Today I'm going to blather on about all the tools every homeowner needs. Before your eyes glaze over and you click away to go see how many people have liked your latest Instagram photo consider this; 7 out of 10 people who die at home, die after crying to death over not knowing which anchor to use to hang a picture.
So today we're going to discuss a few of the basics and a several extra tools that every self-respecting homeowner needs. They're the things you need for a workshop that you can be proud of.
I know. You don't really care about having a workshop you can be proud of because you aren't "handy". You'd rather have a perfect ass that you can be proud of. I'm with ya. But even if you don't plan on building yourself a picnic table this summer, every homeowner needs some basic tools.
Like the Great Depression, the pandemic has forced a lot of unhandy people to become handy.
It's a well known fact that a home without a well stocked workshop will lead to Anarchy and wobbly tables. If you can afford good tools, buy them. If you can only afford the cheap ones get the best reviewed cheap ones you can afford.
I'm going to start off with a bag of the basics. The things every single homeowner should have for basic repairs. All of these things together in a kit would make a great housewarming present for someone who has bought their first home.
The Basic Tools a Homeowner Needs
- Drill & bits
- Measuring tape
1) CORDLESS DRILL AND VARIOUS BITS
Battery operated tools just aren't very powerful. Not having power is a major drawback for something that's actually called a "power" tool. Also they need to be recharged, oftentimes in the middle of using it. BUT they're incredibly convenient and versatile which makes them a good choice.
The Ryobi cordless drill (which I have owned for years) is a good option on the cheaper end of the scale.
The Makita cordless drill with brushless motor (which I would like to own) is a much better option if you can spend a little more money.
One of the best things that was ever gifted to me was a huge, 204 piece drill and driving set. It has every drill bit, hole saw, or spade bit I could ever need for any job. Owning one of these kits means you never have to run to the store because you don't own that one specific sized bit you need.
This 204 piece kit which is very similar to mine will have every size and type of drill bit you need unless what you're drilling is a Mexican escape tunnel.
O.K. For real. It seems so simple, but it's not. Do NOT cheap out on your measuring tape if you really intend to use it for measuring anything other than the length of a wiener. If you want to measure any distances longer than 5' (for measuring rooms or windows for example) you need to invest in a big, sturdy measuring tape.
The 25' Stanley FatMax * is kind of the gold standard for men because they have bigger hands than women. It'll stretch out to 11' before collapsing.
The 16' Stanley PowerLock Blade Armor,* is the measuring tape my sister, Pink Tool Belt, swears by. It's smaller so it fits well in the palm of a woman's hand, plus it still has a good standout of 8'.
*Even though I'm Canadian I normally work in feet and inches for measuring but ALWAYS also have a tape that measures in cm. as well.
Hammers are different weights. If you're a woman OR a man you don't need the biggest, baddest hammer in the world. A 16 oz hammer is probably all you need for anything around the house and even that's a little bit of overkill.
This Estwing 16 ounce hammer is expensive but it has a few features that a cheaper hammer won't have. It has a sideways nail puller for nails you need to pull that are in awkward places, a magnetic nail starter, and a rip claw that you can use as a pry bar.
4) COMPACT FLASHLIGHTS (1 for each room or floor)
You'd be surprised at how many people move into their first apartment or home only to realize they don't own a flashlight after the power has gone out. When I first bought my house my friend Lydia from work bought me a flashlight as a housewarming present and I was struck by the practicality and genius of it.
I never, ever, ever, ever would have thought to buy a flashlight before I moved in. Regular LED flashlights like you see for sale beside the cash register of most hardware stores are perfect for bedroom and kitchen drawers. Not really a workshop thing, but handy. For the workshop ...
A great big flashlight that tilts and swivels used to be the way to go but nowadays workshop flashlights are much smaller.
This LED stick light is only $17 US and can swivel, hang, or magnetically stick wherever you need it to.
