10 Essential Tools Every Homeowner Needs—And When to Use Them

Harbor Freight
by Harbor Freight
10 Materials

Byline: Lisa Freedman

Thinking about starting a home improvement project? Step 1: Make sure you have everything on this list.

They say a DIYer is only as good as their tools--and they’re right! You can’t exactly build a deck or swap out a toilet if you don’t have the right tools for the job. 

Just starting out? Harbor Freight offers top-quality tools at the lowest prices. Their tools stand up to competitive brands at a fraction of the price so you get more tool for your money. This means you can get everything you need for major and minor home improvement projects, without breaking the bank. 

To help you assemble your initial shopping list, we spoke with Brian Hommel of Brian Hommel Home Improvement in New York’s Hudson Valley. No matter what DIY project tops your to-do list, these tools can help you tackle it.

1. Tool Kit

A multi-piece tool kit is a quick and easy way to instantly stock your workspace. “Things I look for when picking out a kit: a hammer, screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, common sockets (American and Metric), and a variety of bits,” Hommel explains. 

Armed with these tools, you’ll be able to tackle most repairs. For example, you can use a small wrench or pliers to loosen or tighten nuts around your plumbing fixtures and stuck water valves. A screwdriver can help you get into the inner workings of your dishwasher. And a hammer can help you pull up loose floorboards. Note: If you already have a collection of these smaller tools, it may be time to organize them in a rolling workstation with storage drawers so they’re always readily available when you need them.

Buy: 130-Piece Tool Kit with Case

2. Cordless Drill

“Cordless power drills provide more power than the average human,” Hommel points out—even the above-average human. A charged-up cordless power drill can help you effortlessly assemble cabinets, hang shelves, change out electrical outlets, screw drywall into place, and more. 

Buy: 20v Lithium-Ion Cordless 1/2 In. Drill/Driver Kit With 1.5 Ah Battery, Rapid Charger, And Bag


3. Miter Saw

That crown molding you’ve been coveting? A miter saw, which can cut wood down to length at very precise angles, can help you achieve that dream. Hommel says a miter saw is also great for replacing deck boards, cutting trim, or even building DIY picture frames (if you’re feeling crafty).

Buy: 12 In. Dual-Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw

4. Snake

Nearly every plumber will tell you to skip chemical-based drain cleaners when you’re dealing with a clog. The off-the-shelf stuff is not only bad for your pipes (and the environment!), it also merely pushes the clog deeper into the system, where it becomes even harder to dislodge. So while your problem may appear to be solved, it’s only temporary and you could end up with a bigger (read: more expensive) issue down the road (or down the drain!). Instead, keep a snake on hand. “A small snake is always good for clearing small sink or toilet clogs,” says Hommel. 

Buy: 25 Ft Drain Cleaner with Drill Attachment


5. Nail Gun

One more tool you’ll need for that crown molding: a nail gun. While some nail guns need to be paired with an air compressor to have enough power to shoot the nails, Hommel says lots of quality nail guns work with lithium batteries, which makes things simpler. Once your molding is in place, you can also use a nail gun to install baseboards, finish trim with quarter round, put down stair treads, and more. 

Buy: 20v Lithium-Ion Cordless 18 Gauge Brad Nailer

6. Avanti Handheld Paint & Stain Sprayer 

One of the most common home improvement projects—and one of the easiest for homeowners to do on their own—is painting or staining. Whether you’re adding new color to a room, sprucing up the exterior, or staining or repainting a fence or deck, a handheld paint sprayer makes it super easy to get the smooth, professional result you want with minimal overspray and dripping. The Avanti® Handheld HVLP Paint & Stain Sprayer from Harbor Freight has a two-finger trigger for easier operation and less fatigue when you’ve got a lot of surface to cover and includes a 1½ quart cup. (That’s enough to cover 40 feet of fence if you’re wondering). It features a high-volume, low-pressure nozzle that reduces paint waste for even more savings and is easily detached from the motor.  

Buy: Avanti® Handheld HVLP Paint & Stain Sprayer

7. Ladders

Hommel says handy homeowners should have two ladders: a shorter ladder for interior work, and an extension ladder for exterior work like cleaning gutters, inspecting your roof (see above!), and more. Just make sure that you’re safe by following the 4-to-1 Rule, he adds. For every 4 feet of height for the ladder, the base of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the building.

Buy: 17 Ft. Type IA Multi-Task Ladder

8. Saw Horses

Whether you need to create a workbench in a pinch or want a place to set painted wood to dry, saw horses are work horses. Join two with a plank or board for a temporary work table, and then fold them up to store them when your job is done.

Buy: 500 Lb. Sawhorse

9. Palm Sander

“Palm sanders can take the sharp edge off boards for deck railings, stair treads, or custom woodworking projects where a soft edge might be safer,” Hommel says. The more amps, the more powerful the machine. What to aim for? “A 3 Amp palm sander is more than adequate for most homeowners.”

Buy: 3 Amp 5 In. Random Orbital Palm Sander With Soft Start

10. Shop Vacuum 

Shop vacuums are more powerful than regular vacuums and have the capacity to suck up lots of dust, dirt, and bigger pieces of debris. Hommel says to make sure you shop for a wet-dry vac, which can also be used to clean up standing water in the event of a flood or leak (eek!). Get one that’s at least 14 or 16 gallons, and that should be big enough to clean up your average mess. “The key with any wet-dry vacuum is to make sure you keep the filter clean, as this will, in turn, help keep the dust down while you work,” Hommel adds. 

Buy: 14 Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum

If you’re like us and just realized you need to stock up, head over to Harbor Freight to pick up essentials—and then some—that’ll round out your DIY home improvement toolkit. Whether it’s swiftly tending to a leak or incorporating a new design feature (hello, board and batten!), you’ll be ready. 

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