Basic Homeowner DIY Tools

Basic DIY Tools & Supplies Every Homeowner Needs 20


Basic Homeowner DIY ToolsAs a follow-up to my previous post on home maintenance parts every homeowner should have in their house right now, I’ve put together this list of basic tools and supplies for any homeowner that wishes to attempt of basic home maintenance on their own. You may not believe me, but I promise you that even if you’ve never wielded a screwdriver (no, not the drink…) in your life, a minor investment in these tools and supplies — and some patience and willingness to learn by trial and error — will pay off for years to come. You really can do it!

I’ve split my list into two sections. First, the “Must Haves” are what I consider the bare minimum you’ll need to be able to perform most basic and intermediate home maintenance tasks, including nearly all the DIY projects I blog about. The “Nice to Haves” are things that aren’t essential, but they’ll save you a bunch of time and energy, and as you grow in DIY expertise you may want to consider adding to your tool kit.

I’ve created an Amazon Listmania List containing recommended versions all of these basic tools and supplies, which makes it easy to price shop them, or even add them to a Wish List so friends, family, and Santa know what you want for you birthday or holiday gifts! 🙂

Must Haves

1. Basic Portable Tool Kit

I keep my “fancy” tools (for working on cars, boats, and personal watercraft) in a huge, shiny, red tool-chest-on-wheels in the garage, but I don’t recommend relying on these tools for home maintenance. First, when you bring those tools inside the house, there’s a chance they may not make their way back to the garage. Second, it’s inconvenient to go outside and grab what you think is the right sized wrench, only to find you guessed wrong and that you need to take another trip to the garage.

Instead, I recommend picking up a basic portable tool kit from Costco, or Amazon, or your local hardware store. At a minimum, it should have a hammer, an assortment of flat-head and Phillips head screwdrivers, various standard and metric wrenches, a socket wrench, various sockets in standard and metric sizes, a set of standard and metric Allen wrenches, an assortment of driver bits, a level, standard pliers, and needle-nose pliers.

For less than $40, you can buy this 65 piece set by Stanley, which is an OK deal… except that it doesn’t come with any wrenches.

So I recommend that you spend $60 and can get something like this 115-piece set from Denali, which has most of the tools you’ll need, and comes with a bag for carrying them around the house. Another advantage to having a bag like this is that when you purchase additional tools, they’ll fit inside a bag, but they won’t fit inside a molded plastic cases like the Stanley set.

Regardless of which kit you purchase, it should contain an assortment of tools and be easily grabbed and carried around the house.

2. Tape Measure

A basic tape measure will likely be included in any portable tool kit, but it may only be 12′ or 16′ long. It’s worth spending $9 a slightly nicer tape measure that’s at least 25′ long and has a reliable locking mechanism, like this Stanley tape measure (which is the exact one I use).

Tape measures are crucial when you need to measure how long to cut PVC tubes for plumbing projects, or floor area for tile projects, or wood length for carpentry stuff, or for hanging pictures on the wall. Just remember the adage: measure twice, cut once.

3. Utility Knife

A decent utility knife is an essential part of any tool kit. There are various styles available, including the traditional box cutter style that uses replaceable razor blades, or the click-type that allows you to break off the end when it gets dull and click up a new blade, or the folding style utility knife (which is what I use).

These knives are great for breaking down boxes (for all the stuff you order from Amazon), or cutting rope, slicing open electrical wire insulation, trimming rubber tile, scoring drywall, and a million other things. A knife is one of the original tools of the early human, and is still one of the most useful things you can have in your kit.

4. The Tape Trinity: Duct, Electrical, & Teflon

No tool kit is complete without a roll of each of these tapes. Duct tape (not “duck” tape) was originally designed for sealing HVAC duct work — and still performs that task wonderfully. But its use is almost limitless when you need to keep something in place or create a quick fix. Vinyl electrical tape is perfect for further insulating wires, wire-nuts, and butt-splices during electrical projects. And Teflon tape is a necessity for any plumbing project that involves anything with threads.

5. Level

The ancient Egyptians used liquid to accurately keep their building projects flat, and nobody’s invented anything since that can do it better. The tool kit above that I recommend comes with a basic level, but I like having a larger level available for my projects — and I use it more often than you might guess. In a pinch, you can download a free level app for your smart phone. I’ve used that app on my iPhone with good results when I didn’t have my regular level available.