5) HAND SAW
Just a basic hand saw. That's all you need. You're not building a log cabin, just trimming the odd hunk of wood .
This Japanese hand saw gets great reviews, is inexpensive and perfect for basic household jobs.
Really you could use a few different sized levels but if you're only getting one, get a 24" level. You'll use it for hanging pictures, checking if tables are level and about a billion other things you had no idea you'd use a level for.
This Stanley FatMax is a good basic 24" level.
Multi bit screwdrivers are generally crappyish quality but they're handy as hell, especially for someone whose workshop is a drawer in the kitchen. In one screwdriver you get an assortment of usually 7 or 8 bits that fit into the head of the screwdriver. The thing I never liked about these screwdrivers is it's a pain to change the head, especially if you're in the middle of a job that requires 2 different screwdrivers.
This Retract-A-Bit by Benchmark eliminates that problem. There's no need to manually change the screwdriver heads. You just use your thumb to slide any bit you want up or down. That means you can change bits with one hand while you're holding the light fixture up with your other. I love mine and use it all the time.
8) WOOD GLUE!
I added this one in at the last minute when the middle panel of my shaker cabinet door fell right out. The cupboard door just kind of fell apart at the seams, lol. I can laugh - because I had wood glue.
If you have window screens, you should invest the $5 in a spline roller. You'll use it when you replace the screens or even just to push them back into place.
That's your basic kit. Yes it's missing many things. But like I said, it's a basic kit for basic needs. NOW we're going to take a look at the 10 things that you're going to need if you plan on being your very own household repair ninja / building guru.
Advanced Tools for the Handy Homeowner
Now that you've discovered you actually do use the few tools you have, maybe it's time to think about getting a few more. Just to be safe. Once you wade into these waters you might want to think about getting these things.
- Sliding Compound Miter Saw
- Chisel Set
- Assorted Files
- Circular Saw
- Orbital Sander
- Magnetic Pickup tool
- Socket set
Any sort of adjustable wrench will get you out of many potentially bad situations. Just a quick twist with one of these and you can fix your dripping faucets, undo a stuck nut, tighten dishwasher connections and of course 8,561,933 other things.
I'm a huge fan of Channel Locks. This two piece set will get you through most jobs you're going to attempt. Plus having two wrenches means you can use one wrench for using reverse pressure to undo a stuck nut like you saw me do when I switched out the shutoff valve for my outdoor waterline.
Regular adjustable wrenches work well too, I'd just go for the channel locks if I had to choose only one set.
Nothing will impress (or intimidate) a man more than a woman who owns her own sliding compound miter saw. Except a woman who also knows how to use it. It sounds like something bizarre that you’d never ever need, but its uses are endless. This one saw will give you straight end cuts for building a deck, 45 degree cuts for making frames and bevel cuts for crown moulding.
Some of the things I’ve used my sliding compound miter saw for are for making raised planter beds around my entire backyard, building window boxes, rebuilding my deck, cutting baseboards and crown moulding for my new dining room and for doing all the trim work on my new library/dining room bookcases. And those are just a few things off the top of my head. All courtesy of the Sliding Compound Miter Saw.
"Sliding" means the saw has a blade that slides back and forth. This allows you to cut wider widths of board than a saw that doesn't slide. For instance a 10" miter saw can cut a 5.5" board. But a 10" sliding miter saw can cut a board wider than 5.5". How much wider, depends on the actual length the saw slides.
"Compound Miter" means the saw can tilt and swivel which will create compound cuts that are mitred and beveled.
So a sliding compound miter saw does all of these things. The finer the blade you use on it, the finer work you can do (crown moulding and picture frames). Chunkier blades are what you would use for general household use like deck building and 2/4 cutting. Most miter saws come with the chunkier blade.
This little 10" Hitachi miter saw was my go-to saw before it was stolen out of my shed. For most projects around the house it's perfect as your first miter saw. What I loved about it was the size. At only 26 pounds it's incredibly portable and easy for a woman to lug around to wherever it's needed.
