Tools are as much a part of nature as is speaking or thinking. Without even being shown how, children too young to do much more than walk will rapidly learn how to take the things in their environment and use them to achieve some kind of goal... Often mischief. 😉
At their most basic, a tool can be anything as simply as a stick or a rock. If you use a large flat rock to smash open a walnut, you have used a tool. If you use a stick that found by the side of a lake to fish out something that fell into the water, again you have used a tool.
However, tools need not be so rudimentary as a stick or a rock. In fact, in the tens of thousands of years since people first developed the use of tools, they have continued to evolve.
This all constant refinements to improve either their effectiveness or specialty. By this point in time, there are more tools than you can shake a stick at.
Still, it helps to understand what we will be covering in regards to tools. Keep in mind, computers are technically tools. They are an external device that we use to do an astronomical number of computations in a matter of seconds.
The fact that they allow us to present you this article is incidental to what they what they actually do--which is simply determine the correct order of 1s and 0s.
Still, for this article, we focus exclusively on tools that accomplish tasks generally associated with woodworking or DIY projects. Of course, even with that narrowing, we still have a wide variety of tools and tool-like devices to choose from.
In this regard, you may be surprised by some the items that are actually considered tools.
Tools Definition: A Common Sense Answer
Tools are our way to adapt to an environment in the absence of a wide range of natural features. Moreover, tools are specifically designed to not only allow humans to accomplish a wider range of tasks than their natural features allow but to do so with force than they alone can generate.
While other animals have been known to use the most rudimentary of tools, only humans will fashion complex tools to achieve a range of goals. Ultimately, tools can be seen as the original development of technology, and all forms of technology are technically tools.
However, when you say the word “tool” today, most people think of tools that are used for the processes of construction or demolition. Moreover, even though they technically are, few laymen consider robots to be tools.
For our purposes, the tools definition will be any device that is used by humans to augment their natural abilities and that helps them accomplish a task.
Keep in mind, this definition is necessarily broad as many tools are often seen as auxiliary equipment. For example, a tape measure may not be seen as a tool in the same way that a hammer is.
But a tape measure augments our ability to accurately define dimensions. In this regard, the tape measure can be seen as an analog tool of both the mind and the eye.
Similarly, safety glasses and work gloves may not be seen as “proper” tools. However, as a species, we generally do not have the same defensive features that other animals have like thick skin or a layer of protective blubber.
As such, we augment these natural deficiencies with protective items that prevent us from suffering bodily harm while using other tools.
In terms of tasks, if you can think of one, there is probably a tool to accomplish it. Tools are designed to cut, assist with transporting and moving items, cause a chemical change, guide and measure, shape, and fasten.
Of course, each tool is unique, and a tool designed for one purpose will not only not resembles tools designed for other purposes, they will often have entirely different standards across all spectrums for what defines the entries within their category as a “good” or “bad” tool.
Within the broader tasks that tools are designed to accomplish, there are often subcategories for how a tool in question accomplishes that task or in what specific situation the tool is designed to be used. In this regard, tools will often resemble each other--at least somewhat--and be recognizable as within the same class.
In addition, tools that are designed for similar tasks can often be substituted for one another on occasion. For instance, a circular saw is designed to be used for long rip cuts or for rapid plunge cuts. A miter saw on the other hand, is designed either to make cross cuts or bevel cuts.
Circular saws often feature a simplified bevel capacity and can be used for cross cuts. Conversely, miter saws can be used for plunge cuts or shorter rip cuts.
Keep in mind, neither saw can do the other’s specialized task better than the designed tool. But both can be used in a pinch for a smaller variety of those tasks and often accomplish them relatively well in the hands of a skilled user.
Types of Tools and Their Uses
This section will focus on the types of tools and their uses. Each category type is generalized to what is the tool names 'parent.' Please remember that each type of tool can be considered to fall under more than one type of tool category.