6. LED Flashlight and/or Headlamp

More often than not, DIY projects involve opening stuff up and poking around inside. And that’s when a decent light source is a must. A a minimum, your tool kit should include a quality LED flashlight, but you can kick things up a notch by also adding an LED headlamp, which will keep both your hands free while you illuminate your work area. Why LED? The light is brighter, your batteries and bulbs both last longer, and it’s more resistant to impact. And for “man card” points, it’s always cool to rock a MagLite!

7. Pipe Wrench

If you’ve got even the most basic plumbing tasks on your DIY list, a pipe wrench will come in handy. They range from ridiculously huge to the downright cute, but a 10-14″ wrench will probably do most of what you need. Of course, it’s cheaper (per wrench) to just buy a set with four different sizes, and you’ll be sure to have the perfect tool for the job.

8. Smooth Jaw Channel Lock Pliers

Another necessity for plumbing projects, dependable channel lock pliers are worth their weight in gold. The tool kit I recommend above includes a basic channel lock with a grooved jaw, but to protect the finish on plumbing fixtures, you really should have a set of smooth jaw channel lock pliers, too.

9. Hacksaw

For simple cutting jobs, there’s no beating a hacksaw. It’s great for cutting PVC, copper pipe, wood, metal, and anything else you can think of. A basic hacksaw is included in the kit above, but it’s not a bad idea to have one with a decent handle, especially since you can get one for under $10. Buying a couple extra blades isn’t a bad idea, either.

10. Wire Cutters and Wire Strippers/Crimpers

A basic set of wire cutters is already included in the above kit, and those are more than good enough for snipping wires during electrical projects (after the power is shut off). But for stripping wires and crimping insulated connectors, you can’t beat a stripping/crimping multi-tool.

11. Digital Multi-meter

Once you start tinkering with electrical projects, you’ll pull your hair out (or possibly make it stand on end) without a multi-meter. Higher-end ones (such as the Fluke T5-600 I use) can be found for under $90, and the really fancy professional ones can get up to $400, but are overkill for home users. You can find ones for under $10 on Amazon with mixed reviews, but I recommend spending $25 on this well-reviewed unit from Mastech, then step up to something like a Fluke when you want something a bit more robust.

12. Soldering Iron

The first time you use a soldering iron to replace an LED diode, capacitor, or relay on a circuit board instead of buying a new one, your $15 investment in this basic model will pay for itself 10 fold. These are also great for tinning speaker wires, or anywhere else you want to make sure you have a semi-permanent wired connection. Don’t be afraid of the soldering iron. The more you practice with it, the better you’ll get.

13. Wire Nuts and Butt Splices

Continuing with the electrical theme, I’ve found it’s never a bad idea to have a healthy assortment of wire nuts of various sizes in your tool kit. They come in really handy when wiring in new switches, light fixtures, pumps, irrigation heads, etc. And right next to them in my tool bucket (yes, I use a bucket) I like to keep an assortment of various heat-shrink butt splices. They help make secure, tight, weatherproof connections when I’m splicing in anything electrical.

14. Zip-Ties

Almost as useful as duct tape, a zip-lock baggie full of various lengths of zip-ties will be empty and needing a refill before you know it. These are great for keeping wiring projects tidy, or for hanging and securing objects.

15. Basic Cordless Drill/Driver

So far, most of the items I’ve suggested have been relatively inexpensive. And while a decent cordless drill will be one of the more expensive tools in this list, you don’t need to run out and grab an expensive pro-series model (unless you really want to). Drill brand wars can get like Mac vs. PC wars. Personally, I’m a fan of Makita brand drills. I received one as a gift years ago, and they’ve never let me down, so I haven’t found a need to shop elsewhere. The Makita LXFD03 I use is on the spendy side, but a more basic model will be fine for basic DIY needs. This Dewalt drill/driver kit is currently the #1 seller on Amazon, and hovers around $90. The price is relatively low because it uses the older NiCAD battery technology (as opposed to the newer Lithium Ion), but still packs 18V which is plenty of power for what you’ll likely be doing.

You’ll use a cordless drill for drilling holes (duh), driving screws, removing access panels, tightening bolts, and more. Features such as a keyless chuck, multiple speeds, and adjustable torque settings will come in extremely handy. And with a tool like this, you’ll be extremely handy, too!

