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The Best Tools and Toolbox

Jan 11, 2024

After a new round of testing, our recommendation for the best drill is now the DeWalt DCD701F2 Xtreme 12V Max Brushless 3/8 in. Drill/Driver Kit

After more than 350 hours of research and tests of nearly 250 tools, we’ve put together the best tool kit for your home (and found the best toolbox to hold them all). To come up with these 22 recommendations, we consulted three carpenters with a combined experience of 36 years, got input from six leading tool experts, and had many, many conversations with tool manufacturers. After we conducted our initial tests and decided on the best tools, I used them to complete a major home renovation as well as countless other projects that have cropped up since my move into a 250-year-old home. After this much work, we’re sure these tools can handle just about everything your house can throw at you.

These tools are best for people who have already started dabbling with home improvement and want to up their game. Compared to the lower quality implements in the basic tool kit we recommend for total beginners, the tools on this list offer better features, more capability, a higher degree of comfort, and pro-level durability. These are reliable tools that can take a lifetime of abuse—and if they’re treated well, they could even last beyond your lifetime. This quality doesn't come cheap; purchasing our entire kit at once costs roughly $500. But you don't need to get all these tools at once. Most tool collections grow slowly over months and years, so we’ve loosely organized the list in descending order of importance. We’re starting with the most essential tools and finishing with the more task-specific tools you might want once you’ve got the basics covered and are ready to expand your capabilities.

I know a decent amount about tools. I have spent 10 years in construction: first as a carpenter, then foreman, and finally a supervisor running multi-million dollar renovations and helping to build some pretty unusual houses (like this one with a glass staircase). In addition to my work in the trades, I’ve been writing about tools since 2007, with articles appearing in Fine Homebuilding, Popular Mechanics, This Old House, The Journal of Light Construction, Popular Science, and Tools of the Trade. In addition, I spent three and a half years completely gutting and rebuilding my 100-year-old farmhouse, and I have since moved into a 250-year-old colonial saltbox in need of updating. As both a tradesman and the owner of old homes, I’ve become all too aware of the core group of tools necessary for general maintenance and repairs.

But no single person knows everything about tools, so for this guide, I also spoke with many of the country's leading tool experts: Mark Clement, licensed contractor and co-host of the MyFixitUpLife radio show; Marc Lyman, editor of the tool and home improvement website; Rob Robillard, licensed contractor and editor of; Clint DeBoer, editor of, Stuart Deutsch of; and Harry Sawyers, Wirecutter senior editor and former editor at Popular Mechanics and This Old House. I also had conversations with the manufacturers of many of these tools such as Klein, Milwaukee, and Irwin.

The tools on this list reflect the needs of general home maintenance and repair, so we selected ones that bring the most benefit to the most people. This means these tools are capable of everything: smaller projects like replacing bathroom fixtures, leveling the washing machine, and wiring a thermostat and more complicated jobs like replacing a toilet, reglazing old windows, or installing storm windows. We also made sure to include tools that can help solve common house emergencies such as plumbing problems and electrical issues.

To keep the number of tools to a minimum, we went with well-rounded tools that provide the most functionality for general use. For example, needle-nose pliers are essential for electrical work, but they’re also useful for fishing a toy out from behind a bookshelf. Locking pliers are essential for rusted and stuck nuts and bolts but can also do things like keeping a garage door held up while replacing the springs. With this set of tools, you’ll be ready for all basic household jobs—and you won't waste money on gear that’ll gather dust in your toolbox.

For hands-on testing and evaluation of the candidates, we enlisted the aid of two other carpenters: Aaron Goff, with 12 years of experience in high-end remodeling, and Mark Piersma, with 14 years experience. I’ve known and worked alongside these two for years, and they are both very particular about their tools. Goff told us, "I use the best possible tools that I can, so that I can do the best possible job that I can. It's just not worth it to use junk."

Once we had decided on our kit's 22 finalists, I used them exclusively throughout the final phases of the three-and-a-half-year full gut and renovation of my 100-year-old farmhouse. During this second round of testing, which lasted about eight months, I used these tools to hang doors, install toilets, adjust knobs, and rework old windows. I also wired dimmer switches, put in faucets, and connected radiators. I’ll spare you the full list of everything these tools helped accomplish at home—let's just say they’ve all got some miles on them.

