A Butch’s Guide To Your First Toolkit

Feature image via Shutterstock

Do you hang photos, assemble furniture, have to battle your extremely old plumbing, hang curtain rods, fix your glasses or hang your TV on the wall? Have you been using a thick soled shoe to power that nail into your wall so you can hang the photo of you and your besties at the State Fair? Or a dime to screw in screws to assemble your dresser?

I’ve been there and done that. But there are many easier ways, queer cuties!

Even if you don’t find tools fun, your shoes and arm will appreciate you adding some basic tools in your home.

Look at these nifty things that require tools:

Before I explain the tools you should have in your personal tool kit, imagine you have driven to your nearest hardware store and you see rows and rows of pliers. How do you decide? The answer is simple: choose the one you like. Pick a tool up and feel it. You’re the one who’s going to use it. It the weight distribution isn’t right for your hand, then don’t get it. If it feels fragile or like it’s made of poor materials, skip it.

In general, I purchase Stanley, DeWalt, Craftsman, Kobalt, and Black & Decker. DeWalt and Black & Decker are especially dependable for power tools. Stanley, Craftsman, and Kobalt are the majority of my non-power tools.

These tools will get you through just about every basic home project might find yourself doing. In the photo examples above, I completed all but one with just these tools.

Essentials for An Independent Gal Pal’s First Tool Kit

1. Carpenter’s hammer

The hammer is the tool you will rely on to put nails, picture hangers, etc. into the walls in your home. It is also the tool you may choose to use to whack zombies. The reason you want the carpenter’s hammer is because the carpenter’s hammers come with the claw on the backside of the head that you can use to remove nails if you decide to move the photo to the left.

Stanley wood // Stanley 7 oz Fiberglass // Stanley 16 oz Fiberglass

If you are in the store, pick it up and feel it. You want a bit of heft, but not so much that you question whether you can swing it. 16oz is good starting hammer weight. 7oz will put your nails into drywall for photo hanging and build most IKEA pieces, but the moment you work with a full size nail or a 2”x4”, the 7oz won’t hold up as nicely. The cost difference isn’t huge and having a tool with more versatility is worth it.

2. Screwdriver with changeable bits

You don’t have to have a drawer full of different screwdrivers anymore. Now you can have one screwdriver base and simply change the bit you need to fit the screw. You want a set that includes your standard Phillips and a variety of lengths of straight heads (or flat head or slotted). Phillips is the x or + looking one. Flat heads come in varying sizes from 1/4″ – 5/16″ as well as bigger and smaller.

DeWault Multi Bit Set // Craftsman Complete Driver Set // Stanley Complete Driver Set // Stanley Multi Bit Set

After a few years of use, you’ll eventually want to upgrade to multi-piece standard screwdrivers, because these will last you longer. But for a first tool kit, interchangeable is hands down the way to go.

3. Hex Wrenches/Allen Wrenches

The silver tool that resembles an L shaped with 6 edges on the short end, aka that piece of metal that comes with every single Ikea product, is called an Allen wrench or a hex key. You will often need these tools for replacing parts on bikes and assembling build-your-own furniture (IKEA or otherwise). Another great thing, other than the helpfulness of your own set of hex keys, is they’re cheap! They cost notably less than other tools.

Target Durabilt //Tekton Dual Set // Tekton 3 Set

I personally own the Durabilt set and the trio of Tekton Allen Wrenches and I’ve used both for my bike, tightening bolts, and assembling my house of IKEA.

4. Tape measure

A tape measure is an absolute necessity. It will allow you to measure photos, new furniture, spaces to put furniture before rearranging the living, and so much more!

Etronic 12′ Magnetic // Trust 25′ Magnetic // Stanley 25′ Tape Measure

If you are looking at this swanky new bookshelf at Target or IKEA, you can measure your space and make sure it will fit. This will help you avoid that embarrassing moment after you build the whole bookshelf to learn that it is two inches too big for the space between your couch and table and you have to dismantle it and take it back to the always tired, never questioning guest service folks at Target.

5. Plunger

This isn’t going to go into that shiny tool box of yours, but you will thank Lesbian Jesus that you have one of these at the ready that day you take too big of a shit for your toilet.

Target combo plunger // Neiko plunger // Home Basics plunger

Plungers aren’t often categorized under Essential Too” lists, but they really should be. A) it’s definitely a tool and b) having it will absolutely make your life better. The alternative in the moment is to grab a plastic bag, turn it inside out, and well, let’s move on. You never have to think about that again now that you have your plunger!

Congratulations! You’ve picked up the first pieces of your very own tool kit. You can now instagram your cart full of tools and hashtag #adulting, because you are, indeed, #adulting.