16. Smart Phone with Camera

You probably already have this tool in your pocket right now. A phone-based camera is a great tool that I use on nearly every single DIY project I tackle. They’re great for snapping photos of things before (and as) you take them apart, so you don’t have to rely on your memory when putting them back together. A picture is worth a thousand words when you’re wiring in a new thermostat and trying to remember how the one was was wired. Instead of trying to write down your fridge’s model number, snap a photo. Trying to describe to the guy at the hardware store what the water lines look like under your sink? Show him instead. Snapping photos before heading to the hardware store is the best way to get the right advice the first time. And if you’re trying to take a photo of wiring or plumbing in a dark confined space, turn on the phone’s flashlight, hold it inside, and snap a photo where you’d never be able to fit your head for a clean view.

17. Small Shop Vac or Cordless Handheld Vacuum

Sometimes (alright… way more than sometimes), DIY projects can result in a bit of a mess. So in order to maintain household harmony, cleaning up after yourself is a must. I generally run to the kitchen and grab our Dyson cordless hand vac, but when I saw this Stanley mini wet/dry vacuum on sale at Costco last week, I knew I couldn’t live without it. It’s already come in handy after I accidentally shattered a florescent bulb on the garage floor!

18. Course Thread Drywall Screws

This one was suggested by my friend Smack (not his real name, but everyone calls him that), and it’s one I completely agree with and always have in my own toolkit: course thread drywall screws. I refer to them as “grabbers,” and they’re great for joining things together, hanging pretty much anything in drywall, and they also screw into wood and sheet metal pretty well, too. I recommend getting a variety of sizes (and I even have some galvanized ones I can use outside). These are always the first screw I grab when doing a project, and with scant few exceptions, generally the only one I need.

19. Pick-Up Tools

Suggested by my buddy Jason, I totally agree with him that this pair of tools will come in extremely handy. First, a flexible magnetic pick-up tool will save your bacon whenever you drop a screw, bolt, washer, or any other metal down into crevices where your eyes can’t see and your hands can’t reach. For stainless hardware and other stuff that’s not attracted to magnets, however, you’re out of luck… unless you have something like this mechanical grabber claw with LED light. It can help you see what you’re reaching for, and retrieve it with a minimum number of swear words. I’m ashamed to admit that I drop stuff a lot, and therefore use both of these tools frequently.

Nice to Haves

The “nice to have” list is a much smaller list than what I consider the “must haves,” but if you already have all the tools from the first list and are itching for an excuse to hit the hardware store (or the hardware section of Amazon), then these items are what I consider the “next level” of DIY tools:

1. Caulking Gun

For minor caulking projects, you can simply buy a small tube of caulk that can be squeezed like a toothpaste tube. But for bigger jobs, you’ll need a full sized tub of caulk and a caulking gun.

2. Electrical Receptacle Tester with Ground Fault Button

If you plan on upgrading a number of electrical outlets, or you find yourself troubleshooting outlets on a semi-regular basis, then a receptacle tester might be a good addition to your tool collection. They’re under $10, and I recommend getting one like this that also has a button to generate a ground fault, so you can test whether your GFCI outlets will trip when they’re supposed to.

3. Coax & Ethernet Cabling Tools

If you need to run RG6 coax cable (like for A/V projects, cable TV, or satellite) or Ethernet cable in a project, then you’ll definitely want the tools on hand to help you terminate them quickly, easily, and properly. For coax cables, my favorite is the Paladin 70053 Kit. It has everything you need to cut, strip, prep, and compression fit coax, BNC, and RCA adapters onto RG6 cable. On the Ethernet site, I use the Paladin 70007 Kit, which makes prepping and terminating network cables a breeze. After using these kits, you’ll wonder why anyone does it differently!

4. Endoscopic Camera with LED Light

OK – I admit this one’s a bit out there. But after dropping a wrench in the hull of my Sea Doo for the umpteenth time, I went looking for a better solution than fishing around with a coat hanger or a magnet. For around $20, you can buy a waterproof endoscopic camera that attaches to your laptop via USB —  which you can then shove down drains, into tanks, under your Sea Doo motor, into HVAC ducts, through your pool plumbing, or anywhere else you want to take a peek. I found this one on Amazon, but I bought a slightly different one on eBay. It’s the most fun you can have with a DIY tool for $20!

5. Mini Utility Pump

This is more of a luxury than a necessity, but I suppose that’s why it’s on the “nice to have” instead of the “must have” list. I use a Simer Mini M40P utility pump to massively speed up the process whenever I flush my water heaters. I also use it when flushing my Sea Doos with anti-freeze when I winterize them. I’ve used it to drain the water fountain in the driveway, and it can clean up the water in a utility room when your water heater’s TPR leaks (ask me how I know). At around $75 they’re not cheap, but if saving time is worth it to you, then treat yourself and pick one up.

