9 Pro Tools for the Weekend Warrior DIY
As the kid grew, so did the tool army. So did the lessons learned.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to make projects go smoother, make the work easier, or to do more work in less time. Or at the very least, not to break anything.
And, I’ve come up with a list of 9 tools I use on my jobsites that I think you should have within reach. Each one does something uniquely well and yet—unlike those made-by-the marketing-department tools and accessories I see so often—is easy to overlook.
None are expensive, but each one could put hours back in your weekend.
Ladder. If purchased at all, most people buy the wrong ladder for interior DIY. Unless your house has really tall ceilings, the ladder you want is a 4-foot stepladder—not the 6-footer everyone buys. And gimmicks are often just that. A 4-footer gets you up to the ceiling, first of all. Second, it’s shorter so it’s vastly easier to carry through the house. Its stance isn’t as wide, so you can open it to change the lightbulb in the powder room without having to remove the toilet. It’s easier to store, too.
4 1/2-inch right angle grinder. The only person who uses an angle grinder often is a welder, mason or artist. Otherwise, they sit until you need them. But when you need one, it’s great to have. So, sure, you can use a reciprocating saw to try and cut that metal fence post or old porch bannister, but good luck. It’s going to take a while. Grinders cut steel pipe, square tube, bolts, and re-bar for breakfast. Need to cut through the driveway or concrete to add a basketball hoop or patio cover post? Nothing cuts concrete faster, cleaner or easier than an angle grinder. Did the plywood subfloor get mangled, pocked and bombed out when you ripped up the salmon coloured floor tile from the previous homeowners? Nothing can flatten and blend plywood seams like a grinder. I’ve even used them to make DIY projects, everything from a spear to a cat food dish.
A word of caution: This tool is NOT for the faint of heart. Or dust. The wheel spins at 35,000 I-mean-action-rpm and the dust it produces can be enormous. Use a vacuum, face shield, gloves.
Floor scraper. Speaking of floors, if you’ve got one to get ready for new tile or wood, a floor scraper (I have a Hyde, I like it) will beat the pants off whatever else you have. I’ve used them for everything from peeling up sheet goods to scraping slipped joint compound to knocking down an over-poured floor leveler. I’ve used a typical flat bar for the same exact things and the floor scraper does the job faster, better and easier. And since it seems popular to buy flip houses now, you can use it there too, pulling up the AstroTurf and glue from the patio slab out back.
Table. ’Table’ means different things to different people. Let’s just stay basic and say any horizontal surface you can reasonably move around and work on. Gardeners like to have a worktable for re-potting or de-potting plants. It also serves as a place to keep tools handy. For carpentry-type DIY, sawhorses, 2x4s and a 1/2 a sheet of 3/4-inch plywood is easy to set up and break down. Keep a power strip close by (I screw one to the leg of the horse) and you can plug in chargers, sanders, etc. It’s stable enough for a miter saw or tile saw. And big enough to spread out all the stuff you’re using.
Paint brush. If you plan to paint more than a few hours, skip the throwaway brushes at the home centre and get a decent brush. I use a 3-inch angled paintbrush for nearly everything. A paintbrush is like a bike. A good one and a bad one work the same unless you know how to ride and take care of it. Learn how to clean the brush and you’ll have it for years—or at least until the next project.
Pry Bar. I wrote about a small pry bar in a previous article. I also get a lot of mileage out of my larger pry bar. Typical flat bars (as they’re called because they’re made from flat steel bar stock) have a boatload of flex in them. I use an I-Beam style bar from Estwing that basically does everything a flat metal pry bar does, just 10,000 times better.
Impact driver. Watch 10 seconds of DIY Network on a weekend morning and the “badadadadadadada” of Make-it-right-Mike’s impact drivers will fill your living room. If you’ve got any quantity of larger screws to drive, you surely can do it with a cordless drill/driver. However, you can do it better with a cordless impact driver. Milwaukee Tool makes a last-a-lifetime model. From doorknobs to decks, impacts just work better. They take a little getting used to (you don’t have to press really hard, just hard enough) but once you have the hang of it, there’s no looking back.
Coping Saw. If adding new trim to a room is on your weekend wish list, let me put something to rest for you right now. A coped joint is always better than a mitered joint. Some joints can’t be coped (like cove molding) but most can. What’s tricky is learning how to cope and to use a coping saw, I have a FatMax. But once you do, like the impact driver, there’s no turning back. Spend 20 minutes practicing. You’ll be amazed. I wasn’t born knowing how to cope crown molding. I got good by doing reps.
Screws. I’d say this is a stretch, but it isn’t. I use Spax multi-material screws for just about everything I build now. No more black drywall screws (they suck for everything but drywall). No more Phillips-Star-Square-drive piles of deck screws for playsets or mailboxes or decks. No more concrete screws for concrete and masonry connections. The Spax MMS comes in all the sizes I need and works better in every medium than all the other screws combined. And they (mostly) work on the same driver tip. This alone is a time-saving tool I hope makes your DIY rock.
Mark Clement is a carpenter and co-host of the MyFixitUpLife show.