The D.I.Y. beginner’s toolkit

Keen to start on the D.I.Y. path? Here’s our pick of the essentials you need for your first toolbox.

The right tool for the right job

Though simple, tackling some entry-level D.I.Y. tasks – such as hanging pictures, putting up shelves, fixing wobbly table legs or replacing handles – is incredibly satisfying and rewarding. And it makes all the difference to have the right tools at hand, including these, our essential picks for a beginner’s toolkit.

What to put in your toolkit

Equip yourself with these basics then get cracking on a D.I.Y. project!

Claw hammer: Every toolkit needs a hammer, to use on everything from the obvious – hammering in nails – to light demolition work, shaping of materials and more. Look for a non-slip, anti-vibration shaft or grip that sits well in your hand and a well curved claw with a deep, fine V, so even small nails can be extracted. 

Spirit level: You need this must-have tool for accurately checking a line or object is level (horizontal) or plumb (vertical). A spirit level is generally an aluminium box or bar structure, which holds fixed vials of liquid marked with lines and containing a large bubble. Hold it against a surface and when the bubble is between the lines, it’s level (or plumb).

Spanner set or an adjustable wrench: Nuts and bolts are a D.I.Y. inevitability. But the wrong spanner can slip and may damage and round off the nut or bolt head. An adjustable medium size wrench (200mm) is ideal if you only want one tool. A spanner set gives you accurate sizing within the range; slipping will be less likely. 

Hex keys: “I’m always going to the toolkit to get the hex keys to assemble or disassemble some furniture,” says Bunnings tool buyer Paul Bailey. Available in various sizes in sets, in metric and/or imperial measurements, these handy devices are an essential piece of kit for almost all flat-pack construction projects.

Retractable tape measure: This is your go-to tool for measuring anything from timber before cutting to working out if that new couch will fit. When extended, the metal measure is semi rigid; a ‘stop’ button holds it in place. The most popular and practical length is eight metres, but you can get smaller (two or five metres) or up to 30 metres.

Timber handsaw: A general-purpose timber saw is a must. Matt Francis, national training manager at Stanley Black & Decker, says a saw’s teeth per inch (TPI), indicates the type of finish it will give you. “A higher number, such as 10TPI, will cut more smoothly; a saw with 6TPI will have larger teeth and give you a rougher cut,” he says. 

Electronic stud finder: Drilling a hole in a wall is a common but potentially risky D.I.Y. task. Pipes and wiring lurk behind walls; hitting them can be disastrous. Missing the timber stud also means holes to patch. A stud finder can tell you where the centre of a stud is for accurate drilling and screwing. Some also warn of live wires in the vicinity.

Combination square: Its rigid and moveable steel blade is at a right angle to the handle, which has a level-bubble and wide faces for positioning against a surface when marking or measuring. It also has a 45˚ shoulder for angle marking. Uses include marking timber for straight or angle cuts, and scribing a line on a long surface. 

Screwdriver set: You’ll always need conventional screwdrivers for their accuracy and control. An extended set will reduce the possibility of damage to screw heads from using the wrong screwdriver tip size. Aim to have at least two Phillips head and two flat-head screwdrivers; ideally, short and long shafted drivers and colour-coded for different head types. 

Circular saw: A circular saw makes larger projects easier and does things like ripping – that is, cutting a piece of timber from end-to-end – with ease. Battery models are useful for many D.I.Y. tasks – just select a model that’s within your existing battery ecosystem – or you may prefer a traditional corded model.

Hammer drill: With a rotating and forward hammering action, this drill makes holes in masonry surfaces (for anchoring plugs or bolts) with ease. “Think about future tools you’re likely to want when buying into an 18V platform,” suggests Paul Bailey. Select a model with a battery that can interchange with other power tools as your kit grows.

Drawing the D.I.Y. line

One of the most important D.I.Y. skills is knowing when you should step aside for the professionals.

  • Anything to do with electrical or plumbing works is extremely dangerous. It’s also illegal to D.I.Y.: you need a licensed tradie for all electrical work and virtually all plumbing work.
  • Anything structural – walls, posts and columns, footings and foundations – will need input from a qualified expert. You may be able to do the work but will likely need professional assessment, possibly plans drawn and potentially even council approval.
  • If in doubt, don’t. Be very honest when you evaluate your projects. If you think a task is too big to be accomplished single-handed or too complex for your skills, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals. 

Photo credit: Cath Muscat.

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