Measure twice, cut once: tool buying edition
June 2, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

With Father's Day fast approaching and the home improvement season upon us, I've been thinking about tools. Delicious, delicious tools. Let's talk about the tools I need for my toolatorium.

I have a number of DIY projects ahead of me this summer--building some raised beds and standing planters for the garden, adding some ball valves to shut off the water to our washing machine, maybe resetting the stones in our patio, etc.

Not all of the projects require new tools, and I have a toolbox-sized kit already, replete with all the hammers, screwdrivers, stud finders, laser measuring tapes, levels, handsaws etc. I need, as well as a nice 18V DeWalt cordless drill, a Makita finishing sander, a good Dremel kit, and some other odds and ends.

But I now have more space to spread out, and I'd like to start coveting tools. I'd like to be strategic in my coveting so I don't mis-covet.

It seems to me that it would make sense to stick to DeWalt for cordless tools, where possible, to share batteries. I'd be happy to learn that that's misguided, though.

I'm also thinking in particular that I'd like to get a compound miter saw (probably the DW713) and router (probably the DW618, which I may want to table mount at some point) for a couple of projects I have in mind.

I'd welcome any particular tool, model, or make suggestions--and it doesn't need to be only power tools. I'd like to invest in the right tools, without much regard to price, to fill out what I have. I'm not going to have limitless space (i.e., not room enough for a table saw), however, and I'm not necessarily looking for worksite grade. Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
minimum # of clamps = # of powertools you own +2
maximum # of clamps = all of them

I'd suggest at least two of each of classic, grip, and corner clamps with a variety of the former to fit jobs of various sizes.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:46 AM on June 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

biscuit joiner. Free yourself from the tyranny of plywood with the power of edge-to-edge board joining. Most of them seem to work great if you're not a full-time furniture builder.
posted by amtho at 6:50 AM on June 2, 2014

I have earlier models of both that chop saw and that router and have been happy with each.
However, there are times when I wish the chop saw was a slider. My dad gave me a stand for the saw which has been a godsend, but it takes up a lot of space which is something I need to address.

If you're getting a router, get (or build) a router table for it. At one point, I saw a Dunkin Donuts that was renovating the insides and they were throwing out a huge chunk of laminated counter top. They gave it to me and with some scrap 2x4 and plywood, I made a router table that I used for 8 years. Pro-tip: make a place on the table to hang the collet wrench. With careful setup, you can use a good router table as a jointer.

I do woodworking as a hobby, so my list of tools that are must-have is colored by that:
  • Table saw (yes I saw you're shy on space)
  • Planer
  • Jointer
  • Chop saw
  • Random orbit sander
At one point, I had all but the table saw and I did projects out of my apartment with these.

For home projects I've found a Dremel tool and Sabre saw to be indispensable.

Dad also gifted me with a small band saw which I use infrequently. I picked up a drill press from a tool store that was closing for a song and that has been great. My inlaws gave me a sizable lathe and I'm determined to learn how to use it properly - some people like to make wooden pens and other small items on benchtop lathes.
posted by plinth at 6:57 AM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

After posting - yes on the biscuit joiner - those are fantastic and not just for edge to edge joinery. You can, for example, make the carcass for a bookcase that will look nicer and last longer than any flat pack piece. I've also misused it for cutting out old, beaten up floor boards.
posted by plinth at 7:05 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are more into home improvement projects than furniture, then you should consider a Sawzall or its equivalent. And not a cordless (I disagree slightly with odinsdream's blanket dismissal of cordless tools, I find a cordless drill is great for small jobs like putting up a curtain rod. But for most jobs corded is better)
posted by mr vino at 7:06 AM on June 2, 2014

A few years ago, when we hadn't yet built our shop and I was working out in the garage, I was swearing up a storm at some device or another and my sweety poked her head out of the house and said "didn't buy the Festool version, huh?" She was right.

So I'd suggest that DeWalt is fine for a big box brand (I have the 735 planer and have heard nothing but good about the 618 router), but if you have the budget, consider Freud, Festool, Mirka, etc. The differences aren't always obvious until you're using the tool. (And, no, none of them are perfect, I have a "really, guys?" little design gripe with my Festool OF1010 router that otherwise I love).

To amtho's suggestion: Consider a Domino. A biscuit joiner is actually better for joining two long boards edge to edge, but the Domino makes a whole class of loose tenon joinery trivial.

The "if I ever have to do any refinishing again I am immediately buying" tool is the Festool LS130 linear sander, because there are places and mouldings that random orbital sanders don't get, and hand sanding is a royal PITA.

Get a set of scrapers and the tools to sharpen them. Scrapers are the "duh, this is obvious!" tool for so many applications. Not applicable to any of the projects you mentioned, but for furniture and cabinetry, they're cheap and totally useful.

