Ham's recommended toolbox ideas 1: For those just starting out (pretty version)

    Pig asking whether to buy a spanner

    Where to begin?

    This is mostly for people who are literally starting from scratch (or very close to it). The point here is to get you "up and running" with the least amount of money possible.

    When it comes to tools, there's a trade off between the price, capability, speed, and convenience. This article focussed on price, first and foremost. But with a view to making or doing several basic things around the average home.

    Let me be clear here...

    You can do a lot by using one or even several basic tools with a little thought, creativity, and at least some effort. However, I should warn you that manual tools probably need a lot of effort when jobs get bigger. All good? Let's go.

    Appropriate tool purchases are based on need, not what's on sale, or what anyone else has.

    So you (or someone you know) want(s) to set up a new toolbox to get you/them through your/their DIY urges? Now, like I've said in my blog section. Everyone has their idea of "essential" tools for the tool box. However, an appropriate selection of tools will vary from person to person, based on their needs, their goals, and skills/space/financial/better-half approval limitations.

    Now there are some fantastic guides out there that do a "tool box" for $250, $500, $1000, $2000, & $5000. Honestly, I wonder whether people with $5000 or more to burn really need a guide, but I suspect some people will dive right in without doing their research. If I had to sum it up simply, I'd say, "start small, and work your way up as you need it".

    Things are simple when you are just talking about a small tool box with some basic tools. However, over time the slippery slope of tool accumulation can occur, and a tool box becomes a tool trolley, a tool trolley becomes an entire workshop. Do you really have the space for all that? I'm just trying to ensure you don't cause some sort of drama in your household when you start siphoning off funds, or your better half's car space, your daughter's room, or your in-laws "granny flat" for your endeavours.... however much you might want to!

    Prepackaged toolboxes are one way to go...

    If you're starting from scratch, you might see a premade toolbox with anything from thirty to hundreds of "pieces", all in a shiny toolbox or even tool trolley.

    A prebuilt option like this might suit some people, but like everything, there are cheap kits, expensive kits, and everything in between.

    Many "high end" kits are designed for specialist fields like automotive/mechanic work, electrical work, plumbing, or some other specialist field that needs a certain mix of tools. These kits are designed and aimed at apprentices who need tools to just start out. However, these are beyond the average DIYer, as they can cost thousands.


    To someone who's just starting out as a home DIYer, you simply do not need all that. You just want a simple kit and a modest price. I'm talking about the ususal pre-made kits that cost somewhere between $75-250 (Australian).

    What do you mean by a "piece" in these kits?

    That's actually a good question. Some kits "pad" their numbers to make it seem like you're getting a lot of tools for the money. (Particularly at the cheaper end). So it helps to understand what you're really getting.

    In some kits, the tool box may (or may not be included), sometimes a case/holder that contains a bunch of tools (or attachments) within the toolbox is also included in that number. While I consider tools, and parts of tools that come in various sizes (drill bits, sockets, and screwdriver bits) as valid "pieces", sometimes you'll get weird consumables, like 50 screws, or 20 sheets of sandpaper is included in the "piece count" in lower priced kits.

    So let's have a look at a pre-built toolbox, and let me explain what I think and why...
    A 118 piece toolbox.

    A prebuilt kit like this is a cheap way to go

    Ok, so if you want the cheapest way to go, then a kit like this has a lot going for it. It includes a toolbox (often $25-50 by itself), and a bunch of tools. However, you'll quickly find that you'll need to "up the quality/quantity" as soon as you start DIYing seriously, as the range of spanners, sockets, and drill bits are very limiting.
    list of included tools and accessories in a premade toolbox.

    You really need to read the tool list to see what you're getting...

    I like this kit more than some, because it doesn't have much "padding" to raise the number of "pieces". I like the inclusion of a file, and the common ranges in bit sizes. However, at this price point, I think the tiny level is going to be largely useless, the machinist's hammer is a poor choice for general nail pulling. The kit has no cutting/saw capability at all (or anywhere to store a saw). It would probably suit someone who performs maintenance on petrol lawn mowers more than general DIY, but it's still a start.

    Why I don't like many pre-made tool kits.

    If you try to please everyone, you'll please no one. Premade boxes are a "one side fits all" product that's often plagued by this concept.

    While it can be a cheap way to get a bunch of tools. The people who design premade tool boxes throw in a range of tools they think will help as many people as possible. However, with more "generalised kits", and especially those sold at lower price points, they have to make some tough compromises.

    On one side, they can choose to include a few good tools with numerous gaps, that you'll have to buy later as needed. On the other side, they include a lot of cheap tools and this will invariably leave you with lots of stuff you probably don't need or even use. The tools that you do need and use will probably wear down and need replacing quickly because they're used heavily and were built "on the cheap".

    Other issues with these kits


    • There's no included safety gear. (You really don't want cheap/ineffectual safety gear).
    • You're already starting to fill your tool box, so storage of additional tools is an issue.
    • No cutting or sawing capability whatsoever in this kit, and often... if it is included, it's pretty... cheap and nasty.
    • Your needs might differ wildly from the kit, so it becomes false economy if you have to address all that. Basic wood working, lawn mower maintenace, craft work, and home maintenance, while they may have some common tools, each field needs some diverging tool selections as well.

    Knowing this, is it really so hard to pick your own tools? Probably not. Although it can be expensive if you aren't careful.

    Ham's ultra-basic "pick and mix" ideas for starting a tool box (good as a housewarming gift!)

    Firstly, don't panic at the images below. Many have four, five, or even more examples of recommended items. I've included pictures of so many to:

    • Show that there are variations of each recommended item.
    • Help you to find similar items in your area.
    • Raise your awareness of how each variation might be best used.
    • Aid my explanation about why a bigger, smaller, cheaper, or versatile model might (or might not) be a good choice for a beginner.
    I'm not expecting (or recommending) that you buy all variations of every type of every item. Pick the ones you're most likely to need now. You can always come back and add more when you need to. Don't rush out, ok?

    Finally, don't be afraid to ask relatives, friends, if they have any old unused tools that they've outgrown. You'd be surprised by how many people have tools that belonged to husbands, grandparents, friends who moved overseas, etc... and they're not really sure what to do with them.

    Even basic kits vary in overall price...


    This kit is designed to be the bedrock from which all other packages extend out from. While this is a basic kit. The cost can vary considerably. Some of you will buy everything on the cheap just to get started and that's completely ok. Some of you will buy higher quality equipment for heavier duty, more flexible setups, and that's ok too. Some of you will drop more cash on the tools they use a lot, and opt for low cost options for stuff you might not use much. You can see how a "basic" kit can vary wildly in price from one person to another.

    Now I don't know what specific DIY tasks you want to be able to do today, tomorrow, or next year, but the items suggested here will almost certainly help. Feel free to pick and choose from the list below:

    Toolbox(es) and/or Storage

    A variety of tool boxes, and storage boxes. Some home made, some bought.

    Storage & Tool Boxes

    I was considering putting this last, so you could buy one(s) large enough to fit the stuff (that you need) mentioned below into it.. but regardless of whether you buy or build (or even repurpose) your storage, it's important that it remains both portable (not too heavy or cumbersome) yet suitably large to fit stuff in.

    It's ok if you want to buy multiple smaller toolboxes over time. Just make sure they're either labelled or visibly different, so you grab the right one for the occasion.

    While there are many massively overpriced storage solutions, there are dangers at the other end too! If you buy a very cheap toolbox, this can be false economy as they will get beaten up, and if overloaded, break under the weight of your gear. If you're "on the go", or sharing storage space, security is also something you should consider. Even if it's just a padlock.

    I'd also strongly recommend a tool box of 45cm to 60cm long if you want to store a longer tools like hammer, maybe a saw, multi-grip pliers, etc. Many of these tools tend to be over 40cm long which is inconvenient to say the least if you have a shorter space. :~)

    Remember, just because it barely fits theoretically, doesn't mean you can easily insert/remove said tool. Give yourself the room to breathe and move things around easily.

    Tool boxes are great presents for almost anyone. Children can use them to store toys in earlier life, tools or "odds and ends" in later life. Wren stores craft and sewing bits in her toolboxes.

    I have everything from cooking utensils, electronic components, tools, camera gear, rock collections, screws/nails/bolts/nuts/washers, networking components, etc. I even have an entire toolbox dedicated to irrigation system components (complete with tools) so I just "grab and go" when changes/repairs to the irrigation system need doing.

    Have sturdy storage boxes already? Perhaps a wooden crate or old toybox? Use what you have to save money, but I'd avoid the 40 litre (10 Gallon) or more boxes as they're too bulky, and practically immovable when full. Unless they're on wheels, or you attach some ;-) Even then, it's better to have a few easy-to-move options, rather than one difficult one.

    Many power tools, and sets of hand tools come in their own storage/carry cases. However, it isn't necessarily ideal to carry everything in these cases, as a lot of space will get wasted. That said, I still store some of my power tools this way... mostly to keep the accessories with the tool in question.

    Ultimately, your toolbox is a personal thing, so you'll have to decide what suits your needs.

    But lets move onto tools! I've put them into categories so you can pick and choose based on your activities.

    Safety Equipment (No it's NOT optional)

    Safety is about both having and using safety equipment.... along with safe practices when DIY-ing of course. :-)

    Some stuff to remember:

    • Store your safety gear somewhere dust/chemicals won't accumulate when not in use.
    • Keep this stuff out of reach of kids, pets, and anyone suffering from compulsive cleaning disorder. They'll move it somewhere, you won't be able to find them, and then you'll be tempted to do "that one little task" without them. This, is when Murphy's Law strikes... at the worst possible time.
    Various safety goggles/glasses/face masks for eye protection.

