Top 10 Power tools for the Home Owner / DIY’er

Time for another “Top 10” list!

It has been said that half the difference between  the pros and the amateurs is having the right tools for the job. I tend to think it is more than half the difference, but one thing is for sure. Having the right tools for the job makes the project easier, faster and a lot more enjoyable.

In keeping with the homeowner / DIY theme from the last list, this list is the top 10 Power tools for the home owner or DIY enthusiast. Again, this is from my personal experience and these appear in no particular order.

  • Cordless Drill/ Driver – This is easily the most frequently reached for power tool in my collection. There are literally dozens of different companies manufacturing battery tools these days and in general, the more you pay for the tool, the better the quality. There are, however some pretty good values on the market for the home owner who does not intend to use the tool for your livelihood all day every day. I have had or used tools from Craftsman, Dewalt, Milwaukee, Hilti, Porter Cable, Makita, Bosch, and Skil. There have been complete articles written on the merits and strengths of different brands and offerings, so I won’t spend a lot of time in talking about the individual brands or models, but one thing is for sure, it will be one of the most used tools in your arsenal.
  • Circular Saw (Skilsaw) – For rough framing projects, cutting sheet goods like plywood, and just general cutting use, it is hard to beat a corded circular saw. The one I have been using for the last 10 years was a bottom of the line model from Skil. It appears to me that there is a reason why many people refer to this tool by that manufacturer’s name. Try as I may to burn that saw up, I haven’t been able to kill it. It is lacking some of the more advanced features of some models, but for a bare bones basic saw, it just keeps cutting.
  • Compound Miter Saw – This one is one that sneaked up on me. For years I didn’t have a power miter saw. I cut or coped moldings by hand and used the circular saw for cutting dimensional lumber to length. I never would have though I would use this tool as much as I do. For cutting moldings to length it can’t be beat, but I use it more for cutting 2×4’s and dimensional lumber to length for framing projects than anything. It makes a nice square, clean cut every time and it does it much more quickly than by any other means. The model I have, is once again an inexpensive, basic model from Delta, but it serves its purpose without having the lasers and more advanced features of some other models. If one thing should be kept in mind, I would suggest that a 10″ blade be a minimum size for general use. Smaller models, just don’t have the capacity to cut larger framing materials.
  • Reciprocating saw – I am not talking about a handheld jigsaw, but a larger tool such as is known by Milwaukee’s model name “Sawzall”. This is another one of those tools that is a true jack of all trades. For demolition, remodeling, cutting metal stock, even the occasional automotive project this tool is versatile and has proven an invaluable addition to my tool collection. The model I have is in fact a Milwaukee corded model and it sees a fair amount of usage. With a little practice and a steady hand, clean straight cuts are achievable with this tool. I would stick with a corded model for general use as the battery powered models typically don’t last long enough for more difficult tasks. The battery models are handy for a quick cut here and there, but for extended use, the power and durability of a corded model cannot be paralleled by a battery powered tool.
  • Table Saw – This one is an area in which there are near limitless ways to spend your hard earned cash, but even an inexpensive model will prove to be extremely useful. The model of saw that I have is, once again an inexpensive model from Delta. It is a portable model that many refer to as a “contractor’s saw”. It has an attached stand, but it’s light and small enough to be somewhat easily transported from site to site. Larger “Cabinet Saw” style saws typically have a larger table and offer a better degree of precision and quality, but unless you’re building cabinets or doors (actually I have done both of these with my saw too) or performing some other kind of precision carpentry, a portable model is sufficient for most jobs.
  • Lights – This one is a bit on the obvious side, but you have to have light to see to work. I am a bit of a flashlight addict, but the most useful lights in my collection are my Maglight LED flashlight, the battery powered spot light that came with my Milwaukee cordless tool kit, and my dual head 500W painter’s light. The flashlight I use a lot for brief tasks where concentrated light is needed, and the LED 2D cell model that I have is bright enough to blind you. The battery light that came with my Milwaukee tool kit is useful for temporarily lighting a job since it has an adjustable head that can be pointed to a project as it sits on it battery base. The painters light is for those occasions where an all-out solution is needed and the project will be of slightly longer duration. A word of caution about the painter’s lights is that they could easily double as portable heaters. Those dual 500 watt halogen lamps get HOT! Be careful when you are using these things.
  • Corded Drill – I don’t use my corded drill an awful lot, but it is one of those tools that when you need it, there is no replacement for it. Battery drills are very handy for most jobs but there are some jobs that require more power than can be dished out by a battery drill. For drilling large holes or holes in masonry, mixing paint, or boring a lot of holes at once, a corded drill is faster and just plain does the job better. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to pick up a used Milwaukee 1/2″ corded hammer drill for $20 at a yard sale. This tool is yet another example of how the right tool for the job cannot be beat.
  • Belt Sander – These tools are designed for sanding long stretches of straight material, but I have found dozens of “unintended” uses for my belt sander. A 80 grit belt and the sander turned upside down is great for sharpening cutting tools like an axe or hatchet. The same technique and a 120 grit belt makes the sander a handy way to shape small wooden parts. This is another one of those tools that with a little creativity can be used for a lot more than its intended uses. Mine is a cheap Black and Decker model, but it serves its purpose well and didn’t cost me a lot. For occasional use, it works well.
  • 4″ Angle Grinder – Another jack of all trades is a 4″ angle grinder. Most people are familiar with the most well known job of this tool which is grinding on metal, but a thin kerf blade can be affixed making this tool very handy for cutting metal parts as well. A cup wire wheel can be attached for stripping paint off metallic items, a flap disc can be affixed for sanding wood, metal or stripping finishes. I even have a diamond blade for mine that will allow you to cut tile, brick, concrete and masonry. I enjoy doing a fair amount of metal work and I have collected several of these tools, a pair of different models from Milwaukee, and an inexpensive Clark model. This allows me to work with metal, leaving a different wheel in each tool, cutting down on time when going between tasks. It may surprise you how many uses you can find for an angle grinder.
  • Air Compressor – This one is the granddaddy of all versatile tools. From inflating a tire on a bicycle or wheelbarrow to powering a nail gun or impact wrench this is one of the most versatile tools you can buy. For most DIY’ers a small compressor is all that is needed. I have a larger model that stays in the shop and a smaller pancake style compressor that is a lot more portable for those jobs away from the shop, but I use these things all the time. Blowing dust and dirt off projects with an air chuck (blow gun), inflating tires, powering an impact wrench, air ratchet, die grinder, cutoff tool, air chisel, paint sprayer or even a sandblaster – the air compressor is the heart of the system. Another thing to keep in mind is that air tools tend to be less expensive, smaller and more lightweight that electric tools. Keep the tools oiled and a small compressor will work for most small projects. Larger projects like operating a paint sprayer will require more air than a small unit can produce, so if you intend to do a lot of uninterrupted work without allowing the compressor time to catch up, you need to match the air consumption of the tools (rated in CFM) to the capacity of the compressor.

Well that should really get you started spending your discretionary income for a while. Just think of it this way, the money you’re saving on doing the projects yourself can be invested in the tools, and you’re still way ahead of what you would have paid if you had contracted the work out. My approach to buying these tools has been to buy a tool at a time when I have money or the projects to justify it. In this way, you won’t break the bank and you can collect quite an impressive cache of tools. Do It Yourself and you have the satisfaction, the experience and the tools to do it again next time. After all, home improvement projects are just excuses to buy tools anyway, right?