The Best Basic Home Toolkit

After spending 70 hours researching almost 50 home toolkits, talking to experts about the basic essentials of any toolbox, and testing eight sets on a range of household tasks, we found that Home Depot’s HDX 76-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set ($20) is the best basic toolkit for most homes, apartments, or dorm rooms if you’re not putting together your own kit. No preassembled toolkit will offer much more than entry-level tools, and the tools will not last forever—but if you’re looking for something simple and straightforward, this is the guide for you. This kit was our pick last year, and after a new round of comparing and testing the options, we concluded that it still offers the best value—a useful mix of decent tools at a great price.

Last Updated: November 18, 2015
Our upgrade pick, the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit, is once again in stock at Amazon.
Expand Most Recent Updates
August 6, 2015: Our Denali upgrade pick is now unavailable on Amazon, which is no huge loss--our main pick, the HDX 76-Piece Homeowner's Tool Set, and our runner-up, the Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case, are usually found at less than half the price of the Denali, and are a far better deal for the money.
June 19, 2015: The HDX 76-Piece Homeowner's Tool Set is still our pick for the best basic toolkit. If our main pick is sold out, we suggest the Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece), which has a similar selection but costs more and includes a few tools you’ll probably never use. Our upgrade pick is the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit, which offers more durable tools and more selection at twice the price of the HDX set.
HDX 76-Piece Homeowner's Tool Set
The HDX has all the essentials in a small package at a great price, making it the best choice for common home repairs and upgrades.

More than any other kit, the HDX set delivers on the basics, providing the necessary items without the useless filler that inflates the total tool count—and the price tag—on the other kits we tried. The HDX kit includes a perfectly adequate hammer, tape measure, utility knife, screwdriver, and hex wrenches, just to name a few. It also has the best adjustable wrench that we saw in any kit. The tools come organized in a case that’s cheap-feeling but basically okay, and also one of the most compact cases we’ve encountered.

You can find plenty of kits that offer a lesser selection of tools and cost twice as much—and you can also find some that cost a bit less but fail to match this set’s overall quality. The HDX set was among the lowest-priced products we tested, and for $20, it’s a steal. This kit wouldn’t last long on a construction site, but for simple home upgrades and repairs, you could keep it around for years.

Also Great
Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece)
The Blue Hawk set has many of the same tools as the HDX kit, but this set costs more and includes a few items that you’ll probably never use.

If the HDX is sold out or unavailable, the $35 Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece) contains nearly all of the same tools, some of which have a higher build quality and some of which don’t. But this kit is more expensive and burdened with a number of additional tools, such as a drywall saw and a chalk line, that most people won’t have much use for.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $55.

Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit
The Denali kit offers more durable tools and slightly more selection, but it costs twice as much as the HDX set.

If you want a bigger selection of tools and a higher level of durability, invest in the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit ($45). Compared with the HDX components, the Denali tools are much closer to what a pro would use. The hammer is larger and the level is sturdier, and you can swap out the blade on the utility knife without a screwdriver. This kit also has a few items that go beyond the essentials, including a hacksaw, drill bits, and a stubby screwdriver, all of which are useful for someone with a higher DIY IQ. Because these additional tools and features aren’t essential, however, we think that the HDX set, for the price, is a better option for most people.

With any of these products, though, keep in mind that the tools are entry-level. They’re certainly better than nothing, but they aren’t designed for consistent, long-term use. These kits are for people who use tools because they need to, not because they want to. If you tend to go out of your way to look for projects to work on, you would be much happier purchasing individual higher-quality tools, which have better features and can withstand the abuses of constant activity.

Table of contents

Why you should trust me

I have an extensive knowledge of hand tools garnered from a 10-year career in construction, first as a carpenter, then as a foreman, and finally as a site supervisor. I’ve also been writing about and reviewing tools since 2007, with articles appearing in Fine Homebuilding, The Journal of Light Construction, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, This Old House, and Tools of the Trade, where I’m a contributing editor. I’ve also written nearly 1,500 tool-related posts at my own site Tool Snob.

