The Basic Tools Every DIYer Should Own

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They say you can never have too many tools, but everyone has to start somewhere. If you’re just getting into the DIY scene, are are some basic tools that everyone should have in their toolbox.

These are tools that are pretty much an absolute must if you plan on doing any kind of DIY work around the house, even if it’s as minor as hanging curtains or picture frames on the wall. Even if you’re a renter and aren’t responsible for repairs, it’s still a good idea to learn how to do basic home improvement tasks. Plus, if you’re thinking about installing a smart thermostat or other smarthome devices, you’ll probably need to know how to do a little drilling and screwing.

Hammer

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One of the most quintessential beginner tools that most people think of is the hammer, and it’s easy to see why. It’s awesome for smashing stuff, but it’s also a required tool for doing something as simple as hanging a picture frame on the wall.

In fact, if all you’ll ever do is hang pictures on the wall, you can get a compact, short-handled hammer that you can keep in a drawer somewhere and quickly grab it whenever you need it.

An addition to a hammer, a rubber mallet is great to have as well. A hammer can dent wood and other materials pretty easily, so if you’re banging on something to work it loose, but need to keep it intact, a rubber mallet is a great tool to use, since the rubber is soft enough to not create dents, but still hard enough to…make an impact.

Screwdrivers

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Pretty much anything you install in your house will require a screwdriver, so it’s a good idea to get a set of both Phillips and flat-headed screwdrivers that are of varying sizes. The last thing you want to do is strip a screw because you were using the wrong size screwdriver.

Get yourself a set of 6-10 screwdrivers and it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to go back to the hardware store to get a different size. Something like this cheap Stanley set will do the job just fine for basic tasks. You can also spend a little bit more money and get a ratcheting screwdriver with multiple bits, which adds a whole new level of convenience.

Tape Measure

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A tape measure isn’t just a carpenter’s best friend. Anyone of any skill level can take huge advantage of a tape measure, even if it’s just measuring your window for curtains or seeing how big of a vanity you can squeeze into your bathroom.

I’m a big fan of the self-lock tape measure that automatically locks in place and releases whenever you press the button, instead of the (more common) other way around. I also like having a mini tape measure to use around the house in tighter places, but they tend to only be about 6-10 feet in length, whereas most full-size tape measures are 25 feet. Most of the time you’ll never need that long of a tape measure, but it never hurts to have it during those rare times when you need it.

Power Drill

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If you need to create holes in the wall or screw anything into something greater than drywall, a power drill is pretty much a requirement. Installing a smart thermostat, for example, requires you to drive in some screws to mount the backplate to the wall. While you could probably screw into drywall by hand, it’s much easier using a power drill.

Luckily, unless you plan on doing some serious drilling, you don’t need to buy one of those honkin’ huge 18-volt power drills. Instead, you can easily get away with something smaller, like a 12-volt power drill. It’ll still have the power you need for doing basic drilling and driving, but it comes in a much smaller form factor and is usually cheaper than more powerful drills.

Wrenches

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America was built with nuts and bolts, and the only way to work with nuts and bolts is by using a wrench. You can get a crescent wrench, which is an adjustable wrench that can fit all different sizes of nuts and bolts, but you’re actually better off with a set of combination wrenches that have distinct sizes.

A crescent wrench can be fine in some cases, but when you have a stubborn bolt that needs a lot of leverage to break free, there’s a high risk of stripping the nut or bolt when using a crescent wrench, so it’s best to use the right size wrench for the job.

Perhaps a better tool for dealing with nuts and bolts is a socket wrench. The ratcheting action, along with the socket that completely encloses the nut or bolt, makes it way easier and quicker to remove or tighten bolts down. You don’t need to go super crazy and get a 94-piece set or anything, but a small kit with a handful of both metric and standard measurements is a great start, and it’s likely all you’ll need.

Both traditional wrenches and socket wrenches are great, and may be required for any given job–traditional wrenches are great for tight spaces, while socket wrenches are sometimes necessary for recessed bolts.

Pliers

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Sometimes you need a better grip on something, whether you’re trying to yank it out or just hold onto something while you work on it. Pliers are great little tools that don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Furthermore, pliers are an absolute must for any kind of electrical work, especially if you’re swapping out traditional outlets with ones that have USB built in (screwdrivers are also a must here). Pliers make it a lot easier to twist wire together and bend wire to get it to do what you want it to do. Get yourself a small set of pliers and you’re good to go, but absolutely do not substitute wrenches for pliers (or vice versa). You may think that you can twist off that nut with some pliers, but that’s a great way to strip it.

Utility Knife

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Sometimes scissors just won’t do the trick, which is why you need something more heavy duty. Utility knives are perfect for cutting through thick material, like cardboard, vinyl flooring, wooden shims, etc.

Heck, you can even use a utility knife for basic tasks like opening boxes, tearing open food packaging, and making precise cuts on things where you can’t be as careless. Utility knives, overall, have a lot of different uses around the house, and they’re cheap as chips.

Level

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When it comes to hanging anything on the wall, you want to make sure it’s level. You could eyeball it, but that’s not really that accurate. This is where a simple level comes into play.

I’m not talking about a 4-foot carpenter’s level or anything crazy like that, but a simple handheld torpedo level is great to have around the house for making sure everything is square and level. Yes, you can use your smartphone, but a real level is probably going to be more accurate.

Furthermore, while a torpedo level is great to have, a major upgrade would be a laser level, which shines an auto-leveling laser line across the wall, allowing you to work with both hands while you have a great reference point for hanging multiple picture frames. I personally like this Stanley laser level from Lowe’s, and while the mount is pretty much useless, the device can shine either auto-leveling vertical or horizontal lines, or a stationary line that you can angle up or down using the built-in protractor to get the precise angle that you want.

Stud Finder

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If you need hang anything remotely heavy into a wall, like a book shelf or a large piece of art, then it needs to be screwed into a stud for better support. A stud finder can–you guessed it–help locate studs inside your walls.

You can hang most picture frames just on the drywall itself, and drywall anchors are great to use if you absolutely can’t rely on a stud, but for the best reliability and ultimate strength, screwing right into a stud is the optimal choice. Stud finders can get really expensive, but a basic one can do the trick just fine.


There are, of course, tons of other tools that are great to have, and you could fill up an entire room with useful tools and still not be satisfied, but the above tools mentioned make for a great starting point to building your collection.

Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.