hammer, handsaw, screws and measuring tape against floorboards
No matter what the job, there are a range of tools that always come in handy. Keep them well maintained in a toolbox for portability.

Buy the best you can afford because cheap tools are often poorly designed, have a short lifespan and are sometimes unsafe to use.

Here are the ten essential tools for any job.

Claw Hammer

There are two types of claw hammer:
Curved claw hammers are all-rounders, ideal for pulling out nails and doing carpentry work.
Straight claw hammers are for demolition involving ripping and framing. Handles are made from hickory, fibreglass or steel. Choose one that weighs up to 500g, with a comfy grip and anti-vibration properties.
claw hammer

Purchase a claw hammer with a rubber handle to reduce slippage

Measuring Tape

Look for an eight to ten-metre tape, tough enough to withstand being dropped, and that has a brake to lock it when in use.
deep etch measuring tape
Buy a tape with a blade that doesn’t flex easily

Utility Knife

For cutting low-density material including cardboard, rope, insulation, carpet, plywood, lino, plasterboard and hardened paint, a utility knife is the ideal tool, with a plastic or metal handle that can store extra blades. The exposed blade is adjustable, with a sliding button to open and close it, and is easily replaced when blunt.
utility knife against a white background
Always retract the blade on a utility knife when not in use

Screwdriver kit

A set should contain various sizes of flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers.

Use the correct size on screws, because if the tip is too small it can burr the edges of the recess, and if it’s too big it damages the tool. Handles should be non-slip with a shank made from quality steel. A combination screwdriver with many tips saves space by storing them in the handle.

screw driver kit
Use a jeweller’s screwdriver for watch and sunglasses repair


Pliers grasp items that are too awkward to be held by fingers, coming in various lengths and shapes with serrated jaws for a firm grip on objects. The longer the handles, the stronger and better the jaw grip.
Slip joint pliers have an adjustable pivot that alters the jaw width.
Snub nose pliers can grip and twist metal objects, with built-in cutters to cut wire and cable.
Needle nose pliers hold small parts in tight spaces.
Electricians have pliers with insulated handles to protect from electrical currents.

TIP Using the wrong pliers for the job can blunt the cutting edge and the serrated jaws.

needle nose plier against white background
Needle nose pliers can hold small parts in tight spaces


Using specific saws makes for easier, cleaner cuts, but for repetitive cuts it’s best to use a tablesaw.

Rip saws cut along the grain with large chisel-shaped teeth to guard against clogging and up to seven teeth every 25mm. The standard 700mm-long blades are only sharp on the leading edge.

Crosscut saws cut across the grain, with knife-like teeth bevelled towards the centre of the blades, which are usually 500mm long with up to 12 teeth every 25mm.

Combination saws are the most versatile, cutting across and with the grain. If you buy just one saw, make it this one.

TIP Western saws cut on the push stroke, while Japanese saws cut by pulling and can be easier for small jobs.
handsaw against white background
Every DIY kit should contain a handsaw


Use a chisel to cut mortices for door locks, make housings for hinges and do various paring and shaping jobs.

The chisel blade is bevelled to a cutting edge that slices timber fibres when pressure is applied.

Start with a 19mm chisel and look for plastic split-proof handles. Firmer chisels have thick blades for hitting with a mallet to cut through timber.

An ideal set has bevel-edged chisels with blades six, 12, 19 and 25mm wide.

two chisels against a white background
Chisels are used in a wide range of DIY projects


Safer than standing on a chair, stepladders have an A-shape frame when open, and range from two to four metres, although it’s unsafe to stand on the top step.

Choose one with a grab rail and platform for resting tools or paint.

Combination ladders are ideal in tight spaces and on awkward surfaces like stairwells.

Fibreglass ladders are essential rather than aluminium ones when working near electrical cables, to prevent accidental shock.

ladder against white background
When using a ladder use slip-on trays and stand-offs to keep it away from the wall

Spirit Level

A spirit level has a bubble in a fluid vial that sits between two markers to check if a surface is level horizontally, plumb vertically or angled at 45ยบ. Levels range in length from 200mm for hanging picture frames, to 1800mm for structural framing.
TIP Test the accuracy before buying by placing on a flat surface, ensuring the bubble stays between the markers when the level is reversed.

spirit level against white background
Use this tool to check for level and plumb

Clamps and vices

Clamps grip objects being worked on or pressed together.
Spring clamps are similar to oversized pegs and are easy to operate.
G-clamps have a strong frame that exert pressure on objects. You can use one to grip objects being worked on or to pressed two objects together.
Spring Clamp is similar to an oversized peg and is easy to operate.
Parallel Jaw exerts even pressure across the surface of an object.
Vices hold work pieces securely and are often built into workbenches or clamped onto the benchtop. A vice is heavy-duty and made from cast steel with a moveable jaw, a fixed jaw, and a bar handle to adjust the distance between.
TIP Use timber offcuts between the work and the clamp or vice, to prevent marking the surface.
parallel clamp against white background
Parallel jaw clamps exert even pressure across the surface of an object