Since then, I’ve moved into a 250-year-old colonial saltbox, and for the past three years I’ve continued to use this collection of tools on a consistent basis, both for setting up the house and for doing general repairs and updating.

This toolbox stores tools vertically, keeping them organized, easy to find, and unlikely to shift around. It's not the biggest, but it holds a complete tool collection at a size that's manageable even when full.

May be out of stock

After loading up, inspecting, and using 10 toolboxes, our three carpenter testers chose the Milwaukee 13-inch Jobsite Work Box as their favorite. We’ve been carrying our tools in it exclusively for about four years; we’re convinced it's the best box available.

The Milwaukee is one of the few toolboxes designed to hold tools vertically, keeping them organized and easy to get—most toolboxes have just a single large storage basin and result in a cluttered—and frustrating—pile of tools. With the Milwaukee, specific spots hold small, medium, and large tools, and the vertical storage gives the box a small footprint. With the lid on, it becomes a seat that puts you at the perfect working height for making door knob adjustments or installing a towel bar.

We have plenty more information, a runner-up pick for apartment dwellers, and a larger option for more serious DIY-ers, in our guide to the best toolbox.

This manual screwdriver combines smooth ratcheting action with excellent bit storage and a uniquely comfortable handle to be the most well-rounded, capable tool of its kind.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $24.

This Channellock screwdriver is identical to the Megapro, so it's a good option if the Megapro goes out of stock.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $26.

If you’re going to purchase only one tool on this list, it should be the Megapro 211R2C36RD 13-in-1 screwdriver (or the seemingly identical Channellock 13-in-1 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver). We’ve tested 28 different ratcheting multi-bit screwdrivers over the past five years and the Megapro excelled due to its unmatched combination of bit selection, ergonomics, durability, onboard storage, and a silky smooth ratcheting action. No other screwdriver offers such a well-rounded selection of features. Read more about how we tested, compared, and ultimately selected the Megapro in our guide to the best screwdriver.

The PowerLock is easy to use, durable, affordable, accurate, and capable of doing its job without additional features that aren't necessary for around-the-house work.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $16.

After dropping, extending, and scrubbing the blades of 19 different tape measures with 60-grit sandpaper, we found that the best one is the classic 25-foot Stanley PowerLock Tape Measure. We were most impressed by the durability of the blade, which is the weak point of any tape measure. In addition, the thumb slide locks in place without any excessive effort, and the tool is comfortable to hold and to clip to a belt. It is also one of the least expensive tapes we looked at. Learn more about how we (and our experts) rated, tested, and selected these tape measures—and why we think the Stanley 25-foot FatMax is a worthy upgrade for serious DIY work—in our full guide to the best tape measure.

With an ergonomic handle, a fast one-handed open, and room for four additional blades, the Milwaukee Fastback was better than 22 other knives for around-the-house cutting needs.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

We used 23 different utility knives to slice old caulking, cut holes in drywall, and dice up about 50 cardboard boxes, and when we were done it was clear that the Milwaukee Fastback was the best. It has an efficient, one-handed opening ability, a comfortable (and safe) handle, and onboard storage for four extra blades. You also get a nice belt hook and a gut hook that lets you cut small objects like string without even opening the knife. Many utility knives use a sliding thumb switch to expose the blade, but the Fastback folds up like a pocket knife or opens one-handed—and locks in the open position—which makes it safer to use and easier to store. The other folding utility knives we looked at all needed two hands to open, which is slow and tedious. To learn more about why we picked it—as well as how we tested it against the competition—read our complete guide to the best utility knife.

Easy to swing, comfortable, and indestructible—the Estwing 16-ounce steel hammer has it all.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $21.

After interviewing two carpenters and testing 21 hammers head to head, the best hammer for most homeowners is the Estwing E3-16C, a 16-ounce hammer with a well-earned reputation for quality. The tool is one single piece of steel from tip to tail, making it basically indestructible, especially compared with wooden- or fiberglass-handled hammers, which can crack, splinter, or have the head connection come loose.