This not truly a category of tools and is instead more appropriately understood as a subcategory of power tools. However, professionals and weekend warriors alike can find value in the versatility and ease of a cordless power tool.
The defining characteristic of a cordless tool is that instead of being powered by an electrical outlet or an air hose, it is powered by a battery pack. This presents some advantages to the other power sources, but it also presents plenty of limitations.
First, the bad: cordless power tools suffer from a deficiency of raw power. This truism holds across the spectrum of power tools. Whether power drills or circular saw, a cordless model will simply not compare to a corded or pneumatic model.
Even worse, cordless power tools do not go from 100 to 0. Instead, these tools will slowly become less and less effective over time as their power reserves drain.
The solution to this problem is to have one or more extra battery packs already with a full charge and waiting. Of course, many cordless power tools do not even come with a single starter battery pack and require you to purchase one just for the tool to function at all.
When you consider buying multiple battery packs to be able to effectively run the tool all day, you will often end up with an investment that costs more than the tool in question.
Thankfully, many manufacturers somewhat alleviate this. A number of manufacturers that produce a wide range of cordless power tools design many of them to use the same type of battery.
This is ultimately done to keep manufacturing costs down, but it can turn into a potential boon for consumers. If you plan on loading up your toolbelt with a number of cordless power tools, you can often save some money on extra batteries by being able to switch out the battery packs from tool to tool.
Since you cannot use more than one tool at a time, you should not worry about running out of juice. Assuming you always keep one or more batteries charging, depending on the charge station.
Still, the benefits of cordless power tools cannot be understated when the situation calls for them. Quite simply, there is not another power tool subcategory that is more portable than the cordless models.
If you are on a jobsite that does not have access to electricity, you are either forced to use a portable generator or a portable air compressor. In fact, if you go the pneumatic route, you will have to bring both the generator and air compressor--the generator to run the air compressor.
With a portable generator generally using diesel fuel, this can get expensive with extensive use over numerous days. Moreover, you will likely need multiple generators running if you have a crew of people working. This is where the ease of a battery pack becomes vital.
When looking at cordless power tools they generally come in 2 voltage categories: 10.7/12 volt and 18/20. The 10.7/12 are identical as are the 18/20. The difference comes from when you measure the battery’s voltage: during use or at rest. Obviously, the more volts, the more powerful the cordless tool.
These are the originals, the grandfathers of what modern tools have become. However, plenty of hand tools are so simple, cheap, and effective that powered options simply to not make sense.
For instance, a powered hammer may be a more effective hammer than the hand tool version, but when a solid hand tool hammer costs less than a 20th of a powered hammer, it makes little sense to buy the modern version.
In fact, there are plenty of hand tools that still outperform their powered counterparts on a value scale. In this regard, a power tool is a better choice in one of 2 situations. When the job needs to be done quickly. And the power tool blows the hand tool’s speed out of the water or when the hand tool is too fatiguing to do over longer periods of time.
For the first example, the sawing action immediately comes to mind. Using a hand saw is a tedious process.
While the ability to put your full body into the sawing action does prevent fatigue from becoming too big of a factor the sheer amount of time it takes to cut wood by hand is easily compensated by the relatively modest investment that many different saws require.
Conversely, driving screws can be hard work. While it may not require your entire body’s effort to drive a screw, that would likely make the task easier. Instead, you are reliant on the smaller and generally weaker hand and forearm muscles to drive the screw.
Over a relatively short period of time, this can cause the hand to cramp up. In this case, the power drill is a no-brainer and even provides the added bonus of being able to drive a screw without a hole fairly easily.
Still, hand tools--even ones which are often replaced by power tools--do have their place: fine craftsmanship. Because of the energetic nature of power tools, they are often ill-suited for work that requires a high degree of skill and precision.
For instance, when completing elegant woodworking jobs, the clearance of as little as 1/16” can mean the difference between a masterpiece and the scrap heap.
