12 Must-Haves: Best Tools for DIY Projects
Our top 12 must-have tools! These are the best tools for DIY projects for beginners or DIYers looking to expand their skills and tool set to get through any project.
Read more recommendations for Best Tools for Remodeling and 5 Tools to Make Projects Easier, plus build your own Table Saw Workbench with Tool Storage.
12 Best and Must-Have Tools for DIY Projects
Hi Remodelaholics! It’s LZ from The Summery Umbrella, and I have a question for you.
Well, have no fear! I am here today to help you with your dilemma.
Tools don’t have to be scary, and with the proper guidance and practice you too can create projects you will be proud of for many years to come.
Feeling anxious about power tools? Read our tips for How to DIY Even if You’re Terrified of Power Tools.
So, let’s get started with our list of best tools for DIYers (and their projects).
12 Top Tools for DIY Projects
First, let me start by saying that there are so many tools and brands from a variety of stores to select from, and everyone is going to have their own preference.
The tools that I will be going over today are my husband and I’s favorites to use because of their price and function capabilities. He’s an amazing woodworking expert so he’s taught me everything that I know.
Note: Please excuse the paint, glue and random bits of wood all over our tools. We use them on a daily basis!
1. Standard Level
What it does: A standard level shows you when your frame of choice is horizontal to the earth’s surface. There is an air bubble inside each of the vials of liquid (there are three in the below picture), and when it is directly in the center (between the two lines) it indicates that you are indeed level.
An example: This handy dandy tool is amazing to use when you’re putting up a shelf or hanging a gallery wall. Just place the level on top of any shelf or frame in question, and you’ll know immediately if your books will be sliding off or you’re good to go!
Our recommendation: A Standard Level from any hardware store will definitely do the trick, and you can find them in a variety sizes depending on your project needs.
Price range: $4 – $90
2. Tape Measure
What it does: Measures! There are quite a few different lengths that you can select from so make sure to choose one that will best fit your needs.
An example: If most of the rooms in your home are 25 feet wide find a tape measure that will accommodate this length. Having an accurate measurement is a must for built-in shelves or for buying furniture and area rugs!
Our recommendation: Any tape measure will do, and you can find them at any hardware store or even most grocery stores. We probably have 10 different brands and sizes between the two of us.
Price range: $5 – $25
3. Speed Square
What it does: A speed square is used to make basic measurements and mark lines. The most common function is to mark square lines at 90 degrees from your board’s edge; however you can also use this tool as a protractor and a line scriber to mark out precise increments.
Sometimes also called a carpenter’s square, rafter square, or triangle square.
An example: You can use a tape measurer to draw out a line on your board that you would like cut, but will it be exactly 90 degrees? Probably not. The speed square has a “lip” (which is on each of the examples below) that is placed on your board’s edge so you can get an exact and precise 90 degree angle every time.
Great for easy projects with straight or 45-degree cuts, like these wood wall bins or a shiplap wall.
Our recommendation: The brand is not as important as its features. Ensure that you purchase one that has a “lip” and a scribe bar (example: the yellow one below).
Price range: $5 – $25
What it does: A hammer delivers a powerful blow to the object your hitting, and the rip claw (the opposite end of the head) can pull out unneeded nails. They can come with several different handles i.e; wood, fiberglass and metal.
An example: In DIY projects you will most typically use it for driving nails into boards. You can also use a hammer to tap tight-fitting pieces into place or for smashing through drywall for a starting point when replacing the old drywall. Also excellent for distressing faux reclaimed wood.
Our recommendation: A 16 oz. hammer. This is a moderate weight that isn’t too heavy, but is still capable of driving in good sized nails. The handle choice is up to you!
Price range: $4 – $35
5. Quick Bar Clamps
What it does: Clamps are used to tightly join and secure objects together with pressure from both sides.
An example: You may need to glue two pieces of wood together for a shelf, table, etc. and using one (or more) clamps will help you keep your boards together for long periods of time while the glue dries, such as building this hexagon tray or farmhouse side table.
You can also use clamps as an extra “hand” to hold your project together until you get a nail or two in it, or to hold a straight-edge in place while you cut or rip a board with a circular saw or jigsaw.
Bonus storage tip: See how to make a portable clamp rack for easy storage.
Our recommendation: The size of clamps you need will ultimately depend on the size of your project as clamps range from 6″-48″ in length. Having a few different sizes on hand is always helpful.
Price range: $10 – $50
6. Cordless Drill, Driver and Bits
What it does: Initially a drill was just that, a tool for drilling holes. Now with all the bits available they can do much, much more. They can also be used as a screwdriver for all sorts of heads (philips, slotted, allen, square).
An example: Any time you need to join two pieces of wood with screws you can pre-drill the screw hole (which prevents splitting and cracking of the wood) then swap out the drill bit for a screwdriver tip and drive the screw home.
