tool school: what you need in your kit

Guest post from Leena and Bradley @ Bye Bye Brooklyn

Get out a pencil and notebook because you are about to learn a thing (or thirty) about tools from some bona fide Home Improvement experts. Leena and Bradley said bye bye to their tiny Brooklyn pad and hello to a 130 year-old home in rural Pennsylvania: now they’re transforming their house one DIY project at a time. These two know what they’re doing – this is abundantly clear in their fabulous before and after photos on Bye Bye Brooklyn and confirmed in the following tool tutorial (tool-torial? sorry) – and the way their tool kit/bag comes together at the end of this will impress your socks (or steel-toed boots) off. I admit, I didn’t know some of these things existed until reading this and I am honored that they have shared their wisdom here at the home tome in honor of HIMP Month. Enjoy!


When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first apartment, I
put together a toolbox and proudly placed it on the top shelf in my
closet. It was a cardboard shoebox containing a hot pink hammer, a
couple of screwdrivers and a box cutter. I used the hammer once to
hang up art and a few times to crush ice. That was the extent of my
tool usage back in the day.

Bradley’s completely the opposite. He grew up in workshops and garages
(not literally, that would be weird), so he’s always been a DIY guy.
He’s a tool freak, his dad is a tool freak and his grandfather was a
tool freak. I think if you follow the family tree up far enough,
you’ll find he’s descended from a jigsaw. So when Jocelyn asked us to
do a guest post for her blog, Bradley knew exactly what we should talk
about: horses. Just kidding. This post is all about tools.

We have an entire garage full of hand and power tools, but there’s a
collection of tools that we use for all the time. They make up the
core of our toolkit — those everyday tools that come in handy in
almost every project we take on. In girlie talk, these basic tools are
your favorite t-shirt and specialized tools are that slinky black
cocktail dress you pull out twice a year when it’s time to kick it up
a notch.

If you’re starting to assemble a toolkit from scratch or round out the
kit you already have, these are the tools we’d recommend. We’re not
going to get into specialty tools or fancy power tools. These are just
the basics, and none of them cost an arm-and-a-leg.

There are longer tape measures out there (and we have one), but we
love our 16-footer. Why? Because it’s long enough to handle most of
our measurements and it’s lightweight enough to clip to our pants
while we work. Also, when it falls out of our pants and onto our toes,
it doesn’t hurt as much as a heavier tape measure. (Not kidding, and
speaking from experience.)

This itty-bitty level tickles our OCD fancy. We whip it out when it’s
time to hang picture frames, mirrors, shelves etc. so they hang
perfectly level. It also comes in handy while building small objects.
This little guy does the trick — and fits into a shirt pocket in
between uses.

We have a bigger level for hanging and leveling bigger objects. There
are much bigger levels out there — like the 5-foot beast we use when
we frame walls — but unless you’re doing construction, 24 inches is
plenty big.

Here’s something we’re guessing most people skip over when they stock
their basic kit: a small handsaw. Handsaws used to be a big, unwieldy
tool. Nowadays, they make ’em small enough to store in a toolbox.
We’ve used our handsaw for everything from cutting plumbing to cutting
drywall to cutting wood. Rather than carry everything that needs to be
cut out to the saws in the garage, we can do a quick cut on the spot.

Another often overlooked item we love is this rasp & steel file.
We use this puppy for everything from drywall to wood to metal. The
coarse end is the rasp and the fine end is the file. We love that it’s
a two-in-one tool so it saves space in our kit.

We use our staple gun for big projects like insulating and
upholstering, and small projects like framing art and fixing wobbly
drawers. What we especially love about this particular gun is that we
don’t have to use two hands to make sure the staple goes in all the
way. It’s easy to squeeze and really slams the staple out. Kinda
scary, kinda awesome — just, uh, don’t point it at anyone’s face and
you’ll be fine.

A utility knife is a must-have for any toolkit. We recommend keeping
extra blades in the bag as well — dull knives are super dangerous, and
we like our fingers where they are. The putty knife is really more of
a spatula than a true knife. It comes in handy for touching up
plaster, spackle or wood putty, and even scraping things off.

