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A reader question: “What are the 20 most essential tools for homeowners, and how do you use them?” 

OK, that above was paraphrased, and it came in the form of fan mail suggestions from one of our most loyalist readers.  (More on this in a bit, and no it was not John D. Poole.)

But as I got to thinking about it; 20 tools, hmmmm . . . not easy.  There are many tools for many jobs, and you ALWAYS want the right tool for the (right) job . . . or so they say and something like that.  I mean — homeownership requires lots and lots of, well . . . tools.  Heck, I’d have to say — Take that 20 and multiply it by 20, then maybe you’d have about the number of tools that I, as a hi-functioning homeowner, just could not do without.

So . . . OK, a different approach:  What are the 20 tools you need to start a toolbox? << Better.  I can do that, but in fact I’m gonna make things a little more challenging . . . and fun (read: leaving room for a sequel or two).  I’m gonna start here with ten, 10 tools.  What are the ten essential Tools for homeowners?  In other words … What ten tools need to be in your first tool Moxie BoxTM?

An Array of Plungers in a Colorful Fan via busytrade.com

Build a Moxie BoxTM

And minus some things you already should have — a hammer, screwdrivers, and a paint brush (multiple sizes and grades of each, of course).  And no, I don’t actually have the phrase “Moxie Box” registered . . . as far as you know . . . yet.  But here we are, and here we go . . . 10 Tools . . . BMoxie style:

  • Digital Camera (sub Smart Phone with a hi-quality camera)

If you’re a reader of this blog, you know this one — it’s kinda a gimme.  I am not necessarily talking about the camera you might use for before & after pics, or for family photos.  This camera is inexpensive but has a largish viewer.  To read more on the “whys”, simply click here (but come back) >> The Digital Camera, A Toolbox Essential.

  • Yard Stick (sub for tape measure)

OK, I’m gonna break it to you; you are eventually gonna need a tape measure or . . . well, five (yes, they come in different sizes — and you always size your tool for the job, remember?).  But to start, let’s get a tried and true yard stick, just like the one your mom used to have – an American-made hardwood (sub metal, maybe).  Quality matters here.  When you buy, make sure that the stick is absolutely true.  You will use it to make window treatments and such.  Well, if that’s not your thing, you’ll still immediately have a go to straight-edge.  Plus, it’s simply a good baseline — a yard stick is exactly 36 inches long, is much easier than a tape measure to ACCURATELY read, and it helps serve for visualization of heights and lengths in the planning stages of things.

  • Scissors

You have a set of scissors you use in the kitchen, a set you use for fabric, and a set (or two) you use for crafts.  Well, you need a set of scissors for your toolbox too.  Here’s the thinking — you will be opening, and ultimately returning, a lot of products to (home) stores.  You need a way to open today’s packaging neatly.  As your skills evolve and you attempt new things, you will use your scissors for low-voltage wiring, and for cutting plastic or paper goods such as tar and rosin paper.  This one made the list just over the standard utility knife.

  • Variable speed corded drill

The only “power tool” on my list.  While you may be tempted to buy a cordless drill driver first — don’t.  A cordless driver in inexperienced hands can reek havoc.  And I can’t assume you’ll be hanging sheetrock or on installing a deck in your first year anyway.  Start with the drill, 3/8 inch chuck for now.  You will use it to pre-drill EVERYTHING that you intend to stick a screw in.  Of course, you’ll also need an old-fashioned handed screwdriver to install your screws, but you probably already have one (or two) of those.  This method is simply best practice ALWAYS, and especially when hardware is concerned.  Pre-drill, then screw by hand.  Guys-only side note:  These methods will work your forearms, and the word on the street is >> ladies like forearms << idk — I just hear things.

  • Adjustable wrench(es)

This is the only item on my list that you will need multiples of.  Measured by the length of the tool, generally . . . you may also know them as a “Crescent” wrench (after an early American manufacturer of the tool).  I recommend starting with a pair — a six- and a ten-inch (grabbing a 4″ shortly after).  Adjustable wrenches make the list over the more utilitarian (and possibly in a sequel) CHANNELLOCKs.  Because they are adjustable, they replace a range of standard wrench sizes.  They allow for the tightening and loosing of nuts, plumbing connections, and etc.  When used correctly, they eliminate any signs of marring on the hardware being addressed.  Note: If used for plumbing — you’ll need two anyway.

  • No-scuff furniture moving pads

This last minute addition lands at number six on my list (a list that is in no particular order).  These reusable pads come in very handy, especially when working alone.  They can be used on almost any surface, but prove their worth if you have ANY wood flooring in your house.  The trick with these, and if you are moving heavy furniture — both your flooring and the underside of the pad must be absolutely free of dirt and debris.  Never assume, always check.

  • Voltage tester

This little tool allows you to test both receptacles and exposed wiring (which you will come across in more advanced activities).  At around $10, it simply wins over other electrical testers.  You will use it to map and troubleshoot electrical circuits.  And with electric — Rule One:  Never assume, always check.  For more info on how to use, check this vid from friend A Concord Carpenter, here.

  • Toilet Plunger

This one is such a staple, and so not glamorous, I’d assume it is missed on many lists.  But it’s a must-have.  Here — size, shape, and how you use it all matter.  For more information on how to select a plunger and use it effectively, an article I wrote for Home Depot’s Pro Referral Network: How to Fix a Clogged Toilet.

  • A Computer (an internet connection and a few go to resources)

Despite the urge to plug our own site here, there are *errrmmm* *errrmmm* a few decent sites on the internet.  Some have catalogs of information on how to accomplish near anything you’d need or want around the house.  Nested Lista.) General HomeownershipThis Old House; b.) Discrete and Easy-to-Follow How-toseHow Home; c.) Detailed How-tos with a sense of social, cultural, and historical context:  Old House Webd.) General InspirationDIY Network & HGTV.

Would This Article Also Help?  Building Moxie Tours a Lumber Wholesaler :: An Interview with Shannon Rogers of McIlvain Lumber

Note:  There are many more useful sites out  there, including, and let’s not forget — Google.  Many homeowners have also been turning to sites such as Service Magic and Angie’s List for help with finding contractors and/or other pros.

  • A Truck

While hand trucks are pretty handy for carting large items into and around the house, here I actually mean a pick-up truck.  Great for hauling furniture home from your many trips to IKEA, great for hiking over-spilling, hand-me-down housewares up to the dump recycling center, and great (eventually) for lugging sheet goods back from the home center.  The trick here is to buy one that has a bed that can easily accommodate a four-foot wide piece of something.  An expensive buy for a simple toolbox – OK, but then you best plan to make nicey nicey with someone that has one . . . a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor.  They are simply invaluable, and there is nothing, NOTHING more frustrating then trying to load an item into the back of your Subaru wagon and have it not quite fit.  Just sayin’.

Alexandra Williams with witch Elizabeth Montgomery Statue Salem, MA

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Honorable Mentions:

Graph Paper and/or an inexpensive rendering program, such as Google Sketch Up. (More coverage on Sketch Up from us here.)  Get to know them early and often.  Oh, and a Shop Vac >> Not a bad thing to have.  And . . . anyway — how did I do?  Did I miss anything, would you delete some things and add something different?  How would you rank them?  Let me have it.  Thanks to AlexandraFunFit for the question (and for the ongoing support).  I plan to continue this in my next post: Three Essential Traits for Homeowners. Thanks for reading, and until then.  ~jb