Whether you rent or own your home, having a good set of tools, along with a little basic knowledge, is essential.
Depending on your skill level, professional help may be necessary for many projects, from installing flooring to plumbing problems. But there are plenty of things you can do around the house with virtually no skills. All you need is a little help from DIY videos, and a few simple tools.
Money Talks News founder and home handyman Stacy Johnson offers up some essentials. Check out the video, then read on.
Now let’s mix a little additional advice with a few more tools and we’ll assemble the perfect home toolkit…
From car insurance to groceries, there are hundreds of ways to save on virtually everything. But when it comes to tools, if you’ve got a choice, don’t cut corners on quality. Every home handyman knows the frustration of screwdrivers that break, hammerheads that come flying off, and pliers that slip.
Tools can be deceptive because cheap and crappy can often resemble expensive and well-made. Whenever you can, opt for quality, something you can often determine by price and country of origin. In general, tools made in America will be higher quality than those made in China.
If your budget is tight, don’t be afraid to buy used, especially when it comes to quality hand tools. Good tools can last a lifetime. You’re better off with a well-used, quality hammer you found at a yard sale for $5 than a new $5 hammer from China.
But if you don’t have the budget or the time to hit yard sales, no biggie. Buy what you can afford. Because there’s something else every home handyman knows: Cheap, crappy tools work a lot better than no tools at all.
Start with a tool bag
Nothing like desperately needing a tool, knowing you own it, and having no earthly idea where it is.
While it’s possible a drawer or shelf can hold the bare essentials, having a box or canvas bag to store your tools is preferable. You can easily buy one for less than $20, and I’ve seen them for $5 at Home Depot Black Friday sales.
If you don’t have the budget for a bag or box, no problem – just find something to keep your tools together. Cut the top off a gallon milk jug; use a shoe box. The key is having them all in one place and being able to carry them around the house.
Many expensive trips to the ER started with bypassing a pair of $4 safety glasses. Useful when you’re working with chemicals, dust, or spray paint, they’re also a necessity when hammering, sawing, cutting the grass, or doing anything that could result in something hitting your face. If you’re painting, sanding, or using chemicals, your nose and mouth will appreciate disposable respirators. While not technically tools, these are important accessories. Now that we’ve covered quality, storage, and safety, let’s build something: a list of essential tools.
Useful for everything from hanging a picture to taking out your frustrations, the foundation of every toolkit is a hammer. While wood handles are cheaper, fiberglass is stronger, lighter, more shock absorbent, and safer. The typical hammer is 16 ounces, and has a curved claw on one side to remove nails and pry things open. Look for the words “drop forged” – they’re better made.
You can find a good quality hammer for less than $15.
The next most-used tool is the screwdriver.
Flat head and Phillips (also known as “plus” and “minus”) are the most common, but since sets are cheap, might as well get a bunch. You can get a six-piece set for less than $8, or a kit with one ratcheting handle and 20 different bits for less than $20. Ratcheting handles allow you to turn the screwdriver with less turning of your wrist: nice labor-saver.
For both comfort and safety, insulated handles are nice. Easier on your hand, and safer for electrical work.
Whether you’re hanging a picture or installing shelves, keep everything on the level. Levels come in an almost infinite variety of sizes and types, but you can easily find a decent torpedo level for less than $5.
As you saw in the video, another option – though hardly as useful – is converting your iPhone into a level with this $1 Level app. (Is there an app to convert your phone into a hammer?)
You’ll use these for tightening nuts and bolts, removing nails from a wall, holding and bending stuff, and a million other things.
Pliers come in lots of forms: “slip-joint” allows them to change the position based on the thickness of what you’re working with. Needle-nose gets you into tight spots. Channel locks open wide. And dikes come with a wire cutter, handy for electrical work. You can get sets for around $20 that will cover most of the bases.
5. Duct tape
Anyone living in a snowy climate should have a transfer or square nose shovel around. A round nose (or digging) shovel is a must for cleaning up your garden, dirt, debris, or even cutting small roots.
Like hammers, shovels come in both wood handle and fiberglass. Also like hammers, fiberglass is stronger, lighter, and more expensive. Still, you can pick up a decent fiberglass-handled shovel for around $20.
If you live in an apartment, this tool may not be necessary, but homeowners know the value of a ladder. Used for everything from getting on the roof to putting up Christmas lights, they’re a necessity. For apartment and condo dwellers, a small step ladder can help when it comes to changing a light bulb or adjusting decor.
If space is at a premium, you can find telescoping ladders for around $100 and up.
Want to cut the price of your ladder in half? Share one with a neighbor. It’s rare when both of you will need it at once – why do you both have one? Neighbor co-ops like this are the single best way to save on all manner of household tools from chain saws to lawn mowers.
8. Tape measure
It’s an old saying: Measure twice, cut once. There’s no end to the things that need measuring, from shelves to rooms to waistlines. I keep small, cheap tape measures in my car and a drawer and a 25-foot, better-quality one in my tool box. You can find one for less than $10. These are also frequently featured in home improvement stores’ Black Friday sales.
9. Utility knife
Tired of using your steak knives to open cardboard boxes? Get a utility knife with retractable, replaceable blades. It’s always sharp, safer than a regular knife, and necessary to do everything from stripping wire to cutting open that ridiculous sealed plastic packaging everything’s coming in these days. They’re only about 5 bucks.
10. Hand saw
There are saws for pruning branches, cutting wood, going through metal, and many other specialized uses. You can get one handle with blades that will do most of what you want for less than $15.
11. Power drill
If you’re only going to have one power tool, spring for this one. While obviously useful for drilling holes, a 3/8″ variable-speed reversible drill can also function as a power screwdriver, buffer, grinder – even sander. Models with cords are cheaper and lighter, but cordless drills are more versatile and less hassle to use.
They come in all prices, but you can buy a decent one for less than $40.
Should you buy a kit?
One way to get the above tools in one fell swoop – with the possible exception of saws and an electric drill – is to buy a pre-assembled kit. These are useful if you’re not going to use tools often and are also a great option to have in the car or boat.
While not the way to get the highest quality, kits can make shopping easy and cheap: You can find a decent home improvement toolkit pre-assembled for less than $30.
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