10 Essential DIY Tools and Accessories

Fill up that tool belt before you get started. Things will go a lot more smoothly.

Strap on your tool belt and grab your goggles. On the next few pages, we're going to take a look at 10 home repair tools you'll want to make room for in the garage. Every dedicated DIYer starts with a small but essential collection of tools and accessories that will help make maintenance chores and improvement projects look more professional and go together faster.

It's true that you can rent some of the tools you'll need, but if you anticipate using a tool more than a couple of times, consider buying it instead. Most tools require some getting used to as well as a little basic maintenance. Some will have quirks you'll be able to deal with better the more you use them. Although you may need to rent a large sander to refinish your wood floor (something you probably won't be doing again any time soon), consider building a collection of quality tools you can rely on for most of your home improvement projects. Chances are you'll do a better job with them and actually start working on those loose shutters a couple of weekends earlier than you would have otherwise.


10: 5-in-1 Painter's Tool

Consider the 21st century the era of the multitasker, a name for appliances, tools and electronics that can do it all. They're more convenient, more efficient and probably greener options, too. When it comes to household tasks, the 5-in-one painter's tool is a DIYer's multi-tasking friend. It's small, portable and lightweight. It isn't dangerously sharp, and it will save many long trips back and forth from the garage for tools you forget to load in your belt or put into your tool box.

A painter's tool can double as a putty knife, scraper, pick, paint can opener, chisel and squeegee. In a pinch you can use it to pry things open, too. You may even decide having a backup on hand is a good idea.


9: Safety Gear

Although not usually considered a tool, safety gear items are among the most important you can have on-hand. It's easy to undervalue or even ignore them, but please don't. We forgive you for not getting too excited about an accident that didn't happen because you were wearing goggles, steel-toed shoes, heavy duty gloves or a respirator. The time you're not spending in the emergency room is worthy of some respect and gratitude, though.

  • Safety Glasses - About 1.25 million eye injuries occur in American homes every year, and many home repair projects are prime candidates for potential eye injuries. If you're using a sander, saw or paint sprayer, buy a quality pair of tight-fitting safety glasses that make a seal around your nose, temple and forehead.  Before you start a project, evaluate the potential hazards, and always wear your eye gear if the job calls for it.
  • Respirator - Like most filters, respirators are designed for specific applications, and you may have to invest in a mask tailored for the project you have in mind. Respirators are rated for effectiveness in filtering particulates, fumes or both using an Assigned Protection Factor (APF). Check the safety labels on your supplies for the recommended APF, and wear the right mask for the task.
  • Steel-toed shoes - If you plan on lifting heavy objects, or even being in the vicinity when heavy loads are being relocated, gravity isn't your friend. Lose the running shoes in favor of something with additional protection.
  • Heavy gloves - When you're working with saws, glass, wood, metal or wire, wearing gloves will keep your hands safer and give you an added layer of protection that could mean the difference between a minor injury and major bloodletting.


8: Voltage Meter

Don't put yourself or your family at risk. Check those wires!
Polka Dot/Thinkstock

Electricity can kill you, and anything in your home that can pose a serious risk to your safety should be treated with the respect it deserves. Even though you think you've got that ceiling fan installation under complete control, check to make sure the wires aren't live before you proceed. The label on your electrical box may be mismarked or the wiring may be more circuitous than you ever imagined, especially if you're dealing with an older home.  Heck, your wife may not realize you're in the middle of a honey-do project and turn the electricity back on by accident.

Whatever the reason, use a voltage meter whenever you perform an electrical repair because it's better to be safe than very sorry -- or worse -- later. Aside from being a great safety device, voltage meters are effective diagnostic tools that can help you analyze everything from an ailing light switch to a sadly silent alarm clock.


7: Ladder

Standing on a chair to perform minor home repairs just won't cut it forever. Ladders aren't the most romantic tools, but they're basic essentials if you plan on painting, replacing ceiling fixtures or molding, or doing much of anything involving your home's exterior.

