Ask Brian: Basic and Essential Tools for Home DIY Projects

Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to

Question from Lidia in FL: How are you doing Brian? Ive owned my home for two years but still havent picked up a hammer. I do own a hammer and a screwdriver but those are the only tools in my catchall drawer. So, as youve probably guessed, Im new to DIY projects but its clear to me that this is the best way to get more projects done inexpensively. And to do some of the maintenance. So please help me begin at the beginning. Instead of a hardware salesman selling me a bunch of expensive tools that I probably dont need, what are the basics for simple DIY projects?

Answer: Hello Lidia. Your homeowners toolbox begins with a few basic tools that youll add to over time as you take on different and more complex projects. For years, Ive given gifts of small basic toolkits for birthdays, Christmas, and high school graduation for young adults (you can even find these in the color pink for young women). These are toolkits that come in a plastic tote and are often advertised to contain about 50 or 60 tools at a cost under $50. I think these are useful for a young person heading off to college or a first apartment where the tools will mostly be used to put together IKEA furniture. But there are drawbacks. These low cost tools are manufactured inexpensively. You cant expect them to last very long and theyll probably break when youre in the middle of a critical project. Also, the advertised claim that these kits contain 50 to 60 tools can be misleading. They do contain this many parts but they are counting every socket and wrench as a separate tool. What you are really getting is a basic socket set, a hammer, a basic wrench set, a tape measure, and one or two pairs of pliers. One thing I do like about these toolkits is that they have screwdrivers with interchangeable tips. Every one of the tips is counted as a separate tool but range from flat tips, to phillip tips, star shapes, different sized hexagons, and others. These come in handy when you come across a screw with an unusual head.

But lets consider some more durable basic tools that will last a homeowner a lifetime.

  • A hammer is about as basic as you can get. A 16-ounce s claw hammer is where to start. You will use it to drive nails to hang pictures, to pull nails that get bent, to tap together that self-assembled IKEA furniture, and youll still be using it when you build a yard fence. This hammer is used for just about everything.
  • Many homeowners start out doing some basic carpentry work. This requires an adjustable combination square. A combination square has a 12 rule, marks off 90 and 45-degree angles, as well as has a small level. Youll eventually need larger versions of these tools but this is a good place to start.
  • 25 to 35-foot tape measure. You can start with a smaller 10 or 12-foot tape but it wont be long before you need a longer tape measure.
  • Screwdriver set. If you have that basic toolkit mentioned earlier, youll get by with that for a while. But soon, youll want a decent set of screwdrivers. Even your most basic flathead and phillips come with different tip sizes and in different lengths to fit into confined spaces. A decent set of screwdrivers will have six to eight different sizes.
  • Standard and metric socket sets. You dont need these too much for basic carpentry work but you will use them for maintenance that can include anything from changing furnace and water filters to changing the oil in the lawnmower. If youre on a budget, you can start with only the standard sizes up to a 3/4 size. For the time being, you can use an adjustable wrench for any metric sizes that you come across.
  • A handsaw is less intimidating than a power saw and has many uses. Its fast to set up when you only need to make a single cut. It can be used to cut almost all lumber and many other materials but it takes a lot of arm power. The first time you get into a job needing a lot of cuts, youll want to upgrade to a power circular saw. The basic circular saw has a 7-1/4-inch-diameter blade. Its a powerful and efficient tool but absolutely requires safety precautions.
  • Electric drill. You can start with what is called a 3/8 chuck that accepts drill bit sizes up to 3/8. When you get into larger projects, youll want to upgrade to a more powerful 1/2 chuck drill. Old style drills use a special key to tighten the drill bit into the chuck. Most new drills use a keyless chuck that requires only the grip of your hand to tighten it.
  • I almost forgot a basic toolbox. This is what makes these tools different from the basic toolkit. What you want is a large-capacity plastic toolbox with a metal latch that closes securely. Preferably a toolbox with a lift-out tray. Larger tools go under the tray and the tray is used to store smaller and more frequently used tools as well as assorted screws and fasteners.
  • There are several small very inexpensive tools that youll want in your toolbox like a putty knife, box cutter knife, an inexpensive magnetic stud finder, and a flashlight. There are also things that youll find around the house like a pencil, duct tape, string, and a piece of chalk.

Lidia, when youre ready to begin expanding beyond your basic tool collection, these are some tools to consider next:

  • Locking Pliers
  • Staple Gun
  • Plumb Bob
  • 4-Foot or Torpedo Level
  • C-clamps or bar clamps
  • Power table and miter saws
  • And much more as you progress from beginner to moderate to more experienced.

What do you recommend for a basic DIY toolbox? Please leave your comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to

Photo by Cesar Carlevarino Aragon

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.

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