I need power tools to rebuild my house
July 30, 2009 3:02 PM   Subscribe

It's time to buy proper power tools and quit borrowing from the neighbors. I would like some recommendations on what has worked well for other people.

I have the small items, but I need a good drill and a good circular saw. I strongly prefer cordless tools if available and up to the task, and of course want to buy into only one battery family. Given that I do some respectable renovation projects, will I be happy with an 18V system? Do you have any recommendations on the brand? I also need a compound miter saw (time to do the trim work), does anyone have a tool they love in that department? I realize this is all going to cost a few hundred - I'm looking for quality first, then budget. What tools will the neighbors want to borrow from me?
posted by dness2 to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of (UK-based) builders I've worked with have sworn by DeWalt and I've done well with the home use gear I've had from them.
posted by i_cola at 3:10 PM on July 30, 2009

As far as cordless, spend money and go with Milwaukee or DeWalt. Yes, they are more expensive, but the tools will last nearly forever. They also keep compatible batteries for YEARS. Craftsman has started making decent power tools, but the batteries are often not stocked in the local stores after a year.

As far as cordless circular saws go...for occasional cutting a 2x4 or cutting in awkward places, they're fine. For doing any real amount of work, they (upcoming pun intended) just don't cut it. Get a decent corded circular saw for not much money, and get a better drill than if you had bought a set of multiple tools.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 3:13 PM on July 30, 2009

I second the DeWalt. I' have many cordless (18V) and cored DeWalt tools. Never had a problem with any of them. Some bought new. Some reconditioned. Some used. Shop around (pawn shops/Ebay/Amazon) and you can save some serious money. I bought generic 18V batteries off Ebay at about 50% off a "real" DeWalt batteries.
posted by toucano at 3:18 PM on July 30, 2009

I've heard good things about this drill/driver from Milwaukee. Very light and compact, but still pretty heavy duty. I personally have this mitre saw from Ryobi and it's been pretty solid as well.
posted by electroboy at 3:18 PM on July 30, 2009

A drill is the only tool I use often enough to require cordless. Mine's a nice little Bosch 9.6V, which is light, compact and ergonomically excellent. I also have a monster 1/2"-chuck Milwaukee corded drill. My circular saw is a Makita. Jigsaw is a Bosch. 2HP router is a Dewalt. Trim router and finish nailer are both Ridgid. In other words, I look for the best tool in each category rather than sticking with a single brand.
posted by jon1270 at 3:46 PM on July 30, 2009

We have a Makita impact driver, dril, flashlight, and radio. The sets are pretty nice, and if you get the better of the two systems they have, the batteries will last twice as long and they charge in 15 minutes through their fast charger. I highly recommend them.
posted by Night_owl at 3:55 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirding DeWalt. I love my driver. I have a Makita circular saw that I really like as well.

And yeah, why buy a cordless circular saw?

I don't know if *you* will be happy with an 18V system, but let me tell you about my experience with an 18V Milwaukee drill earlier this week. A fellow grad student and I volunteered to remove some old shelves from a professor's new office. The shelves were fixed to the wall with some 1/4" thick, several inch long bolts. The 18V Milwaukee we had on hand could not turn them. I went home for my 6amp DeWalt driver and got most of the bolts out immediately, although I had to cut the heads on a few that got too mangled (whose bright idea was it to make thick ass bolts with round heads and flathead slots?). If you're doing a lot of home renovation work, I wouldn't be surprised if you run into plenty of situations where an 18V drill will choke.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 3:56 PM on July 30, 2009

For the cordless drill, spend as much money as you can. And buy the one with the biggest, highest voltage batteries you can.

For the circular saw: do not buy a cordless one. They may look like a regular circular saw, but I really don't consider them the same tool at all. Throw the right blade in your circ saw, and you can cut masonry. This is not the case, IME, with the cordless variety.
posted by Netzapper at 3:57 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

The power drill, whichever you get, will change your life. Know what else will change your life? A battery-operated screwdriver. Trust me. I love mine like it was my own son.
posted by brittafilter at 4:03 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

For the circular saw, get a corded. Drills are fairly safe tools unless you wear loose clothing or have long hair. Tools that get plugged in have a certain seriousness about them that makes you think more before you do something completely stupid. Besides, I've stalled corded circular saws enough that I don't think a cordless would be up to the same rigors.

