While this blog may be fresh-faced and innocent, Mr Hammer and I have had many years of experience creating and DIYing with tools. In fact, Mr Hammer is a qualified carpenter with more than 15 years’ experience in the trade. We know what’s what (and if I don’t, he certainly does), what’s handy and what’s total overkill when it comes to stocking a basic ‘take-everywhere’ tool kit.
Of course, the project you’re undertaking may require a special set of tools – this is by no means a comprehensive list, just a look at which tools will be most handy for you to attack any project around the house (and they’re not in any particular order of necessity).
Must Have #1
A Cordless Kit
This should contain at least a drill and an impact driver. Anything else is a bonus but definitely not necessary. The drill should also have a hammer function for drilling into masonry and concrete.
Why an impact driver? Just trust me, when you have to put in 100+ screws in one sitting, you will wonder how you ever did without it.
Yes, you can use a screwdriver (not the cocktail kind . . . although that could make things interesting) and brute force with many projects, but power will save your wrists and leave you with less grey hairs.
As for Volts, 18 is preferable (and what I use) but 14.4 or even 12 will do.
Quality= Milwaukee (brushless is overkill for a DIYer),
Quality for the price = Bosch or Handyman Makita
Must Have #2
A Spirit Level
Why would you want a level? We think the question should be: Why wouldn’t you want a level?!
This is how you get benchtops perfectly flat and level, boxes (like drawers or cupboards) perfectly plumb, and tiles straight. Anything that needs to be level requires . . . a level.
1200mm long is the most common and all you would need however other common sizes are 600, 800, 1800 and 2000mm.
Quality for the price= Stanley FatMax Extreme
Must Have #3
It measures. Which is actually pretty important.
8m/26′ is what you want for length. Any longer and the tape itself becomes too big; any less and you are just wasting your time. As with most things, you get what you pay for. Cheap tapes lose their digits and the steel blades are more fragile, so they will break easily.
My recommendation: Stanly Fatmax
Must Have #4
A Combination Square
It’s not actually a square. More of a ‘corner’. But it’ll give you perfect square-y right angles and can be doubled up as an instrument of straight-line-making. Very handy.
Squares come in many forms. A Combination Square has both 90 and 45 degree angles, as well an adjustable blade, so you can not only rule a nice 90 degree angle (or 45, which is what you’ll need if you’re making picture frames and the like), but you can also set it to a specific length to get a parallel line to an edge (so if you want to measure or slice exact widths, this can help you by laying one edge of the square flat to the edge of the timber, then holding your pencil against the perpendicular piece and dragging the contraption solidly against the timber’s edge at the required width).
My recommendation: Stanley
Must Have #5
You were wondering when we’d list that one, hey? Well, here it is at lucky number 5. Get a good one, trust us on this. You could go to a cheap shop and grab a flimsy thing for $2, but you’re guaranteed to only get your $2 worth out of it. Make sure you get one that is one-piece, not a hammerhead attached to a handle, or that head will eventually go flying mid-swing.
Quality = Estwing
Quality for the price = Stanley
Must Have #6
Variety of Marking Utensils
This will include:
- a soft and hard carpenters pencil (the rectangular type),
- a fine tip Sharpie or Nikko,
- a builders crayon (not the type you buy for your kids); and,
- a scribe (a pencil shaped object with a sharp steel tip instead of lead (or whatever they use now in place of lead)).
Must Have #7
Utility Knife (Stanley Knife)
You will use this more than you could imagine.
Must Have #8
There are so many different types, so I will list just a few.
- Crosscut saw. This is the saw you will use the most. It can be used for virtually any cut you need to do. If you only buy one hand saw, get this one.
- Rip saw. Specially designed to cut timber parallel to the grain, not really necessary for the DIYer (or anyone, for that matter, who is not serious about woodworking).
- Hack saw. A saw that has replaceable blades made for cutting metal. Something your tool kit could use.
- Coping saw. Similar to a hack saw in that the blade is replaceable and stretched between a D shaped frame. However, this blade is very thin and used to cut curves in timber. Used by carpenters in the installation of skirting. Not necessary, but very handy.
- Power saw. For those of you who are getting serious and plan on DIYing on a larger scale then you can’t go past the energy and time savingness of a power saw over a hand saw. These come in three main sizes 6 1/4, 7 1/4 and 9 1/4. I recommend a 7 1/4, as they are generally cheaper than a 6 1/4 and a 9 1/4 is mainly used to cut large sized hardwood.
- Jig saw. This is basically an electric version of the coping saw. Very handy for cutting out holes in bench tops for sinks and the like.
- Flush-cut saw. This is not at all necessary and really only for the hard core woodworker. It is used to cut dowel and tenons flush with the surrounding timber (and now I am just showing off).
- Handsaw. You can go out and spend upwards of $70 on a single saw, but you really only need to spend $20-$30. I would recommend, however, that you buy one with larger teeth (7-8 per inch) for quick rougher cuts and one with smaller teeth (such as a Tenon Saw, 12-15 teeth per inch) for neater cuts.
- Power saw. Makita 7 1/4.
Must Have #9
Drill and Driver Bit Set
This set should include:
For the drill – a set of HSS drill bits 0.5-13mm, a set of spade bits 6-32mm and a set of masonry bits 5, 6, 8 and 10.
For the driver – Philips Head bits #1 and #2 at least, batten screw tip, 3/8 and 5/16 hex bit, #1 an #2 square tip (Robertson Tip), a short magnetic extension bit (50mm) and a long extension bit (200mm+)
My recommendation: Irwin or Sutton
Must Have #10
Yes I know, I have just told you how much better a driver is than using a screwdriver, and in most cases this is true (especially once you have used the driver a lot and have a good feel for the tool), but there are times when an old fashioned screwdriver is the right tool for the job.
My recommendation: Stanley 20 or more piece.
This would have to be the least thought about, but most useful, tool in your kit. Whether it is a bench clamp you are using to hold a job while you work on it, a small quick grip you are using to hold a gig or guide or a special mitre clamp to hold a frame at 90 degrees while the glue dries, clamps are a must have for any tool kit.
What type of clamp you need will depend on your project. However for you basic tool kit, I would recommend a variety of clamps, 2 pairs of F clamps 400mm and 600mm, one or two pairs of quick grip clamps 150mm and 200mm, and if you are planing on making anything that has timber joined at 90 degrees, then some miter clamps are the go. A bench clamp is not necessary (useful but not necessary) for the average DIYer (as in, a pinch F clamp works well to hold jobs to a bench if needed).
My recommendation: When it comes to DIYer clamps, brand is not so important. No need to go out and spend $80 on a singe clamp. Trojan is a good cheap brand for clamp; however, if you are planning to get some quick grip clamps I would be buying Irwin as the cheaper ones tend to slip.
As you can see from the pictures, all our tools (these of many) are well-loved and often used. So this is what they will look like after many years of use. It is important not to skimp on the cost of your basic tools; a few extra bucks will be well worth it in the end.
So there you have it – a list of essentials tools for the home-handyman (or woman). Are there any tools we haven’t listed that you have and could not DIY without? What brands do you swear by? We’d love to hear what you think!