Whether you’re changing an engine timing belt or your kitchen cabinet doors there are several essential tools everyone must have. If you’re missing something on this list keep your eyes peeled for it so that you can be prepared for any task!
(Note: do a quick search online and you’ll find many lists similar to this one. The tools I’ve selected are the ones I find myself using most often when working on my car, motorcycle, or bike, but these tools still apply in many other DIY scenarios around the house.)
Since these are all relatively basic hand tools you can save yourself time and money by purchasing a single multi-piece toolkit that should have most of the upcoming items. Plus, you get the added bonus of a toolbox in which to store everything greatly lessening the risk of loosing small bits and pieces. And if something is missing from your set just buy it separately. If you are patient – and a bit frugal – and you can amass a respectable collection of tools without using one of the 23 types of hammers (see below) to break your piggy bank.
Screws are everywhere we look so a quality screwdriver set is crucial to adequately handling many jobs. Spend a little bit more money on this list item and you will have no regrets as a magnetic tip helps keep screws in place and a comfortable grip does not leave your hand riddled with calluses. There are many screwdriver tip shapes (the proper term is ‘screw drive’) and you can find screwdrivers with a socket on the end that accommodates small interchangeable bits. I’ll let you decide if your preference lies with the socket or individual screwdrivers because their function is identical although there is less to carry with the socket + bits, but they probably will not be magnetic. The Phillips screw drive is undoubtedly a necessity when wrenching on a car or motorcycle.
The mighty wrench: a venerable tool synonymous with a mechanic’s blue overalls and the smell of old motor oil mixed with exhaust fumes. Everyone who’s anyone has a sturdy set of wrenches – they’re an essential part of a toolbox. Even if you don’t use them at least you’ll look the part, and that’s what matters most, right? At your local hardware store you should readily find sets featuring both Metric and Imperial sizes but, if you look to the side, past the security guard standing in front of a locked vault, you might catch a glimpse of the ratcheting wrenches. These things are seriously expensive compared to regular wrenches and I would recommend buying the remaining items on this list with the money you stand to save by sticking with the regular variety of wrenches.
Also known as Allen wrenches, hex keys are those L-shaped tools that came with your KALLAX shelf and HASSELVIKA bed frame and are now lost in your BESTÅ cabinet. The long side of the wrench offers good leverage to break free the bolt or screw, and when rearranged it makes short work of getting that bolt or screw out the rest of the way. Pricier options have a ball end which allows you to use the key at an angle when space is tight. Personally I haven’t come across almost any scenarios where I required the ball end which is fine by me since those sets are almost twice as expensive. Look for a kit that includes both Metric and Imperial sizes. A well-appointed screwdriver set may contain hex-shaped bits that can work just as well as hex keys. You can also consider a T-handle hex key if there is a specific size you regularly use. Lastly, don’t accidentally pick up Torx keys (unless you actually need them) because the shape of the wrenches is identical and it’s easy to not notice on the packaging.
I’m sure someone is prepared to argue that a socket wrench does not fall under the categories of ‘common’ or ‘fundamental’ tools. I will gladly take a stand against any naysayers because nearly all maintenance tasks on my car involve the use of a socket wrench as the first step. Getting to the engine means taking off a plastic cover held down by recessed bolts. Accessing the underside necessitates the removal of a protective shroud secured with… you guessed it, bolts! A socket wrench contains a ratchet mechanism that allows you to change the direction in which the attached socket spins freely, thus cutting down on the time needed to tighten or loosen bolts because the wrench never ‘comes off’ the bolt as you might need to do with a regular wrench. If you’ve ever had only 45° of freedom to work with you’ll know that using a wrench is tedious if not infuriating. Sockets are circular with an inner hexagonal cutout to fit over bolt heads. Just as before, look for sets with both Metric and Imperial sizes: 10mm is extremely popular on vehicles but I’ve also made good use of my 3/4″ socket. Now before you run off and grab a wrench and sockets you must pay close attention to the size of the square fitting the wrench has that the socket connects to. This is known as the ‘drive’ and in everyday use you will encounter 3 sizes: 1/4″, 3/8″, and 1/2″. The drive size you pick doesn’t matter too much (and this is not a case of bigger is better) but keep in mind that smaller sized sockets typically come in 1/4″ drive, and large ones in 1/2″. There will be overlap: the aforementioned 10mm socket can be found in both 1/4″ and 3/8″ drives. Converters between sizes do exist which is why my recommendation would be to stick with a 3/8″ drive wrench and get the appropriate bits for 1/4″ and 1/2″ if necessary. Extension bars are useful in reaching bolts in tight areas as are deep sockets.
