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What are the tools that every DIY'er should have? This is a community wiki as there is no one right answer.

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77 Answers 77

A cordless drill
No doubt about it. I bought a DeWalt 14.4V three years ago, and it's been invaluable to me. alt text

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Why cordless? I'm assuming your home has outlets? –  Joe Philllips Jul 21 '10 at 19:45
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@Joe - everything is easier with a cordless drill. I have a very nice corded drill and I probably use it twice a year. The cordless one I use all the time. –  Eric Petroelje Jul 21 '10 at 19:46
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Cordless is nice, but I never get much use out of them. Since I work only intermittently on DIY projects I find the batteries brick out on me after only getting to use them 2-3 times. –  JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 19:47
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My Dewalt 14v cordless sits around for months at a time and still holds a charge. It's a beast. –  Adam Robinson Jul 21 '10 at 19:48
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LOL! That just begs for a link to this: joke-archives.com/dating/mengifts.html –  Vilx- Aug 8 '10 at 6:47
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A circular saw of course.

And don't skimp - you'll use it enough that it's worthwhile to spend the money and get a decent (and light) one.

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@msemack - I would agree. I have a 10" sliding compound miter saw that I use FAR more than my circular saw. But a good miter saw is big and expensive. A circular saw has more utility than a miter saw, and is much cheaper and smaller (easier to store). The disadvantage of the circular saw is speed and accuracy. Much easier and faster to make nice cuts with a miter saw. –  Eric Petroelje Aug 4 '10 at 15:25
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A power miter saw (compound if possible).

It will cut anything you'd cut with a circular saw (other than large sheets), and you'll also be able to cut any trim pieces you'll ever need. Adding and replacing trim is a relatively easy thing to do and can quickly add value and better the appearance of a house. Few things come as close the a bang-for-the-buck arena.

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This is next on my wish list... –  Doresoom Jul 21 '10 at 21:15
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Sure it's on the must-have-list, but as a replacement for a circular saw? That's just crazytalk. The two saws have totally different uses. –  Commander Keen Oct 6 '10 at 12:33
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A good-quality stud finder

alt text

See also: What should I look for when choosing a stud finder?

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how does one identify a good stud finder? I have two and neither are that great at finding studs. tapping on the walls is usually more effective. –  mmccoo Jul 21 '10 at 20:00
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Yeah, can someone recommend a specific model of stud find that performs well? I have tried a few and they are pretty in-exact. –  msemack Jul 23 '10 at 15:06
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i've bought about a dozen stud finders in my lifetime. in my experience, zircon stud finders are the most reliable, consistent and accurate. the big home improvement places usually carry 2-4 different kinds. make sure to buy one that has an LCD display to show you the strength of the reflected signal. –  longneck Jul 28 '10 at 14:19
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xkcd.com/952 –  Doresoom Sep 16 '11 at 16:38
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Hammers and screwdrivers.

You aren't going to get much done without them...

A good jigsaw can be very helpful for many tasks as well.

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@Joe Phillips - given your name, I assume you were fishing for a specific kind of screwdriver.... I have made do with one simple claw hammer for years now. Screwdrivers really should be bought in bulk, I seem to lose/break them a lot. –  Josh Goldshlag Jul 21 '10 at 19:56
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A ratchet with a gator-grip head. That is, unless unlike myself, you really like digging through a toolbox full of sockets for every job and can't identify the sizes on sight.

BTW: I have no interest in the company that makes Gator-grip, I just didn't know the generic name for this type of tool (if there is one).

alt text

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I use mine on almost every project for something or another. For Home improvement tasks I find it handy mostly as a meta tool (removing blades from my circular saw, for example). –  JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 22:09
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I will warn though. That a regular driver socket properly sized is much better at getting tough bolts off. This one will work, but sometimes it doesn't get as much traction. It is darn handy though. –  JohnFx Sep 27 '10 at 1:09
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A laser level (a cheap one will do just fine).

alt text

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I've used mine a handful of times. They're really handy if you want to keep multiple items in a straight line, especially over a long distance. I found it really handy to do the line of wall anchors for a whiteboard, for example. –  msemack Aug 4 '10 at 15:16
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A good, stiff measuring tape

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Measure once, cut twice! –  Joe Philllips Jul 21 '10 at 20:28
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@Joe, something's off about that... :-) –  Mike Sherov Jul 21 '10 at 20:39
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Measure twice, cut once, swear thrice! –  Ates Goral Jul 22 '10 at 7:36
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Complete socket wrench set for 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" drives and box/closed end wrenches. Should include shallow and deep sockets. Places like Sears will carry an affordable portable fitted toolbox with all the sockets and wrenches.

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more for fixing cars then normal DIY –  Walker Jul 22 '10 at 8:36
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There are plenty of hex bolts around the house that need sockets and wrenches: Decks use lag bolts and carriage bolts. Some water and gas line fittings need box end wrenches (sometimes an adjustible wrench won't cut it). etc. –  spoulson Jul 22 '10 at 14:21
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Use case: Toilet base bolts diy.stackexchange.com/questions/279/… –  spoulson Jul 22 '10 at 15:51
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Image is overkill - a couple of adjustable ones have done all I need around the house so far... –  MGOwen Jul 29 '10 at 5:40
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Yes, 12 point sockets are typically for engine building and specialty. Emphasis is on obtaining 6 point sockets. –  spoulson Sep 29 '10 at 11:56
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Set of standard and metric allen keys.

