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The Right Tool for the Right Job 

Distributed by New York Times Special Features

A properly stocked toolbox makes easy work of a multitude of household projects, including hanging framed artwork, fixing wobbly chair legs and assembling new furniture. But it's tricky figuring out exactly what to put in a tool kit. Here is a checklist of must-haves for tackling everyday tasks -- efficient, useful tools that are a snap to use and store.

Hammer. A 16-oz. model is easy to handle for most people. A hammer that is too heavy can result in bent nails; one that's too light requires extra strokes to drive in nails. Look for one with a rubber handle for comfort and a good grip.

Screwdriver. Save space with a multihead tool with interchangeable tips. One with "ratchet action" doesn't require you to reset the tool after each turn. If you prefer, opt for four regular screwdrivers: a small and a large each of the flathead and Phillips.

Wrench. One adjustable model will do the work of an entire wrench set. The movable lower jaw can be adapted for almost any job. Use it to loosen bolts that are too tight (pliers can strip them) and for assembling furniture, toys and bikes.

Saw. A model with a 15-inch steel blade is long enough for a variety of tasks, yet short enough to fit in many tool kits. Look for a style that reads "general purpose" on the label -- these can cut with and against the grain.

Cordless Drill. For basic tasks, 9.6 volts will do the job. Heavy-duty tasks, such as drilling into brick, require a 12-volt model. A keyless chuck, the mechanism that allows for changing bits, means you don't need to keep track of a key.

Staple Gun. This versatile tool can be used to install screens, fasten upholstery and cover objects with fabric. Choose one that's small or medium-size. It will fit into a toolbox and is easier to handle than larger models.

Measuring Tools. Metal is the best choice for a straight edge because other materials, such as wood and plastic, can get scratched and nicked by cutting blades. To calculate longer distances, use a 25-foot-long measuring tape.

Pliers. A pair of slip-joint pliers is best for tightening and loosening nuts and bolts. A needlenose pair is perfect for twisting wire. Its pincers are also useful for working in cramped spaces.

Hardware. Stock your kit with the basics: nails, screws and hooks of all kinds, including eye hooks and cup hooks. Remember to get picture-hanging wire and anchors appropriate for your walls.

Clamps. Use these tools to secure items while they are being glued or nailed to one another. C clamps hold items steady by securing them to a workbench and offer the firmest grip. Spring clamps are good for projects with smaller items.

Level. This tool can tell you when something is perfectly straight. A carpenter's level can identify 45-degree angles. A torpedo is even tiny enough to fit into small spaces.

Putty knife. This tool is used mainly to smooth over putty, mend plaster and perform similar tasks. However, it also can function as a scraper for peeling away loose paint and caked-on glue. Choose one with a 1 1/2- to 3-inch-long blade.

Safety equipment. Always wear protective glasses when sawing or working with harmful chemicals. Leather gloves can prevent blisters and injury and improve your grip for tasks such as carrying firewood. Latex gloves are handy when working with grease or paint.

Adhesives. Use carpenter's glue on wood and paper; also handy are masking, painter's, duct and electrical tapes in 1- to 2-inch widths.

Cutters. Keep a pair of scissors in the toolbox dedicated to tough tasks, such as cutting sandpaper, so you don't ruin the household pair. For more detailed jobs, a utility knife with a retractable blade that can be locked is ideal.

Miscellany. Assorted items can help in a pinch: a pencil, a flashlight for repairs in dark spaces, 100-grit sandpaper for smoothing edges, felt pads for preventing scratches underneath items and a bottle of adhesive remover for eliminating tape and glue residue.

Toolbox. A toolbox keeps everything in one place and protects the items inside. A durable plastic model is light enough to tote from room to room. A chest that measures 10 by 10 by 19 inches is large enough to hold everything in this checklist, except for the drill. Choose one with removable trays with compartments to keep small items organized.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be emailed to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com. Copyright 2006 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

click to enlarge TIP: Having a well-stocked toolbox can save you time and aggravation when you need to tackle home projects large or small. - JOHN LAWTON
  • John Lawton
  • TIP: Having a well-stocked toolbox can save you time and aggravation when you need to tackle home projects large or small.
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