Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gettng Started - A Basic Toolbox: Part 3

A post from an earlier blog, Handy Dandy Man

Flashlight. Two schools of thought here: get one that you can set down and shine where you need it, great if your under sinks, etc. or one that you can hold in your teeth. Or do what I've done and get a few - one for each occasion.

Circuit Tester. If you plan to do electrical work, this is a must. You can get a simple two-pronged tester that you stick into an outlet to see if the outlet is hot or not for about $2-$3. Of course, I prefer something more like the Fluke 1-AC11 Volt Alert. This great little tester can sense a live line even through the wire insulation. Just touch the tip to a wire, outlet, etc. and it will alert you to a live line. Great for trying to figure out which wires are live when you have a bundle of lines.

Hacksaw. Essential for cutting metal plumbing pipes and cutting any kind of metal rod or channel. What matters more here is the blade you use. I prefer Lenox brand blades for my hacksaws.

Adjustable Utility Knife. There are many out there: ergonomically designed, quick blade changing features, etc. A good one will run you about $4-$6. No need to go nuts here. Just make sure it's decent quality and that your blades are very good. Dull or cheap blades won't cut, just adding to your frustration and the likely-hood you might have an accident with the knife. ALWAYS cut away from your body.

File and Rasp. I keep what's called a 4-in-hand 10" rasp that is flat on one side and rounded on the other- rough on one end and finer on the other. I may not use it often, but it's good to have around when you need to take off "just a little bit."

Awl. Great for starting screws, marking drill holes, and starting drill holes so the bit won't slide. Also good for digging at or chipping things when necessary.

Torpedo Level. At the very least, you should have torpedo level for being certain that pictures hang evenly, etc. I have 4 levels: * A torpedo level * 2' level * 4' level * Line level Buying tip: Spend the extra money to buy the aluminum level. Plastic levels can warp and twist, causing thelevel to become useless.

Try Square. Any time you need to draw a straight line that is square or to check square on a piece that has been cut, or to be certain a corner is square, you'll want to have a try square. If you have the budget, a framing square can be valuable as well.

Miter Box and Miter Saw. If you plan to do any mitered cuts- baseboard, corner round, any molding, or picture frames, etc., then a miterbox and a good miter saw is important to have. You don't need anything incredibly expensive, but solidly built with a decent saw.

Caulk Gun/Caulk. I use a hex-rod caulk gun with a tip cutter and a hole puncher. I also keep a tube or two of latex-based caulk with silicone in both white and clear, and several tubes of Liquid Nails on hand.

Collection of Fasteners. This includes some 6d nails, 1-1/4" coarse drywall screws, 2" x #10 pan-head metal screws, tacks, 4d brads, and a few 1/4" lag screws. I also have an assortment of #8-32 and #10-24 screws.

I recommend an assortment of drywall anchors. If you can find them, Toggler makes an assortment that I highly recommend.

Picture Hanging Hardware. My favorite is harware by OOK.

Duct Tape. If you can't fix it with duct tape, it can't be fixed. ;) Keep a roll on hand. Again, don't be tempted to buy the cheap stuff. If you can get it, Duck brand is good stuff.

Electrical Tape. A must for electrical work.

Teflon Tape (Plumbing). It's necessary to tape any joint where water will be running under pressure. This stuff is very inexpensive ($.50), so keep a roll or two on hand at all times.

A keyhole saw

3/8" Socket wrench and ratchet set.

Oh, and uh, a Toolbox. Make sure you get one large enough to accomodate all your tools. You may want to consider a tote of sorts in which you can carry a subset of your tools- just the ones you need for a particular job.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Getting Started - A Basic Toolbox: Part 2

A post from my earlier blog, The Handy Dandy Man.

Screwdrivers. Yes, that's right, plural. At the very least you will need two: a slotted screwdriver and a #2 Phillips-head screwdriver. I have over a dozen screwdrivers and could use more. At the very least, you should have the ones I've recommended here. I commonly use:

  • 4" x 3/16" slotted driver (recommended)
  • 4" x 1/4" slotted driver(recommended)
  • Stubby 3/16" slotted driver
  • 2" 3/32 slotted driver
  • 4" #2 Phillips-head driver (recommended)
  • 4" #1 Phillips-head driver (recommended)
  • Stubby #2 Phillips-head driver
  • 2" #0 Phillips-head driver
  • A set of 6 jewelers screwdrivers: 4 slotted; 2 Phillips-head

Cordless Drill/Screwdriver. You will most likely use this tool more than you can imagine. If not, you're probably not using it for everything you could.

Get a good one. I have two. Thanks to my brother, I now own a Makita 18v Lithium-Ion 1/2" Driver Drill (
BDF452HW). I'd be lost without this tool- the most-often used tool in my collection.

O.K., Here we go. Part 2 of putting together the basic toolbox.

Don't settle for less than professional on this tool. I recommend Makita, DeWalt, Milwaukee, Bosch, or Rigid. Tools by Black & Decker, Ryobi, or Skil tend to be more affordable, but lack the same power and durability of the names I mentioned earlier.

Remember, if you buy an inexpensive tool designed for the homeowner who will use it only occassionaly, it may not last as long or perform as well as a more expensive tool designed for the professional. You may end up spending your money twice. Spend your money right the first time and buy a better tool. Trust me, you won't regret this decision.

