Crafty (& Handy)

My Top Ten Essential Tools for DIY Projects

You’ve probably figured out by now that I do a lot of projects around the house. If you’ve been reading for a long time, you also know that I once worked as a handyman.

I own a LOT of tools, but my top ten are the ones that I keep coming back to again and again. I think you’d be pretty well-equipped to handle a lot of DIY projects if you owned them too.

My Top Ten Essential Tools for DIY Projects

  • Drill/Driver

    I prefer a corded drill because it’s more powerful (go for 6-8 amps), but I think most people like the cordless variety (at least 12 volts). If you’ll only own one, make sure it’s a drill/driver, not just a drill.

  • Claw Hammer

    This is the type of hammer most people picture when thinking of a hammer. I’ve had mine forever (the handle is duct taped and well worn), it’s nice and heavy, and I use it all the time.

  • 5-in-1

    Open paint cans, clean rollers, pound paint lids closed, gouge cracks, and scrape loose paint – all with one tool.

  • Ratchet Screwdriver

    This is definitely the tool I use the most. In fact, I had to go out and buy another one because Brandon and I both like to use it when we’re building things (like IKEA furniture) together. Regular screwdrivers are fine, but the ratcheting ones are a lot nicer. Add interchangeable bits that store in the handle and you have the best screwdriver EVER.

  • Pliers

    I use my long/needle-nose pliers more than any of my others, but I use my lineman’s pliers (they have a built-in wire cutter) quite a bit too. They’ll do in a pinch if you don’t have a wrench, and if you’re afraid of hitting your fingers when hammering (some of us are clumsier than others), you can hold the nail in place with pliers.

  • Torpedo Level

    I have three levels (small, medium, and GIANT), but if you’re only going to have one I’d make it a torpedo level. You DO want those shelves you plan on installing to be straight, yes?

  • Power Sander

    I like mine because it comes to a point for detail work, but a random orbit sander is probably a better choice (and the one I wish I had). If you want to refinish an old dresser, sanding by hand is sure to leave your arms tired and you frustrated. Go for a power sander.

  • Tape Measure

    Surely you already own a tape measure, right? Right. I carry a smaller one in my purse at all times too, but I’m a bit strange that way.

  • Handsaw

    Handsaws are great for little projects. I have one with three interchangeable blades, but a hacksaw is another excellent option.

  • Staple Gun

    If you’ve ever wanted to try a simple upholstery project or to place some fabric over stretcher bars (like an artist’s canvas), you’re going to want a staple gun. There are power versions out there, but I find the $10-$15 handheld variety are just fine.

If you have the tools I’ve listed above, you’re pretty well set. To be further prepared though, you’ll also want to keep a stepladder and some general supplies on hand: sandpaper (in various grades), nails, screws, and wood glue.

Extra Credit

I wouldn’t run right out and buy these just to have them, but you might want to consider them if you have some BIG projects coming up.

  • Nail Gun (& Air Compressor)

    We kept borrowing a nail gun until we finally decided to buy our own. The air compressor is what gives the nail gun its force, so you need both. It seems like nail guns are a little scary to a lot of people, but they really aren’t too bad if you know what to expect. There will be a puff of air out of the back each time you fire a nail (and the nail won’t fire unless the tip of the gun is pressed in), the compressor will cycle on and off as needed to build up pressure, and it’s LOUD.

  • Compound Meiter Saw

    If you have a lot of cuts to make, your arm will get really tired using a handsaw. A compound meiter saw will let you make straight cuts and all kinds of crazy angle cuts.

  • Table Saw or Circular Saw

    Another tool we kept borrowing (and let me tell you, table saws are not exactly meant to be portable). We actually should have just bought a circular saw, but we went with a table saw instead. Both are good for making long, straight cuts in big pieces of wood.

So what do you think? Any essential tools that I left out of my list? What works for me may not be exactly what works for you, but I hope you found this helpful!

When I told Brandon that I was writing about my top ten tools, he asked if he was number one. I told him no, because he’s not a tool. ;)

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  • Patricia
    April 25, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Very good top ten list…. I also like my sewing machine and hot glue gun!

  • Making it Lovely
    April 25, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Oh, yes! Perhaps I should do a follow up with crafty tools!

  • molly
    April 25, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Great list! I carry a small tape measure in my purse too!

  • Helen
    April 25, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks! It’s a great starting point for me (because we just moved in to a new place late last year).
    And yes, I carry a small tape measure (or the paper version from Ikea) in my purse too. ^___^

  • jen
    April 25, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    For the only slightly-uninformed, what does a 5 in 1 look like? It sounds like the perfect tool.

  • Making it Lovely
    April 25, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Here’s a 5-in-1 tool by Hyde.

