Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You’re on a ladder or, gulp, step-stool. You’ve got screws in your mouth, a pencil behind your ear, wire pliers on the ladder tray and that bracket thing for the ceiling fan electrical box in your front pocket along with the wire nuts and some other random pocket stuff you don’t need. And you’re sweating.
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You’re balancing the ceiling fan (that’s heavy) that you hope to one day install in the third hand you need but don’t have. It’s then you realize you’ve forgotten the screwdriver on the windowsill next to your coffee and the cordless drill.
Now you have to trounce back down the ladder—trying to not swallow a screw— and get the screwdriver.
You see where this is going. We’ve all been there.
Turns out, there’s this amazing invention that would put the minutes and momentum otherwise poured down the drain back into your DIY life.
Some guys call ‘em bags. Others, an apron. Then there’s tool pouch or tool belt.
Whatever you call it, its purpose is to keep all the stuff you need for completing most projects where it is needed: near you, when you need it.
I realize this might sound patronizing, but, as they say, I’ve only been doing this a long time and I have seen DIYers, pros and everybody in between do the randomest things during projects. I could tell you stories.
Anyway, the point of DIY for me is, yes, to enjoy doing the project, but also, to come to some form of completeness such that my home is nice. The one key to doing that is maximizing my available time and mental energy and a tool pouch with a few indispensible items in it is about the world’s biggest DIY time saver.
OK, esoteric big picture stuff over. Here are tools that I have at-hand on every project I do, from quick repairs to big remodeling projects.
1. The Tool Pouch Itself
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I prefer a belt and side (or hip) bags. It’s a bit bulky you could say, but I can get everything with a no-look grab whether I’m between deck joists or installing shutters from the top of an extension ladder. When buying a tool pouch, I look for enough vertical storage for stuff like pencils and a voltage tester and horizontal storage for screws and other tools like a layout square (yes, that triangle thingie). I prefer an add-on hammer loop instead of the metal thing that comes with most tool bags these days. (Note: If I ever buy a new one with a built-in hammer loop, I’m cutting it off, but I digressed…sorry…)
2. A Painter’s Multi-Tool
I prefer Hyde’s 17-in-1 (Hyde is a partner myfixituplife) I use one for something on every project—everything from gouging caulk in paint or bathroom project to propping open a door to shimming molding to cracking a cold one at the end of the day. Once you get one, you’ll wonder how you got by without it.
Not just any hammer, a hammer with a fairly straight claw. Why? Most of the hammering I do is to take things apart, like removing molding or tearing down a deck or old shed. A curved claw hammer is nearly useless for that.
4. Tape Measure
A 25-footer is the key here. I like Stanley tapes but there are all kinds. A 25-footer will stand out far enough so you can pay out the tape with reasonable ease to, say, measure a room for flooring. And, you have a fighting chance of measuring wall-to-wall for something like a chair rail. Big hooks and stuff really don’t do anything for me.
5. Scratch Awl
I suppose this one is a tool belt stretch and you could easily keep it in the toolbox, but I use mine all the time (and have a cool place to store it in my hammer holder). I use it to mark the center of a hinge hole, for example, when setting a door or gate. Or instead of drilling a dusty hole, I use it to poke a hole in drywall for an expansion anchor (aka moly bolt) for hanging pictures or drapes.
For just about any job using deck or drywall screws, I use my countersink. A countersink drills a small pilot hole and a conical depression for a screw head in wood. Its function is to prevent splitting, especially near the end of a piece where splitting is most likely. I also use it for drilling small pilot holes for anything from hanging a door to building a fence, deck or driving screws at odd angles framing new bathroom walls or building a pergola.
I could go on, of course, but only a little because I like to travel light. I want to install a kitchen sink, not wear one. A solid utility knife will get use for everything from cutting shingles for your doghouse project or treehouse to sharpening your pencils. And speaking of pencils, two kinds are required for dialed-in-ness: A carpenter’s pencil for rough work like deck building or marking our basement walls and a school-boy pencil for trim. Both to be kept sharp.
If you have a pen, please leave the room and come back in again. And bring the screwdriver with you. I left it next to my coffee.