6. Reciprocating Saw (SawzAll)

This item was also suggested by my friend Smack, although he considers it a “must have.” I didn’t include it on that list because I’ve actually only ever needed to use a reciprocating saw (commonly called a SawzAll) one time, and that was a few years ago to remove a muffler. In all other cases, a hacksaw did the trick just fine. However, perhaps this is one of those items that once you get one, you don’t know how you ever lived without it. I’m certain one of these would indeed be “nice to have,” so maybe I’ll pick one up soon and see how much I actually use it.

7. Compound Miter Saw

Also suggested by Smack, and one I completely agree with. I love using my “chop saw.” Whenever I do project with PVC my compound miter saw makes short work — and makes a decent mess (which is why a shop vac is on my “must have” list). You can pick up a decent one for around $100, and they are great for cutting dowels, plastic pipe, boards, and wood trim. If you’re doing any job with crown molding or baseboards, a miter saw will be your best friend. I lined the entire closet at my cabin with aromatic cedar planks using only a chop saw and a brad nailer. It’s a very versatile tool that more advanced DIY folks will truly appreciate.

 What’s on Your List?

So there you have my “must have” and “nice to have” list of tools and supplies for the average DIY homeowner. Again, you can find them all on my Amazon Listmania List so you can add them to your Wish List — or just buy them yourself.

If this list seems overwhelming, don’t feel pressured to buy all these tools all at once. Start with the basics, and expand your tool collection as you expand your skills. Put these items on your birthday or holiday wish-lists, and make sure your friends and family know that tools as gifts are always appreciated. Keep an eye out for sales or clearance items at your local hardware stores, and don’t be afraid to ask others for their opinions and experiences with their tools.

And now that you’ve got tool collection going, I also recommend that you check out my article on Home Maintenance Parts You Should Have In Your House Right Now.

Do you have something on your list that should be on one of mine? Please tell me about it in the comments!

 

  • Dawn

    Although admittedly more of an emergency tool than a maintenance tool, a gas and water shut off tool is on my “must have” list. Our neighbor was very glad we had one he could borrow just a couple weeks ago.

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  • Smack

    Must haves: A sawz-all. From cutting a pipe to disassembling an entire house, a sawz-all can do it.
    Must haves: Coarse thread drywall screws (variety of sizes.) These little guys hold everything together, and when you need to attach “this thing” to “that thing,” they are a life saver.

    Nice to have: A chop saw comes in very handy any time you need to cut 2×4’s. Sure, an old school miter box is cheaper and easier to lug around, but more power is more better…..

  • Bennett

    I come to this from recent experience – moving from a house with big shop/man cave in which I could have all the tools and supplies I’d gathered over the years, to an apartment where I had to cram everything into a tiny storage closet. So I decided I’d pare down to the ‘essentials’ — what could I fit into my rolling tool box, and what few other things I might find room for. Your list covers most of them, but a few others that I kept included:
    tubing cutter
    propane torch
    C- and pipe clamps
    adhesives — elmer’s, JB weld, crazy glue
    liquid electrical tape, pipe thread sealant
    sanding blocks, paint rollers & tray, putty/drywall knives
    circular saw
    3/8 and 1/2″ torque wrenches
    squares
    chisels

    i’m sure i’m forgetting some things, and some things i brought just for old time’s sake more than utility (like a collection of planes) but so far, I haven’t had to run to the hardware store for tools.

    and of course, a coffee can or more, because you need to be saving every screw/nut/nail you have leftover from any project you do 🙂

    i’m sure i’m forgetting some things, and some that

  • Caleb

    It is important to have common tools handy in your home to take care of small projects. Doing this can save you money as well instead of hiring contractors to take care of it.

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  • Ed Oliver

    This is a really useful list – you can save money and time if you have the right tools! There’s also more freedom with regards to your decisions in the home if you can perform DIY tasks by yourself.

  • Caleb

    Your basic tools and reliable flashlight are essential tools for any homeowner and must-haves.