Bonus Tools You’ll Need One Day


My pick: BLACK+DECKER LDX120C 20-Volt MAX Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill/Driver

Great for shelf hanging, putting screws in the wall (which hold better than nails), etc. Drills are required for the pot and pan hanging contraption above, for instance. The only reason they’re in the “Essentials” listing is because of cost. They average $40-80 for quality brands. With that said, my Black & Decker costs about $30. If you are looking at drills, read this guide first as it breaks down the different parts of a drill to consider before purchasing.


My picks: adjustable wrench or standard wrench

Bolts are a heavier duty piece of hardware that will hold two different pieces together. For instance, you see bolts in some nicer furniture, on cars, or on bigger appliances like a refrigerator.

Needle nose pliers

My pick: Kobalt Needle Nose Pliers

Needle nose will help you get through most every day things, working with soft metals, etc. There is a wide array of choices when it comes to pliers. There are several you may want to consider, eventually. Here’s a good guide to compare the different types & uses.

Tool Box

My pick: Craftsman 3-Drawer Metal Portable Chest Toolbox Red

Okay, technically not a tool, but it is incredibly helpful item. It pays off when you know exactly where to go to find the item you are in need of in that exact moment. Personally, I keep mine in my red craftsman under my desk in my bedroom (which is the one I linked to here).

Wire Cutter

My pick: Kobalt 4.5-in Pliers

Most wire cutters will cut your common metals and wires (electrical wiring, aluminum, copper, etc.) I often use spools of wire to fashion my own hooks for hanging things or to hang photos so my wire cutter comes in handy.

Did I forget a tool? Do you have a brand you love and stand by? Do you want to debate the most essential tools? Tell us in the comments! (And definitely tell me—I need more folks to talk tools with in my life!)

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Wynn has written 1 article for us.


    • I haven’t used Milwaukee yet, but I’m excited to know of another good brand! Thank you! Two of my main screwdrivers are ratcheting and it definitely makes a positive difference.

      Also, what a perfect Valentine’s day gift.:D

  1. Screw drivers with magnetic tips are essential. Also be sure to buy small precision tools because you never know when you need them. Zip ties too. Oh, and you can’t go wrong with having a decent socket wrench.

    I also have a small first aid kit in my tool box. You never know when you will have an accident and since your tool box will be at your side, go ahead and put some sort of small emergency kit. Buy some sort of work gloves too.

    • All of this is great advice. Plus if you wear the work gloves, your chances of needing the first aid kit drop significantly!

    • These are such great suggestions! I use small precision tools on my wood burner and glasses.

      I don’t actually own a first aid kit and I know that’s a mistake…

  2. My Pops outfitted a tool box for me for Christmas one year. It had most of what you suggest plus a socket set (metric and english), a level, a square, and an awl. Otherwise I think you got everything. We bought ourselves a drill about a year ago (Kobalt with a second battery pack) which was great for building our kids’ playhouse.

  3. My family has a tradition of giving a tool box with all the essentials as a HS graduation gift. One of the most useful tools included was a level, which has been so clutch while I’ve been decorating my home. Plus, they’re only like $3.

    • What a great tradition! My mom’s side has a tradition of gifting a tool box with essential tools for the child’s college graduation. My Dad’s side always stuck a tool (like a level or screwdriver) into your Christmas stocking. Definitely traditions I’ll carry on with my children.

  4. I think a level is also essential – the ones you can download as an app are notoriously off!

    If you’re trying to invest in being a handy person (because, let’s be real, femmes can also be handy AF), it’s nice to have a set of screws & nails of various lengths and widths at the ready.

    • So true!! Levels were on my list, then off, then on, and, truly, picking just a couple tools proved one of the most difficult moments of me life. Also, great suggestion on the set of screws & nails – it makes it so much easier to not have to head to Do It Best in the middle of a project.

      (Seconded: “femmes can also be handy AF”)

  5. I feel called out, like you can see the all the things currently being held together by tape, hope and rubber bands at my apartment.

    “Have you been using a thick soled shoe to power that nail into your wall… ”

    Actually, it’s a hockey puck.

  6. Vise-grip pliers! I use them more than wrenches honestly. They’re great for getting out stripped screws, nails with bad heads, and for tightening bolts where you have to hold the nut with one tool and turn the head with a different tool.

    Also, I’m a big fan of Ryobi. The battery powered tools are workhorses, and I’ve been using my set nearly constantly for about 2 years remodeling my home and haven’t burned out any of my batteries. Also, the impact drill (while a bit pricier than most drills) has changed my life.

    I am gradually moving away from Phillips head screws and switching to star bit screws. The heads don’t strip out nearly as easily and my bit grips them so much better! Also if you have flat head screws, just throw them in the trash.

    • Everything in this comment is true. I just discovered the star bit screws last Decrmber, and they are the radness.