    Eye Protection

    I personally own at least one of each type, goggles typically have a soft band, rather than the hard "wings"/ear hooks typically found on safety glasses which can also get uncomfortable when wearing other protective gear on your head like ear-muffs and dust mask. Having said that, there are times to use glasses when noise/dust might not be as big a problem... or you just keep fogging up. :-)

    Hearing Protection

    DIY activities generate a lot of noise. Whether that's hammering in nails, the scream of a circular saw, the high-pitched whine of air rushing through a shop vacuum, or the half-deaf guy who's cranked the work site radio to 11 to dull out the painful ringing in his ears.

    Noise is a serious problem, and it's one that sneaks up on you... usually when the damage has already been done. Even seemingly moderate volumes, with long exposure can do damage.
    Various forms of hearing protection equipment.

    Hearing Protection Equipment

    Whether this is in the form of disposable ear plugs, reusable plugs on a band, or a full-on set of ear muffs that look like headphones. It is important that you protect your hearing. Often, ear protection products will have some noise reduction rating on the label, and the bigger the number, the less noise you'll hear. Please note: Some people think listening to music that's louder than the noise is a great idea. It is not. It just means more damage is being done to your hearing by the increased noise.

    Dust masks are SURPRISINGLY useful.

    Whether you're spreading fertilizer on the garden, sanding, grinding metal, mixing fine powders, routing wood, or spray painting, you'd be surprised how much stuff that's either flung into your face directly, or floats on the air for sometimes hours while you sit there, breathing it in.

    Let me be the first to tell you, breathing tiny airbourne particles, even natural wood fibres can be very hazardous to your health. The overspray of spray paints, and welding fumes can be significantly worse due to the chemicals involved.

    Take the time to learn about the appropriate gear for your task. You'll find the paper filter masks can help with sanding dust, dirt, and even spray paint (not the fumes) to some degree, but only when you get a good seal on your face. The welding fumes... not so much. But every bit helps!

    Here's a useful video explaining the differences between each type of commonly used masks:



    Of course, you can go to air tanks, and breathing apparatus for chemical exposure but that's not what I'm suggesting in the beginning with a kit like that. Let's have a look at a few (common) options.
    Various dust masks

    Dust Masks

    These start with the cheap disposable paper ones which only deal with dust. At the other end, (without going to self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA, that's without the underwater part of SCUBA gear) there's chemically filtered masks, to help to filter out fumes. For basic sanding, a paper one is better than nothing, but I eventually got a better mask with replaceable multi-layered filters... some of them do make you look like you're Darth Vader, or an extra in some chemical warfare scene in a movie.

    The better the seal the dust mask has on your face, the safer it is. If you're wearing it for long periods of time, spend the money to get a comfortable one that plays "nicely" with the other equiment (glasses/hearing protection... for example).

    A good pair of gloves helps in so many ways!

    Whether it's to avoid splinters, hold something that gets hot, prevent electrocution, reduce chemical exposure, make sure you choose the right gloves for the job.

    Obviously cuts from sharp objects, crush injuries (hammered finger anyone?), burns from hot blades, and the ever-present threat of splinters is present in wood working. Also, nasty chemicals, epoxy glues, solvents, etc can be used in a variety of DIY and cleaning tasks. The gloves you wear can be suited for some tasks, while a liability in others. Never forget, that there's usually some loss of dexterity when working with gloves. Thicker isn't always better.. if it causes you to fumble in a key moment.

    It's worth noting that while some gloves are geared toward a particular type of task, some may be suited for more than one purpose. Leather gloves may be great for welding, but also jobs where heat, or spinters may be a risk too. Conversely, some gloves will be great to avoid risks like exposure to caustic materials.. but increase risk of melting if heat gets involved.

    Consider the use carefully, and buy an appropriate pair of gloves. Some will be disposable, while others will last you years. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy a quality pair than continually purchase disposable options.
    A variety of gloves

    Gloves come in all shapes and sizes... well.. types and sizes.

    Starting with your disposable latex gloves (useful for cleaning) these help reduce your skin contact with any chemicals. There are heavier duty rubber gloves that work with more caustic chemicals. However, the gloves so far are NOT for heavy "wear and tear" nor are they good for hot temperatures. For more everyday "wear and tear" situations, there are also "handy man" gloves which have a combination of fabric, and rubber/plastic, which are great for avoiding splinters, thorns, sharp bits. They also really help with blister avoidance. A pair of all-leather welding/gardening gloves also work in many situations, and where heat may be involved.

    Remember to have the right size of gloves, otherwise you're going to find that things get really difficult. (Also, if you're asking a friend or family member for help, it makes sense to protect them too).

    A good torch with rechargeable batteries (because your phone really isn't good enough)

    Whether you're going through a blackout, or just have your head in the ceiling/basement crawlspaces, being able to see is safer than not. Phones have lights, but they're not powerful, nor do they last very long if you like long conversations about why you're sitting in the dark. (Metaphorically or literally)

    I really like LED torches for power efficiency. However, torches vary in size, weight, and brightness, so you need to ensure you get a decent one. I'm a big fan of the CREE LED torches, which offer a good performance/price mix. However, a cheap LED torch will often still be miles better than most phones.

    Why rechargeable batteries?


    They're basically a one and done deal... especially if you buy them with a charger. Then you have a charger, maybe a few spare batteries to use in your remotes, or wireless doorbell, smoke alarms or toys. I just don't understand people who buy single use batteries anymore. Especially when a rechargeable battery can be charged hundreds of times before it dies. If you multiply the cost of single use batteries by three or four, you generally get the price of rechargeables. I'm a big fan of the Eneloop rechargeable batteries, as they have lasted me for years. They're not the cheapest rechargeables though.
    Torches come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and brightnesses.

    Torches come in all shapes and sizes

    Whether you need a small one to fit in your travel bag, a bigger one for higher brightness and longer range. You'll find that most torches are LED based, and their brightness is largely dependant on the quality, and number of LEDs in them. Some are single, high brightness LED torches that use lenses to concentrate or diffuse the light. Other torches strap 5, 7, 12, or more lower-power LEDs together to get a diffuse, wider lighting experience. You don't need a branded torch like a "Maglite" to get a good torch. Nor do you need a "hunter grade spotlight" for general use. Talk to your local electronics shop, or try before you buy to find a good torch.

    Most smaller torches run on AAA or AA batteries, although they can also have other configurations like custom Lithium ion (rechargeable) batteries. A popular one that's a relatively new addition is the 18650 battery. The 18650 is basically, a Lithium ion battery in a standardized size that looks like a AA battery on steroids (note: it is considerably larger and will not fit in a AA battery bay).

    Measuring and Marking

    "Measure twice, cut once!", a common wood working saying that goes way back.

    Measuring should indeed come before all the cutting tools, so here it is, right after personal safety.

    You'll be measuring a lot. However, there's many ways to do that. At the basic end of the range, are your venerable tape measure, and ruler.

    However, measuring isn't going to be much help if you don't mark where to cut, drill, join, or carve... so marking is also a feature worth discussing in this section.

    The Humble Tape Measure (or "Measuring Tape" If You Prefer)

    Measuring is going to be one of the most common activities for any DIY-er. You can probably find a tape in a $2 shop, but you'll find better quality in hardware stores. If you're making furniture, a 5m (16.4ft) tape will do. If you're measuring out rooms, or building larger projects, then a longer and higher quality tape is advisable. 8-10m (roughly 26-33 feet) is usually enough. When buying a measuring tape, get a feel for the tape, check to see if the lock stops the tape from retracting properly. How far can you stick it out horizontally before it collapses. Thicker and wider tapes handle longer distances better, but you either get less tape in a package, or the beast grows in weight and size.

    Tape measures are accurate enough for most tasks, usually 0.5-1.5mm out (plus or minus) per metre or so. But they're not precision instruments. The tape is made of metal, and as such, will expand and contract as temperature fluctuates. The greater the distance a tape goes, the more the expansion and contraction add up.

    Now before you go "how can that be?". The truth is, that at the DIY level, as projects get bigger, the accuracy generally matters less and less. Does it really matter if a room is 3320mm wide or 3322mm? (2mm different). Most contractors will just fill any gaps, sand it down, and paint over it and move on.

    Ever noticed the wobbly hook at the end of the tape?

    Every tape measure has hook on the end to run the tape from edges. Every tape hook has a little bit of wobble or play (doesn't matter how good the brand is, or how much you paid for it). This is loosness/wobble is intentional.

    If you're hooking the tape on the outside edge of something, and pulling the tape to the opposite edge, you're measuring from the inside edge of the hook, so the tape has to align with that.

    If you're pushing the hook against a surface, the inside edge of the hook isn't going to be where you need to be measuring from. So the tape has to be able to move closer to the hook to compensate for the thickness of the hook. The hook shortens slightly as it's pushed against the tape, this compensates for the thickness of the hook when measuring from the outside edge.

    So don't try to "fix" a loose tape measure hook.
    Tape measures come in different lengths, and qualities

    Tape measures are essential to almost any workshop

    Tape measures come in different lengths (2m, 5m, 7.5m, 8m, 10m, etc and their imperial equivalents). You can use them everywhere that they're long enough, and the required precision allows. As such, they're one of my most frequently "misplaced" items. As such, I own 6... I think. (Never found them all at once to check).

