Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


What You Really Need in a First Toolkit!


If you are like me and turn to the World Wide Web for every answer, assembling a set of tools to tackle home improvement, gardening or painting can be a painful experience.  By the time I get through the lists of gear and contemplate shipping expenses it’s time for aspirin and glass of wine. But then I recall what it cost for a plumber to fix my dripping sink and a painter to cover the water-stained bathroom ceiling.  Time to “man up” and purchase the truly necessary so as to avoid looking incompetent and another $100 labor bill.

Where to begin?  Like all wise older children—I’m 54—I decided to start with Mom.  Mom has been around a while, lived on a farm, owned several houses and likes to putter in the garden.  Perfect, she should be a fount of wisdom when it comes to acquiring the proper equipment.

 My mother is an organized person, so I expected a lesson on a proper tool box to avoid losing gear or leaving it in the rain and mud.  Instead she suggested a large Tupperware storage box—preferably one with a lid, but, in the worst case, one which could be covered with a piece of cardboard so the neighbors would not see my clutter every time they walked into the garage for a beer.

Into this box I was instructed to toss:

  • Several rolls of duct tape.  As she put it, “Everything can be fixed with duct tape.”

  • A roll of blue paint tape.  “What duct tape won’t fix, paint tape will,” she admonished.

  • A ball of string.  “Why waste money on a tape measure when you can use string,” she continued.  “Plus, it’s good for fixing things duct tape won’t.”

  • Toothpaste.  “Fixes holes.”

  • One large hammer.  “The larger the better,” Mom warned. “Nothing works better on stubborn items than the largest hammer you can swing.”

  • Two screw drivers.  “One of those flat ones and a pointy one.”

  • Pliers.  “Just need one, bigger is better—can do anything from open beers to castrate goats with a large pair of pliers.”

  • Hacksaw. “That blade will cut wood and metal.”

  • Sharp serrated kitchen knife.  “Works on everything from pruning to cutting drywall.”

  • Electric drill with bits.  “Damn handy, even worked on the neighbor’s tires when he insisted in parking in my driveway.”

  • Three inch paint brush.  “Rollers are messy and who wants to clean paint trays, just don’t spill.”

  • Shovel, rake and hoe.  “Why would you waste money on those little hand tools when a shovel is available?”

wrote down the list and then asked about a ladder.  “Borrow one from neighbors, who wants a ladder cluttering up the garage?”  

“Anything else?” I inquired.

“A phone and your checkbook.  You’ll need them to have someone come clean up the mess and repair damages.”

Seems home improvement and do-it-yourself is a lot harder than the internet would lead you to believe.  Just ask Mom.


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.