For this piece, I enlisted the aid of a couple of tool experts: Mark Clement, co-host of the MyFixitUpLife radio show and licensed contractor, and Tim Dahl, tool blogger and founder of Built by Kids and the DIY site Charles & Hudson.

Since I could find no existing reviews comparing the various home toolkits, I spent a good deal of time talking to Clement and Dahl as well as hours and hours researching the offerings at Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, Walmart, and many smaller regional retailers like Menards. Once I narrowed down the field of available kits, I tested eight of them.

How we picked

You don’t need to own a home to need a home toolkit. Anyone who intends to hang a picture, tighten a loose leg on a chair, or assemble some impossible Hasbro product needs a basic selection of hand tools. Even a college freshman in a dorm room needs a basic set of tools—kids, listen to your parents on this one.

denali toolkit HDX

Some of the tested toolkits. The 76-piece HDX set is second from the right.

From my initial research I realized that the tool selection among available kits is a total free-for-all. In nearly every kit, you’ll find certain fundamental items—a hammer, a tape measure, a wrench, a level, some combination of screwdrivers and bits. Beyond that, the variety is stunning, and in many instances advanced tools are mixed in with the basics, seemingly at random. One kit I saw had a bare selection of tools yet managed to offer designated wire strippers. Another one lacked a standard utility knife yet provided a metal-cutting hacksaw.

So to figure out which tools are essential in any basic kit, I asked Clement and Dahl to create their own ideal set. I did the same, and in the end the three lists were nearly identical. We agreed that the ideal toolkit for home use should include the following pieces.

  • Hammer: This tool is a must for hanging pictures, pounding in the irritating sock-ripping nail that keeps working its way up, or “persuading” the gate latch to line up.
  • Tape measure: You’ll need this item for measuring for window blinds, figuring the square footage for painting a room, or spacing pictures on a wall.
  • Screwdriver and bits: Use these pieces for tightening hinges and door knobs, straightening electrical plates, fixing loose chair legs, or assembling furniture and toys. For bits, you’ll want at minimum a well-rounded selection of Phillips, slotted, square-drive, and Torx, all of which are useful around the house. It’s also good to have an extra supply of Phillips #2, as those are the most common.
  • Allen wrenches (SAE and metric): As Clement told me, “Allen keys are critical for the modern world we’ve built up of knock-down furniture. The more choices you have in Imperial and metric, the better off you’ll be. They’re must-haves for anyone with a bike, too. Adjust your seat, rack your handlebars straight after the crash, even fix your Baby Jogger. They’re also key for various home upgrades with set screws like toilet paper and towel holders.”
  • Level: This item is ideal for hanging pictures, adjusting the legs on an appliance, or straightening furniture.
  • Needle-nose pliers: Grab a pair for small and delicate tasks like repairing jewelry or gluing tiny pieces of a broken coffee mug. This tool is also helpful when you’re working in tight places such as the inside of a motorized toy or getting melted crayons out of the floor register ducts.
  • Utility knife: Keep this item handy for breaking down boxes, slicing into packaging, or opening caulk.

Also useful:

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Slip-joint pliers
  • Vise grips

I’ve separated those last three tools for a particular reason. Clement explains why: “I like options for turning nuts, whether that’s a kids bike, my bike, a playset tighten-up, or changing a lawnmower blade. Ratchets are cool to be sure, but a decent set of wrenches—or even adjustable-plus-locking pliers—can get most jobs done, from tightening up the rake head to the handle to loosening the garden hose.”

HDX toolkit toolset

The tools of the HDX set (minus the clamps). The kit covers all of the basics.

His point is solid, and to take it one step further, a home toolkit should offer some way to handle a nut-and-bolt situation. This means that the kit should include two similar tools in the wrench/pliers category, namely one to turn while the other secures. Some examples of situations when this comes in handy are tightening two hoses together, assembling a backyard playset, and fixing an under-sink drip. So of the above three tools, you really need only two of them. You could also get away with a socket set as one of the two, but that’s less than ideal because a socket can’t grab around something the way a pair of pliers can. All of the mentioned tools have their own distinct subtleties, but they are all capable of handling this specific task.