    I've mentioned that they're not the most accurate of measuring devices, but they're fundamental to any DIY project, particularly when dimensions go above 1m. Rulers don't really go much bigger than that, so tapes are a good, cost-effective choice.

    I want to stress that while the accuracy of the measuring tape matters less as distances get bigger, consistency is key. If you have three different brands of tape measure, and you use each one for a different part of your project, don't be surprised if your measurements don't line up. So the moral of this story, is use one tape measure for each project, and do all your measurements at roughly the same time, so any fluctuations in temperature are minimal. This will reduce variances in thermal expansion and contraction.

    30cm/1ft Steel Ruler

    If I had to say which measuring device I use most, this would be it. I just find that it's easier to manoeuvre in small spaces, mark lines out on timber, and there's literally no wobbly hook to impact readings, very little expansion/contraction, and they're usually made with a high degree of precision.

    Being machined steel, it's useful as a straight edge indicator, great for cutting straight lines with a box cutter without risking carving chunks out of your wood/plastic ruler. 
    The ruler itself can act as an improvised blade for opening boxes/envelopes in a pinch.

    Get one where the zero point is on the edge, for easy flush-to-edge reference points, and depth marking. (Great for adjusting depth on saws, drills, routers, and other height-adjustable tools).

    You can also get 150mm rulers to keep in pockets, and if you work in dimensions small enough, then that might be a good choice too. However, I'm recommending a somewhat more versatile 300mm for general purposes.
    Steel rulers are a great choice for measuring smaller distances.

    The Reliable Steel Ruler

    Some rulers have both imperial and metric measurements on the same side. Others have imperial on one side and metric on the other. I particularly like having the zero point on the end of the ruler, as this makes measuring much easier.

    I also use these for consistent thickness shims when positioning drawers above one another during their installation into cabinetry, opening letters, and improvised "line gauge" with a little creativity. There are many other uses, see what you use them for.

    Pencils, Sharpeners, Erasers, Pad and Permanent Markers

    We've talked about two cheap, and effective measuring tools. Now we need to talk about marking out lines, drilling points, mitred and bevelled angles, or just scribbling over your wood so you know which bits you have and haven't sanded.

    I basically use a sharp pencil for wood, and a fine-tipped permanent marker (a "Sharpie") for smoother surfaces like plastics, metals, glass, and ceramics.

    I don't like using ink based markers on wood as it seeps into the wood, and can go surprisingly deep and then requires sanding. That said, I have to be careful when marking with a pencil on softer woods, as that can also leave dents where marked that's hard to remove.

    No matter what you use, make sure your tips are as fine as possible for accurate measurements. That means you need a pencil sharpener, and while you're here, you might as well get a good eraser as well.

    Linked with all these pencils and permanent markers, is a sketch pad/book. Draw designs, note measurements down, write detailed shopping and/or cut lists. Write notes to yourself about where you're up to in a project before you leave for a few days. A pad is one thing that is cheap, and amazingly useful, especially if you're working with others, so everyone is literally on the same page.
    Pencils, pad, eraser, sharpener

    Pencils, Pad, et al.

    Sharp pencils are a must. However, depending on what I'm writing on, I might opt for a softer 4B or so pencil for soft wood. I like the darker lines the softer graphite (some people still call it "lead") but they blunt quickly and need sharpening more often. However if you have the classic HB pencil, that'll work well on many things too.

    Pacers (mechanical pencils) have a finer line, and don't need sharpening, but I find the finer graphite snaps more frequently.

    In either case, a sharpener and an eraser are valuable additions to this toolbox.

    When it comes to a sketch pad or book, I prefer ones with spiral binding, so I can reverse the book, fold it on itself, and even hang the pad by the spiral on a nail. Some people prefer ring binders with holed pages, but this takes up more room and I find the binding gets in the way.

    Fastening Equipment

    Fastening means "to attach" or "to hold in place". There are many ways to attach things in DIY projects. In days gone by, the iconic hammer and nails reigned supreme, but now it's usually glues and/or screws holding things together. Of course, nuts and bolts, rivets, elaborate "locking joinery" and many other methods exist too. Each requires differing tools, methods, and skill sets.

    Hammer Time!

    While it's not the dominant tool it used to be, the hammer is still a key tool that everyone should have. There are many types of hammer, from tiny "tack" hammers, to full on "sledge" hammers, designed for breaking rocks, walls, concrete, and many other things. Each type of hammer may come in a variety of weights, sizes and sometimes, even shape.

    When buying one, pick them up and get a feel for the weight. Obviously, hammering anything in-store is dangerous and likely to get you escorted from the building... however, when it comes to typical household hammer, using small, light "air swings", will tell you which hammer feels best "in hand".

    Every home has pictures on the walls, and that often means small nails in the wall to hang them from. If you work on smaller DIY wood working projects, then "tack" nails offer a similar role to "pin" or "brad" nails. While a tack hammer is indeed a good choice for small projects. A more general purpose (slightly larger) hammer is suggested here.

    There's always plenty to pry, hit, break, or tap with a trusty claw hammer. So a standard one is a great starting point. When buying, pick them up and get a feel for the weight. Pick one that feels comfortable to you.... and obviously suits the tasks at hand.

    Hammering without a hammer....

    Interestingly, something that I use even more frequently than a hammer is a rubber mallet, particularly when I'm tapping materials that are easily dented, or marked.

    While I'd stop at a claw hammer and maybe a mallet for this kit, there's a ton of things you can add later to use with the hammer. Chisels, nail punches, a vice (for either carving or bending thin metals), along with the usual selections of nails and nail punches of course!
    Various types of claw hammer and rubber mallets

    The humble claw hammer and rubber/plastic/wooden mallet

    I own many hammers, from tiny tack to a decent sledge. However the two hammer like devices that I recommend are the classic claw hammer, and a rubber/plastic mallet.

    The claw hammer:

    A nice modest size for swinging and storage, but still more than enough for most people's needs. The humble claw hammer also makes removing nails much easier than some of the other hammer types, which may not even have a claw, but another hammering surface on both ends of the head.

    As you can see, claw hammers come in a range of styles, weights, and sizes. Each has pros and cons. Wooden handles are often cheaper, need maintenance... but are also replaceable. Metal or fibreglass handles aren't repairable, but rarely break.

    Longer handles make it easier to pull nails out, and drive nails faster, but they are also harder to use precisely, and the extra force that longer handles provide can bend nails more than drive them if you aren't "hitting the nail square on the head". Heads come in a variety of differing sizes, and weights, so find something that's comfortable to use. You can only do that by holding the hammer in the hand. It will just "feel better" than others.

    Why a rubber mallet?

    Believe it or not, I probably use a hammer more for "tapping" wood into position when making glued joints, than actually nailing things. A mallet, combined with a wrench can provide the sudden torque needed to remove rusted bolts. However, using metal hammer on timber will often permanently dent wood and potentially break projects if you aren't careful. So a softer, head is recommended. Now when I say softer, you still don't want to give a mallet to a child, as the head is still more than capable of hurting and/or breaking bones if swung hard enough. It's just relatively softer than metal.

    Rubber mallets can come with heads that have two differing "hardnesses". (See the black/white, and black/yellow mallets above) However, sometimes, they're the same on both sides. (see the all-black mallet head). Mallets come in differing hardnesses for a reason, and there's always a trade off. A harder mallet head will be less likely to break, but is more likely to dent your materials. A softer side will be less likely to dent materials, but is easier to damage the head on harder edges. So there's a trade-off there. Do not use a mallet to hammer nails, or on sharp edges, you'll just destroy your rubber head. Rubber mallets are designed to hit smooth, flat-ish surfaces. All the benefits and cons of differing hammer handle types applies here too.

    So in any case, pick a claw hammer if you just want to hang pictures, or nail something together. A rubber mallet if you want to gently tap things into place, or combine a tapping force to another tool like a chisel or wrench. Tapping things into place with a mallet also enables you to skip buying larger clamps and vices that might squeeze things together.

    Now some of you will go, "I know someone who uses a hammer with a piece of scrap wood to avoid damaging wood, or they stick a hollow plastic door stop over the hammer head to simulate a mallet. Frankly, it's still possible to dent the wood this way if you aren't careful. Careful is a key word, because with these methods, you're stuck trying to hold piece of scrap wood, the work piece, and a hammer, (remember, we don't have a vice or a bench at this point) or you're just trying to stop the door stop from coming off the hammer while holding the workpiece and the hammer. If a rubber mallet costs between $3 and $30, and the door stop costs almost as much as the cheaper end mallet.. I'd choose the mallet.

    Again, mallets come in different weights and sizes, so choose one that's right for you.

    Screwdriver with interchangeable bit kit.

    Ok, so while nails are no longer the overwhelmingly dominant fastener they once were, screws have definitely risen in popularity, partly because they're stronger than nails, and removeable, but also because mass production has made them far cheaper than they once were.

    Screws come in a huge range, from tiny, fine threaded "machine screws" all the way to 125mm or even 150mm galvanised timber screws. There's also screws for metal sheeting (Often called "Tech screws"), others for treated timbers, some are suited for outdoor use (stainless steel, galvanized, powder coated), while others are best used indoors. All of them need some sort of screwdriver to insert and remove. However, there are literally dozens if not hundreds of differing "heads". Some screws have a simple flat slot to drive the screw, others have a cross (also known as a Philips head), some have a square hole (Robertson head), and others have a hexagonal (Allen or Hex) or star shaped (Torx) hole. Each of these needs a different type of screwdriver, and each of these probably comes in a variety of differing sizes.

