By Lee Wallender
That flimsy set of three tools that your aunt and uncle got you for college graduation will not do the trick when it comes to serious home repairs. Whether you live in an apartment, condo, townhouse, or detached house, at some point, you will have to undertake repairs.
Having a set of tools will help you avoid sky-high bills from professional technicians, and will instill a quiet sense of confidence that you can do just about anything – because now you have home-repair superpowers!
These tool sets are organized in three layers: must have, no matter what; good to have, should be purchased before long; and luxury, great to have for more ambitious repairs and remodels, but not necessary in the short term.
Tools You Must Have Right Away
If that drugstore set of tools is not adequate, then what is? What tools won’t bust your budget, but will let you tackle those basic home repairs that inevitably come your way?
- When to Buy: Before or soon after purchasing or renting your new home.
- You Can: Hang pictures, replace a kitchen or bathroom faucet, tighten hinges, replace cabinet fixtures, etc.
- Estimated Cost: Under $60.
Begin with a lightweight, curved claw hammer with a 16-ounce head. This basic hammer will pound and pull nails. Choose one with a wrapped or cushioned handle to reduce vibrations and fatigue.
Adjustable Crescent Wrench
A Crescent-brand wrench adjusts with a grooved wheel and allows you to turn bolt heads. Generic adjustable wrenches will work just as well.
Channellock pliers adjust to preset sizes and let you turn larger items than the Crescent wrench can handle. Just like with the adjustable wrenches, generic channel-style wrenches will be fine, too.
Like the screwdriver set, the tape measure is another tool that will serve you better if you purchase a higher-quality product right away, like a Stanley FatMax (which has a wider tape for greater stiffness).
Choose a standard 24-inch bubble level.
Carpenter Pencils and Sharpener
Carpenter pencils are thicker and sturdier than typical yellow school pencils and require a special, inexpensive sharpener.
Tools That Are Good to Have Before Long
- When to Buy: Within six months to a year.
- You Can: Put up shelves, paint a room, change door locks, etc.
- Estimated Cost: Under $200.
Utility Knife and Blades
Look for a utility knife that changes blades from the front, rather than the cheaper type that requires you to unscrew the case to change the blade.
A ratchet set is more of a car tool than a home-repair tool. Still, in those few instances when you need to turn long bolts, ratchets are indispensable.
Cordless Drill and Drill Bits
Purchase a quality cordless drill because you will be using this frequently, for everything from drilling holes to turning screws. Lithium-ion batteries (not nickel-cadmium) are today’s standard for cordless tools. Also, purchase a set of drills and screwdriver heads.
Manual Saw Set: Hacksaw and Wood Saw
Hacksaws and wood saws perform different functions. The hacksaw will cut metal but not wood. A wood saw efficiently cuts wood, yet metal will instantly ruin its teeth.
A battery-powered dielectric stud finder senses dense masses behind drywall; it costs less than $20.
Basic Painting Set
Begin with a roller, roller covers, metal paint tray, three or four liners, an angled trim brush, and a larger 3-inch brush. This set is enough to get you started on most basic paint jobs, from walls and ceilings to trim and doors.
An inexpensive, battery-powered head lamp illuminates wherever you turn your head. For a more stable light source, choose a tripod-mounted LED work light, available for less than $100.
Tools That Are Great, But Not Necessary
This set of tools enables you to do some serious home remodeling.
- When to Buy: Within a couple of years.
- You Can: Tear down an internal wall, put up fiberglass insulation, replace water supply or drain lines, install trim around a door or window, install flooring.
- Estimated Cost: Around $400.
Allen wrenches are required to turn Allen screws in or out.
A combination square, also called a Speed Square, lets you draw long lines across work material, without the need for a straight edge. Its triangle side lets you calculate complicated angles for roofing.
A pipe wrench is for turning galvanized or cast-iron plumbing supply or drain pipes.
Purchase a cheap (under $10) staple gun for infrequent use, such as tacking up sheet plastic. For heavy-duty use, like affixing fiberglass insulation, consider an electric-assisted staple gun or a hammer-style stapler.
When installing flooring, you will prevent damage by using a rubber mallet to strike the floor boards in place.
Gone are the days of hanging tools from flimsy pressed-wood pegboards. Today, there are more durable storage systems that are perfectly designed for your new set of tools and that allow easy access while keeping them clean, dry, and free of damage.
Rather than storing your tools in one place, the best method is multi-pronged. First, select a permanent storage location in a garage or workshop for large tools or those that are used infrequently. Second, you need a way to carry tools to project locations.
And finally, you may find the need for that ultimate portable-storage solution, the tool belt.
Walls: Metal and plastic pegboards have largely replaced fiberboards in most workshops. Trays, shelves, and specialty holders augment pegs to allow for a wide range of wall-storage solutions.
- Track Systems: Long metal tracks mount horizontally across the wall. Hooks of various types slide into the tracks and can be adjusted accordingly. These hooks allow you to hang larger tools and even garden implements.
- Shelves: Metal shelving units are best for storing large and heavy tools. Avoid wire and plastic shelves, which are not strong enough for tool storage.
Toolbox and Bag Storage
When you move from the shop to the project, carrying tools in your arms is no way to go. Instead, keep a core set of tools – particularly those Must Haves – in a toolbox or bag at all times.
Tool belts are used by professionals, like utility workers and electricians. Because they do this work on a daily basis, they happen to know a thing or two.
What they know is that you cannot carry tools by hand at remote locations, such as the top of a ladder or in a crawl space. A tool belt is the ultimate way to carry a few tools with you and keep your hands free.
While the classic multi-pouch leather tool belt looks fantastic, it is heavy and can be a bit much for many DIYers. Instead, look for lighter nylon tool belts or cloth carpenter aprons.
To carry more tools without breaking your back, a framer’s suspension rig employs suspenders over each shoulder to ease the load.
Building a cost-effective yet functional, basic DIY tool kit is your first step toward taking control of your home repairs by yourself.
Lee Wallender began remodeling homes when he transformed a World War I-era farmhouse into a comfortable new home. He has been writing about home remodeling on About Home Renovations since 2006.