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July 22, 2009

Your First Toolkit

045 - Power tools plus accessories  

Tools take us back to our hominid origins, when we roamed the plains looking for grubs and a good pounding rock. 

If you’re new to the home ownership game, or if you’ve had to use your teeth to open a can of paint, here are the components of a basic toolkit for your DIY enjoyment.

Power Tools

Cordless Drill

So cool, you'll sleep with it under your pillow for the first year.  Choose a variable speed, keyless-chuck model with the capacity to hold ½-inch bits for heavier use, or the capacity for 3/8-inch bits if you’re a lighter user.  Battery sizes vary, but most people are permanently happy with a 12-volt model.  Opt for lithium-ion over NiCad batteries.  Lithium-ion batteries are lighter, hold a charge longer and recharge faster than nickel-cadmium batteries, which lose capacity over time.


An electric jigsaw is the only power saw I recommend to beginners.  Quiet, nimble and versatile, the jigsaw makes straight or curvy cuts in wood, metal or plastic, so your options are endless.  Jigsaws cut with less speed than table saws, mitre saws and circular saws but you get to keep your fingers.

Random orbit sander

More powerful and versatile than a standard electric palm sander, a random orbit sander removes material much more quickly than a palm sander because it spins as well as vibrates.  It also vacuums dust up through the holes in the sanding disc and stores it in the built-in vacuum bag. 

Circular saw

If you’re into building decks or framing sheds or cutting up lots of plywood, a circular saw is faster than a jigsaw.  Battery-powered models reduce the odds of cutting the power cord in half.  You can get combo kits that include a cordless circular saw along with other tools that run off the same sized battery.  Oh baby.

Safety Gear – Don’t even be tempted by the lure of power tools if you’re not going to buy the safety gear.

o      A good set of ear gear keeps you calm when turning on loud, nerve-shattering equipment, and protects your hearing as well.  My favorite ear protectors are made by Peltor, the brand used in police firing ranges

o      Safety glasses - Buy an extra pair for a helper

o      Dust masks – The style with two elastic bands that grip your face really firmly

o      First aid kit - For the usual mishaps

045 - Hand tools plus accessories

Hand Tools

§       Japanese-style hand saw - Sweet to use.  Cutting occurs on the pull stroke, so the blade doesn’t jam or warp (as does a Western saw-blade like the one you probably inherited from your dad).  Irwin has just come out with a line of pull saws that are widely available.  If you can’t find one at your hardware store, check Lee Valley Tools – they’ve got a couple of all-purpose models for about $30

§       Assorted ergonomic-grip Robertson (square-head) Phillips (the one with the 'x') and slot-head screwdrivers.  If you’re tight on storage space, go for an interchangeable, multi-bit screwdriver.

§       Utility knife – Get a sturdy model and avoid the lightweight versions with snap-off blades.

§       Bastard file – An unfortunately-named metal file that’s great for sharpening garden tools, de-burring metal pipe, etc.

§       Hammer – For heavy-duty use, the anti-vibration hammer from Stanley has nice balance and prevents repetitive strain injuries by absorbing shock.  For small household jobs like hanging pictures, Lee Valley makes a great 8-ounce tack hammer for the kitchen drawer.  If you consider hammers to be pure art (as I do) go for a hammer with a titanium head (Stiletto or Douglas are good brands; both can be found online)

§       Adjustable wrench - A classic; you probably already have one.

§       Pliers – Build your collection to include needle nose pliers (with a wire-cutter function), tongue and groove pliers, linesman's pliers and wire-strippers.  Irwin makes fantastic pliers in smaller sizes for feminine hands (if you prefer a smaller grip size)

§       Hack saw - For cutting metal shelving, pvc, metal pipes, etc.

§       Putty knives in a range of sizes - Versatile tools for paint-scraping, caulk removal, cocktail stirring.

§       Paint-can opener – when teeth are not an option

§       Pry bar – a small red and silver pry bar is my favourite, made by Richards and available in the paint section at your home center



§       Electronic stud sensor  - Solve all your mounting emergencies; stud sensors can find the wooden studs behind drywall so you can hang heavier objects with the requisite amount of support

§       Measuring tape – They say that if you’ve got big hands it means you must have a big tape, but I find a 30-foot tape awkward and bulky.  I like the fit of a 16-footer in my hand, with a 12-footer in my purse for backup. 

§       Drill index – A set of carbon steel bits organized in incremental order, for drilling into wood

§       Masonry bits – For drilling into concrete, plaster, stone or masonry, carbide-tip masonry bits are fantastic; the key to mounting shelves on cinderblock, hanging hose reels on brick, etc.

