Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Power Tool Thoughts

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
- Jobmate
- Pro-Pulse
- Black & Decker

2. DIY-er (occasional user)
- Mastercraft
- Ryobi
- Skil
- Craftsmen

3. Frequent DIY-er or Professional
- DeWalt
- Ridgid
- Makita
- Porter Cable
- Delta
- Bosch
- Hitachi

4. Are you sure it's just about the tool and not about your self-esteem?
- Festool
- Freud
- Milwaukee
- Hilti

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.


S and N said...

Wow, so many posts to read! You might shame us into resuming our house blog! N has the Festool (the whole family) on his permanent (read unrealized) tool wish list. Tools from your category #3 seem to appear as if by magic around here. But I think you forgot a brand from your category 1. I suppose it's not so much a brand as a store devoted to category 1 brands, but it's an astonishing world unto itself: Princess Auto. If you haven't visited a Princess Auto store, you must.
Oh, and one of the most oft used tools around here (in addition to your top three) is our portable Dewalt table saw--an incredibly useful tool. Great to see you back.

Roncy Vic said...

@Sand N

I really hope you do resume your blog soon. I really love your blog and am dying to see more of your kitchen.

I'll definitely have to check out Princess Auto. That and the Tractor Supply Co are both on my "must see" list.

I too have Festool fantasies. I have actually caught myself wondering, what kind of side business i could start so that i could write off the cost?

Great point on the table saw. If mine were portable i'd probably use it much more than i do.

Shannon said...

i think we have a milwaukee drill in the basement...it was a replacement for a rigid that died (the rigid was a hand-me-down)

now I get why we ended up with milwaukee

Kevin @ My Dad's Shoes said...

So first.. just found you.. I'm enjoying reading back through some of your stuff.

Here's two tools that I really think should be on your list..

A cordless impact. I used my Dad's Dewalt 18v one to put in my drywall in the kitchen, and it was amazing. I very rarely broke the paper with that thing, plus it's really light weight, which is handy when you're holding it above your head to screw in the ceiling. The new DeWalt 20v MAX LiIon one has my eye...if I don't get it as a Christmas gift then I think I'll pick it up for myself.

A Dremel Trio. It's like the better more useful version of the rotary tools you don't like. I use it for plunge cuts in things all the time, and in a pinch, it makes a good jig saw, too. I used it to cut hung drywall around receptacle boxes, and to put a roughly circular cut in solid hardwood to fit around a curved staircase base. Definitely handy.

Roncy Vic said...

Glad you found my blog Kevin. Great tool tips. I don't own a cordless impact driver yet, but from my experience with using my brother's, i do really like the compact size. They fit into some pretty tight spaces, where a cordless drill often can't. You bring up a good point with the Dremel, they really excel at cutting drywall around electrical boxes and recessed lights.

Alphonse Daigle said...

You surely got a lot of wisdom when it comes to power tools, Kyle. I like the fact that you sorted out the brands based on the skill level of the user. It’s true that different brands produce tools that are of different qualities, so it’s important to match them to your abilities. The thing that doesn’t change when it comes to power tools is safety equipment. Beginner or not, we must ensure that we are well protected.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kyle. miss your blogging entries.Guess you are really busy with new house. Quick question a couple of years ago you posted about your tool recommendations. I'm in the market for a good quality drill/driver and a compound sliding mitre saw. I know you mentioned you buy out of your category 3 (DeWalt, Makita, etc.) Do you mind telling me what specific brands you bought for both of the above tools and how you like them. Many thanks

Kyle said...

The new generation of drill drivers are really great, they are small, powerful and hold charge much longer than the previous generation drills. I have a 12V Rigid drill driver. It is compact and the batteries also work in my Rigid multi tool. there are much more powerful tools, but I find it accomplishes everything i need it to do. And if I ever need more torque (e.g. Using a hole saw) I just use my corded drill.

I also have the Bosch 10" sliding dual compound miter saw and stand which has served me very well. It is very precise and cuts beautifully. But the downside, as with all sliding compound miter saws, is that it is very large and requires a lot of space to store.

Hope this helps.