5 Tools That Are a Must for a Builder's Toolbox

There are just some tools that every builder should own. See more pictures of power tools.

­There's an old saying that goes "there's a tool for every job." If you take a quick look around your local hardware megastore, that's easy to believe. You'll find aisle after aisle filled with specialty tools designed for very specific jobs. However, the opportunity to actually use them might come up only once in a blue moon. Some specialty tools are expensive and take up a lot of space. They're great for when you need th­em, but they're not designed to be versatile.

­But what about the standard tools builders -- and just about everyone else -- need on a regular basis? These are the kind of tools that fit into an avera­ge toolbox. They may not be as fancy as a high-powered impact wrench, but they're the tools builders rely on regularly to get the job done.


Here at HowStuffWorks, we have an appreciation for these tool workhorses of the construction world. While they might not make Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor salivate with glee, basic tools are worthy of attention. With that in mind, we're pleased to present you with the five tools that should be in every builder's toolbox.

5: Hammer and Nails

Claw hammer

­If you had a hammer, would you hammer in the morning? Maybe a better question to ask is what do you do when you don't have a hammer? While hammers come in all shapes and sizes, the claw hammer is the one most of us know. It's a handy item to have -- with one­ tool you can pound nails into wood or use the claw end to remove them. It's hard to imagine any construction job that wouldn't require a hammer and nails.

Other hammers are equally useful. You might need a sledgehammer when tearing apart a structure. Rubber mallets are useful when you need to strike a surface without damaging it, and ball-peen hammers are good for metal-working jobs. But for your basic hammer needs, the claw hammer is hard to beat.


Sure, you could always invest in a nail gun. But what do you do when you need to remove a nail? Sometimes the best tool for a job is the low-tech option.

4: Power Drill

Power drill
Power drill

­Sooner or later, every builder will need to drill a hole into something. Whether it's a wooden frame, a sheet of metal or a brick wall, eventually the builder must use a tool designed to bore holes into building materials. That's where the power drill comes in.

Power drills come in two major varieties: those with power cords and those with batteries. Cordless drills are easier to work with in most situations, but the battery charge won't last forever. In either case, a power drill works by spinning a drill bit rapidly. The drill bit does the actual boring. It's held in place by the power drill's chuck, which is like a vise. Power drill chucks come in different sizes -- the size of the chuck determines the size of drill bits the drill can use.


Drill bits wear down over time, so it's important to inspect them before any job. If you work on a lot of construction jobs, you may need to replace your drill bits on a regular basis. For the average user, a set of drill bits may outlast the life of his or her power drill.

3: Screwdriver and Screws

Two screwdrivers
Screwdrivers are essential tools. The two most common types are the Philips (top) and flathead screwdriver.

­The screw is one of the six basic types of simple machines -- it's an inclined plane wrapped around a cylindrical shaft. The inclined plane -- or threads -- on a screw translate a rotational force known as torque into a forward or backward motion. That means by turning a screw, you can lift a weight. You can also use screws to fasten two objects tog­ether. In general, screws are better at holding objects together than nails. They're typically easier to remove than nails, too.

There are many different kinds of screws and screwdrivers. The two most common types of screwdrivers are flathead and Philips head screwdrivers. A flathead screwdriver resembles a chisel -- it fits into a screw that has a single slot in the head. A Philips head screwdriver has a tip that looks like a plus sign (+). Many builders prefer Philips head screws to slotted screws.


Using a manual screwdriver often takes a lot of time and effort. Several tool manufacturers offer electric screwdrivers, and most power drills have special bits designed to fit screws. Either way, no toolbox is complete without at least one screwdriver.

2: Saw


­There's a good chance that you'll need a saw at some point during a big construction project. It'd be a remarkable achievement if you managed to find all your building materials cut to the exact length and angle that you need for your project. That's why saws make our list.

You're more lik­ely to encounter a builder using a power saw than a traditional manual saw. Table saws and jigsaws are popular tools. But there's a problem with including them on this list: most of them don't fit into a toolbox. In fact, some of them require a large, immobile workstation.


Circular saws are a much more portable option. You might not be able to fit one into a large toolbox, but they aren't very difficult to carry around. You can buy specialized saw blades for circular saws that cut through wood, metal or plastic.

Other saws that are useful include handsaws like hacksaws, miter saws, crosscut saws, coping saws and keyhole saws.

1: Level and Tape Measure

A spirit level
Keep the bubble in between the lines and your work will always be on the level.
Yasuhide Fumoto/Photodisc/Getty Images

­Maybe you've heard the phrase "measure twice, cut once." Taking accurate measurements can prevent you from wasting time or maybe even losing your temper. That's where the level and tape measure come in. Use them correctly and you'll avoid unnecessary frustration.

A level is a measure­ment device that indicates whether or not a surface is level or plumb. A common type of level is the bubble or spirit level. These devices have small vials that are partly full of a colored liquid. An air bubble in the liquid tells you if the surface is plumb -- if it's centered between the markings on the vial, you've got a level surface. These days, you can pick up a fancy laser level that uses a high-tech approach to give you the same information.


Tape measures are absolutely essential. In fact, you may need two of them -- one using the English measurement system and another on the metric system. Or you can shell out the cash for a laser measuring device -- some of them can provide measurements using both systems. Without a good measuring device, the only way your construction job will turn out well is through blind luck.

That's our round up on the most essential tools every builder needs. To learn more about construction and related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links

  • Inventor's Toolbox. "Simple Machines." Museum of Science. (Dec. 10, 2008) http://www.mos.org/sln/Leonardo/InventorsToolbox.html
  • Nagyszalanczy, Sandor. "The Homeowner's Ultimate Tool Guide." The Taunton Press, Newtown CT. 2003.