In this regard, hand tools offer a degree of precision that is only limited by the degree of skill in the user’s hands. Consider, the greatest works of marble sculpture were all completed with hand tools. Many of the finest pieces of furniture are also completed with hand tools--at least for any of the exquisite inlays.
Another benefit of hand tools that should make them a mainstay in any tool belt--whether you have a full complement of power tools or not--is their reliability. Cordless power tools can run out of juice.
Corded and pneumatic power tools likewise can be ill-suited for different jobsites or break down. However, hand tools are often simple enough in design that if you purchase a quality tool, it may very well outlast you and be passed down to your descendants.
That comfort of knowing that you are never without the ability to work and the ultimate stop-gap measure makes hand tools every bit as valuable as any tool mechanically powered--even if they rarely see the light of day.
Of course, this is ignoring the immense value that a hand tool provides when the job is incredibly small as well. Rather than having to plug something in or get a battery pack, you can simply pick up a hand tool and fix whatever the problem is in a matter of seconds.
Measuring and Layout Tools
Rarely is it advisable to go into a job impromptu. While there will always come a time when things do not go according to plan and you have to improvise, the best quality jobs and smoothest running jobs always have one thing in common: preparation.
Quite simply, if you already know what you need to do before you do it, it is far easier to accomplish the task than having to figure it out as you go along.
Aside from the fact that having to figure out your course of action in the midst of working slows you down, you may find yourself running into the issue of having made a decision beforehand that no longer works with the rest of the job.
In this instance, you will have wasted time and resources--both equivalent to money on a professional job--just to have to go back fix whatever hasty decision you made in the moment.
That is why all serious professionals ensure that they have a full suite of measuring and layout tools on hand and that they use them frequently. A true professional will often have multiples of the same tool, especially if they are likely to see regular use, just in case something happens to their primary.
The three most common measuring tools you are liable to find on every professional jobsite are the measuring tape, the level, and the right angle square. It is interesting to note that while people who work in construction may be maligned for not being smart, chances are they do far more math in a given day than the same people who look down on them.
This is especially true of the measuring tape and the right angle square. The measuring tape basically gives you a measurement of distance. However, to be able to effectively read the the tape, you need to be able to do fractions.
Similarly, the right angle square requires a functional understanding of geometry and angles to be able to utilize accurately. In this regard, the right angle square basically serves the function of a high school protractor.
As the name suggest, the square edge of the right right angle square also serves to provide an effective edge to ensure that you draw a straight cutting line.
The level, as the name implies, is designed to tell you when a surface is level with the ground. Levels can provide this reading for horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree angled surfaces. In fact, circular levels can do all three depending on how it is calibrated.
Keep in mind, the level will determine whether or not the surface is level based on gravity. This can get a bit tricky if the floor you are standing on is not level and can actually lead to the creation of an unlevel product.
Other common measuring tools include the stud finder which identifies the wooden studs behind drywall so you can better hang shelves, pictures, or whatnot. Calipers are another measuring tool, and they are used to precisely measure the size of a gap.
This is far more accurate than a tape measure and is especially important when the lines and edges need to be flush with one another.
Along with hand tools and power tools, pneumatic tools are one of the other major categories of tool that most people, regardless their background would identify as a tool. However, pneumatic tools have a somewhat unique mix of advantages and disadvantages.
Whereas the difference between hand tool and power tools--as well as the difference between the cordless and corded subcategories of power tools--often come down to a difference in power, pneumatic tools do not suffer that issue.
When properly supplied, pneumatic tools are every bit as powerful as electric power tools. In fact, at the highest levels, pneumatic tools are often the most powerful tool category in the non-industrial markets. Pneumatic power tools also skip the other conflict between corded and cordless power tools: ergonomics.
Cordless power tools, though they may give up some in raw power, are often lighter and easier to use than corded power tools, even when including the weight of the battery pack.
