Do-it-yourself projects are part of the home-owning life. Sooner or later something is bound to break down or require hanging, tightening, or connecting. For any of these tasks, proper tools are a must. A hammer and a screwdriver are the two most obvious, but there is a world of tools begging to be used that can save you a fortune on small projects that don't need the pricey services of a professional. For less than $200, a new homeowner can fill up a toolbox with practical implements that should last a lifetime.
The best type of hammer for a DIY-newbie's toolbox is clawed -- one that can pull nails out and bang them in, and costs no more than $10. A curved claw makes nail withdrawal easier than a straight claw. Some professionals favor a hammer made entirely from one piece of steel, with a soft grip that absorbs shocks without any parts coming lose. Go to a hardware store to check the wares. The hammer should feel comfortable in your hand and its weight should allow you to swing properly and efficiently.
Even neophytes should have both a flat head and a Phillips head screwdriver. The experts at the website Houzz suggest filling every toolbox with three sizes each of flat head screwdrivers (to fit a variety of screw slots) and Phillips heads. Flathead screwdrivers are also useful for opening paint cans; pair one with a hammer and use it as a small chisel. Some Phillips screwdrivers come with interchangeable tips. A large set of assorted screwdrivers costs about $30.
Another must-have beginner's tool is a tape measure. Although you may think, "duh," it's important to know how and when to use one. If you're measuring a room for paint or an air conditioner, approximate measurements are fine. For many other projects, however, all those little sixteenth-inch markings really count, especially if you're going to make a cut. "Measure twice, cut once" is a maxim worth holding to. A 25-foot tape measure costs less than $10.
Clamps turn up on nearly all must-have tool lists. When you need to glue together two pieces of something, clamps save you from holding the pieces in place until the glue dries. A 6-inch clamp is a good entry-level buy that should cover the most basic needs. You can get one for $12 or less.
Using a level ensures that the next set of shelves you mount or picture you hang will be level and plumb. It's easy to spend big bucks on a laser level that measures horizontally and vertically, but a liquid level is a perfect and cheaper substitute, and a small one costs no more than $5. In a pinch, you can use the level app in your phone, but it's far easier to use a tool that was meant for the job.
A power drill is absolutely essential for attaching anything -- hooks, shelves, curtain rods, what have you -- to a wall. A three-eighth-inch reversible drill is the most practical; use the reverse (counterclockwise) for removing screws and the forward (clockwise) for getting them in. Personal preference and the layout of the workspace dictate whether you choose a corded or cordless model. Corded drills are cheaper, lighter, and won't run out of juice in the middle of a project. Look for a drill that comes with an assortment of bits so you can drill a hole to fit any size screw. We found 6-amp variable speed drills for as little as $40, and a basic set of drill bits costs less than $15.
DIYers will find plenty of use for vise grips, also known as locking pliers. If you ever need to remove a stripped or broken screw -- and you will -- vise grips are essential because they lock onto the object and won't slip. This must-have tool will set you back about $13.
You would be amazed how many nuts and bolts there are around the house, and eventually one will need tightening. There are all kinds of wrench sets for the buying, but DIY veterans say a crescent wrench, which is adjustable, is the single best variety to have on hand. The cost of this essential tool tops out at $18.
Pliers are a super-important tool, but there's little agreement about which type is most practical. Any pliers are useful for holding or bending something, but some users prefer needle-nose pliers (best for small objects, like wire or nails) and others favor channel-lock pliers (adjustable and somewhat like wrenches). Either would be suitable for a beginner's toolbox, although a set raises your outlay to only $10 or so.
There are plenty of times when a nail just won't do, which means a staple gun should be an, ahem, staple in your toolbox. DIYers use staple guns for a variety of tasks, such as attaching cable to walls, replacing the fabric on a chair cushion, or hanging up holiday lights around the front door. Electric staple guns are available, but a manual version is cheaper -- figure on $20 -- and while slower and requiring a bit more power from you, it's equally efficient. Some shoot brads (small nails) as well.
Professional contractors and DIYers attest to the value of a saw, but there are so many types that it's difficult to pin down "the one" to buy. The optimal saw depends on the job: A compound miter saw is a power tool useful for jobs like cutting decking or framing windows, for example. A handsaw, which can cut a door saddle or a piece of PVC pipe, is about as basic as you can get and costs less than $25. Regardless which direction you go in, professionals stress the importance of knowing how to use the saw. When using tools, safety is paramount.