Renovator, know thy tools

Sorry dear readers, this one is a bit longer than usual, but bare with me and skim it if it makes it easier!

Renovating means different things to different people. To some, it’s a new coat of paint, new trim and some decorative accessories. To others, it’s demolition, dust, lots of time, money and energy. One thing is common – the need to have the right tools for the job.

In the case of the woman who uses the kitchen knife as a slotted screwdriver, or her shoe as a hammer, or the man who puts a chair atop a table instead of using a ladder, the renovating road is littered with disaster when you don’t use the right equipment.

No matter what size project you’re approaching, make an assessment of your needs versus your available resources. Unless you have a whack of cash burning to be spent, you’re going to want to find out what your friends, family and local rent-it centre have to offer. That being said, there are some items you can’t be without if you plan to take on do-it-yourself work.

Here’s a quick list and a basic price range you can expect. * = Cheap **** = OUCH!

Painting Supplies – * – Putty knife, drywall filler, Drop sheets (1 or 2 canvas, some in plastic), paint tray, roller body, roller sleeve heads, good brush, painters green tape. – Note – Seriously invest in a good brush. Those foam ones are great for oil-based one-off jobs, but for latex room painting, you want a brush you can rely on after multiple cleanings to cut-in well.

Chop Saw – *** to **** – from laminate to wood flooring, trim and casing to small landscape ties, I love our chop saw. You might be able to get away with the smaller diameter blade for some projects, but over time and continual use you’ll want a 10″ or 12″ saw.

Hammer – * to ** – get a ‘finishing’ hammer and a ‘framing’ hammer. Framing hammers have a cross-hatch pattern on the ‘hitting end’. This is so that when you are doing outside or ‘behind the scenes’ work, the hammer will catch the nail regardless of where the nail comes in contact with the hitting surface of the hammer. With a finishing hammer, there is no cross-hatching so nail heads can skip across the surface. However, you don’t want the cross-hatch pattern to mark your walls or baseboards when you’re doing indoor work, thus the need for both types of hammer. Choose one that fits your hand well.

Step Ladder ** to *** – I bought a relatively inexpensive one about 15 years ago and it is great. We use it in every room we paint.

Cordless Drill ** to *** – or see the last item in the list and buy a rechargeable set. For cordless drills, get one that has is 12v or higher, though don’t go crazy – they come in 24v now and both The Renovator and I think this is a bit much. Like the hammer, make sure it fits your hand comfortably. My dad, Mr. Do-it-yourself, bought me a nice smaller one for Christmas that I’m loving because it fits nicely into my hands, yet has great power.

Bit set – * to ** – a variety of bits and tips are handy. Unless you break things a lot, a cheaper set should suit you fine.

Multi-bit Screwdriver – * – we have about 5 of these in our house because we’re always looking for one, just like…

Tape measure – * – the more you spend the better the locking and retracting mechanism, but I’ve used a cheap one for years although, we’ve got about 5 or 6 of these around the house!

Shop vac – ** to ***– When I took our household vacuum to the repair shop for the third time and a hunk of underlay was pulled out, I realized that grabbing the nearest vacuum wasn’t helping anyone but the repairman. I now go out to the garage and grab the shop vac. Look for one that has the option to add in filters so that you can suck up drywall dust without creating a nasty cloud out the back end.

Small hand saw * to **– A hand saw is useful when you need to cut door casing up to accommodate new flooring, like laminate or tile. For indoor use a smaller hand saw is good enough. You’ll also find this helpful when the skill saw or chop saw doesn’t cut through something completely. Avoid a torn edge by cutting the last bit with a hand saw for a cleaner finish.

Fasteners – * – you know, nails, screws, tacks, that kind of thing. No matter what you’re doing, eventually, you’re going to need a supply of these little items.

Staple Gun – * to ** – Okay, I admit of all the essentials, this is the least essential, but it’s very handy. If your budget allows, get one that also shoots ‘brads’ and you end up with a dual tool that can be very handy.

Gloves – * to ** – Oh how I loved my leather work gloves. On house # 2, I wore them out so bad that they had holes everywhere. Get gloves that fit well, not too tight, and I prefer leather over fabric as they last longer and give a great grip. You don’t want to be without these when you’re working outside or doing any sort of demolition or clean up.

Extension cord or spare battery pack * to ** – there is nothing worse than running out of power, or not being able to take your tools where you need them. Not only can this be frustrating, but it also wastes time.

Trowel – * – Yes, you can do without this, but if you plan on doing any tiling, or flooring that requires glue, or any project that needs glue or a thick substance to be spread, spend the money and get a decent trowel.

Wire Cutters ** – I remember when I thought I didn’t need wire cutters. I won’t tell you how long I stood in the dark in the bathroom trying to move the wiring to get the fixture installed on house #1. It wasn’t fun and I don’t recommend it! 🙂 Wire cutters are handy for so much more than just cutting wire, in a pinch (and I’m sure this isn’t recommended) I’ve used them as pliers, pullers, you name it.

Skill Saw – ** to ***– Or see the last item in the list and buy a rechargeable set. You can maybe get away without the skill saw if you don’t have to cut anything large. But, if you have any need to cut plywood, or other large items, the chopsaw won’t quite (pardon the pun) cut it. Skill saws allow you to ‘free cut’ over long distances and are easy to handle when they fit your hand. I had a hard time with the first one I owned as the safety and the trigger were too far apart for my small hands. I found that one uncomfortable, but now, the one we have is a bit easier to manage.

Palm Sander – ** to *** – When sanding new wood, old wood, yard sale finds, etc. a palm sander is wonderful. I have used mine countless times and can’t imagine sanding larger areas, or hard to reach spots by hand.

Caulking Gun – * to **– I nearly left this off the list! You’ll need a caulking gun to do any silicon work in the bathroom or kitchen or to put paintable caulking on the baseboards or trim prior to the last coat of paint. Caulking guns aren’t terribly flexible. They all seem to be made for bigger hands, so if you’ve got small hands like me, you’ll just have to find a way to manage.

Rechargeable Sets *** – ***** – I started out on house # 2 with a cheap rechargeable set, and to be honest, I couldn’t have completed that house without it. It was awkward, didn’t fit my hands well, but the price was right. It came with a rechargeable drill, a skill saw, a reciprocating saw, a flashlight and a hand held vacuum. I got a lot of use out of it and it was more than worth it’s price. However, if I were to do it again, I probably would have bought a more expensive set and ensured that it fit my hands better.

Of course you’re not going to get all of this stuff right away. I certainly didn’t start off with everything I needed and neither did The Renovator. You make do for a time and then you realize how much easier things are with the right tools. Get as much as you can afford, borrow what you need and keep your eyes on the sales flyers. Remember that becoming a renovator doesn’t happen overnight, it comes in small steps and a lot of really steep learning curves!It’s because of that learning that I love being The Renovator’s Wife. 🙂


Ronda Payne

A writer since she first held a pen, Ronda Payne – aka: the Girl with a Pen, is passionate about words. In 2007, she kissed ‘real jobs’ goodbye and began her true career as a copywriter, non-fiction freelance writer (magazines and other periodicals) and creative writer.


  1. Schmoochiepoo on June 12, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Nice Blog! When you comin to re-do MY house?

    • renovatorswife on June 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

      I suppose that would be on the 28th! 🙂 We’ll bring the demolition stuff, you can kick everyone outside while we reduce the house to nothing? 🙂

      • Schmoochiepoo on June 17, 2009 at 9:47 pm

        Do I get to play with power tools?
        I think the kids will do just fine reducing the interiour to rubble all on their own. 🙂

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