§       Abrasives – Steel wool, sandpaper in incremental grits, and 3M ‘SandBlaster’ abrasive pads

§       Lubricants – WD-40, graphite powder, petroleum jelly, and a paraffin or beeswax candle will give you lots of options when something’s stuck

§       Adhesives – Keep three basics on hand; Carpenters’ glue (the yellow stuff), ‘Super’ or ‘Krazy’ glue, and epoxy 

§       Duct tape – If you’re modest about your handiwork, get 3M’s new transparent duct tape and nobody will even know the repair happened

§       Clamps - Own at least one matching pair of Quick-Grip clamps; it’s like giving yourself a third hand, and we all know how useful that could be.

§       Caulking gun - Get a ‘professional’ model.  It won't raise your blood pressure by jamming or dripping uncontrollably.

§       Speed or ‘rafter’square – An inexpensive triangular squaring tool for marking and cutting lumber, squaring shelves etc.

§       Torpedo level – 9 inches of delight

§       Fasteners: Store a selection of drywall screws, deck screws, anchors, finish nails and picture hooks

§       Heavy-duty extension cords - 12- or 14-gauge (the longer the length of the extension cord, the lower the gauge should be because the resistance along the length of cable ends up delivering lower voltage to the tool you’re trying to run, and that can damage the tool’s motor)

§       Tube-cutter - Because plumbing happens.

§       Bernzomatic® propane torch - If you absolutely must perform a plumbing repair, give yourself the relief and elegance of an auto-start torch.  No fussing with spark-throwing clickers. 

§       Flux and solder - Lead-free solder, and corresponding flux (mild acid in paste form)

§       Respirator mask - for blocking petrochemical vapours, solvents etc.

§       Leather work gloves, rubber gloves and disposable latex gloves


If you have specific questions about tools, please ask in the comments section below and I'll get back to you asap. 




Looks very much like my on-site repair kit (furniture), less the plumbing stuff.

another list:

Tina Gleisner, Founder Assn of Home Professionals

Mag, Fun reading your article as it reminded me when I wrote on the same topic. I suggested women (writing for women's magazine in NH, Applaud) start with a good book (my choice Creative Homeowner’s Home Repair & Improvement), a toolbox or bucket to keep things together & easy to find ... and a much smaller set of tools, mostly hand plus cordless drill, until they learn just what & how often they want to tackle repairs & projects. Your list might look scary to a lot of women.

K. John Hazlitt

Your kit missed the most important parts A MECHANICAL pencil sharpener and a box of 3H pencils kept very sharp so when you make the cut you cut either one side or the other to the line the line for accuracy must be finer than frogs hair John.

K. John Hazlitt

If you are cutting pressure treated or cedar lumber a simple dust mask wont do you any good you must wear one with fresh charcoal filters J and always keep the filters wrapped in plastic when not in use the lungs do not repair themselves like a saw cut finger! John


Egad, John, good catch. A mechanical pencil sharpener and fresh pencils are key. I've screwed up lots of precise measurements using a carpenter's pencil sharpened by rubbing it on the driveway.

And a very good point about including a proper dust mask (3M makes the best ones) and a respirator too. I shouldn't have forgotten those since cedar sawdust gives me a rash on my face (and probably in my lungs too), and pressure treat sawdust isn't something anyone should breathe. Thanks so much for the tips.


Automatic garden Hose Reels

I hate cutting pressure treated wood. i always feel like I am breathing in the harmful chemicals even with a mask on. Cool tips though, thanks!


Meg. I went to Can. Tire to buy the screwdriver with all the bits in one handle you talked about it in the Sunday Sun. It is $19.95 in Can Tire. but I cannot remamber the name. Please help. I would also like to receive your e-mail. thanks Donna


Hi Donna,
It's called Scruzol (http://www.scruzol.com) - if you go to the Customer Service desk they can look it up on the computer for you and tell you exactly what aisle it's in.

To sign up for the ToolGirl newsletter (very sporadic), just enter your email address in the red box in the side-bar up there on the right.

Thanks, and hope you like your Scruzol!


Repetitive Strain Injuries

One of the most common is failing to take frequent breaks when performing a repetitive task, and others include using vibrating machinery, working in a cold environment, performing the repetitive tasks when tired or stressed or maintaining a poor posture in a badly organised work area that is not ergonomically sound.

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Mag's Books

  • : We're All In This Together

    We're All In This Together
    Based on four years of interviews with Steve Smith, Mag's unconventional biography reveals the personal stories, sorrows and joys that continue to inspire the man behind the Red Green legacy.

  • : How Hard Can It Be?

    How Hard Can It Be?
    Mag's quirky and entertaining book of home improvement projects for beginners.

Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
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