- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Noah Blumberg’s father gave him his first toolbox at age 12. Throughout the years, he acquired other tools for various home improvement projects. His collection expanded so much that he has turned his hobby into a profession. He is president of Ark Contracting Inc. in Chevy Chase.

“I never thought I’d have so many tools, but I’m never upset when I get one,” Mr. Blumberg says. “I fall into the typical male ‘I like to fix things’ category. Tools are fun to buy. If you can actually use them, it’s even better.”

A toolbox ready for the latest chore is something most homeowners and even renters can use. Depending on budget and skill level, tool collections will look different, with folks even having their own workshops at home.

A cordless, battery-powered drill is the No. 1 item that people should have in a toolbox, Mr. Blumberg says.

“You’re always trying to drill holes or screw something in,” Mr. Blumberg says. “It takes half the time, and it’s 10 times easier with a drill. It makes holes and screws things in. They’ve become so cheap.”

With the money earned from a newspaper route when he was a teenager, David Foster, president of Foster Remodeling Solutions in Lorton, bought his first tools. Now, he has more tools than the average person, with a workshop at his home. He even has his 11-year-old son, Nickel, interested in repairing things.

“My son has his own tool belt that has basic carpentry tools, a hammer, a square, a carpenter pencil, a chalk line, a screwdriver and a utility knife,” Mr. Foster says. “When we work on little things around the house, he’ll put that on and work with me.”

For the average person living in an apartment or home, without tools, the simplest repair can become a major project, says Dick McClary, department supervisor at Home Depot in Towson, Md.

For less than $200, Mr. McClary says, a basic toolbox can be put together. It could include a level; a 13- to 16-ounce hammer with a fiberglass handle; an 8-inch adjustable wrench; a 4-in-1 screwdriver with a Phillips and flathead set; pliers; a 14-inch pipe wrench; a small-nut driver set; a 13-piece Allen wrench set; a square rule; a socket wrench set; a 6-volt flashlight with battery; rolls of electrical, duct and masking tape; a handsaw; a hacksaw; string or twine; an extension cord; a putty knife; and a toolbox to hold it all. A step ladder also can come in handy.

“I do a lot of projects around the house,” Mr. McClary says. “Friends will call, and I’ll help them with a project. It may be as simple as fixing a broken door, or pulling out an entire door and putting in a new one, or installing stairs for a new attic. That’s where the big saws come in.”

Hacksaws are great for cutting through pipe and plastic, says Jennifer Wilson, spokeswoman for Lowe’s Companies Inc., based in Mooresville, N.C. The saws are especially useful for working in tight-fitting areas where power saws can’t reach, or someplace where the electric outlet is inconvenient. A basic handsaw is also helpful.

If someone has more money to invest in saws, a circular saw is the best option for cutting boards or other pieces of wood, particularly plywood and studs, she says. Circular saws come in all sizes, weights and voltages and are available with or without cords.

“Remember that fewer teeth on a saw blade means faster cutting, but rougher edges,” Ms. Wilson says. “Reciprocating saws are versatile and a great power substitute for the hand saw. Jig or scroll saws are great for cutting shapes out of wood for small projects.”

With power tools, such as saws, users need to keep safety in mind and be aware of the surface under the object they are cutting. Wearing safety glasses when cutting or striking objects is important.

Also, when using a knife or box cutter, people should cut away from themselves. It also is best to pull on a wrench to tighten a bolt rather than push on it; this helps eliminate the chance the person could lose his or her balance and hurt a hand.

A starter kit might be a good gift for the homeowner or renter who doesn’t have any tools, says Alex Ogle, divisional vice president for True Value Hardware in Chicago.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Mr. Ogle says. “As a culture, we are pretty self-dependent individuals. We want to be able to do things on our own.”

The company sells 18-, 35- and 100-piece sets with items such as a tape measure, a retractable utility knife, scissors, a magnetic level, screwdrivers, a hammer, a groove-joint pliers, a rechargeable cordless screwdriver, a putty knife, electrical tape, an adjustable wrench, a long nose pliers, a hex key set, a flashlight, a handsaw, a hacksaw and bungee cords.

Depending on the person’s budget, there is a wide range of prices for tools, says Mike Young, manager of industrial tools for Craftsman at Sears Holdings Corp., Hoffman Estate, Ill.

“Everybody needs tools around the house for odd jobs,” Mr. Young says. “It’s nice to have the tools there to do minor repairs every time you need them.”

Buying as many multipurpose tools as possible is a good way to save money, says Lou Manfredini, Ace’s Helpful Hardware Man at Ace Hardware Corp., headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill.

For instance, a 4-in-1 screwdriver has multiple bits on it. It can be changed from a Phillips to a flathead screwdriver. Lock-jaw pliers act as pliers but also can lock items in place as a person is working. Further, various toolboxes can double as step stools.

“It will lower the overall tool investment,” Mr. Manfredini says. “It will create a toolbox that is a little more versatile.”

Lately, Mr. Manfredini’s favorite tool is an updated version of the Bosch Power Box, a job-site radio. He can take it with him when working on projects.

“If I drop it off a ladder, it won’t break,” Mr. Manfredini says. “When it’s plugged in, it also charges the battery of a cordless tool. There is a jack to plug an IPod into it.”

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