You don't need a shed full of hardware to get things done around the house. Even if your weekend workload looks like a real life episode of This Old House, you probably rely on a fairly small core set of tools. Here are a few items suited for both ends of the spectrum—whether you can build a back deck or barely assemble furniture, these items all make a nice addition to the toolbox.
Ryobi 18-Volt Combo Kit
Ryobi's lime green combo kit was affordable when it debuted, and after a few price drops, it's absolutely one of the best deals in power tools--$174 at Amazon on a recent check. Contractors use Ryobi as a low-risk investment in case the tools are broken or lost, and homeowners will find the duo, a cordless lithium-ion drill and circular saw, to be a really capable pair for a lot of DIY carpentry work.
Stanley Antivibe 16-ounce Claw Hammer
Everyone knows someone with a lame old hammer. Or no hammer. Or a hammer that's too heavy, too small, too short, or too imbalanced. Do this person a favor with an upgrade to one of the most thoroughly engineered hammers on the hardware aisle.
Porter-Cable PCE605K Oscillating Multi-Tool
The market on oscillating multi-tools has been flooded since imitators to Fein's MultiMaster first arrived a few years ago. Most try to undercut Fein's high price, but Porter-Cable actually pulls it off. The brand's quality has improved substantially since its 2010 merger Stanley--and tools like this new 3.0-amp oscillating tool are the payoff. Use the corded tool to sand small areas, trim door frames to fit new flooring, or scrape up the glue from old carpet or vinyl flooring. It's well-made, hefty, easy to control and honestly fun to use. Plus, the hundred dollar kit actually comes with enough accessories out of the box to get a job done.
Nest Learning Thermostat: Second Generation
The Nest Learning Thermostat was a revolution in home heating and cooling the first time around. Some essential improvements have come with the new 2.0 version--the $250 Nest is now compatible with more Android operating systems on tablets and phones, and it can also work well with more brands of HVAC equipment.
Channellock 8-inch Adjustable Wrench
When people hear Channellock, they think of an amazing pair of sliding locking pliers. That's fine. You might like to know that the Meadeville, PA crew also came up with a pretty great adjustable wrench. There are several sizes--the $28 8-inch model is a good compact choice. Nice texture on the handle, wide jaws, precise settings, no slop in the sliding jaw--it’s basically everything you want in an adjustable wrench.
The $60 Wave isn't the newest Leatherman, but it's still my favorite after a few years of use. The big change, if you're accustomed to a model like the classic Supertool, is that the blades open on the outside of the handles, for quick access without flipping the pliers open. The tool is perfectly balanced, and it always has what I need (although I never seem to learn not to try using any part of it as a pry bar).
The #1 go-to use, and the reason I throw it in my pocket along with whatever else I'm taking from the toolbox: The precisely machined needle nose pliers, which can grab a finish nail, open a paint can, or finesse a match up into an old Coleman lantern.
DeWalt Folding Locking Hex Key Set
With all the ready-to-assemble furniture bought today, the hex keys (aka an Allen wrench) is a mainstream, must-have tool. But the palm-gouging little L-shaped sliver of metal is a torturous tool to use through a whole bookshelf/crib/dresser project.
Get the $15 folding locking set from DeWalt--you'll never look back. The set always has the right-sized key somewhere in the mix. The tools can lock in several angles, and the handle is a pleasant thing to grip when tightening a fastener or breaking a stuck one free.
C.H. Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder
Forget battery-powered stud finders. Just use a magnetic detector like this $10 item from CH Hanson. It finds the ferrous drywall screws hanging the panel to the stud (or the old spikes securing the plaster's lath, if that's your thing). It's easy to use and it's always ready.