    • Yes! To the impact driver. Also…square drive screws are easy and don’t strip like Philips

    • I second the recommendation of Ryobi’s battery-powered tools (specifically the green ones; the blue are generally less reliable). My impact driver has endured multiple 30’+ falls off of roofs and scaffolds and is _still_ completely functional. And a huge, resounding YES to star- and square-bit screws.

  7. I feel a very accomplished glow as I own every one of these and then some – except the plunger. But that’s because I live in a country with plumbing that works and I also feel very satisfied with that life choice.

    Although in true femme form, I keep all my non-power tools in a decorative suitcase in my living room. Because why not.

  8. When my partner and I moved in together, I bought us the Stanley 65-Piece took kit for about $40 on Amazon. It’s an awesome starter set and has been totally invaluable since we started putting together furniture and hanging things.

  9. I have all these! Adulting right on! I also keep a fake beard on my toolbox, remanent from a lumberjack costume.

  10. I agree with the other people who have suggested getting a ratcheting screwdriver instead. I got a set recently that has a screwdriver handle and a socket wrench handle, and a bunch of different sized sockets and screwdriver bits that fit. This can be super handy for screwing in screws in tight, small areas.

    I’m also a big fan of the Ryobi lithium battery powertools (my experiences with Black & Decker have not been good). They last a long time and recharge super fast, so if you get two batteries, you can charge one while you use the other. There are something like 20 different tools that use the same battery packs. So far I have two drills, a grinder, a circular saw, a miter saw, and hedge trimmers. So much easier than messing with cords!

    I would put pliers (one pair of needle nose, and one pair of snub nose) in the essentials column. I use those all the time, especially when camping.

    I like having the jack knife style Allen wrench set, but the plastic handled ones they sell at the big box hardware stores are useless, because they bend if you apply any serious torque on them. Better off to find an all metal one (I had to go on Amazon). I have one in metric sizes too, since some international furniture makers use those.

    Things I would add to this list are a tire pressure gauge (I like the digital ones for better accuracy), heavy duty scissors, duct tape, a small can of WD-40, and maybe a nice large pipe wrench (sometimes you need more leverage if you’re dealing with a rusty pipe).

    • Whoa, I’m definitely going to look for an all-metal Allen wrench set, I did not know such a thing existed!! Cool.

  11. Someone has already mentioned this above but when buying a drill look at impact drivers as well! It’s more expensive but you have to apply less pressure when driving in a screw and it saves your wrist being whipped (also smaller and weigh less). You would have to by a cheap drill to actually drill any pilot holes but so friggin worth it in my eyes.

    Also I think makita are better than dewatt but that’s a whole other argument ☺

      • I have worked in construction and remodel for 15 years and I’ve used DeWalt and Makita a lot. They, along with Rigid and Milwaukee are all roughly equal in terms of price and durability and are used by hard working contractors all over the place. There are differences in terms of features so everyone has their preference, Dewalt has all the extras I like while Makita makes you order bit holders separately for instance, but then Makita tools last just slightly longer. These brands are what I’d consider contractor’s tools, not the top, most expensive prestige tools but definitely not for hobbyists. Ryobi, Black & Decker and Craftsman are all much cheaper and less robust, but perfectly great for DIYers. :)

        • Oh and yes, impact drivers are universally loved these days and by far the most important and used tool on a jobsite. Can’t live without them!

          • As someone who frequently has to teach people who’ve never held a screw gun before how to use one I would avoid impacts for beginners it’s a recipe for stripping screws. Seconding the preference for Makita or DeWalt over Black and Decker.

  12. What, no beer bottle opener for when you’re done building something and want to admire your hard work while enjoying a cool beverage?

  13. Great piece Wynn! Maybe we should start a club for Straddlers who know how to fix things or are in the trades. We could offer help to anyone who has questions. :)

  14. I have the most fantastic drill – it’s Milwaukee and theres a little light right under where you put the drill bit that you can turn on. Honestly it’s been a total lifesaver when building anything where I need to get into the corner and can’t quite see (like bedframes, and also under desks). 150% recommended. I also use it to screw just about everything in cause…why not?

    Here’s a link (it’s a little more expensive than the others mentioned but SO worth it): https://www.amazon.com/Milwaukee-2606-22CT-M18-Drill-Driver/dp/B00GLEWR96/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491514674&sr=8-1&keywords=milwaukee+power+drill+with+light

  15. I’d get channel lock pliers before wrenches, personally. They may not do a wrench’s job quite as smoothly as a wrench does, but they’ll do it plus other things a wrench can’t do. And one pair of channel locks is adjustable through a wider range of sizes than one adjustable wrench.

    Apparently Channel Lock is actually a brand name, but I grew up calling them that even though ours weren’t that brand and I’m not sure what else to call them. Adjustable pliers?