Similarly, a good block plane and the process to sharpen it. I have convinced myself that the difference between a decent Stanley and a Lie Nielsen is almost that you have to take the time to tune out the Stanley, flatten the sole and sides, etc, and if your time is worth anything at all the Lie Nielsen quickly becomes reasonable, but I have the barely adjustable Stanley my great grandfather gave my father, and a nicer one I got off of Craigslist for a song that the guy who sold it to me had spent a lot of time tuning, and they see way more action in my largely power tool shop than you'd expect.

Instead of the chop saw, consider a track saw with a table. Since the patent ran out, DeWalt, Bosch and AEG all make 'em in addition to Festool, and, yes, it'd be nice to have a chop saw too (mostly for miters), but the track saw lets you do almost everything you'd do with a table saw, more safely.

And for the "almost everything": Build that router table, and then you'll have everything the table saw can do.

Aaaaaand... if you have the space for stationary tools: Obviously I have a wife supportive of my hobbies, but last year we drove out to the hinterlands in the middle of the night to buy a band saw off of Craigslist. There was grumbling. But when we got it up and running and started tuning it, she began playing with it, and said: "This is nice," paused a moment, and then continued with an evil giggle: "It's mine now."

Really, bandsaws are so freakin' cool...
posted by straw at 7:08 AM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

The most useful tool I've purchased in ages: This thing rocks.
posted by ecorrocio at 7:18 AM on June 2, 2014

Handibot is a portable 6 axis cnc tool.
posted by Sophont at 7:28 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd pick a 12" compound miter saw, and sliding if that's in the budget. (5 or 6 hundred for dewalt).

I like my 10", but cutting things 6" thick ? Gotta lug the table saw out. A 12" slider can get almost any cut you need (short of ripping a board) done.

Ripping can be done via circular, jig, band or table saw, depending on budget and fineness of cut needed.
posted by k5.user at 7:46 AM on June 2, 2014

Ditto on the clamps. If there isn't a clamp within arms reach AT THIS VERY MOMENT, you don't have enough of them. I'm in the process of finishing my basement and they've been invaluable.

Tools I couldn't live without:
Impact Drill
Compound Mitre Saw
Table Saw
Laser Level
Circular Saw (I wish i had a cordless one)
Bullet Level + 4ft Level
Speed Square
Extension Cords
Sledgehammer + mallet + hammer
posted by blue_beetle at 8:53 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just put together a couple of cedar 3 x 6 foot boxes -- I used my miter saw, cordless driver, pipe clamps, and 4 foot level to put it together. I also used a 4 lb sledge to drive spikes into the ground.

If you don't have the budget for a compound sliding miter saw ($$$), you could invest in a decent circular saw. I'd recommend a corded version, especially if you don't already have a miter or table saw.
posted by gox3r at 9:11 AM on June 2, 2014

For my ongoing renovations in a 110 year old house I have found some tools indespensible. A LOT of my work is redoing sloppy finish work by the previous owners. The structure is good and solid and so I will mention trim a lot-and that is what people see so that is what you tend to get judged on.

My most used tool is a dewalt 10" sliding compound miter saw. It is a little easier to store (and a LOT cheaper) than the 12" and almost as useful unless you are doing something like timber framing. I can cut a 4x4 with ease and up to a 2x12 on a straight cut and a 2x4 or 2x6 on just about any miter you will need. It is great for cutting miters on trim pieces, this is BY FAR the most useful thing it does that a circular saw can't do easily.

Then a good quality circular saw-you will spend at least $200 on this and if you can just get a track saw.

I went with the porter cable router(just about interchangeable with the dewalt) and a freud router table. Buy GOOD bits for this BTW. Cheap bits just go dull fast, and lead to tearout and kickback.

With these three you don't need a table saw unless you want to get into building really fancy furniture. In that case you also need a jointer/planer (the router table and be used in pinch for jointing smaller boards-1x and 2x stuff).

The next most useful thing-a finish nailer. I have a porter cable finish nailer. It really, really helps to be able to nail that trim up easily and single handedly without it moving or trying to use a nail set. You will need a compressor, just about any of the pancake style will work just fine (and be really handy for airing up tires, soccer balls and any other kind of nailer you want. I also use it for a floor nailer to install wood floors (along with the finish nailer).

A power sander is great. I have a dewalt circular sander and it is FAST but you can't use it in corners or tight spaces...(most common use if for the final adjustment to tune a miter on trim and prepare a surface for painting).

I have found the japanese style flush cut saws to be super useful when cleaning up a previous owners sloppy carpentry and also fine tuning a joint for perfect fit (and sawing off exposed dowels for furniture making).

