Top DIY ToolsUpdated: Jun. 30, 2017
Passionate about tools? So are we. After much discussion (and a little arguing) here are the tools we can't do without. You may be surprised by some of our choices.
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Cut dust, save time
A dust collector increases efficiency
“The best addition to my woodworking shop over the past 10 years was a basic, low-cost dust collection system,” said Gary Wentz, senior editor. “My goal was cleaner air, but I soon found that a dust collector has an even greater benefit: It's a time-saving tool. It drastically cuts cleanup time—I don't have to sweep off every surface and tool. I used to do the dustiest work, like sanding or cutting MDF, outdoors. Now I do these jobs in the shop—no need to drag tools and cords outside.”
Fast screw guns
Automatic screw guns are versatile
“What I like about the automatic-feed screw guns is their speed. You don't have to handle individual screws—the screws come in strips that you feed into the gun,” said Jon Jensen, set builder for The Family Handyman and former contractor. “You can adjust the depth for sinking screws and for different types of screws. It's really versatile.” The DuraSpin 14.4-volt model by Senco ($150; senco.com) and the Autofeed Screwdriver by Makita ($110; makita.com) are two automatic-feed screw guns.
Fast and easy joinery
Use a Kreg jig for simple, accurate joints
“A Kreg jig will let you make a joint in about two minutes,” said Jeff Gorton, associate editor. “It's become one of my favorite tools because it lets me build furniture, cabinets and bookcases without having to cut fancy (and time-consuming) joinery.” A Kreg jig lets you drill pocket holes, then screw the pieces together with special screws. You'll leave visible holes, which you can hide inside the project or fill with special plugs. The two-hole version shown costs $45. A mini kit for drilling one hole at a time costs $22 (kregtool.com).
Easy-to-handle air hoses
Use polyurethane air hoses
“I've gone through many, many air hoses over the years—rubber, plastic, synthetic, you name it,” said Travis Larson, senior editor. “Three years ago I converted to polyurethane lines.” Polyurethane is soft, so it's more flexible than rubber. The air hoses are lightweight and easy to coil up at the end of the day, even in low temps. And they don't leave scuff marks, so you can use them inside without marking up the walls. They're well worth the premium price tag.” A 50-ft. polyurethane hose costs $30, versus about $10 for a traditional hose.
Dual-use wire stripper
Use double duty wire strippers
“I used to use two tools for wiring projects—a goofy little stamped metal tool to strip off sheathing and a pair of wire strippers to strip insulation off individual wires,” said Ken Collier, editor-in-chief. “Those days are gone. My new wire strippers do both tasks admirably. I've rewired my cabin, my workshop and most of my 100-plus-year-old house. Wire strippers that strip the sheathing and the insulation make wiring faster, easier and more pleasant.” These strippers start at $15 at home centers.
Smooth rollers, smooth finishes
Use foam mini paint rollers
“A friend introduced me to mini rollers, only 4 or 6 in. long, made of dense foam that spreads paint or varnish smoothly for a uniform, mark-free finish (unlike nap rollers, which leave tiny bumps). I was amazed the first time I used one. But the rollers aren't perfect. They spread the finish thin, so you usually need two coats. And the rollers are a pain to clean, but since most cost less than $5 at home centers and paint stores, you could toss them when you're done.”
Lights that last (almost) forever
Use LED work lights and trouble lights
“LED flashlights and work lights are great because the bulbs seem to last forever and so do the batteries—making cordless trouble lights feasible (finally!). These LED lights have unbreakable bulbs that last 50,000 hours or more and they cast a clear white light that's easier on the eyes than the yellow-white light of standard bulbs. Sure, they cost a bit more on the front end, but you won't have to replace the batteries or bulbs for years.”
— Elisa Bernick, associate editor
Three tools in one
Japanese cat's paw is versatile
The Japanese cat's paw has three intended uses: It pulls nails, works as a pry bar (the thin blade will get under just about anything) and acts like a small hammer to whack things. Once you own one, you'll find other uses for it too. “It has a permanent place in my tool belt,” said Ken Collier, editor-in-chief. “I use it for prying open cans, as a rough and ready scraper, and for pulling small nails. It's an always-with-me tool.” Japanese cat's paws and other small cat's bars start at $10 at home centers.
Mighty midget batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are lighter and durable
“One reason I love lithium-ion batteries is they have a longer life span than other batteries—twice as long according to some manufacturers. But the best thing about lithium-ion batteries is that they're about half the size and weight of other batteries. That means power-guzzling tools like saws can pack more punch and run longer without being too heavy. And the screwdrivers are small enough to drop in your tool pouch, but powerful enough for just about any job.”
— Gary Wentz, senior editor