There are plenty of combos that you can purchase that now come with a drill and a driver (as shown in the images below) thus eliminating the need to swap out bits.
Predrilling is especially important when using softer less-expensive wood like 2x construction lumber that Justin and Cassity used to build this garden arbor or this easy 2×6 bench.
Read more tips for building with 2x4s and see our favorite 2×4 projects.
Our recommendation: Get a cordless set that is within your price range. This Hitachi set is one that I use on a daily basis, but Mike likes his Ryobi set that came with a few other features. An extra battery pack is a good idea if you’re working on bigger/longer projects.
Price range: $79 – $200
As you expand your tool set, keep everything organized with this easy power tool organizer for drills/drivers.
7. Detail Palm Sander
What it does: A sander smooths down rough surfaces on wood, drywall, etc. A palm sander or mouse sander is small and easy to use on larger or smaller projects. This sander has a pointed end that allows me to sand down hard to reach angles that a random orbital sander could not.
An example: There are endless possibilities! You can use it to sand down edges on a table you’ve created, or even assist you when you are going for a distressed appearance such as on a DIY painted farmhouse sign.
Our recommendation: I use the cheapest model out there. It’s a Harbor Freight Palm Sander, comparable to any other $20 model palm sander I’m sure, and I’m pretty rough on it. I use it at least 4-5 times a week, and I probably drop it that many times as well. Thankfully it can handle being mistreated!
Price range: $20 – 75
8. Air Compressor & Brad Nailer Set
What it does: A pneumatic brad nailer (when used with the air compressor) allows you to quickly drive in fine wire brad nails that are very common for home renovation projects. They are also very aesthetically pleasing to the eye since they are so small and nearly invisible.
An example: I absolutely do not know what I would do without these tools! I use them in almost every project or product that I create. For instance, think window boxes or planter boxes, shelves, picture frames, adding trim and baseboards.
While building, you can also tack pieces into place while securing them with a screw, like on this easy farmhouse bench.
Our recommendation: Buy the air compressor and brad nailer as a set. You’ll not only save yourself money, but also the set will come with the recommended hose and brad nailer.
Price range: $150 – $300
What it does: A jig saw is a power tool that is used to cut shapes out of a variety of materials. It can cut curved lines or straight lines with the help of a straight edge.
An example: If you ever need to cut out a specific shape (like a heart or a Christmas tree) in a piece of wood the jigsaw is the tool for you. Cut curvy layered corbel pieces or simpler cabinet door storage bin sides, or anything in between.
Our recommendation: This is a tough one! I highly suggest that you buy in your price range since they all serve the same general purpose. Corded or cordless to meet your project needs, and read the specs: some jigsaws have great features to look for like tool-free blade changing and variable speeds.
Price range: $35 – $350
10. Circular Saw
What it does: A circular saw is very popular among DIY avengers and comes handheld with a circular blade that is used for both ripping (with the wood grain) and crosscutting (against the wood grain). It can come with a variety of blades that will allow you to cut not only wood, but also ceramic tile and steel.
An example: Since this saw is so portable it is a great tool for when you’re creating your very own deck or built-in deck benches.
Our recommendation: Once again, I would go with your price range, but I would highly suggest a battery operated (cordless) 10-12″ circular saw. Cords are dangerous! Just think of the tripping hazardous alone.
There are also smaller hand-held circular saws that can be great for smaller projects with thinner materials.
Price range: $40 – $200
11. Miter Saw
What it does: A miter saw allows you to cut quickly and accurately at a variety of angles with an mounted blade that can swivel from left to right.
An example: Think crown molding and trim (or DIY window cornices), board shortening and other quick, short cuts that will be needed during any project. This easy hexagon tray or geometric inlay plywood box are great projects for practicing accurate angled cuts on your miter saw!
Our recommendation: Purchase a sliding compound miter saw within your budget. You might not need to cut angles on two separate planes right now, but if you ever do you won’t have to worry about purchasing a different miter saw since yours will already have the capability.
Price range: $120 – $800
12. Table Saw
What it does: A table saw has a blade that is fixed into place within its design, and was created to make rip cuts (aka. with the wood grain) more accurately than with a circular saw.
An example: Table saws are ideal to use when you need to cut big, long pieces, such as plywood for a portable workbench or DIY sectional sofa.
Read our tips for building with plywood and see our favorite plywood projects.
Our recommendation: A benchtop table saw. Why? They’re mobile, affordable and don’t take up as much space.
Note: This image is not a benchtop saw. We have our own woodworking shop so we decided on a table saw that could be fixed in place since it will always have a space of its own. You can also build a table saw workbench like Justin did if you have the space!
