My 25 Essential DIY Tools

By Kate Riley November 16, 2011

Today I was at my local True Value Hardware in search of a new Shop Vac. Our old one was going on eight years and suddenly died on me last weekend for no obvious reason and mid clean up job.  No matter what we tried to do to fix it (cleaning the motor, checking the circuits), nothing brought it back to life.  So today, in the back of my car sits a brand new Shop Vac and tomorrow I have a date with my sawdust covered garage floor.  

On my way home I remembered every year I write about DIY tools I consider essential and what better time than before the holiday rush to revisit the topic. Some of you new DIYers may be thinking of adding a few tools to your toolbox, so here’s a list of twenty-five I consider essential. This list is not exhaustive since it’s limited to only twenty-five, but these are my personal favorites and the tools I’ve found myself using the most over the past year.     

#1: Cordless Drill/Driver & Drill Bit Set

dewalt combo I have a 12 Volt DeWalt, but recently just acquired an 18 Volt Black & Decker with more torque.  I use my power screwdriver just about every week for everything from removing seat cushions to assembling furniture to drilling pilot holes with drill bits.


#2 and #3: Measuring Tape and Level 

Essential for everything you build or install in your home like molding, trim, or wainscoting.  Look for mini versions too at your home improvement store for smaller projects like hanging artwork on the wall.  


#4 and #5: Set of Phillips + Flat head screwdrivers & set of non-slip pliers.

Basic screwdrivers are a must have, but you can also buy an all in one. Three kinds of pliers (needle nose, side cutting, tongue and groove and/or flat head) come in handy for removing nails, staples, and upholstery tacks, among other basic DIY household tasks.  

#6 and #7: Hammer and Mallet

The hammer is obvious, but the mallet is a great tool for working with nailhead trim and pounding paint cans closed without damaging the metal rim.


#8 Shop Vac

shop vac

Shop vacs are fabulous to have for pickup of debris in a workshop or on a project site, but also great for vacuuming out your car. They can remove water in a basement or a toilet too. 


#9 Stepladder

step ladder I’m vertically challenged, so I’m always scurrying up my step ladder to paint walls, caulk crown or trim, change light fixtures, or decorate in high places.  Occasionally I use it in place of a tripod to stabilize my camera when taking pictures, no joke!   


#10 and #11 Particulate Respirator & Safety Goggles

The respirator is essential when you’re using any projects with chemicals or if sawdust is flying through the air. Safety goggles are important to protect your eyes when sanding, drilling, cutting or spray painting.  Simple answer: if particles are flying around or fumes are present, then wear ‘em. 


#12 and #13: Heavy Duty Staple Gun or Light Tacker Staple Gun & Hot Glue Gun


Staple guns are one of my best friends, perfect for all kinds of small upholstery projects.  You can solve so many of the world’s problems with a little hot glue, and a hot glue gun is a crafter’s BFF.


#14 and #15: Retractable Blade Utility Knife & 6-in-1 Tool

blade and 6in1

I use my utility knife for so many things, making stencils, or cutting through vinyl or thin plastic. The six-in-one is a painter’s best friend, it opens paint cans and keeps the rim from filling up with paint, but it’s also useful for stripping wallpaper, wedging into tight spaces (like to pull of baseboard) or for spackling holes. 


#16: Wrenches: Adjustable and Allen


Universally useful, everyone needs adjustable wrenches for loosening and tightening bolts (think plumbing or furniture assembly).  Allen wrenches are another useful tool for assembly or disassembly of many household items.


#17 Folding Sawhorses

Throw a piece of plywood on top and you have an instant work surface with two sawhorses. Great when you need a long work surface for refinishing cabinet doors or painting trim before it’s installed. 


#18 Good Paintbrushes

set of paintbrushes

For staining wood or painting furniture or walls, it goes without saying everyone should have a few good paintbrushes in their toolbox. I find myself using the angled ‘sash and trim’ versions more and more, especially for touchups or for cutting a straight line by hand.  


#19 Spray Paint Can Adaptor

spray can adaptor

A snap on adaptor, or ‘spray paint gun’ is essential for quick priming and paint jobs achieved with spray paint. For just a few dollars, it helps with smoother application and saves your fingers from cramping.