I have a Black and Decker cordless drill (12V) for which I can only get replacement batteries made by DeWalt. I have a corded Makita that I've had for more than 20 years. I don't expect the Black and Decker to last half that long. That should tell you something. However, the longevity is a livable sacrifice for access to tight places and fingertip availability.
posted by plinth at 4:12 PM on July 30, 2009

I have two DeWalts - an 18V for heavy torque and a 12V for screw driver work. Sometimes the heavy battery is a hassle for smaller areas and smaller jobs. I know you wanted to keep everything in the same battery family but size matters when you're lugging a huge drill/driver around all day. Also, if you can, get two batteries for every tool. Nothing is more frustrating than running out of power in the middle of job.
posted by birdwatcher at 4:22 PM on July 30, 2009

I would recommend a DeWalt if you can afford it, they get expensive very quickly. That said I own a Ryobi 18v cordless drill that I love and have beat the hell out of, without any problems at all. Home Depot is constantly running deals on packages of drill/skill saw/lamp etc that all run off the same batteries, check them out.
posted by Science! at 4:49 PM on July 30, 2009

Nthing Makita and DeWalt. Not a Milwaukee fan.

And you need a corded drill, as well as a cordless one. You just do.
posted by rokusan at 5:08 PM on July 30, 2009

I have a Black and Decker cordless drill (12V) for which I can only get replacement batteries made by DeWalt

Dewalt=Black & Decker. Same company. DeWalt is the more contractor-oriented line.

For saws, corded and cordless, Hitachi is the shit. Well worth the $. Most of my tools are Hitachi or Porter Cable. (Black and Decker also owns Porter Cable now.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:17 PM on July 30, 2009

I've heard good things about Festool, but my budget won't allow them yet.
posted by rhizome at 5:21 PM on July 30, 2009

FWIW, when you get the drill, don't skimp on the bits. Good ones will make life a lot nicer for a while to come.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hardly even a need to buy new tools. Shop for used ones. Like 25 or 30 years old when people were still putting them together by hand, with real parts. Craftsman, Skil, Milwaukee, all good. With cords for real power from your wall. I have tools as old as I am and I have built a deck with them, torn my kitchen up with them, built furniture with them. The only thing that ever gets old on them are the blades and the drill bits. Old tools have a soul.
posted by poppo at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Makita, Dewalt, Bosch blue, Milwalkee, Panasonic, Festool. People will debate their relative merits like it was Chevy vs Ford, but at the end of the day they will all have models that are comparable. My advice would be to get a powerful cordless drill with a large capacity battery ie minimum 18v, and don't waste your money on anything other than lithium-ion. But as another poster has suggested, consider getting a second, smaller drill/driver as well. Aside from the fatigue issue, it's sometimes very helpful to have one set up to drill and the other set up to drive screws. Or one to drill and one to countersink. Saves a heap of time and avoids thrashing the chuck too much.

Next thing on the list should be a small circular saw. Personally, I'd buy Hitachi or Makita, but that's more to do with what I'm used to using. I wouldn't bother with cordless, personally. Drilling is something I do in remote spots, on ladders, in cramped spaces so cordless makes sense. Cutting things with circular saws is something I try to do on the ground, in good light, and in a comfortable position. There's usually a power point.

If you're looking at a compound miter saw, I reckon it's worth spending the extra and getting a sliding compound miter saw. It'll have *much* more capacity both in terms of cutting and versatility. Most carpenters around here use either Makita or Hitachi. I've used Hitachi and DeWalt. Both worked fine. Consider getting a 12" over a 10" if the budget allows. Belt drive (eg Hitachi) will be quieter than gear drive (eg Makita). Some manufacturers keep the prices low by putting a shitty blade on a good machine. So factor in the cost of replacing a blade if that's the case.

For occasional 'once a year' tools I'll buy cheap chinese tools. For tools that I'm going to rely on to get the job done no matter what, I'll spend a decent amount. Keep a list of tools you need and watch out for sales. End of financial year, Father's Day, that sort of thing. Most manufacturers will price special bundles for those sort of occasions. The savings can be quite substantial.