‘The more tools a kit has doesn’t necessarily make it better.’—Tim Dahl

With this ideal kit consisting of only nine items, our experts warned against the marketing tactics of the kit manufacturers, specifically how the companies pad the number of tools included in each set. As Dahl told us, “the more tools a kit has doesn’t necessarily make it better. You’ll find 50-piece toolkits that count sockets or bits to simply inflate a number so a buyer feels like they are getting more bang for the buck—but instead they are getting a tool that they might not ever use or know how to use (like a socket wrench) or small screwdriver tips that can get lost.”

Clement agrees. “An overabundance of nut drivers and esoteric screwdriver tips is a sure sign lots of items will never leave their blow-molded bondage. Put another way, if there are lots of bits in there that look like they’d be more use ripping down a men’s-room stall at the airport, they’ll be of little use in your home.”

As an example, the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit may sound impressive, but the number is fluffed with 50 screwdriver tips, 13 nut-driver tips, 18 drill bits, a six-piece combo wrench set, and 15 Allen wrenches. The Durabuilt 201 Piece Hand Tool Set has a massive number associated with it, but it’s actually one of the smallest kits we looked at. It includes a hardware box filled with picture-hanging gear, thumbtacks, and pushpins—each one of which counts toward that lofty and impressive 201 number. For kits that include utility knives, companies commonly count all of the extra blades provided, which adds five or so items to the total of the kit.

Most of the kits we looked at fell in the $20-to-$50 range, which is reasonable. To put that cost in perspective, I also priced out our essential tool list at Amazon, selecting high-end tools that are either components of my own carpenter’s tool bag or pieces that I know are construction-site ready. The list came to just about $180. Given that context, $20 to $50 is a nice price to pay for a case full of standard hand tools.

How we tested

From the 40 or 50 kits we researched, we originally tested four finalists due to their complete or mostly complete coverage of our essential tools. They were the Craftsman Evolv 52 pc. Homeowner Tool Set ($50), Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit ($45), HDX 76-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set ($20), and Harbor Freight’s Pittsburgh 130 Pc Tool Set with Case ($40). For our 2015 update, we tested four more: the Apollo Precision Tools DT9408 53-Piece Household Tool Kit ($30), the 59-piece Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case ($35), the Durabuilt 201 Piece Hand Tool Set ($20), and the HDX 137-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set ($70).

I tightened down sill bolts with the wrenches and used the cutting edge of the pliers to clip 14/2 Romex electrical wire until my hands were sore.

A big issue with these low-cost tools is durability. To test that, I dropped just about everything off an 8-foot stepladder onto a concrete floor. To check their performance, I used the hammers to drive 3½-inch framing nails into a pressure-treated 6×6. I hand-turned 3-inch drywall screws into predrilled holes with the screwdrivers. I tightened down sill bolts with the wrenches and used the cutting edge of the pliers to clip 14/2 Romex electrical wire until my hands were sore.

Beyond those tests, having years of construction experience helped me learn a lot about the tools just by holding and examining them. Each type of tool has certain tells that indicate quality, such as the wobble in the lower jaw of a crescent wrench, the amount of flex in the pliers handles, and the difficulty of using the locking lever on a tape measure. Overall, the tools held up very well under the duress that I put them through, and nearly everything survived repeated drop tests. Some red flags did crop up, though, and I cover them below.

Our pick

HDX 76-Piece Homeowner's Tool Set
The HDX has all the essentials in a small package at a great price, making it the best choice for common home repairs and upgrades.

No other kit has such a complete selection of tools at such a low price.
The best budget toolkit for most people is the Home Depot HDX 76-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set ($20). It’s a relatively small kit—the case is among the smallest we tested—but it has all of the right tools. The components look and feel nice, they work well enough, and they can stand up to light-duty usage (with one exception). At $20, the HDX set is also one of the least expensive kits we looked at, and it’s simply a great value. No other kit has such a complete selection of tools at such a low price. One thing to note: Home Depot prices can vary, and in some urban areas the HDX kit is bumped up to $30. But even then it remains a good value, as it’s still less expensive than most competitors (including our runner-up kit).

