Purchasing a new home is an exciting and stressful time, and unless the house is brand new, chances are you will begin making immediate improvements, as well as performing maintenance. Unlike renting, there is no landlord to call when a toilet starts leaking. These 11 basic tools are must-haves for basic repairs around the house.
- Adjustable Wrenches
Before my career as a contractor, I swore off adjustable wrenches as a cheap tool for DIY people who didn’t know any better. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I had a 3-foot pipe connected to a giant adjustable wrench and there was no slippage (I do not recommend using this method- it’s very dangerous). Now I’ve learned that a good adjustable wrench is just as good as an open-end box wrench, and adjustables are my go-to when I need a wrench.
A good adjustable wrench can replace two entire sets of wrenches. It doesn’t matter whether the fastener is SAE (also known as standard) or metric. An adjustable will fit both. This is perfect for checking the tightness of a ½ inch nut on a lawnmower and tightening a 6mm bolt on a piece of furniture right after. No lugging around 18 different wrenches, just one adjustable is perfect.
Adjustable wrenches are sized in handle length, so a 4-inch is a small wrench and has a small adjustable jaw opening. A 10-inch has a 10-inch handle and has a medium to large size jaws opening. If you are going to only have one adjustable, I recommend a 10-inch so you can hold a 5/16 size nut while having jaws wide enough for a 1-1/16 union.
- Tongue and groove pliers (also known as Channel Lock pliers)
Tongue and groove pliers have either serrated or smooth jaws set 45-60 degrees from the handles, and have a slip-joint that allows the clamping size of the jaws to change. These pliers are a lifesaver when it comes to small diameter plumbing in the home. They have an adjustable size which is dependent on the size of the pliers.
Tongue and groove pliers, when used correctly, can provide almost as much force as a similarly-sized pipe wrench. The biggest advantage of the pliers over a pipe wrench is the narrow jaw width, which allows for getting into tighter spots than a pipe wrench.
Tip: If these pliers are used incorrectly, they will always slip and not provide the necessary grip to hold or rotate a fastener. The opening of the pliers and tips of the jaws should point the direction you are turning. This means if there is a pipe plug that needs to be turned counterclockwise, the opening of the jaws should point to the right when looking straight at the end of the plug.
- Multi-bit Screwdriver
A multi-bit screwdriver is a screwdriver that has interchangeable bits and allows for quick changes for different fasteners without having to switch screwdrivers. Some basic multi-bit screwdrivers are 4-in-1, which means there are 4 different bit variations in one screwdriver; larger screwdrivers can have up to 32 bits in a case, and all bits will fit one screwdriver.
Multi-bit screwdrivers save time and space by allowing you to only need one screwdriver in your pocket at a time, freeing up space for other essential tools. Think how helpful it is to not have to take 4 screwdrivers up a ladder to work on something.
Tip: multi-bit screwdrivers are different from screwdrivers with external bit holders. Multi-bit screwdrivers have the bit storage built into the screwdriver, whereas bit holders have external cases that hold the bits. This is something to keep in mind when choosing a screwdriver- you will need extra room for the bit holder if choosing the external bit holder type.
- Claw Hammer
Claw hammers come in two varieties: finishing hammer and framing hammer (also known as rip hammer).
A finishing hammer has a smooth striking surface, a 16” long (or less) handle, a curved claw for removing nails, and a head that weighs less than 20oz.
A framing hammer has a grooved striking surface for gripping nail heads, up to 18” handle, a straight claw for ripping apart wood boards, and a head that weighs more than 20oz.
For a beginning tool kit and for most household needs, a finishing hammer is the best choice. The smooth striking surface is forgiving if hammering a drywall nail back into the wall, or tapping in a finishing nail. If a framing hammer were to perform the same task, it would leave many tiny dents in the wall and be more difficult to cover. Additionally, the curved claw of the finishing hammer is ideal for old nail removal in tighter spaces.
- Level (plus fun iPhone level trick)
A spirit level, also known as a bubble level, is used for figuring out plumb (vertical) and level (horizontal) surfaces. There are many different types of level, so I am focusing on three types of level: the i-beam, box-beam, and torpedo.
All three types have liquid-filled vials mounted to a chassis. The vials are very accurate, with the best grade of vial at an accuracy of +/- 0.5mm per meter.
I-beam and box beam levels share so many similarities that for the purposes of the homeowner, it doesn’t matter which option is chosen- both are great choices for a homeowner wanting to complete a DIY project. The most common i-beam and box beam levels are 2-4 feet in length and get their name for how they are shaped. The i-beam level’s chassis looks like a sideways “H” (or I-beam), and the box beam level is rectangular box-shaped.
A torpedo level is a spirit level that is designed for tight spaces. It is usually 6-12 inches in length, has one flat side (often with magnets) and one notched side for balancing the level on a pipe. This level type is very handy and fits well in tool pouches and pockets. For most DIY home projects, this type of level is accurate enough to be the only level you needs.
Fun Level Trick (with a story)
I was working on a renovation of a club pool house and was installing long PVC drains for the air conditioners. The only level I had a 4-foot level, and it was a pain to hold it and move it around when working on top of a 12-foot ladder. I took out my iPhone and compared the built-in level app (you can open the compass and swipe left to get to it) with the 4-foot level. The iPhone level was spot-on with the 4-foot level. I used the iPhone for the rest of the project. (and made all the old-timers really angry)
If you don’t have access to a level, the iPhone built-in level app works well enough to get the job done.
- Cordless Drill
A drill is very handy for things like installing drywall, assembling wood projects, pilot holes, large holes with a hole saw, and installing concrete anchors. Cordless drills are chosen over corded drills because most cordless drills have electric brakes built in to instantly stop the drill when the trigger is released. Not having the brake makes tasks like screwing drywall very difficult.
Most cordless drills also have adjustable torque settings that will engage a clutch when the preset torque is reached. This will allow the fastener to not be over tightened without having to release the trigger.
A large advantage of cordless drills is that they use batteries, allowing for a high level of maneuverability. It is much easier to climb a ladder or lay under a sink with a cordless drill than having to worry about the drill and the cord.
Tip: If you think you may need to drill concrete in the future, spend the little bit extra to get a cordless hammer drill. The price of cordless hammer drills has plummeted, making it an easy choice when compared to the non-hammer drill version. For most small DIY projects, SDS bits and specialized hammer drills are not necessary- a cordless hammer drill will do fine.
Continue onto the next page for more essential tools.