Most people, even the least “handy” of us, own a few tools. Even if you can’t hammer a nail, chances are, you have a hammer. But is it the right hammer for you? Over my many years as a remodeling contractor, a lot of my clients have asked me advice about which tools they should own, or they watched me work and commented, “Hey, that’s pretty neat! I should get one of those!”
In my opinion, the keys to building a good collection of tools are:
1. Maintain your tools well and don’t abuse them: Even the best tools won’t perform well if they are dirty or rusty. Also, don’t use a chisel to open a paint can! Don’t use a screwdriver as a crowbar!
2. Buy the best quality you can afford: Can’t afford a decent tool? Try to borrow or rent one. Cheap tools are a waste of money and dangerous to use. Good tools are worth saving up for!
3. Don’t loan out your tools: Okay, this may sound a bit harsh, but let me explain. If a friend or a family member does not have experience with a tool, bad things happen. They can damage your expensive equipment and your relationship, or worse, hurt themselves. I’ve found over the years that it is just cheaper and safer for me to explain that I don’t loan out my expensive tools, but I’m happy to come over and show them how to use it. It’s just easier in the long run than having to repair tools and friendships!
Maybe you are moving into your first apartment or buying your first home, maybe you are still in school but enjoy building things in your home shop, or maybe you are a parent and want to start your kid off right with a few good tools of their own. Check out this list of carpentry tools to get started on the right foot.
First things first. You need to measure, and it needs to be accurate. Grab yourself a good quality tape measure. A Stanley 25’ Powerlock will do everything you need. There are other good brands like Lufkin, but just make sure you don’t buy a flimsy no-name tape measure. You won’t be happy with it.
A Versatile Hammer
As the old saying goes “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you have one hammer, make sure it is a good, 12-16 ounce claw hammer. Don’t buy a tiny tack hammer or a giant framing hammer. You want something that will pound a finish nail or a garden stake reasonably well. I like the Estwing hammers as a starter–the steel shaft takes way more abuse than a wood or fiberglass shaft.
4/5/6 Way Screwdriver
Having separate screwdrivers is great, but it is seriously handy to have one of the multi-tipped units (I recommend Klein). They really save space in your toolbox or tool belt.
A good set of lineman’s pliers will pinch, bend, or cut all kinds of wire and metal, including nails and screws. The new generation of compound-action pliers have even more cutting strength.
Owning a couple of adjustable wrenches is essential, and DeWalt wrenches are great products. So many people make the mistake of trying to remove a nut with pliers or vice grips, and this can end up really ugly. If used properly, you are much less likely to strip a nut by using a wrench.
Double-Edged Pull Saw
A lot of people struggle with handsaws, and get discouraged. They may be reluctant to own a power saw because they just don’t need it that often. Enter the Japanese-Style pull saw, like this one by DeWalt. They are precise, easy to use, versatile, and compact.
If you want it to look good and fit right, it needs to be square. Whether you are cutting a 2X4 for a stud wall or framing a picture, it is essential that you have a good, accurate square (I recommend this one by Empire) to mark and test your cuts.
If you are hanging a picture, putting up a shelf, building a deck, or running plumbing pipe, you are going to need a level. Remember, the longer it is, the more accurate it will be, so don’t try to build a garage with a torpedo level. A high-quality 2’ level is a good choice if you only have one.
Moving Up to Power Tools
Making the decision to buy your first power tools can be exciting. These are my recommendations for the two best carpentry power tools on the market.
Everyone loves the cordless drill. People who don’t own a hammer own a cordless drill! Yes, it probably should be your first power tool, and you can get a very nice “pro-sumer” quality 18V drill, like this one by Rigid, with battery and charger for right around $100.
A circular saw is my go-to tool, and this Makita saw is excellent. At first glance, it is loud, it is dangerous, and it does only one thing- cut wood. But, if you know the right tricks and tips and have a variety of blades, you can cut wood, metal, plastic, and ceramic materials. Add a cutting guide, and you can build a bookcase precisely without a wood shop.
Beyond these two basic power tools, everything else is optional. I’ve built cottages with only these two power tools! But, if you are getting serious about your DIY projects, there are a couple of other good power tools to consider. I’ll explore these in future articles.