For starters, this kit has the best adjustable wrench of any kit we tested, and that tool alone sets this product apart. It has a large padded handle for leverage, and the jaw can open to just over an inch, so it can tighten most plumbing hardware in an emergency—other toolkits’ wrenches are either much smaller or missing the padded handle. You also get a nice padded handle on the kit’s slip-joint pliers, and the two tools make a great team when you’re working with nuts and bolts and using them together to tighten the connection.

HDX toolkit tools

The 76-piece HDX toolkit (minus the clamps).

Next, the HDX has a lot of screwdriving ability, coming with a driver handle and 30 driver bits. That’s a lot, but it isn’t overkill, as you have a good selection of slotted (five), Phillips (10), Torx (five), and Allen (nine) bits, plus a ¼-inch adapter for a socket set. This collection covers every screw you’re likely to find at home, and it also provides a few extras of the most common sizes. Slotted bits are essential for old homes and door hardware. Phillips screws are everywhere, and it’s nice to have seven bits for them—three of which are the ubiquitous #2. Torx screws, also known as star drives, are gaining in popularity and are common in decking and home electronics. The Allen heads, invaluable for bikes, door hardware, and prefab furniture, serve the same function as Allen wrenches, but on the end of a screwdriver they can access tight areas differently. You also get a wide selection of traditional L-shaped Allen wrenches: 11 metric and 11 SAE, which is more than most sets offer.

The rest of the tools are typical of these sets. They’re nothing spectacular, but they don’t have any noticeable flaws or shortcomings—to put that another way, they’re as good as the tools in sets that cost more. The hammer is small but durable with its fiberglass handle. The 12-foot tape measure locks easily and has a rubberized sheath to help absorb the impact from any falls. The utility knife works fine and comes with a small case that holds five additional utility knife blades (which make up five of the “76 pieces” in the kit).

HDX blue hawk apollo wrench toolkit tools

The HDX wrench (top) is large and padded. The Apollo (middle) is much smaller, and the Blue Hawk (bottom) lacks padding.

Beyond those essential tools, the HDX kit also includes diagonal cutting pliers, a pair of scissors, four spring clamps, and a four-piece precision screwdriver set (Phillips #00, #0, and slotted 3/32 and 1/8). The precision drivers can tighten sunglasses and open a toy battery case. The scissors, diagonal pliers, and clamps are not that great.

The HDX case opens like a book, with the tools pressure-fit into both sides. Each tool has a specific spot and can’t fit anywhere else. This design makes the case feel well organized but eliminates the option of adding tools later, replacing tools with those of different brands, or storing a few picture hangers, a roll of duct tape, or a can of WD-40 with the rest of your tools. The tool-gripping slots inside the HDX case have a strong enough grab to keep the items in place, but they’re not so tight that the pieces are hard to remove. In contrast, during my tests, the Husky 123-Piece Multi-Purpose Tool Set ($70, now discontinued) held its tools so securely that at times I had to pry them out with a screwdriver. At the other end of the spectrum, the case of Harbor Freight’s Pittsburgh 130 Pc Tool Set with Case ($40) held the tools with almost no grip at all, which caused the entire socket selection to fall out as I tried to close it up.

HDX toolkit case compact

The HDX case is compact and easily tucked into the back of a closet (Lego Batman included in the photo for scale purposes only).

Because the HDX kit has no overabundance of additional tools, it closes into a compact case ideal for closet storage. With the plastic latches fastened, it measures 13 by 10¾ by 3 inches. It’s among the smallest sets we tested, requiring just over 419 cubic inches of closet space, about the size of a chubby laptop. In contrast, the Harbor Freight case is a sizable 22 inches long and occupies a total of almost 640 cubic inches. Denali’s duffel has the benefit of being crushed into place, but even at its smallest, it’s still about 720 cubic inches. The Craftsman Evolv’s tackle-box case takes up 557 cubic inches. Only the Apollo 53-piece Household Tool Kit is a hair smaller than the HDX kit, at 394 cubic inches, but that set has a more limited selection of tools.

