Owning a home means freedom and responsibility: freedom from the rental marketplace, along with the freedom to make improvements as you see fit. There’s also the responsibility to keep the place in good repair. If you’re new to all this, welcome, and good luck! But it’s not really that much about luck. It’s more about learning a few skills and having some fun making your home all your own. For that, you’ll need a willing spirit, some knowledge, and a few tools. We can help!
You’ll have a few items that you’ll use the most from day to day, and for me those live in the junk drawer in the kitchen. I also may have multiples of some of these items, as well. You’ll figure out how many flashlights and utility knives you need, for example.
Utility Knife: I keep a good utility knife close by whenever I’m futzing with projects. This style is single-purpose, but it does have a place for extra blades, and you don’t need a screwdriver to replace them, as with old-school utility knives. I like this style as you don’t need to sharpen the blade; you just replace them.
Flashlight(s): Having a couple of tough flashlights around is a safe bet. I just got these and they’re solid, so I shouldn’t have to think about that again for a while.
Multi-tip Screwdriver: With this version of a screwdriver, you get multiple bits, a ratcheting feature, and an adjustable handle for $10. That’s a heck of a deal! And the bits are stored in the handle, so you always have the full kit with you.
A variety of tapes: You can’t expect duct tape to last forever, as the adhesive tends to dry out, but it will handle a lot of quick fixes for you and is much better than masking tape can handle. You’ll also want to keep painter’s tape and electrical tape around.
Wall Anchors: These are my favorite for hanging lightweight items like small shelves and even artwork.
Zip Ties: It’s good to have a variety of zip ties around, like this kit with 400 pieces of different sizes from 4-inch to 12-inch for $6! I take a few out for the car, for the bike, the kayak, the camping kit, and the motorcycle, as well.
Safety Gear: In this category, I regularly use safety glasses, ear protection, and work gloves: men’s and women’s (obviously, gloves don’t need to be gendered, but you may choose women’s if you have smaller hands as a snug fit can make work easier). You can also have dust masks on hand. I have learned that the more comfortable each of these items is, the more likely I am to wear it when I need it.
Fire Extinguisher: This might seem to be a little off-topic, but it’s about being prepared for a scary situation. Most home fires start in the kitchen, so that’s where I keep a small spray model like this. I like to keep one in my Jeep under the driver’s seat, too. Note that how to deal with fires depends on what kind they are and where they start. This stovetop fire suppressor installs right into your range hood, for example.
First-Aid Kit: Again, not a tool but an important part of your kit, especially when you’re using power tools. First-aid kits don’t have to be 500 pieces to be valuable, either. This one’s about 150 pieces and just under $30.
A few of these items are mandatory, so pick them up ASAP, or put them on your wish list for the holidays or your birthday, and so on.
Plunger: You hope you never need it, but you probably will. This one gets great ratings.
Headlamp: In addition to a couple of solid flashlights that adjust focus, I like to have a headlamp that lets me work hands-free. You can get these in rechargeable models and as battery-powered. I’d say it’s a judgment call for you, whatever you think you’ll manage best.
Handsaw: A basic handsaw for cutting wood comes in super handy more often than you might think. They’re cheap, durable, and effective, too, when they’re sharp. Just don’t let the teeth come into contact with metal, as they’ll be wrecked instantly.
Screwdriver Set: In addition to the multi-tip screwdriver listed above, it’s good to have a full set of screwdrivers like this one. It’s surprising how often a product will have both Phillips and standard screws or different size screws, and you need to work on both at once. With this kit, you get magnetized tips and a plastic case, which are both handy features.
Socket Set: This makes assembling furniture, cabinets, outdoor items, etc. much easier.
Pliers: This looks like a comprehensive set of pliers, especially for just $20. I have found that for me, the groove joint and needle nose pliers get the most use, as well as the wire-cutting function.
Adjustable Wrench: When you need to turn a nut on a bolt, an adjustable wrench is the tool for the job. Pliers will round the nut off, so don’t do that. Sure, you can use an open-end or box wrench combination, but then you need a whole set, so you’re ready for anything. If you’re into automotive projects, that makes sense. Around the house, not so much. An adjustable wrench will handle the work there just fine.
Hammer: You’ll be glad you have a high-quality hammer and not some junky model. I like a fiberglass handle, as it has some shock-absorbing qualities, and this one is high-visibility red in color.
Mallet: For assembling furniture, I often use a mallet instead of a hammer. The business end of the mallet is a bit kinder to the surface of the furniture, and it’s a bit less likely to slide off slick surfaces.
Level: Depending on your projects, you might not need any more of a level than a small laser level like this one. It does have bubble levels so you can level your refrigerator, for example, and it will shoot a horizontal line so you can level your prints and artwork. If you get into building projects, a 4-foot level is a must, as well. I’ve used mine for a bunch of landscaping projects, for example, such as building retaining walls.
Step Ladder: You’ll have many choices, from simple one-step models to 3- and 4-step models and even larger. This 2-step type has worked well for me, but it’s a compromise like anything else. I can reach an 8-foot ceiling with it, but to go higher I’d need something like this. I definitely prefer aluminum models over fiberglass, as they’re lighter in weight. What you need really depends on your projects, and you can’t buy every single thing you’ll ever need. But there is another way to get ahold of tools like ladders that you use from time to time, so I’ll come back to that later.
Cordless Power Tools: If you decide to buy power tools, I would definitely recommend name brands like Ryobi at Home Depot. That’s too much money to take a risk on off-brands, as I might do on a tape measure or level. I would recommend starting with a drill (and drill bits, remember, different bits should be used on different surfaces.)
Stud Finder: Another basic tool that you can’t do without. I still prefer the basics for $10 rather than an app-based model I’d hate to break when working.
Tape Measure: A flimsy tape measure gets frustrating, so I like this wider model that lets you send out more tape before it bends. It also has a locking button, which I find works much better than a lever-lock style tape measure.
Staple Gun: This tool is useful for attaching fabric, insulation, and other materials to surfaces. You can also use staples for thin strips of wood in projects, and this works well when you don’t want to use glue or have to use the force of a hammer and nails. I have used manual models and electric models, and while both work, I find electric models like this one to be more pleasant to use, and they seem to let me work more precisely.
Just as you don’t need to buy every book you want to read, you don’t need to buy every tool you need for projects. My little town of about 20,000 people has a tool library, and they have quite a variety of tools available. Your town might have one too. Why would you buy an extension ladder, and then have to store it, when you can borrow it? I love this idea.
Whatever you decide to take on, I hope you see it as a labor of love and enjoy yourself.
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