What Hand Tools Do I Need For DIY Projects?

Nothing is more satisfying than completing a home improvement project successfully and getting that nod of approval from your partner. Whether it is putting up a shelf or fixing a leaking pipe, as a DIY enthusiast, you need to turn your hand at pretty much everything. Something you’ve never done before? Well, that’s just another challenge thrown down to you.

Originally posted on Decporama.shop, this is the ultimate guide to hand tools.

Essential tools

For every job, you need the right tools and materials. Anything that makes the job easier is a must-have, but if you’re on a limited budget or you’re just starting out, what are the best, most essential tools to have in your tool shed?

1.      Screwdriver

Perhaps the single most important tool you will own because pretty much everything has a screw or two in it. The multi-bit screwdriver is the most versatile and if the head wears—which often happens with crosshead bits—you simply throw it away and grab another one. Look for one with a chunky handle and a ratchet action—this allows you to use one hand to drive home the screw or loosen it.

2.      Claw hammer

If it’s not screwed the chances are there’ll be nails in there so a claw hammer will help you prize them out. Choose one with a one-piece head and shaft—these are the strongest. You don’t want the head flying off as you hit that nail, which can happen with the old wooden shaft type hammers. A good, cushioned handle is also desirable for both grip and comfort. A 450-gram (16-ounce) head weight will suit most jobs from knocking in panel pins to hammering home a 4-inch nail.  The length is also a factor in determining power—the longer the shaft the greater the lever-arm, so look for one around 30 to 35-centimeter (12 to 14-inch).

3.      Allen keys

You will probably end up with dozens of these as they tend to come with every flatpack that uses Allen or hexagonal head bolts and screws. They fit within the head of the bolt and because you get surface contact on six sides you can really get some pressure applied without the risk of stripping the head.

It is always good to have a set of Allen keys of varying sizes in your toolbox because there is a regular need to tighten the fixings on furniture that gets used a lot such as beds.

4.    Adjustable wrench

Spanners are used to tighten conventional nuts and bolts, but you need the precise size for the head, which means carrying a lot of metalwork around with you. An adjustable wrench is good for any size. I recommend two wrenches, one light duty, one heavy, so that you can use them together—one to hold the bolt and one to tighten the nut.

5.    Socket and ratchet set

Usually more associated with automotive maintenance, these hexagonal socket sets are useful around the home too. As with Allen keys, you can apply a lot of pressure without stripping the head, provided you use the right size. Find a set that has an attachment for a power drill—this will be useful one day.

6.    Spirit level

You are going to need a spirit level if you want to hang pictures on a wall. There is nothing worse than stepping back and looking at a cock-eyed photograph. A 60-centimeter (24-inch) level will work in most situations and will enable you to set out fixing positions accurately and to measure verticality. It is useful to have a 15-centimeter (6-inch) one as well for checking shelves. Some levels come with adjustable vials, which work at any angle, but I have never yet found a use for this. Still, it’s there if you need it.

7.    Tape measure

A must-have for every DIYer. Always remember the adage, “measure twice and cut once”. Also, “what measures a lot will measure a little”, so go for a 5-meter (15-foot) lockable metal tape that retracts on release. These just clip to your belt, so it is always at hand when you’re working.

8.    Adjustable square

This will ensure your cut is square or at 45 degrees for mitered joints. The adjustable steel rule enables you to measure accurately. Get one with a built-in spirit level—sometimes referred to as a combination square—for maximum versatility.

9.      Handsaws

You will need more than one handsaw, depending on the types of project you undertake, but if you only get one to begin with, make it a 30-centimeter (12-inch) hacksaw with plenty of replacement blades. These things cut through wood, plastic and metal and are pretty good at detailed work.

For woodwork, there are several types of specialist saws such as the tenon or back saw for making fine, accurate cuts, and the crosscut saw for quick, rough cuts, but for most carpentry work, the rip cut saw is the choice of many.

10. Utility knife

There are two types, one has a single replaceable blade and the other has a continuous blade that can be snapped off as it becomes worn. Both can be retracted for safety when not in use. Generally, the single blade type has a bigger handle, which makes it better for heavy-duty cutting. The snap-off type is better for repetitive work as there is always a sharp cutting edge available.

The Box-cutter

11. Pliers

Pliers are extremely useful in a number of ways. You can grip things with them, cut and strip wire, pull out nails—not the finger variety although that has been known—and bend metal if you need to. There are lots of varieties, some more specialized than others, but for general use, you need side cutting, or Lineman’s pliers, and long nose pliers for handling smaller objects.

It is also good to have adjustable utility pliers for gripping pipes and tubes, and end cutting pliers for nail heads and wires close to the surface.

2. The drill

Although this article is about hand tools and not power tools—that is for another time—the one tool that you will need to be powered up is the drill. Before the days of electric power tools, holes were drilled into walls using a jaw brace, which relied on brute strength and body weight to drive into the structure. These types of drills are still useful in areas where you cannot use an electric drill, and the wheel brace is very good for small carpentry work. However, for speed and ease of use, a good power drill is an essential part of your tool kit.

There is a lot to choose from but if you want one drill to do most things go for one that has variable settings for screwing, normal drilling and hammer drilling. You will need the latter for drilling into brick or concrete. Each setting will have variable speeds—it’s important to set it at the lowest speed necessary to do the job to avoid damage to both the drill and the object you are working on.

Your next choice is cordless or plug-in. Cordless drills have the advantage of being more portable and you don’t have trailing leads across the floor. However, they are not all as powerful as you might like, and some will struggle with concrete, so make sure you go for one with a good maximum torque—around 50Nm—and two batteries so you always have one on charge.

13.  Protective clothing

Health and safety is often neglected when carrying out DIY projects, but it is essential that you understand the hazards involved when using hand tools. There are three main areas to consider:

  • Hands: chose gloves suitable for the project to avoid splinters and cuts. Also, to protect from chemicals and adhesives.
  • Eyes: Plane safety glasses or goggles should be worn when cutting.
  • Respiratory system: A simple respirator that covers the nose and mouth may suffice when cutting boards or knocking down walls to prevent particle intake, but when you’re using solvents or mixing chemicals, you should consider a full face mask that fits tightly against the skin. Always do this type of work in a well-ventilated space.

For larger projects you should also consider:

  • Ears: Power tools create a lot of noise and continued use can damage your hearing. The use of earplugs or even full earmuffs will reduce this risk considerably.
  • Head: A hard hat will protect from falling bricks and other materials.
  • Knees: If you are going to be doing a lot of kneeling down, you will need knee pads or a kneeling stool.

Always bear in mind that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be considered as the last resort. At the start of any project, large or small, assess the risk and look at alternative ways of doing things safely without the need for, or limited use of PPE.

In the next article, I will look at some of the power tools available to the DIY market.