I want to learn DIY skills. What should I buy?
June 10, 2014 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I know the basic renter apartment maintenance things, but nothing beyond that. I have hammers, screwdrivers, etc. However, in a week I am moving to a rural house and want to learn some real DIY skills. What are the "entry-level" DIY tools I should learn and use?
posted by Spurious to Work & Money (12 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I used to not be handy at all, and owning my own cordless drill, circular saw, and jigsaw were kind of a revelation. I build sets for theater productions I'm involved with, and I went from someone who couldn't screw together two pieces of wood to someone who could put up walls.
posted by xingcat at 7:20 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to check my question from last week.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:23 PM on June 10, 2014

I think you are approaching this from the wrong direction.

Start by coming up with realistic projects you want to complete, then look at what tools you would need and make informed choices from there. This way you only buy what you need now, not what you might (or might not) need later and you have real and immediate incentive to learn to use the tool properly.
posted by deadwax at 8:24 PM on June 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

As dead wax says, go from the project angle. Keep a tool savings account and buy what you need as you need it. I've not bought a tool in five years and am fully kitted for house and car work.
posted by BenevolentActor at 9:19 PM on June 10, 2014

I'm not sure what 'basic renter apartment maintenance things' includes, but if it implies that your rural rental will not be maintained by the landlord to the same degree as previous apartments, then you could start by recalling those repair and maintenance tasks that were performed by the property managers, and consider the tools and skills you would need to perform them yourself.

Otherwise I agree with deadwax- that you should look around for home improvement projects and get the tools for those first, then use them.
And if you are going to start investing in tools, buy good ones.
posted by TDIpod at 9:21 PM on June 10, 2014

I have been doing DIY stuff my entire life. Lets say 30+ years. Its true what deadwax says, that a real project will always be the best informer of what you need, however there are things that over the years I use over and over and over and over again. I can't think of them all but here's a short list of basic things you will definitely without question find yourself using at some point or another, if not frequently:
- a voltmeter and an electricians poling screwdriver. You can't safely replace receptacles and lighting fixtures without one.
- at least a box of wall anchors of varying sizes and the proper screws for each. The hollow wall kind are also very useful for hanging heavy things if you've got sheetrock or a hollow space behind the wall.
- a spirit/bubble level. If possible, 2 sizes. A small one and a long(ish) one .. 2 feet +.
- a squaring tool, something strong with a right angle
- wood glue - fixes tons of things especially furniture
- duct tape. nuff said
- sandpaper of varying grits and steel wool. This isnt just for sanding wood. it has tons of uses
- A set of allen wrenches
- Alligator plier for plumbing work
- locking pliers
- drill bits for different materials (wood and masonry, at least)

I'm sure I can think of others but the list above is, in my opinion anyway, something every DIYér absolutely cannot be without in their kit.
posted by postergeist at 9:44 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go to your local library and find the section on home repairs and familiarize yourself with what's in their collection.

In addition to more specialized volumes, there should be a few large tomes that give basic summaries of a wide array of repairs. Skim through them and find one you like, take it home and try a project, and then, if you like the results, see if you can find a cheap used copy to keep on hand. The one I have, which I liked well enough to buy a copy of for my brother when he bought a house, is the "Big Book of Home How-To" by Better Homes and Gardens, but there are quite a number of books which cover the same ground.

What I like about it is I can look up something I'm thinking of doing, get a basic idea of the difficulty level, basic procedure, and materials required, and then if it sounds like something I feel I want to do for myself I search for further material on-line. YouTube in particular is a treasure-house of how-to videos. But having the book on hand gives me a basic place to start..
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:50 PM on June 10, 2014

Don't forget that, should you require a tool you will only use for a job or two, you can usually find a place that will rent you one. Certainly not economical for a tool you would use frequently, but it's a good solution for a one time job. Plus the people at the rental place are usually pretty good about advising you on how best to work on your projects.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:34 PM on June 10, 2014

If I was moving to a rural location I'm make sure I had a good plunger, a toilet snake, a wrench to turn off the natural gas/propane if you have those things, a flashlight (preferably of the always plugged in and turns on when the power goes out variety), a medium size first aid kit, and a voltic/proximity voltage indicator.

