9 Essential Tools For DIY In A Basic Tool Kit

Here are the 9 most essential tools in a basic tool kit. I include the 2 most essential power tools, safety and storage tips. I have been working with tools for the past thirty years and know first hand which tools are needed 99% of the time.

The entire article has been very well thought out. Most online tool guides  include expensive tools which aren’t needed for most jobs. I set out to fix that. 

I have focused only on tools that are the most useful and necessary for both day to day and common DIY tasks. The list is in order of most important and useful first. 

Each tool also includes a ‘what to look for’ and ‘rough cost’ section based on my years of experience. 

Tape Measure

The tape measure is one of the most important components to your tool kit. It’s useful for anything and everything DIY related. 

You’ll use a tape measure surprisingly often for every day tasks. As an example we recently used a tape measure for both moving a fridge in our kitchen and measuring our dogs neck size. 

What to look for 

  • 25 ft should be sufficient for most DIY related tasks. 
  • At least a ¾ inch width of tape width. 
  • Easy to read numbers with both inches and cm. 
  • A retracting and locking mechanism. 

Rough cost: $5 – $10. 

Screwdriver set

Screwdrivers are a simple but effective tool used for a huge variety of DIY tasks. 

For example, tightening cabinet hardware, installing light switches and even cracking the lids open on metal paint cans. To summarise: fixing, disassembling or piecing two or three things together. 

Hundreds of things in the home are attached with screws. Quite simply your toolbox is incomplete without a screwdriver set. 

We have purposely here recommended a screwdriver set rather than individual screwdrivers. A single multi-bit screwdriver has one handle with an assortment of bits that you can swap if needed. This will save you both space and money. 

What to Look For

  • There are two basic types of screws: flat-head (single slot on top) and Philips (small cross in middle). Make sure your set includes both. 
  • Look for a variety of sizes of screwdriver bit within your set. 
  • A simple six-in-one screwdriver with two Philips, two flat-head and two nut-driving heads is a great starter kit. 
  • Something sturdy and comfortable to grip. 

Rough cost: $5 – $20. 

Hammer

Who doesn’t like hitting things with a hammer? Aside from whacking things, you’ll be surprised at the versatility of a hammer. 


To give examples, a hammer can be used to drive nails into walls to hang pictures, knock flat pack furniture into place and remove screws. I even used a hammer recently to separate some frozen chicken breasts. A good hammer includes a claw for pulling nails. 

What to look for  

  • Look for at least a 16-ounce hammer. This will be light enough to be maneuverable yet heavy enough to deliver some force. 
  • A comfortable rubber grip (with vibration dampening paint if possible). 
  • A smooth hammerhead. Some hammers come with a serrated head and this can cause damage and nail slippage. 

Rough cost: less than $15. 

Note: The hammer mentioned here is distinct from a sledge hammer. A sledge hammer is used far more seldom than a standard hammer and is not on the essential recommendation list. 

Utility Knife

A Utility Knife (sometimes called a stanley knife) is a knife used for general purposes. Typically a Utility Knife consists of a very sharp retractable blade house in a plastic body. 

It is a versatile tool and has many uses from DIY tasks to more typical jobs around the home. Examples would be cutting plastic ties, marking things and trimming wallpaper. 

As a cheap tool that has many uses I recommend you keep one of these in your tool box. 

What To Look For

  • Look for a secure handle with built in storage for extra blades. 
  • A knife that includes spare blades for when the primary goes blunt. 
  • A sturdy non-disposable model (many cheap utility knives are disposable). 

Rough cost: $5 – $15. 

Nails and Screws (otherwise known as ‘hardware’)

An assortment of nails and screws have many uses around the home and for DIY tasks. For example hanging pictures, fixing bits of broken cupboard and fitting light switches.

Screws vary in type and length so it’s important to keep an assortment in your tool box. Some screws are for fastening wood whereas other screws are for attaching objects to drywall. 

What To Look For

  • A variety of screws in length, width and type. 
  • A set that includes wall plugs. 
  • Other handy bits and pieces like picture hooks or wall anchors. A starter kit should include these elements. 

Rough cost: Around $25 for a 1000 piece set. 

Pliers

Pliers are used for grasping something tightly to pull or turn. This requirement is common in DIY projects. For example, removing nails or opening fiddly packaging. 

The alternative to using pliers is using your fingers to grasp something tightly. Imagine trying to pull a nail from the wall with only your fingers – impossible. Pliers enable you to exert more force and leveredge on small objects.  

What To Look For

  • Look for long handles. This increases leveredge and grip strength of the plier. 
  • Metal teeth. This enables the pliers to grip the object stronger. 
  • An assortment of sizes – some kits come with 3 or 4 sets. 

Rough cost: Around $20 for a set of 4 pliers. 

Tape

Some large projects I’ve seen have been practically held together by duct tape. Whilst impressive, it’s not a great idea to rely solely on duct tape for any repair job. 

However, duct tape is quick and effective in temporarily fixing things. It can also hold things in place whilst you measure or repair properly. 

Aside from duct tape, there are three main types of tape.

Painters tape prevents paint from touching certain surfaces. For example last week I painted my dining room. I used painters tape on a mirror on the wall to prevent any paint from spilling. It’s also called ‘masking tape’ and can be used on pipes. Rough cost: $5. 

