After spending 75 hours researching almost 50 home toolkits, talking to experts about the basic essentials of any toolbox, and testing nine sets on a range of household tasks, we found that Home Depot’s HDX 76-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set 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 has been our pick for the past two years, 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.
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 one of the best adjustable wrenches 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 about $20 at the moment, 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.
If the HDX is sold out or unavailable, the WorkPro W009021A 100-Piece Kitchen Drawer Tool Kit contains nearly all of the same tools at the same quality for a similar price. It also comes with a nice zippered case equipped with straps to secure the tools. The drawbacks are that it offers only metric hex wrenches and it lacks any kind of wide-jaw pliers, so in situations where you need to hold a nut and a bolt simultaneously, it will have a more limited ability compared with the HDX kit. This runner-up pick replaces the Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece), which has been discontinued.
If you’re looking to get into the more DIY side of things and want a bigger selection of tools with a higher level of durability, we like the WorkPro W009036A 156-Piece Home Repairing Tool Set. This kit comes with a larger hammer and includes locking pliers, an adjustable wrench, and a hacksaw, all of which will be useful while you’re working on more-advanced projects. 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. This WorkPro set is a new pick for 2016 and replaces the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Toolkit, which has had ongoing availability issues over the past two years.
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.
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.
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 credible 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 nine of them.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
From the 40 or 50 kits we researched, we tested nine due to their complete or mostly complete coverage of our essential tools. They were the Craftsman Evolv 52 pc. Homeowner Tool Set, the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit, the HDX 76-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set, the Pittsburgh 130 Pc Tool Set with Case from Harbor Freight, the Apollo Precision Tools DT9408 53-Piece Household Tool Kit, the 59-piece Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case, the Durabuilt 201 Piece Hand Tool Set, the HDX 137-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set, and the WorkPro W009021A 100-Piece Kitchen Drawer Tool Kit.
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.
For starters, this kit has the one of the best adjustable wrenches of any kit we tested, and that tool alone sets this product apart (our runner-up kit has a nearly identical one). 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—most 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.
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).
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 (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 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.
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. The Apollo 53-piece Household Tool Kit and our runner-up, the WorkPro 100-Piece Kitchen Drawer Tool Kit, are a hair smaller than the HDX kit, but those sets have a more limited selection of tools.
When we first recommended the HDX set, it had no customer feedback, but it now carries a decent average rating of 4.4 stars (out of five) across 101 commenters. The low-rating reviews (one and two stars) mostly relate to durability. On the flip side, most of the 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.“
For three 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.
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.
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 third 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, an excellent example of construction-grade long-nose pliers, costs about $35 right now, 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.
If the HDX kit is unavailable, we also like the WorkPro W009021A 100-Piece Kitchen Drawer Tool Kit. The overall quality of the tools is on a par with that of the HDX kit, but the tool selection isn’t as good. We like that this WorkPro set comes with a nice, soft case with straps that hold the tools securely in place. This pick is new for 2016, and it replaces the 59-piece Blue Hawk Household Tool Set, which is no longer available.
The WorkPro 100-Piece Kitchen Drawer Tool Kit contains all of the required tools but has a limited setup for nuts and bolts. You’ll find a nice adjustable wrench (identical to the one in the HDX kit), but other than that the kit has only a small socket set, compatible with the included screwdriver. The HDX kit has a pair of slip-joint pliers—a tool that the WorkPro kit lacks—which can cradle a much larger bolt and grab it from the side, and turn it more easily than you can with, say, a screwdriver. So basically, this WorkPro kit will work in a lot of situations, but not as many as the HDX kit.
Another drawback to the WorkPro kit is that the tape measure is only 10 feet long. We expected it to be at least 12 feet, like the one in the HDX kit. It still works fine, but in some situations, such as dealing with a 12-foot board or measuring the square footage of a room for a painting project, getting an accurate measurement might require an extra step.
The case of the WorkPro 100-Piece Kitchen Drawer Tool Kit is compact and easy to deal with. Unlike the HDX case, this one is a zippered soft case, so it’s easier to wedge into a tight closet. Inside the case are elastics and Velcro straps to secure each tool.
If you think you might start taking on more-advanced projects but still don’t want to make a large investment in pro-grade tools, we like the WorkPro W009036A 156-Piece Home Repairing Tool Set. It has all of the basic tools and adds a few that will certainly come in handy, such as locking pliers, adjustable pliers, a hacksaw, and a small set of combination wrenches. A few of the items are more robust than those in the smaller kits, namely the hammer and utility knife. It also comes with two sets of hex wrenches, a step up from the smaller WorkPro kit we like as our runner-up. Unfortunately, the level looks to be 100 percent plastic, which is never a good sign. This kit is a new recommendation for 2016, and it replaces the Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit, which has been erratically in and out of stock for the past three years and is currently unavailable.
In addition to the flimsy level, another drawback to this kit is that, like the smaller WorkPro set, the tape measure is only 10 feet long. This item is surprising for a kit marketed for “home repair.” With a set such as this, we would have much preferred to see a 16-foot tape, or even a 25-foot version. At any rate, it isn’t a bad idea to supplement this kit with a good-quality tape measure—you can never have too many tape measures kicking around.
At around $60 currently, this kit seems to be pushing the upper limits of pricing, but it’s still the best you can do for such a well-rounded selection of tools for under $100.
Although we did not test this kit, we did test the smaller WorkPro kit—and by all appearances about 75 percent of this larger kit overlaps with the smaller one, containing the same tools. So from that testing experience (as well as our testing eight other kits), we feel confident evaluating and recommending this set as a larger-toolkit option.
The Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit was our previous upgrade pick, but it consistently went out of stock for months at a time. This is a nice kit, and of everything we’ve tested, the Denali tools come the closest to pro-quality options, but it’s difficult to recommend a toolkit that is impossible to purchase seven months of the year.
The Blue Hawk Household Tool Set with Hard Case (59-Piece) was previously our runner-up pick. It offered a solid selection of tools at a decent level of quality. It also had some strange inclusions, such as a drywall saw and a chalk line. At some point in late 2015, the kit was discontinued.
The HDX 137-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set is more expensive than the 156-piece WorkPro kit, but it isn’t better. We really like a few things, such as the tape measure (25 feet long as opposed to 10 feet) and the big adjustable wrench. But the rest of the tools are similar in quality to those of the less-expensive kits. This kit also has no utility knife, which is a big omission, and the folding plastic case is large and awkward to deal with.
The Apollo Precision Tools DT9408 53-Piece Household Tool Kit 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 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 Craftsman Evolv 52 pc. Homeowner Tool Set offers a basic selection at a relatively high price, particularly when compared with what you get in the HDX kit for much less. 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 will sit in the back of your closet most of the year.
I also tested the Pittsburgh 130 Pc Tool Set with Case 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 didn’t have Allen wrenches. The Stanley 65-piece Homeowner’s Tool Kit 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 has no level.
Kobalt also has the much larger 230-piece Household Tool Set with Soft Case, but at about $240 at the time we checked, 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.
After our research and testing, we’ve concluded that the Home Depot HDX 76-Piece Homeowner’s Tool Set 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 WorkPro W009021A 100-Piece Kitchen Drawer Tool Kit 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 WorkPro W009036A 156-Piece Home Repairing Tool Set is for you.
Originally published: June 23, 2015