Price range: $150 – $1,000
Bonus: Rotary Tool and/or Multi-Tool
A rotary tool can be used for so many different projects and can make precise and detailed sanding or cutting work easier. There’s at least 10 ways to use it!
A multi-tool can also be a game changer for detail work on projects! See what multi-tool features we like.
Bonus: Pocket Hole Jig
If you’ll be building shelves or any type of furniture, a pocket hole jig is a game changer! Pocket holes allow for strong but hidden joints for connecting pieces at 90-degree angles, edge joining, and more.
See how Justin and Cassity used a pocket hole jig to build this easy bench and this strong raised garden bed table.
Tips for Buying Tools
You can purchase quite a few of these tools as a set, and save yourself a few bucks.
Furthermore, if you purchase a set and they all have the same battery you can trade them out anytime you please.
For instance, when I was searching for sets I found a Ryobi 6-tool set for around $300 that might be right up your alley for the price and features.
If you know you’ll be using tools often and for large projects, it’s worth investing more in the tool lines (and batteries). For casual DIY use, the less expensive tools will likely do the job just fine and hold up for many years.
Now you need tool storage! 16 Best Garage Organizing Tools
Looking for some inspiration projects to get you started? No problem! Check out my Mason Jar Pendant Light and Potting Bench to get the creative juices flowing.
And, if you need a pep talk, read How to DIY if You’re Terrified of Power Tools.
See our favorite beginner DIY projects (using limited tools!)
- Rustic Wall Bins (just a jigsaw and a hammer!)
- Easy Blanket Ladder or Decorative Ladder
- Simple Pocket Shelf for Books
- Vintage Mail Sorter Shoe Cubby Shelf
- Hexagon Farmhouse Coffee Table with Lattice Legs
I just wanted to second the recommendation to use a set or at least the same brand for all your cordless tools. All of those batteries require chargers which take up space, and spares, which take up space and budget. If you have 4 tools with the same battery, that’s one charger and maybe 5 or 6 batteries. if they’re all different, that’s 4 chargers and 8 batteries. it’s no fun to put a project on hold because you’ve run out of juice.
Hi Nicola! It is definitely a space and budget friendly recommendation. I wouldn’t do it any other way. Thanks so much 🙂
You recommend a battery operated circular saw? a 2.3 Ah battery won’t last don’t last twenty minutes!
If you have to worry about a cord, maybe you ought not be using any corded power tools, ought to be worried about our fingers! The expensive 4.0 AH will maybe last a whole 30 mins. So now were speaking of 300.00 w/ only one battery. whisch will take 45 to 60 minutes to fully charge. Also most cordless saws are 6.5 in” blades instead of the 7.25″ blade. You can get a good 13 to 15 amp corded circular saw from $60 to $200
I have a cordless circular w four 3.0ah 18volt batteries (also for other cordless tools) however, Unless it’s a light and short cut, i’d prefer my corded 7.25″ 15 amp circular saw.
Very true John! We used to have the old ni/cad batteries for our cordless tools which did lose their charge quickly, however the new lithium ion batteries hold up very well for us. We just used this saw to cut treated 2×12’s and 2×10’s and it worked great, cutting about a dozen boards before needing a charge. Since the charger only takes 25 minutes and we have 4 batteries it was perfect for us. We recommended a saw in your price range…this one was included in the set we bought that was less than $200 for 4 tools. If you’re a construction worker or building an ark this may not be the saw for you. You may want to go with a worm drive corded saw that weighs 15 lbs, but our little saw does the trick for us and would probably work out great for most DIYers!!!
Hi! Thanks for the info! I bought a used mitre saw and I’ve never used it before (but I was a math geek and I ‘get’ geometry more than the average person). I need to use door frame pieces to frame one side of a sliding glass door doorway that a handyman didn’t finish framing out. Any advice on being certain the angles are perfect at each of the 4 corners? Thanks!
Hi Emily, great question! First things first, cut all of your pieces at 45 degree angles. However, just remember that no home is perfect, and even the professionals won’t be perfect 100% of the time. If you find that you have a little bit of space into between your pieces use a latex caulk to fill them in, let it dry and then paint over to match the rest of your frame. Just let me know if you have any other questions, and good luck with your project!
And we just posted a great video about caulking too! 🙂 https://www.remodelaholic.com/2015/05/start-caulking-tips/
I don’t have all these tools, but soon I will help. Regarding about your cordless tools, I have a Milwaukee m18 fuel, I just want to share that I do really love this power tool. Convenient and I enjoyed all my projects using it.
Thank you for this helpful information, because I want to get into cutting and sanding Mir, but was not sure about some of the tools to buy.
Helpful article, thanks for that!
I want to buy a new brad nailer and was wondering what air hose do you recommend for that?
I know that polyurethane hoses are the new thing today, and work well for roofing nail-guns. But not sure if they’re as good for a brad nailer?