When we first recommended the HDX set two years ago, it had no customer feedback, but it now carries a decent average rating of 4.2 stars (out of five) across 41 commenters. The four low-rating reviews (one and two stars) all relate to durability. On the flip side, most of the 35 positive reviews (four and five stars) single out the tools’ durability as being impressive. Commenter FrogJohn sums up the sentiment of many of the positive reviews by writing that the HDX set “is obviously not made for a professional, but is a great resource for that occasional need for basic tools in everyday situations.“

Long-term test notes

For almost two years, I’ve been using the HDX toolkit, mostly for small tasks like cabinet-door adjustments and towel-bar tightening. For such low-key uses, these tools have been fine. I haven’t noticed any problems with the core tools, specifically keeping an eye on the screwdriver handle that some Home Depot customers have complained about. A few nonessential parts have broken, as noted below.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The weak point of the set is the torpedo level. It’s a little plastic thing that you can actually twist in your hands. Levels are all about the stability of the bubble vial, and something this flimsy is going to have accuracy issues. I checked it against my 4-foot Sola level, a high-end pro brand, and it was 1/16 inch out of level over 9 inches. That translates to just over 5/16 inch across 4 feet—a lot for any kind of precision work. Given the quality of the other tools and the HDX kit’s overall rock-bottom pricing, we’re willing to overlook this dud. Most picture hanging is done by eye, and if you’re trying to mark a level line across a wall, you can measure from the ceiling and double-check it off the floor.

HDX case toolkit compact

The HDX case organizes the tools but leaves no room for additional ones.

The HDX kit also comes with scissors and diagonal cutting pliers. The scissors are low-quality and uncomfortable to use. Every pair of cheap kitchen-drawer scissors I’ve ever cut with felt better than these. As for the cutting pliers, they’re useful for snipping wire ties, trimming guitar strings, and clipping picture-hanger wire. The only problem is that the needle-nose pliers also included in the kit can do all of those things too, making the diagonal cutters redundant. Still, both tools do work and have their uses, so we don’t see their presence as a disqualification for the entire kit.

You’ll also find four spring clamps with alligator jaws in the kit. Such clamps come in all sizes, but the HDX ones are tiny and good only for gluing small items like a broken mug. We found them to be useful here and there, but during the second year of testing, all four of them broke. That isn’t surprising, considering their cheap look and feel; like the level and the scissors, the clamps were almost entirely plastic. Clamps are not an essential item, and the HDX kit was the only one that came with them, so the fact that they’re gone doesn’t change our opinion of the HDX kit.

The durability of the HDX set is worth exploring a little more. Of the negative user comments that go into specifics, two mention the screwdriver handle coming off and three mention the case as being a problem. During testing we put considerable torque on the screwdriver and thought it held up fine. We’re now on our second year with the case and see no issues with that, either.

Still, the bottom line is that all of these kits, even the more expensive ones, offer a lot of gear at a low price. For the most part, the tools in these kits are not manufactured to the most exacting of standards. The tools are usually durable enough for light-duty household tasks, but none of the kits we tested are of the highest quality, and a dud screwdriver could very well make its way into such a set. To put the price in perspective, think about it this way: One pair of 8-inch Klein Journeyman Pliers ($35), an excellent example of construction-grade long-nose pliers, costs considerably more than the entire HDX set.

Finally, there’s no real guarantee on the product. In general, only the kits with price tags in the $100 range come with any kind of warranty beyond a standard 30-day store return policy. That said, upon purchasing a kit, you should take it home and give each tool—specifically the screwdriver—a little workout to at least find any blatant manufacturer errors before the return window closes.


Also Great
Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece)
The Blue Hawk set has many of the same tools as the HDX kit, but this set costs more and includes a few items that you’ll probably never use.

If the HDX kit is unavailable, the $35 Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece) contains nearly all of the same tools, some of which have a higher build quality (and some of which, like the screwdriver, don’t). But this kit is more expensive and burdened with a number of additional tools that most people won’t have much use for. The Blue Hawk set covers all of the essential items. The real standout is the pair of adjustable pliers, which, with a jaw capability of over 2 inches, was the largest that we saw in any kit. This size gives the pliers the ability to grab larger plumbing connections like a waste line cleanout or radiator fittings.