You probably end up using a cordless drill all the time once you have one. If your rural house comes with significant land (say over an acre) you'll end up using a heavy (minimum 2lb) hammer a lot. And you'll need a spade. Snow shovel if you get that weather. Push broom if you have a paved driveway or large shop/garage. A 6' step ladder. Maybe a rake.
posted by Mitheral at 12:27 AM on June 11, 2014

I use a cordless drill almost every day. I use a chop saw about once a week. I use it to cut barnwood boards that I bought at the Habitat for Humanity Restore and I use them as "paneling" to cover up ugly places. I use the chop saw to cut trim, I've had to trim a lot of the walls here. I can use it to cut random tree limbs and small logs into usable firewood. I've made basic furniture by using the chopsaw to cut legs from fence posts. I've cut fence posts for fences with it. You can take a thick tree branch and make one inch slices to make drink coasters or wood slices for other crafts. We had a pergola made and the worker used my chopsaw for all of it. We had storm windows made and we used the chopsaw to cut the frames. ... and more little jobs too numerous to mention.

I only use a jigsaw about once a month. But, boy, when I need it nothing else will do. I used it to cut a round hole for a chicken door. I use it to cut off random bits off broken plastic things to make them more usable. I've cut all kinds of crafty things with the jigsaw.

I used to use a circular saw all the time but I feel like I'm getting too old to handle it and I just use the jig saw now for the same jobs. If I have a big job that needs the circular saw I get someone to do it.

I've had to use a planer to shorten a couple of doors that swelled with the weather. That is a job that has to be done sometimes and there is no way to do it without a planer.

You're most likely going to have to learn how to put new screens in windows. There's a little tool for that every rural household needs one of those.
posted by cda at 8:41 AM on June 11, 2014

I agree, you buy or rent tools according to the project. If it's something that has limited use and is expensive, you rent it. If it's something that has multiple uses, and is reasonably priced, buy the one that makes the most sense given your budget.

You need an EXCELLENT tape measure. Every project needs to be measured. Levels in assorted sizes are important too.

I used my Chop Saw/Miter Saw for a billion things. That was worth it.

Allen Wrenches in both metric and imperial are another good investment.

I LOVE my electric screw driver, it's perfect for putting together knock-down furniture and curtain rods.

If you have a lot of masonary, and you want to hang things up, you'll need a Hammer Drill and special drill bits. I lived in two masonary houses in Florida and our basement in Atlanta had cinderblocks and that drill went through them like butter. It's also a drill.

Make friends with the tool person at your local hardware store. These folks are fonts of wisdom and will sell you exactly what you need and provide you with tips and tricks.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:03 AM on June 11, 2014

The Black & Decker Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair is an excellent starting point. Most libraries have it, but it is well worth owning. It lists all the tools you need for the most common repair tasks, warnings when you will probably get in over your head, and step-by-step guides for maintaining your home. The other thing it gives you is the terminology used for different types of repairs and maintenance. Home repair/construction has its own vocabulary.

Echoing other suggestions: before you move anything in (i.e. on Day 1), spend time learning the house and its structure. Find out how to turn on & turn off the water, gas, electricity, HVAC and all other major appliances. Then trace and find how the fluids and gases that enter and exit your house travel; test your floor drain. And seek out and find all the non-living spaces: how do you get into the attic? Basement or crawlspaces? Hidden cupboard that lets you access the bathtub plumbing? And take digital photos so you don't have to rely on your memory. Look for signs of dampness, mold, mildew, creatures or other warning signs in those hidden spaces ... they can indicate structural "gotchas" not visible in the living spaces. (One example why I regret not doing a deep inspection of our house at first moving in: when a gas leak occurred in our 1923 house not long after we moved in, it took a long time to find and turn off the gas line entering the house because the valve had been illegally drywalled over by the former owners.)
posted by apennington at 10:30 AM on June 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

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