I have been a pretty serious DIY-er for well over a decade now. In that time, i've owned or gotten to use a lot of power tools. Seeing as the gift-giving season is around the corner, i thought i'd share some of my thoughts on Power Tools.
So, what tools do you really need? Over the years i've amassed a pretty large collection of tools, but the reality is i don't use them all regularly. In fact some i've used only once or twice. Obviously power tools are expensive and can take up a lot of room, so i am hoping to offer some unbiased insight on which i could or couldn't live without.
My top-3 go-to tools:
1. I find a decent cordless drill/driver indespensible, whether you're building, renovating or just repairing stuff. It's not cookware, so don't get upsold on more pieces. You will most certainly use the drill if you do any kind of DIY-ing. The cordless radio, flashlight, trim saw and recipricating saw...probably not so much.
2. I use the miter saw a lot for casing, baseboards, flooring, decks, mouldings and framing. I'm actually on to my second miter saw now. My first was a basic compound miter saw, which did and probably will still do 98% of the cuts i ever need to make. I've since splurged on a more pro model, which allows bevels on both sides (so you don't have to flip your material to cut an angle in the opposite direction) and which slides, allowing me to cut much larger material. The one thing the new saw excels at is crown moulding.
3. I use my circular saw a lot for doors, decks, fences, framing and ripping sheet material. To me a good circular saw, would have accurate depth and angle adjustments, would be durable and would be light and comfortable. Notice i didn't say powerful. Frankly i think any circular saw on the market is going to be powerful enough for a DIY-er. Whether a saw has 13 amps or 15 amps, is not going to make or break a project. But a saw that is too heavy to hold steady and safely when cutting the tops off of posts or plunging into sheathing, is not worth the money, no matter how powerful it is.
Tools that i own, but don't use much:
1. I've used my reciprocating saw maybe 6 times in the 8 years since i've owned it. When you watch those home improvement shows, this is the tool that they let newbies use to make them feel really macho and empowered. Probably because it is kind of shaped like a rifle, has a trigger and makes your biceps jiggle. The truth is it really isn't a precision tool at all. It's really only good at taking things apart and not so good at putting them back together again. I will say it is very handy for large scale demolition, like when gutting an entire house, or taking down a fence or garage.
2. I actually have two hammer drills (...long story). I haven't used either of them much. And unless you're a cable guy, i suspect you probably won't find much need to drill through brick and concrete either. I will say when you need one, you really do NEED one, because they're really the only tools designed to drill into brick, stone or concrete. I bought my first one for a very specific project, stored it for years, then lent it out, since i wasn't really using it. But of course once it was on loan, i discovered i needed it again ASAP. So off i went to buy another one. Now i have two in storage. Maybe i should start a hammer drill library.
3. I personally don't like rotary tools at all. I find them to be scary as all hell. I've had discs break and had shards fly off while cutting through things. And I also don't like that they get insanely hot. If you decide to give one of these as a gift, please include a pair of goggles or better yet a gift receipt.
What Brand to Get:
There is a HUGE price difference between the various brands. Is it worth it? I obviously haven't tested and compared all the options out there, but i have tried enough tools to make a general assessment. So in a rather unscientific manner i will split the most common brands into 4 categories priced lowest to highest:
1. If you really only need to use it once
- Black & Decker
2. DIY-er (occasional user)
3. Frequent DIY-er or Professional
- Porter Cable
4. Are you sure it's just about the tool and not about your self-esteem?
From my experience, tools from the category 1 are generally to be avoided, unless like i said you really only plan on using it once, and any additional use is bonus. Tools from category 2 are usually fine from a durability stand-point. However i would avoid the versions of these tools that try to pack a whole bunch of higher end features into lower end price points. I've found in my experience that accuracy and usability suffer when they try to do that. As a guy who uses my tools on a monthly basis, category 3 is where i spend my money. I've never used a tool from category 4, because frankly i can't afford to.
So that's my two cents. Hope this was useful.