#20  Orbital Sander and/or Detail Sander

sandersFor getting down to the nitty-gritty and smoothing out those wood surfaces. I have an orbital and often use it in combination with sanding wedges.  This little 3M version is a great tool too, the little handle makes a big difference and you can easily switch out the various grits of sandpaper. 


#21 Rotary and/or Oscillating Tools

dremel rotary and oscillatingDremel’s rotary tool and MultiMax are some of my favorites in my toolbox. With tiny sanders, scrapers, and blades, these tools know how to multitask! The rotary can grind, scrape, or polish and is useful in small tight spaces. The interchangeable blades on the oscillating MultiMax are perfect for small cuts or removing grout or for cutting baseboard or drywall.


#22  Finish Nailer & Compressor Kit

 finish nailer compressor kit 

Another favorite tool for hanging trim quickly and also upholstery too if you buy the versions that let you use staples.  Nail guns come in all shapes and sizes so do your research, some fire larger 2” nails, some fire smaller 1” nails, and some do or do not come with a compressor.  Mine came in handy earlier this year when we installed board and batten in my boy’s room.


#23 and #24  SkilSaw and Jigsaw

skilsaw adn jigsaw

A SkilSaw circular saw is fantastic for building stuff around the house or cutting long thick pieces of wood in a straight line. The jigsaw is perfect for cutting designs in ½ inch to 2 inch wood (whether straight or curved lines) and for making things like upholstered headboards or for cutting through wine barrels or plywood steps


#25  Compound Miter Saw

miter saw

The most expensive tool on my list, but essential for straight and angled cuts if you plan to do a lot of trim or woodwork around your house. 


What about all of you savvy DIYers out there?  Got a favorite tool you can’t live without?  Or a special tool you’re putting on your wish list?  I’d love to hear it!


True Value Blog Squad legalese: “I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program as well as my writing about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY projects. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.”




  1. I personally don’t have a favorite but we own every single one of those tools! My husband is a finish carpenter and does tons and tons of trim work so all of these are necessary for him to work. Let me know if you ever need crown moulding done! =)

  2. This is a great tool list! I just recently did a wish list on my blog and some of these things are on it. I want a miter saw soo bad!! :) I don’t have a saw, but I think if you’re only going to have one saw, a miter saw is the way to go… at least for me!

  3. I never knew a spray paint can adaptor existed (it’s a like a duh moment for me). For some reason spray painting typically DOES NOT WORK WELL FOR ME, I get drips constantly and have to wipe up then spray again. This little thing might bode well for my next spray painting project. Thank you. Good list.

  4. Great list. I have almost everything. :) My favourite tool is my metal paint tin opener. Cost less than a dollar but works like a dream. :) I also love my small rollers and old soft cloths for wiping off sanding dust.

  5. A spray paint can adaptor. Well now that’s on my list. Who knew? Great list, I would add that having a bunch of cheap chip brushes on hand (that have been washed several times to remove hair) are a must. I have tried to keep them for years because the more I use them (and wash them of course) the better. Or if I’m using an oil primer or paint I can toss. They are great for dry brushing or doing a stria technique, sometimes glazing.

  6. Woah – totally did not know that a spray paint can adaptor existing! I need to be on the lookout now. We have everything on this list except for that and an oscillating/rotary tool. We would REALLY like a planer, but they’re kind of on the pricy end of things!

    Also if you’re doing any demo work – a crow bar!

  7. I love the Dremel’s we have and of course our nail gun… them both for always doing a great job in our home. We have used our Dremel to cut the bottom of door trim when installing flooring. This way you don’t have to take the trim work off and it looks like it was all done professionally. ;)

    We actually have everything that is on this list AND we use them all. :) Thanks for sharing!!!

  8. Just a quick note about the particulate respirator- be sure to read the package description as to what the mask filters- many paper masks only filter dust & will not protect against chemical vapour. The one pictured looks very much like 3Ms N95- this mask will not protect against oil-based particles. Since most spray paint is oil-based, this mask won’t provide full protection.

