I’m in no way a professional handyperson nor would I even claim to be “good at fixing things.” I’m just a frugal fellow who doesn’t like to rely on others to address the basic household bugaboo. [She’s also a TV writer, responsible for Love on Netflix, and host of “Filling The Void,” a podcast about hobbies.] Maybe it’s the punk DIY-er in me, or maybe I inherited my grandfather’s deep belief that everyone was trying to rip him off. Either way, I don’t really know how to use tools properly, and after perusing this guide, you won’t either. But at least you won’t be scared to try.
I used to think that power drills were for serious tool people, a.k.a. men.
Then I moved to L.A. My roommate at the time, a blonde wisp of a thing who brushed her teeth with Dr. Bronner’s and drank chicken broth before it was a thing, changed my opinion on this after witnessing my clumsy attempt to hang curtain rods (I was trying to do it with a screwdriver). She went to her room, got her drill, and quickly got the job done. That’s when I found out that you don’t have to be strong or own paint-spattered Carhartts to use a power tool. All you have to do is watch a friend use it first. And if you have no friends, watch a YouTube video. Some of my best friends are YouTubes. And some of them are drills. There are cheaper ones and pink-er ones, but I’m a DeWalt girl, mainly because I think it sounds and looks the toughest.
Here’s a cute little lightweight hammer.
I like to hang things on my walls. Ideally, I could always just use a thumbtack, but as we all know, thumbtacks aren’t as great as they think they are. Instead, tap some very thin nails into the wall with this really light hammer and — voilà — you have a sturdy spot to hang a necklace!
And here’s a heavier hammer.
With a more weighty hammer, you can go to town on tougher-to-penetrate surfaces like hardwood. Fun fact: Need more holes in that too-small leather belt? Use a hammer and a nail. You are now a certified cobbler.
What looks better: One random screwdriver lying on your desk or this delightful little kit placed on a bookshelf?
I find myself reaching for this collection more often than I do just one regular screwdriver because it’s easier to store and more pleasing to the eye. If you’re asking, “When will I need a screwdriver, much less one with eight different tips?” My answer is “I don’t know. I’m not you.” But even for the once-in-a-blue-moon, rarest of occasions in which you do need a screwdriver, no other tool will suffice. That’s what I love about tools in general but specifically the Phillips-head screwdriver. Some other tools you can sort of work your way around not having (No hammer? Use a hard shoe. No flat-head screwdriver? Use a coin!), but if a regular old cross-top screw is the problem, the Phillips-head is the solution. Plus, this kit is inexpensive. I got mine at Daiso, but you can also find it at most hardware stores.
Personally, I enjoy owning anything that involves the word hex.
Hex keys are meant for screws with hexagonal sockets. Ikea uses hexagonal screws, and so do lots of other brands, like World Market, so it’s good to have one of these around along with a screwdriver.
The rumors are true: I’m a scissors whore.
Scissors are my most-often-used tool, and I need to have a pair in every room. There are many I enjoy using for different reasons (long sharp ones for cutting T-shirts into tank tops, long semi-dull ones for wrapping paper), but my Karen Kays are multi-genre. They’re small enough for any detailed work you’ve got going on (collage, textile art, sewing) and sharp enough to cut the hem of your jeans. One thing you won’t want to cut with these is anything metal. That will damage the blade immediately and you’ll have to toss them. If you need to cut paper clips, soda cans, wires — i.e., anything made of metal — use Mr. Pen wire cutters ($6).
What else have you been opening your Amazon packages with — keys? Amateur hour much? Enter the box cutter.
What are pliers even for? No one really knows, yet I find myself reaching for mine almost daily.
My brain likes to think of pliers as a less precious pair of tweezers. (I also have an actual less precious pair of tweezers I use and refer to them as my “precious pliers.”) Pliers are the perfect tool for all the things for which there is no perfect tool. For example, if you need to get a Jibbitz out of a Croc and don’t feel like crying? Pliers. Or if the little poke-y wires fall out of an old speaker and you can’t fit them back in because now they’re all bent and frayed? Pliers. Or if your daughter is sad because the spoke of her Calico Critters dollhouse bike came off and you want to fix it without getting E6000 glue on your fingers? Pliers! You can glue with one hand and use pliers to hold the object. These Dykes needle-noses will do the job.
An intense flashlight is good to have.
When I lived on the Lower East Side, I was never in fear of a home invasion. Maybe it’s because NYC sort of feels like one giant house and if you scream at the top of your lungs, it’s a guarantee that at least 55 people will hear it. Or maybe it’s just because I lived there in my 20s. Regardless, as soon as I moved to L.A., I was suddenly terrified of everything. At night, if I’m walking my dog and there’s someone else on the street, they’re automatically a member of the “new” Manson Family. A baseball bat next to my pillow seemed like a great call until someone told me that it’s easy for an intruder to just grab the bat and use it against you. Then my friend Glen told me about the Anker. Its beam is military-grade hard-core, so when you point it at Sadie Atkins, it will essentially blind her, giving you enough time to both call 911 and kick her in the stomach. Also, it has a bright SOS pulse light that is impossible to ignore (good for if you’re getting Funny Games’d).
Invest in a steel box.
Did you know that house fires can start from incorrectly storing or discarding oily rags? If you thought you could just throw out that towel covered in (leather, furniture, wood, or bacon) grease, think again! My neighbor’s house burned down because she was adding stain to her outdoor shower and threw an oily rag in the garbage can, which then spontaneously combusted. Luckily, no one was home, but considering my level of (un)employment, I’m not sure I’d be so lucky. I have two steel boxes for just this purpose: One is a medium-size toolbox; the other is my husband’s childhood He-Man lunch box. They’re where I put anything that says CAUTION: HIGHLY FLAMMABLE on the label (wood finish, Odie’s Oil, Boos Block Mystery Oil, paint mediums) along with a few rags I end up reusing. Ideally, these metal boxes would be stored in an outdoor shed, but we don’t have one of those.
And some adhesives to hold you down.
Once you’ve purchased a hot-glue gun, there’s no going back. Welcome to my world — a world in which holidays are no longer reasons for family get-togethers but opportunities to showcase your Halloween wreath with real candy attached! Never heard of a Hanukkah bush? Neither had I until I walked out of a Jo-Ann’s armed with a hot-glue gun and a dozen sacks of candy gelt. With hot glue, you can stick anything on anything. Ever think your kids’ old puzzle pieces would make great refrigerator magnets? You thought right. The only things I wouldn’t use hot glue for: plastic on plastic (it could melt) or anything too delicate.
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