This tool's comfortable, shock-absorbing grip is easy to hold, and its nice balance makes it easy to aim and swing. I’ve used a metal Estwing as my primary hammer for about 20 years—including a decade of construction work—and it's still going strong. If you don't lose this hammer, it will be in your family for generations. Our expert carpenters confirmed our findings and offered some alternate picks for both lighter-duty and heavier-duty work in our full guide to the best hammer.

The DeWalt is the most comfortable drill we’ve ever held, and it's loaded with convenience features. It has enough strength and stamina to easily handle common home jobs.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $105.

We’ve tested dozens of drills since 2016, driving 50 pounds of screws, and boring 500 1-inch holes, and we’re convinced that the DeWalt DCD701F2 Xtreme 12V Max Brushless 3/8 in. Drill/Driver Kit is the best one for around-the-house needs. In our tests, it bored 30 1-inch holes through a 2-by-10 on a single battery charge—results that show it can handle just about anything within the four walls of a home. The DeWalt 12-volt's power is on a par with that of some of the other drills we looked at, but it particularly excels in ergonomics and convenience features. The molded handle seems to account for every curve and bulge of the hand, making this drill the most comfortable we’ve ever held. The battery is designed so that the drill can stand upright when not in use, and the LED is positioned such that it illuminates the drill front better than most. The DCD701F2 also comes with a nice belt hook, and the battery gauge is on each battery rather than on the tool, so you can check batteries without having to insert them into the drill.

We also have additional recommendations for more aggressive DIY-oriented work. Read about these items and see the full explanation of our research, testing, and selection methods in our complete guide to the best drill.

This set offers the widest variety of useful accessories for drilling holes and driving screws.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

The Ryobi 90-Piece Drill and Drive Kit is the best kit for general maintenance, home repairs, and light-duty woodworking. It has a large selection of useful pieces yet isn't bogged down by items that you’ll likely never use. It has an easy-to-use case, and for around $30 we think it's a steal. Other kits have too much repetition, useless filler pieces, or simply terrible cases.

The Ryobi kit includes three full sets of drill bits (general-purpose, wood, and masonry) as well as a set of paddle bits and a hole saw for drilling four sizes of larger-diameter holes. But it also offers a lot more, as it has a full selection of driver bits and other useful pieces such as a countersink and a set of depth stops. The overall selection in the kit is so complete that both Goff and Piersma said they’d purchase one for themselves.

For more information on how we picked this kit and the other ones we tested, see our guide to the best drill bit kit.

Equipped with two magnets, the C.H. Hanson is a basic, durable model that scans twice as fast as the rest.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $7.

For hanging heavy pictures, mirrors, or shelves, you need to know where your wall studs are. The best tool we found for the job is the C.H. Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder. This affordable magnet-based stud finder doesn't exactly locate the studs; it locates the screws that hold the drywall to the studs. No batteries, no calibration—just a simple, effective tool that's far more reliable than electronic stud finders costing three or four times as much. Whereas other magnetic stud finders have only one magnet, the C.H. Hanson has two, doubling the scanning area and reducing the time it takes to get a hit. This model is also the most durable one we looked at, by far—breaking it would take some serious effort.

We have more details about our work on this topic—and a more expensive (but very capable) electronic stud finder pick—in our guide to the best stud finder.

Compared to the other levels we tested, the PH22 is the easiest to read. It's also durable and the level vial slightly glows in the dark, so hanging closet poles was no problem.

A small torpedo level is invaluable for everything from picture-hanging to deck-building. After researching the topic and testing four top levels, the one that impressed most is the Sola PH 22 Flooring Level. It's designed for the needs of a flooring installer, but our carpenter/testers all agreed that it works just as well for a homeowner. Most importantly, it's a very easy level to read (much more so than the other ones we tested). The top face of the level vial has a slight magnification, making it readable from arm's length, and it has a slight glow to it that is great for low-light installations. Our testers were wary of its plastic construction at first, but they were convinced of its durability after handling the tool (and abusing it a little). Plus, this was the only tool we tested with a square edge, which makes it easier to check for level or plumb in tight corners.

Sola levels are now distributed in the US by Keson, so they have limited availability under the Sola name. We will be testing the Keson versions of our picks, most notably the Keson LKTRF, to confirm their quality, and we will update this article accordingly. To learn more about the Sola level and the others we considered, see our guide to the best torpedo level.

