July 2, 2013

The 5 Essential DIY Power Tools

Well, I did it. I have officially hit 20,000 blog views.

Yeah, I know some sites get that many views in a day, but listen up Suzie Buzzkill...I'm not TMZ or the Huffington Post. It's just an infinitely small blip on the blogosphere radar, but to me it's a pretty big deal - mostly because I never planned for people to actually read it. But to me, to have that many web hits in what I consider a relatively short time, to read something I just casually (and irregularly) write on the side for fun...it feels pretty good.

What started out as an attempt to catalogue some of my projects and my climb from clueless novice to slightly-more-knowledgeable novice has turned into people actually reading, and (gasp) sometimes responding, to my updates.

That's the thing about a blog...you put it out there, you tell people about it, you post it on Facebook, Pin it - whatever - and you never really know the faces behind the generic stats in Google Analytics. Are they friends and family? Are they random people who accidentally clicked on the wrong link when looking for actual helpful information?

Who knows? What I do know is that I have received more than a few encouraging comments from people I like and/or respect who admitted to having visited my digital DIY diary. One of the most common questions I get is from other married guys whose wives are encouraging them to become a little more proficient with tools and DIY projects, and it goes something like this:

Guy: "Dude, my wife reads your blog."
Me: "Nice. So she's the one."
Guy: "Yeah, she's coming up with a list of projects. You're killing me."
Me: Oh, sorry about that."
Guy: "You don't have to apologize. Just stop it."

But, since that is more of a request (and a valid one at that) than a question, I'll give you the second most frequently-asked question: "What tool(s) do I absolutely, positively, HAVE to get?"

So, with that in mind, take it or leave it, agree or disagree, here are 5 power tools the average Do-It-Yourself guy (or gal) absolutely needs to have on their tool bench.

Necessary Disclaimer: I'm not a brand whore with tools (not that there's anything wrong with that). I'm just telling you what I have because it's what I know and it's (mostly) worked for me thus far. 

Cordless Drill/Driver

Of all the tools I own and use, this is the one I use the most by far. In fact, I have two - one impact driver and one drill.

The impact driver delivers bone-crushing torque for stubborn screws and drilling surfaces, and is chuck-less, meaning it uses quick-change (hex shank) drill bits. Huh? A little visual help:

The standard drill is slightly less powerful and uses a chuck to tighten around standard (round shank) drill bits. Why go chuck-less? Changing bits is easier and faster.

Why two? Let's say I am pre-drilling pilot holes for screws (to protect wood from splitting)...I put my drill bit on the standard drill and my drive bit (phillips head) in the impact driver. Now I can drill with one, set it down, pick up the impact driver and quickly drive the screw in - all without the time-consuming process of changing bits.

Why it's cool: It's pretty obvious, isn't it? It's extremely portable, easy to use and your only other options are a) a hammer and nails, or b) a traditional screwdriver. And ain't nobody got time fo dat.

Well, that's good to know: Most new drills/drivers these days come with the new-and-improved lithium-ion battery option, but if you have to choose between that and the older NiCad (stands for Nickel Cadmium) option, go with the lithium ion. It's lighter, it lasts longer between charges and it takes less time to charge.

What I use: Ryobi 18v impact drill/driver - the Home Depot house brand (pictured above)

It's very affordable, accessories are easy to find, and probably the number one reason...they have a whole series of cordless tools that run off of the same battery, so I don't have to keep up with multiple brands' chargers and batteries for different tools.

Palm Sander

Some might argue this tool isn't an absolute necessity, but after the cordless drill and the compound mitre saw, I use the power sander the most. You wouldn't use this a ton in basic around-the-house projects, but if you like to buy/find old furniture to fix up or even make your own projects from scratch, you gotta get yourself one of these.

Why it's cool: If you get the "random orbit sander" type, the surface spins both circular (around) and oscillates (back and forth) so you get a random sanding pattern. Translation: It reduces gouges in the wood and makes for a smoother finish.

The one drawback is that it uses sanding discs which can wear out fairly quickly, so there is an ongoing materials cost associated with this little guy.

Well, that's good to know: Whichever model you choose, make sure you look into what type of sanding discs it takes. I definitely would not buy anything that isn't compatible with the standard 5" replacement discs they sell at big box stores like Lowe's or Home Depot. Specialty replacement discs can be more expensive and harder to find.