  16. I’d also suggest (esp if you’re an outdoorsy person) a headlamp, machete, hatchet, and saw. Headlamps are useful for basically everything. Hatchets and saws are necessities for getting a fire started and keeping it going (also for taking branches/trees out of the way). The machete is good for clearing an unused trails of viny or brambley plants, and you’re probably not gonna use it a lot but when you need it you REALLY WANT TO HAVE IT.

  17. I suddenly feel super self-conscious about my full workshop including air compressor for my pneumatic tools. I have a problem.

    • Nope, you don’t have a problem … you have the right tools for the job! Nothing else counts.

  18. A spool of medium gauge wire … about the thickness of a wire coathanger … or a stash of wire coathangers. :)

  19. Wow! There’s nothing like tools to get the comments section in action.

    Hammers, Nothing marks you as a rookie more than showing up on a job site and with a wood or fiberglass/rubber handled hammer; Estwing claw hammer http://www.estwing.com/nh_claw_hammer.php is the only way to go, great balance and weight, perfect for driving nails, including the one on your thumb so be careful.

    Cordless drill: Get a good variable speed one, something that can also used as a power screwdriver or vis versa, trust me you wrist will be thankful. Better for your wrist to be sore doing something fun like screwing instead of driving screws.

  20. Little known fact, in 1995 Congress passed a law that said all parts made on any automobile sold in America must be in metric. So yeah, changing your battery requires a metric socket. But that doesn’t apply to houses. So guess what, its SAE for everything else.

    Oh and don’t forget a utility knife and a pair of tin snips.

  21. Sometimes a rubber-headed mallet can be helpful in assembling and firmly seating things you don’t want hammer marks on. Those “Metro” wire shelf units seen in commercial kitchens, etc. assemble in about 5 minutes with the help of a mallet, and hold some 300# a shelf. Also handy: box cutter with blades, pony clamps, sturdy leather gloves, knee pads or strip of foam, duct tape, “junk drawer box of assorted nails and screws”, rigid yard-stick or meter-stick or “T” bar with markings, “soft” or “hard” screw set juice (eg Loktite), graphite oil for keeping lock cylinders happy and rotating, ordinary oil,LED head-lamp, LED-on-a-flexible-gooseneck light, shims and furniture casters, electrical insulating tape, plastic drop-cloth,”stud finder” (nooooo, not THAT kind of stud, instead the “stud” metal nails marking the wood framing behind the drywall – hang really heavy objects off the wood frame and not the drywall), spackle, soft graphite pencil and chalk for marking, etc etc.

  22. This goes beyond “starter kit” status, but one helpful thing I decided to do is make tool boxes dedicated to specific activities. I have one for camping, and one for sprinkler repair. This way, I don’t have to pack and unpack a bunch of stuff I might need while camping or fixing a sprinkler (only to forget the thing I wind up needing most). I just grab the right toolbox and go. The downside is you have to buy redundant tools (ie you might have the same type of screwdriver in a few different spots).

  23. As a femme that loves power tools and woodworking, I’ve also repaired my grandmother’s furniture in heels and a skirt using a nail file, wood glue, and a rolled up copy of Cosmo magazine.

    (ouch to the article title)

  24. I received a pass-thru socket set and it was a gamechanger. Would also highly recommend ratcheting combo wrench sets- one SAE and one metric- makes everything so much simpler.

  25. Target is where I got my first tool kit, a nice Stanley set that has a level, a claw hammer, hardcore scissors, a tape measure, a set of Allen wrenches, and a screwdriver with interchangeable bits. It also has its own case and a lifetime warranty!

  26. You all should check out “Get Hands Dirty” on youtube for some maker/woodworker inspiration.

  27. This makes my baby butch heart so happy.

    I’d also recommend adding a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman multitool to the mix. Preferably one with a small saw. Of course the tools themselves can’t match their full-size counterparts, but they’re small enough that they’ll slip into a pocket or bag when you’re out. Then you get to be your girlfriend’s knight in shining armour when they need a bottle opener/break a nail/can’t open a package etc.

  28. Love this! I’m a theater director and my future wife is my technical director, so we are always building weird things. Love this!!!

  29. I have to thank my non-queer but very independent grandmother for me being equipped with most of these. She fixed so many things herself in her house. There’s nothing like mounting your own bike rack on a wall with your own power drill.

  30. a level is necessary for hanging things if you get angsty about things not sitting at right angles like i do.
    also, a putty knife (metal, not plastic) is great for getting stuff off the bottom of your shoes, filling in holes from hanging things in your apartment before you move out so you can get your deposit back, scraping nazi stickers off of public surfaces, etc.

  31. I think I suggested this content in the A+ priority box once so I AM SO PLEASED WITH THIS POST AND THE RESULTING COMMENTS.

    I have always borrowed other people’s tools (mostly my dad’s) and (especially once I moved away from my dad) realized that I should have my own at some point.

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