  • Extension ladders - Extension ladders are rated for their extension height and weight. You want a ladder that's long enough for your highest elevation jobs, but look for one that allows you to stay on the fourth rung down or lower and still reach the height you need. You also want a ladder that's rated for the weight you'll be carrying (typically 200 pounds or less). An aluminum ladder will be much lighter than one made of wood or fiberglass, and it can withstand exposure to the elements. This sounds great, but the one drawback is that it's a very poor choice if you'll be working on or near electrical lines. For that type of work, you'll need a fiberglass or wood extension ladder. They're heavier and more expensive, but they're safer around electrical current.
  • Multipurpose ladders - Multipurpose ladders can get pricey, but they're designed to fold, extend and even go together as scaffolding. They're a good choice if you're not sure what type of work you'll be doing and want a very flexible option.  If you're just getting into home repair, they're fun and useful.

Buying a good ladder is important, but using it safely is critical. Before you clean your gutters, wash your siding or perform any other DIY task, learn how to position and handle a ladder safely.


6: Stud Finder

Sorry, ladies! This stud finder can only find one kind of stud.

This incredibly nifty little gadget lights up like a Christmas tree when you slide it over a framing member concealed behind your drywall or stucco. It'll help you strategize how to hang pictures, mount curtains or plan any number of weekend warrior projects.

One of these beauties costs less than a can of paint, and it's well worth the price.


5: Laser Level

Once you find a stud to nail that mirror or wall collage into, you'll have to make sure everything is balanced and level. Instead of breaking out the chalk, measuring tape and a bubble level, use a beam of light to help you create a straight line. Don't stop there. If you plan on putting in tile, wood or vinyl flooring, drywall or cabinets of any kind, buy a laser framing square and a laser T-square. Your projects will come out right every time with less math work, fewer hassles and less waste.


4: Tool Set

Everyone should own a basic tool kit, no matter what their DIY skill level is.

When you're a DIYer, the world is full of opportunities to expand your horizons. Today, it may be a loose handle on the silverware drawer, and tomorrow, you may have to replace the rubber washer in the bathroom faucet. Specialty tool kits are carryalls pre-loaded with the tools you'll need for many common household repair tasks. For homeowners, that'll usually include a claw hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, an adjustable wrench, a measuring tape, utility knife, drive tool and sockets. If you're into car or computer repair, there are also kits for those specialties. Consider these collections an easy way to hit the ground running where general repairs and maintenance are concerned.


3: Flashlight

Yes, we know this is a bonehead basic, but recommending a flashlight as an essential is our way of saying that sometimes the best tools are the old standbys you forget to take with you when you have a small job to do. Whether it's in the basement, in the back of a cabinet, behind the refrigerator or under the sink, light is important and often unavailable in tight, cobwebby and little used spaces. Always keep a flashlight handy, and have replacement batteries at the ready. This is important for emergencies like power outages, too. In fact, have a variety of flashlights on hand. From floodlights to penlights, sooner or later you'll use them all.


2: Hacksaw

No matter what saw you have in your hand, always think of safety first.

There are a variety of saws out there for all kinds of tasks, and many of them are specialized -- and pretty dangerous to use. If you have to cut a bit of metal, cable or pipe, though, the lowly hacksaw is fast and effective. It won't cost a fortune, either. Hacksaws are easy to grip and have fine-toothed blades that get the job done without giving your upper body a workout you'll regret later. For small wood jobs, a crosscut saw is also a good option. It won't do fine work, but it's up to the task of cutting the occasional two by four without making a big production of it.


1: Cordless Drill

Drills are amazingly useful. They're so useful that you should make every effort to buy one that's cordless. That way you'll be able to use it indoors and out, on driveway projects (the ones where you're making more of a mess than your garage can handle) and in areas like the roof, where dragging a cord around is a big inconvenience and a big opportunity to trip and fall.

Cordless drills come with a number of features, but the biggest determiner of functionality is the amount of torque a drill can bring to the task you're performing. The power comes from a battery mounted to the drill's base. The larger the battery's voltage, the more power the drill will have to do the job, like drilling holes in hardwood. Bigger is better, but it's heavier, too, so if you're dainty, or your upper body strength is limited to hoisting a turkey leg at the fair, test any unit for comfort before you buy it.

Pay attention to the battery pack and the drill manufacturer, too. Some brands will have a battery that fits multiple devices, so you can build a nice collection of tools that run off the same basic power source.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

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