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  • I like your list, with a few tweaks:

    2. Tape Measure
    If you’re going to go to the trouble of buying a 25′ tape, you might as well get one with a long standout: the distance you can extend the tape without it falling. This allows you to measure across rooms easier when you’re working alone (which is most of the time for us DIYers), and it varies quite a bit from tape to tape. It’s also why tape measure metal “tapes” are arch-shaped in cross-section: to increase their standout. Not suprisingly, the wider tapes fair better. Stanley Bostitch and Stanley FatMax brands both have excellent standouts (Bostitch approaches 13′!).

    9. Hacksaw
    A “hacksaw handle” + blades is more compact, and can do 90% of hacksaw jobs + 90% of jobs you would otherwise need a flushcut saw, drywall saw, and coping saw for. While each of those special-use tools is *best* at what they do, my “minimalist” tool kit prefers one many-use supertool over 4 “perfect” tools. Here’s two examples of what I mean; either of them will accept pretty much *ANY* hacksaw OR jigsaw blade – which, again, is more versatile than a hacksaw.
    http://static.hardwarestore.com/media/product/600282_front200.jpg
    http://www.vkdinternational.com/products/hacksaws/9.jpg

    10. Wire Cutters and Wire Strippers/Crimpers
    For my money, there is no better multi-use tool on the market than the Allied International Switch Grip Dual Action Pliers. I don’t like recommending just one brand, but Allied seems to have an exclusive patent on the design. They are great pliers, wrenches, needle-nose pliers, strippers, and wire cutters. They have comfortable, electrically insulated handles, and as an unexpected bonus: if they’re too wide for your toolbox space (pliers have a tendency to spread out and obstruct lids from time to time), you can open them up 180 and store them as a long, thin tool. Seriously: I love everything about them. They aren’t any better at crimping than regular pliers; if you’re going to crimp specialty pins you’ll need a real crimper, but these will also replace various pliers and wrenches, as I mentioned.
    https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#newwindow=1&tbm=shop&q=Allied+International+Switch+Grip+Dual+Action+Pliers

    11. Digital Multi-meter
    I’m an electrical engineer with a serious computer/digital fetish, so when I say you want an analog (moving needle) meter, believe me. Digital meters can be fooled by high-impedance transient voltages. I’ve seen them read 40Vac (or more!) between neutral and ground on perfectly fine, functioning house wires. That “40 Volts” is really just inductive leakage; as soon as you hook up a load it drops to less than 0.1V (and by “as soon as”, I mean in microseconds; no significant power is transferred). A “galvanic”, “needle”, or “analog” meter might bump a little when you first connect it up, but it settles immediately to the true power-delivering voltage difference you are trying to measure. As an added bonus, *most* of the time you are trying to measure voltage roughly. Is it really 110 V or 111.2 V? Who cares; it’s hot! Digital multimeters can fool you – they can autorange and display millivolts (OMG IT’S AT 227VaC!!! wait it’s only a quarter-volt nevermind…). Analog voltmeters require you to turn the knob to the range you want; the 250V-max range (for house electrical) and 5V- or 10V-range (for batteries) are where you will use them 99% of the time, and so you won’t accidentally set them to 1.0-V max scale.

    But, as I said, these are tweaks. Great list!

  • Simar Walia

    i would like to add 2 other things. a Stud finder and Vice grips/c clamps

    can do wonders with the list that you have up there

    • Great suggestions! Thanks!

    • JoeMarfice

      95% of the studfinders in the world are complete crap. If you buy one, test it thoroughly while the receipt is in sight.

      Agree with the vise grips. I’d put c-clamps in the next tier of tools -not quite MUST-have, but really important. Hey, my toolbox can only hold so much!

      • Also agree with you that most stud finders are junk. My stud finder is a knuckle and my ears. 🙂

        • JoeMarfice

          I use 2″ nails, to test for wood behind the plaster, but basically the same… 🙂

        • Tom

          Stud finders have another use: lie detectors. 🙂

          Back when my kids were young and innocent, I told them that my stud finder was a lie detector. To prove this, I asked my son to tell me something truthful, then I moved the “lie detector” to him. No red light. Then I asked my son to lie to me by by telling me his name was Charlie. I squeezed the button on my lie detector, moved it to his body and… the red light came on and the beeper sounded. We went through a few more questions, after which the kids were thoroughly convinced.

          For years afterward, my kids ‘fessed up whenever asked if I needed to go get my lie detector. As the kids got older, the lie detector fell into disuse and was eventually forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until the day that my daughter came up to me and asked, “what’s a stud finder?” LOL

          • That. Is. AWESOME. 🙂

          • JoeMarfice

            You are amazing.