The DIY Dirty Dozen: 12 Tools That Everyone Needs

BY: Christina Hansen


ToolsEveryone wants to say that they've tackled unthinkable DIY jobs with their bare hands, but the fact is, hands alone aren't enough: you need tools. The question is: which ones? Putting together a tool arsenal can seem a little daunting if you walk into your local home improvement center without knowing what you're looking for, but we've assembled a list of must-have basics that anyone and everyone should own. Get ready to meet the DIY Dirty Dozen.


Sure, it's one of the first tools ever invented and can seem run-of-the-mill, but there's a reason why the hammer is Numero Uno on our list. Aside from pounding nails into woodworking projects and picture hangers into walls, the humble but almighty hammer is also one of the best prying tools you can find. Trying to get stubborn nails out of old wood floors? Put the claw end of your hammer to work, and you won’t have to break a sweat or invest in a separate pry bar.


Multi-Bit Screwdriver
Furniture, bathroom hardware, kitchen cabinets, electrical face plates – when you really think about it, our entire lives are held together by screws. It's simple to tighten a loose screw, but attempt it with the wrong screwdriver, and you'll find out how miserable a stripped screw can be.  Make a small but worthwhile investment in a multi-bit screwdriver – it's got all the different tips you'd find in an entire screwdriver set, built into a single compact tool.


Dirty Dozen ToolsPower Drill
Even if you don't consider yourself a power tool person, a day will come when you have to put up a set of mini-blinds or wall shelving, and without one of these, you won't be able to do it. Beyond small, here-and-there home improvements, a decent power drill will stick with you as you advance to bigger projects, and depending on the attachments you use, can drive screws for carpentry, cut holes in drywall for light fixtures, and even mix mortar for a DIY tile backsplash.


Unless you want those bookshelves you're building to look like they came out of a Dr. Seuss book or MC Escher sketch, you're going to need a level. Depending on how in-depth your project is, you can go with anything from a simple single-vial model to a three-vial, magnetic-framed version that measures level, plumb and 45° angles. The point is: have one – you'll be amazed at how much use it gets. Building projects aside, a level is also a must-have for hanging pictures and installing curtain rods.


Sanding Block
Tons of projects require sanding, from refinishing a dining room table to patching drywall. Instead of plain old sand paper, keep a few foam sanding blocks (in different grits) stashed in your toolbox. Unlike older-style sanding blocks that require you to clamp in pieces of sandpaper, the newer flexible foam sanding blocks are cheap, double-sided (twice the sanding surface), flexible enough to fit around curves and into smaller grooves, and disposable.


Putty Knife
While putty knives, true to their name, are perfect for applying putties and joint compound (think taping drywall seams and filling in nail holes), they’re also great for scraping almost anything off a surface: paint, old wallpaper, caulk, and in worst-case scenarios, gum. They come in widths that range anywhere from 1 to around 6 inches – if you want to keep just one on hand, go for a mid-size model, and you’ll be set for most jobs.


If you're going to invest in any kind of saw, make it a hacksaw: they're affordable, versatile, and easy to store. Hacksaws are technically designed to cut metal, but they tackle plastics and wood equally well, given that you use the appropriate blade type for each material. Use them to size threshold strips, rip through sheet metal and stubborn bolts, and cut copper and PVC pipes.


Wire Cutter
Do not – we repeat, do not – attempt to cut wire with a pair of regular household scissors. If you do, you’ll most likely end up damaging the scissor blades, and mangling the wire that you're trying to cut. That's what makes wire cutters (aka "wire snips") a must-have for any self-respecting tool kit. They'll make themselves useful in everything from simple home electrical work to craft projects, not to mention save you a fortune in scissor replacements.


Tape Measure
Male or female, handy or not, everyone needs a measuring tape, because it's pretty much impossible to undertake any type of DIY project without precise measurements of length, height, or general room dimensions. Want that furniture to fit? Measure. Need to know how much laminate flooring to buy? Measure twice. You get the picture. Find a nice, sturdy 25-foot tape measure, and that should take you through almost any home, yard or garage improvement.


Heavy Duty Extension Cord
Power tools and work lights need a place to plug in, regardless of whether or not you’re in range of an electrical outlet. That's where extension cords come in, and we're not talking about the delicate power extension that your living room table lamp is plugged into. Get your hands on a heavy duty (preferably outdoor-grade) extension cord that can support the electrical pull of your power tools and work lights, as well as brave incidental moisture and project grit/dust.


Stripped Screw Remover
Stripped screws will drive you out of your mind, and that's why it's best to spend as little time sweating over them as possible. Keep a stripped screw remover stashed in your tool box for just such an occasion. Essentially a double-ended drill bit, a stripped screw remover first bores out the stripped head, and then flips around to bite into the screw and zip it out. No profanity, no wasted time – just success.


Magnetic Wristband
Okay, maybe a magnetic wristband is more of an accessory than an actual tool, but when you have your hands full, you're really going to be glad that you have one. Designed for hardworking handy-types that have more to worry about than keeping track of loose screws, nails, nuts and bolts, this magnetic cuff keeps small parts in one place, right on your wrist. It's a lifesaver for everything from roofing projects to do-it-yourself furniture assembly.