Last week a photo of a speed square was posted on the Instagram feed of Charles & Hudson, the well known home improvement, DIY, and tool website. I saw the photo and left a comment that a good speed square is easily in my list of "Top 10 Must Have Tools." It's one of those items that I've become so dependent on that I just can't see doing what I typically do on our home without it. It's versatile, multi-purpose, and easy to carry around.

Photo Credit: Charles & Hudson

This got me to thinking about my full "Top 10," and what the list might look like. So I went ahead and put the whole thing together. You'll notice this list isn't high on the "fancy" scale, doesn't typically cost a lot, but includes a whole lot of utility. I hope it's helpful in finding a tool or two that you need to round out your must haves.

1. 25' Tape Measure

It's hard to do a significant project without a tape measure, and a 25' tape leaves you with a small enough device while allowing you to measure out the longer lengths. Getting a wider tape that can stand out on its own, and one that can withstand a bit of abuse is a must. The tape I've been using since our very first day of renovation has withstood the test of time. It's developed a few battle scars, or "bits of character" as I like to call it, but it's kept on ticking. What's most amazing, there's not even any visible rust or damage since the rather unfortunate event that occurred when it fell from a ladder directly into a bucket full of water. Now that's saying something.

2. Cordless Hammer Drill

I lived my life with a normal cordless drill for quite some time, often wondering what life might be like with a hammer drill. I waffled between the idea that "the grass is always greener" and that I was simply "settling with what I had." Oh the difficulties of a tool relationship. After I recently received a hammer drill for Christmas I realized just what a massive gap in my life had been filled, and boy was I previously missing out. This new drill is simply awesome, long lasting on battery life, has enough torque to handle some really tough stuff, and the various settings it has for all of the necessary jobs are great. I can't believe it took me so long to own one of these babies, but I ain't never looking back now that this drill sits in my tool bucket. Use it as a drill, a screwdriver, or a way to mix up paint or thinset, this drill doesn't care.

3. Small Pry-bar w/Tiger Paw

Wendy gave me my first Shark pry bar, and I've used it faithfully since day one. Sure, larger crowbars can be necessary, but this small pry bar is so incredibly versatile that I use it in everything from the demo stage to finish carpentry. I'd say that the only phase I probably don't use it on is painting, but only time will tell on that one. The keys to this bar is the small size that allows it to reach tight spaces, the "cat's paw" or "tiger's paw" that allows you to effectively pull hard to get at nails, and extremely sharp and flat end to do little damage to detail pieces when you need to get into a tight space. I've actually used my first one so heavily that the end got all chewed up and Wendy bought me a second Pry-bar last year. That's true love if I've ever seen it.

4. Carpenter's Speed Square

Ah the tool that sparked this whole list, the carpenter's speed square. This tool will tell you if you've got a square corner, let you mark a perpendicular line, act as a guide, a ruler, a sanity check, will let you mark an angle, a depth, might even make you lunch and dinner (though I haven't asked it to, it already works hard enough). I never understood just how useful this tool was when I'd see one laying around the garage or in a woodworking shop when I was a kid. Now that I know, I'll never do a significant amount of work without it.

5. Circular Saw (Cordless Optional)

Okay, so this one is a little odd for me, because I don't have what I really want, but it's in my Top 10 must haves. A circular saw is nearly indispensable when it comes to making true and accurate cuts. I have a corded one, but a cordless one is something I've needed for quite some time and have simply put off purchasing. Instead I drag my 25' extension cord around with me, and I hope I've got an outlet nearby.

A circular saw is one of those tools that can make magic happen if you know how to use it. Sure, it's not a miter saw, table saw, or radial arm saw, but it's a portable saw that is capable of what all of those saws can do, give the proper setup, knowledge, and jig or guide configuration.

6. Fein Multimaster Oscillating Cutter

This is one of those miracle tools that will do more than 1001 different things depending on the head attachment. Watching a video for how an oscillating cutter works is like watching a late night infomercial. It cuts, it sands, it grinds, it smooths, it polishes, it makes your life wonderful!! This is another tool I lived without for a very long time, but now I know better and wonder what took me so long. The price tag on it was steep, but it was well worth it once I took the plunge. Now I grab it repeatedly on projects when I need a tight cut, quick hole, or to sand something with a great deal of precision.