    Not to get all lecture-y (that’s a word, right?) but when talking safety, you gotta read the label to ensure you get the protection you need.

  9. What an awesome list! I want half the things on here, and wish we could hang out for the day and you could teach me how to use everything!

  10. A couple that are very handy that you missed are a set of clamps and a speed square. Never knew about the spray paint adapter!! Thanks for the heads up!

  11. Make sure you purchase an adjustable spray can adaptor as some of the newer paint cans won’t fit the older adaptors. I have yet to find tools that fit a woman’s hand grip well. You would think a smart manufacturing company might come out with a line of products that are designed to fit a smaller grip and also be more comfortable to people who have arthritis.

    I also have not found a really good hook and loop detail sander that is very durable. I returned the one you have pictured as it fell apart after very little use. You have to be very careful when removing used sandpaper or the hook/loop pad that is attached to a sander starts coming off and I haven’t found a strong enough glue that will keep it in place.

  12. Hey Kate, love your list! I have accumulated all the things on your list (use them all for multiple purposes) except for a brad/nailer. I am so confused when I do the research. I need mine mostly for attaching moulding but if I’m going to pay big bucks I don’t want to limit the function. What do you have, how much, and what does it do ? I hope you don’t mind answering these questions , I know that a girl’s power tools are kinda personal but I could use some direction. Thanks so much!

  13. Well crap. My husband already has all this stuff (and then some!)

    I will say, though, I will never understand why he never hooks up his shop vac to his equipment. His table saw has an attachment so he can hook up his shop vac to it, so instead of getting sawdust all over the garage, it collects in the shop vac. Which is awesome for later use, because sawdust + wood glue = best sandable and stainable wood filler you can get, and it’s even better when it’s clean (no other dirt in it).

    He also wants to build one of those systems on his workbench where you use PVC plumbing pipe along the length of the workbench and drill holes in it at table level, then hook the shop vac up to it on one end. Switch on the vac, suck up all the dust and stuff on the workbench!

  14. Yup, those are my top 25 list too!! Although I wish we’d use our miter saw more. We still need an aire compressor and nail gun and jigsaw.

    I’m going to ask Santa for a Jigsaw this year, lol

  15. Thanks for the helpful list Kate. I only wish you would start a You Tube channel and demo how to use these tools.

  16. Heather, that’s an awesome suggestion. Sign me up for that weekend. Cause we know it would probably take at least that long not just one day. :)

    My husband just bought me a sander last night that I will be using to finish up a project. I have been looking for a handy tools list. This could not have come at a better time!
    Thanks Kate!

  17. Now if only I had a magic wand… I’d twirl it over this iPad and ‘poof!’ all these wonderful tools (well, just the ones I don’t aready have) would appear in my garage! …….A girl can dream can’t she?!?! :)

  18. Oddly enough, my hubs (who loves tools and gadgets) has just about everything on that list except for the shop vac. If we had a garage or a basement with great storage, I think I’d add that to his Christmas list. I would love to do more projects on my own, but I think I’d need a more dedicated space for it… ie. a garage. :s Maybe someday in the not-too-distant future!

  19. Awesome post!! I think I like getting new tools more than new clothes!!

    Thanks for all your wonderful posts!

    Have a great day:)
    Julie Peterson

  20. This is a very helpful post and great list and tips! I will be adding a few of these on my wish list! I guess I am clueless….I did not know about the spray can adaptor. A must have for me! Thanks for compiling the list for all of us, Kate!

  21. What a great list. I don’t have everything on the list but I am slowly adding. Thanks for a great post.

  22. I’ve got them all but the spray can adapter and shop vac. How in the world have I been living without a shop vac?!?

  23. A little late, but something I can’t do without: Clamps.
    They are essential for holding items in place while cutting/drilling/sanding/etc. on them.

    Don’t do like I did and settle for the coupon specials from the industrial store. Get the quality heavy duty ones. They cost a bit, but then how many clamps does one go through in a lifetime!LOL! And there is Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, etc. when I could ask my DH for one or two. Oh, and that stocking that needs stuffing soon.:)

  24. Its a really good list but also they are tools that is contractors could not do without either. The right person with the right tools can always do the job.

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