The Essential Toolbox: 12 Tools You Can't DIY Without

Whether you’re a rookie handyman or a seasoned do-it-yourselfer, you need a variety of basic tools for doing small jobs around the house. The full range of tools you need will be determined by your skills and the kinds of jobs you do, but for the basics, in addition to the usual tape measure, screwdriver set, claw hammer, and electric drill with an assortment of bits, consider making these 12 less obvious, but equally essential, tools part of your DIY arsenal.

  1. Combination Square

    Combination Square

    The combination square is adjustable, consisting of a rigid steel rule, typically 12 inches long, with a headpiece that slides along its length. The headpiece has both a 90-degree edge and one that forms a 45-degree angle with respect to the rule. It’s ideal for marking (and checking) both 90-degree crosscuts and miter cuts. A bubble level in its handle makes the tool useful for leveling as well.


  2. Torpedo Level

    Torpedo Level

    The sealed vials of the torpedo level contain water, alcohol, or another clear liquid and an all-important air bubble. Each tube or vial is slightly curved and has two parallel lines drawn at its center. When the bubble is aligned between the hairlines, it indicates that the object being trued is perfectly vertical or horizontal, depending on the orientation of the vials and how the level has been placed on the object.

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  3. Handsaws


    The basic handsaw has a blade roughly two feet long that tapers from the heel (at the handle) to its toe. The most common use is simple cutoff work when it’s quicker to grab a handsaw than a power saw. The teeth may be designed for cutting across the grain (crosscut saws) or for cutting with it (ripsaws). A 10- or 12-tooth crosscut saw of 22 inches is a good basic saw that can also rip a board if necessary.

  4. Electric Drill

    Electric Drill

    The basic electric drill consists of a motor built into a pistol-shaped body. Instead of a gun barrel, though, there’s a gripping device called a chuck into which one of a wide variety of  drill bits are inserted. Older models lock the bits in place using a key that tightens the chuck, but most new drills use a keyless chuck that requires only the grip of your hand to tighten it.


  5. C-Clamps and Bar Clamps

    C-Clamps and Bar Clamps

    When working with wood in particular, clamps are essential for pulling together pieces that need to be glued and for holding them tight and flush until the glue sets. For most around-the-house jobs, C-clamps or bar clamps will do the trick. C-clamps have jaws in the shape of the letter C. Bar clamps are usually larger, with a fixed jaw at one end and another on a tail slide that moves up and down the bar's length.

  6. Random Orbital Sander

    Random Orbital Sander

    A convenient, one-handed tool, the random orbital sander is driven by an electric motor. The motor spins a shaft on which a counterweight is mounted, causing the sander to spin and wiggle, never the same way twice. The tool does a neat job, producing little or no scratching across the grain. Using prefabricated sandpaper disks, available from coarse to fine, it can remove lots of material quickly or produce a fine finish.

  7. Staple Gun

    Staple Gun

    The staple gun can be used to fasten all kinds of materials in home construction and maintenance work. Roofing contractors, insulation installers, and carpenters as well as homeowners and hobbyists find a multitude of uses for staplers every day. Staple guns come in hand-powered and electric models, although the most common variety is powered by a spring.


  8. Locking Pliers

    Locking Pliers

    Adjustable pliers are useful as a hand-held vice or clamp. They lock firmly onto a workpiece, usually one of metal. They are also known as plier wrenches, lever-wrench pliers, and by the proprietary name Vise-Grips. Locking pliers are sold in several designs (with long-nose, flat, and even C-clamp jaws), but the standard design has serrated, straight jaws.

  9. Bevel Gauge

    Bevel Gauge

    Though the bevel gauge is a near relation of the square, its purpose is to help fabricate pieces that are not square. The tool consists of a handle (or stock) with an attached tongue (or blade). The tongue fits into a groove cut into the head of the stock,

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  10. Carpenter's Square

    Carpenter's Square

    The carpenter’s square is actually an L-shaped tool, usually with a 2-inch-wide, 24-inch-long leg perpendicular to a 1-1/2-inch-wide, 16-inch-long tongue. The most common use is for framing, laying out and marking patterns for framing, roofing, and stairway work. It’s also useful as a straightedge for determining the flatness of a surface, and for marking cutoff work on wide stock.

  11. Plumb Bob

    Plumb Bob

    You don’t need a graduate degree in physics to understand that a string suspended with a weight at the bottom will be both precisely vertical, or "plumb," AND perpendicular to any level plane through which it passes. The plumb bob, obviously, is the companion tool to the level. Well-machined and well-balanced bobs have pointed tips that make them more precise to use.

  12. Handheld Circular Saw

    Handheld Circular Saw

    The Skilsaw, or circular handsaw, is the one of the power tools most often found in the average homeowner’s tool chest. It’s easy to use, affordable, and astonishingly flexible and practical. It’s designed to cut boards to size, typically using a 7-1/4-inch-diameter blade. It’s a powerful and efficient tool, but one that requires safety precautions.

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