Good basic toolset/toolbox for househacking

8 Replies

Hi, my friend recently acquired their first SFH for house hacking. They are starting to need basic tools (e.g., they want to mount a security camera but the instructions call for a 15/64" drill bit to drill some holes for mounting) to do things like mount a security camera, fix a screendoor, attach a Ring doorbell, etc. They already have a small hammer and a set of screwdrivers but not much else.

Does anyone have recommendations on a general purpose toolbox they can buy that would be perfect for home maintenance and other related chores as mentioned above for house hacking?

Bruce, with Fathers Day right around the corner I'd suggest to them to hold off purchasing for another month, then nearly every tool will be on sale.  I know Kobalt has a few great starter kits that have all the basics in it.  

If they are only going to do it occasionally, look at Harbor Freight. Yes they are cheap, but if you only use them for a few things, it isn't worth shelling out for stuff you can drop off of a ladder and still have work. The Father's Day deals idea is a good one too. 

A good place to start is a general purpose homeowner's toolkit in a plastic molded case, the kind where you snap each of the tools in place. The case will really help you learn to keep all the tools in one place, and learn to put tools away properly after you're done. After that, you keep on building up. Use color-coded electrical tape wrapped around the handle of each tool that belongs in a certain bag, bucket, or box.

I've met guys with four, five-property rental portfolios that dumped thousands of dollars of tools in wet basement rooms or garage bays to rust for years. Needless to say, they failed in the business. Your tools need to be treated like the moneymakers they are. I was lucky to learn from their mistakes.

I've long been an advocate for buying Harbor Freight tools. The simpler the tool and the more limited your needs, the more likely you'll be fine with the Harbor Freight version of it. It's when you need the full capabilities of a hand or power tool, or even need to stretch the envelope, that you look elsewhere.

Start with the Harbor Freight version, learn how to use it, and then if you can see a clear different in quality and functionality in the more expensive tools, buy them. Very frequently, you might just need to keep high-quality blades in those basic Harbor Freight tools to get the most out of them. I have a 10-inch HF tile saw that I only use Ridgid blades on. My 7 1/4 circular saw is HF, too, but almost all the blades I use in it are Diablo.

Only some exceptions to this in my experience: don't buy a cheap caulking gun, staple gun, screwdriver with a set of 1/4 bits, or a cheap plastic razor utility knife. You'll regret those buys in time, especially if you hurt yourself with them.


@Jim K.

OMG - caulking gun. I had always just used one of the $5 orange ones for years. Last year I was trying to do some non-sag concrete caulk. I could barely get it out of the tube. I spent $30 or so on a Dripless 18:1 gun. It was like a went to heaven. No more fighting with sealants, caulks, etc. everything is nice and smooth now. 

Since Bruce specifically mentioned the use of drill bits, I will also add those to the list of things you should not buy on the cheap. It's tempting to pick up the least expensive variety pack of bits, but the tips dull out extremely quickly and you'll find yourself drilling and drilling and going nowhere. This is especially evident on concrete/masonry/steel. Oftentimes the bits will just snap. Pay the extra money for a set of Bosch, Dewalt, or Irwin bits. Stay away from Black+Decker, Masterforce, etc. Even the variety driver bits (i.e. phillips, torx, etc) will jump and strip out.

@Bruce P. , I don't think it's realistic to think you can buy a general-purpose tool set and work from there. A toolbox is a start, and of course you need the most generic tools such as a hammer, screwdrivers and pliers. Beyond that, it's best to buy what you need for specific jobs. For example, if you are doing wiring you need a wire stripper. If you are doing plumbing you need at least a couple of adjustable crescent wrenches and maybe a pipe wrench or two. If you're setting tile, you need a wet saw, and, as others here have pointed out, Harbor Freight is a good place for some of these bigger items.

In general, don't hesitate to buy the right tools as things come up, and soon enough you'll have a decent set. It's not necessary to buy the most expensive tool of each type, but don't use a screwdriver as a scraper or a pliers as a wrench.

When you get beyond a toolbox set, it's nice to put up pegboard on a garage wall so you can hang and organize most of the tools.

Thank you all for these wonderful suggestions, I hadn't even thought about the Father's Day sales!

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