Try and buy from the same store if you can. I've got a good relationship with one local tool supplier. ON paper they are more expensive than the big stores, but they help me out in other ways ie throwing in consumables or giving good advice.
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:01 PM on July 30, 2009

I'm very happy with Hitachi as a high quality tool at a good price. I have their 18V drill, compound miter saw (I have a 10" saw, but a 12" and/or sliding is nice if you need the capacity), and table saw. For circular saw, definitely go corded. I have a worm-drive Skil, which is acceptable, but not great. I find, though, that I use the table saw and compound miter saw a lot more than the circ saw. I also have a Hitachi router and a couple of Rigid sanders, which I like. I'd recommend getting a corded drill and a cordless drill if you possibly can.

My short advice is go with: Hitachi, Makita, Milwaukee, DeWalt, Bosch, or Rigid. Avoid Black and Decker and Ryobi like the plague. Festool, which is highly recommended by many people, is fantastic, but it's quite expensive. Most Skil products are subpar, though their circ saws seem alright. Craftsman stuff used to be good, but hasn't been in a number of years.
posted by JMOZ at 6:20 PM on July 30, 2009

I go Makita generally. Corded drill [for me the cord isn't as much of a hassle and it means no screwing around with chargers] and hand sander are the tools I've had for a while. I have two Skilsaw circular saws, both pretty old, I have no idea if they're still as good but the ones I have are tanks. Get a few blades, one that does grooves, etc. For the drill get a few bits that will make circles as well as ones that will make holes. I also have a dremel which is pretty great for little fiddly stuff [some grinding, some little sanding, some etching] which is useful when you don't need that much tool and it's cheap and you find a zillion uses for it once you've found it.

Add a decent screwdriver set, socket set, hammer, a few good wrenches and vice grips and you're good. Be nice to your tools. Craftsman has pretty regular sales where you can get some of their multi-drawer toolchests for not much money and it's a good incentive to keep everything neat and tidy.
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 PM on July 30, 2009

I have a corded Milwaukee drill that rules the universe. I have used Panasonic and Black and Decker cordless drills (recommended above) and they were all crap. I have had good luck with DeWalt.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:16 PM on July 30, 2009

I thought I needed a corded drill until I got my Makita impact driver. Everyone who has used it goes out and buys one. I drill with it, work on cars with it, screw houses together with it, wire wheel with it. It is the only drilly-spinny tool i carry anymore. corded drill? no thanks. plus, it fits in my tool belt! and the little light stays on for 10 sec after you let go the trigger. I didn't think this was a big deal until I got used to it.

It's 18v, full size but white, not green. I got the bigger batteries for it. It is my favorite tool.

It's especially wonderful with big spade bits. No grab when you hit a nail or knot. (horrible nose but no broken wrist). chips fly for feet in every direction (hat and goggles are a good idea). man, does it chew through the wood!

worm drive circular saw (corded). milwaukee super sawzall (corded). Estwing hammers. Swanson speed square. Star drive deck screws rather than nails. (square drive cams out almost as bad as phillips. No taper on torx, can't cam out. no really, it can't). sliding compound 10" miter saw.

Bosch Makita Milwaukee are my three first picks.

don't be afraid to rent or borrow to see what you like. buy good tools.
posted by KenManiac at 8:55 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

For a small driver, the Bosch I driver is excellent. With it's pivoting head, it fits any space, plus inline is very intuitive for keeping screws straight. It is L- ion and the batteries can sit charged for weeks if not months and still be ready to go. Though my I driver is only 10.6 volt, I have used it to install an entire kitchen of cabinets on one battery. Although I'm a bosch junkie, L-ion batteries are more important than brand name if it's any of the respected names
posted by Redhush at 9:47 PM on July 30, 2009

As for the cordless vs corded, I agree with everybody above. The only thing you need cordless is a drill. I have a black and decker, 14.4 V, it works fine for most projects. I have 2 batteries so I always have a backup. IMHO one must have a strong corded drill; cordless is for convenience. Because now and then you will have projects that require a corded drill. One such example is mixing multiple batches of cement in a bucket. For the corded one, I have a ryobi hammer drill - it was the cheapest from home depot at the time. It has been very good even though others might have had problems with this brand.