    Traditional screwdriver sets often have a dozen or so tools which offer the most commonly used options. However, traditional sets are expensive, they often take a lot of room, and when the heads wear down (and they will) you have to replace the whole tool, handle and all.

    Enter the "interchangeable bits".

    Basically, you still have the screwdriver handle, but it has a hexagonal shaped socket where the head should be. In that socket, you can insert a swappable "bit" that suits a Philips head, or a Torx, or a Robertson into it and swap them out as needed. This offers several advantages over the old screwdriver.
    1. You can use the same handle, for any standard bit size you care to name.
    2. When the bits wear out, you can just buy the bits you need, which saves money.
    3. This is a space saving option. You can buy bit kits with 100 bits in it, that fit in a 200mm x 100mm x 50mm box. Much smaller than an entire toolbox for screwdrivers, that you're always rummaging around, trying to find the right one.
    4. You can buy more exotic bits as you need, or in kits to save money.
    5. You can use these bits with power tools (drills and impact drivers, for example)

    The most commonly used bits in my experience are:
    1. #2 Philips head. (Get a few of these) They're used everywhere from door hinges, cabinets, computers, and are one of the most popular types of wood screw.
    2. #2 Robertson (square) head. Slowly replacing the #2 Philips, but still not quite as popular. Often seen in heavier duty, outdoor screws of longer lengths, 75-125mm long.
    3. #1 Philips head (smaller than the #2) used in a lot of random places like picture frames, some cabinet hinges, sometimes door locks/handles. Small electrical appliances, (for example, the battery lid may have a screw in some remotes), etc.
    4. A range of flat head (slot) screwdrivers that fit slots from 3×45mm, 4×75mm, 5×100mm, 6×38mm, 6×150mm, 8×200mm. These may be the oldest type of screw slots (and most problematic) but these screws are still around, and the bits also make useful miniature prybars for paint cans, scrapers, and at a pinch... an improvised chisel.
    5. Hex heads (also known as Allen keys).. normally I'd say, get a set of allen keys, but if they're already in the kit you're buying, that's pretty awesome. Especially when used with a drill or impact driver.
    screwdriver handle with interchangable heads

    Screwdriver handle with interchangeable heads (also known as bits)

    Screwdriver handles and bits can come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and price points. Ranging from just a handle and 5 bits, you can get a kit like that for $8. However, some kits come with 10, 12, 16, 20 or more bits (Left and middle of image). Naturally, as the number of bits goes up, so does the cost. However, for a starter kit, choose one with the bits you'd like or add bits afterwards... up to you.

    Personally, I'm a big fan of the offerings from Jaycar (Right side of image). Their screwdriver handle is very comfortable, has worked well for years, and costs just $7. Add a 100 piece "driver bit kit" (also known as a "100 piece security bit kit" on eBay and numerous online sellers) for another $30, and you have the equivalent of 100 screwdrivers. For $37. In comparison a 20 piece traditional screwdriver set costs between $55 an $75. Whether you use traditional or interchangeable screwdrivers is up to you, I've owned both types and they have served me well.

    A set of precision/jewelers/micro screwdrivers

    The screwdrivers above are great for general DIY, home maintenance, and mid-to-large projects. However, the kit above doesn't really cover the small stuff at all.

    If you just want to fix your reading glasses, sunglasses, or small electronic devices, you'd be surprised how often these come in handy. These are particularly useful for people considering getting into basic electronics, Arduino and/or Raspberry Pi based projects.

    You can spend as little as $3 on a cheap set, or you can spend hundreds on kits that have loads of special bits. If you want to repair your mobile phone, or laptop, then certain manufacturers (I'm looking at you Apple) have chosen bizarre screws to stop people from playing with them. If that is your goal, you need to have a look at the iFixit range for something that advanced. However, for someone starting out, a small set that costs less than $20 is more than adequate. Again, I find that electronics stores are a better option, as they have quite a variety, and don't cost very much.
    This image for Image Layouts addon

    Small screwdrivers have many names. "Precision", "Jewelers", "Micro" sets are just some of them.

    Starting with the simple set on the left that's available from most hardware storess, they can go up considerably in complexity from there. The middle one might be available in hardware stores too, but you're more likely to get them from electronics stores. The one on the right is for people who do a wide variety of small scale screwdriving. However, these can cost a lot, so shop around and see if you find "suspiciously similar yet-unbranded" units for half price online or at your local retailer.

    Glues and Adhesives

    Glues have come a long way over the last century or so. In fact, there are glues for almost every occasion, material, and environment. That said, if hammer and nails were representative of wood working a century ago. Glues and screws are where modern wood working is centred.

    Is glue really a tool? Well... does it effectively join two or more bits together make or fix things like a screw? Then yes. It's just a consumable tool that's great for construction and repairs alike.

    Please note that you have to choose the right glue for the job. There are hundreds. Some take seconds to dry, while others take days. Most are simply a matter of putting "a nice coat" on one or both surfaces, then pressing them together. However, others require mixing to work, others require melting, some only cure under ultraviolet light, and others only cure on wet/moist surfaces.

    General gluing:

    For most "everyday" gluing, I use either cyanoacrylate (also known as CA, or "Super Glue"). Alternatively, I'll use a polyurethane based glue. (Often described as "General purpose glue").

    Super glue works on a lot of stuff, but when dry it is brittle. Meaning sudden shocks, thermal expansion (such as dishwashing repaired dinner plates) or flexing materials will not be best served by CA glue. But it does work well on ceramics, some plastics, wood, and even glass at a pinch. I generally use small one-use (5ml) tubes of 15 second glue for small projects, or where I need a temporary hold while the stronger glue is curing.

    The general purpose is for slightly larger projects like model/prototype building, where I am using mixed materials (plastic and metal for instance) and I want a slightly slower to cure, and stronger bond.

    Wood working:

    The general purpose glue I mentioned above is polyurethane based. This works on wood too, and has one distinct advantage in some wood working projects.

    If I intend to use a polyurethane based varnish, any mess/spills I've made with the glue (being made of the same material) will become indistinguisable from varnish. Differing glues/varnish mixtures will leave ugly patches in the wood finish. However, polyurethane glues are expensive so....

    There are a variety of wood working glues. Since most of the time, my projects are housed indoors, I use huge quantities of polyvinyl acetate (PVA) white glue. It dries clear, but is also water soluble, (cleans up with a damp rag). Easy cleaning aside, the water solubility means that it isn't great for outdoor furniture. PVA has many names "Wood glue", "Elmer's Glue", "Carpenter's Glue", and weirdly "School Glue" in the U.S. There's also a yellow version (also dries.. mostly clear) that is a bit more "tacky" so it'll hold things a bit better earlier on in the curing process. I don't see it much in Australia. Honestly, PVA with super glue tacking, or just screws/brad nails for faster, more reinforced assembly works very well.

    With a 15-30 minute "tack" time and 12-24 hour curing time to reach full strength, PVA gives me plenty of time to assemble, clamp, and if need be, screw my projects together. Watered down, it makes a great (low cost) gloss coat for art projects, as well as a fantastic glue for paper maché. Again, it's not a varnish so it won't protect the underlying wood/paper/paint if it gets exposed to water.

    Branded offerings such as the "Titebond" range are variations on PVA. Titebond (a popular brand, particularly in the U.S.) Has "Titebond" versions 2 and 3 for better outdoor/moisture handling performance. They're now available in some hardware stores and specialist woodworking shops in Australia... or online.

    Heavy duty gluing:

    There are many options but I like to use two part epoxy. It's strong, dries really hard, is entirely impervious to water once cured, and can be dyed, polished, used as gap filler, can be moulded, and even used to decorative effect. However, it takes ages to cure, can be very expensive, is often unforgiving of mistakes and oh so stinky to mix, and difficult to clean up.

    Fixing shoes:

    Now there are some special requirements (rubbery materials, leather, flexing and various tensions, to name a few) that make other glues a poor choice for this purpose. Now I beat up boots, and wear them into oblivion. Ren buys shoes of cheap-yet-pretty-construction, my neighbur does pro Tango dancing with little straps and sequins.. and I am tasked to fix shoes pretty regularly. Sending these things to a cobbler is not cost effective, my boots are too old for that, and women's shoes just need a dab of glue here and there to survive the three outings a year they get used for.

    If you have kids, women in your life, have a shoe obsession, or like me wear your workboots out... shoe glue is very handy.
    Various glues I use

    Some of the glues I use...

    From left to right: Quick fix super glue, and general purpose glue for everyday/incidental use/some wood working. PVA glue for most woodworking and craft projects. Two part epoxy for really heavy duty gluing, and finally shoe glue... because I use it a lot.

    Tape, so essential it should be considered in any tool kit.

    Whether you have a leaking pipe in your air conditioner. Or you need to temporarily insulate some wires, you've cracked a hose and it's leaking... or you need to stop the bleeding when you've cut your finger, tape holds liquids and electrons in, sometimes even low pressure gases in... and holds things together admirably.

    There are many types of tape. Masking tape is great for ensuring crisp edges on painted surfaces beause it "blocks overspray" and it is easy to remove. Masking tape is also great for making labels, since it's easy to write on. Sticky/cello/Scotch tape is great for wrapping presents and parcels, but it doesn't have the insulating properties of electrical tape. Electrical tape is great for wires, low pressure leaks, and conforms to the underlying material, meaning it gets a nice seal, without cutting off flow. For more resilient purposes, "Gaffers" tape, or "Fabric tape" offers a reinforced tape with loads of strength. There are tapes for high or low temperatures, tapes for more permanent bonding, (double sided tape is one example) and of course various forms of medical tape as well.
    Various forms of tape

    Here we have five common types of tape...

