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Having the right tool for the right job is everything when it comes to being a successful around-the-house do-it-yourselfer.

In the movie Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood shows his young neighbor Tao his “toolshed.” The kid’s flabbergasted at the walls covered in tools of all kinds, and Clint explains he’s lived in the same home 50 years, saying, “A man stays in one place long enough, he tends to attract a decent set of tools.”

He explains that every tool has a job it does better than any other tool can. Young Tao balks at the extent of Clint’s investment, and the aging Eastwood states, “Take these three items: Some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone.”

Clint Eastwood’s tool box

  • Vise Grip
  • Duct Tape
  • WD-40

If you’re not after doing plumbing and electrical, Eastwood’s shortened list doesn’t translate to every DIY’er. I may not be Clint Eastwood, but after 12 years in the same spot, I’ve got a list of tools I couldn’t live without, and I’ll share the list with you here.

A worthy investment: quality counts

When building a tool box, don’t run out buying things all willy-nilly. Either buy things you know will be handy down the line when they’re on sale, or that you need as tasks demand, and invest with every purchase, so you’re buying a well-made product.

Tools are meant to be used with a lot of torque, banging, and aggression, and if you’re cheaping out, you’ll regret when your tools fall apart midway through a project. Not “if”– “when.”

Keeping in mind BuildDirect’s love of all this DIY, my list of tools is for those who are craft-minded, and may want to do upholstery or other kinds of decor projects over the long-term.

There’s Clint, and then there’s the mere mortal. Here’s what us humans need:

The do-it-yourself starter tool box

Tool box

You’d think “obviously,” but even I’ve been guilty of not having a great toolbox for years.

Until they began rusting and looking awful, I thought storing my tools in metal and plastic containers was great. Now I don’t want rust, or my tools to be scattered in several spots, so I have a huge classic red metal toolbox. A proper latching toolkit doesn’t just keep you sane and organized, it’s designed to protect your investment. Get one with compartments and multiple levels.

Hammer

Get a great grip, and make sure it’s nicely balanced. The “weight” of a hammer is a personal preference, most would begin at 16 ounces. Your hammer can last your lifetime if you buy good quality. Invest! I’m not even 40 and mine’s 20 years old.

Glue gun

If you’re planning to do any kind of upholstery or wood-making crafts, a glue gun is a lifesaver, and it’s a cheap purchase. For about $10, I picked up mine with glue sticks included, and it’s been used for everything from making a bedroom blackout-blind to decorating Christmas gifts.

Level

These days, even smart phones, like my iPhone, have a “level” app tool can do the trick, but if serious accuracy matters, a long level makes a big difference — they can be three feet long, ensuring precision. Consider splurging for a laser-level combined with a stud-finder. Hanging pictures will never be the same!

Tape measure

You need a tape measure. This item? Not negotiable. Get a tape measure. Make sure it has metric and imperial displayed, so you’re not accidentally losing accuracy when converting from one measurement to another, which happens a lot. Considering so many rooms are at least 10 feet wide, buy a 12-foot or longer measuring tape, and make sure it has a locking mechanism for when you’re working with it.

Screwdrivers

There are three main kinds of screwdrivers, but many others exist. You’ll be needing at least small/medium/large of the main styles — Phillips, Robertson, and the standard screwdriver heads.  I recommend investing in a good multi-screwdriver set. If you can’t dole out for a complete set, at least get a good multi-tool that has 9 or more interchangeable heads stored in the handle. Some have telescoping abilities,  allowing for tight jobs where you can’t reach a screw.

NOTE: When it comes to screwdrivers and wrenches, quality metal counts, and that’s where your money’s going. If you have a particularly tight nut or bolt to attack, and that cheap, convenient tool’s metal starts stripping, you’ll regret not investing the first time. Do not compromise on this purchase. Stripped screws are no one’s idea of a fun day of DIY work. If screw-stripping happens to you, yes, there are tools for removing stripped hardware too.

Adjustable wrenches

Monkey and crescent wrenches are really good to have. I went a long time without needing them, so how soon you’ll need one depends on what tasks you run into. The above line about “quality metal counts” counts here too. Get an adjustable wrench the size you need today, with a little room up and down. Expand your collection as time requires.

Needle-nose pliers

Whether it’s tightening wires on my balcony, securing my frying pan’s handle, or trying to change the lights in my 1952 fixtures, I don’t know how I lived without my five-set of pliers for so long. Just your standard pair of needle-nose will do a starting kit, though. If you didn’t already know, needle-nose pliers usually have a wire-cutting feature as well.

But wait! There’s more!

It’s not just tools we need for doing our jobs — other things are necessary too. Here’s what you’ll also find in my tool box, and what’s worth putting in yours:

Flashlight

Having a flashlight is often essential to getting a good look at your project. Sometimes, you won’t have the time to run for a light stored elsewhere when it’s urgent, so I keep a cheap little LED “turtle light” in my kit, just in case.

Rags & brushes

Another “just in case” item — whether it’s springing a leak, spilling some stain, applying caulking, or more, there are instances where having a rag then and there is critical, so I like to be ready when it happens.

Sturdy wire

There are lots of uses for piano-wire type solutions in gardening, picture hanging, decorating, and other little projects around the house. A couple arms’ lengths in the toolkit is just another in-a-jam emergency item for my kit.

Clear storage boxes with dividing walls

I cannot tell you how much I love having my nails, screws, bolts, and other bitsies divided into compartments in one handy box. Fix-it jobs are much easier (and less risky) when not rummaging through often-sharp, often-rusty hardware for a nail or screw. If you can’t find the perfect storage box at a hardware store, check crafting supplies shops and dollar stores too, where these solutions are often cheaper.

Wood glue

If you’ve got the vise grips, you’re half-way to most minor wood-furniture repairs. A little dab o’ wood glue’ll do you, if you cinch it in place with Clint’s handy vise.

Sandpaper

A few sheets of varying grits will make sure you’re not skipping a vital step in making your weekend project as pretty as it should be. Get coarse through to extra-fine grit, and every job can be finished to perfection.

Quality tools are an investment

And there you have it. A tool box packed with all these things will see you through a majority of home projects. If home improvement is a passion of yours, quality tools are an investment that can last a lifetime. Start today!

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.