“What tools do I need?” When I was learning how to finish a basement this was my first question.
You’re going to see a lot of tools here, don’t worry if you don’t know what they do or how they work. You don’t need to buy all of these at once. In fact I recommend that you only buy what you need and only about a week ahead of when you need it.
To that end I’ve broken up the list by basement finishing stage. This is basically the order in which I bought my tools except that you get the benefit of not having to run back to the store 4 times in one weekend (the polar bears thank you).
Basement Design Software – I haven’t personally used this software but I did some research and watched their product videos. It seems to have everything you would need and then some. It even has 3D view, furniture placement and some other cool designer features that will help you layout your basement spaces.
If you’re just doing the basement design, the “Essentials” package is all you should need. Buy it on Amazon.
Test Wall Tools
Power Saw – For cutting lumber and trim. I love my 10″ DeWalt but it would have been nice to get the extra reach. 6″ wide boards will not cut all the way through with a 10″ saw. No biggie, just flip it over, but still if you don’t have one yet go for 12″. Here’s a link to the newer version of what I still use today:
Drill – For just about everything. Driving screws, making holes. When you get to the electrical stage you will have to make a lot of 1″ holes through 2 x 4s so get something with power and with 2 batteries so when one dies, it will, you can just swap’em out and keep going. Absolutely do not get a corded drill and I would definitely spend the extra money to get the newer Litheon batteries.
Standard Tool Box Tools
- Tape Measure – 25 feet should do it. You want something that you can operate yourself so nothing to flimsy. You’ll use it extensively, anything under $10 is probably not worth it, over $20 and your likely paying for professional contractor quality – which you won’t need.
- Crow Bar – Sweet! You know you’ve always wanted one. Get a smallish one, you’re not working on the docks here. It’s for pulling out errant nails and for leverage while you lift or move walls (in some cases). You’ll mess up a lot, your crow bar is your friend.
- Framing Square – Get a big one. This will save you hours and hours of frustration. It ensures that your walls line up correctly so that the room is perfectly square. Your drywall and flooring companies will thank you.
- Speed Square – Super handy for marking cuts and getting in to corners where the big framing square can’t go. My only tip here would be to get one 7″ not the bigger 12″ as I carried mine around a lot in the pocket of my tool-belt.
- Regular Hammer – not much to add, just buy something middle of the road, if you don’t already have one.
- Rubber Mallet – Save your ears and lower the noise level in your house. A rubber mallet has a bigger striking head and a much lower noise volume, well worth the eight bucks.
- Clamps - If you’ve read my post on finishing your basement by yourself you know that clamps are essential, you can’t do it without them. I really like these Irwin fast clamps. They’ve held-up great, are inexpensive and are easy to use with one hand.
- Sledgehammer – For when you are close, but not close enough and it’s already nailed into the floor with concrete nails. No worries, you’ve got your sledgehammer. Ironically this blunt instrument is perfectly for making minute adjustments to things that are very heavy to move or complicated to undo. (also – awesome Peter Gabariel song/video)
Tools for Framing Walls
Air Compressor – You will need an air compressor strong enough to run your framing nailer but they are also really handy for a variety of other household tasks. Adding air to your car tires. Blowing up pool tools or anything that needs to be blown up. Power for your brad nailer (when you do the trim) and for a power stapler – which is awesome for crafts and furniture projects. I also use mine to blow out dust and grime from my lawnmower and porch lights. Again, a bit pricey, but worth it.
Framing Nailer – For nailing up your framing lumber. The vertical studs of your walls have to be nailed at the top and bottom at an angle without moving the position of stud. I tried this by hand and it’s close to impossible until you’ve had years of practice. A framing nailer is one of the pricier tools you’ll buy but you need it for months so renting is not financial feasible. Borrow one if you can. Or if you want to be a macho man like me, pick up your own.
Chalk Line – You will need this to mark lines on your basement floor so that you know where to place the bottom plate of your walls. You also will want to “snap a line” across the rafters (the long beams holding up the first floor of your house) so that you know exactly where the top plate goes.
