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 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 http://img651.imageshack.us/img651/4903/gatorgripwrench.jpg

  • For home improvement tasks, I wouldn't say that a ratchet is actually that important. It's definitely a must-have general DIY tool, but not a whole lot of things in the house are going to present an opportunity for use. – Adam Robinson Jul 21 '10 at 19:52
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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
  • That actually looks pretty spiffy--never seen that before – Michael Haren Aug 5 '10 at 17:01
  • +1 Good advice for a home DIYer, because it's so space-efficient. – Bill Karwin Sep 26 '10 at 16:25
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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

A Good Flashlight

Regular and Small versions are good to have - I'm constantly looking for one when trying to fix something.

  • Not sure why this got downvoted - I think a good flashlight is indispensable. There are always nooks and crannies that are too dark to see into, screws that have been lost in the shadows, etc. – Rod Fitzsimmons Frey Jul 29 '10 at 21:00
  • A headlamp might be a good alternative so you can use both of your hands still. – Greg Nov 22 '10 at 22:01
  • Also a hanging lamp is useful, or a snake light that can wrap around, otherwise the headlamp is great advice – Steve Tranby Nov 30 '10 at 18:16

A decent table saw

After getting a cordless drill and a power miter saw.

My outlet tester; beats sticking a paperclip in the outlet to see if it's live...

alt text http://www.acmehowto.com/howto/homemaintenance/electrical/images/no/outlettester.jpg

  • plus it tells you if you wired the darn thing correctly. Incidentally it's also a tool that every (performing) musician should own. Also I tend to carry mine in my backpack to check outlets @ hotels, etc. to make sure it's safe to plug my laptop in. – Wayne Werner Aug 9 '10 at 10:12
  • Oh.. yes... that that correct wiring thing you mention ;-) Thanks for the tip. I'm going to throw my spare one in my pack as well. I tend to work from coffee shops and it would really ruin my day if a poorly wired outlet blew my computer. – gnome Aug 10 '10 at 5:30

alt text

I love Japanese saws. They cut on the pull stroke and leaves a very narrow kerf (the channel that it cuts). I find that it cuts through wood a lot easier. Cutting on the pull stroke means that the blade won't bend. For saws that cut on the push stroke (most western saws), the blade might bend as you push.

I have this all purpose one, Japanese Modern Ryoba Saw, at home. One side is for ripping (cutting to a certain width) the other is for cross cutting (cutting to a certain length)

alt text

A straight edge is really important. I actually have a 48" long aluminum ruler/straight edge that has a significant depth. It's great for drawing long lines and I sometimes use it as a guide for a circular saw or router.

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

  • +1 - It's often like having an extra hand (or two, or three) – Eric Petroelje Jul 28 '10 at 17:23
  • You can never too many clamps!! – Craig Trader Aug 5 '10 at 15:19

Adjustable Spanner (Wrench)

enter image description here

Can be used on a wide variety of nut sizes.

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.

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    Installing a flat-screen TV over the fireplace, something like this is mandatory. :) – GalacticCowboy Aug 12 '10 at 16:55
  • I've used mine for things like installing a garden hose reel on a brick wall and drilling holes for cane bolts for my backyard gate. – gnovice Aug 12 '10 at 18:02

Workbench with a Vice

This may not count as a "tool", but not having one can make DIY projects difficult. I don't have one, and trying to sharpen a mower blade on your kitchen table is sub-optimal. Then there was the metal bracket I needed to drill a hole into... holding it with my hand...

I've had my eye on this bench from Home Depot. I like the steel work surface. I will need to drill holes to bolt the vice to the top, though.

alt text http://www.homedepot.com/catalog/productImages/300/82/82549c7e-6099-4381-84be-7b72a7c3afd4_300.jpg

Update: Last weekend, I bought this bench along with a 6" vice. My dad and I assembled it as a weekend project. We drilled holes for the vice and secured it with 1/2" bolts. Overall I am pleased with it. It did require a drill for assembly, which was a little unexpected. Here are the photos. (Sorry for the poor lighting, a good workshop light is next on my list!)

  • I'm actually working on building my own work bench. It's too darn hot outside, though - and since we're renting a small duplex that's the only place I have to work... – Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 20:33
  • In our house, workbenches ARE a vice!!! – Craig Trader Aug 5 '10 at 15:21
  • If you don't have room for a whole workbench, you can still get a small vice that screws onto an existing table or desk. That's what I'm using right now, and while it's not as sturdy as a bench vise, it has helped me cut through some metal pieces and hold some other things securely. – geerlingguy Nov 29 '12 at 13:12

Lineman's Pliers

Lineman's pliers are a sort of heavy duty combination of wire-cutter and pliers. A pair of lineman's pliers accompanied by a pair of wire strippers is about all you need to do just about any home wiring project. I've also used it to pull out staples and nails, bend sheetmetal, cut open tubes of silicon, and even as a light-duty makeshift hammer when I didn't want to walk all the way back to the garage.

