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The Golden Tools

Basic Hardware Helps Keep the Home in Shape and Saves the Kitchen Knives for Supper


Tools, especially the right ones, can make even the most unmechanical person keep parts of a home working--or at least make something broken less dangerous until a professional arrives.

But whether it's the new homeowner, the newly divorced leaving everything behind and starting fresh or the college grad setting up a first apartment, tools are often at the bottom of the to-buy list.

Until people find themselves reaching for a dinner knife.

Yes, one of the most-used tools in homes was not designed as a tool at all but as cutlery. The common dinner knife is often called upon to pry off window screens, tighten screws and putty walls. The results are usually bent screens, loose screws . . . and twisted knives.

Putting together a basic set of tools is neither complicated nor bank-breaking. But don't rush in. There are lots of tools, but it's not necessary to buy every one. The beauty of a useful set of tools is that it can always be added to, say professionals.

The first dilemma in tool buying is the question of quality. Should you invest in an expensive tool or buy the cheapest on the market? It's a question on which even the experts disagree.

"Anticipate losing tools," said Bob Imsande, manager of Martenet True Value Hardware in Anaheim. "Unless you're a tradesman, buy the cheapest thing you can get away with 'cause the kids are going to take them out in the yard and lose them."

Ronald Wortmann, a handyman in Silverado Canyon who fixes everything from leaking faucets to fallen bridges, agrees that there is no need for the average person to buy expensive tools.

"I call them 'weekend warriors' because they're not using their tools every day like I do. Why buy top of the line?" he asked.

But the bottom of the barrel may not be the best choice either, says Claude Bradley, owner of Cannings Brea Hardware. "I've bought tools my whole life, and I don't get upset spending money on a tool--but I get upset when it doesn't perform. I recommend buying quality tools with lifetime guarantees."

After the decision on quality comes the question of what to buy. What are the basics that every home should have? Experts are less divided on this.

Screwdrivers, a variety of both Phillips and flat heads, are a good place to start when assembling a set of tools. "A screwdriver that converts and has three or four different tips is a good idea," Bradley said.

A hammer is another necessity. One 10-ounce hammer should be big enough to meet most household repairs. Bradley recommends also getting a tack hammer for hanging pictures. Wortmann suggests an assortment of nails to go with the hammer: "Everything from 16 penny on down."

A set of pliers, especially one that includes an adjustable channel-lock, and needle-nose pliers, is desirable. "They can be real handy with all kinds of 'McGyver' stuff, like holding a match to light the pilot light," Wortmann said.

An 18-inch adjustable wrench should meet any plumbing tool requirements. Bradley also recommends something that can make a hole, such as a scratch awl, in addition to more mundane items such as a tape measure.

Hunter Endicott, a superintendent for Standard Pacific's Montage development in Irvine, suggests an assortment of wood and drywall screws, sandpaper, duct tape, masking tape and electrical tape. "Stuff that never goes bad," he said.

In addition, he recommends a quart of flat paint and enamel for touch-ups and a painting kit. "They cost almost nothing and have a pan, roller and brush."

A putty knife comes in handy for covering holes, as does wood putty, he added.

The idea is to keep it simple. Too many elaborate tools can end up underutilized.

What's the most unnecessary tool for the average person? "An electric saw," Wortmann said. "It's also the most dangerous because [most people] don't know how to use them. It's better to call [a professional] than risk bodily injury."

A good rule is to consider if the tool is being bought for a one-time job, Endicott said. "Too many table saws are used once, then gather dust in the garage."

Instead Endicott suggests going to a rental yard. "They have saws, jackhammers, everything. You don't need to spend $150 on a saw. A lumberyard or even Home Depot will cut to order."

And perhaps the most important item to have, according to Wortmann, you can borrow from your first-aid kit. "A variety of Band-Aids is a very good idea," he said.

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