Beyond that, most of the Blue Hawk essentials are within striking distance of the HDX’s tools with regard to quality. Some are a little better; some, not as good. The level has a few metal strips added for stability, but they hardly do anything. The 12-ounce wooden-handled hammer is slightly longer than the HDX hammer, so you get a better swing with it. The utility knife has rubber strips on the sides, so it’s a tad more grippy. The long-nose pliers and slip-joint wrenches in the two sets are so similar, they look as if they could have come off the same assembly line. As for the Blue Hawk wrench, the handle isn’t padded, but the jaws have the same wide capacity as the HDX tool does.

screwdrivers toolkit HDX blue hawk

We held these two screwdriver handles parallel to each other for this photo. The Blue Hawk tool (top) suffers from a crooked shaft that is loosely holding a wobbly extension piece. The HDX screwdriver (bottom) is straight and sturdy.

As for a screwdriver, the Blue Hawk set has a ratcheting model that inspires little confidence. My experience with inexpensive ratcheting screwdrivers is that the internal mechanisms are flimsy, and I’ve had a number of them break while under moderate torque. With the Blue Hawk screwdriver, not only is the shaft piece crooked, but you also need to add an extension piece to get any reach at all. This piece fits loosely and wobbles back and forth with about ½ inch of deflection. In comparison, the HDX screwdriver has a simple 2-inch stem with no extension needed, giving the tool stability and reach at the same time.

The Blue Hawk kit includes a few additional items. Some of them seem potentially useful, and others just leave us scratching our heads. The 6-inch combination square provides a way to mark a straight line, and the roll of electrical tape is always handy for something. But where things start to get a little strange is the addition of a drywall saw. We tested it out, and it works on drywall but struggles with wood, so you can’t consider it to be a dual-purpose tool. Regardless, drywall is simply easier to cut with a utility knife. In 10 years of construction I’ve never seen anyone use a saw like this to cut drywall.

Even more bizarre is the inclusion of a chalk line. This is a spool of string wound in a container of colored chalk. Once you stretch it taut over a piece of wood, you can snap the string to leave a nice, chalky, perfectly straight line—great for laying out wall framing, planning a fence, or even just marking for a straight cut on a sheet of plywood. Every carpenter has one, but as with the drywall saw, we’re not sure what kind of use it will get in a simple home toolkit. To make matters even more confounding, Blue Hawk provides a container of red chalk, as opposed to the more user-friendly blue chalk. In the construction industry, red chalk is notorious for its permanence, and construction forums and DIY message boards are filled with people trying to figure out ways to wash it off (short answer, you really can’t). If you choose this kit, our advice is to be very cautious with the red chalk, or better yet, replace it with an inexpensive bottle of blue chalk.

In the end the Blue Hawk offering is a nice kit, but the nature of the additional tools doesn’t justify the added cost.

Upgrade pick

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $55.

Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit
The Denali kit offers more durable tools and slightly more selection, but it costs twice as much as the HDX set.

If you’re interested in a set with a larger selection of tools geared more toward heavy-duty use, the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit is for you. We’ve seen its price shift from close to $40 to as much as $55, consistently more than twice that of the HDX kit. For the money, however, our testing revealed that the Denali tools have a higher durability and better features.

Many of the Denali tools have features often found on pro gear. The full-size 16-ounce rip hammer, for instance, is equipped with straighter nail pullers and can serve well for demolition and prying—it’s a tougher, more heavy-duty tool than the 12-ounce hammer in the HDX kit (although the HDX hammer does have a curved claw, which can make pulling nails easier). The Denali level, meanwhile, is notable for its aluminum I-beam construction, which gives it considerably more stability than the all-plastic HDX level. The Denali tape measure has the farthest tape standout, the most useful markings (to fractions of an inch), and a generous 16-foot length. (The HDX measuring tape is only 12 feet long.) The Denali utility knife has a convenient tool-free blade change, unlike the HDX knife, which requires a screwdriver.

Denali hammer tools utility knife level

The higher durability of the Denali tools (left) is most apparent in the utility knife, level, and hammer.

