A Tool Guide for the New DIYer
Realtors often give clients a home improvement store gift card as a closing gift, which is awesome. Unless you’ve never owned a home or never needed tools and are suddenly faced with an entire Home Depot’s worth of choices.
I was raised by an engineer, have DIY’d a lot of rentals, and have bought two houses, so I’m going to give you my cheat sheet. Some tools are really fun and enticing but have limited use across a house’s worth of projects. Here are the basics I recommend, and a bonus list at the end (in case you’ve got money left over on that gift card).
Hanging and Fastening
You’re going to want a sturdy hammer. Choose a hammer that fits comfortably in your hand, but also has some weight to it. I prefer unpainted heads – I’ve had a black hammerhead leave marks on a freshly painted wall before. [To be fair, all hammerheads will leave marks if you’re using them aggressively.] Grab an assorted pack of brads and nails while you’re at it – it’s surprising how many things need an odd nail here and there.
I also like having a forward-action staple gun on hand. Forward-action means you press down over the mouth of the tool where it’s ejecting the staple (as opposed to pressing down on the tail when the staple leaves the mouth). This gives you a lot more accuracy and easier leverage. I’ve been in my new house two months and used the staple gun for things like tacking down corners of loose carpeting, evening out paneling in my storage closet, and fastening cords to the baseboard in one corner.
Obviously, with all this hammering and stapling, you want to make sure you’re hanging things securely and not hitting wires behind the drywall. A stud finder is a huge help here. There are a wide variety of stud finder models, and I went with a pretty simple one that just lights up over a stud, but you can get as fancy as identifying electrical currents and water lines.
Heavy Duty Cutting
The blades on a reciprocating saw are easy to swap in and out, and generally, brands are interchangeable. I’ve used this guy all over the house – trimming low-hanging tree limbs, hard-to-reach modifications to my dryer vent exit, cutting odd bits of trim and siding, and cutting two-by-fours and particle board to patch a storage room wall (in the picture below).
Drilling and Screwing
I know cordless drills are sexy, but I prefer a corded drill and here’s why: I cannot remember to charge the batteries. And if you forget to charge your drill batteries, you’re looking at a four-hour delay in any project or using a screwdriver.
I like drills with a safety setting (mine is on the toggle between forward and reverse just above the handgrip). It’s super easy to swap out a drill bit while the drill is plugged in and have it start spinning in your fingers. The safety setting is kind of like neutral and locks the chuck so you don’t get a scare.
My dad recommended the magnetic drive guide (pictured between the drill and bits), and it’s amazing! I’m pretty handy but still not proficient with tricks like holding a screw steadily while drilling it into a surface. The drive guide lets me hold the bit without it heating up my fingers and the magnet catches the screw when I fumble it.
Miscellaneous Tools You Definitely Want
The second time I bought a house, I did it on my own, and one of the most fun parts was comparing my list of tools to what my dad recommended. (It was fun because I nailed it!) Here are a handful of other tools that are really great for first-time homeowners:
- Extension cord: I recommend at least 50 feet of cord, especially if you’ve got outdoor projects planned. (Alternately, you could measure the distance from any outlet to the furthest point in your yard – that works too.)
- Self-locking measuring tape: I’m just one person and don’t have the luxury of asking someone to “catch that end, will you?” so self-locking is terrific.
- Work light: We’re used to seeing those big silver cone lights on construction sites, but this little LED guy has three settings, a magnet and a hook for positioning, and is really compact.
- Level: You don’t need a gigantic level to make sure things are pretty close to even – just a toolbox sized one will do. (Pro tip: Useful for hanging artwork, but also for leveling your washer and dryer.)
- Utility knife: These are super handy, especially when the saws are overkill or you need to be incredibly precise.
- Snips: I underestimated how dang handy these things would be. I’ve snipped siding, metal ductwork, cardboard, laminate, and even the ancient metal framing for awnings I was removing. (If you were curious, this was the one thing Dad thought of that escaped me.)
- Safety glasses: I’m super resistant to looking dorky in public, but safety glasses have saved my eyes several times. I even wear them when weed wacking now. It’s better to not even take the risk when it comes to something irreplaceable, like your eyesight.
Bonus: Tools You’ll Get a Kick Out Of
There are a couple tools I’ve happened to have on hand that I wouldn’t recommend as a must-have for new homeowners, but if you have the money or want to, they’re really useful.
A belt sander is terrific, especially if you’ve got an old house where doors and jambs don’t quite line up or the floor is scuffed up in spots or the front porch railing need to be repainted.
A pry bar is small and affordable, and occasionally the exact tool you need in a jam. I like the gooseneck pry bars myself for the angles of the pry ends compared to my size and weight – they help get better leverage and don’t require as much hand strength as the shorter flat bars.
A good caulk gun and finishing set are great for sealing up cracks or resealing tubs and showers. (Also, keep that utility knife handy – tub caulking is a great project for that precise little blade.)