The DIY-er’s Tool Kit: The Basics


Have you ever noticed a chair in a store window that was completely out of your price range? Or maybe saw a picture on the internet of a worn dresser or desk that someone modified into a truly amazing piece? If you thought to yourself “that doesn’t look too bad; I could build it myself if I knew how,” then you’ve already dipped a toe into the world of DIY.

In the simplest terms, DIY (which stands for “Do-It-Yourself”) means repairing, modifying or building something from scratch without hiring a professional. The DIY concept has taken off from the domain of quietly obsessed garage tinkerers to a wide-spread phenomenon. Today DIY-ers can be found at every age and from every background, all embracing the core idea of exercising their creativity and ingenuity, saving money and bettering their lives by doing more for themselves—from repairing or altering their clothing to remodeling their homes to be more cost-effective and environmentally sound.

Reasons for taking a DIY approach can vary; some people enjoy the satisfaction of having an item of furniture they created themselves, some have not been able to find items that fit their needs (either ascetically or in terms of using “green” materials and methods) and some are simply trying to save money. Whatever the reason, whatever the project, there are hundreds of like-minds online happy to swap tips and offer suggestions to get you started.

The Right Tools for the Job

It’s good to take a through inventory of your needs before investing money on tools that might end up gathering dust in the back of your closet. One point to consider is what kind of projects you plan to undertake. Are you just doing some basic home repairs/ improvements, such as light plumbing or upholstery? Are you planning bigger, more involved projects like paving, building a deck or knocking out a wall?

If you have a specific goal in mind, it’s easier to resist impulse purchases that might go unused.  Another thing to consider is how much space you have to devote to your projects. If you have a house with a big yard and garage, you can fit bigger, more specialized tools. If space is limited, you may want to limit yourself to a few choice multi-purpose tools, instead.

However, there some basic, universal tools that no DIY-er should be without:

Basic claw hammer—A sturdy hammer can be used for inserting nails, light demolition (breaking through plaster, drywall or tile), and some crafts (such as breaking glass or tile for mosaics). The claw end can help in ripping up boards and removing nails.

Screwdriver set—A basic screwdriver set is great for tightening loose screws in furniture, light scraping or as a light-weight pry bar (these are great for prying the lids off paint cans). Get a mix of various sizes, containing both flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers to cover your bases. Screwdrivers range from the most simple and fundamental hand tools to having features such as interchangeable or magnetic heads (great for helping keep those screws from slipping away while you work).

And while there are electric screwdrivers and screwdriver attachments for drills, keep in mind that a clunky drill might not maneuver well into tight corners or small corners and electric screwdrivers may need a lot of recharging, so keep a few no-frill screwdrivers around as backups. Screwdrivers are some of the most widely available and cheapest tools you can find, so you can keep a wide variety for every situation without putting a huge dent in your project budget.

Drill—For creating holes in wood, plaster, plastic and most other materials. Most drill kits will also come with an assortment of attachments (called bits) that can morph your drill into a super-powered screwdriver. A standard electric drill can do the job for most basic projects and repairs, but if you’re planning major renovations consider a hammer drill (also called a rotary hammer) as well.

A hammer drill combines a regular drill’s circular motion with a hammering motion that makes drilling into stone and concrete a breeze. Quick tip: the higher the voltage the drill uses, the more powerful it will be, but this can also mean that it’s heavier and bigger, which can make it trickier to handle.

Hacksaw—While saws can seem intimidating, there are a few options that are great for basic home improvement projects, one being the hacksaw. Hacksaws are hand-held frames that can hold a variety of blades. A small one can be lightweight, easy to handle, great for small spaces and they come as a basic hand tool or an electrical one. If you needed bigger materials cut, try asking your local lumber yard or home improvement store if they can cut it on site for you.

Utility knife—Cut wires, scrape wood or plastic, score drywall for breakage…the uses of a good knife are endless.

Proper protection—Last, but probably most important: make sure you have proper protection for every project you attempt. Sturdy work gloves protect your hands from cuts while goggles will keep dust, splinters, metal shavings and other debris out of your eyes. When painting, removing paint, knocking down walls or doing any other activity that throws dust and fumes into the air, a face mask is vital. Drop cloths and other kinds of coverings will protect your surroundings from accidental damage if you’re working inside.

Of course, this is not a complete list. For example, if you’re hanging artwork at home, you’ll want to consider a level and stud-finder, in addition to a drill, to avoid headaches. Probably the best tool for the DIY-er at any level, is a truly great hardware store that will not only have all the materials you need, but a knowledgeable staff that can walk through all the options that you have available.

Article by Ro Molina for Moxy Magazine, August 2012. Photo credit:

Ro Molina works as a freelance writer and general creative mercenary in the bright lights and seedy shadows of New York City. Her passions include food, gadgets and helping people with chronic illness kick life’s butt. Her current HQ is her blog, Life Despite Lupus (

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