Home-Repair Tool Basics

Making repairs to your house means having the right tools and materials on hand so you can get right at the job and on with your life. Knowing about the basics will help you in the long run.

Toolbox Necessities
You can build your own basic toolbox to include common repair tools such as:
  • A 14- or 16-ounce hammer
  • Standard and Phillips screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A basin wrench
  • A 2-inch paintbrush
  • A handsaw or power saw
  • A hand drill or power drill
  • Assorted fasteners
  • Glues and adhesives for wood and plastic

So, what tools will you need? In the coming article, you'll learn about tools that measure, cut, drill, nail, tighten and loosen, hold, clamp, test, paint, and more. Most important, you'll see which ones you really need and how to use them safely.

First, let's talk about quality. The smartest rule about buying tools is to buy good quality. High-quality tools are not only safer to use, but most will last a lifetime with proper care. You can usually identify a quality tool by its machining: The metal parts are smooth and shiny, and the tool is well balanced -- it fits comfortably in your hand. Inferior tools, on the other hand, have defects or rough metal (often hidden by paint) and
exhibit crude machining. Most important, however, is that good tools are safer to use. Cheap tools can break and cause accidents.

You can expect to pay an average of 25 percent more for high-quality equipment, but cheap tools are no bargain -- you get what you pay for, so you may have to replace them more often. Besides, the money you save on your very first do-it-yourself repair may pay for the tools you needed. And, after that, the tools are yours to keep.

Useful tools include measuring tools, saws, drills, fastener tools, and tools for electrical and plumbing repairs. We'll take a look at all of them.

Measuring Tools

Just about every home-improvement project calls for accurate measurements. Not only do you have to know precisely how many feet and inches are involved, but you also need to ensure everything comes out plumb, level, and square. The following are basic devices for measuring and marking:

Tape measure: Flexible tape measures are available in lengths of up to 50 feet; a tape that is 12 to 25 feet is usually considered adequate. You should buy a tape at least 5/8-inch wide so it will stay rigid when extended. Most tapes have an automatic power return that is useful but not necessary.

  Power and Work Tools Image Gallery

Measuring tools come in all shapes and sizes.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
These are common measuring tools.
See more pictures of power and work tools.

Square: The standard size for a carpenters' square is 18 to 24 inches (body) by 12 or 18 inches (tongue). The size is important for cutting straight edges on plywood and hardboard.
For small jobs, a combination square is easier to use than a carpenters' square because the combination square is smaller -- typically only 12 inches long. The body of the square slides along the blade and can be set at any point with a thumbscrew. The square's body may incorporate a small bubble level or a scratch awl that can be used for leveling and marking your work. This type of square can also be used as a depth gauge, a miter square, and, with the blade removed, a straightedge and ruler.

A try square looks like a small carpenters' square with a wood or plastic handle. The measurements go across the metal blade, not the handle. This type of square is used to test the squareness of edges in planing and sawing work. It can also be used to check right-angle layouts. Its tongue has a maximum length of 12 inches; it is wide, but it can be used as a straightedge, ruler, and depth gauge.

Level: Two- and three-bubble levels are standard for most leveling needs. The edges of a level can be used as a straightedge. Laid flat against a vertical surface, a level can determine both horizontal and vertical levels -- often needed when hanging pictures. Levels are made of either wood or lightweight metal, such as aluminum. Lengths range to 6 feet, with 30 inches being the most popular size.

Chalk line: A chalk line is used for marking a straight line over long distances, such as for replacing wallpaper or flooring tiles.

Stud finder: A stud finder comes in handy if you need to find the studs behind walls to hang a heavy item, for example.


The measurements have been made and you're ready to start cutting. A wide selection of handsaws are available to match the needs of various cutting jobs. Here's a look:

Crosscut saw: A crosscut saw, as its name implies, cuts across the grain of wood. A crosscut saw has five to ten or more teeth per inch to produce a smooth cut in the wood. It is used for cutting plywood and hardboard panels and for cutting miters (angles).

Handsaws can be used for a variety of tasks.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
There are a variety of handsaws from which to choose.

Ripsaw: A ripsaw cuts along the grain of wood, called "ripping." Its teeth are spaced three to five teeth per inch. Because a ripsaw's teeth are wider set than those of the crosscut saw, it can slice through wood like a chisel. The final cut of a ripsaw is rough, and the wood usually has to be sanded to its final measurement.

Backsaw: A backsaw has a reinforced back to stiffen the blade. Its teeth are closely spaced -- like those of a crosscut saw -- so the cut is smooth. A backsaw is used for making angle cuts and for trimming molding. It's designed for use in a miter box; the reinforced back serves as a guide.

Keyhole saw: A keyhole saw has a 10- to 12-inch tapered blade. It's used to cut openings for pipes, electrical boxes, and almost any straight or curved internal cuts that are too large for an auger bit, a drill, or a hole saw. A quality keyhole saw has removable blades with a variety of tooth spacings for cutting such materials as wood, plastic, metal, and hardboard.

Coping saw: A coping saw has a thin blade that is secured with two pins at the ends of the saw. A variety of blades are available, with both ripsaw and crosscut tooth spacing.

Hacksaw: A hacksaw is used to cut metal, plastic, and pipe.

Power Saws

Sometimes a handsaw won't suffice, which is when power saws come into play. Power saws can be intimidating at first, and they should be. Improperly used, they can do damage in a hurry. You should always observe the proper safety precautions. Once you make a few practice cuts, however, you'll soon become comfortable with it. Here are some of your options:

Circular saw: A portable electric tool, the circular saw is the power version of a crosscut saw or ripsaw. The guide on the saw can be adjusted to cut miters and pockets in most building materials. Several blades are available: crosscut, rip, masonry, metal, and plastic. A table is one of the accessories available for a circular saw so it can be mounted to work as a table saw.

Saber saw: A saber saw, also called a jigsaw, consists of a 4-inch blade driven in an up-and-down or reciprocating motion. This portable power tool uses many blade designs for a variety of materials, including wood, metal, plastic, masonry, ceramic, and high-pressure laminate. This is the power counterpart to a keyhole and coping saw; it will make smooth fine-line or contour cuts either with or across the grain.

Like measuring tools and saws, drills and fasteners are integral parts of home-repair projects. We'll examine these tools in the next section.