I’ve tried to come up with a list of tools people likely already have, or – in my opinion – should have. A person would be well served by owning these tools, whether they take up woodworking or not.
I am sure I’ve left some things out. Also, some might disagree that a tool I’ve listed is necessary. We all grow into what we think is necessary. This is the list I’ve evolved into and now consider part of my essential household “kit.” Oh, and I rent. I don’t own my home. If you do, you may want a larger list.
I wrote this post because I’m still trying to figure out what to tell a person who is curious about woodworking, but not sure yet that they’ll take the hobby up. I imagine this person sitting around on a Saturday morning and thinking that they might enjoy woodworking. They should be able to go to the hardware store, spend an amount of money they’re comfortable with, and try to build something later that afternoon.
If they’re like me, they’d balk at the suggestion they go spend $100+ on some tools, some wood, and give it a try. Given that it can cost a fair amount more than that to properly attempt to make a lot of things, the challenge is how to come up with something for someone to do that doesn’t scare them off.
Rule #1: don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Or even the fair, or the so-so, or the mediocre. The box you build won’t be a work of art, but it’ll still function and give you a sense of what it’s like to work with wood.
Rule #2: pick a project that is simple yet useful, and doesn’t require the purchasing of very many tools.
Number 2 is a lot easier if a person already owns some tools they use around the house. When I started out there were a few tools I’ve always had just because they’re necessary for occasional things like hanging a picture, putting up storm windows, and the myriad of small things that occasionally need taken care of.
I’ve linked here to example tools on Amazon, not so much to recommend a particular brand but to give an example of the sort of thing I’m talking about.
Rather than following the links and adding all of these to your cart on Amazon, I recommend a visit to your local hardware store. Not the big box home-center, but a small hardware store. The staff are far more likely to be knowledgeable and helpful. Plus, once you learn where things are kept, it’s easier to get in and out of one of these stores. Large box stores with crowded parking lots and acres of aisles drive me a little nuts.
My list, after the jump:
16 oz. claw hammer. Stick with one with a wooden handle. If you get into woodworking and use it a lot, your body will thank you. If you don’t, wood is just more cool “old-school” than the different fiberglass or metal ones out there.
Screwdrivers, including a standard sized Phillips head, and a standard sized slot head. Trying to buy only what you need here can be difficult, and often more expensive. For general around the house stuff, I’d get a ratcheting multi-bit screwdriver like this one:
A tape measure. If you take up woodworking you may use this a lot more, and decide to shop around for one that you really like using. By and large however this is a rough measuring tool for woodworking, and just about anything will do.
Large Channel Lock pliers. I use this when I really need to put some pressure on something. I don’t know why they sell them in small-ish sizes. Get the largest one you can find. Mine often gets used to remove the lids off of stubborn jars (and when woodworking, glue and finish bottles). These look on the small side to me – I’d prefer them a bit larger:
Needle-nose pliers. Come in handy all the time. I prefer what I always heard was called a “nipple-nose” plier. Searching on Amazon, looks like they go by the term “bent-nosed.”
Basic metric and standard ratchet and socket set. Other than the basic sizes, you won’t be able to predict what you’ll one day need. Just get something basic, and if you need a different sized socket later, buy it individually.
Adjustable or “Crescent” wrench. Used on bolts, especially ones you don’t care about destroying.
Utility knife. You’ll never struggle opening a package again – until you get sloppy using it on a plastic clam-shell package of some sort and end up at the emergency room for a bunch of stitches where you sliced open your hand. Seriously: use kitchen shears on plastic packaging, not this tool.
Kitchen shears. I use these more to take apart clam shell packaging and other types of cutting than I do to de-bone chickens. These shears should be strong, and able to cut through tough stuff. Think of a pair of scissors you could use to cut through heavy carpet or a door mat with.
Dead blow mallet. This is a tool you will use in woodworking too. Like channel-lock pliers, in my view it belongs to the family of tools that adhere to a “Might Makes Right” philosophy. Around the house it is a great persuader – and it doesn’t leave marks. Most often used to open or shut stubborn windows.
Level. You can use this to hang things and highlight the fact that actually your house, rather than the family photo, is crooked.
Drill. Corded. I’m still of the opinion that corded is better to have around, especially as a core household tool which you won’t use everyday. Batteries go bad or you forget to recharge them. Then when you need the tool you won’t be able to use it. If it’s got a cord no such problems. If you get into woodworking or some other activity that has you using this tool more often than every few months, then get a cordless if you’d like. I’m not sure the one at the link is what you need, but corded drills are getting harder to find, and the reviews look solid.
Heavy, long extension cord. Not the sort of thing you want to permanently have a lamp plugged into; instead an ugly large orange thing you can plug in and reach across – or around – the house with.
Hanging shop lamp. I really like having one of these for when I need more light than a flashlight and want my hands free.
Various tapes (Duct tape, Blue Painters tape, Electrical tape, Plumbing tape, Scotch tape).
Some small nails (for hanging pictures and the like) and some larger nails (for hanging heavier pictures and the like).
Rope (clothesline rope would be fine generally).
Throw every rubber band you get into a junk drawer, along with the little twist wires that used to come on a bread packages and now are used to hold electric cords on new electronic items together.
A handful of double-to-triple outlet adapters.
An extra power strip or two.
I don’t include any saws. I don’t think they come in handy around the house that often, but your experience may vary. Some people might include a stud-finder. I’ve never used one that worked well, probably because I’ve lived in more places with plaster and lathe than with sheet-rock walls. I still have one, and still attempt but ultimately fail to find studs with it. Flashlights can be an essential tool, but they are essential in so many other ways that I’m not including them on this list.
There are probably some dead obvious things I’m leaving off this list. You get so used to some things that you can’t imagine life without them.