Pneumatic power tools offer the same degree of power or better as a corded power tool while also providing a much lighter profile and ease of use, similar to a cordless power tool. Still, pneumatic power tools can be trouble when it comes to actually powering them.
In this regard, it is not so much that powering a pneumatic tool is difficult as much as it can be costlier, more time consuming, and more cumbersome. From the cost analysis, this occurs because pneumatic tools require a constant supply of air pressure. This means you will need to purchase an air compressor just to use your pneumatic tools.
If you plan to use the tools at home or at a location with electricity, this may not be such a big deal, especially if you have a number of pneumatic tools at your disposal. However, if your jobsite does not have connection to an electrical outlet, the air compressor will then need a portable generator to run and fill its tank with compressed air.
As mentioned earlier, this creates an additional economic burden with having to both purchase a portable generator and the diesel fuel to run it.
From a cumbersome perspective, you will have to lug the air compressor, and possibly the portable generator, around with you. Or purchase an extra long hose so that you can leave the air compressor in one place as you take the tool from point to point on the jobsite.
Of course, this is made irrelevant if you use pneumatic tools at a dedicated workshop with a large, stationary air compressor.
Still, some pneumatic tools are simply better than their counterparts in the alternative categories. For example, a nail gun is far superior to either an electric version or a hammer. The speed and ease with which you can drive dozens of nails does not even come close to competition.
In this case, if you are on a site where you have a half day’s worth of nails to drive or more, the convenience of a nail gun is often worth whatever investment of money, time, or energy you have to pay.
When it comes to professional tools, the vast majority of them will be found in this category. As hinted prior, power tools use a source of electricity to accomplish their task. These tools are more powerful than hand tools and easier to set up than pneumatic tools.
Power tools come in 2 broad subcategories: cordless and corded. We have already covered cordless power tools, so for this entry, we will focus on corded power tools.
While corded power tools may not have the same freedom of range as cordless power tools, these are generally the most power tools that are not in the industrial category. In fact, other than pneumatic tools, the competition is not even close.
Quite simply, cordless power tools are often insufficient for many of the more demanding professional jobs.
Granted, there are plenty of tasks that may not require an immense amount of power to perform adequately. For instance, power drills generally do not need to be exceedingly powerful to effectively drill holes or drive screws--depending on the material.
Other tasks suffer immensely from the lack of power that plagues cordless power tools. The cutting action immediately springs to mind.
Whether a circular saw, jigsaw, reciprocating saw or any other kind of saw, the often limited amount of raw power that a cordless saw can provide makes them pale in comparison to the ease and convenience of using a corded model.
As such, professionals will often shy away from cordless saws which are liable to have difficulty make the long rip cuts or standing up to a full day’s use without suffering from a less effective action.
Unlike cordless power tools, corded power tools are measured in amps, not volts--though every electrical tool technically carries a voltage, corded power tools generally run at 120 volts which the standard for most residential electrical outlets.
Unfortunately, corded power tool motors run at a far wider range of amperages than the cordless models.
Whereas a cordless power tool will usually only come in 10.7/12 to 18/20 volts, a corded power tool can run from anywhere between 3 to 15+ amps. Obviously, the more amps the motor can use the more powerful the motor.
Though different brands of corded power tool that run at the same amps will not produce the same power of action.
In terms of issues you must deal with, corded power tools are cumbersome. In fact, they are often so large and heavy due to the motor that one of the bigger secondary selling points between manufacturers relates to which one is the most ergonomic.
While the motor technology of corded power tools continues to advance, the ergonomics of corded power tools could be said to be in a veritable “golden age” with manufacturers putting far more effort into the ergonomics of their tool than they ever did 30 or 40 years ago.
Finally, the other issue with corded power tools is that if you need to use them at a site that does not have access to electricity, you must power them with a portable generator. Furthermore, as previously discussed, this will force you to purchase diesel fuel as well.
Having to lug around the portable generator to different points of the jobsite, unless you run some exceptionally long extension cable, only adds to the corded power tool’s encumbrance.
