Lately at EHD, we’ve been brainstorming a lot of beginner guides and formulas, and since I am in the midst of designing my apartment, I’ve found myself contemplating things like tools. Riveting, I know. But when you have things like painting, installing window treatments, and hanging art on the brain these things come up. So, I wanted to know what tools do I really need in my toolbox? And what tools should I invest in that will ultimately make my life easier in the long run? These are the important questions the current state of the world has me pondering. Hey, it had to happen sometime.
EHD is no stranger to a DIY project, but most of us don’t have expert knowledge or passionate feelings about the best tools out there (though I know Julie who has done many DIYs knows way more than me). So instead of wasting time researching and reading online reviews from strangers, I turned to an actual tool expert. My dad. He is a retired fireman and now a licensed general contractor and literally uses tools every single day. Even on the weekends you can find him in the backyard casually building a corn hole set or replastering something. If it’s a day that ends in Y, he is working with tools.
My dad has about one thousand tools in his garage, most of which the average person would never need. As I was interviewing him, I began picking up random tools and asking, “What about this? Do I need this??”. Most of the time, the answer was absolutely not. There are definitely more tools in the world that someone like me would even know what to do with, so we kept it simple. The following are the tools that are essential for the common homeowner, renter or even beginner DIYer. This is your Starter Tool Kit Guide. It’s “Tools For Dummies” (don’t worry – I am the dummy, not you). Let’s get started.
If your main use for tools is light home maintenance, hanging art and shelves, and other low lift and rental friendly projects these are your basic tool needs:
1. Hammer | 2. Screwdriver Hand Tool Set | 3. Kobalt Screwdriver | 4. Set of Nails | 5. Screw Kit | 6. Adjustable Wrench | 7. Magnetic Stud Finder | 8. 48-in I-beam Level | 9. 9 in. Torpedo Level | 10. Tape Measure | 11. Utility Knife
Hammer: Hammers are still relevant in 2020. I know this for sure because I asked my dad if you still need a hammer if you have a power drill and he was shocked (and perhaps offended) why I would ask such a question. Apparently, hammers are and forever will be a tool kit staple. Noted!
Screwdriver Set: Screws come in all shapes and sizes so a single screwdriver won’t work for every project. Something like #2 is great because it comes with different sized Phillips and flathead screwdrivers and a slim case that would be easy to store. #3 is also very cool because the different size Phillips heads are stored in the base of the screwdriver so you won’t ever lose them, and all you have to do is pop on the correct size head onto the handle. My dad has this and was very thrilled to show me its capabilities. It’s a really good option if you don’t have a lot of storage space as it could easily fit into a drawer. Emily’s brother Ken is also a fan of the multi-use tool and this 11 in 1 screwdriver is his favorite tool. She said that he raves about it so you know it’s a winner.
Nail & Screw Set: You never want to run out of nails or screws in the middle of a project. I am always so relieved knowing I have way more nails and screws than I could ever find a use for. It just puts me at ease.
Adjustable Wrench: Again, if you don’t have a lot of storage for tools, an adjustable wrench like this one is a good place to start and it saves on space.
Stud finder: In the midst of interviewing my dad, I overheard my mom in the background, “Who couldn’t use a STUD finder am I right??”. Okay mom, calm down. But bad pun aside, she’s actually right! If you plan on drilling into your walls whatsoever you gotta know where those studs are.
I learned from my dad that usually, studs are about 16 inches apart. There won’t always be a stud where you need it, so you can hang very light things using a drywall screw. Or, if you need to hang something heavier, you can use a screw anchor that will provide more stability.
Here are instructions straight from Mr. Miller himself:
Using your drill and a drill bit, make a hole that is slightly smaller than the size of the anchor. Put the anchor in the hole and hammer it in until the anchor is flush (inline) with the wall. Then proceed to screw the proper sized screw into the anchor. Sorry for the number of times I just had to write “screw”.
Level: I am definitely guilty of just “eyeing it” and thinking something is “good enough”. But there’s really no need for that. For small projects, this level has great reviews and has a magnetic edge for hands-free work, and this is good for leveling cabinets or larger objects and even has measurements printed on the side.
