The worst day with a tool kit is still better than the best day without one. Most of us have encountered at least one occasion where a few taps of a hammer or a turn of a screw would have made all the difference. Owning some form of tool kit allows us to take care of small repairs without the need for professionals. But what tools are necessary and which are simply nice to have around? Should you buy a 100 piece tool kit at the local discount store or invest in professional-quality tools at the hardware store?
First of all, it helps to be realistic about your particular needs. A 100 piece tool kit is no bargain if 90 of those pieces remain in the case forever. By the same token, do-it-yourselfers and mechanics shouldn't limit themselves to a basic tool kit with minimal selection. Even if your apartment is maintained by a landlord or handyman, you'll probably want a small tool kit with essentials such as a hammer, screwdriver, adjustable wrench and pliers. Being honest with your needs before buying a tool kit should help you set limits.
One thing to keep in mind is the wide difference in quality amongst tool kit manufacturers. Established brand names such as Stanley and Craftsman routinely use drop forged steel in their hand tools, which guarantees a strong product resistant to damage. A tool kit featuring name brand products may be on the expensive side, but you'll benefit from the quality. Buying a tool kit may save you some money over buying the same tools individually.
The type of tool kit to avoid is the '200 pieces for $5' variety. The metal used in cheaper sets is rarely drop forged steel. Instead, a much weaker metallic composite or softer metal will be used instead. When a cheaper hammer or screwdriver fails, as it probably will, the metal will not bend but rather snap off suddenly. This should reveal the cheaper pot metal used in low-end tool kit models. Another danger is the plastic handles used on screwdrivers. Under pressure, these handles may shatter without warning. As a general rule, if the price for a large tool kit sounds incredibly low, there's probably a reason why.
Another element to consider is adaptability. A good tool kit should feature standard size components with clear markings. If you decide to purchase additional tools later, having compatible accessories can be very convenient. If your needs are basic, then adjustability is another important factor. A tool kit with an adjustable wrench and a pair of vise grips can replace a much larger kit with socket wrenches and multiple pliers. Unusual tools such as Allen wrenches may not be necessary in a basic tool kit, but mechanics and crafters may find them invaluable. Again, buy according to personal need, not necessarily price or size. A basic tool kit with high-quality components is better than a 500 piece bargain of dubious origin.