Must-Have Tools for Homeowners

Here's a list of the tools necessary for completing home improvement projects.

Must-Have Tools

You can't get by without some basic hand and power tools.

Hand Tools

Hand tools are still the starting point for home improvement work. If you keep these tools in the tool bucket, you should be able to complete an improvement without incessant tool-fetchit trips:

  • Claw hammer
  • 38" reversible, variable-speed, cordless drill
  • Assortment of drill bits and screwdriver bits, in small bag
  • Assorted screwdrivers
  • Locking and needle-nose pliers
  • Nailset
  • Pencils
  • Compass (a.k.a. divider, used for scribing)
  • Torpedo level
  • Utility knife
  • Hand plane
  • Wood chisel
  • Margin trowel
  • Magnetic stud finder
  • Wire stripper-cutter
  • Circuit tester
  • Tape measure
  • Small square
  • A small container of screws and nails

These obscure tools are fiendishly handy for home improvements.

  • Needle-nose locking pliers replace wire cutters, pliers, and locking pliers.
  • A small aluminum or plastic square guides a circular saw for a 90° cut. It's also handy for marking right angles and other angles.
  • A torpedo level can level or plumb electric boxes, shelves, pictures, and cabinets.
  • A sanding block grabs the sandpaper far better than a block of wood.
  • A mason's margin trowel is perfect for drywall and plaster work. I use mine to scrape paint and other crud, glaze windows, mix mortar, pry off molding, and protect walls from a prybar.
  • This rigid, hexagonal prybar disassembles stuff neatly because the flat tongue slips under the wood. And when you hammer it, it doesn't spring back.

Electric Drill: Your first power tool should be a 38", variable-speed, reversing drill. A drill makes holes in wood, metal, even tile, but it's equally useful for driving screws. Don't assume you need a battery drill; they are handy, but heavier and more expensive.

Clamps: Clamps may seem humdrum and optional, but it ain't so, Jo (or Joe). You need clamps almost any time you're gluing. They are also handy for holding pieces while nailing or screwing, and for stabilizing wood while sawing, drilling, sanding, or routing.

Jigsaw: Jigsaws are made to cut curves, but they will cut straight with a sharp blade. I use mine for cutting wood and drywall.

 

Should-Have Tools

This large category of second-echelon tools is growing every year, as toolmakers probe our desires and whet our appetite for their unending inventions. Still, a few of these tools will make your work faster and more satisfying.

Power Miter Box: A power miter box makes accurate crosscuts and miter (angled) cuts. For more money, miter boxes also cut bevels or wider boards. If you plan to cut molding, pay a bit more for accuracy.

Circular Saw: A circular saw makes crosscuts or rip cuts, and is especially handy for cutting plywood. A square clamped to the plywood improves accuracy with a circular saw.

Orbital Sander: Orbital sanders make fast work of finishing wood. Not only are they less likely to gouge than a belt sander, they're also cheaper and lighter.

Find out how to set up your workshop.

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