These hex keys (aka Allen wrenches) are ideal for tight spots, and their simple-to-use case lets you easily remove and replace even the tiniest wrenches.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.

We tested out 11 different hex wrench sets and found that the best for towel bar-installin’, IKEA-furniture assemblin’, and door knob-tightenin’ is the Tekton 25282 26-piece Long Arm Ball Hex Key Wrench Set. Most of the actual wrenches we tested were nearly identical to one another, so the difference really came down to the quality of the storage. In that department, the Tektons were substantially better: The case opens like a book, with the larger wrenches on one side and the smaller wrenches on the other. This means that even the tiniest wrenches are easy to remove and replace, something that can't be said for the majority of wrench sets. In addition, the case grips each wrench with a tension that is just right, so they don't easily fall out yet are still readily removable; on other cases, we needed pliers to pull the wrenches free. For more information on how we picked and tested, including our recommendation for a folding hex wrench set, see our guide to the best hex wrenches.

The Channellock 8WCB has the jaw capacity of a much larger wrench. We like its smooth jaw adjustment and comfortable, padded gripping area.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.

We tested 15 wrenches and discovered that if you’re going to own only one wrench for putting together ready-to-assemble furniture, tinkering with the bicycle, or doing any number of small plumbing repairs, it should be the 8-inch Channellock WideAzz. We liked it the most because of the extra-wide jaw opening (about a half-inch wider than on most similar tools), the comfortable handle, and the smooth, precise adjustment. The jaws of the tool taper to a thin point, making it ideal for work in places where space is limited. And unlike cheap adjustable wrenches, this one's movable lower jaw doesn't unexpectedly wiggle, wobble, or work its way open. To learn more about why we chose this wrench, what we tested it against, and what other experts had to say about it, read our full guide to the best adjustable wrench.

The build quality of the Grip-Ons far exceeded the other models, and none of our testers knew that a pair of locking pliers could be so smooth.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $34.

Locking pliers (aka "Vise-Grips," a trademarked name) can grab and hold an object with tremendous force, making them especially useful for removing stuck and rusted bolts or stripped screws. We tested 10 models, and the Grip-On 111-10 surpassed the pack in every category. The jaws are aggressive, the handles are comfortable to hold, and no one could believe how smooth the unlocking mechanism was. For a tool not commonly associated with finesse, the ease-of-use is fantastic. The Grip-Ons are engineered to near-perfection, and they have a level of quality we didn't see in any other tools, even ones that cost almost twice as much. For a more detailed look at how we picked and tested the Grip-On pair (and a runner-up option), see our full guide to the best locking pliers.

The thick jaws of the Kleins make them the perfect tool for grabbing and twisting wires (or reaching for a toy behind the couch). They’re pricey, but we feel they’re worth it.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $32.

With their ability to grab and twist small objects in tight spaces, needle-nose pliers are the cornerstone of electrical work. But with their long reach and narrow tips, they're also ideal for any situation where your fingertips are too big, bulky, or weak to get a grip. We tested 16 different pairs of needle-nose pliers, and the favorite was the Klein J203-8N Heavy Duty Journeyman Pliers.

The Klein pliers were the only set we found to combine three features: very comfortable handles, perfectly parallel cutting jaws, and a smooth and solid pivot point. Typically over $30, the J203-8N is one of the more expensive items on this list, but our carpenter testers all thought it was worth the cost, given the exceptional quality of the tool. But since not everyone is willing to invest so much in a hand tool, we also like the much less expensive Stanley 89-870 FatMax Long Nose Pliers. These pliers are similar to the Klein pair in a lot of ways, but the padded handles are loose at the end, the jaw has an uneven resistance, and the nose is fatter. To learn more about how we picked and tested, see our full guide to the best needle-nose pliers.

With a nice, big jaw opening, easy adjustment, and a tough-to-beat price, the GrooveLock pliers are better than eight others we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $14.