Tape Measure: Having a good tape measure is peak adulthood. I use mine constantly and it’s one of those things every home needs. I advise investing in a couple because when measuring out furniture it can be nice to use two at a time. I also misplace mine a lot, so an extra set never hurts:). This tape measure has tons of great reviews and is your classic, straightforward tape measure that will get the job done. But if you want something a little fancy, this tape measure has the fractions printed on it. No need to use your brain again!
Utility Knife: I never realized how much a knife comes in handy until I bought one for my boyfriend for Christmas one year. Now that I know he has one on him, I regularly find myself needing to use it. It’s just nice to NOT use kitchen knives for home improvement because that’s gross.
All in One Kits: Of course, a lot of these starter tools can be found in tool kits which can save you the hassle of having to “build” your own tool set up. My boyfriend and I have this one that has come in handy countless times, but this and this are great options as well.
According to my dad (and dad’s everywhere), everyone should have a cordless hand drill in their tool kit. That’s tools 101. Some people can probably stop there and take it slow with other power tools. Myself included. I have zero use for a power saw and don’t see that changing anytime soon. But I know a lot of you are wanting to dabble in building and are DIYers so you’ll need more toys than me.
1. Cordless 1/2 in. Drill/Driver Kit | 2. Black Oxide Drill and Drive Kit | 3. Hole Dozer General Purpose Bi-Metal Hole Saw Set | 4. Worm Drive Circular Saw | 5. M18 FUEL 18-Volt Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless Combo Kit
Cordless Hand Drill: Both mine and Jess’ dad recommend this drill. That’s 2 out of 2 dad’s! We like those odds.
My dad has been using this Ryobi drill for over 10 years. He also used this one for over 10 years and then gave it to me when I moved into my first apartment and it’s still kicking. You can splurge on a Dewalt, but the cheaper options like Ryobi and Black and Decker are super reliable in his experience.
Circular Saw: This is a saw that Jess’ dad uses and loves. If you cut a lot of lumber a good option is worm drive power saw like this one. It is easier to handle than your typical circular saw and a very good investment if you think you would get a lot of use out of it. Just make sure you have the proper experience with saws and use protective goggles. But if you are wanting something a little cheaper this guy is a good one too.
Hole Saw Kits: Jess’ dad also uses hole saw kits and says they always good to have for home projects. You’d be surprised how often you use them. Just check to make sure you buy ones that are compatible with your drill bit.
Cordless Power Tool Combo Kit: This is a great beginner power tool kit that is recommended by Emily’s brother Ken. It comes with two hand drills and a hand saw and batteries. If you are going to go cordless with your power tools, make sure to buy the same brand so you can use the same batteries and charger.
Painting a room is no one’s favorite task (why is it the most exhausting thing ever??) but it’s something we all have to do once in our lives. It also happens to be the easiest renter hack we can think of so we’re all big fans of painting around here. If you have a paint project coming up here’s what you’ll need:
1. 5 Gallon Bucket | 2. 5 gal. Steel Paint Can Grid | 3. 12 in. 5-Wire Professional Frame | 4. Shed Resistant White Woven Paint Roller Cover | 5. Easy Reach 5 ft. Adjustable Extension Pole | 6. DryDex 32-oz White Spackling | 7. 3 in. Bent Extendable Scraper | 8. Frog Tape
5 Gallon Bucket: My dad prefers using a bucket for paint jobs because it can hold more paint but you can also use a tray like this if you are painting a smaller space.
Bucket Grid: If you do use a bucket, you’ll need a grid to roll the paint off so it doesn’t drip all over and cause streaks.
Roller Frame: A handheld roller frame is good for touching up or painting a small space like a closet, and you can buy an extended handle for painting an entire room.
Rollers Covers: My dad always keeps a back of extra rollers around just in case a paint job comes up (aka just in case my mom decides a room should be painted from white to a “subtle off white”).
Spackling: If you are repainting you might have holes from previous hangings in the wall, so you’ll need some spackling to cover those right up. Just apply a little on a scraper tool and blend it into the wall.
Frog Tape: You’ll need painters tape to avoid getting paint on moulding or doors. Frog tape has good reviews, but we usually use Scotch painters tape.