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  • The only gripe I have about mine is that you need room to work; I have Kobalt's middle-of-the-road 8-inch linesman's pliers, and they're rather bulky for average household electrical work. I prefer my needle-nose pliers, which have all the same features including the "nutcracker" behind the hinge, but the longer nose makes working inside a J-box easier. – KeithS May 3 '13 at 19:34

Gloves. A good pair will save you several trips to the first aid kit.

enter image description here

Cordless Impact Driver

alt text http://www.lcdpayless.com/images/ryobi/RyobiOnePlusImpactDriver1.jpg

The ultimate compliment to your cordless drill - it does everything my cordless drill sucked at doing!

  1. Drives in screws without mangling the fastener head (phillips head screws anyone?)
  2. Removes rusted/stuck items like you wouldn't believe (Read: no rounded out screws or rounded off nuts/bolts)
  3. Cordless Drill will not drive a 3" screw into a stud - Impact Driver doesn't break a sweat.
  4. Compared with cordless drill, much less torque transferred to your wrist makes it more comfortable to operate
  • Is the impact driver a superset of a normal drill? Can it do everything a drill does? Or is it something you only use on special occasions? – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 15:25
  • I really wouldn't call it a superset of a drill - the force delivered by an impact driver is a downward strike (like hitting the fastener on top with a hammer) in addition to the high rotational torque. It's something I use to insert and remove screw-type fasteners with - which is quite a lot on projects I work on, so I wouldn't classify it as "special use" - I use it all the time. Drill holes with a drill - insert screw(s) with an impact driver. Your hand, wrist and arm will thank you – kkeilman Aug 4 '10 at 18:51
  • Is it OK for general purpose philips screw driving? Or is it only appropriate for "big/tough" screwing (e.g. into a stud)? – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 20:49
  • Most definitely OK for general purpose work. Just be careful when driving the screws back in - you can apply a lot of torque in a big hurry. – kkeilman Aug 4 '10 at 21:14
  • Can you dial back the toque like you can with an electric screwdriver? – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 21:31

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 http://www.harborfreight.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/370x/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/i/m/image_5662.jpg

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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
  • Does this overlap with something like a Dremel? Or do they both do different things? – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 15:19
  • If you're referring to the Dremel rotary tool, yeah they do different things. But they sell the multi-max: dremeloscillatingtool.com that's something completely different. Youtube "oscillating tool" and you'll find all sorts of great info. – Wayne Werner Aug 4 '10 at 18:16
  • Ditto on the dremel multi-max. Great tool. – Mike B Sep 26 '10 at 18:02
  • Great suggestion. I'd like to add my 2 cents about quality: From my experience (particularly with tools) you get what you pay for. Sometimes buying something that costs twice as much will be cheaper because you only have to buy it once. – mattz Dec 22 '10 at 20:10

A decent quarter-sheet, general purpose palm sander. Especially one with decent fastening capabilities.

Bosch 1297 http://www.plumbersurplus.com/images/prod/5/Bosch-1297DK-rw-80730-148351.jpg

  • "Palm Sander" is pretty open-ended. Quarter sheet? Detail Sander? Random Orbital? Which one would you recommend for the average home owner, and why? – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 15:21
  • I currently own this Black and Decker 4-in-1 power sander, but I'm not happy with its performance. blackanddecker.com/ProductGuide/… Can anyone recommend a better one? – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 15:23
  • Good point. I am partial to the quarter-sheet and for the general purpose usage that I view it as a necessity for I don't need detail-level or random-orbit features. One could say, though that it's must-own *because it's general - you "must own" whichever one will get the most use in your workshop. with respect to your other question I am very happy with the one pictured above, but that doesn;t have all the features of the one you;re looking to replace.... – cori Aug 4 '10 at 20:01
  • The B&D one I have looked appealing because it can switch to the various modes, but it doesn't seem to remove material very evenly. (I tried to use it to sand/repaint my grill, and it took forever.) So, I've been looking at getting a quarter sheet sander as a secondary option. – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 20:36

Am surprised that no one has mentioned Duck Tape (Duct tape?) and 3 in 1 oil.... :)

  • -1: This is two different items. – Phil Miller Aug 5 '10 at 19:50
  • Ducttape is not a tool. – Toon Krijthe Oct 4 '10 at 11:01

A portable workbench: I use my Workmate all the time:

alt text http://www.blackanddecker.com/ProductImages/PC_Graphics/PHOTOS/BDK/POWER_TOOLS/TOOLS/SMALL/4/WM425%25_5.gif

  • And you can beat the heck out of it and it'll shrug it off. I have the model with the cloth pockets below, which is handy for catching all of the wood shavings, nails, screws, etc so they can go in the trash instead of on the garage floor. – BryanH Jul 14 '12 at 2:20

