Photo: Sarah Leon
In June 2021, I knew nothing about home renovation. I had the same Ikea tool kit since college, which I used to hang things on the wall and install Ikea shelves once in my old apartment. But when my husband and I closed our first house, we quickly stocked up on all the tools we thought we’d need to demo in our house and finally put things back together, including a hammer, which we have to barely touched. We’re no experts, but after a very intensive year of DIY at home, we’ve learned which tools you really can’t live without for specific projects – and where you can save by buying a cheaper option.
I know we’re not the only newbies tackling projects like demoing tiles and removing cabinets. We’ve posted about our home remodel on Instagram and TikTok, and seen a large community of newbies doing massive home DIY projects. I was particularly impressed with Gabby Dolechek and her husband (who accidentally bought a rat-infested house and are rebuilding every square inch) and @Elm_Street_House, where the owner has been removing old insulation with her family every weekend since, seems he, an eternity.
So if you’re thinking of getting into a home DIY project, big or small, here are some tools that are worth the money and will make your life easier.
I had a hammer from the previously mentioned Ikea set, but when we started this project, a more experienced friend advised us to get not just one hammer, but two. He said to have one that costs more to serve as the main hammer and one that is cheaper as a backup. And he was right: when you do one of these projects, you misplace your hammer at some point. And sometimes you don’t want to take the time to stop and find it. I have no regrets about this purchase.
We’ve also upgraded our screwdrivers to include this set, which is useful for any type of household project. They will not take up much space and you can do everything.
It’s more expensive than a hammer and screwdriver, but if you plan to tackle DIY projects around the house, you’ll need a drill and an impact driver. We purchased the DeWalt 20 volt drill and hammer drill and the bits, and we don’t regret the expense.
The one thing everyone should own is a ladder. Get one that fits your ceiling height so you don’t have to climb on furniture to paint, change light fixtures, or anything else you might want to do.
If you don’t want to damage the walls, use the DeWalt 20 volt impact driver to carefully remove them from the walls. If cabinets aren’t in good enough condition to donate or sell, they can be cumbersome to manage. Break them up with a hammer and cut off the larger pieces with a reciprocating saw or sawzall. There are so many uses for this tool, so it will serve you well in future projects.
Our favorite tool, by far, was the 30-inch gooseneck wrecking bar. When many people think of the demo, they imagine hammers – myself included. But more often than not, a standard pry bar and hammer are what you need. I bought a longer wrecking bar, so it can perform multiple functions: tearing off plaster, removing damaged trim, chiseling out pieces of tile, and acting as a lever to remove all sorts of things that are nailed, glued or simply painted.
Obviously, you’ll have to be more careful if you’re working with something you want to keep. Use a hammer and a set of three-piece pry bars to slowly peel each piece off the walls. This set will also come in handy for other tasks, like pulling nails.
One of the first projects we undertook was to remove the drop ceilings from our home. But we didn’t realize that one of the main problems with this otherwise quick demo task was ending up with lots of long pieces of wood. Use a circular saw to cut off the extra pieces so you can easily remove them.
If the tile is in good condition, but the grout is not, save time and remove the grout with an oscillating tool or this stand-alone tool. Once it’s gone, add new grout – and it’s good as new!
If the tile is in poor condition (like ours) and you need to remove it, it’s worth investing in an SDS Plus hammer drill with a tile chisel. These are a bit pricey but will save you a lot of time if you have a large space. Bonus: The large hand drill has multiple functions, including a spin mode, which is really useful for mixing things like drywall compound and mortar.
You will need a pipe wrench, which easily hooks onto pipes or plumbing so you can attach it to valves. This is useful if your steam heat is leaking due to a loose valve or if you need to temporarily remove a radiator to repair or update your flooring. Longer wrenches provide more leverage for really stuck valves, but may be more difficult to install in a tight spot.
Whether you are changing a light fixture or repairing an old plaster wall, be very careful not to touch your electricity. Turn it off, then make sure it’s off with a non-contact voltage tester that lets you see if the wires are live. And for doing nothing in the dark, grab some long extension cords and a set of work lights. These don’t have to be fancy, so it’s a great place to save.
Get some plastic sheeting to protect furniture or create division between spaces.
Buy more contractor bags than you think you need. You can never have too many – and they’re better for these types of projects than standard residential trash bags because they’re thicker and don’t tear as easily, even when punctured.
Invest in a shop vacuum. Chances are there’s a lot of dust and debris, and this shop vac can clean it all up in minutes. It’s a miracle. That being said, you will also need a great broom and a sturdy dustpan.
If you are protecting your floors, a good tip is to use drop cloths and moving covers. It’s a cheaper solution than other floor protectors, and you can reuse them for other home projects in the future.
You’re probably tired of wearing N95 masks, but you’ll want to wear one for most demonstration activities, like removing drywall or plaster, scraping wallpaper, cutting wall panels, and removing tile. If you work in hot weather you can buy the valved version which allows you to exhale a little easier. It’s not safe for COVID, but it will work under those circumstances. You’ll also need a set of inexpensive safety glasses, disposable gloves or full-grain leather for extra protection, sturdy pants like Carhartts, and boots with a thick sole and preferably a steel shank like this pair of Blundstones as you will be stepping on nails at some point.
The strategist is designed to surface the most useful expert recommendations on things to buy in the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural remedies for anxietyand bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that offers may expire and all prices are subject to change.