Are your shopping carts filling up with tools??? I thought so. Now that you are envisioning DIYs and home improvements, you might be in the market for tool storage. I get it. Here are some great options for big and small spaces:
1. Deep Tool Chest Mobile Workbench in Gloss Black with Hardwood Top | 2. 3-Drawer Small Metal Portable Tool Box | 3. Leather Crafts Beech Tools Holder | 4. White Elfa Utility Board Starter Kit | 5. Canvas Tool Roll With Zipper Pouch | 6. Craftsman 26″ Wide 5-Drawer Standard-Duty Top Chest
Alright ladies and gents, we made it. Big thanks to my dad for talking to me for hours about tools and letting me ask the stupid questions. Now, I want to hear from you. Do you have any favorite tools or brands??? Let’s talk shop.
Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: MOTO Reveal: Emily Bowser’s Bedroom “After” is Unrecognizable from the “Before”
You guys are just into readin our minds,huh?! Of course, the longer we’re home, the longer and more ambitious the home to dos are becoming.
I think this list is a great start. Maybe add a palm sander too under power tools. Ryann, does ur dad or Jess’ dad have a palm sander recommendation?
Was gonna say, a sander, and you’re done! Thanks for this post, I’m rather partial to a tool myself 🙂
When I moved into an apt. in college, my dad mailed in for a Valvoline tool box. I think you saved the codes from the boxes oil and just paid postage. Anyway, he filled it with his old tools (he’s a carpenter) and brought it to me one weekend. When my roommates moved out, they stole it. My husband has a bunch of tools but I have always WANT that box back. Last year I finally found the same box on eBay and my kids and I went to the tool section of the flea market and bought most of what we needed. Dad added a few more things and now I have my own tool box again. I will say I’d rather have a 7 oz. hammer than the full-size ones. Unless you’re doing a lot of nailing, the smaller, lightweight one is so versatile. And when my kids get an apt. years from now, I’ve already assigned my husband the task of giving each of them a tool box.
A quick shout out to tool libraries, which allow you to borrow tools for projects. These are a great way to save space and money, experiment before you buy, as well as share resources. https://localtools.org/find/#map_top
Wow what a great resource thank you for sharing!
OOH! I did high-end house painting for a couple years after college, so I have a zillion tips. TLDR: buy a paint hook, thrift store sheets, Wooster brushes, and Benjamin Moore paint! If you’re going to be painting on a ladder (and you should be, since most people aren’t tall enough to, say, cut in along a ceiling without standing on something, and a ladder is the safest and most comfortable thing to stand on), a paint can hook will be your best $3 investment ever! Not having to hold the bucket in your hand or place it precariously on top of the ladder is a huge quality of life improvement. (ex: https://www.amazon.com/Warner-Swivel-Paint-Hook-411/dp/B000I1VE5Q/) If you’re going to be painting a room more than once in your life, stock up on flat sheets from the thrift store. Folded long-ways with the fold against the wall, they make much better drop cloths than plastic sheets, though you do have to keep an eye out for big big blops of paint because they will eventually leak through fabric. (And if you manage to spill a whole bucket of paint, clean that up quick-like – you can use your brush to scoop it up… Read more »
One thing I would 1000000% recommend- get the same brand of tools for everything, especially battery operated power tools! That way the batteries all use the same charger and are interchangeable between tools.
I have the same Ryobi drill and can confirm it is excellent. I also have a Ryobi circular saw, jigsaw, brad nailer, string trimmer, leaf blower…..ect. It is so much easier when you can pop a battery off of one tool and right on to the next.
I have a tool chest like this one: https://www.acehardware.com/departments/tools/tools-storage-and-organization/tool-cabinets/2392082?x429=true&gclid=CjwKCAjwwMn1BRAUEiwAZ_jnEuSPPz0PkoD_sOha4cCgmvZud-NGfi57x0Icrk2-Mp_B2_q7JdJGixoCQkoQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
Which is great, because i have the top portion sitting on a shelf, and can roll the bottom piece around if needed.
I learned in my marketing class that Dewalt and Black and Decker are made the same company. Black and Decker created Dewalt in order to go after the contractor segment, and because Black and Decker was seen as “hobbyist.” I thought it was just a fun fact!
That is so interesting!
a note on the screwdrivers with swappable tips- they are made of softer stuff than a good Craftsman forged screwdriver. They are find for little projects, but a very stubborn screw or hex will strip those tips. A few forged screwdrivers are worth keeping around.
also the hole drill bits aren’t great, the ones I’ve seen are really flimsy. They work down the battery on your cordless drill quite quickly, too.
