Essential Workshop Handtools

Check out this list of essential hand-tools that should be found in any basic workshop.
mammers come in variety of styles for varying uses

mammers come in variety of styles for varying uses

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There's an adage that says: "anything worth doing is worth doing right." A corollary to that statement is the recognition that doing the job right requires the right set of tools.

The tools in your workshop will depend on your areas of specialty, interests and level of experience. Following is a list of some the more essential hand-tools that should be found in most any basic workshop.

Measuring Tools

Measuring tapes come in a variety of lengths such as 12, 18, 25 or 33 feet. Remember that the longer the tape, the heavier it will be. A 33-foot tape is a good choice for a serious builder or craftsman. Some tape measures are marked in eighths of an inch, which simplifies measurement and calculation of exact measurements.

Special measuring tapes known as long tapes come in lengths of 100 feet or more, and are helpful when measuring distances for building structures, landscaping, etc. The tape is housed on a spool that cranks to reel the tape in.

A speed square is used for measuring and marking angles in construction. It is constructed with a lipped straight edge making it easy to mark 45-degree and 90-degree angles, and it has designations for some of the more commonly used measurements and angles. A speed square is an absolute necessity for serious building and construction.

Levels come in a variety of sizes, lengths and styles -- including high-tech levels that use a laser beam. The basic level uses a straight edge and liquid-filled containers that contain a bubble. The bubble is lined up between markings on the liquid-filled tubes to determine when a surface or line is level.


Hammers come in a variety of styles for varying uses, and are available in different weights depending on how they'll be used. Commonly used hammers include tack hammers and standard nailing hammers. Some specialized nailing hammers incorporate a slot that holds a nail so that the nail can be set one-handed with a single blow.

Dead-blow hammers are used in woodworking, and don't bounce when struck against a material.

Rubber mallets are also useful, particularly for woodworking to make fit adjustments without marring the surface of the wood.


Cordless drills are one of the most versatile tools in the workshop. Aside from being used for drilling into a variety of materials, they can be fitted with a screwdriver attachment to make driving screws into wood a snap. Since they are cordless, they won't hinder your mobility.

Corded drills have the disadvantage of the cord that limits your movement, but they are available in strengths and torque greater than their cordless counterparts.


Every workshop -- or toolbox for that matter -- needs to have both Phillips head and flat-head (slotted) screwdrivers. Each of these types comes in a variety of sizes. There are other types of screwdrivers, as well -- such as hex and torx head -- for more specialized uses. Phillips and flat-head are the most common.
A nut driver works just like a screwdriver, but has a socket at the end for tightening and removing nuts as with a socket wrench.

A six-in-one tool is a handy household tool that's essentially a screwdriver with six interchangeable attachments -- small and large Phillips head, small and large flat-head and two sizes of nut-drivers.


An adjustable wrench is useful around the house as well as for working in the shop or on automobiles. The open end of the wrench adjusts by rotating a threaded adjuster, and the wrenches themselves are available in a wide variety of overall sizes.

Open-end wrenches are available in incremental sizes (metric and standard), and are open at both ends. Box wrenches are available in the same size increments, and are closed at both ends.

Combination wrenches are open at one end and closed at the other.

Cutting Tools

Don't forget hand-tools for cutting sheet metal and other materials. These include:

  • Tin snips
  • Left-cutting aviation snips
  • Right-cutting aviation snips
  • Straight-cutting aviation snips
  • Flat-cutting aviation snips
  • Utility knife
  • Scissors


Hand-saws commonly used in the workshop include:

  • Large and small cross-cut saw
  • Pull saw
  • Compass saw
  • Coping saw
  • Keyhole saw

Some other commonly used tools include pliers, chisels, files, rasps, sanding blocks and wood plane.

In our prototype workshop, the most commonly used tools -- hammers, mallets, levels, screwdrivers, etc. -- were hung on a pegboard above the workstation. A separate pegboard is home to measuring, marking and cutting tools as well as pliers and wrenches.

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