Hopefully by now you have come to realize that adulting means occasionally fixing stuff. I mean actual, handyman-style, get-out-a-real-toolbox fixing stuff. I really enjoy fixing and building things, but know that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But sometimes you’re making lunch in your kitchen when the cabinet door falls off the frame and almost lands on you, and subsequently has to be fixed. (Yes, that really happened to me, and something similar will probably happen to you.)
Inspired by two trips to Home Depot and being thankful that I have a proper toolbox, here are the things everybody should have under their belt.
First, the toolbox. This is not a completely comprehensive list, but I do believe it’s the minimum that every home (apartments included) should have on hand.
- Screwdrivers. If you have nothing else, have Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, preferably in a few sizes. (I have two normal ones, one fancy one with interchangeable bits, and one pack of tiny ones.)
- Measuring tape. I consider this the second most important thing. If you are buying furniture, installing something, whatever, your life will be made better with access to a measuring tape.
- X-Acto knife/boxcutter. Scissors are cool, but they don’t always do the trick. Keep these on hand and make sure the blade can be covered.
- Hammer. You can use a mallet or a rock if you need to, but do you really want to be that guy?
- Level. You need to be able to make things hang, mount, or set straight. It is important. When the bubble is in the middle of the lines you should be good to go. (Pro tip that if you live in an old place and/or don’t trust the level 100%, you can measure from the floor up at each end point of whatever you’re hanging/mounting and mark those spots with a pencil.
- Duct tape and masking tape. The masking tape is so you don’t mess up your paint. The duct tape is because fancy tools don’t fix everything.
- Superglue and wood glue. Again, fancy tools don’t fix everything, and wood glue especially is a cinch for minor furniture repairs.
- Cordless drill. I don’t care if you’re only building Target furniture, you might find yourself in need of a drill.
- Pliers, especially needlenose. They’re just useful. Your fingers really aren’t that good at holding stuff in comparison.
- Wrench(es). Keep in stock a regular wrench and a set of allen wrenches if possible.
- Pair of work gloves. You will not need them often but you will be very grateful you have them when you do need them.
- Pencil. You do not have to keep this in your toolkit, but it’s honestly a lot easier if you do.
Next, tips and hacks to save you time and frustration:
- Measure twice, cut once. Or drill, or hammer, or whatever. You get the point. But if you’re careful and double check your work ahead of time, you aren’t as likely to be in a bind later finding out you did something incorrectly.
- Measure twice, purchase once. This is what sent me to Home Depot twice this week. I picked up new hinges for that kitchen cabinet without measuring what turned out to be a critical area (frame overlay, if you’re wondering) and then got home to find out it was too big. It wasn’t a big deal to swap them out the next day, but doing it right the first time is a lot better. This is also true when it comes to furniture! Do not buy an expensive piece of furniture only to find out it doesn’t fit in the space.
- On that note, you have a pencil. Use it. Mark where you’re going to hang or install something, where you need to drill or nail, etc. Then after you mark it, measure it again. If you messed up, erase and do over.
- READ THE INSTRUCTIONS BEFOREHAND. Yes, this one needs all caps. I am sometimes tempted to skip the instructions and “figure it out for myself.” Don’t. It’s dumb. Read them thoroughly and follow them so “oops” isn’t a common utterance.
- Help is not for the weak. If you haven’t tried, don’t ask for help. But if you tried and can’t do it, or if it’s something that poses any sort of physical risk, please ask for help. Two people is usually a lot safer than one. I’ve only partially fixed my cabinet because I know I’ll need someone else’s help for the last part. Nothing wrong with that.
- Pilot holes are your best friend. If you are screwing into literally anything, it needs to have pilot holes. These are the little holes Ikea puts in the furniture to show you where the screws go. You can also make them yourself with a drill, using a bit smaller than the screw. They are not optional. They make sure your screw seats properly, and keep you from accidentally splitting the wood.
- Count your parts before you start — and then don’t lose them. Make sure you have all the right pieces before you get halfway into a project, and place small items like nails, screws, washers, etc. into a dish or something where they will not run away from you.
- Don’t strip your screws. If you’re using the wrong size screwdriver, or not applying enough pressure when screwing something in, you can basically grind the fitting off the head of the screw, which makes tightening it or removing it nigh impossible.
- Know the right tool for the job. There is no shame in googling. Or asking your mom or dad or roommate.
- Be safe. Don’t screw around with sharp things or power tools, wear eye protection if you’re doing anything more intense than assembling furniture, and clean up your workspace. Responsible stuff.
A huge thanks to all four of my parents, my freshman woodshop teacher, and various other relatives and friends for making sure I can build and fix stuff.