After considering at least 50 adjustable pliers and testing eight of them on radiator fittings, water heater connections, and plumbing clean-outs, we liked the 10-inch Irwin GrooveLock Adjustable Pliers due to their durability, comfort, and quick push-button adjustment. The GrooveLock pliers have 15 different jaw sizings and a lifetime warranty. With a maximum jaw opening of over 2 inches, they can handle all of the most common plumbing connections in your house. Compared with the design of other pliers, the push-button adjustment on the GrooveLock pair is large and easy to use, even with gloves on. You can tighten the jaws without needing to press the button, which helps in tight spots like behind the washing machine. It also has a self-locking ability, allowing you to put your energy into turning and not gripping.

In researching this guide, we also found a tool that we consider to be the absolute best available even if it usually costs more than twice as much: the 10-inch Knipex Cobra. These pliers offer a far subtler adjustment mechanism, handles that are off-the-charts comfy, and a flawless self-locking ability. To learn more about how we tested these tools and the other models we considered, see our full guide to the best adjustable pliers.

Three carpenters were stunned by how fast the Shark cut. Its pull-stroke cutting style is very accurate and it's easier to use than a traditional push-stroke saw.

We had three carpenters spend hours cutting wood with seven saws, and we determined that the Shark 15-inch Carpentry Saw is, without question, the one to have on hand for small around-the-house projects. To say that this pull-stroke-cutting saw works quickly is a gross understatement. None of our testers, with their combined 36 years of carpentry experience, had ever seen a saw cut like the Shark.

To put the saw into context, the Shark cut a line 1¾ inches deep into a piece of ¾-inch-thick pine on a single blade stroke—going almost 30 percent deeper than the next best saw. That ample cutting ability is the result of the thin blade design, the tooth geometry, and the fact that the Shark cuts on the pull stroke. For something that cuts so aggressively, the Shark also cuts cleanly: Even when we sent it through delicate veneered birch plywood, there was only the slightest bit of tear-out along the cutline. We also like how the Shark has a removable and replaceable blade in case it gets damaged.

We also tested a wide variety of other saws. The Irwin 15-inch Carpentry Pull Saw shares many characteristics with the Shark but doesn't cut as aggressively. The Irwin Universal Hand Saw and the Stanley FatMax Handsaw are both traditional Western push saws. Next to the Shark, they felt clumsy and ineffective. We also tested the Vaughn Bear Saw and Silky PocketBoy. These are in the style of a pruning saw, and we liked them both a lot (the PocketBoy is a favorite of Wirecutter senior editor Harry Sawyers), but, again, neither one measured up to the Shark.

Putty knives are basic tools, but what sets the Craftsman apart is a comfortable handle, a stainless blade, and a metal butt end that can tap the lid down on a can of wood filler.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $0.

A putty knife is essential for repairing walls, whether you are patching cracked plaster or filling nail holes before painting. We spoke with a painting contractor with 30 years of experience and then applied putty to what felt like a million nail holes to find that the Craftsman 1½-inch Flex Stainless Putty Knife is the best. Properly prepping a room for paint can take hours, so above all else, a putty knife should be comfortable to hold. The Craftsman's padded handle delivers. It's also longer than normal, which gives good leverage while you're smooshing wood putty into a nail hole. The 1½-inch width is small enough to get into tight corners but large enough to easily fill a big plaster crack. The corners of the Craftsman's blade are nice and crisp with no irregularities, and the metal handle cap is perfect for banging down the lid of a paint can or a bucket of joint compound.

Painter Jeff Young of Young Ideas Painting, who has over 30 years of experience, told us that if you’re going to get only one knife, it should have a 1½-inch-wide blade because such a width is "good for filling holes and removing tape on walls." When you go bigger, you lose precision and the ability to get into tight corners. Smaller widths are too narrow to fill wider cracks. He also recommends one with a flexible blade. The traditional putty knife has a stiff blade, but as Young explained, those "are for removing window glazing (as well as putting glazing in) but you can do that with a flexible blade too." He continued by saying that "not many people have true divided lights anymore, so you don't need a real putty knife." He also said that the slight price increase for a stainless steel blade is well worth paying so you’re not worrying about rusting.

We also tested the Husky 1-1/2 in. Flexible Putty Knife, which is nearly identical to the Craftsman aside from a design detail on the handle that makes it a little less comfortable. In addition, we filled holes with the Hyde 06108 Flexible Putty Knife, but it had a really short and uncomfortable handle.