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Frankly, I've never had a job where I needed an allan wrench that didn't come with one. I have a drawer full of these from buying cheap furniture. –  JohnFx Jul 21 '10 at 22:12
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The cheap ones that come with Ikea furniture slip and get rounded too easily. They are also too short to be comfortable. I am glad I have one that is longer and of better-quality steel. –  Vebjorn Ljosa Jul 22 '10 at 19:15
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These seem to be useful for grinding down into other, more useful, tools –  Joe Philllips Jul 22 '10 at 21:41
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Speed square

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@Portman: It's like a protractor for DIY projects/construction in general. –  Doresoom Aug 3 '10 at 19:21
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A dremel with various bits: cut-off wheel, stone, sandpaper, polisher, etc.

alt text

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Just heed the warning sticker about "...not for home dental use." Unfortunately, I have a friend who actually used one to buff a chipped tooth D-8 –  Jay Sep 6 '10 at 20:59
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Needle-nose pliers

enter image description here

These are the most often used tool in my toolbox, not that they ever make it back into the toolbox.

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My wife has requisitioned a few pairs over the years as weed pullers for the yard. Nothing like finding my pliers caked with dirt... thanks, dear! –  Jared Harley Jul 28 '10 at 22:06
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I'm sure she says the same thing about her good fabric scissors when she finds you've been using them for home improvement tasks, Jared ;) –  Wayne Werner Aug 5 '10 at 15:31
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Screwdriver set

screwdrivers

Your exact types will differ by country, but you likely want:

  • Slot-head (2 or 3 sizes)
  • Phillips (atleast size #3, maybe #2 and #4)
  • Robertson (atleast red, green, and black)

Rubber handles will save your hands after a bit of use. Also, try to find black tipped drivers, as this means they're hardened and shouldn't wear down as quickly.

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Rubber mallet - good for things where a hammer will just dent things - also good for adjusting things with taps.

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A good set of channel lock pliers (multiple sizes).

Use them on almost every job, especially plumbing.

alt text

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And never buy just one - especially for plumbing. Seems like if you need one you always need two (one to turn something and the other to keep the opposite side from turning) –  Eric Petroelje Jul 21 '10 at 22:20
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A reciprocating saw (a.ka. sawzall) -

  1. Makes short work of any tearout job.
  2. Gets into places that other saws can't.
  3. Great stand-in for a chainsaw outside (for small stuff)
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A poor man's version would be a jab saw - I picked one up for $10 or so when I needed to put a junction box in my ceiling. –  Doresoom Jul 22 '10 at 15:05
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A multimeter

a multimeter (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license)

(Image licensed under the Creative Commons)

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Typically referred to as a Multi-meter. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 24 '10 at 3:27
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I'm giving this a downvote. I don't think every DIYer needs one of these. I have no idea what one of these even does. –  SamtheBrand Mar 27 '12 at 17:26
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Oscillating tool

Those cheapo harbor freight version of the Fein Multi-master et al. are nearly as good but much lighter on the pocketbook:

alt text

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I have the Dremel Multi-Max - far less expensive than the Fein, but has 85% of the capability at 1/3 the price (even cheaper if you buy a refurbished one). –  kkeilman Aug 3 '10 at 23:49
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A decent table saw

After getting a cordless drill and a power miter saw.

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A good weight crowbar
Use it for lifting, prying, removing, bashing, demolishing and most importantly, against zombies and headcrabs.

Crowbar vs Headcrab

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+1 just for the Halflife reference, though it's headcrabs. –  Adam Robinson Jul 22 '10 at 12:06
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I prefer a Fubar, purely for the name :) homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xgg/R-100488979/h_d2/… –  ManiacZX Jul 28 '10 at 14:42
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I can't help but wonder if this is so high in vote counts just because of the Half-Life reference. –  Doresoom Nov 18 '10 at 13:29
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A first aid kit

...that is easy to find!

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...and can be used with one hand –  Adam Robinson Jul 22 '10 at 12:07
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Nah, masking tape is all you need. –  Vebjorn Ljosa Jul 28 '10 at 18:44
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Super glue will hold way better than masking tape! –  Doresoom Jul 29 '10 at 21:10
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A small pancake compressor. You can easily borrow / rent the tools, but having the compressor for so many jobs comes in handy. Can also be used without a tool to blow stuff off, fill tires, etc.

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I have a cheap $40-60 Harbor Freight 3 gallon oil-free compressor. I think I've probably used that more than any other single tool I've purchased - I fill tires, exercise balls, drive my nail/staple guns, airbrush... it's quite excellent! –  Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 3:44
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Locking pliers
Commonly known by the genericised trademark "Vise-Grip"

enter image description here

I find that I use it one way or another on every project I do.

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A good solid 3-4 pound drilling hammer

...because regular hammers can chip when struck against hardened steel (i.e. chisels, star drills, hardened nails, etc.).

drilling hammer

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A collection of good-quality clamps of different sizes, including some that can be tightened with one hand.

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A hammer drill

Something you'll definitely want if you're doing any kind of drilling into masonry or stone. A bonus is that these can typically be used as just a regular drill by turning off the hammering action, so it's basically a 2-in-1 tool. Some even let you turn off the drilling action so you can use it like a small jackhammer.

alt text

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Installing a flat-screen TV over the fireplace, something like this is mandatory. :) –  GalacticCowboy Aug 12 '10 at 16:55
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A good knife.

Always in my pocket when working on something. (Knives like the one pictured seem impossible to find in hardware stores in the U.S. Where are they sold?)

knife

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I'd say a Stanley knife. –  Umber Ferrule Jul 29 '10 at 22:18
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@msemack, the long, strong blade is helpful when whittling a piece of wood (e.g., to make it fit around an unevenness in my old house) or when cutting something thick, like styrofoam or fiberglass. Also useful for stabbing building inspectors. –  Vebjorn Ljosa Aug 4 '10 at 22:47
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