Electrical tape will insulate wires, stretch well and provide good insulation. It’s useful for covering damaged wires or covering copper pipes so they don’t freeze over in the winter. Rough cost: $5 a roll. 

Plumbers tape is made of thin teflon (or PTFE) and is stretchy and forms a tight seal. You can use this to wrap around leaking pipes or where pipes join to provide additional support. Rough cost: $1 a roll. 

Sand Paper

Sandpaper is used for sanding down rough edges, repairing splintered counters and preparing areas for painting. 

What to look for

  • A variety of coarseness. This is how rough the sandpaper is and is measured in ‘grit’. 
  • For heavy sanding look for coarse sandpaper at 40 – 60 grit. For removing small imperfections look for 100 grit and for finishing surfaces smoothly look for 400 grit. 

Rough cost: $1 for a few sheets. 

Spirit Level

A spirit level is used to check whether things are level. Whilst a spirit level is useful in precise DIY projects, they are also useful in more general tasks. For example putting up tables, beds and appliances. 

Note: some phones will have the capability to download a spirit level app. Some are even free – so check that out if you even need a physical spirit level. 

What to look for

  • Look for both vertical and horizontal bubbles on the spirit level. 
  • An appropriate length of spirit level. In general the longer the better because it will provide more precision and accuracy. 

2 Most Essential Power Tools

Cordless Drill

Most DIYers and professionals would agree out of all the power tools used, the cordless drill is the most common and useful. 

The cordless drill has so many uses where your hands are too slow or weak to complete the task. Examples include installing shelves, hanging baby gates or giving you a helping hand instead of using a manual screwdriver. 

What to look for

  • A combi drill. This has the capability of oscillating backwards and forwards in addition to the spinning motion. This means you are able to drill into hard material such as brick or concrete. 
  • A drill that comes with a drill bit set. 
  • A Lithium-ion battery. 

Oscillating Multi-Tool

An oscillating multi-tool also has many uses. It’s a great little tool capable of completing a variety of tasks. The huge benefit is that the multi-tool provides several traditional power tool capabilities within one device. 

Typically the tool will be capable of sanding, cutting, scraping, grinding and polishing. An oscillating multi-tool can sand, saw and is a problem solver in lots of situations. For example, cutting pipes, grinding away mortar, removing old paint and sanding wood. 

What To Look For

  • A variety of attachments. The more attachments, the more versatility your tool will offer. 
  • A reputable brand. 
  • A good amount of power. An oscillation of RPM of 11,000 OPM should be sufficient for the everyday user. 

Most Essential Safety Gear

Ear Protection

Hearing cannot be repaired once damaged. Tinnitus is serious and can cause significant ongoing issues but is very preventable. 

Ear protection reduces the level of noise. This reduces the risk of permanent hearing loss. 

What To Look For

  • It needs to be good fitting. Otherwise there’s little point. 
  • Ear muffs are ideal although earplugs also work. 

Rough cost: Earmuffs around $10 or 200 earplugs for $25. 

Safety Glasses

Please wear safety glasses as much as possible. I have seen too many accidents involving eyes. Vision is one of the most important parts of the human body so we should protect it. 

Safety glasses will protect you from sawdust and flying debris. More crucially, they will also protect you from severe accidents such as a drill bit snapping and flying into your eye. Other hazards include chemicals spilling and live wires popping loose.

What To Look For

  • Lightweight, sturdy and secure. 
  • If you wear glasses, look for goggles that will fit over the top. 
  • Padding and ventilation. 

Rough Cost: Around $10

Safety Gloves

Gloves will stop rough bricks scraping your skin and splinters if working with wood. They will also protect you against heat, cold and electric shock. 

Wear disposable gloves when working with chemicals rather than re-usable safety gloves. 

What To Look For

  • General purpose utility gloves. 

Rough Cost: $15. 

Mask

Use a mask when sanding, putting up fibreglass and mixing powder with anything. A mask will prevent you from inhaling dust or harmful particles whilst you work. 

For harmful vapours you should use a specially designed respirator. They have a built-in filter cartridge that absorbs harmful gasses before reaching your lungs. Different types of filters work against various chemicals such as acids or ammonia. 

Rough cost: $1 for a disposable mask and around $25 for a respirator. 

Wall Scanner

A wall scanner will use an electronic signal to detect for wood stud, metal objects and live wiring. If you don’t know the wall you are about to drill into, using a wall scanner is an absolute must. 

This will prevent accidents such as drilling into live wire which could cause a fatal electric shock. 

What To Look For

  • A reputable brand with good product reviews. 
  • A metal detector as well as stud detector. 

Tool Storage 

Lastly, you’ll need somewhere to store everything! A tool box is easy to store, easy to carry and will prevent you from losing things. It’s also beneficial in helping organise everything you have so it’s there when you need it. 

A tool box will prevent your tools from being damaged and clattered around. A good tool box will include multiple shelves and organisation systems. 

What To Look For

  • Large enough for all your tools. 
  • Sturdy. You don’t want it falling apart. It may also be useful to sit/stand on for some tasks. 
  • Lots of compartments with a vertical tool bin. 

Rough cost: Around $20. 

What to do next? 

Make sure you store your tools correctly in order to prevent rust. If your tools do rust, read our ultimate guide on how to remove rust.

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