You'll definitely need a torpedo level. I don't have a lot of storage space, so I just have one of these torpedo levels.alt text

  • Duplicate post. Someone already mentioned levels. – Mike B Sep 26 '10 at 18:04
  • The laser level is not really the same thing...it creates a leveled line...great if you need a really long leveled line. A torpedo level is a lot better for checking the level quickly and easily of a surface. The laser level takes a lot of time to setup and calibrate. Sometimes you just need to quickly check if something is level. If you have the money, you can invest in both. – milesmeow Sep 26 '10 at 18:12

Watchmakers Screwdriver Set

It seems like more and more things around the home use those pesky little screws. Also don't forget all those kids toys, electronics, etc that like to use those same little pesky screws.

  • I bought a set at Radio Shack about 15 years ago and they're still going strong. Only the tiniest flat head driver broke. Great for jewelry, computers, electronics, and tight spaces. Sometimes I use a needle noses pliers around the handle of one for extra leverage. – geerlingguy Nov 29 '12 at 13:17

Aviation shears (tin snips)

enter image description here

These are like giant wire cutters. They are designed to give you a massive amount of leverage from a squeeze of the hand. They're great for cutting anything that will fit in the jaws : wire, nails, sheet metal, conduit, doweling, and corner beads.

Head lamp

Much easier than having someone else hold a flashlight, or trying to balance the light against the tool box.

head lamp

  • I used one of these when blowing in insulation for my attic. It would have been a lot trickier without it. I could hold on to a rafter with one hand and operate the blower hose with the other without having to worry about losing my balance and putting a foot through the new ceiling I had just installed. – Doresoom Jul 6 '11 at 16:13
  • If you're a baseball cap wearer, I recommend getting one that clips to the brim of your cap. – lecrank Jan 10 '12 at 22:31

Stanley Plastic Clamp Miter Box

alt text http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41ZF8W2D49L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

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    I got a cheap one - wish it had the clamps like this! – GalacticCowboy Aug 12 '10 at 16:57
  • I've had good experiences with this thing. I don't do a lot of precise wood cutting, so I don't have much need for an expensive power miter saw (nor do I have the room). This thing is small and light, so it can go on a shelf when I'm not using it. You can also bolt it to your workbench for a permanent installation. – myron-semack Sep 27 '10 at 13:06
  • I have the older incarnation, where the back saw goes into a plastic piece to steady it, and that piece clamps to a post that has the angle adjustment. The box-jig design above is so much more elegant in its simplicity. – KeithS May 3 '13 at 19:04

(Medium to Heavy Duty) Extension Lead/Cord

Leads on corded power-tools aren't always long enough to reach from power-outlet to working area.

A slide gauge

enter image description here

If you want to know what size bolt you're supposed to use, how deep a hole you need to drill or whenever precise measurement is needed.

  • 2
    also called calipers. The cheap(est) kind mean you need to learn how to read a vernier scale, o'course (unless you're old enough to have learned on a slide rule ;) – Wayne Werner Aug 9 '10 at 10:13

A Picquic.

enter image description here

[I would have left this as a comment on the screwdriver-set answer, but I don't have sufficient rep.]

If you're in Canada, the one tool I'd recommend above any other is the standard Picquic combination screwdriver. Canadian Tire's page is probably the best example -- judging by the reviews, I'm not the only one who loves it. :)

I've used mine for years, on almost every job I've done around the house. In a pinch, the bits also fit well into a cordless drill. There are probably good equivalents in other countries, though I've not run across any myself.

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?)


  • You could probably find them online - but I wouldn't hold my breath for finding one elsewhere. – Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 3:47
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    I'd say a Stanley knife. – Umber Ferrule Jul 29 '10 at 22:18
  • Why this particular style of knife over a regular utility knife? – myron-semack Aug 4 '10 at 20:39
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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

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

Circuit Breaker Finder Tracer / Receptacle tester.

enter image description here

  • Good one. A tool that I don't have. My dad had something similar from his days as a cable guy and it was the only way to find the right coax wire at the junction box. – mmccoo Jul 28 '10 at 20:44
  • Newbie question... how does this tool differ from the "Non-Contact Voltage Tester" that was mentioned on the previous page? – Mike B Oct 4 '10 at 23:44
  • @Mike B: This tool is used to trace lines back to the breaker. The part that plugs into the receptacle also tests the receptacle and can tell you if it is wired properly. A non-contact voltage tester only tells you if the line is hot or not. – Tester101 Oct 5 '10 at 11:45
  • @MikeB - An NCVT is a safety tool; it lets you know if the switch you're about to open up is still live because you turned off the wrong breaker. A breaker finder does exactly that; plug it into the piece you need to work on and scan the panel switches for the correct breaker to throw. – KeithS May 3 '13 at 19:07

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