As for nut-and-bolt capabilities, the Denali set has an adjustable wrench and 7-inch locking pliers. You won’t find many kits that offer locking pliers—the HDX doesn’t—and we like the addition here because the tool is good for rusted and stuck bolts. Included as well is a small set of combination wrenches, which you can also use for the nut-and-bolt equation.

We also like how the Denali kit comes with a stubby Phillips #2 screwdriver, which the HDX lacks. This tool is simply a screwdriver with a teeny shaft and a short handle. I’ve always kept one in my carpenter’s bag, and I use it all the time for little hard-to-reach odds and ends.

In addition, the Denali set has a metal cutting hacksaw, which seems out of place on some of the more basic kits but less so on this one. With it, you could potentially cut out a length of corroded copper pipe for replacement or trim down a piece of threaded rod for a DIY tomato cage.

But the Denali kit has its drawbacks. As with the Blue Hawk set, the screwdriver here is the ratcheting type. It survived all of the drop tests, but still, given my experience with this kind of tool, I hesitated when I put it under higher torque. I much prefer the non-ratcheting style of the HDX screwdriver, as it just has fewer parts that can break. Another thing: The Denali kit comes with two sets of drill bits (wood and masonry), but the odd part is that no drill is included. If you already own a drill, hooray, you have some new bits. If you don’t own a drill, well…

The duffle storage bag presents still another issue. Although it solves some of the problems associated with suitcase-style cases, it creates epic disorganization. The inside pockets are so small that only the driver bits and Allen wrenches can fit in them. Everything else sits in a jumbled pile at the bottom of the bag. Trying to locate a single tool requires plenty of sifting and digging.

Denali level hammer aluminum

A closer look at the Denali level (top) shows an aluminum construction. It’s much more stable than the plastic HDX level (bottom).

Denali appears to be a house brand for Amazon. The tools are available at Sears, but a commenter in one message thread indicates that Amazon owns the company. Regardless, the Denali toolkit has only the 30-day warranty that Amazon applies to all of the items coming out of its warehouse. And again, this sort of policy is standard for all of these kits.

Even at its low price of about $40, the Denali kit is twice as much as the HDX set. Although some of the Denali tools are more durable and have better features, we believe these things will be lost on the casual user. Ultimately, the HDX kit, with its much lower price, offers a level of durability and functionality that is sufficient for light-duty, around-the-house jobs.

The competition

The HDX 137-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set ($70) is at least 20 bucks more expensive than the Denali kit, but it’s not that much better. We really like a few things, such as the tape measure (25 feet long as opposed to 16 feet) and the big adjustable wrench. But the rest of the tools are similar in quality to those of the less expensive kits.

The locking pliers are small, and the level is 90 percent plastic. The kit has no utility knife, which is a big omission. The HDX 137-piece set also comes in a folding plastic case that’s on the large side. For usefulness, we would put this kit at the same level as (or maybe a little below) the Denali set, so the high price is difficult to justify. This isn’t a bad kit, but the Denali set, which is so similar in so many ways, is much less expensive.

The Apollo Precision Tools DT9408 53-Piece Household Tool Kit ($30) is similar in quality to the small HDX kit but has less of a selection. It offers no utility knife, and you can do the nut-and-bolt combo only with a small adjustable wrench and a set of four combination wrenches that just barely go over ½ inch in size, making it very limited. It does have a voltage tester, which is nice, but that one tool isn’t enough to lift the Apollo kit above the more comprehensive HDX kit.

The Durabuilt 201 Piece Hand Tool Set ($20) omits a utility knife and also has a limited nut-and-bolt option (a small adjustable wrench and a small pair of slip-joint pliers). It comes with a selection of thumbtacks, pushpins, and picture-hanging gear. The picture hangers are functional, but for any important wall hangings, we strongly recommend purchasing 30-pound Floreats. The Durabuilt set is the only other $20 kit we seriously considered—but given its lack of an essential tool like a utility knife, and its weaker nut-and-bolt tool combo, we believe that the HDX kit, for the same price, is simply a better option.