I also owned a Canadian made Mastercraft 12" sliding compound miter saw (also stolen) which is similar to this DeWalt one.
I CURRENTLY own (because it hasn't been stolen yet) a Kobalt miter saw which I have absolutely no feelings for one way or the other.
If you have a bit more money to spend, I'd recommend the Makita 10" sliding compound miter saw. It's the best little miter saw you can buy for the money.
3.) Chisel set
Again … if you’re at all sane, you’re probably thinking … um … I’m pretttyyyyy sure I don’t need a chisel set. You do. Why? You’ll find out.
This 3 piece set is all you need unless you're planning on carving a totem pole out of an old giant cedar tree you have lying around.
Just a little handsaw with a very fine blade. You can cut through anything with it. Just ask those guys who steal bicycles. If you have any piece of metal that's too long a hacksaw is the thing that will cut through it. Copper pipe, electrical fittings, metal hardware, plastic pipe ... bicycle locks.
The Dewalt 5 in 1 hacksaw is the highest rated one I could find on Amazon.
5). Assorted files
This is another thing you might be thinking, wth? There's no cord. There's no chance of a hospital visit! Those aren't tools! But they are and you need them. Big, metal files. Like a gigantic nail file that could file the hooves of a goat in one swipe. The last time I used mine was when I had to cut my door sweeps to length with my hacksaw. The hacksaw left the ends of the metal door sweeps with a few sharp edges, just waiting to rip an unsuspecting toe to shreds. I swiped it a few times with one of my assorted big files and it was as smooth as a Martha Stewart fondant.
Here's a good multi set with 5 different shapes and sizes.
6.) Circular Saw ( note: this links to *just* the tool, battery is not included )
A hand held circular saw can do end cuts like a miter saw with slightly less precision because you're using it freehand. Even though it isn't as accurate, it isn't as expensive either. In a pinch you can rip cut lengths of boards if you have a steady hand or set up some cutting guides. Since I don't have room for a table saw in my house (plus they terrify me) I often use a circular saw where most people would use a table saw.
The cordless Ryobi circular saw like I own is really handy but needs to be recharged fairly often so it's not good for big, day long jobs. It also isn't great for wood that's wet or really dense because it doesn't have the power to motor through out. Also you need to buy the battery and charger separately if you don't already own them. For small jobs though? It's a great additional tool to have on hand.
The Dewalt Lightweight Circular Saw is the perfect choice for women because it's compact, weighs under 9 pounds but is still strong enough to go through tough boards. You'd be amazed at how tired your arm can get using a heavy saw all day.
7.) Orbital Sander
An orbital sander (this is mine) is just a little electric sander that fits into the palm of your hand. I once bought an antique bowl that was made of 2% wood and 98% mould at a garage sale. Enter … the orbital sander. You can use it to sand down small burns or discolourations on wood chopping blocks too.
Wood door sticking? Orbital sander. Finishing a rough piece of wood? Orbital sander. Two pieces of wood won't quite matchup? Orbital sander.
My Festool orbital sander is the lowest end sander in the highest end brand of tools you can buy. What makes it worth the almost $300 with tax? It does a great job, sands right to the middle of the pad, not just the edges and your hand never, ever goes numb after using it.
But. For those of you not ready to commit to a $300 palm sander I have a recommendation.
The Makita is in the medium to low price range and because it's a Makita you can count on it being good.
Just think of how many times you've dropped a nail, screw or washer and immediately stared at the floor to where you know it fell only to realize you just can't see the stupid thing. It's not such a dilemma unless it's your ONLY screw or ONLY washer. Then it really sucks.