It may look strange, but the Hyde is truly a multipurpose tool. It can open paint cans, clean rollers, scrape old plaster, and crack a beer, among many other tasks.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $21.

A painter's multi-tool can assist with every element of the painting process, other than the actual painting. Like all of the others we tried, the Hyde 17-in-1 can open a can of paint, scrape and apply putty, set a nailhead, open a bottle, or pull a loose nail. What sets it apart is that it is designed to clean paint from large and small roller covers, both of which are essential to big painting projects—no other tool we found can do that. All of this functionality is what caused Dave Frane of Tools of the Trade to write that the Hyde is "along the lines of what a Swiss Army Knife might be if it had been designed by a painter."

Squeezing paint off a roller probably sounds like pinching pennies, but it can add up to significant cost savings. As the painter in this video shows, an average-size 9-inch roller can hold about a half pint of excess paint. With a gallon of quality paint costing anywhere from $30 and $60, this amounts to about $2 to $4 worth of paint per roller. So this is a tool that actively pays for itself.

We also tested the Linzer 5600 and the Husky 14-in-1, but neither had the small roller cut-out. The build quality on the Husky was also low. Additionally, we got our hands on the Hyde 06986 6-in-1, which is a very stripped-down version of our pick. It does not have the small roller cut-out, but if you’re looking for a low-cost painter's multi-tool and don't mind a little sacrifice in ability, this is what we would recommend.

For pulling nails or prying a stuck window, the inexpensive, rough around the edges Stanley worked as well as other bars twice the price. It may not be the most polished tool, but it gets the job done.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.

A small pry bar isn't exactly a home-toolbox essential, but you may need it to open a stuck window, lift the corner of a bookcase for shimming, pull a nail or two, or pry up a floor register. After interviewing two tool experts and having our three carpenters use five pry bars to pull nails and separate boards, we found that the last one standing was the Stanley 55-116 8-inch Nail Puller. From a visual standpoint, it wasn't the most polished tool, but due to the sharp edge and dramatic curve of the prying end, it offered the most lift and the best control; it also left the least amount of damage in its wake. It impressed us with its multiple nail pullers. Best of all, for only about $10, the Stanley was the least expensive bar we looked at, performing just as well as pry bars that cost nearly twice as much. As one carpenter/tester said, "It may not be the fanciest, but it's a nice tool."

We focused on the Japanese-style prybar (with the curved fin at one end and the right-angle nail puller on the other). I found this size and design to be the most useful while I was working as a carpenter. Wirecutter senior editor Harry Sawyers, who has done historic restoration, also prefers this design: "It's slim enough to get into a narrow gap, designed to be tapped with a hammer when wedged into a tight space, and has two ways to pull nails, whether they’re on the surface or buried beneath it."

We tested a variety of sizes, from 16 inches down to 8 inches, and we preferred the 8-inch size for general use. Goff, one of our testers, said, "If you’re a tradesperson, I’d go with the 10-inch, but if you’re just doing small things around the house, the 8-inch will work great." Personally, I’ve always preferred the 8-inch size because it fits into a back pocket without falling out.

We also tested the Shark Corp 21-2220 8-inch Prybar which is really similar to the Stanley but typically more expensive. The Estwing MP250G is a 10-inch model, but the prying end is too blunt. The larger 10-inch Shark 21-2225 is nice, but we preferred the smaller size for general use. Lastly, we confirmed through testing that the 16-inch Vaughn BC/SB16 Bear Claw Scraper Bar is far too big for around-the-house use, although it is a nice option if you need to shift around something that's extremely heavy.

Bright, durable, and long-running, the Spot 325 offers the best mix of the most important features at an attainable price.

When you're working under a sink or behind a washer or dryer, it's tough for a big work light to beat a headlamp. We picked the Black Diamond Spot 325 after 40 hours of research and testing in 2019 alone, on top of the testing done since 2012. The Spot has been at the top of our list since we first started testing headlamps, and the updated 325 model gives us the same features we’ve always loved and a few key improvements: It has 25 more lumens than the old model, and its top buttons are much more intuitive to use than the single button on the older models. The Spot 325 has a long battery life, strong overall durability, and convenient features. For example, it can cast a spotlight with a large central LED or a flood with two side lights, and the lamp pivots so you can aim it right where you want it (especially useful in spots where it's too tight for you to wear the lamp on your head). To learn more about why we chose the Black Diamond Spot 325 and what models we compared it against, read our full guide to the best headlamp.