  • Renovation Therapy
    April 25, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I am band saw obsessive. My other must have is a japanese pull cut saw.

    I always have a tape measure (cute little Coach one – super silly) in my pocketbook too.

  • Jessica
    April 25, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    I had to laugh about this … We have every single tool on your list except for the 5-in-1. (Don’t worry, I just put it on my list of things to check out at the hardware store.)

    One of my favorites is our 100′ tape measure. Definitely too big to carry in my handbag, but it’s really useful for measuring gardens and landscapes. I also use it at work to measure conference centers and other big event spaces.

  • Winnie
    April 25, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    Have all the items in your photo, although both my power tools are B&D, bought different years at father’s day sales. For me. My husband isn’t allowed near my tools. Although I recently had to purchase a new level, couldn’t find the old one anywhere. Then it turned up in . . .wait for it . . . my husband’s BOAT! For what earthly reason would you need a level on a boat? He claimed he didn’t know how it got there and I threatened to “loose” several fishing rods if he touched my tools again. Anyway, just a suggestion, that father’s day is coming up and a hardware store near you will no doubt be having a sale.

  • Laura S.
    April 25, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    This may fit in to the “crafty tools” category, but a blub auger is a good essential outdoor tool (p.s., until a month ago I never knew I would need one of these but now it is invaluable :-).

  • MichelleB
    April 26, 2008 at 12:45 am

    I too carry the tape measure as well as my really useful swiss army knife. It’s been more useful that you’d think.

    Btw, on the subject of girls and women doing it themselves:
    My mechanic is a 60+ year – old woman and she’s simply awesome!

  • Silvia
    April 26, 2008 at 12:51 am

    Wow you’ve got a fantastic “collection”! I wish I was able to use them!!
    Have a good day

  • Jenny
    April 26, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Wow! This is great! Thank you Nicole!!! I like the sander – it looks a bit like an iron base – so good to be able to get into corners. I will print out your list and check these items out. The compound meiter saw sounds interesting.
    I’m SO impressed that you once worked as a handyman! My hero! I really want to do a lot around the house but have never learned how to even hold a drill. My darling Dad isn’t a handy kind of guy (more the intellectual type) so I’ve just not seen things done – I think this is how I learn, I realise. I can sew, knit, cook, crochet (with varying degrees of finesse…) but am yet to master the handyperson arts. But I am determined! I just bought some calking stuff to fill in gaps where my skirting boards should join my polished boards, but don’t… We’ll see how that goes. And I’m going to start attending the free handyman classes at the mega hardware shops we have here in Australia called Bunnings. You don’t always get the same degree of advice there, so I like to shop at my local hardware shop, but they don’t run classes.

    I can only look on with envy at people whose husbands (with or without their help) build whole extensions onto their houses. One day…

    Thanks again – and I vote for a craft tools feature, too. Eg. what to look for in an overlocker?

    Love this blog!

  • Peachy Keen
    April 26, 2008 at 3:30 am

    I am going to get me a ratchet screwdriver! Everything else I completely agree on, though my absolute favorite tool is my tape measure. My husband hates it when he hears the tape measure go, followed by ‘Honey…I have an idea….’ He generally groans in pain at this point!

  • Renovation Therapy
    April 26, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Get the Craftsman card at Sears…you get an extra 10% off and the poster who referenced Father’s Day is right…mega tool sales!!!

  • Sue
    April 26, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Fabulous picture, as ALWAYS, Nicole! My daughter and I were just discussing tools we have and/or need to acquire last night. Looking at your top ten list…we’re only missing the power sander. But we’ll be moving on to the “extra credit” list in the near future.

  • K T G
    April 26, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Please don’t forget safety gear: eye protection and nose/mouth masks are highly recommended for most tasks, and gloves and ear plugs are a good idea for many tasks. They are not tools, per se, but if you’re using tools, don’t be too cool to be safe.

  • paola
    April 26, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    The idea of you and Brandon building Ikea furniture together is just too cute.

    I adhere to a strictly traditional division of labour when it comes flatpack furniture…

  • Jan
    April 26, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Thanks for all of this helpful information. And I love your photo.

  • April
    April 27, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    I love my Ratchet Screwdriver, too!! Great list :)

  • Making it Lovely
    April 27, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    K T G, good point. I always wear my safety gear, even when a certain someone makes fun of me for it.

  • MrsLimestone
    April 27, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Great post. I just bought that corner sander today!

  • jen
    April 27, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks for the picture. COOL TOOL!

  • Adrienne Breaux
    April 28, 2008 at 7:50 am

    What a great list! Thanks for putting it all in one spot!

  • Amy
    April 28, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Great post – i would agree with all of your list, including the extra credit and ditto to the comment about adding the sewing machine.