    Moving clockwise from top left, we have electrical/duct tape in various colours. Top right is the Gaff tape. It has a woven texture which makes it less susceptible to stretching. Bottom right is the usual "Sticky"/"Cello"/"Scotch" tape. Botom middle, the blue tape is "painters" tape, which is handy, and the white rolls in the bottom left are rolls of masking tape. I haven't covered double sided, thermal, or medical tapes as they're a little less handy for those just starting out.

    Shifting Spanners (Or Adjustable Wrenches if you're from the U.S)

    After screws, glue, and tape, I genuinely believe the next most important fastener (to the beginner DIYer) is the humble "nut and bolt". For sheer strength, few fasteners can match the strength (and removeability) of the bolt. It's not uncommon to have a few around the home, (pergolas, garage doors, barbecues, outdoor furniture, and machinery, just to name a few examples) and if you want to try DIY mechanics, fixing engines, changing lawn mower blades... then some form of spanner is required.

    Full sets of spanners (both metric and imperial), and decent socket set is very expensive and space consuming (albeit useful) stuff to buy, but not exactly the basic kit solution needed here. I'd say get two medium-sized shifting spanners at this level. You need two, one to hold a bolt head steady, and the other to adjust the nut. People sometimes do this with pliers or multigrips in a pinch, but it's far from ideal. Even a cheap spanner here will be miles better than a pair of pliers or multigrips for this purpose.

    Going beyond nuts and bolts... how about washing machine filter cleaning?

    It might seem weird, but sometimes, you need a tool that can close onto a part firmly and fits, but without crushing whatever it is you're trying to move like pliers or multigrips would do. For example, I have a washing machine where the filter is quite.... badly designed. To clean it out, I have to unscrew a deep, cylindrical plastic sump cover. Ostensibly, it's "hand removable" but when the filter gets clogged, this often prevents the cover from rotating... and thus... opening. Yep... it's badly designed.

    So I have no choice, but to force it. To make the design even worse... the handle is a hollow 3mm piece of plastic. If I used pliers, I'd crush, and break the handle before I budge the cover. BTW, this is a high-ish end washing machine, designed and built in Germany.. not some cheap no-name brand.

    Using two shifting spanners, I close them on each end of the hollow handle where it's closest to the reinforced outer wall of the cap. I adjust the spanners so they are firm-fitting, but not crushing. Then, holding onto both spanner heads (leverage is not our friend here) I use both arms to grip both spanners and carefully rotate the cap.

    There really isn't a substitute that's better for this than some shifting spanners. At least, not ones that combined cost less than $50.
    Adjustable wrenches or

    The shifting spanner comes in a variety of sizes, handle materials, and nut capacities.

    Ranging from just $7 for a small, cheap spanner, to hundreds of dollars for a top quality, huge wrench a metre long... you're probably best getting a smaller 150mm (6 inch) model and another one that's anywhere between 200-300 (8-12 inches) long. That way, you can get into tighter spaces with the little one (without sacrificing too much leverage) and use the bigger one on the outside to drive or hold the opposing nut/bolt head.


    Smaller shifting spanners will handle smaller nuts and bolts, but won't open/extend quite as far as larger models. Generally, for every 50mm (roughly 2 inches) you add in handle length, you add another 5mm or so (roughly 1/4 inch) to the maximum nut diameter. In short, the jaws open wider as the overall size increases. I have six of these ranging from 75mm (3") to 450mm (18") and the small one is great for small nuts in tight spaces, but the big ones bring huge amounts of leverage for tight/rusty bolts and nuts.

    You won't be able to do everything nut/bolt related, particularly where a nut or bolt is sunk deep into a hole, that'll need a socket set... but for most exposed nuts/bolts... this is a cheap, versatile and capable option that does both imperial and metric nuts/bolts without issue.

    Cutting Tools:

    Whether it's to cut a piece of string, cardboard, fabric, wood, or metal. Here are some basic tools that will help you to cut a variety of common materials.

    Firstly, I have not included wire cutters, as I believe a couple of pairs of pliers (mentioned in the holding section below) can fill this need.

    Now please note that you won't be cutting whole trees down, full 2400mm x 1200mm plywood sheeting or foot-thick steel girders with the tools in this basic kit. There's nothing ensuring precision either, as most of these are hand tools. However, simple crafting, cutting thin sheet material, small-to-medium planks of wood and plastic is definitely doable. Similarly, simple shaping, and cutting square and mitred angles should be possible. If you get the sheeting cut down at the hardware store, or if you know a friend with a table saw... there's a lot you can do with this kit.

    I've also excluded all gardening a tools (such as pruning saws, secateurs, and hedging shears) and food/kitchen tools (knives, scissors and shears to name a few) as they're not really the focus here. Not everyone has a garden, but almost everyone has a home that needs repairs now and then :-)

    Ready to get cutting? Let's go!

    Scissors.. not as simple as you might have thought

    Sometimes you just want a pair of scissors. Whether tht's to cut paper, cardboard, vinyl, or string. It's important that you don't siphon off your mothers/better half's prized sewing or cooking scissors for inappropriate purposes (i.e. cutting heavy duty wire, or... as my partner Ren tells me.. any wire... <with tones implying violence>.. Yeah, just don't do it to yourself).

    Scissors come in all shapes and sizes. Most people know about sewing, hair cutting, and child-safe scissors (are they really scissors? I think they're toys). However, there are electrician's scissors, titanium scissors, numerous types of shears, and all sorts of weird and wonderful variations that would work well for a toolbox or workshop.

    However, some of them get pretty expensive, so find a solid, comfortable pair of scissors, ones that can be tightened up if the blades loosen. That way you won't be "nabbing" scissors from places you shouldn't be.

    Here's a useful video (skipping the ad at the beginning) showing the scissors Adam Savage uses in his workshop. He has many, but like I said, you don't need all of these to start with. It's just an interesting reference:

    Scissors

    Scissors.

    Scissors come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and purposes. It's one of those things where they're frequently used and often "relocated... somewhere". It's important that you use the correct sort of scissors for the purpose.

    Stanley Knife or Box Cutter

    Want a sharp knife and hate sharpening? How about a knife with replaceable blades? Or one where you can snap the blunt bit off and start anew?

    Then dear reader, you want a Stanley Knife.... also known as "The box cutter".
    Stanley knife and box cutter.

    Stanley Knives (Or box cutter)

    It's effectively, a razor-sharp knife. Obviously it can be used to cut things, but it can be used to score lines into materials to mark and/or break brittle objects cleanly. It can also tidy up fuzzy wood cuts, cut crisp lines in paint, so paint can be cleanly removed from window panes without stripping the paint from window frames.
     
    Combined with the metal ruler (mentioned above), and the cutting mat (mentioned below) the box cutter is great for crafting purposes, model making, cutting leather, fabric, sheet stock, trimming photos, etc.

    A cutting mat

    At this point, I assume you don't have a workbench. If you're working on the kitchen table, protecting the surface from paints, spills, cuts, gouges, and other damage is probably a good idea.

    Cutting mats come in various sizes, colours and varying materials. Most have a grid of some sort, to assist in lining up straight or right angled cuts. Some have two layers that rotate on an axle to help cut circles in a "Lazy Susan" style setup. However, you really don't want the bottom layer sliding around during that task.

    A simple one tha's big enough for your needs is all that's necessary. You can find these in art/craft stores, discount "dollar shops", sewing stores, and online.
    cutting mat

    Cutting Mat

    Ranging from a few dollars to nearly $150 for a huge one, a cutting mat that's A3 sized is often more than good enough. These are particulaly popular with sewing, electronics, and model hobbyists, because they offer a clean, consistent work surface that makes finding small parts easier, while protecting the underlying surface from damage, glue and solvents.

    The basic 30cm/12" Hacksaw

    There are many types of saw, but for this kit, I wanted a saw to be:
    1. Cheap and readily available.
    2. Be useful for most materials.
    3. Have cheap/easily replaceable blades (no sharpening tools required)

    Now I know there's always someone who'll disagree with my view, discounting it as personal preference, but for the beginner I recommend the humble 300mm/12" hacksaw.

    There are expensive brands, and there are cheap ones. I've seen them run for as little as $7 new, and go up to hundreds of dollars. Interestingly,  there's no consistency about how a saw (by itself) is measured, and some will say 300mm, going by the blade length alone, some will say 305mm, and others will go to 400mm because they're including the length of the handle with the blade... yet they'll all take the same sized 300-305mm blade.

    Frankly, I'd spend a little extra (say $20-40 on the saw) as the ones I got were in this range and they've taken a beating for years. Personally, I like to see more metal, rather than plastic construction, but if you're working with electricity, then the extra insulation may be handy.

    I like the fact that you can get blades for cutting wood and plastic (generlly larger teeth, or fewer teeth per inch  (TPI) of blade, or cutting metal with finer, more numerous TPI.
    The humble 300mm or 12

    The hacksaw is a surprisingly versatile tool...

    Sometimes called a "bow" saw, most hack saws feature a bent metal or plastic frame that holds a blade under tension. Some have wing nuts to tension the blade, others have levers, but blades are easily adjustable or replaceable. Handles can come in differing shapes and sizes.