For quick small jobs, I also own a small, inexpensive, 3-position, electric screwdriver (Black & Decker Model 9078).

Set of Drillbits and Drivers. Get a small set of drill bits- usually 1/16" through 3/8" is enough, but if you can, get a set that has a 1/2" with a 3/8" shaft. You may also want to consider a set of paddle bits for doing larger holes, up to 1" or more.

In regards to drivers, I have a "Speed-Lok" set of drivers and bits that allows me to quickly change between drill bits and screwdriver bits (Craftsman Model #26144).

Slip-joint or "alligator" pliers. These are essential for holding and gripping...whatever. They're ideal for tightening or loosening various sizes of nuts or other threaded connectors. They can also be used to grip and remove things, such as pulling out small nails, tacks, or staples. They are truly a multi-purpose tool that is essential to any toolbox.

Needle-nose pliers are essential for doing electrical work (bending wires to fit around the switch or duplex screws) and for getting into any tight space where you need to grip something. Some come with side cutters which are very convenient to have if doing a lot of wiring.

Tongue-and-groove pliers. Often called "Channellocks" after a popular manufacturer of the tool, these are great for doing plumbing work as they can often open wide enough to fit around 1-1/4" or 1-1/2" drain pipes. Again, though, this tool has many uses.

Adjustable Wrench. If you ever intend to turn nuts or similarly-shaped items (e.g. water and gas connectors), you gotta have at least one of these. I have a set of 4 - different sizes for different jobs. It's often difficult to get into a tight space with a large adjustable wrench, and smaller ones don't open wide enough to accomodate larger turning surfaces. I recommend at least two- a larger one and a smaller one.

Diagonal Cutters. Not just for electrical work, these can also be used to cut through small brads, nails, staples, etc. You will find ways to use these. They are ideal for pulling staples out after removing flooring or carpet.

Vise-Grips or locking pliers. If you need to hold something and wish you had that third hand- that's what locking pliers are for. While I don't use these often, a small set (usually 2 or three) will cover jsut about all of your needs.

Allen or hex wrench set. Seems you can't buy anything today that doesn't utilize an Allen or hex screw, especially ready-to-assemble furniture. A small set isn't all that expensive and you'll be glad you have them when the need arises. Here's a tip: Buy a set that is both SAE (Standard American Equivalent) and metric. Many of the RTA furniture makers are Asian or European and they tend to use metric fasteners.

Set of combination wrenches. There are times when having a closed or box wrench is just necessary. Where a plier or adjustable wrench is just too cumbersome or keeps slipping off the nut or hex bolt, nothing is better than a box wrench. An adequate set is about $25-$35.

Stay tuned for Part 3, Knives, Saws, Tapes, etc.

Getting Started – A Basic Toolbox: Part 1

A previous post on my blog, The Handy Dandy Man

Every homeowner who plans to tackle projects around the home should have a basic toolbox. Each homeowner's toolbox is likely to vary from one to the next based on the type and size of the projects you hope to take on.

There's a saying – one among many in the fix-it business – about having the right tool for the job. Nothing could be more vital to your success with home improvement projects than having the tools you need and knowing what tools or materials are available to help you succeed.

This isn't something you'll learn overnight. There are thousands of tools out there- variations on variations - and some are highly-specific in nature. Don't be scared off. Ninety percent of what you'll want to do around the house can be done with a modest set of tools that you can find in any good hardware store or home center.

Don't skimp on quality when buying tools. While you may not need the absolute best tool, you should buy a reliable tool that will last you a lifetime. Wherever possible, buy tools that carry a life-time warranty and are made with the best materials and crafmanship. In terms of hand tools, some of the brands you can trust are Stanley, Craftsman, True Value Master Mechanic Line, Irwin, and Channellock. If you can afford it, Snap-on and Mac are other great professional-quality tools.

Let's start with the tools every toolbox should have.

A Hammer. It doesn't get more basic than that. A good 16 oz. claw-hammer will do. The claw refers to the split, back-end of the hammer that is used to pull out nails. I prefer a one-piece all-metal drop forged hammer that has a rubber or leather grip. (I use an Estwing Model E16C leather grip hammer.)

There is an advantage to an all-metal hammer over a hammer with a wooden or fiberglass handle in that it will never break. It is possible to break a two-piece hammer if the handle is struck with force against a stationary object- which can happen if you swing and miss. And, I've seen poorly made wooden-handle hammers break under normal use. Again, don't skimp and buy cheap stuff.

Whatever you choose, most importantly, get a hammer that feels comfortable in your grip. Nothing can kill your DIY buzz like a hammer that hurts to use.

Safety Goggles. Everytime you use that hammer - or any tool that can result in flyng debris, like a saw, or chisel - wear those goggles.

25' Tape Measure. Another one of those sayings: Measure twice, cut once. Buy a reliable tape measure that has a nice stiff blade, one that will stand straight when extended to 8 or more feet. There are all kinds of tapes out there to choose from. Two features you might consider: a rubberized edge that won't cause any damage to marterials if it's dropped; a bright color so your tape is easily seen on the job site. You'd be surprised how many times I've looked for my tape and forgotten where I set it down. A bright yellow or orange tape is easy to see.

Check back soon for part 2 when we add screwdrivers and wrenches.