11 Must-Have Tools for Homeowners
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.
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.
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.