This telescoping magnetic pickup tool is $20 and has a magnetic force of 50 pounds! I have no clue what that actually means but it sounds really good. Great for sweeping under cupboards, workshop floors, driveways and chicken coops. Yes. Chicken coops. Because chickens will eat anything including nails which of course, is bound to kill them. They also have a tendency to walk around. If they step on a nail that could lead to bumblefoot. You don't even WANT to know what bumblefoot is let alone deal with it.
Certain companies are known for being the best at making certain tools. Bosch is a great line all around but what it's especially known for is making the absolute best jigsaws. I've bought a lot of different jigsaws and my work with them was religiously pathetic. I thought it was me. It wasn't. Well, kind of it was, but mostly it was the jigsaw. Since breaking down and buying my Bosch jigsaw I'll never buy or recommend any other brand of jigsaw again. It's the most comfortable, most accurate, easy to use jigsaw every.
The Bosch JS365 is the jigsaw I decided on after trying a few different Bosch models. It fits my hand well, I can access the switches easily and it just felt the best to me.
10.) Socket Set
You need a socket set. Just a good basic socket set. The first time you use the socket set you're going to remember me forcing you to get it and you'll say Hey! Thanks Karen. You'll probably just say it in your head, but still ...
A 40 piece socket set. Just a good basic socket set.
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I keep getting the weekly Home Depot flyer by email and when I looked at it this morning, I found out that the Ryobi 10" sliding mitre saw has been discounted from $259 to $199. I have never worked with it but in case somebody needs one and doesn't want to pay mucho moola, this might be an option to consider. It looks like this is not a sale price, this is a new lower price.
By the way, about 5 years ago I bought a Ryobi cordless screwdriver, for about $29. The battery is built in so you cannot pop a reserve one in, it has to be charged up but it holds the charge for weeks. I loved that little thing to death, I practically put the entire kitchen together with it. It doesn't look like it's available any more - here is what it looks like:
Don't forget an assortment of clamps. Always handy when working alone. Pencils. Ruler. Good scissors too.
I use my files to sharpen all of my garden tools. I sharpen all of the neighbors garden tools too. You wouldn't believe the number of people that have told me that didn't know their garden tools needed sharpening!
Hi Karen, this is long after the fact, as PC is up, and I am most often, down BUT ... isn't a reciprocal saw considered one of the MOST important tools and should be the 11th on your list.
This is the girl-saw of all time, and should be on all lists. Some of us have husbands, but they aren't always around, and some of us have other 'significants', and ditto, not always around and when there isn't another to help out, this saw is your THIRD ARM.
Anyway, as always, enjoy reading, laughing - mostly, the laughing, but then wouldn't be doing that if I weren't reading. Happy Spring, although the forecast, a few days down the road here is inferring our +15 temps will dive down to a high (low) of -2oC and a low of -10oC which means frost, as it also calls for clear. However, it's soon to start raining here, and I'm waiting for a cloud to give a sign.
Take care, : D
Hi Charlotte. I don't actually like reciprocating saws. I have 2 of them and never, ever, ever, ever use them. Partly because really they're used mostly for demolition work. So for taking things apart as opposed to building them. So that's why it isn't on the list. I, personally, just don't consider it an important tool for someone who is just getting together their workshop. But if you love yours then good on ya! Keep using it. :) ~ karen!
I bought one and practically took off my own arm. I've not used it since. I do love my multi-purpose tool though. I wouldn't be without one.
As an owner of many tools over the years, I have some (admittedly opinionated) observations.
- Levels: I have several, but seldom use them. If I made things in my house level and plumb, they would look crooked. Better to measure from a wall or ceiling and make stuff parallel.
- I agree on cheap stuff. I used to buy cheap chinese junk fro a store that rhymes with "arbor gate". One example, I got a cheap heat gun to remove old tile adhesive from our wood floor. It died the second day. I went out and bought a real brand name one that is still working fine. How much money did I save? As for that drill bit set you posted, I would steer clear of it, especially after reading the reviews. I have a set like that. The bits are total junk. Splurge on a brand name one. (As for Arbor Gate, I only buy cheap paintbrushes from them now.)
