Must-own tool list, part 2: reader suggestions

I shared my must-have tool list for every homeowner, and I received many more great suggestions from readers, mostly on the Structure Tech Facebook page. To all of you who weighed in, thank you!

Channellock® pliers – Yes, Channellock is a brand name. The generic term for this is tongue and groove (T&G) pliers. It’s an adjustable set of pliers (plier?? is this singular or plural?) which gives you variable jaw openings to get just the right amount of torque. My own set of T&G pliers is actually made by Crescent.  If you want the original Channellock pliers, you can find the 9-1/2″ on Amazon for about $20. But I’ll do you one better and recommend Robogrip pliers. I’ve had the same set for about 20 years, and I still love it. It works just like T&G pliers, but it auto-adjusts to the correct size flawlessly.

Vice grips – also known as locking pliers. You adjust the depth of the jaws, then lock onto whatever you need about as tightly as you can squeeze the handles, and it stays put.

Wet/dry vac – Every homeowner needs one of these, even if you just get a small one. They’re great for vacuuming out your vehicle, sucking up water, and cleaning up just about any kind of mess. The dominant brand name is Shop Vac®.

Saw – I had several people recommend a saw. As far as I’m concerned if you’re only going to buy one saw, make it a reciprocating saw. Most call this a Sawzall®, which is Milwaukee’s brand of reciprocating saw. You can find corded off-brands in the $30 range at Harbor Freight for occasional use, or you can step it up to a cordless version. If you already have a cordless 18-volt drill, go with something that takes the same batteries.

I can’t live without Milwaukee’s M18 Sawzall. You’ll spend a lot more for a tool like this, and you’ll get what you pay for. You’ll also need to buy blades. You’ll want wood blades, metal blades, and a pruning blade for yard work. Diablo’s pruning blade paired with a cordless recip saw is a game changer for yardwork.

Stud finder – for finding studs. Electronic stud finders are great, but I’ve recently fallen in love with a much simpler solution, the StudBuddy. It’s basically a long magnet, and it’ll stick to drywall screws and stay in place, so you don’t have to mark the location of your studs. Very reliable, with no batteries.

Level – for a million things. Do yourself a favor and get the Kapro Measure Mate. It’s a unique level that makes swift work of many common household tasks.

Step ladder – if you have a Little Giant ladder you don’t technically need one of these, but it’s very convenient to keep a small step ladder inside your house. I keep a two-step ladder in my pantry, as well as a three-step aluminum step ladder from Gorilla Ladders. This step ladder weighs less than 8 lbs, and it has a big platform for working at the top.

Painter’s multi-tool – It’s an ultra-stiff putty knife with a curve for cleaning paint rollers, a sharp pointy corner, a bottle opener, a nail puller, and a few other features. Here’s one from Purdy.

Putty knife – Besides using it for small drywall patches, a putty knife is great for removing trim or jimmying an accidentally locked door.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Yeah, that’s an important addition to the list. Get yourself a nice pair of work gloves, protective eyewear, dust masks, a respirator, and hearing protection. I’m not kidding about the respirator. Anytime I’m working with nasty chemicals I put that thing on; even cleaning with bleach. And for hearing protection, you can use some cheap disposable pieces of foam they hand out at rock concerts, but I recommend stepping it up. If you’re doing any long projects in the yard like snowblowing, lawn mowing, etc, you need tunes. Step it up to the 3M WorkTunes to make your PPE enjoyable.

Voltage detector – if you’re doing electrical work, it’s a good idea to have one of these. I strongly recommend the Fluke 2AC. You can read all about how to use them on my blog at

Outlet tester – if you’re going to replace outlets, it’s not a bad idea to have one of these. For ergonomics, price, and reliability, I prefer the GB GFI-3501 tester.

Duct tape – yes, every house needs at least one roll of duct tape. Of course.

Toilet plunger – every house needs one. Get the accordion style. It’s far more effective.

Let’s power through the rest of this list: Aspirin, a First aid kit, a sanding block, WD-40, super glue, electrical tape, zip ties, screws, regular pliers, and a pencil. All great suggestions. Oh, and a bottle opener to complete the list.

Written By

Reuben is a second-generation home inspector with a passion for his work. He grew up remodeling homes and learning about carpentry since he was old enough to hold a hammer. Reuben grew up thinking he was going to be a school teacher because he enjoyed teaching others so much. In a sense, that’s a lot of what home inspections are about, so Reuben truly does what he loves. Sharlene has worked with Structure Tech since 2000 and Reuben has been contributing to her blog since 2008.

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