You can be the most skilled professional on the planet. You can have every tool and know which situations are perfect to use each of them. None of that matters if you cannot find the tool when you need it.
Thankfully, there are a wealth of different tool organizers, each suited for a different situation. Some of them are more versatile and some of them less so, but all of them have their place.
The most common type of tool organizer that people think of are wearables. This is where you will find the iconic toolbelt. However, there are actually many types of wearable tool organizers.
Aprons are another common type of wearable tool organizer, though they have a tendency to find use in professionals where you are not asked to move around all that often. Other, smaller wearable include wristbands and clippables, though these are generally used only for small hand tools that you expect to be using quite often.
The other iconic type of tool organizer is the toolbox. These tool organizers can come in a wide variety of sizes and materials. Metal containers are generally see as the best because of their durability, but they are also heavier.
If you are on a job that will call for a number of hand tools, especially if they are larger and heavier hand tools like hammers and wrenches, you will probably need a large toolbox. Smaller toolboxes are used more for screwdrivers and small hand tools that do not require such a large profile.
Drawers are similar to the following tool organizer on our list, cabinets, except they generally are not used to hold the tools people think of when they thing of tools. Instead, tool drawers are used to hold the smaller bits used in construction--especially fasteners.
Woodworking shops frequently have tool drawers littered with well-organized nails, screws, nuts, and bolts. However, tool drawers are also liable to hold sandpaper, ties, clips, and an assortment of other odds and ends.
Cabinets are the big daddies of tool organization. These are often tool organizers that stand anywhere from 3 to 6 feet tall. They will often feature numerous drawers of differing sizes to hold different sized tools.
These tool organizers will also often come mounted onto wheels to make moving them from one place to another easier. However, the addition of wheels should not be confused with portability.
Tool cabinets are strictly designed to be used in dedicated workshops or garages. If you have some tools housed in a tool cabinet that you wish to take with you to a jobsite, you will transfer those tools to a toolbox or a toolbelt.
A tool bucket is one of the more novel kinds of tool organizers to hit the market. While they may not be nearly as common as toolbelts or tool boxes, they provide many of the same benefits as both, serving as an almost 2-for-1 tool organizer.
Tool buckets are not actually a bucket. Instead, this tool organizer is a leather or polyfabric cover that is generally designed to fit over a 5 gallon bucket. This design allows you to carry a large number of tools--including larger ones--without having to encumber yourself by wearing them on your person.
Similar to cordless tools, woodworking tools are not a true category. However, woodworking tools are even further removed from cordless tools as they are not even a legitimate subcategory of tool.
Instead, woodworking tools are best understood as a niche of tools. By this, we mean that tools for woodworking will incorporate tools from all categories and subcategories already covered.
However, woodworking tools will place a higher premium on control and precision within those categories and subcategories. As such woodworking tools will see entries from hand tools, pneumatic tools, and power tools--both corded and cordless.
The difference is that all of the tools in the woodworking niche, regardless their power source, needs to be designed for precision.
For example, a subcategory of tool that has not been covered within this article are sanders. Sanders essentially remove layers of a material or smooth the material. Now, while you may use some large and powerful sanders in woodworking projects, those sanders are not necessarily known as belonging to this niche alone.
However, finishing sanders are definitively a woodworking sander. The fact that you may use finishing sanders for other purposes is inconsequential to the fact that finishing sanders are designed to be used for fine woodworking and will find that to be the use for which they are most often used.
For example, one may be laying a oak wood floor in a new house construction. Still, when it comes time to sand the floor before treating it, you will use some kind of finishing sander.
Of course, that is not to say that there are no tools explicitly used for woodworking and little else. Simply the vast majority of tools used for woodworking have other areas of use as well. Still, for the more specialized tool, a planer comes to mind.
Planers are not like the other tools we have reviewed. These tools are rarely used outside of the woodworking niche as other materials are better served with different tool altogether.
