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Posted by on Nov 23, 2011 | 0 comments

Essential Tools for the DIY Workshop

Essential Tools for the DIY Workshop

No matter  your level of skill or experience with DIY home improvements, one thing is true: You will accumulate tools. Del Ray homeowners Melissa and Bruni have so many ongoing renovation projects that they now have a well-stocked workshop in their basement. We stopped by to talk with them about their must-have tools for working with wood.

First, to give you a sense of the scope of their DIY background: Melissa and Bruni bought their row house in 2005 and immediately started remodeling the kitchen. They did most of the work themselves –- the demo, including asbestos removal around the ductwork, the cabinetry installation, flooring, and tiling. They designed an archway between the kitchen and living room, as well as a bay window.

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They also built front and back fences.

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In their back patio, they built a green roof storage shed and they are in the process of finishing the basement, which includes a full bathroom.

Melissa has also designed and built a free-standing bookshelf and bench.

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For the kitchen, they hired out the plumbing, electrical, countertop, and bay window installation. Bruni is doing the basement wiring.

Essential Tools

Besides the basic tools, such as pliers, screwdrivers, nails, screws, and the like, the following equipment are Melissa and Bruni’s go-to tools for jobs requiring wood.

Levels. Levels are a bit pricey, but absolutely necessary.  “If you’re working with long sides (for a door or a large bookcase, for example),” says Melissa, “you really need a long level — otherwise it’s easy to fool yourself.”


Clamps. You should always have a variety on hand. Melissa and Bruni especially recommend the pony clamps. You put them together yourself with lengths of pipe, so you can create the clamp you need. For example, you could make a set of 5-foot long clamps to hold a bookshelf together while the biscuit joints dry.

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T-square. “Don’t buy the cheapest t-square,” they say. They aren’t actually straight.  The longer a square is, the easier it is to get out of square, so more caution is needed with the big ones, as is the case with the one pictured here.


Circular Saw. “Building walls is surprisingly easy,” says Melissa. You can get by with a circular saw, a hammer, level, and a tape measure. You could build with a hand saw, but you’d be sore. If you accomplish that project, you’ll soon itch to do more.

Drill. This baby gets a lot of use for a whole host of home improvement jobs. Assuming you’ve already worked with the circular saw and hammer, a drill is a nice next step — it makes all sorts of tasks move more quickly. Melissa and Bruni even pre-drilled some framing spots that were difficult to reach with a hammer. They also use the drill as a driver for screws.

Note the difference between a regular rotary drill (the yellow one) and a hammer drill (also called impact drill), which is used to drill into concrete.  The hammer drill is the one Melissa and Bruni recommend renting — they are expensive and specialized; we wouldn’t have one if it weren’t for Bruni’s previous electrical work.

Melissa and Bruni use a rechargeable rotary drill  for most tasks.  They also have a plug-in drill. They’re cheap and stronger. “We pull that one out when we have a big, tough project ahead of us,” says Melissa.



Biscuit joiner/plate joiner. Melissa received her biscuit joiner as a gift from her sister. It’s not a necessity, but a convenience tool for the DIYer who ventures into building cabinets, bookshelves, and furniture. It’s simple to use and not very expensive ($100-200). “Biscuit joints bump up a person’s woodworking repertoire without requiring a lot of extra skill,” says Melissa.

Biscuit joints are glued together; the moisture in the glue causes the biscuit to expand to seal the connection. She and Bruni use it frequently for putting together wood in way that’s “more forgiving in terms of exact measurements, yet structurally strong.” They made the bookshelves using the biscuit joiner as well as some of the corners in walls.

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Books and magazines. Melissa and Bruni have books to consult for each project type. They often refer to Family Handyman for easier projects. For projects requiring more skill and experience, they consult Fine Home Builders. They also found a lot of inspiration in The Not So Big House book series by Sarah Susanka.


Next week, we’ll cover the many and varied saws — table and hand —  you can own or rent and how Melissa and Bruni use theirs.

Posted by Leslie

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