7. Random Orbit Sander

I never realized just how much I would use my random orbit sander when we first purchased it, but with the amount of paint stripping, wood working, general refinishing, and typically back breaking sanding work we've done over the years, this sander and its interchangeable sanding discs have quite possibly saved my life...not to sound too dramatic. I've often been left with buzzing hands after using the sander for hours at a time, but the results of the work are well worth the minor sensory inconvenience. If we didn't have this tool, I really don't know what I would do. I guess our house would just look horrible, because there's no way I'd be sanding all of this stuff by hand. How that they ever do it in the days before power tools?

8. Plunge Router

From finish details to difficult cuts in floors or molding, a plunge router is a versatile cutting tool that is constantly useful. It's true that its utility can be greatly improved with a router table setup, but this is by no means a necessity. A plunge router's usefulness can be tremendously improved by building simple or complex jigs to make standard and repeatable processes as simple as slapping the right jig on the job. We used a quick clamped up jig and our router to even cut the hole for the sink in our butcher block counters. This is the type of versatility that makes my router nearly indispensable.

9. Shop Vac

This one is a little odd, as most people don't see a vacuum as a tool, but I see it as a tool that has saved our marriage. I use one of our several Shop Vacs on a daily basis. Whether I'm cleaning up messes or attaching it to one of our saws or sanders, the Shop Vac keeps our home from resembling a dust covered snow storm and disaster area. Adding a HEPA filter, a dust collection bucket, and drywall dust filter bags, give me a fully functional dust collection system that is also portable, and a wife who isn't rife with homicidal rage due to little piles of sawdust hidden in every corner of the house. Shop Vacs need to add the marketing message to every box, "Clean Freak Spouse Approved!"

10. Utility Knife

A good utility knife will come in handy on an hourly basis at least. Whether you need to open a box or perform a complex drywall cut, grabbing a knife with a fresh blade will make your life easier. I now own several good utility knives because I keep losing and then finding them, but you won't see me complaining when I always have one within easy reach. Sometimes, just for fun, I like to use two or more interchangeably on the project, just because I can. I'm DIY baller like that. Using a utility knife with a blade holder, retractable blade, and good ergonomic handle, I can only assume it feels a bit like a truly utopic experience for the DIYer.

There you have it, my full Top 10 List of Must Have Tools! I reserve the right to change this list at any time as I fall in or out of love with any given hand tool. I actually feel very sad for all of the tools I have and love that I've not listed, like I'm somehow neglecting them and not offering them proper support and admiration for the job they do. I hope my miter saw, hammer, drywall sanding pole, and wire strippers won't look at my sideways the next time I use them. Ugh, this is so hard! They're like children, I don't love any more than the others, I love them all equally (even if I do clearly have favorites and everyone knows it).

While I've talked about many of these tools individually under "Toolbox Tuesday," I figure this list is a good roundup of various options. But how does this list measure of to your Top 10? Have I left off any no-brainers? Or have I enlightened you on a few tools that you must go to the store and buy...like-right-now! I hope so.

Did you enjoy reading this post? Want to learn more about our first-hand experiences with other tools, devices or items used throughout our renovation? If so, check out our complete list of product reviews in our Toolbox Tuesday section

Note: We weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products when we see them, and hope that learning from our mistakes can help save you time, money and frustration.

Comments 4

Comments

6/18/2013 at 3:16 PM
Only one I don't own is the multimaster. I haven't had a project yet that specifically required its use, although looking back... maybe I could've used it in a couple places.
6/18/2013 at 4:52 PM
I don't own that specific pry bar but, yeah, everything on this list is clutch.

Sidenote - My dad sent me to college with a cordless circular saw & drill driver combo set(which I still have!) and I've never looked back. (Yes, in my dorm room! Kept it under my bed. So handy.) It was my first saw and I can't imagine DIYing without it. I use it all.the.time.
6/20/2013 at 2:06 PM
The one tool that I have used tons since I got it is my impact driver ... much better than a cordless drill for screws and so much smaller/lighter.

Also, I second the cordless circular saw. I love mine.
8/3/2019 at 7:24 PM

Another great post, and great intro. Albert J. Swanson? (looked this up) He invented it. And then made Swanson Tool Co. But of course, this is (like at your #4) after the Carpenter's Square, Try Square, and Bevels had already been around.
The list is pretty spectacular, and there's no real way you could have put all your tools into this one. You got it to the core; clutch, as someone said in the comments. Nice one.
https://www.sandyspringsatlantahomerenovation.com/

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