If you want to drill holes often, get something called a “forstner drill bit”. That’s an actual drill bit that creates a large hole and works much better!
I need a course on hanging pictures! Of course, I have already read thousands of instructions for hanging pictures, but I’m still horrible at it. Not so bad when it’s just one piece and it doesn’t matter too much on exactly where it goes (eyeball method). But if I need precision, such as in hanging a series or grid or group of pieces, I am not good at figuring out exactly where the hanger nail needs to go to place everything just so. Also, I have bought many frames in my time and found them horribly difficult to deal with, as far as hanging them or getting picture wire onto them, etc. Especially IKEA frames. Also, whenever I try to screw anything into anything, I am just plain clumsy and it often ends with a bad result- crooked hook or shelf, screw not going all the way in, etc. Maybe your dad can give lessons on these things! Also, for anyone who is going to paint a room (I gave up on this for same reason)- how do those painters get things to look so much better than us amateurs? Whenever I have used tape (granted, it was a long… Read more »
LOL there *are* a lot of tricks – I wouldn’t call them secrets but it takes a while to communicate all of them. I learned from someone who had been painting for 20 years and she learned from people who’d been painting for 40 years. After two years I’d say I was a solid advanced-intermediate, but still had a long way to go to get where she was. It really is a shame that people don’t give pros more respect, painting is a real trade. Anyway, being able to cut in a straight line quickly and easily takes a lot of practice, more practice than you’d get doing a single room. I never used tape as a beginner, but I also did a lot of less-precise work before my boss let me near anything that required a nice line. The video I linked below is a pretty good start, though I would add that we first created a “runway” of paint a few inches away from the edge, to smooth your travel, and that you want to make sure to feather out the other edge of your line right away so that it doesn’t dry into a noticeably deep layer… Read more »
I can’t believe I forgot to say you have to use a high quality brush. As I mentioned earlier, Wooster is the way to go. If you’ve only used cheap brushes in the past, you’ll be shocked at the difference. Purdy is okay if you can’t get a Wooster. Get the good quality roller covers while you’re at it. And the caulk guns that automatically stop pushing when you stop squeezing – those ones with the button are the worst!
After hanging and rehanging TONS of frames over the years, one thing I’ve started doing is using not one, but two nails. If I have a frame that is 20 in long, I’ll use my level and put in two nails maybe 16 in apart and then I just rest the frame on top of them, assuming there’s a bit of a lip on the back, which most frames have. This makes it SOOO easy to adjust a little to the left or right if it’s not quite where you want it on the wall. And you never have to straighten a frame again! Always level since it’s resting on two nails instead of one. If there’s no lip, I’ll attach two of those sawtooth hanger things (you can get them just about anywhere) on the back of the frame the same distance apart as the nails. Never deal with obnoxious picture wire again! In regards to the painting, I agree with Jessica’s comment that it just takes a good brush and a lot of practice. I used to be awful at painting, but my skills have improved so much with time and practice. If I use tape, I always… Read more »
Full disclosure – I work at 3M, but I’m so excited about this new product that just launched!
There’s a video that shows how it works and I think it gets to the pains you mentioned. I hope you love it if you decide to try them! Otherwise the Command Narrow Picture Hanging Strips work great on most of my IKEA frames.
Because we have a detached garage where the larger tool box lives, we have a drawer in the kitchen devoted to our most commonly reached for tools. I agree, Ryann, that multiple measuring tapes are useful. I like to keep one in the kitchen, office, and sewing room. This wasn’t necessary when I was living in a studio apartment, but now I like to have tools where and when I need them.
Literally YESTERDAY, my boyfriend had a conversation (after staring at our dated railings) about how some things look like they should be easy to DIY, but how we had no idea where to start, or what tools we even needed. I bemoaned the lack of a basic checklist/manual/primer of what tools a homeowner should probably invest in. You are all blessed mind readers.
This is super helpful!
I’m adding some of these to my wedding registry (assuming weddings ever resume).
I am so glad you found this helpful! and great idea putting those things on your registry:)
A circular saw is definitely not a starter tool… can be very dangerous due to the way it is used (easy to use one handed and cut your other hand). I’ve done a lot of projects and never needed the hole saw set.
Some things I use a lot:
-picture hanging kit
-4″ foam paint rollers
-touch up painting cup
-paint brushes in a few sizes
-set of allen wrenches (furniture assembly)
-hand saw or sawzall
Interesting article, thanks!
