Recommended Hand Tools

This page is laid out to show you the products I highly recommend for you and your own personal use.

This page is not designed to try and sell you anything, merely a referral to things I have tested out personally and have found to work.

With just over three years in the trades as a plumbers apprentice, I can safely say that this list of tools will not only do the job, but will last you a long time and be able to stand up to just about any kind of treatment you throw it’s way.

Channel Lock Pliers

As I mentioned up above, the number one tool to have in your arsenal is the almighty channel lock pliers (link to Amazon). The reason they reign supreme, is simply because they can be used for a variety of different tasks both plumbing and non-plumbing related.

They have jagged teeth to provide you with grip, as well as an easy adjust setting. If you have the handles of the pliers open or apart from each other, you will be able to slide the jaws either further apart or closer together making for grabbing onto different size nuts and bolts a breeze.

The tool comes in different sizes, but I recommend the 9 1/2″ ones as they will be able to accomplish most of the tasks you’re going to face. The length is also ideal because it’s just long enough for you to reach certain tricky spots, such as the nut that’s needed to tighten your faucet under your sink.

Don’t be swayed by fancy designs and cool looking colors, these pliers are all you’ll ever need. The list price (at the time I’m posting this) is on sale for 12$, with regular price being 20$.

There are pliers out there that can cost upwards of 40-50$ and I’ve seen some even go higher. You will never need to spend more than 20$. I have had a pair for over 4 years now, that has been through 40 hour work weeks and have never needed to be replaced.

*Note – A key thing I should point out when purchasing a pair of pliers is to try and avoid buying ones attached via bolts. The pliers I have linked above are riveted together. The ones you can buy with bolts holding them together tend to loosen over time, and will wear out, meaning you will always be having to tighten them up. When you’re working on a job, you want your tools to be working for you, not the other way around.

Basin Wrench

Are you working on installing a faucet? Or just trying to take your faucet out to have a look at it? This is the absolute tool you need to for the job.

Pliers CAN work on some faucets, but the basin wrench allows you to take on the task with a lot more ease. These wrenches often come as extendable leaving you to work in the tightest of areas to reach.

The wrench works by allowing you to gain leverage from below the sink with the use of a sliding rod. If you have never installed a faucet before, the space in between the sink and the wall can be narrow, and will leave you with a very limited range of motion.

Level

The level is another important tool to have, just like the pliers it has a straight, compact design which makes for easy storage. Levels can be quite inexpensive to have as well, again you really shouldn’t need to have anything over and above 20$.

The level is a pretty straight forward product; It helps you to level things. If you plan on fixing the drains, or repairing pipes, a level will ensure you have the correct amount of slope required for proper drainage (usually 1/4″ per foot for smaller around the house jobs) it will also ensure that your piping is installed in a straight manor, or as the pros like to call it “plumb”.

There was a case I heard of, of a “waterfall” faucet where because it was actually perfectly level, water would pool up in the spout after each use. The pooling would eventually start to cause some molding to occur, and if you have hard water, the minerals would just get caked onto the faucet because it never had a chance to try up. So, another good use for a level.

How to use the level:

When looking at the level, there are usually three different bubbles. The bubbles are used for leveling at different angles.

  • The Horizontal bubble – Used for leveling on the vertical plane (straight up and down). This is one you would use for your drainage pipes, or things like your counter top to make sure it’s level.
  • The Vertical bubble – Used for leveling on a horizontal plane. This is the one you would use if you wanted to check for things like slope on your drainage.
  • The Angled bubble – This one is for getting a perfect level on a 45 degree angle.

The best levels will also have a few key features on them to make life a lot easier. One of them is the magnetic feature. The ability to be able to read a measurement while having your hands free to hold other tools is killer.

The other feature is the 1/8″ measurement scheme you can find marked on your level’s bubble, this will really help for determining exactly what angle you should place something at, again great for your drainage pipes under the sink. This is why I highly recommend you get this level over others.

Tape Measure

The next of your must have list of tools to have is the ever handy and useful tape measure. The tape measure is a staple in everyone’s tool box because of the sheer multitude of different uses you can get out of it. A true top hand tools list would not be complete without this, which is why I feel it deserves a mention.

This is the tape measure I recommend, which is purchasable on Amazon. The Stanley Fat Max is a tape that I carried around with me during my time in the trades, and literally only needed to be replaced once in a 3 year time span, of continuous day in day out heavy use.

If you don’t have one already, it is better to purchase something that is a little big longer in length, so you can use it for tasks even outside of your plumbing projects. It cuts out the need to buy a 2nd or even a 3rd down the road, when one solid one will do just fine.

Pipe Cutters

Depending on the type of project you’re wanting to tackle, there are different pipe cutters you will need. (Always call a plumber first if you’re unsure about if or how to do anything)

My favorite are these PEX cutters, which can be used if the piping your home is run in the PEX material (A type of plastic). These are the exact ones I used in the trades (Though they were black not red) and they also lasted me the entirety of 3 years WITHOUT needing to be replaced (just a resharpening every couple of months for heavier use).

