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10 Tools for DIY Basement Finishing

You'll have to work hard for a basement like this one.
You'll have to work hard for a basement like this one.
©iStockphoto.com/cotesebastien

Many 9-to-5-ers have become weekend home reno warriors, and no project is more popular now than making over their basements. Whether you want a playroom, a game room, an extra bedroom or a home theater, finishing out your basement is a great way to add square footage to your home and extra space to your family life. From sealing concrete and framing to hanging drywall, many daring DIYers are doing it all, and these are 10 tools they need to do it well. Just one piece of advice: Leave the plumbing and electrical to a professional.

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Water leakage is the enemy of a finished basement, so this is the place to start when you're gearing up for your basement project. Before you apply water sealer, it's important to get rid of any obvious sources of leaks. This means repairing cracks in the concrete blocks or cement walls. To do this properly, you should use a hammer and a chisel to chip down into the crack about 3/4 of an inch, and then fill it with a concrete patching product.

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Making everything level will make for a much smoother job.
Making everything level will make for a much smoother job.
©iStockphoto.com/STEVECOLEccs

Once your concrete is sealed, you'll move on to the framing portion of your basement re-do. If you want to make sure your room doesn't lean like a fun house, then a level is an absolute necessity. Levels are inexpensive and useful for many household projects, so it's not a bad idea to have a few different sizes. A 4-foot level is a good all-around level to keep on hand, and 6-foot levels are great for setting doors and rough framing. Smaller sizes like 1-foot or 2-foot levels are great for hanging artwork on your finished walls.

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One of the most challenging aspects of framing work is making sure that everything is properly aligned. Plumb bobs have been around since Egyptian times to ensure a true vertical line is being achieved. In layman's terms, a plumb bob helps you make sure that your top is directly above your bottom. They're especially helpful in making sure doorways are straight. You can pick up a more sophisticated digital version, or save some money and use the original. Just make sure there's no breeze that will affect its accuracy.

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A regular hammer will do, but a framing hammer will save you time.
A regular hammer will do, but a framing hammer will save you time.
©iStockphoto.com/jorgeantonio

A framing hammer is a solid investment for anyone who's tackling his or her own framing project. This hammer has a sturdy steel head and a light wooden handle that helps you expend less energy during the endless nailing tasks of framing out a room. The hammer's head has a raised grid that lines up with the pattern on the head of a framing nail to ensure you hit your target every time without slipping. The only downside is that it leaves a pattern on the wood, which isn't a big deal for framing. But it means that you'll also need a finishing hammer with a smooth head for most other jobs.

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Once you get your measurements squared away, you're going to need to cut your two-by-fours into the properly sized studs. Circular saws are hard to manage if you're not experienced, and you should save your trusty old hand saw for cutting branches. A mitre saw is the way to go, especially if you've never really used a saw before. This easy-to-use electric saw sits on a base with the blade attached to a handle that moves up and down. Simply measure and mark your wood, set it on the base and bring down the spinning blade for a swift and easy chop.

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Shoot 'em in, partner!
Shoot 'em in, partner!
©iStockphoto.com/alejandrophotography

Hammers are great for putting up pictures or nailing a board over a window. But if you have a project that requires hundreds of nails, using a hammer will wear you out in a hurry. A nail gun is a powerful tool that will save you time and a lot of bruised fingernails. Just imagine being able to drive a nail in one click of a button rather than four (or more) swings of a hammer. Most nail guns are pneumatic, which means they require a separate air compressor to operate. If you don't want to make the investment, you can usually rent both machines at your local hardware store.

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If you want your walls to be at perfect 90 degree angles -- and believe us, you do -- a chalk line will come in very handy. This simple contraption is a plastic or metal case that houses a retractable string covered in powdered chalk. The end of the string has a hook ring, so you can hook it to your starting point and pull away like you would with a tape measure. Once you've reached your end point, you simply pull the string tight and snap it to create a line of chalk, also called snapping a line. They're also handy for hanging wallpaper and laying ceramic tiles.

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There are no shortage of jobs a drill can tackle.
There are no shortage of jobs a drill can tackle.
©iStockphoto.com/esp_imaging

Drills are probably one of the most useful household tools to have on hand for any project. For basement finishing, it's smart to have a corded and a cordless drill. Drills that plug in are a lot more powerful than their cordless counterparts, so they're a necessity for drilling stubborn materials. And, if you have a cordless drill, you can skip the purchase of a screw gun, because they make a great screwdriver. That will not only save you time but energy, too, by eliminating the repetitive motion of using a manual Phillips head. Just be sure to have at least one extra battery on the charger at all times.

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Before you do any electrical work in your home, you need to step back and make sure you know exactly what you're doing. If there is any doubt at all -- or maybe even if there isn't -- you should call in a professional to handle the job. Electricity is not something to mess around with. But, if you're going to tackle the electrical work for your finished basement, then you'll want to get a good combination wire stripper and cutter. Household wires have a plastic coating that will pop right off on the first try, without breaking off individual strands. And the cutter is much more effective than scissors. Most of these gadgets also have wire gauges, so you can easily identify the size of each wire.

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Demolition's best friend
Demolition's best friend
©iStockphoto.com/terminator1

You can only imagine the number of messes you'll be creating when finishing your basement, so a shop vac is essential in making the clean up easy. Shop vacs are better workshop vacuum cleaners than regular uprights for several reasons. First, they're lighter and take bumps and bruises better. They have a wide, flexible hose that allows them to suck up bigger pieces of debris, and they have different filters and bags that work to contain different types of materials, like drywall or dirt. You can also clean up water, which you can't do with a regular vac.

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Sources

  • "Chalk Line." Howstuffworks.com, 2010. https://home.howstuffworks.com/chalk-line.htm
  • "Chisels and Gouges." History.org, 2010. http://www.history.org/almanack/life/tools/tlchi.cfm
  • "Finishing a Basement 1 - Intro and Planning." Doityourself.com, 2010. http://www.doityourself.com/stry/basementremodels
  • "Framing Hammer." Daviddarling.info, 2010. http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/F/AE_framing_hammer.html
  • Harris, Tom. "How Nail Guns Work." Howstuffworks.com, 2010. https://home.howstuffworks.com/nail-gun.htm
  • Shop Vac Company Website. Shopvac.com, 2010. http://www.shopvac.com/shopvac-accessories/

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