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two beauty tool boxes one red and one green

A basic tool-kit is a first-aid kit for a house

Sometimes in an emergency, you cut yourself and wrap it up in whatever’s handy. Maybe it’s a clean dishcloth or maybe it’s your dirty bandana, but you temporarily make due. Then you either clean it up and stick a band-aid on it or you go and get stitches. A house is the same thing. There’s some fixes that you can see to and some that require a professional, but with the basic, essential tools on hand you can at least buy yourself some time before the professional gets there.

Knowledge is the most important thing in your tool-kit

Here are some basics before we move on

  • Don’t mix ammonia and chlorine, ever. It can kill you.
  • Don’t mix water and electricity, ever. It can kill you. I know you know this, but sometimes in the heat of the moment with a flooded basement thought goes out the window and Darwin Award candidates step up.
  • Electricity- turn it off before you work on it.
  • Dito water.
  • Know where your whole house electrical switch is and how to shut it off. Dito the water main shut off. And the gas. If you don’t know go find it… Now… I’ll wait… And while your there make sure you can get at them quickly. No junk in front of them.
  • Know where the water and gas shutoffs to appliances are. You may have to pull out the range or fridge because they’re probably behind them near the floor.
  • If you smell gas get everybody out and call the fire department and utility company. The utility company may be slow on electrical issues, but tell them you smell gas and they will beeline over. Though you may want to make sure the cooker’s off on your way out the door and that’s not where the gas is coming from. I’m talking to you, Dottie the counter surfing dog, who has accidentally switched on burners while reaching for the diner.
  • Youtube is your friend. (Just remember that some of your friends don’t know what they’re talking about. Sometimes enthusiasm replaces sense.) The folks at the local hardware store are also a great go-to resource.

What are the basic tools you should have?


It works better than a shoe, especially sneakers, and can be used for crushing ice. I like this one from Lee Valley Tools. It’s versatile, a good size for smaller hands, and not too heavy. It also takes up less room in your tool box.

Handheld screwdriver

I have this one along with many, many others. It’s inexpensive and you can switch it to Phillips or flat bits quickly and they store inside it. The fact that’s cheap is a bonus because within a few months one or both of the bits is missing and, like gloves, it’s always the same bit.

I have my eye on the one above, though. It looks like the bits stay in the handle and get pumped into place. It costs more and is on backorder right now, but I’ll spend that much on replacing the cheaper one a few times. Or maybe I should just hide them.

Fasteners, duct tape, electrical tape, and glue

To go with the hammer and screwdriver get an assortment of screws and nails. You can usually find a boxed assortment at any hardware store. Just remember that the cheaper they are then the cheaper they are. Many screws from big box stores are made with softer alloys and easily strip the slots out on the head.

Duct tape is great for quick fixes or clamping stuff together. Remove it carefully, it can pull apart whatever you just glued together and may leave gumminess behind.

Electrical tape is non-conductive and used for repairing damaged cords. I’ve had pet bunnies and a cat that found the hardest to get at or most difficult ($$$) to replace electrical cords to chew on. Electrical tape comes in a variety of colors for different purposes, but I like to have black and white because that is the majority of cord colors in my house. If something is badly damaged and uses a lot of current, like a fridge, this is ok for a nick, but a complete splice may require a new cord.

There are a million types of glues out there. Wood glue and super glue will do most of your repairs. For other fixes you may need a two part epoxy or other specialty glue. Read the labels- they’ll tell you what the product works on. Some glues like Gorilla Glue foam up and expand so use as directed to avoid a mess.

I suggest you also have some command hooks, picture hanging hooks, and zip ties on hand. Zip ties are those plastic straps with ridges on them and an eye on one end. You feed the stop through the eye and tighten it and it stays tight. You see them on cop shows as handcuffs.

Voltage tester

Before you go to take the broken light bulb out of a socket or replace a light fixture, make sure it’s turned off at the source. When in doubt -check it out with a voltage tester. This is also good to see if outlets work or if you find loose wires anywhere.

Measuring tape

I can’t tell you how many stories we have at our store about people coming in with bits of string, a stick, or their arm looking for something that “is this long”. Last week there was a woman in with a piece of elastic looking to fit window blinds. (And not knowing if she wanted it inside mount or outside.) Another guy was looking to replace his screens. He measured his window by tip of his finger to plaid line on his shirt sleeve. He said they were standard size windows. Which standard? There are no standard sized windows or doors, especially in an older house. Get a measuring tape!

A measuring tape should be metal. Cloth tapes are for going around things like when you’re measuring to fit clothes. They’re good to have in a purse, but they can stretch out. Get one that is easy to read and if it has inches and centimeters even better for taking accurate measurements.

Plunger and hair snake

Hair snake first because I know you’re either thinking “what the??” or “snake-eww!” A hair snake is that flexible piece of plastic about 18″ long with little thorns on it that you “snake” into the drain to catch the hair thats’s sitting in there getting nasty. They’re only a few dollars and don’t last for many uses, but they’re awesome!

There are two types of plungers- shape for drains and one for toilets.

I love this sink plunger! It’s small and the bellows action really works to blow out the clog. It’s short so getting it into a deep sink full of yucky water is not fun, but it really works!

This is a toilet plunger. See how there is the collar at the bottom? It has a better fit and toilet water is yuckier than sink water, so you want it to go down the toilet- not back at you!


Speaking of yucky- get disposable gloves. These days you probably have them, but make sure to keep them on hand for the above type repairs. Also have some comfortable work gloves that give you both protection and extra grip and a pair of dishwashing gloves.

Utility scissor and utility knife

Utility scissors are a must. You never know when they’ll come in handy for opening those @#* blister packs and everything you need heavy-duty cutting for. Some also have a notch to cut wire. And if you use someone’s good fabric scissors to cut shoeboxes to make a house for your caterpillar collection you will hear about it for the rest of your life. Just sayin’.

A good utility knife that stores extra blades in the handle and either retracts or has a blade cover for safety is also indispensable.


Pliers are used for all sorts of jobs. Needle nosed pliers are great for holding small things and maneuvering them about. Hold a nail and keep your fingers safe while hammering. Pull bones out of a fish before cooking (we have a specific pair for just that.) Grip something so you can twist it, like a jar top. Pry carpet staples out. Turn that stuck valve….

First aid kit

No explanation necessary.

But the three most important essential tools are…(drum roll)

  • Your brain to figure stuff out and keep you safe.
  • Your hands to do the work.
  • Your cell phone when all else fails. You can use your cell phone as a flashlight. You can get an app that turns your phone into a level. You can google or youtube solutions. And you can take photos- take from every angle and at different distances- and take it the local hardware store or big box for help. A picture is worth a thousand words. And you can call the plumber, electrician, or 911.

Got any other things you think must be in a toolbox? Let me know in the comments below.

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