Plumb Bob – This was one of the trickier tools for me to learn how to use properly, which is weird because it’s basically a pointed weight on a piece of string. Basically it’s used to transfer one exact point from the top of your wall to the bottom.
4′ Level – You may already have a level, but you need one that’s four feet or longer. They are used to determine if something is level or plumb, obviously, but they are also useful for measuring gaps across a set of studs. There are $10 levels and there are $100 levels, my opinion is that for renovating your basement you want to be in the $30-$40 dollar range for a 4 foot level.
Tools for Wiring a Basement
Wire Stripper – Double dipped comfort grip. MMMmmmm, double dip. This Klein wire stripping tool makes it easy to strip the sheathing off of your electrical wires. Make loops so you an attach wiring to terminal screws. Cut solid and stranded wiring.
Look for models that you can close or open with one hand as that’s often all you may have available. Super insulated for extra protection this a tool you’ll use all over the house.
Line Tester – Before you touch or cut an electrical wire you should touch it with a line tester to see if it’s “HOT”. That is, to see if there is electricity running through it. This is one tool you should always have with you if you’re going to be working on an outlet, a switch or any electrical device.
For less than $20 you get piece of mind and it might just save your life! Important features include, an audible alert when the line is hot, visual light when a line is hot, easy to replace batteries, auto shutoff and a clip so you can attach it to you shirt for easy access. These are really easy to learn to use. You just hold the button in and touch the wire with the point of the line tester. If the light goes off and you hear the audible alert that means there is electricity running through that wire, do not touch it!
Nice to Haves
Shop Vac – Renovating a basement is messy work. A shop vac can make cleaning it up fun. I use mine all the time, even after my basement was finished. Cleaning out the car, blowing leaves (this one has a blower) and sucking up spills. But, if budget is a concern – a good ‘ole broom also does the trick.
Impact Driver – (check out my full article on this tool) This was the most eye opening tool purchase I made. Impact drivers use an internal hammering mechanism to help you drive the screw in place, or loosen a stuck screw. This is very helpful for spots where you can’t get enough leverage using an ordinary drill, like if you’re leaning over the top step of a ladder and using your left hand.
Table Saw – I didn’t buy one of these until well into my basement project. I ended up needing it to trim down some doors and to cut some wainscoting for the bathroom. I think I also used it to cut sheet lumber for the sides of the built in shelves. The main link is for one in the $300 range but if you want one that has it’s own built in platform (like I did) you can go for the mac daddy table saw.
Basement Finishing Tools
Man, that does seem like a lot of tools, now that I’ve written them all down. But, it’s not as intimidating as at looks. Just go slow and steady. If you’re nervous about buying a tool I suggest going to Home Depot or Lowes a couple of times during the week and just look at them and read the boxes and ask questions.
If you want to check out all of the tools here and their reviews you can also visit the Amazon store for this site. I try to update the list with the latest versions as prices and functions change. All of the tools are recommended specifically for users like you and I who are not professional contractors but are undertaking a fairly big project like finishing a basement. That being said, most of these are pro level tools and should last a lifetime or more.
Why Amazon??? With Amazon Prime’s free shipping (highly recommended) you can get even the heaviest tools delivered straight to your door. The prices are usually better than at Home Depot or Lowes but be sure to shop around a bit. The image and link will give you a free trial.
FULL DISCLOSURE – I am an associate seller for Amazon. That means if you use these links to buy tools I get a small percentage of the price. This will be invisible to you and does not change the price in anyway. My product recommendations are not influenced by the commission. I have used most of these tools or their similar tools cousins on my own basement and home renovation projects.
If you are going to get tools I appreciate your support so that I can continue to expand this blog and share more great time and money saving tips with you! Plus, one day I’d like to put in a home theater and I can guarantee I’ll take pictures and videos and share the whole thing with you!
Cheers — Jason
Do you have a great tool or tool brand that you like? Please post a comment, I’d love to put something new on my wish list!