Design & DIY

Essential tools for setting up your first workshop

essential workshop tools

With innovative new tools being released each year, shopping for your workshop can be overwhelming—especially when you’re starting from scratch. But there are some tools that no DIYer should live without. Whether you’re building a new dock or scratching some simple maintenance projects off your “honey-do list,” here are eight essential tools to stock your first workshop with.

Tape Measure

This one sounds like a no-brainer, but some people are actually impatient (or perhaps arrogant) enough to merely eyeball their projects. Having a tape measure on hand, and knowing how to read it, is absolutely essential for any construction project. Whether you’re cutting new boards for the deck or hanging a coat rack, your tape measure should always be close at hand—just make sure the tape is tight and level when you’re using it, otherwise it will be rendered useless.

Cordless Drill

This adaptable tool is designed to drill holes and drive screws, but those with keyless chucks will accept hole saws, rotary sanders, wire-wheel brushes, and other accessories, in addition to a multitude of round- and hex-shank drill bits and screw-driving bits. The possibilities are endless with this tool, but you’ll want to consider what you’ll be using it for most—and even how often—before deciding on specifics like voltage. More voltage equals more power, but it also leads to a heavier battery that can weigh down the drill.

Circular Saw

A circular saw is another incredibly versatile tool that no workshop should be without. These saws are typically lightweight, making them easy to carry from the deck to the boathouse, and can be used to cut a wide variety of materials. Although they’re often used for tasks like cutting framing lumber, given the right blade, they can also cut concrete forms, sheet goods, roofing, metal, masonry, and more.

Adjustable Wrench

If your new workshop is limited on space, or you don’t want to spend half your budget on a large collection of fixed wrenches, buying an adjustable wrench might be your best bet. Although an adjustable wrench won’t give you the same gripping strength that a fixed wrench will, it can do the work of multiple wrenches. Because they’re so adaptable, they can also be used on inch, metric, and Whitworth bolts, among others.

Hex Keys

In addition to an adjustable wrench, you’ll probably want a set of hex keys, also commonly known as Allen wrenches. And no, the small collection that made it into your kitchen junk drawer following a few frustrating IKEA builds won’t suffice. Get yourself a classic L-shaped set made from high-quality steel, with long or extended arms that allow you to reach into tight spaces. When it comes to size, you’ll want some in both SAE and metric. Unlike most other wrenches, which wrap around hex-head nuts, hex keys fit snugly inside the nut’s six-sided depression, making them perfect for the recessed nuts found in faucets, towel racks, and door knobs.


No household is without a hammer, which means that no workshop should be either. Just as you’ll find with wrenches and pliers, the number of hammers on the market are endless. Sure, you could fill your pegboard walls with options, but we’re willing to bet that you find yourself reaching for a traditional claw hammer the most. This basic carpenter’s tool comes in a range of sizes—from tack hammers that weigh just a few ounces to framing hammers designed to drive large nails—but a moderately-sized 16- to 20-ounce hammer is a good place to start.


Like the tape measure, a level is one of the simplest tools on the list, but it’s also one of the most essential. This tool is necessary any time you need to determine whether or not something is level or plumb, which will come up pretty quickly in nearly any project you undertake. The key element of a level is the very small plastic or glass tube that’s marked with two parallel lines and filled with clear liquid. The air bubble left inside will always rise to the highest point in the vial, which means if it’s properly aligned in the centre, you should never end up with off-kilter shelves, coat racks or cabinets.


Depending on the pair, pliers can help you with everything from fixing a bicycle to manipulating wires in confined, hard-to-reach places. It should come as no surprise, then, that pliers come in many shapes and sizes, which is why it’s probably worthwhile to stock your workshop with a few options. Experts will likely want wire strippers to help with electrical work, but a small collection that includes needle-nose pliers, combination pliers, and locking pliers should be enough to cover most people’s needs.

Screwdriver Set

A screwdriver’s simple design makes it the perfect tool for tightening kitchen and bathroom hardware, installing light switches, and even opening paint cans. But exactly which screwdriver you’ll need to complete the job isn’t so simple. At minimum, you’ll want your workshop equipped with a few different sizes of flatheads, Philips, and (because we’re in Canada) a Robertson or two, so it’s probably most cost-effective to invest in a mixed set. No matter how big your tool collection grows, you’ll always find yourself reaching for basic items like these.

Carpenter’s Square

Also known as a flat square, rafter square, builder’s square, or roofing square, a carpenter’s square is a must-have if you plan to do any framing at your cottage, including laying out and cutting roof rafters or stair stringers. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg—there are actually entire books dedicated to this indispensable tool and its many uses. Carpenter’s squares can be found in a few different sizes, so make sure you start with a standard model, which measures 16 by 24 inches.

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