If I Had a Hammer…

…And a staple gun, and a few other choice tidbits, I could handle almost anything. Of course, I love hardware stores far too much to keep myself from picking up all sorts of specialty tools as the need arises, but I assure you that having a few key items around will make you much less dependent upon the kindness of strangers in an emergency.

All of this stuff costs only a few dollars for a serviceable version of each, and it’ll be an investment that will make up for itself in no time at all. Not only will you earn valuable brownie points with that cute college boy working at the local True Value for the summer, but you’ll also save a small fortune in dumb repair bills, and a lot of headaches from exasperated superintendents.

Hammer Time!Never, NEVER underestimate the importance of having a good, full-size hammer around the house. In a pinch, even a decent ball-pean hammer will do. Some day yoou’ll need to hang a picture, loosen an old valve on a water pipe, pull out a nail where a picture used to hang, or something else that will require something more efficient than the heel of your shoe.

There are basically two tricks to using a hammer. The most important is to swing it from your elbow, not your wrist. Little, limp-wristed, girly wrist-hammering will hurt you and it won’t do a damn thing. Hold the hammer firmly in your hand, and let the momentum of your whole forearm do the bulk of the work. The second trick it to know how much force is needed, and USE IT. If a sticky valve or tiny picture nail just need a tap or two, just give ’em a good, firm tap. If you have to drive big nail into a block of wood, tap once or twice for position and then swing like the mighty Thor — it’ll feel very cathartic, and there’ll be less chance of screwing up the nail or the angle of approach if you can drive the nail in with just two or three whacks.

Screw Me!Screw You!

The other most useful thing you can have around the house is a Phillips head screwdriver. that’s the one with the x-shaped tip, in case you’re wondering. A flat-head screw driver will also be handy to have around. If you’re worried about having too packed a toolbox, you can always get a screwdriver handle with a reversible bit, Phillips on one side and flat-head on the other. But if you’ve managed to get this far in your life without owning a screwdriver, I assure you your streak of good luck won’t last forever.

Someday you’ll have to open the back of that computer, or attach that shelf to the wall, or tighten that table leg, or hang those curtain rods, or chip that ice out of the freezer (which is, of course, a foolish and dangerous use for a screwdriver, but a use nonetheless). The screwdriver is your friend, believe me.

Pinch me, I’m dreamingSlip-joint pliers are universally handy. Purists will say that everything they’re useful for is the wrong way to use them, but that’s all horsecrap. Got a bolt to tighten or loosen? Plier it, baby. Missing a knob on the stove? Fire it up with your friendly pliers. That showerhead leaking again? You know what to do. You can tell if you’re using pliers for the wrong thing if it seems like it takes too much hand strength to get a grip on something, but the beauty of pliers is that they’ll still get the job done if you work at it. And get a pair that can also be used as a wirecutter.

Monkey BusinessOf course, we can’t forget our trusty friend the adjustable monkey wrench. This is the one that you should be using all those times when pliers don’t seem to work well. If you have a bike, for instance, you probably already know that a monkey wrench and one or two Allen wrenches (see below) are your magic best friends at tune-up time. You can think of this as a hardcore pair of pliers. If pliers can grab it, a monkey wrench can grab it better, and give you more leverage. I suspect that when I eventually start to learn car repair, I’ll develop a whole new appreciation for the monkey wrench.

Stick 'em upNo party would be complete without the amazing staple gun. Maybe Martha Stewart can work wonders with a hot-glue gun, but trust me — it’s the staple-gun that can really hold the world together. Do curtain rods and drapery hooks seem too labor-intensive? A few well-placed staples behind a fold will hold things up until Mom’s next visit. Is that phone cord tripping all your dates when they come by to pick you up? Secure that baby up against the baseboard and show it who’s boss. Found the perfect kitchen chair at the Salvation Army and then discovered the upholstery’s rotting away? that’s right — a staple gun and a piece of fabric (and a hammer or screwdriver, depending on how the seat’s attached) is all you need to raise it from the dead. And any staples you use are removed in seconds flat with your trusty flat-head screwdriver. See how it all comes together?

The Big LThis may seem a little more special-interest, but a set of Allen wrenches will make you very happy if you own a bike or any piece of do-it-yourself furniture from Ikea. They’re those black, L-shaped doohickies with the hexagonal ends that often end up in people’s junk drawers. Those babies are the keys to the kingdom if you ever have any intention of taking apart that Sufflör bookshelf or Krokshult table that’s taking up space in the corner, or putting that new bottle holder on your mountain bike once and for all. There couldn’t be anything easier to use — just find the right-size end that fits in the bolt, and twist a few times using the other side of the wrench as a handle. Bolts that require Allen wrenches usually only require a twist or two since they’re flat don’t get knocked around a lot. But there’s no way to grab ’em at all unless you have the right wrench.