Welcome to Brighter Home Projects! In this series, we explore DIY home renovation, repair, and a variety of related projects by taking to heart this simple idea: you are capable of more than you realize. Each installment focuses on home improvement projects, information, and advice aimed growing both your skill set and your self-confidence.
If you’re not into Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects, you don’t quite get our obsession with tools. I understand – I used to be the same way!
Tools are more than mere implements for building or fixing. They are force multipliers that give us the ability to achieve more than we could with only our bare hands. Sure, many amazing artisans utilize only the most traditional tools of their trades, but for the rest of us, an ever-growing list of workshop staples make our lives easier. We often wonder what we’d do without them.
I could wax poetic about great tools for many tasks (which I undoubtedly will mention in several upcoming articles), but let’s focus on 5 very useful tools that should be in the workshop of every DIY enthusiast.
1) Combination Squares
The old adage of “Measure twice, cut once” is only as good as the measurements themselves. Like most folks, I got my start with a tape measure and a straight edge, but after discovering an antique combination square in a local junk shop, my life was forever transformed. And I now own five of the things.
At its most basic, a combination square is a tool that allows you to draw accurate perpendicular and 45º lines, most often on boards. Don’t let this simple description fool you – it’s so useful that I’d rather lose a toe than have to live without it.
Having the ability to draw straight, accurate, perpendicular lines is essential for producing quality work, and that is only the beginning of what a combination square can do. Here are some links to get you started on understanding the function and additional utility of this tool:
2) Stripped Screw Removers
If you’ve ever had the joy of dealing with a stripped screw head, you know the sinking feeling that comes with finding one. And if you haven’t yet, don’t worry – you will. For most of us (and for most basic projects), using a reciprocating saw or drilling it out is not a viable option, so a stripped screw remover quickly becomes your best friend.
The device essentially bore a new hole in a screw head with one side of the bit. You then flip over the bit for a friction grip that helps you reverse the screw out.
I bought my set about 2 years ago and it’s saved me on more occasions than I can recall. While there are a number of brands out there, my experience is with Speed Out, and it is always with me wherever I take my drills and driver.
3) Stud Finder
This one is short and sweet. You can stick with the old finger-tap method for finding studs – which means you have to confirm your guess with a nail you have to patch later – or you can buy a reliable stud finder. I recommend you opt for the latter to save yourself a lot of time and frustration. If you don’t have one, get one and thank me later. And you often don’t even need a fancy brand-name device to have success.
4) Digital Inspection Camera
This is a small camera at the end of a flexible tube connected to a screen at the other end, so yeah – we all need this. It’s helpful for any task requiring you to see where your eyes cannot: running wire, checking for plumbing leaks, inspecting critters in hard to reach places, inspecting your engine, or having a look inside clogged pipes (you’ll want a waterproof model for this last one) .
If you need to inspect anything inside your walls, drilling a small hole for a scope always beats cutting out large sections of drywall. I own (and love) the RIDGID Micro CA25, and while some more expensive models offer more features and benefits, this one delivers a lot of utility at a price that’s really easy on your DIY budget.
5) Non-Contact Voltage Tester
When you want to test an outlet or exposed conductors (the copper part of a wire) in order to see if they are live, you have a number of good options at your disposal. But what happens if you’re working in an attic, crawlspace, or wall with a number of wires and no clear indication which belongs to the breaker you turned off? This is where you turn to a handy, inexpensive, and potentially lifesaving non-contact voltage tester. This tool allows you to detect voltage by simply touching the tip of the device to the outside insulation of the wire. As the name indicates, no contact with metal is necessary.
I can’t overstate the utility of this handy little tool. It fits easily in your pocket, so you have no excuses when it comes to safety around wires. My voltage tester from Klein Tools is always with me when I work around electricity.
Are you a DIY enthusiast? What are your favorite, must-have-at-all-times tools? Tell us about them in the comments!