    The ability to change the blade from a wood/plastic cutting type, to a metal cutting type is incredibly handy. You're effectively using one saw to do the work of two or even three types of saw. That said... most saws don't come with a variety pack of blades, so this brings us to....

    Hacksaw Blades

    There are three differing features that hacksaw blades have that you should be aware of:
    1. Blade length.
    2. Teeth configuration.
    3. Blade material.

    Blade length:

    The blade length needs to be correct for the saw. It's no good buying a 160mm blade if you have a 300mm saw. It won't reach both ends. Also, it can't be massively longer either. Usually you have some wiggle room (for tension adjustment purposes) so it's not uncommon to see a 305mm blade on a 300m saw, or a 300mm blade on a 305mm saw. But I wouldn't recommend a difference of more than 5mm or so.

    Teeth configuration:

    The most important thing for beginners to worry about is Teeth Per Inch (or TPI). Basically this is the number of teeth the blade has over 1 inch of length. So 18 TPI has much bigger (and far fewer) teeth than say, a 32 TPI blade.

    A lower TPI means the blade is better suited to softer materials (soft woods and some plastics). It will cut quickly, but the cut will be fairly rough as well.

    Higher TPIs mean the blade will cut harder materials (usually metals), but will in general cut more slowly, and with a smoother finish.

    Blade material:

    Cheaper blades tend to be made out of high speed steel (HSS), there are other, more expensive varieties such as "Bi Metal" and "Cobalt alloys" which tend to hold their edge longer, and cut harder materials without significant degradation.

    I don't want to give you the impression that cheap blades can't do many things, but they will tend to break more often and dull faster if you "push" them hard enough.

    Various types of hacksaw blades

    Let's talk about hacksaw blades for a bit...

    Here are some of the common types of hack saw blades. The three most common TPI ratings are 18 TPI (general purpose) 24 TPI (soft metals of modest thickness) and 32 TPI (harder/thinner metals). You will often find these in either 1 TPI type packs, or variety packs of all three. Some say that you should cut wood with a 14 TPI blade or lower, but I find these hard to locate. So I run an 18 TPI blade on my wood hacksaw, and a 32 TPI blade on my metal hacksaw. I just take a little longer to cut with this setup, but it works well for me.

    The Mitre Box

    Ok, so you've got a saw, you've got some blades for differing materials. Now you cut some scrap wood (or metal) and you find that you're cutting all kinds of wonky angles and curves.

    If cutting a square 90 degree angle seems next to impossible, or you're trying to get your 45 degree cuts for mitred picture frames "right", then you might want to consider the humble mitre box.

    You put your wood against the "fence" (the vertical wall of your mitre box), you clamp your piece down, and then you use the handy pre-cut slots in the box to ensure you get a 90 or 45 degree angle.

    These are a great way to avoid frustration and unwanted expense. However, you still need to go slow, and ensure everything is going as planned. The mitre box can also get "chewed up" by the saw as the blade grinds against the guiding edges, so they may need replacing down the track when the accuracy of the angles drop.
    Various mitre boxes

    The mitre box is a cost effective way to ensure your saw cuts are straight and accurate.

    Mitre boxes come in various shapes, sizes, and are made of differing materials. Some come with a saw, while others don't.

    You have to be careful when shopping online, as some are absolutely tiny for precise model building. Others can be quite large, and suffer from a commensurate drop in accuracy, or don't suit a hack saw at all. If you're in a hardware store, grab a hacksaw, and a mitre box, and see how much room you have. A diagonal (mitre) cut will require a longer blade to work effectively.

    Some people buy their mitre boxes, other build their own (but this requires to tools to do so), and others 3D print... again, not exactly the capability of the absolute DIY beginner, but if you know people who can make or print one for you, feel free. Otherwise the basic models aren't expensive to buy at $10-15 Australian.

    Holding Tools

    DIY tasks can often be helped with tools that grip, or hold things in place. Other times, it's simply not possible to bring the necessary grip required to manipulate items with your bare hands.

    There are also plenty of occasions where holding things may be hazardous, such as when dealing with sharp objects, heated items, and electrical currents, just to name a few. Whether an object is simply sliding on the table, slipping from your grasp entirely, or you just don't have enough hands to do everything at once, these tools make things safer in general, and easier on your hands.

    Pliers, multi-grips and other similar tools

    There are few tools more broadly useful to any DIY task than the humble pair of pliers. Pliers exist in such variety, that there may well be more types in this category of tool than most other kinds.

    There are dedicated types of pliers for medical procedures, agricultural fencing, MIG welding, dentistry, telecommunications, electronics, jewellery, modeling, plumbing, metal smelting, aeronautical industries, sewing, automotive mechanics, industrial machinery, and so much more.

    Some pliers are straight, some are bent, some are narrow tipped, while others have huge wide jaws. Some do one specific thing, while others do several. Some lock closed, while others have springs to open them up. Some are best at gripping round surfaces while others are great on flatter shapes. Some offer thermal or electrical insulation, while others have none of that.

    In short, there's a pair of pliers for every occasion, but you only need a few to have a truly versatile kit.
    This image for Image Layouts addon

    The basic set of plier-like tools.

    Starting from the left, we have a set of "Multi-grips" (shown here as the same size as a pair of pliers next to it, but it's likely they're actually 20-50% larger than the pliers... so just keep that in mind). Multi-grips also have other names like "Groove joint pliers" in other countries. These are really handy for a wide variety of purposes, like larger diameter metal pipe, but can also shrink down to a typical set of pliers with huge amounts of grip. Interestingly, some have curved jaws for gripping pipe/cylindrical objects, while others have flat jaws like a spanner. So if you already have a pair of adjustable spanners/wrenches (or plan to get them) as listed above, I'd recommend the curved jaw type. In either case, multi-grips are still not as good as spanners/wrenches for nuts and bolts, but work in a pinch.

    You'll notice that the first four tools look suspiciously like four piece set. Because they're a common range found in "four piece plier sets". You'll often find (still moving from left to right) a conventional pair of pliers, a pair of needle-nosed pliers, and a pair of wire cutters with the multigrips. Some sets offer significant value, while others are vastly overpriced over individually-sold alternatives.

    Conventional pliers offer solid gripping performance, as well as a decent wire cutter in it's own right.

    The needle nosed pliers are much better for finer work, such as beading, electronics, and of course, in grabbing things in narrow spaces. Needle nosed-options can also act like an improvised pair of tweezers.

    A dedicated pair of wire cutters will offer the ability to cut wire (and some thicker cable) as needed. However, like the conventional/needle nosed varieties of pliers, there are some better suited tools for finer or larger work, depending on the task.

    The bent needle nosed pliers are surprisingly handy for reaching around, or under items in hard to reach places. They also do finer work with relative ease. Also, given the angles that the human hand works at, it can be a little easier to use a bent pair in some situations than a simple straight pair of pliers.

    Finally, the black handled pair is a "multi purpose" conventional set of pliers, in that it has a crimping capability below the hinge. Some pliers offer several additional features as well. These might include wire cutting, wire stripping, or crimping options for differing styles of plugs. Also, the grip may be heavily insulated for high voltage electrical work.

    While most pliers are made of tool steel, some have tips coated in carbide, titanium compounds, or ceramics for holding and cutting very hard metals without wearing down prematurely.

    Tweezers

    For small jobs and digging out splinters, nothing can beat the humble pair of tweezers. However, like the pliers, tweezers are used in various industries. From electronics and soldering, to jewellers and crafting workshops, scientific laboratories, surgeries, and operating theatres, and beauticians, personal groomers, and even in artistic endeavours.

    You might already have some tweezers in a first aid kit, or modeling kit, or amongst your personal grooming gear. However, I strongly advise you to keep those separate from your DIY activities. You don't want paint on a first aid tool. Similarly, your better half may be more than annoyed if her personal grooming toolkit has been coated in glue, sawdust. I haven't done it myself.. but I know guys who have. The one thing most guys don't know, is just how much these items cost you (monetarily and in inconvenience).... so spend the 10 bucks or whatever to get your own set.
    A variety of tweezers

    Tweezers come in a variety of forms....

    Tweezers are used for many purposes, so there's many styles out there. On the left here is a kit of black tweezers that's primarily sold for electronics work. (ESD stands for electrostatic discharge, where the static electricity your body frequently builds up, can destroy sensitive electronic components, so there's a coating to prevent that from happening).

    On the right are two surgical tweezers, with standard "squeeze" operation, and on the far right, a cross-over pair of tweezers that opens when you squeeze them... this means you don't have to continuously apply pressure to hold light things, but you can't just squeeze harder to get a better grip. Again, different tools for differing situations.

    At the bottom, you have a pair of ceramic tipped tweezers for high temperature work, like jewellery metal working, and soldering.

    I've shown you just a few, but there are many out there. However, the black set can be used for medical needs as well, as the tips are plain steel. These are very sharp pointed devices so be careful... but they're cheap and work very well for the many tasks I've used them for.

    Rubber Drawer Liner

    Ok, so you have your work piece on a table, but it's slipping everywhere as you sand, paint, scrape, or even glue. Now if you had a bench, you'd probably be using any number of wood working or metal working clamps and holding devices. However, we're not there yet with this kit, so how about...

    A rubber non-slip drawer liner...

    What?! I hear you think.

    Well if you're wood or metal working, you might not want your piece to slide on whatever surface you have. So a cheap, cost effective way to fix that problem, is to place the rubber liner under your workpiece (or cutting mat, outlined above).