I (and my dad) agree the circular saw is not a starter tool in the traditional sense! I would not go near one to be honest, but since a lot of our readers do tons of DIYs and are familiar with handling these types of tools, we decided to include some that are really great. My dad actually didn’t want to recommend saws as a starter kit so those are recs from Jess’ dad and Emily’s brother Ken 🙂
We have most of these! One game changer for us was the Kreg pocket hole kit it’s come in so handy!!!
The ryobi cordless nailgun is a life changer. It’ll make your builds faster and cleaner. You’ll be able to dive right into those statement walls you’ve been dreaming of.
Great list and great post! You’re going to save people so much time!
You mentioned screw anchors, but I want to reiterate it in the comments for others because I can’t even remember now how many times we’ve had to put off a simple project hanging a picture, mirror, or shelves because we didn’t have anchors or the crappy ones that came with whatever we were installing broke while trying to tap them into the wall. Buy a whole set!
Also want to recommend a staple gun. I don’t think I saw that listed. Spring for the one that can do staples and nails, if you can.
I’ve also had a lot of instances where something I purchased came with extra screws and drywall anchors, or ones I didn’t need because my screw was going into a stud. NEVER throw a screw or drywall anchor (or washer, nut, etc) away! You’d be amazed how many times a kit also came missing one screw (or I dropped one and could never find it) and I was able to find a nearly identical or at least similarly functional screw in my stash of extras from previous projects. Over time you’ll build up a decent stockpile that will save you many trips to the hardware store, and they’re so small they take up hardly any storage space!
I would not be without a vice grip in several sizes. Great for pulling nails out, opening anything and hold items.
Regarding stud finders, I bought one and it didn’t work not because of anything being wrong with it. My walls are drywall with plaster over them. The studs are about on inch behind the plaster and drywall and the wall is too thick for the stud finder to work.
We’re on our 3rd downsize, so have worked our tool collection down from full homeowner workshop to one box in an apartment. We had the drill you suggest, but we use a drill rarely now, and the battery was always run down when we pulled it out to use. Frustrating! We replaced it with a small corded drill and that’s been great! Much lighter to hold too. If you only use the drill in the apartment, and rarely, corded is more convenient (also way cheaper).
When I bought my first house as a single mom, my parents traveled 3,000 miles to visit us and check out the house. They brought us an antique clock for the mantle and antique andirons for the fireplace. And Dad checked out my tool kit, which consisted of a 7 oz hammer and a couple of screw drivers. For the next week Dad and I visited all of the hardware stores in a ten mile radius as he advised me on what tools I needed as a homeowner and toolbox to put them in. This is one of my favorite memories of my dad. Thank you for the memory. Who needs Proust’s petite madeline to dive into the past when a dad and a toolkit will do the same?
Great curated list. Thanks for posting your information. Keep it up.
Incorrect: Both mine and Jess’ dad recommend this drill. That’s 2 out of 2 dad’s!
Correct: Both Jess’ (or Jess’s which is preferred) and my dad recommend this drill. That’s 2 out of 2 dads!
So many spelling and apostrophe issues with this post. Editors can work remotely people!
My husband is in construction, and he and all of his crew are devoted Milwaukee power tool fans. Their tools all take a beating and keep right on going – the batteries also stay charged for SO long, which is nice even for DIY-ers who will use them infrequently, because you know you’ll almost always be able to pull the drill out after it sat for months in a box and the battery will still be charged. Plus, the range of things that you can use a Milwaukee battery for is pretty large, and constantly growing, including yard tools like blowers and weedeaters. We have the following Milwaukee Fuel cordless products at home, which have gotten us through a zillion home DIY projects: power drill, impact driver (this is the second drill in the Milwaukee set above – its a necessity if you’ll be drilling into stone, metal, or concrete, but is also our go-to everyday drill), Sawz-all, circular saw, brad nailer (so much better than an air powered one! If you’re doing any trim work, get this tool! Your fingertips and sanity will thank you!), and a hammer drill (for removing tile, but you can get away with a… Read more »
It is marvelous tools. It is very informative post. Thank you for the post.
Love this! Any ideas for an all-in-one tool kit for women?
Any ideas on where to find an all-in-one tool kit for women. 😊