Photo: Sarah Lyon
In June 2021, I knew nothing of the house renovation. I owned the same IKEA Toolkit Since college, which I used to hang things on the wall and install those Ikea shelves back in my old apartment. But when my husband and I shut down our first home, we quickly stowed away all the tools we thought we’d need to give a demo in our house and eventually put things back together—including a sledgehammer, which we barely touched. We’re no experts, but after a very intense year of DIY, we’ve learned what tools you really can’t live without for specific projects — and where you can save by buying a cheaper option.
I know we’re not the only novices who tackle projects like displaying tiles and removing cabinets. We’ve posted information about our home renovations on Instagram and TikTok, and have seen a great community of newbies doing large scale home projects. I especially liked it Gabi Dolicek and her husband (who accidentally bought a rat-infested house and they rebuild every inch) and Tweet embedwhere the owner was removing the old insulation with her family every weekend, it seems, forever.
So, if you are planning to embark on a DIY project at home – big or small – here are some tools that are well worth the money and will make your life a lot easier.
I had a hammer from the Ikea set mentioned earlier, but when we started this project a more experienced friend advised us to get not just one, but one. He said to get one more expensive to serve as your main hammer and another one Cheaper as a backup. And he was right: When you do any of these projects, the hammer will lose place at some point. And sometimes you just don’t want to take the time to stop and find it. I have no regrets about this purchase.
We also upgraded our screwdrivers to include this set, useful for any type of home project. It will not take up much space, and you can do everything.
It’s more expensive than a hammer and screwdriver, but if you plan to tackle DIY projects at home, you’ll need a drill and an impact driver. We bought a DeWalt 20 Volt Drill and Impact Driver and drill bitAnd don’t regret this spending.
The one thing everyone should have is a ladder. Get one that fits your ceiling height to save yourself from climbing over furniture to paint, changing light fixtures, or anything else you might want to do.
If you don’t want to damage the walls, use a DeWalt 20V impact motor to carefully remove them from the walls. If the cabinets are not in good enough condition to donate or sell, they may be too large to handle. Split them with a hammer and cut into larger pieces with a reciprocating saw or sawzal. There are many uses for this tool, so it serves you well in future projects.
Our favorite tool, by far, was the 30 inch Gooseneck smashing tape. When a lot of people think of the demo, they imagine a sledgehammer — myself included. But often, what you need is a pry bar and a standard hammer. I bought a longer demoulding tape, so it can serve multiple jobs: tearing off grout, removing damaged pieces, embossing bits of tile, and as a lever to remove all kinds of things that are just being installed, glued, or painted.
Obviously, you’ll need to be extra careful if you’re working with something you want to keep. Use a hammer and three-piece mounting rod set to slowly work each piece of wall. This set will also be useful for other tasks, such as pulling nails.
One of the first projects we tackled was removing the overhanging ceilings in our home. But we didn’t realize that one of the major problems with this quick test mission was to end up with a lot of long pieces of wood. Use a circular saw to cut off the extra pieces so you can easily get rid of them.
If the tile is in good condition, but the grout is not, save yourself some time and remove the grout with an oscillating tool or this standalone tool. Once it’s gone, add new grout – and it’s as good as new!
If your tile is in poor condition (like us) and you need to remove it, it’s worth investing in an SDS Plus hammer drill with tile chisel. These are a little pricey but will save you a lot of time if you have a lot of space. As a bonus: The large hand drill has many functions, including a spin mode, and is really useful for mixing things like drywall compound and mortar.
You will need a tubular wrench that easily grips the pipes or plumbing so that you can connect them to the valves. This is useful if your steam heat is leaking due to a loose valve, or if you need to temporarily remove coolant to repair or update your floors. Longer wrenches provide more leverage for truly stuck valves but can be difficult to fit into a tight space.
Whether you’re changing light fixtures or repairing an old plaster wall, be careful not to touch the electricity. Turn it off, then make sure to turn it off with a non-contact voltage tester that allows you to see if the wires are working. So you don’t do anything in the dark, take some time extension cords and a group of work lights. This stuff doesn’t have to be fancy, so it’s a great place to save.
Get a few plastic sheeting to protect furniture or create a partition between spaces.
Buy more contractor bags than you think you’ll need. You never get too much—and they’re better for these types of projects than standard residential trash bags because they’re thicker and won’t tear easily, even when punctured.
If you protect your floors, one of the great hacks is to use cloth cutters and move around blankets. It’s a cheaper solution for protecting other floors, and you’ll be able to reuse it in the future for other home projects.
You’re probably tired of wearing N95 masks, but you’ll want to wear one for most experimental activities, such as removing drywall or plaster, scraping wallpaper, cutting baseboards from walls, and removing tiles. If you work in hot weather, you can buy the version with valves that allow you to exhale easier. It’s not safe for COVID, but it will work in these circumstances. You’ll also need a set of inexpensive safety goggles, disposable gloves or full-grain leather for extra protection, sturdy pants like Carhartts, and boots with thick soles and preferably a steel shank like this pair of Blundstones because you’ll be stepping on nails at some point.
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