What I use: DeWalt 5" random orbit palm sander (pictured above)

The good news is...there isn't a TON of difference in quality (that I've found) between any of the options in the top tier above. DeWalt is a great brand and I have been really happy with mine. Your upper tier will cost you anywhere from $50-$100, but lower-cost options from Ryobi, Black and Decker or Skil might be a good option for your first one. Durability could be an issue down the road though.

Air Compressor and Brad Nailer

Technically, that's two tools, but if you keep reading, you'll see why I counted them as one. I originally got mine for a very specific project, but I have used it for many more since then. You can use it for renovation projects or for attaching trim to furniture projects. It's not exactly the most portable tool - it requires an electrical outlet to replenish its air supply from time to time, and the compressor itself probably weighs about 50 pounds when full.

Why it's cool: It's a HUGE time saver. It only takes one hand to hold the nailer and pull the trigger, which frees up your other hand to position or hold whatever you're nailing. Prior to getting these tools, it was a very manual process of pre-drilling pilot holes for screws, then using my drill to drive the screws into each hole.

Well, that's good to know: Two words: combo kit. It came with everything I needed for beginner level projects. Also, down the road I can buy other types of nailers that I can use with the compressor

What I use: Bostitch 6.0 gallon oil-free air compressor and 18 gauge brad nailer (pictured above)
Contractors will probably laugh at the model I have, but I'm not using it everyday, and I'm not using it for a monster framing nailer, so what I have works just fine for how I use it.

Compound Miter Saw

It's almost a toss-up between this and the cordless drill for "tool I couldn't do without." This thing does straight run-of-the-mill (Editor's note: get it?!) chop cuts, miter cuts and bevel cuts, all in one.

All you have to do is position the piece of wood, line up your cut mark with the blade, press the button and pull the handle down. Because it's the sliding model, I can slide the blade forward, allowing me to cut wider pieces of wood. The 10" blade cuts pieces that are more than 4" thick and 14" wide, meaning the only thing you can't do with it is long rip cuts (plywood), and Home Depot and Lowe's can do those for you when you buy the plywood.

Why it's cool: The fixed fence (metal wall that your wood rests against) gives you the straighest cut possible. When you cut by hand with a circular saw, you bring human error into the mix.

Well, that's good to know: You could always go with just a regular chop saw, which would still be light years ahead of measuring and cutting with a circular saw. But the bevel and miter features are icing on the cake. If you're going to invest in one decent piece of equipment, you might as well get the one that offers the most versatility.

What I use: Ryobi 13-Amp 10" slidingcompound miter saw (pictured above)
It's definitely an economy option, but I've had mine for almost 10 years and haven't had ANY problems with it. I'm even still using the original blade that came with it. Gimme that for under $200 versus the slightly larger option from DeWalt for $600 all day long.

Circular Saw

If I actually had a table saw, that would be the 5th item on this list. It's my next purchase though.Yeah, I realize I just told you that you needed to get the compound saw because the circular saw sucks. But just because there is a better option for some uses doesn't mean the circular saw is useless.

Why it's cool: If you don't have a table saw, the circular saw is the next best thing when doing longer cuts than your chop saw can handle. Even if you do have a table saw, a circular saw is still a good option for cuts that aren't stationary (taking a little bit off the end of one table leg, for example) or if you're working on a project where it's not convenient to run back to your workbench.

Well, that's good to know: It's not a bad idea to have both a powered saw with an electrical cord (more power) and a cordless battery saw (when it's not easy or convenient to plug it in).

What I use: I have both a Ridgid 15-amp 7 1/4" blade power saw and a Ryobi 18v 5 1/2" cordless saw (both pictured above)
Technically you can cut angles and bevels with both, but I wouldn't recommend it. I rarely use my corded saw anymore, but I bought it first so now it's a backup that is nice to have when I do need it. If you're only buying one, I would say get the cordless option.


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  7. The task of screw driving is a tedious and discouraging one; customary drills struggle to muster the force for even puny driving applications and appear to strip a lot of screws than they secure.

  8. With a woodworker, it can say that all are the necessary worktools. Perhaps,one of the above tools, i am only short of cordless saw. This article is useful for a new woodworker as me. Thanks the author!

  9. Cool stuff man, thanks for sharing! For newbies, do you recommend to use the same things as you do or cheaper brands will do? Especially the belt sander, which is the best beginner brand and model?

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