    You can probably buy a roll of the stuff for $2-10 Australian. Now listen (well, read) because this is important. You want a non-adhesive roll. You want it to be non-slip.. but that doesn't mean you want to stick it to anything.
    A roll of rubber drawer liner material

    Rubber drawer liner material...

    Rubber drawer liner is a textured rubber roll. It comes in many colours, from black, white, grey, green, purple, blue, red, yellow, and even translucent... ish

    Not only is it great to put under work pieces (and cutting mats) when horizontal forces cause the object(s) to slide all over the place, there are a bunch of other uses.

    One of the more interesting uses is to cut a small square of the material (say 150mm or 6" square) and use it to grip jar lids that seem to be stuck. Similarly, I've seen people use cut pieces act as drink coasters and place mats.  Other ideas include:

    • Line tool boxes and/or containers filled with crockery (and between crockery) to pad and stop things from rattling around.
    • Wedge behind pictures to keep them hanging straight on the wall.
    • Keep magnetically attached items from sliding down the fridge when the liner is placed between the magnet and fridge door.
    • Place under mixing bowls, and pet food bowls (for those pets who lick hard enough to slide it across floors).
    I'm sure there's many others. For something I buy for $4 at the local hardware store, or $2 at the "dollar shop" (yes I know it's ironically misleading)..  there are a lot of uses.

    A couple of clamps...

    While screws, and even nails could be considered "temporary" fasteners, as they can be removed. They're usually left in place for extremely long periods of time.

    However, clamps offer a temporary fastening solution in the truest sense of the word. Usually, they're used for hours, perhaps a few days at most, while other fastening methods (usually glue) takes hold, then the clamps are removed.

    Holding pieces together while the glue is drying is hugely useful. The clamps bring forces to squeeze work together, spreading the glue over greater areas (often, but not always, increasing strength) and since you'rer not there holding it together, clamps free up hands to do other things.

    Clamps can also push things together when the fit is tight, or simply hold objects firmly to a table. So a couple of C or G clamps are recommended in this kit because they're cheap, they're smaller than most other types, and they're simple to use.

    Just for your information...


    Clamps come in all shapes (often associated with a letter, like C, F, and G clamp due to their shapes similarity to those letters), but other popular types include:
    • "quick grips" (F clamps that can be used one-handed)
    • sash and/or pipe clamps (usually very large projects like tables and cabinetry)
    • picture frame clamps (also known as right angle or mitre clamps)
    • locking clamps (often used in metal working/welding)
    • web clamps (for odd shapes, these use a webbing/strap to squeeze things together).
    Each clamp type may come in several sizes, each type usually covers a differing range of distance. Smaller clamps might only have jaws that open 2.5cm (1"), while larger models might reach around objects that are metres (yards) apart.
    three different sized C-Clamps

    The basic C Clamp

    The C and G clamp are so similar, that they're basically used interchangeably. With jaws as small as 2.5cm (1") apart, going all the way 30cm (12") wide open. I have seen larger still, but they're very rare, slow to use, and extremely heavy. I personally recommend 2 clamps to begin with, either 10cm (4") or 15cm (6").

    You need two clamps when holding something down to stop the work piece from pivoting around a single clamp. Another benefit of having two clamps is that it allows you to clamp each end of a straight plank (called a "caul") of wood/metal/whatever on either side of your project. Using cauls both straightens the boards between the clamps, and provides even clamping pressure between the clamps.

    Note: Please understand that a clamp can bring a lot of pressure to bear on your project. Given the small surface area of the clamping "pads", (even the rubber coated ones) it is possible to dent your work projects, or even the table you're clamping to. To avoid this, have a piece of scrap wood both between the table and the bottom clamp face, as well as another piece of scrap wood between the top clamping surface and the top of your work piece.

    If you then place a cutting mat (or drawer liner) between your table top and the bottom of your work piece, you won't scratch your table top either. 

    Warning: please have common sense, and don't clamp it to heirloom furniture, or glass tables.. as they need to be treated with care and are not suited to DIY work.

    Drilling and Driving

    Screw drivers, as mentioned above, may work well for inserting screws into soft materials, where speed doesn't matter, or where a delicate touch is needed. However, drilling holes is another matter entirely, and driving many screws... or just driving a few screws into difficult materials.... well that's when you need a power tool.

    A drill is the only power tool that I'd recommend for everyone. Many people opt for cordless drills, but there are times when a corded one is better.
    Cordless drills of varying voltages

    Cordless Drills

    Cordless drills come in a variety of styles, voltages, and capabilities.

    Left: A 12V drill that's light weight, cheap, and fits into smaller spaces will suit some people. However, it's important that you have realistic expectations. Drills like this have chucks limited to 8-9mm (meaning you can't use 10mm diameter or larger bits), and certainly don't have a hammer drilling function. (Used when drilling into concrete, bricks and masonry).

    Middle: 18V drill, with more power, can handle larger bits (up to 13mm) and harder materials. Serious DIYers should consider this as the minimum voltage. It's more than enough for many pros as well. These have faster, stronger motors, and frequently have a gearbox, so you can select between speed or torque (rotational power)... depending on your needs. Many in this category have a hammer drilling function as well.

    Right: 36V drills, (along with other 20V-54V models) are for serious work, professional workloads where metals, masonry, and really large bits might be regularly used. Like all "portable" devices. If you go big enough, it can actually be harder to handle and take up more storage space than a corded model.

    Still not enough power? Consider a corded drill!
    Corded drills in various flavours

    Corded drills still have a place.

    While cordless drills are certainly popular, and have never been more capable, their batteries have a finite life expectancy, and simply put, don't have the power of the corded types. People who fail to maintain their batteries through infrequent use (or abuse) may find that their batteries simply stop working entirely, and even if they do maintain them, you may find they fail after a few years.

    Similarly, while new batteries hold their charge for weeks and even months on end, eventually all batteries self-discharge. So the power might not be there when you just want to "grab and go". Corded tools always have power, no waiting for the charge to complete. Although unspooling and winding up cords can take time as well. :-)

    Drill types.... and choosing the right one

    Cordless drills:

    Firstly, I'm starting with cordless drills because they're popular these days.

    Do you crawl into roof cavities, or under the house a lot? Are most of your tasks "light to medium duty?", Do you need to operate away from power sources? Then you, dear reader, probably, want a cordless drill.

    Battery voltage is indicative of how much speed or rotational power (torque) the drill is capable of. Not how long the battery will last. That said, it's entirely possible for a 12V battery to outlast a 54V battery... depending on it's use. To find how long a battery will last, you need to look at the "Amp hour"(AH) ratings on the batteries themselves. As these numbers are generally indicative of how long a battery can be run between charges.

    In short, Voltage = speed or power (and maximum size of drill bits). Amps (or Amp hours) how long they last.

    Generally speaking, a 12V system is designed to be smaller and lighter weight than larger models. While it's entirely possible to have a huge 12V battery (For example, a car battery) the 12V cordless batteries will have a lower AH rating. Usually between 1 to 1.7AH. This may yield similar run times to larger systems due to increased efficiency through lighter components, and lowered load requirements. Cordless systems with 18V and above usually have batteries between 2 and 5AH.

    As the AH rating increases, the physical size and weight of the battery increases. It's for this reason, some cordless tools can ultimately become as bulky (or worse) than corded tools. Especially if multiple batteries and chargers get involved.

    More powerful (higher voltage) cordless tools tend to also have additional capabilities, such as "hammer drilling" (used when drilling into walls, concrete, masonry) but while these features are useful for light duty tasks, it's still not going to match a corded drill. That said, many people who only do "light duty jobs" are more than satisfied by the cordless offerings.

    Warning: Do not buy a "Skin only" kit. This does not include the required batteries or charger. Which are significantly more expensive to buy "after the fact".

    Corded Drills:

    Corded drills offer several advantages:
    • They're still faster, and more powerful than almost any cordless drill. Time wasted using slower cordless tools can be more expensive over time than the tools themselves.
    • Most drill bits are built to be used at corded drill speeds, as such, running them slower in cordless drills can mean that the bits can heat up more (chips and dust aren't extracted at the normal speed, this is important because they take the heat out of the drilling operation with them) and as such, the bits you use may overheat, and have a shorter life span. Slower does not always mean cooler. Remember that.
    • You can pick a corded drill up "for cheap" since most people are switching to cordless systems. Ask an friend or family member if they have one they don't use much.
    • Expect a corded drill to last for years, perhaps decades. There's no battery "shelf lives" to worry about. Often, the consumable parts (like motor brushes) are easily replaceable. Many new corded drills are brushless so they have even longer life expectancy.
    • You never have to wait for the battery to charge, or buy new batteries. Just plug it in and go. Although, unspooling and winding the cable up at the end can slow you down a bit.
    • For bigger projects with many holes to drill, the ergonomics of having larger handles, or even a second handle, can really reduce muscle strain... this is a seldom-considered issue, and it's worth thinking about. Cordless drills are designed for one handed operation, and to be light weight for portability... however, they're not designed with long term ergonomics in mind.
    • Corded drills can use bigger drill bits, and are best at drilling deeper, and much harder materials at faster speeds, and this can save you a great deal of time.
    • Certain paint stripping or metal polishing operations where accessories are attached to the drill, use the motor continuously for a long time. This suits corded drills more, as operations like this will eat through batteries at a much faster rate than the intermittent drilling and driving operations a cordless drill is typically used for.
    I'm not saying that you should choose one or the other, but I'm hoping you'll be able to find a drill with the specifications that suit your needs. Of course, as a starter kit, there's nothing to stop you from buying another drill down the road if you need it. Just stick to a lower-cost one while you're finding your feet. If you don't continue this hobby, you're still not hugely invested.