Still, when it comes time to shape large pieces of wood quickly, the planer is the tool of choice. Another tool which is not exclusively used for woodworking, but finds a wealth of its work within the niche is the lathe. While metalworking and glass working lathes exist, they are usually the purview of different types of professionals altogether.
Moreover, while a construction professional may higher the services of a metalworker on a lathe, they are far less likely to be proficient in its use than a machinist. It's not at all uncommon for a construction professional to use the products of a metalworking lathe on their jobsite.
Still, the fact remains that those who use lathes--especially of the hobbyist variety--do so for wood above all other materials.
One thing to keep in mind when purchasing tools for woodworking: there are rough tools and fine tools.
Rough tools are suited for the early stages of woodworking when you are simply clearing away the excess wood before you begin on the precision handiwork. In this instance, power tools can be a useful and efficient choice.
When the time comes to perform the more refined tasks of woodworking, you will generally need to use hand tools. Although some tasks may require a powered tool of some sort, the hands of a skilled woodworker with a hand tool can simply not be beaten by the same woodworker using a power tool.
Tool Names: Common List of Tools
This section will focus on the common lists of tools. A few may consider the tool names to be generic, but we prefer to make it generalized for the woodworkers and DIY'ers out there starting out.
Outside of the hammer, this is the most common hand tool you are liable to find with anyone. In fact, hammers and screwdrivers are used for so many purposes that even people who do no construction whatsoever will have them on hand for odds and ends around the house.
Screwdrivers come in two primary designs, though there are far more. Philips head screwdrivers feature a head that is shaped like a cross and narrows at the tip. There are a couple variations on this design, but they all generally feature 1 cross or more.
The slot head, or flathead, screwdriver features a head that ends in a single, slender edge. It is one of the oldest tools in existence and is often used for simple woodworking purposes. However, the head’s design is not suitable for power and will slip out. This screwdriver design is also often used as an improvised pry bar.
While not as common as the first 2, the hex-headed screwdriver is probably the third most common and features a six-sided head. It is also known as an Allen wrench and can be found in numerous consumer products for which some assembly is required.
The lowly extension cord--many a professional job has been made either much easier or much more difficult depending on the quality of this “tool.” If you are on a professional jobsite, chances are you will need an extension cord at some point in time.
Whether you are working on a project without a power source and must use a portable generator or simply require the use of a tool on the jobsite that needs to have its own designated space, like a tile saw, a good extension cord is a must have for any professional.
Easily, the most important quality of an extension cord is its length. A cord too short is useless. However, the cord’s gauge and material are also a primary concerns. The gauge of a cord refers to its generally thickness.
Though it more appropriately refers to the amount of amps that the cord can safely transfer without the risk of breaking down due to heat. Keep in mind, the length of the cord will affect the amount of power it can transfer, so longer cords will often need to be larger gauged as well.
For materials, you want your cord to use thicker, heavy-duty plastic. This will allow the cord to stand up to the rigors of the jobsite as well as the elements.
This will allow the cord to be coiled if it does not come with its own spool. The plastic cords used for indoor extension are suitable for the jobsite--generally not even as an intermediary connection.
This is easily one of the most basic and most well recognized hand tools--regardless of where you come from. In fact, the hammer is little more than a specialized club. As such, it is a direct descendant of the earliest tool, and though its profile may have a changed a bit, it still serves more or less the same purpose it always has.
There are a few types of hammers, though the one most people think of when they hear the word “hammer” is the claw hammer. This hammer features a double sided head with a cylindrical flat side and a curved “v” shape that serves as a mini pry bar of sorts and is generally used to extract nail.
Ball peen hammers are used for metalworking as the steel commonly used in claw hammers is often too brittle for such work.
Mallets have a dense rubber head with a broad, flat contact area and are used when you want to protect the surface you are driving a nail into.
Sledgehammers can be one or two-handed and are generally much heavier than normal hammers and are used for stone work or demolition.
