Building a rudimentary tool collection
DEAR TIM: I'm a single mom with a few young kids and need to do home repairs myself because I simply can't afford to hire professionals. I'm not lacking in energy or determination. My biggest challenge is tools. I don't have many, and I constantly wonder what tools should I buy that will offer great value and versatility. What tools I should seriously consider, and what tools should I put on the back burner? --Terry S., Huntsville, Ala.

DEAR TERRY: While I can't attest to ever having been a single parent, I sure can relate to having a small collection of tools. When I was just getting started in my business after graduating from college, I had to make my own drywall hawk. I took a scrap piece of particle board and screwed a cut-off piece of a broom handle to it. It was heavy and awkward, but it served the purpose. Within months I was able to afford a real aluminum hawk, and then eventually switched to a stainless steel drywall mud pan.

I feel the best way to answer your question is to just look around your house and try to spy the projects in your home that are in the greatest need of attention. As you make that list, you may discover that some projects need the same tools.

For example, let's say you need to do minor patching on your walls and ceilings. You can get by with an inexpensive plastic drywall mud pan, a 5-inch flexible taping blade, and a 10-inch broadknife. Believe it or not, these three tools will allow you to repair 98 percent of most flaws in your walls and ceilings.

Many projects require that you fiddle with hardware and fasteners. I have two handy screwdrivers that contain interchangeable tips for flathead screws, Phillips screws and even the occasional Torx screwheads. One simple tool provides what I need for more than 90 percent of my jobs. You can't beat that!

Someday you may want to do some minor plumbing repairs. In that case, you'll quickly discover that an adjustable wrench is very handy. I'd get one that's about 10 inches long. You'll also discover that a ratcheting adjustable pliers is a multitasking plumbing tool. These come in different lengths as well, so find one that fits your hand well.

If you visit garage sales, you may find some great bargains when it comes to flat pry bars, hammers, nail sets, framing squares, traditional hand saws, etc. Any hand tools that cut or sand wood you can't go wrong purchasing. A razor knife will become your best friend. I guard my QuickSlide pocket utility knife with my life. I love its shape and its engineering.

If family members need gift ideas, tell them you'd love wire strippers, needle-nose pliers, and linesman pliers. These tools will allow you to make many simple electrical repairs around your home.

When it comes to power tools, you can't go wrong with a traditional circular saw. This tool, when combined with clamps and a straightedge, can do the job of several tools. You'll also need a simple power drill. If you can find a cordless drill and driver combo kit, give that serious consideration. A powered impact driver is a fantastic tool that will allow you to install screws and certain bolts with professional precision.

Try to avoid tools that are highly specialized and that you'll only use once in a blue moon. Although I absolutely adore my router, I feel it's a tool the average homeowner would rarely use for repairs around the home.

A belt sander is another example. I would cry alligator tears if you took mine away, but I have to admit I could get by with smaller electric sanders if need be. Belt sanders are magical tools, but you can say that about most tools. It's all a matter of what tools offer you the biggest bang for your everyday repair buck.

SIDEBAR

Some tools are hybrid tools. They might be marketed as project tools but also do double duty to help you make repairs. One example is a pocket-hole jig.

A pocket-hole jig is a tool that's made for joinery. It allows you to make extremely strong connections that don't need glue in most cases. But even if you're not building furniture, the tool is handy for repairing it. You could easily find yourself using a pocket-hole jig to repair a flat picture frame where the corners have pulled apart or to fix a wobbly table leg.

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