    So what would I buy if I were just starting out, knowing what I know now?

    Some people would buy the cheapest system they can find, Ozito and Xu1 brands are examples of this. You can find both corded and cordless tools in these brands for under $50 Australian. Now, you can do this, but expect to swap tools at least once during the warranty, then just throw them out. Whether or not you want to waste time going back to the local hardware store to replace them... that's up to you. I would prefer to direct you to a "cheap but decent" option so you don't end up "messing something up" when the tool breaks.


    Ryobi and AEG brands are considered "decent entry-level to middle of the road", suitable to DIYers. Some of the "pro" brands have offerings in this category as well, weirdly made in different colours to their usual, higher ended offerings. Such as the green tools by "Bosch" (their pro tools are blue), The black/grey/orange range of Makita (many of their better tools are blue). Remember what colours mean for each brand.. (Xu1 is blue and cheap) so there's a lot of overlap and that can be confusing.

    Ideally if you're going for a cordless drill, I humbly recommend you buy a kit with a charger and two batteries. (If one battery dies, you still have the other, and while both batteries are still functioning, you can charge one while you use the other, vastly reducing any charge-related downtime). New drill models are coming out all the time, so do a little research, read reviews and find out what promotions are on. (There's always one brand having a sale).

    Note: You will save money if you buy all your cordless tools in one big kit.. but this only works for committed DIYers. However, if you're looking for multiple tools all at once, buy ONE brand so you can share the batteries between them. Batteries are brand specific, so you can't use one brand of battery to power another brand... sometimes you can't even use old batteries in the same brand to power newer generations of tools. This is because battery technology improves over time, and the newer models of tools may be designed to take advantage of those improvements.

    If you can stretch the budget to an 18V system with a 13mm chuck... that covers a lot of basics. However, if money is tight, or you only work on smaller projects, perhaps a 12V system is best. However that will limit you to bits with a maximum diameter of 8-10mm.

    Sometimes it pays to go to a dedicated tool store, such as Sydney Tools/Total Tools/Gasweld (here in the Australia) over the local Bunnings (or other big hardware store) as they tend to have a wider range, have better advice since they get feedback from the trades people who beat their tools up for a living, and often have promotions that can get you better tools for less money. I've saved hundreds if not thousands by politely asking for advice, with a brief explanation of my situation, and intended work needs.

    As a beginner, you don't need to "buy the best". A drill is still, a drill. However, if a price range for adequate quality is helpful...  Honestly, I'd spend somewhere between $100-250 Australian for a single, 18V drill/hammer drill/driver combo (all the features in one device), two batteries and a charger. If they throw in an "impact driver", (a second, very useful tool for those who deal with a lot of screws) I'd happily spend up to another $100 total... as they usually cost more than twice that if bought separately.

    Here's a very informative video explaining the difference between a drill and an impact driver.


    I'd probably consider paying the same for the corded drill too, (the $100-250) for a beginner. You don't need huge, or obscenely powerful. However, if you can get a working second hand model from a friend or family.. you can then spend the money on buying a decent drill bit set.
    Standard twist drill bit indexes

    Drill bit sets

    Drill bits (the kind for actually drilling holes), come in various shapes, types, sizes, lengths, and materials. They also come in metric vs. imperial dimensions, can be sold individually, in sets (multiples of the same size), and indexes (variety packs of differing sizes, usually in some sort of dimensional order) too.

    Starting out, buy a "general purpose twist bit index!"

    If you live in the U.S., then an imperial index set with bits ranging from 1/16" to 5/8" is a great starting point. If you live in metric-loving lands, then an index set with 1mm-13mm (or 1-10mm if you have a 12V drill) will be a good starting point. Eventually, you may need both a metric and imperial set because you'll eventually run into a situation where you need the one you don't have. But for now, start with one kit.

    Demystifying the drill bit language

    Twist bit, spade bit, Forstner bit, hole saws, brad points, auger bits, split points, and masonry bits are just the beginning. There's also tip geometry, ranging from 90 to 135o angles. Then there's drill bit materials. Do you want bi-metal, cobalt, titanium, carbide coated, or high speed steel bits?

    Then you have specific bits for impact drivers, and SDS drills... which add their own complexities to the range of options.

    For general purpose drilling. A twist bit index (a set with a range of sizes) will happily drill into wood, plastic, softer metals, and maybe softer steels (with coolant/cutting fluid). If you plan to drill into brick or concrete... then you need a masonry bit set too. Masonry bits are completely different than twist bits, and benefit greatly from a hammer function on a drill.

    Need a bigger drilled hole?

    If you're drilling larger holes, spade bits and forstner bits will generally range between 10mm and 50mm. If you're going bigger again, you need a hole saw kit if you want to go even bigger. I've seen hole saw kits that start at 20mm and go up to 150, and even 200mm diameters. However, there are a lot of sizes, and they can be upwards of $50, or even $100 for each. Please note that you need the attachment shaft, and this isn't always included with individual hole saws. So it's best to start with a kit, and keep to the same brand for compatibility sake. Naturally, price goes up when hole saws get big, and the materials they're made of (like diamond encrusted teeth) go up in quality. Obviously, the bigger sized holesaws will need more powerful drills to operate, and this is even more true when drilling into harder materials like steel.

    Brad points are great for wood, as the pointy tip stops the bit from "wandering off" when drilling softer materials. However, they're terrible for hard materials. Auger bits are great for wood working, but are nowhere near as "general purpose" as twist bits.

    Masonry bits have a special carbide/diamond chisel-like tip, then the usual twisted channels (flutes) for ejecting the material from the hole. For mounting bolts to masonry, these are essential. Using twist bits on masonry will work, but you'll destroy your twist bits in the process.

    So that's it, for the basic kit.

    That's a lot of information. If you picked the right stuff for you, you should be able to:

    • measure, mark, and line up any dimensions and cuts.
    • cut and shape a variety of materials ranging from paper, plastic sheeting, fabric and string with scissors,
    • use pliers and wire cutters to (funnily enough) cut wire,
    • use a box cutter shape to plastic and other soft materials,
    • cut wood, plastic, soft metals, and even steel bolts with the hacksaw.
    • You can drill holes, and even drive screws into those holes with the drill, or when a delicate touch is needed, drive screws (in or out) by hand.
    • insert/remove nails with the claw hammer, manoeuvre (tap) items into place,
    • get to grips with objects (bolts, pipes, wire, and many more) by using pliers and spanners.
    • use glues or physical attachments (nuts/bolts, screws, and nails), to join pieces together....
    • do a quick tape up job to seal something in/out, paint more cleanly, or just temporarily stick something to something else.
    • know where all these tools are, and have stored them in some sort of easy to discern order, and can take them wherever you need them to be.
    and....
    • Finally and most importantly, from start to finish, you (and all who work with you) should be able to engage in DIY tasks while reducing the risks of skin exposure, eye/hearing damage, breathing difficulties, and reducing the usual risks posed by heat, chemicals, electricity, and sharp/pointy objects.


    Sure, there's bigger tools to be had, and stuff that will help you to accomplish specific tasks, or increase productivity, but there's often a substantial increase in price and space and expertise required to handle that.

    There are also other fields of DIY like:
    • Electronics: where specific tools and testing equipment would be needed. Sure a soldering iron, a multimeter, and a pair of "helping hands" would be good for fixing a basic cable... but there's a rabbit hole of power supplies, signal generators, oscilloscopes and test componentry that goes way beyond the scope of a complete beginner.
    • Metal Working: As the material strength/hardness goes up, so does the power, cost, weight, and size of the tools needed to machine it. A pair of aviation (tin) snips for cutting metal sheeting and a metal scribe for marking on metal might well be a worthwhile investment at this level. However, power tools become necessary in many fundamental areas of metal working. An angle grinder is the cheapest way to get cutting, cleaning, and polishing metal. It's also likely that you'll need a welder, (plus all the accessories and additional safety gear) and these are just the beginner level stuff. You need to be more skilled and confident with this gear as the power, the heat, the noise, along with the increased risk of flying debris, of gas leaks, explosion, fire, electrocution, and poisonous fumes are very real. I'm not saying that a DIYer can't use this gear (many do) but at the beginning, getting someone to show you the ropes, make you aware of the dangers and how to avoid them, is key.
    • Large scale painting: Painting a room, or indeed a whole house needs it's own range of gear. Goggles, dust mask, gloves and ear protection is really handy. However, gap/spack filler for cracks/holes/dents along with the putty knife/trowel/scraper you use to work it, paint brushes/rollers, sanding tools, drop sheets, extension poles, ladders, and ways to clean up (turpentine or methylated spirits, shop vac for dust extraction, ways to mix or store paint, are generally enough for most jobs.
    • Gardening: A pair of loppers (big secateurs), secateurs, trowel, gloves, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, bucket or two, watering can, hose, sprinkler (or irrigation system), compost bin, spray bottles,ladder, hedge trimmer (if you have any hedges) can get you tending to plants pretty well. Of course, lawn mowers, mulchers, trailer/ute for soil is also a big help at times too.


    Anyway, I hope you found this helpful. I'm sure I'll extend out these recommended kits to intermediate options in the future.

    Take care, be safe and happy DIY-ing!
    Ham.

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