What's in your toolbox?

No matter where you live, no matter whether you own or rent, what you need to keep your home in good shape should always be close by, so you can find it when you need it. That doesn't mean you should attempt jobs that are beyond your abilities. But, really, if you want to hang a window shade, why not grab the drill and a hammer and do it yourself?

Need to know: You get what you pay for: Buy cheap, get cheap. But if you're attracted to shiny and expensive things, you're also likely to buy tools you'll never use. Better to have a few good hand tools and a couple of multipurpose power tools than a workshop worthy of TV's master carpenter, Norm Abram.

Hammer time: At the very least, you should have three hammers: an 18- to 20-ounce claw hammer for pulling out nails; a 12-ounce hammer for pounding in nails to hang pictures; and a rubber mallet for putting hubcaps back in place or knocking in parts of must-be-assembled furniture that don't exactly fit the manufacturer's "easy-fit" directions.

Turn of the screw: Get a set of both larger screwdrivers with different sizes of slotted and Phillips heads and a set of precision screwdrivers (both Phillips and slotted-head) for removing the tiny screws that hold computer-screen covers. These small screwdrivers, once used exclusively by hobbyists, watch-repair people, and jewelers, are also useful for tightening the screws that hold eyeglass frames together.

Power up: Battery-powered drill/drivers are no longer as expensive as they once were. These versatile tools are ergonomically designed and save wear and tear on hands, fingers and arm muscles. Buy a set of drill bits and another of screwdriver attachments and see how much easier it is to hang those window shades.

Tale of the tape: Tape measure, that is. The most versatile is 30 feet by 1 inch, locks automatically, is released by squeezing the bottom, and can be read on both sides.

On the level: Every toolbox should have one. It can be as small as 9 inches, but a 48-incher is more useful for getting pictures straight after you hang them.

Pry and pull: It's good to have at least one pry bar that provides the right amount of leverage for removing stubborn nails from lumber.

The old saw: Though power tools can be costly, a fully outfitted toolbox should include a battery-operated 71/2-inch circular saw. Given all the small jobs you'll be able to tackle around the house, you'll get your investment back quickly.

Assembly required: Because most inexpensive furniture needs to be put together after you buy it, make sure you have Allen wrenches of various sizes.

Wait, there's more: Locking pliers; a flashlight or work light; gloves; a utility knife; wire cutters; sandpaper (assorted grits); a putty knife; a speed square (a triangular measuring tool used to draw perpendicular lines on boards); a straight edge with right angle; screws and nails; wood glue; wire; string; WD-40 oil; duct tape; rags; safety glasses and ear protectors; chalk (easier to remove than pencil marks); and a sea sponge for smoothing joint compound in drywall repairs.

Helpful extras: Keep a plunger handy; you'll be happy you have one. And no matter what else you decide to keep in the toolbox, don't forget a first-aid kit and Band-Aids.

Want Alan J. Heavens' advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at aheavens@phillynews.com or write to him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.