Today’s post is a guest post from Alejandro Herrera. Please be sure to read his bio at the end of the post.
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You’ve done it. You’ve decided to make the home improvement plunge. Sadly, the road to handiness and self-sufficiency in home repair isn’t exactly paved in gold. In fact, it could potentially involve a few scrapes and bruises, but at least with the right tools, all of that can be kept to a minimum. They say there’s a right tool for every job, and with a few of the old standards in your toolbox home renovations don’t have to be a source of pain.
Typically when you buy tools, you get what you pay for. Those cheap all-in-one toolboxes might seem like an easy solution, but you might find yourself buying the same tool again and again. One good rule of thumb is you can buy it cheap the first time, but once it breaks, it’s time to get a higher-quality replacement.
The classic. The original. Finding the right hammer can make a huge difference. While metal hammers might last a little longer and are often manufactured as a single durable piece, it features the least shock absorption. Wooden-handled hammers tend to absorb the most impact and are better balanced for smoother swings, but they will eventually warp and break. Somewhere in the middle are the newer fiberglass handles. They’re gaining popularity due to decent shock absorption combined with their incredible durability. The classic 1lb claw hammer design is probably going to serve most people best in a variety of tasks, but a non-marring plastic maul might make sense to have on hand depending on the materials you tend to work with.
Screwdrivers / Drills
Screwdrivers can be tough to decide on. As with the hammers, single piece manufactured units are going to last longer than a combination or all-in-one screwdriver. Less moving parts means less potential for failure, but a ratcheting screwdriver can also be a wrist saver in tight spots.
Regardless of how diligent you are with the small interchangeable bits, the forces of time and nature are inevitably going to steal them from you. Just be prepared. A 7-piece standard screwdriver set is usually a good place to start.
Powered drills are another consideration, but not recommended for beginners. If you don’t understand the torque settings, have a dull bit, or even just fail to apply consistent and even pressure, you could end up with a much bigger mess than you started with.
There are a staggering amount of wrench types out there. For starting out you really only need a good adjustable wrench and a small set of Allen keys. They’re both technically wrenches as different as they may seem. This might be complicated by having completely different names, a crescent wrench and hex wrench, depending on who you ask. If you’re working with larger bolts and anchors or pursuing more specialized work like plumbing or auto care, you might invest in a good set of combination wrenches.
As with wrenches, there’s no end to types of specialized pliers. Some of the more exotic types usually have super specific applications in jewelry making or electrical work. For the average home use, there are two types you should always have around: needle-nose for the delicate situations and tongue and groove for everything else. A set of vise-grips, also known as a locking plier, can be extremely useful if you don’t have a helping hand. There are also pliers with more robust cutting elements for jobs that might overwhelm the delicate blades on a needle-nose set.
Often you’re going to find yourself working in tight spots that may not have the best illumination.
Unfortunately, you can’t fix what you can’t see. While a standard flashlight might not be that useful without an extra hand to hold it, there are several devices designed to either hang or clip a light source in any number of positions. Clamp lamps are usually the cheapest option, but a good set of mounted worksite lights can make the difference when details count.
This is one item you don’t ever want to skimp on. Even robust and expensive ladders can fail over time, so it’s important to keep an eye on the condition. Stay away from step ladders, as they have drastically different weight limits and life spans compared to a standard twin step ladder. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from round supports that can bend and buckle. Fiberglass tends to be a little heavier than the aluminum models, but that extra weight also makes it feel more stable. Folding and telescoping ladders can seem appealing at first, but they tend to be heavy and a little overkill for most jobs.
Utility knife / Painter’s tool
You’re going to need a knife at some point. A standard utility knife offers reliability at the cost of replacement blades. A 5-in-1 painter’s tool is incredibly handy to have around and serves a lot of the same purposes. The five exact uses aren’t always agreed on, but it definitely scrapes, opens, pries, and removes nails. The curved bit also cleans paint rollers!
Stud Finder / Level
One of the first ways you’ll discover you can improve your home improvement skills is by focusing on square cuts and level surfaces. While the cutting part is a skill on its own, if you don’t start on even ground, it doesn’t matter how straight you build. A good electronic stud finder can vary in price wildly depending on quality, but in a pinch, you can sometimes use a magnet to figure out where the drywall was nailed into the stud. Combine that with a bubble level that can cost as little as a dollar and you have a fighting chance at a square structure.
Saw / Oscillating Saw
A good hand saw is a tool that nobody should go without. If you’re in dire straits there are several substitutes for a hammer, but you just can’t really replace a saw. Get one for wood and one for metal. Another modern option that provides the ability to cut intricate shapes with relative ease is the oscillating saw. While not a total replacement for a large hand saw, these rapidly vibrating blades are a safer alternative to circular saws and perfect for smaller jobs.
The Right Mindset
One of the most important tools you can bring to any home renovation is the understanding that it’s probably going to get a lot worse before it gets better. This can scare a lot of people away from home improvement, but with a little patience and the willingness to learn from your mistakes, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish on your own. The tools make it possible, but your initiative is what gets the project done.