DIY Toolbox Guide

Carpenter Amy Wynn Pastor, of the TLC television show Trading Spaces and author of "Yes, You Can!," gives her advice on the tools every DIYer should have and how to shop for them.

Amy's Shopping Tips

#1 Get a Good Fit
Make sure a tool fits in your hand and feels comfortable. Wave it around a bit. Practice its intended motion and gauge its weight.

#2 Build Up
Don't buy everything at once. The more experience you have, the more familiar you'll be with your tool needs and preferences.

#3 Ask Questions
"Have the courage to go up and talk to salesclerks about their opinions of a tool," Amy says. "That's what they're there for!"


A 16-ounce framing hammer, or claw hammer, with a molded, synthetic neck and handle is comfortable for most do-it-yourselfers.

Screwdriver Set

Choose a set with both Phillips and flat heads in varying sizes and lengths. A Phillips head looks like a + and should be used for screws with matching heads. A flat screwdriver looks like a - and should be used with matching screw heads.

Groove-joint Pliers

Also known as channel locks, these pliers tighten and loosen hardware, pull nails, and grip most anything. Use them for any job that requires a good grip.

Adjustable Wrench

A wrench holds nuts, bolt heads, and hose connections tightly and far better than pliers.

Tape Measure

Begin with a basic 25-foot metal measure. The metal won't stretch, which ensures accuracy.

Utility Knife

Also called a box cutter, buy a utility knife with a retractable blade that locks in place.

Cordless Electric Drill

A 14- to 16-volt variable-speed reversing drill with a 3/8-inch chuck -- plus a variety of bits-- takes care of most home repair jobs. For personal comfort, test models with the battery pack inserted.

Extension Cord

To reach work areas that don't have nearby outlets, keep a 25-foot, 16-gauge ground-fault circuit interrupter cord on hand.


Buy a high-quality level 3 or 4 feet in length. It can double as a straightedge. As you gain experience, look into buying a torpedo level, which plumbs and levels small projects.

Combination Square

A combination square is an alignment device that forms a precise right angle. Use it to check corners for squares, figure angles, and measure. It can also figure the rise and run of stringers and roofs or draw perpendicular lines.

Putty Knife

Use this flat-blade tool, either metal or plastic, for applying joint compound to cover nail holes in drywall, scraping paint from windows, or filling nail holes with putty.

Caulking Gun

A caulking gun fills cracks with caulk or can be used to apply adhesive. Use it to replace old caulk around the bathtub. Be sure to remove the old stuff first. Good models come with a pointy stem used to poke a hole in the caulk tube.

Beginner Safety Equipment

Goggles, rubber gloves, ear plugs, and dust mask: Don't forget these protective basics when working with power tools and don't be shy about wearing them.


The metal blade should extend well into the handle of a chisel, as it has to withstand hammer blows. A set of sizes up to 1 inch wide should work for most jobs.

Stud Finder

It locates studs behind wallboard so you can nail or screw into the studs for maximum stability when hanging or mounting items. Laser versions with leveling functions are the most up-to-date.

Air Compressor and Nail Gun

This tool is worth the investment if you do a lot of nailing, such as installing molding or building furniture. A pneumatic (air-powered) finish nailer sinks in nails with the pull of a trigger.

Pull Saw

The thin, flexible blade takes less force to pull than to push. This is the perfect saw for delicate work, such as molding, because the blade teeth are small enough not to chip the wood.


A jigsaw's thin blade allows you to cut along curves. Look for a handle that comfortably fits your hand as you guide the saw.

Miter Saw

Also know as a chop saw, this power tool cuts molding for trim. Plan to rent this tool unless you use it regularly.

Portable Circular Saw

A circular saw uses a rotating blade to cut wood. Look for a strong locking base, as well as a blade protector that wraps around the blade when not cutting.


This power tool with a rotary cutter shapes wood and works well for finishing furniture pieces. Use it to make specialty joinings, such as tongue and groove, or to form decorative edges.

Table Saw

Table saws cut material at almost any angle. Start with a bench-top model with a 10-inch blade, a 15-amp motor, and a secure, locking fence parallel to the blade. Good features also include a blade and a safety key.

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