No matter what renovation project you’re planning, having the right set of tools is essential to getting the job done efficiently and safely. Here’s our take on the essential items that every household needs.
Picture by Dottie Mae
The most important principle I can offer when it comes to assembling a tool collection? It’s worth spending extra money to get decent quality gear. Yes, if you hit Bunnings or another large hardware store, you’ll see pallet-loads of bargain-priced items. However, hardware really is a case of “you’ll get what you pay for”. Buy a cheap paintbrush and you’ll spend far more time removing loose bristles from your work. Buy a cheap screwdriver and it will likely snap on you at a crucial moment. Good-quality tools will last much longer, especially if you put a little effort into storing them properly and keeping them clean and well-maintained.
While that might sound expensive, it runs in parallel with the other key principle: add to your collection as the need arises. While I’d argue (based on my own experience) that most of the items listed below are pretty much essential even if all you’re doing is occasional home maintenance, there’s nothing wrong with simply acquiring items as specific needs arise. (I never got around to grabbing a power drill until I had my own place, for instance.) If you’re planning a major project, you might find yourself hitting the hardware store and buying a lot of stuff at once, but it’s generally much simpler to grab items as you need them, or as you tackle smaller specific projects. And needs definitely vary individually: my best mate swears that a socket set is essential, I’ve never had the use for one.
Here’s our 101 version of tools every household should have in their tool kit, even if you’ve just left home for the first time and are renting something the size of a shoebox:
Essential for everything from assembling furniture to adding batteries to kids’ toys. Magnetised options are handy for ensuring you don’t lose small screws. Check the handles carefully; cheaper models often have grooves which make them uncomfortable for extended use.
A rubberised grip on the handle, a claw fitting for removing nails you don’t want, and enough weight in the head to ensure the nails get driven in properly are all on the list of requirements.
Check the adjustment mechanism; cheaper models often have difficulty actually staying at a fixed width, especially at their widest setting. A socket set is a possible alternative.
Again, rubber handles are your friend. I’ve never personally seen the need for a set of needle-nose pliers, but a standard pair are handy for removing nails and holding stuff in place. Nick from Giz points out that if you’ve got a Leatherman or similar multi-tool, separate pliers aren’t needed.
Two key features to look for: the ability to lock the measure in place so it doesn’t automatically retract on you, and an accurate measure of the width of the tape measure itself (that way, you can simply add it on when measuring large distances such as across a room).
Or other similar design with retractable, replaceable blades. Again, you might prefer a multi-purpose knife/tool for this.
Essential if you want pictures to hang straight. (This category has been revolutionised in recent years with phone apps to perform the same function, which we’ll revisit later in the week.)
OK, I said that I didn’t really need one of these until I got my own house, but in retrospect it would have been useful before that, both for drilling and as an easy way of working with screws. A battery-powered option is easy to move around, but a powered version does have the advantage of working as soon as you need it. Remember that you’ll need separate masonry bits if you want to drill into brick or concrete.
I don’t actually own one of these, because I don’t do much woodwork and I don’t have any trees that need occasional pruning. But I suspect I’m in a minority here.
Beyond this, there’s obviously lots of gear you can add, especially for specific tasks such as woodwork or electronics or painting. We’ll cover some of those areas in our ongoing Renovation 101 column, which we’ll be launching this week as part of Renovation Week. That said, this is a good basic starter set for simple maintenance tasks, no matter what your level of experience or enthusiasm.
So that’s our take as a starting list — but there’s a wealth of renovation experience amongst Lifehacker readers, and I bet there’s more advice and ideas to add to what we’ve got here. We’re eager to hear your own toolbox recommendations and buying tactics in the comments.