So you just read my article about which 5 hand tools you should start your DIY toolkit with and you thought “Ya, okay, that’s fine and all, but I need more!”. You aren’t a DIY newbie, you’re basically a pro, and you need some more power. Alright I got you.
It’s time to talk power tools. Power tools are great because they allow you to get a lot more done in a limited amount of time. Let’s face it, life is short, do you really want to spend your limited time here on earth screwing something in by hand?! I didn’t think so.
So grab yourself some power tools and let that wonder of modern society, better known as electricity, do the heavy lifting for you. If you’re serious about building out your DIY toolkit these are the 5 tools I would start with. In my experience they are the 5 tools I use the most often and are the most versatile.
- Cordless Drill
If you only buy 1 tool on this list, make it a cordless drill. Unless of course you already own one, in which case, don’t do that and move onto #2. If you’re a home owner, renter, DIY enthusiast or just a someone who occasionally has to hang a shelf or two, you need to have a cordless drill.First off, they are great for drilling. That’s their primary use, hence the name. Just throw a properly sized drill bit into the toolless chuck and turn whatever it is you’re working on into swiss cheese. After that why not use the same cordless drill to fasten down some screws. That’s right, remove the drill bit and insert screwdriver bit and you’re off to the races. After that you might want to mix up some plaster to patch some holes in your wall. You could mix it by hand, or you could throw a paint mixer into your drill and use that instead to get the job done in a quarter of the time. Same goes for tile mortar! It really is a fantastic tool that can be used in dozen of different applications.
When you’re buying your first cordless drill try and find one that has a variable clutch. A variable clutch allows you to adjust the maximum amount of torque (rotation force) the drill will apply. Note that this is not the same thing as a variable speed drill. Most people don’t know this but as you increase the speed of a drill it actually applies less torque and vice versa. The clutch setting is usually found near the toolless chuck on the drill and ranges from 1 to 20. This can help you avoid over tightening screws and snapping fasteners. Another nice to have feature is a hammer drill setting, though you can usually only find it on higher end heavy duty drills. The hammer drill setting allows you to drill through harder materials, like concrete, brick or tile, provided you have the right drill bit. Which means you can do things like mount a towel bar to your tile wall or drill a hole through a brick wall so you can run wires outside.
I’ve attached a couple of links for some of my favorite cordless drills. I’ve included some different prices points to accommodate a range of budgets.
Budget: Tacklife 12V Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill
Mid-Range: Dewalt DCD710S2
Best: Dewalt DVD996P2
- Miter Saw
The miter saw is the workhorse of any wood shop. It makes straight line cuts on wood and other soft materials effortlessly. Simply place the material you want to cut onto it’s surface, pull the trigger, and lower the blade down. If you’re cutting a bunch of lumber for a picnic table or cutting some new trim to install in your living room you’ll want to have a miter saw on hand.With a good sharp blade you’ll get super clean cuts. Cuts that would’ve taken minutes with a hand saw take seconds on a miter saw. I can’t overstate what a time saver the miter saw is.A good miter saw will have a rotating base that allows you to make cuts at different angles. Typically anything between 0 and 45 degrees. An even better miter saw will have a sliding blade that allows you to cut wider materials. The best miter saws allow you to cut multiple angles at once by angling the blade and the base. The best miter saws are called compound miter saws.
For reference the miter saw I pictured here is not sliding.
I’ve compiled a list of my favorite miter saws here. Again I tried to hit a few different prices points to accommodate your budget:
So, you’ve got your miter saw for simple, short, straight cuts, but what about if you need to cut a long sweeping arc? Or what about if you need to make a really long cut in a sheet of plywood? You might need a jigsaw. The jigsaw lets you cut complex shapes with its vertical cutting blade. Just push it in the direction that you want it to cut and it will happily chew through just about anything you put in front of it.It can make many of the same cuts you might use a circular saw for, or a band saw, or even a table saw. True, it may be an inferior substitute to some of those other saws in certain situation, but its versatility makes the jig saw a great starting point for any DIYer. Once you find yourself reaching the limitations of a jigsaw then you can start thinking about adding a circular saw or a band saw to your workshop. Jig saws are very lightweight and portable too. Meaning you can bring a jig saw to the job instead of bringing the job to the table saw or band saw.
I actually thought about putting a circular saw in the #3 position on this list, but it just isn’t as versatile. True the circular saw is a faster cutting saw, but due to the shape and size of it’s blade you can’t make anything other than straight cuts.
- Random Orbital Sander
Part of any good wood working or DIY project is finishing. Once you’ve got the rough work out of the way it’s time to polish that project. Grab your random orbital sander and get to work! Oh, right, you don’t have one yet.The random orbital sander uses interchangable sanding pads to remove the top layer of whatever surface you apply it to. The rougher the sanding pads you use, the faster and more aggressively it will cut through whatever surface you apply it to.
It’s great for smoothing rough surfaces. Use a rough sanding pad and you’ll make short work of any high spots or loose splinters. Once you’ve got the the big stuff taken care of switch over to a finer grit sanding pad and you can start polishing the surface. Use a high enough grit of sanding pad and you can make just about any surface smooth as glass. A good sanding job can make the difference between an amateur and professional finish.
Sanding between coats of paint, or clear coats, is a great way to improve the final product. In many cases it’s also very important to sand something BEFORE you paint or clear coat it to insure proper adhesion of your finishing product. I also frequently find myself using my random orbital sander to gently round sharp corners on pieces of wood. I call it the poor mans trim router. Again the sheer versatility of this tool is what landed it on this list. I use mine on just about every project I’ve ever done.
When purchasing a random orbital sander look for a sander that has a good dust collection system. Sanders make a ton of dust and the more of it that can be collected in a bag and not thrown into the air the better. A variable speed control is also another nice to have feature.
- Brad NailerScrews are great. I use them a lot in my projects as you may have seen. I’m not afraid to let them show. That look isn’t for everyone though. Some people prefer clean designs with no exposed fasteners. The brad nailer is a great way to achieve that look without a lot of skill.
A brad nailer fires tiny nails, with very low profile heads, that can easily be covered up. A quick dab of filler and the nail head disappears. Generally speaking they fire nails that are between 1/2″ and 2 1/2″ long. Perfect for small to medium sized furniture builds. Also great around the house for installing trim work, some types of flooring and thresholds.
Sure you can nail things together by hand, but have you ever put together any Ikea furniture that requires something to be nailed in place? You know, those bookcases with that thin backboard that needs to be install with 50 nails. Remember how much of a pain in the ass that was and how long it took you? That same job with a proper nail gun might only take you 30 seconds.
The only complication with a brad nailer is that you’re going to need to also have a compressor to go with it. Most brad nailers are pneumatic. Meaning they used compressed air to operate. There are electric brad nailers that don’t require a separate compressor, but I haven’t had a lot of luck using them (let me know if you know of any good ones!).
A compressor is a separate investment and really could be a 6th item on this list. They are great tools that open up a world of new options to you as a DIYer.
So that’s my list. If you’re looking to get serious about DIY and you want to put together a collection of power tools this list is the best place to start. These tools will allow you to do MANY different projects and really get a feel for what it means to be a DIYer. As you grow and learn new skills you’ll probably want to add more tools to your collection, but even with decades of experience I still find myself using these 5 tools ALL THE TIME. These are tools you will buy and continue to use, you won’t out grow them in 6 months time as you buy even more tools.