Everyone 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.
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.
Even if you don't consider yourself a power tool person, a day will come when you must 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. Depending on the attachments you use, these can drive screws for carpentry, cut holes in drywall for light fixtures and even mix mortar for a DIY tile backsplash.
Unless you want bookshelves that you're building to look asymmetrical, 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: when you 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.
Tons of projects require sanding, from refinishing a dining room table to patching drywall. Instead of plain old sandpaper, keep a few sanding blocks of foam (in different grits) stashed in your toolbox. Unlike older-style sanding blocks that require you to clamp in pieces of sandpaper, the flexible foam sanding blocks are cheap, double-sided (twice the sanding surface), flexible enough to fit around curves and into smaller grooves. They are also disposable.
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 gum in worst-case scenarios. They come in widths that range anywhere from 1 to around 6 inches. Should 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 because 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 or PVC pipes.
WIRE CUTTER OR SCISSORS
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. If you prefer to use a scissor-style cutter for wires, pick up a pair of Klein Tools® Electrician’s Scissors, which are designed to strip 19 to 23-gauge wire.
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 if 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.
To know or not know if an electrical receptacle works correctly can make a difference in your home or office. IDEAL® makes a receptacle tester that detects conditions in outlets and GFCI receptacles. If one is versed in light electrical DIY work, this tool is handy to help make assessments. It can also help to know when to call in the pros for major electrical issues.
KLEIN TOOLS® TRADESMAN PRO™ WORK LIGHT
One can always use additional light in a work area. This small Tradesman Pro™ light hooks up swivel-style for hands-free use — or attaches magnetically to metal surfaces. It is small and operates on AAA batteries, with up to a 5-hour battery life. The LED lighting provides a source of environmentally friendly, long-lasting, energy-efficient and bright illumination.