The face of the Craftsman hammer easily dented when I pounded in the framing nails.
The Craftsman Evolv 52 pc. Homeowner Tool Set offers a basic set at a relatively high price ($50), particularly when compared with what you get from the Denali kit at the same cost. The tackle-box case makes for decent organization with an interior shelf and compartments on the top of the lid for small bits and additional picture hangers and fasteners. On the downside, the face of the Craftsman hammer easily dented when I pounded in the framing nails, and the screwdriver handle doesn’t even directly accept bits. To use it, you have to add the ¼-inch socket piece and then add the bit to that. This design leaves you with a screwdriver that has a wobbly end. Overall, the look of the Craftsman tools is slick and stylish, accompanied by a comfortable grip style on the needle-nose pliers. They’re certainly the most fashionable of the bunch. But $50 is a lot to pay for some bling that’s going to sit in the back of your closet most of the year.

I also tested the Pittsburgh 130 Pc Tool Set with Case ($40) sold by Harbor Freight. In the tool world, Harbor Freight holds a unique spot, as it’s known for selling non-brand-name tools at rock-bottom prices. People have devoted a lot of online real estate to the ups and downs of Harbor Freight’s inventory. One site even lists nicknames for the company such as “Harbor Fright,” “Bottom of the Harbor Freight” and “The Chinese Cheesecake Factory.” The general consensus is that some of the merchandise is good and some of it is not so good. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh toolkit falls in the latter category. Within minutes of our using the screwdrivers and the socket set, the chrome finish started flaking off. Not a good sign. The crescent wrench has a ton of play in the jaw, and the hammer is sized for one of the Munchkins from Oz. The tape measure extends only to 10 feet, and it cracked during one of the drop tests. The kit lacks a level, too.

Other kits that we looked at but didn’t test were missing basic tools that we considered must-haves. The Kobalt 22-piece Household Tool Set ($50) didn’t have Allen wrenches. The Stanley 65-piece Homeowner’s Tool Kit ($50) had just a small socket set and slip-joint pliers for the nut-and-bolt situation, and the sockets were only in SAE sizing (no metric). Apollo’s 39-piece General Tool Set ($20) and Blue Hawk’s 19-piece Household Tool Set with Hard Case ($30) were missing metric Allen wrenches.

Kobalt also has the much larger 230-piece Household Tool Set with Soft Case ($240), but its price is so far above the cost of everything else, you can’t really take it seriously. It comes with a wider selection of tools, including a full socket set. But the price is simply too high for a set that will get occasional use, when the more inexpensive kits work so well. If you’re willing to invest almost $250, purchasing tools individually rather than in a kit would be worthwhile.

Lastly, Black & Decker sells a number of kits that come with cordless drills. These sets have either incomplete hand-tool selections or too many advanced items (like paddle bits and hole saws). By adding the drill, these sets push up the cost considerably, with a few of them priced at well over $100.

Wrapping it up

After our research and testing, we’ve concluded that the Home Depot HDX 76-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set ($20) is the way to go for most people. It offers all of the right tools in a small package at a great price. Aside from the level and the clamps, which aren’t worth the plastic they’re made of, the HDX tools are terrific for the occasional small repair and upgrade. Basically, the HDX set represents an inexpensive way to make sure you have what you need, when you need it. If the HDX kit is unavailable, the $35 Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece) has nearly all of the same tools. And if you’re interested in a set with a larger selection of tools geared more toward heavy-duty use, the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit ($45) is for you.

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  1. Mark Clement, MyFixitUpLife
    “An overabundance of nut drivers and esoteric screwdriver tips is a sure sign lots of items will never leave their blow-molded bondage. Put another way, if there are lots of bits in there that look like they’d be more use ripping down a men’s-room stall at the airport, they’ll be of little use in your home.”
  2. Timothy Dahl, Built by Kids
    “The more tools a kit has doesn’t necessarily make it better. You’ll find 50-piece toolkits that count sockets or bits to simply inflate a number so a buyer feels like they are getting more bang for the buck—but instead they are getting a tool that they might not ever use or know how to use (like a socket wrench) or small screwdriver tips that can get lost.” (Dahl also founded Charles & Hudson.)

Originally published: June 23, 2015

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