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12 Must-Have Tools for the Aspiring Handyman


Every handyman knows there is no limit to the number of the tools you might “need.”  But if we could travel back in time and talk to a younger versions of ourselves, one just starting out, here are the tools we would put on the “must-have” list.  They are in alphabetical order because putting them in order of importance was just too dang hard.

The 12 Essential Handyman Tools:

1. Bag or box

Nothing says “I’m your handyman” like a guy carrying a tool bag or tool box.  Keep all your favorite, most-used tools in one of these and grab it as you’re climbing out of your truck.  If it’s properly stocked, you’ll be able to tackle a good portion of your jobs without having to run back to your vehicle a dozen times.

bag with tools

2. Cordless circular saw

If you’re going to do anything carpentry-related, you’ll want the flexibility that a cordless circular saw provides.  For some extra cost savings, choose a saw and drill – that’s the next tool on the list – made by the same manufacturer so you can use the same battery packs on both.

cordless circular saw in use

3. Cordless drill

This is one of the most versatile tools a handyman can own.  It can become a lightning-fast screwdriver, drill pilot holes, and help you install drywall.  You can buy some attachments that mix paint, concrete, and grout, and others that sand or de-rust.  And you can drill holes, too, of course.  (Thanks to the internet, you can also find all sorts of bizarre, non-handyman things people do with their cordless drills.)

using a cordless drill on wood

4. Electrical tester

When a customer tells you an outlet doesn’t work, the easiest first step is to test it with an electrical tester.  They’re small and (can be) inexpensive and since they aren’t the kind of thing most homeowners have lying around, using one makes you look like a professional.

an electrical tester model

5. Hammer

Technically, we’d choose a claw hammer.  It’s an all-purpose tool you can use for both construction and demo.  Whether your handle is wood or not is a personal choice.  Wood is more traditional-looking but not quite as durable.

hammer with nails

6. Level

You have four basic options with levels.  You could use a traditional level, just like your grandfather would have.  Or you might use a carpenter’s level, which offers the extra precision of checking for plumb as well as level.  For a more modern twist, you could invest in a laser level.  Or in a pinch, you can put a leveling app on your smartphone.

level tool for measuring

7. Screwdrivers

What handyman doesn’t have a few screwdrivers?  You’ll want a flathead and a Phillips head, to start, both mid-sized, but plan to add more sizes of each as time goes on.  (Do you know why they’re called Phillips head?  They’re named for Henry Phillips, a businessman from Oregon who began selling them in 1935.  He didn’t invent the screw or its screwdriver, but instead bought the idea from someone else.)

different colors of screwdrivers

8. Shop vac

The stereotypical handyman leaves his customers’ homes messy.  Set yourself apart from the herd by truly making the effort to clean up after yourself.  Use a shop vac at every job, every day, and your clients will rave about you (even if you do nothing else right).

different sizes of shop vac

9. Stud finder

Sure, it looks quaint and charming when you knock on walls looking for studs, but to get the job done efficiently, invest in a stud finder.  It might save you from a few extra drywall patch jobs, too.

stud finder by Ryobi

10. Tape measure

There won’t be many handyman tasks that don’t require you to measure.  The traditional metal tape measure is easy enough to use, but if you want to get high-tech, you can use a laser measurer.

tape measure by Stanley

11. Utility knife

A good utility knife will just live in your pocket and be your go-to first tool.  Whether you’re scoring, cutting, marking, poking, or picking, this one does it all.  It’ll be like having a third hand.  Be sure to keep a supply of extra blades nearby.

a utility knife

12. Wire strippers

If you plan to do anything electrical, you’ll want wire strippers.  Yes, you can use a utility knife, but wire strippers are faster and neater, allowing you to get the job done sooner.

a yellow wire stripper

Final Word

There are a lot of factors that go into being a successful handyman.  Having the right tool for the right job is one of them.  But you can’t go out today and buy every tool you might someday need.  Over time, as your jobs grow in scope, you’ll be able to put more tools in your shop.  But start with these basics and you’ll be able to call yourself a true handyman on day one.

Note: we also recently reviewed tool backpacks. Our guide can be found here.

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