- Power tools: I used to agree with you on plug in vs cordless. Big tools like reciprocating saw, angle grinder, impact drill, I have plug in versions. Usually half the price, and I can usually find an outlet near jobs that those are used on. But in the last few years, I've come around on cordless tools. They cost way more and the batteries don't last forever. They're like cameras. You get committed to one brand because they all use the same batteries. I have Dewalt 18 volt tools now. I also got a cordless chainsaw, 40 volt. I recently used it to disassemble a fallen oak tree on my driveway that was about thirty inch diameter at the base. It needs a battery charge every thirty minutes, but that's just right for a beer break. And our new cordless mower is just as impressive. And I'm considering converting our lawn tractor to electric. I have horrible luck keeping gas engines running. (All Bosch products are now on my permanent "never buy" list after several bad experiences, one almost sending me to the hospital from an obvious design defect. They used to be a reputable company. And Craftsman power tools are not what they used to be too.)
My first thought was, "You silly twit! A 16 oz hammer weighs a pound!" Then, before I made a public fool of myself, I decided to weigh mine. Yeah, my "16 ounce" hammer weighs a pound and 10 3/8 ounces. Go figure. So, why do they call it a 16 ounce hammer??!! I've been using them for over fifty years and never thought to question that statement stamped on every one. I also have a cute little hobby hammer in our overfilled kitchen drawer. It has a set of russian doll screwdrivers screwed into the handle. It weighs 5 3/8 ounces, so it must be a 3 ounce hammer.
In that drawer is also a cheap pair of slip joint pliers, a razor cutter, the ubiquitous multi-screwdriver you mentioned, a butane lighter, scissors, pipe cleaners, 13 old birthday candles . . .
Hammer weights date back to when hammers had steel heads and replaceable wooden handles. The nominal weight was the weight of the head. This silly nomenclature is similar to why train tracks correspond to the width of a horse's ass. "Tradition is peer pressure from dead people!"
I would add having a neighbour with a planet and table saw. Sometime you can avoid sanding by just planing something! And your neighbours store it for you!
Have you ever checked out a Track Saw? I thought I needed a table saw until I found this
It's a little expensive and can do much of what a table saw can do, but very portable. It can also do nice bevel cuts.
Thank you for re-posting this. I have most of these tools. And can even use some of the advanced ones! Could you please write (or re-post) something about your workbench and workshop? I have time and I need to organize my tools. TIA, Janis
Oh Janis. You don't want any advice from me about workshops. Mine is consistently a mess of various things. But I did do a post on cleaning up my workshop a while ago! Here is the before https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/what-ive-been-doing-the-past-couple-of-weeks-4/ and here is the after https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/what-ive-been-doing-the-past-couple-of-weeks-5/ ~ karen!
Thank you for the links. They will get me started. J
Would you please suggest a brand of wood glue for an outside wooden obelisk for my garden.
Thanks so much for your posts.
Gorilla wood glue can be used indoors/outdoors, and it does not foam like the regular Gorilla Glue.
I would suggest the original Gorilla glue. It is water activated and is waterproof. I have used to glue wood plugs in my deck. Plus it is available anywhere is various size bottles. https://www.gorillatough.com/product/original-gorilla-glue/
Hi Peggy. I'm not sure if you're in Canada or the US, but I use LePage outdoor wood glue. ~ karen!
I have had great luck with Liquid Nails. It repaired a wooden slat on the back of a rustic outdoor bench that had broken in half. I had previously tied to repair it with Gorilla Glue* with no luck. It fell apart as soon as the temperature got cold.
*Not Gorilla Wood Glue - that might have been better, but I don't know if it was available at the time).
Speaking of glue. I used Shoe Fix Glue recently to repair my bamboo toast tongs. It's like Super Glue, but better. It also fixed my sneakers where the treads were pealing off, in 45 seconds. That's all it takes. Expensive, but worth it.
