When it comes to home maintenance, we know not everyone is Bob Villa. Heck, most people aren’t even Tim Allen. But that’s no reason to be caught with a squeaky hinge, a leaky faucet, or a loose deck board.
Basic home maintenance skills are, in our opinion, an important part of ownership. And part of those skills is having the right tools at your disposal.
This post contains affiliate links. You’re under no obligation to order from them, but it helps us if you do
A standard claw hammer is the very first tool most people buy. Steve got his from his dad; an old claw hammer with a hardwood handle that’s probably older than him. But you don’t have to get a hand-me-down.
Newer models have rubberized or impact-deadening carbon fibre handles that make bigger projects more comfortable and cause less strain on your hands and forearms. For most homeowners this isn’t an issue, but it’s a nice feature anyway.
It’s extremely rare to break a hammer. A good one will last a lifetime. Sometimes two lifetimes.
A good set of screwdrivers is worth its weight in gold. You’ll need a few to match all the different applications. And it doesn’t hurt to spend a little more on quality: cheaper drivers tend to be made with softer metals that will wear down and become useless over time.
We actually recommend two sets: one for serious project work, and another multidriver to keep in a kitchen drawer. A multidriver is a handle with interchangeable bits that you can swap out for different jobs. A set of screwdrivers in different sizes in your toolbox means you’re ready to take on more serious projects when they come up.
You basically need six drivers: two Philips (star or plus), two Roberson (square), and two Standard (slot). These each come in up to four sizes, but the ones you’ll find most often are #1 (small) and #2 (standard). Having a set gets you in a good place to handle just about every tightening job around the house.
If you’re getting serious about projects, driver bits for your drill would come in handy too. This is especially true with longer screws (like deck screws), which can be real wrist-wreckers if you have to do them by hand.
There are tons of specialty wrenches out there, and these include socket wrenches, box-end wrenches, and crescent wrenches. But for the vast majority of household jobs, a set of adjustable wrenches is the way to go.
With an adjustable wrench, you use the thumb wheel on the side to open or close the jaws of the wrench. This ensures that no matter what size the nut, you’ll always have the right size wrench handy. Getting a set of adjustable wrenches will keep you well-supplied for just about any project or repair job that might come up around the house.
Always remember, however, that the tape measure has a metal claw on the end. That piece wiggles about 1/16 of an inch. When it comes to precision cutting, keep that in mind (and cut on the outside of that line, not right on it; the thickness of the saw blade will actually make your cut piece just a shade smaller if you’re right on the line).
A level is essentially a straight edge with a little glass tube that contains a bubble. When the bubble is between the lines, the straight edge is perfectly level. It’s old tech, but it works. The better levels will also have gauges for plumb (meaning vertically straight as opposed to horizontally), which is useful for mounting cabinets or lining up pictures on a vertical centre line.
You don’t need a professional six-foot level. A 24-inch model will cover probably 80% of your household tasks. You may find a smaller 9-inch model handy as well.
A hand saw is one of those basic carpentry tools that has been around for centuries, largely because it’s that useful and the design is that good. A quality hand saw doesn’t need to be big. It just needs to cut.
The main job of this guy is to cut wood. There are tons of different specialty saws for all kinds of applications, but this is the basic woodcutting tool every home needs. It will make quick work of boards and planks, and doesn’t take a lot of skill to wield.
When approaching anything other than wood; like a metal closet rod, copper pipe, or PVC conduit, a hacksaw is the better option. The blade is thinner than a hand saw, and it has finer teeth designed for cutting harder materials. Just be careful to keep your strokes perfectly straight — the thinner blade on the hacksaw makes it more prone to breaking.
That’s OK though. Most come with at least one replacement blade (stored conveniently in the handle), and replacements are fairly inexpensive.
If you’re not experienced, do NOT use these for electrical work.
That said, wire cutters are like pliers (in fact, they’re often included in sets) that are bladed all the way along the jaws. That makes them great for cutting all sorts of metal or plastic banding, from copper wire to floral wire, from wired ribbon to the 47 million little zip ties they use to keep your kids’ toys permanently attached to the box.
The most commonly-used pliers in your arsenal will be your needlenose and side-cutter pliers. When you want to remove staples from the wall, bend some wire, or even just hold something while you glue it, these things are a must.
As with screwdrivers and wrenches, you can usually buy a set of pliers at a reasonable price, and the set will often include a wire cutter. They don’t need to be professional-grade, but do look for a quality brand. Also, avoid gimmicks like “lady tools” with pink handles (yes, they make these). That’s just to get you to spend more money for the same tool. The tool doesn’t care who’s using it.
Unless you really REALLY want pink tools, that is.
Not a crowbar. A pry bar is a flat bar, usually with a nail claw at either end. These are super useful for pulling two pieces of material apart, especially when there’s not enough space to squeeze in a claw hammer.
The same is true for nails. Sometimes the angle of a nail’s position (such as in a corner) is such that you can’t get in with a bulky hammer. A flat pry bar will almost certainly do the trick.
And for getting into a tight space with as little damage to the surrounding material as possible, like when removing baseboard or moulding, the flat profile of the pry bar is exactly what you need to do the trick.
No toolbox would be complete without at least one power tool. And if you buy only one, make it a drill.
It doesn’t actually matter if you choose a corded or cordless drill for most jobs. You’ll see contractors and serious hobbyists using cordless tools because they’re convenient, but if you just need to put a hole in the wall for an anchor, having to keep a battery charged at all times is actually less convenient than plugging it in. This is Steve’s, and he’s been working it HARD for nearly 20 years!
Look for brands that come with a great reputation and warranty (DeWalt, Ridgid, Ryobi, Mastercraft, Craftsman, Skil, Makita, Milwaukee, etc.). You’ll want a variable speed, where the switch acts something like the gas pedal on your car; squeeze harder or back off to go faster or slower. And when shopping, look for a keyless chuck. The chuck is the part you turn to lock the blade in place. A keyless version is faster and easier to use, and doesn’t require you to keep track of the extra tool you need (the key) to clamp it down.
You will need bits to do the actual work. Carbide bits are great for most applications, but if you go with titanium you can tackle both wood and metal projects. Just be sure to always wear eye protection when using any power tool!