At some point, everyone needs tools for a home project, even projects as simple as hanging a picture or updating your house lighting. Or perhaps you’re considering tackling a significant home improvement DIY. Whatever the task, having a diverse set of DIY tools is a must. But what are the must-haves for all your home projects?
To help you get an idea of the things you’ll need, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of essential tools for home DIY to get you started. Here are our picks for what you should have in your arsenal for both beginners and advanced DIY-ers alike.
Beginner DIY Toolbox
When outfitting a beginner DIY toolbox, the smartest course of action is to equip it with a select few items. You’ll reach for certain tools every time you open your toolbox, so it’s essential to have these on hand. Here are the ones no basic kit should be without.
If you only purchase one tool in your life, it should be this one. A screwdriver is probably the most useful item on this list and the one you’ll reach for over and over again.
There are two basic types, flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers. Flatheads are what you need to tighten or loosen screws that have a single slot in the head, and Philips heads work on screws with a cross in the middle. While both types are incredibly common, Philips head screwdrivers have all but replaced flatheads, thanks to the fact that they allow you to generate more torque.
Whatever type you need (and you’ll take on projects that will require you to use both), be aware that they come in different sizes. You can typically buy the screwdriver and change out the head so that you only need to have one in your rotation. Many kits are available with several heads in a variety of sizes.
A hammer is another must-have item for your toolbox. This simple tool is incredibly useful. Use one end to drive nails into the wall and the other side to pull them out. Hammers are also perfect for light demolition work.
There’s no need to spend a fortune on this one; look for a simple model with a synthetic 16-inch handle and a comfortable grip. The hammer is an item you should test at the hardware store before taking one home to make sure it isn’t too heavy.
Many DIY jobs require you to hold onto something to pull it or turn it. Sometimes you can do this by hand, but most of the time, you need a tool to apply more force than you can generate with your fingers. Pliers allow you to create this force, and two types come in handy: vise grip and needle-nose grip.
Vise grip pliers have adjustable jaws and lock in place, which makes them ideal for tasks that involve a lot of force—such as removing a stripped screw. Needle-nose pliers have a long, skinny shape that is essential for completing electrical work around the house.
At some point, you’ll probably need to hang pictures or shelves. There’s nothing worse than hammering several nails into the wall only to realize that your frame is visibly crooked. To help you achieve the perfect horizontal line every time, your tool kit should include a level—though you can use your smartphone in a pinch.
Levels are another tool where spending a bare minimum is okay. Basic models will do exactly what you need them to, though more expensive models like laser levels allow for hands-free use, which is convenient in certain situations.
The utility of a flashlight can’t be denied.
Of course, you should have a flashlight in your home in case a power outage occurs, but a flashlight’s uses go beyond helping you see when the lights go out. Many DIY scenarios involve poor lighting, such as working in basements or working in an under the sink cabinet. Having a flashlight allows you to work in these low- or no-light situations.
So how do you choose the best flashlight? We recommend purchasing an LED or rechargeable model. LED flashlights have a longer battery life than traditional ones, and as long as you keep the batteries charged, rechargeable models are always ready for use. You might also want to consider a headlamp for hands-free lighting.
Any measurement you take is critical for project success, and many DIJ jobs will require you to measure. Besides being useful for projects, you’ll break out your tape measure around the house, too. You can use it for measuring window frames, making sure furniture will fit in a particular area, and much more.
When it comes to measuring tapes, you don’t have to get fancy. A classic 25-inch retractable metal measuring tape will do.
Every novice toolbox should have an adjustable crescent wrench, which has many uses—though the main ones are turning fasteners like nuts and bolts. The jaws of the adjustable wrenches slide, allowing you to change the wrench width. This feature essentially means you have several wrenches in one.
An eight-inch wrench should cover all your needs, but many people like to have a set of two: one six-inch and one twelve-inch wrench. The shorter tool is excellent for small spaces, and the longer one allows for better leverage.
A utility blade is one of those tools you didn’t know you needed until you have it. They have practically endless uses beyond DIY projects, like trimming wallpaper or shaving wood. This tool is incredibly handy for tasks that can be dangerous with scissors, like opening boxes or cutting down cardboard. Along with your screwdriver, it’s a tool you’ll reach for time and again.
Look for a model that has a rubber handle, as well as built-in blade storage so that you can change out the blade easily when needed.
