So tell me: have you just moved away from your parents’ house for the first time, shed 200 pounds of useless fat (by which I mean “got divorced”), or bought that first house? Well, you’ve embarked on a lifelong adventure; part of which is something called home maintenance. In economic times like these – or any economic times, for that matter – it’s good sense to find out how to do simple repairs at keep the handyman away. To do this, you’ll need tools, but don’t despair: you can get through a lot of jobs with a basic toolkit. When a plumber won’t even look at your leaky faucet for less than sixty bucks, you can definitely afford basic tools!
Here’s some of the essential hand tools for every homeowner, all simple and none very expensive. We’ll get to power tools after covering the basics.
Measuring and Marking
Everybody should have a tape measure. Buy one that has a locking tape and a high-impact plastic case. Twelve or sixteen feet will work for most jobs, but if you need something longer and more durable, a 25’ version with a metal case measures larger spaces and will last for decades.
Although laser levels are “cool,” they’re expensive and the batteries can die in the midst of a job. A good carpenter’s level, or spirit level is as accurate, and you can look at it without having to cover your eyes!
The first tool most people get is probably a hammer. In general, a claw hammer is a good start: they’re sold in weights from 12 ounces to about two pounds, but a 16-ounce hammer is fine for most users. A lighter hammer is basically for driving tacks, and a heavier model is more for framing a house.
You can’t get by without assorted screwdrivers. A set including the common sizes of flat tip (looks like a -) and Phillips tip (looks like a +) screwdrivers can handle most common jobs. Be sure you have an assortment of lengths. Don’t scrimp on screwdrivers, though: a cheap one can be almost as bad as none at all. In some cases, you might as well use a butter knife!
No toolbox is complete without assorted pliers. Start with a good set of the fine needle-nose pliers plus a pair of slip-joint pliers. Though many people love their “vise grips” or “channellocks,” they seem to be misused as often as not.
And then there are wrenches: a good place to start is with a medium adjustable wrench, the 8” (25cm) size. You’ll also want combination wrenches (sets in metric and imperial units), and probably a socket set as well. You can buy thousand-piece sets of shop tools around Father-centric holidays that include all those tools, but they include a lot of tools almost no one ever needs. It’s a better idea to go with a basic set.
Pipe wrenches are handy for plumbing work, especially the nuts that are too big for pliers and an adjustable wrench. Get a medium-sized model.
Most DIYers swear that the first few hundred clamps are only a start; but after you’ve decided you need a third hand for the first time, you’ll be ready to spring for clamps. One-handed clamps are probably the greatest thing since sliced bread when it comes to holding things together while you’re working or while glue dries. A couple of simple spring clamps and some C-clamps can always come in handy.
A Hacksaw comes in handy for lots of projects. You can use this inexpensive saw and its replaceable blades to cut more than just metal: keep one around for plastic pipe, even bone.
You must have a utility knife, sometimes called a box cutter. They’re not just the favored weapon of hijackers; these knives are for cutting almost anything around the house. Buy one that has storage in the handle for replacement blades.
Buy a combination hand saw for cutting wood. Not many people use hand saws nowadays, but a good hand saw can be nearly as fast as a circular saw for an experienced user.
Power drills serve not only to make holes, but to drive screws as well. A battery-operated version costs more than a corded model of similar quality, but it’s more convenient. Get the best drill you can afford, since you may own it for a long time. You’ll also need bits for drilling and screwdriver bits.
When it comes to power saws, the question of “corded or cordless?” holds true again. The other choice is between a jig saw and a circular saw. Jig saws cut curves easily, but they aren’t good for straight lines; circular saws make great straight lines but are worthless for cutting curves.
It might just be me, but I avoid those “all-in-one” battery-powered tool kits. I find that the quality isn’t that good, and you can end up with a tool you’ll never use. Besides, if the company discontinues the design of the battery you’ll need to replace all the tools instead of just one.
Not everyone aced woodshop – some people didn’t even take it. For everyone else in the world, there are instruction books.
For general home maintenance, manuals written by the staff of Home Depot, the Black & Decker company, and Reader’s Digest have proven more than adequate.
If you’re a woman out on her own, take a look look at the manuals written by women for women. I’m fairly impressed by Norma Vally’s “Chix Can Fix” and the “Dare to Repair” books by Julie Sussman and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet. They aren’t as complete as the general home repair books, but they come at repair problems from a different perspective.
Any one of these books can give you an idea of whether you have the skills for a new job, and whether you need to pick up a new tool or tools.
Traditionalists will suggest metal or plastic tool boxes. I have several, but I often leave them behind carry the necessary tools and parts in a five-gallon bucket. It’s made easier with a Bucket Boss organizer, a clever and surprisingly inexpensive way organize and tote everything between jobs. You’ll need it, because once you’ve start in on your own maintenance projects, the fun never ends!
Buying tools never ends, either: as long as work on your own home you’ll keep finding jobs that need tools you don’t already have. The list above should get you started on most basic home repair tasks. Best of all, investing in tools pays a dividend every time you use them instead of calling in the repairman.