It was nice to run into you on the street the other day. :) My daughter (who was walking with me and was the one rolling her eyes at me) is moving out. I plan to give her a tool kit as a moving present. This newsletter landed in my inbox at a perfect time. Apart from the power saws I have most of the items. I am in the market for a hand saw and I'm going to investigate the nice Japanese pull saw you suggested.
Thanks again and see you 'round!
Hi Anne! That's a great moving out gift. :) ~ karen!
Scissors should also be on the list. I have them in every room in the house. That way no one goes looking for my sewing scissors....
Hi Karen. Loved the old article, love the new updates! My credit card may have some complaints but that's a problem for another day...
My favorite home-warming gift is a bottle of "Duck" brand Adhesive Remover. It's hard to find. It's the best. Better than GooGone in my humble opinion. At the very least it *smells* better (a little orange-y) which is worth a fair bit if you ask me. But I do also think it works better. I turn to it again and again for getting rid of sticky little gremlin labels on nice jars that I want to save because I DON'T KNOW THEY'RE NICE AND MAYBE I'LL USE THEM ONE DAY, OKAY? (--> me defending myself to every family member, ever). Or for getting aggressively sticky labels off of your IKEA furniture. Also super good for when you step in gum in a cartoon.
However, I have a completely unrelated-to-goo question for you--is there any chance you could explain the difference between a cordless drill and a cordless impact driver?? I've googled and it seems the answer is... *magic* and maybe something about how it changes bits? It looks like impact drivers are often lighter, smaller, and more powerful... and I just feel like there's some secret trick/trade-off that nobody is telling me, because then why do drills still exist? Aren't all of those things better?! Oy.
Thank you for all your help with these mysteries of the universe.
Hi Meryl! An impact driver is smaller and it doesn't drill the same way a drill does, going in straight circles. It kind of pushes as it turns as well. Which makes it good for things that are hard to drill into like concrete. If there's resistance the impact driver increases its torque. It also doesn't use regular drill bits, just click in hex bits. I use my drill 95% of the time and only occasionally feel the need for the impact driver. If you can only buy one I'd always recommend a regular drill. ~ karen!
Unless I missed it, the one thing you didn't mention and I must have it ... your pink tool belt! Where can I get one?
Hi Sharon! That's actually a belt that I gave away. :) It was for a contest I held. I do not own a pink tool belt, lol. Although my sister, Pink Tool Belt, does. But I got this one at a local store, but I'm sure they have them online. :) ~ karen!
My go to gift for the most un-handy girlie girl ever is this little baby. Because it's the absolute best thing, along with a tack hammer, at assembling and disassembling Ikea furniture. I have moved my darling girlie girl best friend 5 times now. I bought her one of these compact ratchet sets from Lee Valley after the 4th move. Keeps her from breaking a nail and gets things done in a reasonable amount of time.
You didn't think hard enough if you couldn't justify a titanium hammer! The cool factor alone is worth a couple hundred dollars. haha
I have an astonishingly overabundant number of saws, for some reason. I bought a table saw some years ago and ever since then I have been adding to the collection. I think I'm up to 7 power saws and maybe 8 hand saws. Admittedly, two of my hand saws are little jewelry saws that take blades barely the width of a few human hairs. But I have a sliding mitre saw, jigsaw, circular saw, reciprocating saw, and a router (I guess this isn't a saw, but it feels saw-adjacent.) The joke in my family is, if I start a new project, what new type of saw will I need to buy?
I think this list is pretty comprehensive, Karen! I don't have a cordless drill and I really think I need to get one. But no more saws.
I would add Duct Tape to the list. It is very handy!
Just wondering if you've ever made your own mosquito spray (like garlic oil spray) to apply to your body and what the results were. All your articles and pics are wonderful and terrifically funny so thank you for all your posts!