When selecting a hammer, one of the most important qualities will be its construction. Specifically, are the head and shaft a single molded piece, or are they connected separately--generally with some type of glue or wedge design.
The former will almost always be preferred as a single forged piece has no risk of the head coming separated from the shaft.
Along with hammers and screwdrivers, the chisel is an ancient device, older than the screwdriver but not necessarily the hammer. There are numerous types of chisel, but for woodworking, you will be looking for a gouge chisel.
The design of a gouge chisel is fairly straight-forward. Extending from the shaft is a long, thick blade that is shaped like a rectangular trapezoid. Wood working chisels will feature 3 angled sides. Though, spoon-bent and fishtail chisels also exist for specific woodworking purposes.
However, the degree of the edge’s angle and its depth will distinguish one chisel from another. Keep in mind, some woodworking chisels are designed to be used for larger projects that feature plenty of rough work. Other chisels are better suited for finer carvings.
The two primary concerns for a chisel are the materials and the edge. The chisel needs a sharp edge to cut into the wood without damaging the surrounding materials.
This is often heavily influenced by the material. For instance, a high-quality steel will both keep the edge better and be able to be sharpened to a finer edge than low-quality steel will be.
Plenty of jobs will either require you to work in locations where the air quality is compromised or compromise the air quality during the work itself. In this instance, a dust mask can not only make the job easier and more pleasant, it can actually prevent a short or long term health risk from breathing in dangerous contaminants.
Of course, there are numerous types of dust masks, with some of the more advanced masks costing a fair amount and the most basic being exceedingly cheap. You will need to understand specifically what kind of threat a compromised air quality poses before choosing which to use.
The cheaper, disposable masks are usually made from paper, foam, or cotton, though some of the better ones will be made of polymers specifically designed to trap contaminants and filter out the air.
However, the specific situation will ultimately determine what the minimum grade material to be used will have to be.
Reusable masks are often similar to disposables in the amount of protection they provide, however these masks can be washed to be used multiple times. Keep in mind, depending on the scenario the particulates filtered may not easily wash out, so do not simply assume they can be used indefinitely.
Finally, truly filtered masks with fit snugly over your face and use rubber seals to more effectively prevent contaminated air from reaching you. These masks can either feature a single or double filter and will sometimes be powered or come with their own oxygen supply.
Measure twice, cut once. That is the mantra of every serious carpenter and for good reason. The cost of materials is expensive, so preventing unnecessary waste is crucial. That is why a good tape measure is an essential part of anyone’s toolbelt--regardless the skill level.
A good tape measure should have a couple qualities that are absolutely necessary. First, the outer frame should be made out of metal. This helps prevent the tape measure from sustaining damage during one of the likely many drops it will endure.
The “tape” of the tape measure should be made out of steel or some other kind of metal that is both strong enough to maintain tensile integrity but soft enough to bend and flex without breaking or creasing.
Also along the tape, the marks that designate the different lengths should be clear and graduated, meaning the larger divisions should be the biggest. This makes reading the tape easier.
While not always necessary, having double sided tape with the imperial system on one side--measuring inches and feet--and the metric system on the other can be useful. Finally, a good tape measure should have a sturdy belt clip for easy stowing and retrieval.
Circular saws are one of the mainstays of construction and should be found in any serious professional’s toolbelt. However, because of their relatively simple use yet versatile function, they should probably be found in everyone’s toolbelt, whether a professional or not.
However, there are a couple types of circular saws, and each is more or less suited for different jobs. The circular saw that most people think of is the sidewinder.
This saw features the motor on the side of the blade and can come in both left or right handed designs--though right is by far the most common. Sidewinders can be corded or cordless and are best for rip cuts.
The other type of circular saw that is likely to be readily identified as a circular saw is the worm drive. This saw features a motor that sits behind the blade. These saws often generate more torque than the sidewinder design.