The Maxcraft is inexpensive and basic, but its onboard bit storage, knurled grip, and good bit selection can meet most people's needs for working with electronics, toys, and other small hardware.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.

Precision screwdrivers have extra-small bits to open the battery compartment of a toy, rewire the thermostat, or tighten up a pair of sunglasses. The best that we found is the Maxcraft 7-in-1. It's about as basic as they come, but it offers everything you need: convenient onboard bit storage, a knurled shaft for easy gripping, several of the most commonly used bits, and a little pocket clip. It's not a fancy tool—you can pay big bucks for a set of pro-level precision screwdrivers—but for most people, it's an infrequently used item, and making a big investment doesn't make sense.

The Maxcraft is currently selling for around $17, which we think is too much. We’re in the process of changing our main recommendation to the Husky 8-in-1 Precision Slotted and Philips Screwdriver Set, which offers much of the same functionality but is priced more consistently in the $5 to $10 range. We also have an upgrade pick for anyone who wants a bigger, better (and pricier) kit in our full guide to the best precision screwdriver.

A combo square is a great all-purpose marking tool—and the Irwin has a better build quality than other, more expensive rivals we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $12.

If you’re getting a saw, you’ll also need a way to mark a straight line. The best option for this is the Irwin 1794469 12-inch Combination Square, which marks a line parallel to a board edge, perpendicular to it, or at a 45-degree angle. All combination squares do this, but the Irwin has a fit and finish not found on similarly priced models; the zinc body and stainless steel ruler won't rust or corrode, the ruler slides easily, and the knurled drawbolt that locks it in place is simple to access and use. It includes both imperial and metric measurements, which very few models did. Plus, the base has a slightly textured powder-coated finish, and the edges are broken with a nice, even chamfer. At 13.3 ounces, the thick-bodied Irwin was the heaviest square we tested, and that added weight and robust design gave off a strong vibe of durability. Simply put, the Irwin felt the best in our hands.

Combination squares with 12-inch rulers are the most useful because they can extend a square line a little over 10½ inches, enough for you to mark across most common widths of lumber (for lengths beyond that, you can flip the square to the other side of the board and complete the line). Combo squares with 16-inch rulers are unwieldy, and the 6-inch models are too small. We also focused on ones with stainless rulers and zinc bodies, for rust resistance and durability. We tested five other models, but none were as nice as the Irwin. The Empire e250 doesn't feel as robust as the Irwin and lacks metric markings (the company also sells the e250IM, with metric markings, but it's usually more expensive than the Irwin). The same can be said for the Swanson TC132. The Swanson Savage SVC133 has a modern design and was the lightest model we looked at, features that none of our testers liked. The Swanson TC131 has a composite handle and also feels very light, proving that we preferred the heavier zinc handles. The Craftsman model we tested has since been discontinued.

The Klein detects standard and low voltage and is equipped with a handy flashlight—a nice touch for a tool you may need when the lights go out.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $27.

A non-contact voltage tester can detect whether an electrical connection is live just by your getting close to a wire or by sticking it into an outlet. After researching the topic, talking to an electrician, and spending hours testing seven leading models, we recommend the Klein NCVT-3. The NCVT-3 has a very intuitive indicator light, a nice on/off button, and an onboard LED flashlight that works whether or not you’re using the voltage detection function. This is a great feature—often, when you’re checking wires for voltage, the lights aren't working. It also has a battery-life indicator and a durable body that protects its sensitive electronics from a fall of up to six-and-a-half feet. For more on how we picked and tested voltage testers (and an explanation of how they work), see our guide to the best non-contact voltage tester.

Doug Mahoney

Doug Mahoney is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter covering home improvement. He spent 10 years in high-end construction as a carpenter, foreman, and supervisor. He lives in a very demanding 250-year-old farmhouse and spent four years gutting and rebuilding his previous home. He also raises sheep and has a dairy cow that he milks every morning.

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