  • Kim
    April 28, 2008 at 9:04 am

    Why would you prefer an orbital sander to the Ryobi you have now? I’m not sure what the difference is…
    Also, do you find that Ryobi is a good brand? There are so many choices out there for sanders – I’m overwhelmed!

  • Dawn
    April 28, 2008 at 9:10 am

    A wrecking bar is a must have in my house.

  • Anna @ D16
    April 28, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    I just bought a Bosch orbital sander. I haven’t used it yet, but I am wicked excited to.

  • Anna @ D16
    April 28, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    p.s. No jigsaw?! I couldn’t live without mine!

  • K T G
    April 28, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    The jigsaw was the first power tool I ever got taught. I wouldn’t call it vital top ten, but specific to the tasks you may need it for and that may be all the time. However, I would consider it historic for me. I doubt I’d have involved myself in many of the things that educated me more on tools and tool safety, and I just get a good feeling from being handy to fix most minor problems and solve problems and make things. It’s just such a natural part of me so that I wonder where I would be without someone handing me a jigsaw for a drama club project in high school, and instead of ending up doing it himself, showed me how to do it. Thank you jigsaw guy!

    Sorry, Nicole, that was a bit of unexpected nostalgia.

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  • Erin
    April 29, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    LOVE the top ten – I have most of them. I, not Hubby, am the handy/crafty one in the household, and Hubby is not allowed near my precious tools. I also sew, knit, cook, scrapbook, and make soap, and I am so impressed that you used to be a handyman. And I love your blog.

    Someone mentioned about a serger – I like my 5-spool serger better than the 4-spool one I grew up on. (Mom was a seamstress.) And have the shop thread it because they are such a pain to thread on one’s own.

  • Ryan
    April 30, 2008 at 9:24 am

    My wife sent me the picture of you in a dress with a Ridgid Impact Drill and I thought that was awesome. On drills, I would agree that you get more power out of a corded drill, but the new lithium powered cordless drills pack a lot of punch. I just picked up a Ridged RB86006 and it is fantastic. Also, Ridgid offers a Lifetime Warranty on all their parts including batteries, which is also awesome.

  • Joyce
    May 1, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Can you post the picture of the object next to the discussion of it? That would help those of us who aren’t very handy, but would like to be!

  • DIY diva
    May 1, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    My latest greatest tools are a Tom Boy 14oz pink claw hammer and a little square. Nobody takes my hammer anymore! The square well, I still mess up cuts, but not as many as presquare.

  • Jan
    May 2, 2008 at 10:31 am

    My list would include a Cat’s Paw.

  • Marcia
    May 6, 2008 at 9:14 am

    I just bought a two bedroom co-op in NYC, and I’ve very crafty and handy, so I was super excited to see your list! While I’m not allowed to do much construction on my own in the apartment (stupid co-op rules, but I understand the need for architects and contractors in an apartment building! I wouldn’t want someone on the first floor accidentally removing a lode-bearing wall!), and I have almost everything… and while I’m not buying a saw, I’m so getting a drill/driver. THANKS!

  • Emma Woo
    July 1, 2008 at 3:12 am

    I love this! Girls talking about tools and finally putting the ‘only men are truly handy’ myth once and for all to bed. I am inspired. I have been waiting for my non handy hubbie to complete some tasks around the house. No longer! I am going to do them for myself (especially if it means I can go shopping first)!

  • Leah
    August 10, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Nicole…
    I love your enthusiasm. I was a carpenter from 1978-2004 and you have nailed it pretty accurately regarding the top tools for your projects, small or large.

    I built 2 homes on my own, literally, from the ground up and I would add a couple more items to your list. It seemed I could not go without my razor knife, flat metal file and tweezers as full time tool belt residences. And let us not forget the all important Speed Square!

    I am now a Life Coach encouraging women to grab their own hammers and start swinging…so it is heartening to see your site and the responses you are getting.

    You go girl!

    L.L. Burton
    Women Carpenters Coach

  • Diy Tools Expert
    January 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Oh ! some very important things you have mentioned in your post are missing in my tools box collection, sometimes I really stuck and can’t fix a very small problem only due to absence of a handy DIY tool that can save my time also. Will keep up with your blog, quite informative.

  • Heather Evans
    May 2, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Hi, Nicole. Thanks for your list. I used your picture for a home repair post on our Caribbean living blog, because the background fabric is so perfect, with a link to this post. Hope that’s OK. Best, Heather

  • Richard
    January 12, 2016 at 12:55 am

    A miter saw is just much more practical for things like cutting crown moulding, baseboards, door casings and jambs, and other trim. I can’t imagine trying to do that with a table saw.

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  • Marsha D.Gainer
    March 29, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Thanks! It’s a great starting point for me.