Allen wrenches are L-shaped tools used to tighten screws and bolts that have hexagonal sockets. Anyone who’s ever put together anything from Ikea knows that allen wrenches are an essential item for putting together furniture. They’re also typical when it comes to bike repairs.
We recommend buying a kit with a variety of sizes of allen wrenches, as allen screws and bolts can have different dimensions. And while not strictly necessary, a kit that houses all the allen wrenches in a folding handle (like a Swiss army knife) is ideal. With this type of tool, you always have your tools close at hand, and you have a handle that makes using them more comfortable.
All the tools mentioned above are fantastic, but they’re useless unless you have the hardware to use them with. It’s convenient to have nails and screws on hand for any project that might come up, as well as drywall anchors. We recommend buying an assorted kit, which will have a little bit of everything you might need.
Last but not least on our essential tools for home DIY list, we highly recommend that your novice toolbox include an electric drill. Some might consider an electric drill to be for a more advanced tool user, but trust us—even beginners will appreciate having one in their arsenal.
Electric drills have plenty of applications, but you use it primarily for drilling holes and driving screws. They’re perfect for when you have to drive lots of screws, as it allows you to get the screws in place quickly and with minimal effort.
Though cordless drills are less powerful than their corded counterparts, they’re more portable and generally provide enough torque for household projects. Look for something that has multiple speeds, is reversible, and isn’t too heavy. A 12-volt model will work well for most people, though you may want to go with an 18-volt drill if you have extensive DIY needs.
Expanding the Toolbox
Once you have the requisite necessary tools, you might find it useful to expand your repertoire with some more advanced ones. Here are some instruments that are a welcome addition to an intermediate DIY-ers kit.
Do you need to mount heavy items securely to a wall? Attaching a heavy shelf incorrectly to drywall means that it’ll rip out and destroy the wall, which could lead to scary accidents. It’s critical to do this task the right way to avoid injury, which means anchoring hefty objects to studs. Sounds simple, but since drywall covers them, finding studs can be challenging.
Over time, you can learn to locate studs by tapping the wall because studs make a different sound than drywall. There are times, however, when tapping the wall fails to reveal one, and buying a stud finder is the easiest, most accurate way to locate them. Stud finders don’t actually find the wood; instead, they locate the nail that secures the stud to the drywall using a magnet.
You can find basic, cheap stud finders for less than twenty dollars. However, if you plan to do more serious work, investing in an electronic version is often well worth it. You can also buy stud finders that locate electrical wires, though most people find that this type goes beyond their needs.
A crosscut saw is an essential woodworking tool, and it’s also one of the most simple: it’s a toothed cutting blade with a handle. You can use a crosscut saw to cut against the grain on a piece of wood, and it is suitable for trimming all types of wood. Many people prefer this tool instead of a power saw because of its ease of use and simplicity factor.
Keep in mind that if you are cutting pieces of wood with the grain, you need to purchase a ripsaw.
Like the saw, the combination square is another essential woodworking tool. It’s also perfect for metalworking and stonemasonry, as it allows you to cut exact 90-degree angles. If you are undertaking projects of these types, we recommend having a 6-inch and 12-inch version in your toolbox.
If any paint job is in your future, a putty knife is a must-have. Though its primary purpose is spreading putty, it also has many other applications, such as loosening baseboards and removing wallpaper from corners. You can find cheap plastic options, but we recommend getting a metal version. You can also use it open paint cans and scrape off the residue.
Are any DIY plumbing jobs on the horizon? Most are best left to the professionals, but some basic home plumbing projects may require you to have a pipe wrench handy. A pipe wrench does the same job as a standard wrench, but it is made especially to fit pipes and other pipe fittings.
The ratcheting screwdriver is an upgrade from the basic screwdriver, and it’s absolutely worth the investment if you know you’ll be using your regular screwdriver often.
Ratcheting screwdrivers differ from regular screwdrivers in that they come with built-in gears that tighten and loosen screws more effectively. The tool locks into place, which reduces the effort you have to exert to drive the screw. And because it allows you to exert more force, this type of screwdriver is often necessary to get screws in as tight as you need them.
As we mentioned earlier, we recommend against going out and buying all of these tools at once. Instead, determine which ones you need as you tackle each DIY project and buy only the ones you’ll use regularly. You may also want to add tools according to DIY areas of interest. For example, if you’ll be doing lots of painting, consider investing in quality brushes and paint supplies.
And no matter what project you plan to take on, this list of essential tools for home DIY is all you need to start an amazing collection. Happy DIY-ing!