The painter’s 5-in-1 scraper is, hands down, our favorite painting
tool. Prepare to have your mind blown:

  1. The flat end is a scraper to remove old paint.
  2. The small hook at the top is a paint can opener.
  3. See that metal part at the end of the handle? That’s for banging
    the lid back on the paint can.
  4. The u-shaped curve on top is for scraping paint off of a paint
    roller (we scrape it back into the can so we don’t waste any
  5. The holes in the middle of the blade are for removing nails and
    tightening nuts and bolts.
  6. Bonus: it’s also a screw driver in case you need to remove
    screws. It comes with a philips bit and a flathead bit that attach to
    either side of the handle (you can see a philips in the picture
    above). You just pop the bit into the end of the handle, and viola!
    instant screw driver.

We love smartly designed tools, and the 5-in-1 paint scraper is genius.

It’s been a while since either of us has been electrocuted, but we
remember it being an unpleasant experience. If you do any electrical
work around the house — even if it’s just swapping out a light fixture
or an outlet — we highly recommend getting a basic voltage tester for
your kit. You plug the tester into an outlet and it lights up if
there’s power. Easy, peasy.

There are different pliers for different projects. If you’re doing
plumbing work, there are plumbing pliers. Electrical work? Yup, you’ll
need electrical pliers. We easily have 10 pliers and none of them are
the one that Bradley needs when he asks me to hand him the pliers.
There are basic pliers for basic plying, and that’s what we recommend
starting with. Build up from there as you need.

Crescent wrenches come in all different sizes. We use this 200mm
wrench more than any of the others. It’s a nice medium-sized wrench to
start out with.

Screwdrivers are another item that come in tons of different sizes.
There are screwdriver sets that feature lots of little plug-in bits in
different sizes. Some of them are hollow and the bits store inside the
handle. It seems really good in theory, but we’ve never had much luck
with those. We end up losing bits or breaking the handle somehow. We
recommend getting a simple medium phillips and flathead to start with.
Add a small set and a big set if you find you need it.

OK, chisels may not seem like something everyone needs in their basic
toolkit, but we’ve use them all the time for shaving off little
sections of wood in spots where a saw or a router won’t work. Even if
you’re not actually building something, a chisel can come in handy.
Updating the hardware on your door? You might need a chisel to get
those hinges to fit properly. They usually come in sets of 3 for under

A flashlight is an absolute must-have for a basic toolkit. We prefer a
really small flashlight. Why? Because we’re gross and like to hold the
flashlight between our teeth while we work. Don’t judge. We also have
headlamps that we use for hands-free lighting — kinda like what coal
miners wear, but smaller. We still end up using the small flashlight

One of the things that gets really overwhelming when trying to stock a
toolkit from scratch is the cost. Take socket sets, for example. A
nice set can set you back $50+ and it’s hard to justify that cost if
you won’t be using a socket wrench that often. Our recommendation?
Don’t get the fancy-schmancy 3000-piece set. We scored this basic
45-piece socket set for $10 during Home Depot’s Christmas sale and we
love it. (It’s currently priced at $15.)

The case is nicely organized and we love that it isn’t so big that it
takes up a ton of room in our bag. We also like how the case has a
sliding lock so it doesn’t open if we store it sideways.

We have several different types and sizes of clamps, but this is one we reach for more often than not. It’s about the size of a hammer, so it’s small enough to pack away. That being said, this puppy scales up to hold something up to 10″ thick. Some clamps go up to as much as 4 feet, but we barely ever need those. A lot of the projects we’ve worked on — say, gluing two pieces of wood together for a cabinet — require clamping in multiple spots to get a strong bond. For that reason, we recommend getting two clamps of the same size for a basic toolkit, and add more if you find you need ’em.

If Bradley could marry his Stanley Wonderbar, he would. It’s seriously
the best prybar ever. For starters, it’s indestructible. We’ve used it
to bash plaster off brick, punch holes through walls, lift drywall up,
pull nails out, beat nails in, yank ceilings down, scrape paint off.
It’s amazing the amount of smash-em-bash-em abuse we’ve put this
little 12″ prybar through and it just keeps on going. Did we mention
it costs just $9?

And then there’s our trusty old hammer. Everyone should own a hammer.
Even if it’s just for crushing ice. Also, if you decide to use a
hammer to tenderize meat, make sure it’s a mallet and not
this kinda hammer. Just, uh, take our word for it. It’ll only end in

There are several different types of hammers you can buy — ball-peen
hammers, framing hammers, rubber mallets, etc. If you want just one,
we’d recommend a simple claw hammer. It has a bashing end for driving
nails in and a yanking end for pulling nails out. Claw hammers have
less of a curve on the yanking end, which means you can also use them
for for demolishing things. If you haven’t smashed the crap out of
something with a hammer, we highly recommend it. Bonus points if you
film it, set it to music, and send it to us.