As for the miter saw, I bought this craftsman saw from sears. Again it was cheap, but it's been accurate and reliable so far (installed 1000 sqft hardwood flooring and entire house trim). Part of the reason I like it is that it is lightweight (also it has a laser line for guidance).

A sawzall (reciprocating saw) is an extremely useful power tool.

A non-power tool suggestion: vise-grip. It is a great tool with a million uses.
posted by eebs at 11:22 PM on July 30, 2009

Dewalt for longevity. Toughest drill I have ever owned and they have strong guarantees. Ryobi is a lot cheaper but lacks strong torque in comparison, still really durable and you can get multiple tools for the same price as a single dewalt.

I also have a Dewalt compound miter saw, it is awesome. But I was really drooling over my friends who has a laser line that shows where the blade will come down.

I don't like battery saws, they die to fast and don't have the strength. Actually more work than stringing a cord.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:44 AM on July 31, 2009

Most all the brands being suggested here are available at this online power-tool outlet site; CPO Outlets. I never understood my wife's fascination with outlet malls until I happened upon this site. I have only purchased one framing nailer from here, but it is has stood the test of time.
posted by blackjack514 at 6:19 AM on July 31, 2009

I love my porter and cable corded circular saw with the blade on the left. The left hand blade makes it easier to see the cut. Yes, the blade is on the same side as you are now so there is more danger in that way, but it keeps you from having to peek over the saw to see the cut which I reckon is a lot more dangerous.

There are a lot of times I wish I had a cordless circular saw too. The cordless sawzall is practically useless for more than a few cuts at a time.

The dewalt cordless finish nailer ROCKS. It takes years to learn to drive nails, moments with a gun.
posted by mearls at 6:28 AM on July 31, 2009

I'm with KenManiac -- the Makita impact driver is an amazing tool. I have an 18V Makita screwdriver also (came with a kit, along with a sort-of-shitty flashlight) and I usually reach for the impact driver. I also thought the stay-on led was gimmicky until I used it in a crawlspace. I'd avoid Skil and Black and Decker, and decide between Makita, Bosch, and DeWalt based on which one's the right color to match your work clothes (OK, and what you find on sale at the time). And it's still good to have a corded drill, as eebs says. My Makita has weathered about 15 years of regular use and abuse. There may come a time when someone makes a portable circular saw that isn't a toy, but I don't think we're there yet.
(I'm a bit surprised that I am using circular saws less and less as time goes on. This is one tool that I would actually spend less money on if I had to do it over again. But that could just be me.)
I have a DeWalt miter saw, which is a nice tool, but if I had to do it over again I'd spend the extra couple of hundred for a Makita compound miter saw.
I'm also going to recommend a pocket hole jig kit, not too expensive and makes for easy and relatively clean assembly of a lot of things.
posted by Killick at 7:31 AM on July 31, 2009

If you're going to get a corded drill to supplement a lighter duty cordless one. Definitely go with a 1/2" drill, and you might want to consider a hammer drill. They're immensely useful for drilling into concrete, and you can turn the hammer action on and off, so it can be used as a regular heavy duty drill.
posted by electroboy at 7:50 AM on July 31, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. There are too many helpful answers to mark one the best. I think I will avoid the cordless sets and just buy a good cordless drill. I will look for a driver/drill, prob a Dewalt. I already have a handheld screwdriver and I agree they're the bomb. Thank you for reminding me about a nailer. I need one of those too. I think I'll wait on the circular saw and just get a really good miter saw for now. And I should get a cutout tool/dremel and a hand sander.
posted by dness2 at 10:27 AM on July 31, 2009

A dremel is nice for getting small items cleaned, grinded, sanded, etc. A hand sander is nice, too. But it all really depends on your needs. Will the purchase of the power tools justify their purchase?

Go ahead and buy it. Home Depot has a iron clad return policy. As long as you have a receipt and the original box you can take it back. I am not condoning the abuse of their return policy, but you do have the right to return something you don't want. Do some research and make your best decision. You can always return it.

Good luck, be safe, and have fun.

And not to be too preachy, wear eye protection! Yes it is a pain in the ass, but it really is worth it!!!
posted by MiggySawdust at 4:51 PM on July 31, 2009

Uh...I meant "justify their expense?"
posted by MiggySawdust at 4:52 PM on July 31, 2009

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