It doesn’t get any simpler than a hammer, right? The answer is probably ‘yes’ even though there are over 20 types of hammers! Fortunately many of them are specialized and the majority of DIYers can make do with two or three. A traditional claw hammer has a square or round metal face and the ‘claw’ can be used to remove nails. If you don’t feel like swinging at your vehicle with such a tool you should consider a rubber hammer or mallet. As the name implies, the head of this hammer is made of rubber and is less likely to leave a dent or cause damage. If you need to force two pieces of metal together, or apart, you should be using the rubber variant.
When you’re in over your head, sometimes you just need to get a grip on the situation. Only when you’ve firmly grasped the scope of the problem can you continue. Guess what? Pliers can help out with that! As is the theme with this list there are several variations of the tool. I find myself reaching for my pair of needle-nose pliers quite a bit as they are well suited for the tight confines of an engine bay. Adjustable pliers such as slip joint or tongue-and-groove are valuable because the position of the jaws can be changed to fit over objects of different sizes. Lastly, locking pliers can be used to hold two items together or even act as a handle in a pinch.
Measures and Levels
This one is fairly straightforward. Perhaps you won’t encounter this use-case every day, but you will come across scenarios where a specific measurement is needed to drill a hole or a ballpark length will help you reverse-engineer a problem and figure out how to mount one part to another. Buy a 2-in-1 Metric and Imperial tape measure and consider getting a longer ruler with a level built in.
Although I don’t frequently need to employ any type of cutting tool, especially when wrenching on a vehicle, they can see a lot of action in many other DIY applications. Utility knives, commonly known by the brand name X-ACTO, are retractable knives that can cut and score material. They feature a blade which is divided into sections that can be snapped off in order to ensure an always sharp edge. If you lack more specialized tools, a utility knife can come in handy and allow you to accomplish a small task, such as stripping a wire.
We’ve all heard the rule “measure twice, cut once”. But let me guess, you got overexcited at the sight of all the sharp cutting tools you just picked up and now you need to reattach the 5 slices of your measuring tape. Depending on the job you may require a special type of glue or tape and while everyone should have at least some form of these two they’re not used on vehicles too often (at least the mechanical systems; interiors may be different). A popular recommendation for tape is duct tape, and while it is quite sticky it will leave a residue when you take it off which is why a good alternative is gaffer tape. Electrical tape is a fantastic option when you are dealing with wires, and I’ve personally found that brown packing tape is a good temporary solution for holding something together and doesn’t leave a mess when you take it off. Permanent glues such as contact cement can be useful once in a while so keeping a small bottle around is a good idea. Just make sure to properly clean the areas that will be bonded and use clamps or some other tools to hold the pieces together.
Unfortunately safety equipment is often an afterthought for people and items such as safety glasses and gloves are not as ubiquitous as they should be. If I could go back in time I would ensure that my inexperienced past self purchased a set of work gloves early on in my wrenching career. Gloves do more than just protect your hands – they also offer more grip and make it easier to hold your tools. This results in more leverage and force, and fewer stuck nuts. Safety glasses are a big help when you’re working with power tools, or are on your back underneath your car, poking around and enduring crusty flakes of rust pummelling your face and getting into your eyes. Take it from me – you do not want errant debris ruining your job or day.
So there we have it – 10 tools I consider essential to own for the avid DIYer. As previously mentioned, if you ‘re not in a rush to do a specific job then a bit of patience will let you purchase items on sale and collect a small arsenal of tools on the cheap. Feel free to drop hints around the holidays and your birthday to family and friends as well. However, do keep in mind that saving money is not the same as buying cheap tools. Even with only occasional use budget tools can break if you ask too much of them. In the long run, spending an extra 10 or 20 bucks on a better quality tool will usually be cheaper than buying a shoddy brand twice.
Now that you have everything you’re all set! That’s right, no other excuses to think up. Go ahead and tackle that broken fence, fix the leaky toilet, or start wrenching on your car.