid a certain mentality.

If you always buy kits, you will often find yourself getting kits that have substandard quality.

I suspect that if you were to go out on the internet and find some sort of kit that has some of the basic stuff (a tape measure, a few screwdrivers, a hammer, etc.), the vast majority of it will be junk. For example, the tape measure will probably be very dinky and buckle after being extended 4 feet. Furthermore, the handles on the screwdrivers that will come in such a kit will probably be of small diameter, making it difficult to create a large amount of torque. Should you have all of the tools that might come in such a kit? Sure. But I'd recommend you buy them separately (you might be able to get some as part of a collection, for example, a collection of 4-10 screwdrivers, but don't buy anything that has all sorts of various stuff) and toss them into a separately purchased toolbox or tool tote.

However, if you purchase power tools separately, you will miss out on all of the benefits of buying a kit. First off, power tools almost always come as (1) bare tools with no case or batteries, (2) individual tools with a case, two batteries, and a charger, or (3) kits that have multiple tools, 2+ batteries, 1+ charger, and a case or bag to carry everything.

Buying (2) or (3) will get you nice cases to protect the tools and cheap batteries. You should only purchase bare tools if (A) the tool is sturdy and doesn't need a case, and if (B) you already have an excess of batteries (e.g. 3+ batteries for every 4 tools.)

Favoring the purchase of bare tools (1), will leave you wanting cases and batteries. Favoring the purchase of individual tools that come with a case and 2 batteries will cost you a lot. Favoring the purchase of kits will leave you with a pretty good mix of tools, cases, batteries, and bang for your buck.

As Jay mentions, some cases do not come with additional space. Other cases, however, come with plenty of extra space. Ask around (friends, Amazon, etc.) or try to get a look at the case in person before buying. My Makita metal cutting saw came with a case, two batteries, a charger, and safety goggles, but there is actually room in the case for 2-3 extra batteries. The Makita drill/driver / impact driver combo kit also comes with some extra space. Though not quite as generous, it still has enough room to fit 10-15 sockets, a few hex->square shank adapters, etc. I suspect you will find extra space in DeWalt, Milwaukee, Bosch, Hilti, etc. cases as well.

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As a long time DIYer I would recommend accumulating your tools as you need them. If a tool kit does include most of what you need for a project or you believe you can truly use it (like a set of drill bits), go for it, but as noted above quality is important. I have a set of tools for each of multiple project types: scraping and painting, fence repair (I have farm animals), inside maintenance, electricity, carpentry, etc. plus a smallish toolbox to haul around for immediate use. Whatever you do, get a container or drawer or someplace to keep your tools neat and clean and accessible. There is no point in having good tools when you can't find them when you need them.

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If you are not the type to take on large projects and simply need some tools to complete small simple tasks around the house, a small tool kit is probably the best way to go. A basic tool kit should include (but is not limited to)

  • Tape measure
  • Screw drivers (Phillips and flat head).
  • Pliers (and/or a multi-tool)
  • Level
  • Hammer
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Channel locks
  • Cordless drill
  • Putty knife
  • Pair of 6" clamps
  • Medium grit sandpaper
  • Glues (white, epoxy, silicon, super)
  • WD-40
  • Duct tape

Buying a kit that includes all of these tools usually has the benefit of coming with a nice carrying case to keep the tools organized, if you decide to buy the tools separately and create your own "kit" don't forget to pick up some type of tool pouch or case.

If you are a more advanced "handyman", you may want to start with a basic kit then add tools as the budget allows or as projects require it.

As others have stated not all tools are created equal, when shopping for tools make sure to do some research and don't just buy the lowest priced tool.

*please feel free to edit the tool list to include any items I may have forgotten, but remember this is a "Basic" tool kit.

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+1 Even though I have a well stocked garage, I maintain a little toolbox like this for odd jobs around the house and to toss in the car if I'm helping someone else out. –  Bryce Jun 23 '12 at 0:42
    
and a couple vise grips –  mike Aug 13 '13 at 19:01
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Buy a starter set of single tools - hammer, two screwdrivers (flat and phillips), a pair of vice-grips, an adjustable crescent wrench, and a tape measure.

When you're doing something new, and don't have the right tool, consider buying it then.

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I would suggest buying a set if you are buying wrenches or sockets. Buy Craftman, they are gauranteed for life.

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Life = as long as the company is still around :) –  Steven Jun 22 '12 at 18:23
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Buying tools one-by-one will get you a tool kit that matches what you are likely to use them for. The trouble is that it will involve a lot of trips to the store, depending on how you can predict what you will need next.

On the other hand, sometimes a small kit is a good purchase. This is likely to be true when buying chisels, for example, or allen (hex) keys. Socket and spanner sets can fall into this category, too, but you usually purchase a whole set when you don't have any and you're about to embark on a project that will need a few common sizes (such as on a car). Screwdriver sets are even more likely to be a pointless purchase unless you have none at all.

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I'm a fan of single tools and not going with the cheapest. Quality is very important if you don't want to keep replacing tools every few years. Garage sales and thrift stores can be great places to find tools.

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