A good set of chisels (I just buy the best quality stanley's at the hardware store and sharpen then on a water stone) is great.

In general the power tools get you to the rough stage and than the hand tools get you that well done professional looking finish touches.
posted by bartonlong at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Doubling up on "the good bits are worth every penny" advice from bartonlong. In fact, set aside a consumables budget for bits, sawblades, sander sheets/belts, new cords, and tune-ups at your local artisan-without-enough-commissions. Plus two classes at your local community college in advanced topics.

Routers are almost pointless without the table, unless you are strong as the Hulk.

If you're going to working with pressure-treated, lead-painted, or moldy wood, finding a comfortable respirator you'll actually wear is crucial.

And penultimately, the pegboard-and-cabinet miracle where all these tools will be stored.

Have fun!
posted by Jesse the K at 10:46 AM on June 2, 2014

Dewalt is phasing out their 18 volt cordless tools in favor of the newer 20V and as a result the prices of the 18V tools have dropped significantly. I like the convenience of the cordless circular saw for work away from the shop. The Dewalt cordless nailer is heavy with the battery but damned convenient. As a bare tool at reduced price it was certainly affordable. I keep my compressor is a shed adjacent to the shop because of it's noise and the space it takes up. The cordless nailer takes care of most of my nailing.

The Hitachi 12" compound slide chop saw works great and deals can be found online. I keep finding new ways to use mine, including cross cutting dadoes by using the cut depth adjuster.

If you can find space for a hybrid cabinet/contractor's table saw you might consider the Dewalt 746. I found mine on Craigslist at a great price.

Measure, mark, cut, join are the four procedures after conceiving the product and the build process. Organize your tools in that order.
posted by X4ster at 12:17 PM on June 2, 2014

Personally, I have found great use for a Bosch Oscillating Multi-Tool, just because it's so compact in one box - just change the tip and you have a bunch of saws, scrapers, grinders, sanders etc.. Plus the compact size and handheld allows you to get into all sorts of spaces and do stuff on the run.
posted by VikingSword at 1:50 PM on June 2, 2014

It's not the "Sgt. Slaughter" of tools by any means, but I absolutely LOVE the Dremel I picked up recently. Cuts anything from steel tubing to plywood. (Goggles really are a must, tho')

Besides the drill and circular saw, this is the second most used tool in the house now.

Though I still want a Chop Saw.
posted by Debaser626 at 2:05 PM on June 2, 2014

Air compressor. Get a standup, cast iron pump model if you can afford it with an honest 115V/2hp motor (it should draw ~12A). You don't actually need to be able to touch or see the compressor so it can live under the stairs/in the shed/in the attic/tucked in an awkward corner some place. A good compressor will last a life time and drive all sorts of useful tools like nailers (finishing and construction/roofing) and impact wrenches. And you can use it to maintain tires.

Clamps. Always buy them in pairs. And you'll need an assortment (though I rarely use my spring clamps and I've used my corner clamps once in 15 years). Clamps make perfect father/mother's day gifts because they are available in a wide variety of styles and price points and they are practically always useful eventually. My daughter and I made a smallish bird house this spring and I blew her mind by using ~20 clamps and no fasteners to hold it together while it was drying.

Chisels. You probably have a set already but you need another because you need both a sharp enough to shave with set and a "cheap enough to chip mortar and all those other naughty things you can do with a chisel" set.

Tape measure. Engineers square*. Quick square. Common steel square in 12 and 24" sizes (now often made with aluminum). Cheap plastic drafting squares* (30/60/90 and 45 degrees) in an assortment of sizes. French curves. Digital caliper*. Yard/meter stick. Plumb bob. Gyproc T-Square (also useful on plywood). A few levels (once again a cheap plastic one for yard/concrete work and a good quality machined aluminum square for precise work is handy). *'d tools are used to set up other tools.

Pry bars. I use this "hive tool" pry bar scraper _all_ _the_ _time_.

End cutting pliers. With a smidgen of practice this is the best tool to remove finishing brads from trim/walls.

A good block plane. A moving fillister plane (rabbet plane) like the Stanley 78. It's the perfect tool for fixing a sticking door. I use mine for something every couple of weeks (though mine is older than me the new ones are very similar).

A drill press. Even one of the little guys is useful to the limits of their throat. A large set (like at least 13 pieces) of forstner bits plus a regular set of metal bits (useable on wood) to go with it. A set of auger bits for your cordless drill (Irwin makes set targeted at battery tool users called Speedbore which I've heard good things about).

And finally you should build a couple sets of saw horses. I like the style Norm Abrams makes but I can't seem to find a link to them right now.
posted by Mitheral at 10:40 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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