This drill is the only power tool that made the cut. You can buy a
decent plug-in drill for about $100 — not exactly cheap, but not as
expensive as a lot of other power tools either. Cordless drills are
great, but we prefer plug-ins for several reasons. One of the biggest
factors for us is power: cordless drills are not as powerful as
plug-in drills. Also, cordless drills are more expensive to purchase
initially. If you have to replace the battery at any point, that’s
another added cost. We like that there’s also no need to recharge a
battery, so a plug-in drill is always ready to go. The downside,
obviously, is that it needs to be plugged in, so an extension cord is
pretty much a necessity.

We put our tools through a lot of abuse, but we like them to last as
long as possible. We like to store them in a tool bag to keep them
protected and organized. We went with a bag that’s kind of a hybrid;
it’s got hard sides like a box but it’s got an open top and straps
like a bag. Here’s what we love about it:

Putting all of these tools in one bag makes it super heavy. The big
rubber handle with grippy texture makes it way easier to carry.
There’s also a padded strap so you can throw the bag over your

The bag has a built-in holster for a handsaw, complete with a strap to
hold it in place. The hard sides of the bag keep the saw from bending,
and the teeth don’t scratch or cut our other tools.

There’s no way this 24″ level would fit inside the bag. We could tuck
it in with one end sticking out, but then there’s always the danger of
dropping or damaging it. The bag has 2 velcro straps that secure the
level to the outside of the bag. This means more room on the inside of
the bag for other stuff.

Yeah. They pretty much thought of everything. We use our tape measure
more than most of our other tools. By putting the tape measure on the
outside of the bag, we never have to dig around for it.

The bag as tons of pockets on the outside and inside of the bag to
help keep things neatly organized. We put like-with-like —
screwdrivers go in one pocket, wrenches go in one pocket, etc. That
way it’s easy to find what we’re looking for.

Even with all of our basic tools in the bag, there are tons of empty
pockets to store additional stuff. Since we already have our basics
loaded and ready to go, we just toss in any other tools and items
we’ll need for the day’s project and carry it into the house. It saves
trips back and forth between the detached garage and the house.

That’s it! We hope you enjoyed a peek inside our toolkit.

Psssst: for the record, nobody paid or perk’d us for this post.
These are all tools that we purchased on our own, and love to use
because they rock.


Thanks so much, Leena and Bradley, for the informative and entertaining tool school. I’m on my way out to pick up a wonderbar now…if only I could get this tape measure hooked to my pants…I have so much to learn…

10 replies

    • I know, I kept saying as I read this, I wonder if we have all (any) of this stuff? I will be consulting with my husband on this matter…:) Thanks for stopping by.

  1. I’m trying to think up something witty using the phrase “tool cool for school”, but it’s not really working – this post is awesome and I’ll definitely sign up for the graduate level courses when they become available.

  2. Is it wrong to find this post kind of sexy? I mean seriously… anyone working on their home knows that having this many tools, that look very loved and used means stuff is getting done! Love that!
    I did feel proud because we have all these tools, but I need to take a course from them on how to keep them all so neat and organized. (the bag part was a big help) We spend more time looking for the tool than we do using them. Ha Ha!
    Great post, as always… now I’m going to find a paint scraper and do some damage with my caulk gun! (if I can find them)
    Leena and Bradley rock and their home is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing, Jocelyn. It was “riveting”.

    • Yes, I think I have seen a few of these things around my house, but I don’t know their location or exactly how to use them so this was quite helpful. I have celebrated the “level” before and also gone a little crazy trying to get that bubble lined up exactly in the middle. I don’t think I am a perfectionist w/ housey projects: usually “almost right” is good enough for me – though I do appreciate and can tell that people like you and Leena and Bradley have an eye for detail and serious skills in this area!

      Happy Caulking.

  3. With so many projects at home on the horizon it’s a nice reminder that my tools are my friend. Just a few tools can help in a very big way! Nice blog, lady.

    • Ha, ha, THANK YOU! This is fantastic. I feel like I should print it out and paste it in our shed for easy reference. As in oh….THIS is a hammer… 🙂 (Just kidding, I have also pounded some chicken, not so successfully, in my day…)

      Happy Weekend, I trust you guys are having a productive one!

      BTW, as Rob says above, he’s jonesing for some graduate coursework 🙂

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