If your house is run in copper, grab yourself a pair of these cutters. The reason I like these a lot is because they allow you to get into those tight spaces that you’re going to need to get into. There are arrows on the tool to show you which direction you should be turning in as well. Most water piping in your house will be 1/2″ – 3/4″ in diameter.

Plumbing is usually designed with the mindset of keeping things out of the way, that’s why most of the plumbing through out your house is virtually unnoticeable (or should be at least), so to have a tool that allows you into a tight space to accomplish a task is very valuable. For example, under your sink you’ll notice that your pipes are close together, and in a lot of cases close to the back of the wall.

You can also grab this pair of cutters if you’re planning on doing some larger projects involving copper. Where the set mentioned above is great for tight spaces, this pair is better to use if you actually have space.

PEX Crimping Tool

Only useful if your pipes are PEX. PEX utilize a different style of fastening onto their fittings, that involves a copper or brass ring. The brass ring fits over top of the pipe, while the fitting fits snuggly inside.

Once aligned, the crimping can be used to cover the ring/pipe/fitting assembly and with the force of squeezing the handles together, the ring will shrink in size creating the water tight seal.

These are the ones I used, and they were a lot more expensive when I bought them a few years back, which I am kind’ve upset about, but I can put that past me for now. For some reason the “red” pair is a few dollars cheaper than the “blue” pair on Amazon. Interesting.

Silicone Gun

Now unless you’re in an absolute pickle, and need to use the bottom end of a hammer (which I don’t recommend, very difficult) you will need to grab a silicone gun to help facilitate you with your silicone needs. There isn’t really much to say about these, they all work well, so if you decide to go with another product, that’s cheaper or a different color you can’t go wrong.

*Note most silicone bottles will be in the 10 oz range, and size around 10 -12″ in length.

Allen Keys

If you’ve ever wondered about the inside workings of your faucet, and how to replace the cartridge, or about changing out your outdated tub spout, you probably have wondered also how the hell you take these apart. That’s where the Allen key (link to Amazon) comes in to play.

Usually in a hexagonal pattern, and also referred to as Hex Keys, these long L shaped tools can be used to tighten or loosen special screws called “set screws” that are needed in finer areas (for aesthetics) or smaller spots where a giant screw will just be overkill. They work in the same way a screw driver would, but just for a more specialized use.

Some examples of Allen key applications:

  • Tub Spouts
  • Faucets
  • Shower handles

Screw Drivers

The underside of the faucet sometimes has a tightening design feature that involves the use of a screw driver after screwing a nut onto a bolt, for additional tightening. Your shower handle base plate also has screws holding them in place via being screwed into your shower control.

Screw drivers are also a staple in the tool box to have, because of the different applications they can also be used in. The reason I mention getting a specific tool or set of tools is because the application is not only handy in the plumbing world, but in multiple other ones as well.

Certain tools can simply just be good to have period. If you buy it for the use of a plumbing project, great, you now have a solid tool that you can use later on the road for when you have another project.

There are two options when it comes to screwdrivers, and both can serve you well. There’s the multi-screw driver that allows you to have one handle, with the ability to fit many different driver heads onto it or just a full set of screw drivers.

My personal recommendation is to get the multi-screw driver if you are looking into fixing/installing a couple of things, every so often and won’t need it for a variety of different things. You will more than likely run into the right size for the task at hand with this screw driver.

This screw driver is great because it comes with 9 different shapes for different screw types, has a ratchet setting built in (so you virtually never need to take the driver head out of the hole of the screw) and is magnetized which is REALLY REALLY helpful. I don’t know how many times I have dropped a driver bit on my own head because the tool I was using wasn’t magnetized.

Tub Key

Does this allow you to unlock your tub? Does it open up some sort of secret door you didn’t know your tub had? No. The tub key is simply a tool for the tubs drain. If you plan on installing a tub in a DIY project, a tub key can be a great tool to have.

The tool is designed so 4 ridges stick out at the end, allowing you to stick it into the drain, that usually has the cross configuration (4 holes). Pliers can be a tub keys best friend, as tightening or loosening the drain can be tough.

Albeit, this is a more difficult task to accomplish, requiring the use of hands on both sides of the tub, possibly even requiring a second person, so I recommend this tool only if you’re serious about installing a tub yourself.

Drywall Saw

Handy tool to have even for small projects. I found myself using this on the job site quite a few times. Whether you have a small leak somewhere, that you can cut out a 12″ x 12″ square to see what’s going on, or you need access to the plumbing behind the wall under your sink to reconfigure your drain, or move some piping over, a drywall saw is a great addition to your tool family.

A great tool to pair with the drywall saw, is an exacto knife. If you’re worried about the appearance of your cut, a level and an exacto knife can help you pre cut some perfect lines, making it easier and smoother for your saw to come in and finish the job, the level will also keep things perpendicular with the ground.