However, the way they are designed makes them more difficult to control and will cause fatigue after shorter lengths of use than the sidewinder. These saw are best for plunge cuts and heavy duty jobs like framing.
The last of the main circular saws are compact circular saws, also called trim saws. These saws are much smaller than either of the two previous types of circular saw and generally feature a blade that is no larger than 5”.
These saws are designed for more delicate cuts where control is primary or the available workspace is limited. Generally corded as cordless versions are simply too weak to be useful, few compact circular saws are effective at plunge cuts and are generally used for smaller rips or shifting angles.
Outside of the hammer, this is probably the most common tool to be found on a professional’s toolbelt. However, there are different kinds of drills--included a hand tool version. The most common type of drill is the power drill.
The power drill can be either corded or cordless, though there are some pneumatic drills as well. However, pneumatic drills are more commonly used for heavier work and will often be impact drivers or hammer drills.
Power drills often have an adjustable chuck that can fit both drill bits for drilling holes and screwdriver bits for driving screws. These drills also feature pistol grips for easy use.
Right angle drills are similar to power drills in function, though their design differs. These drills will generally feature either a barrel or a d-grip, though some have a modified pistol trigger. The head of right angle drill is cocked at a 90 degree angle to allow drilling in hard to reach places, though some feature an adjustable head.
SDS and hammer drills generally function similarly, though SDS drills have a bit more versatility. The difference between the two is that SDS drills can drill without the impact action while hammer drills cannot.
Both drills allow you to drive a screw with an action that simultaneously turns and strikes the screw. This is used primary for masonry, but it can be useful anytime you are trying to drive a screw into any exceptionally dense material.
Every drill needs good drill bits, however, the sheer wealth of options in this category can overwhelm even the most dedicated professional. However, most jobs will generally require a standard selection of twist drill bits, so it is rarely necessary to have an exhaustive collection.
Drill bits are measured both in length and the diameter of the bored hole. While length is more important at the extreme ends of drilling needs, the drill bits bore diameter will be relevant for all but the driving of screws.
However, if you are drilling fairly large diameter holes, you will likely use either a spade bit or a hole saw bit.
Aside from the size and type, the most important quality of a drill bit is its material. Steel is the most common type of drill bit material, though it comes in many different qualities.
High-speed steel is far more preferable to low-carbon steel as it will resist heat better. Even more durable materials exist, but the cost is often prohibitive unless you are using it to drill into materials other than wood or drill all of the time.
The jigsaw is a bit more specialized in its application, but hobbyists and professionals will see plenty of situations where it is the best tool for the job. For professionals, jigsaws are most commonly used to make precise plunge cuts, while hobbyists will generally prefer a high-end jigsaw to make precise cuts.
A jigsaw features a long, thin, straight blade. It’s motor reciprocates the saw blade to create the cutting action. However, newer jigsaws may use a different cutting action than older ones.
The two cutting actions are orbital and pendulum. Orbital jigsaws will allow the blade to slightly revolve as it reciprocates while a pendulum will swing the blade forward and backward during the reciprocating action.
Orbital jigsaws will cut easier and denser materials than pendulum jigsaws, but their cuts are also less precise. The precision of a pendulum jigsaw may be well-suited for fine woodworking purposes, but the blade can get dislodged from its line easier--especially on longer or curving cuts.
Safety glasses are an absolutely vital part of any job, whether using power tools or not. Even when using simple hand tools, shards or splinters of material can fly off and strike your eyes if they are not protected.
The most common type of safety glasses are actually protective goggles. This type of eyewear will not only protect the front of your eyes, but they will have a foam or rubber edge that sits flush on your face and protects above, below, and on the sides as well.
Safety goggles are often made out of an unbreakable material, generally polycarbonate.
However, there are also safety glasses which protect the front, but do little for the sides around the eye. Safety glasses will prevent direct strikes, but they can be susceptible to dust or ricochet strikes.
However, these safety glasses are also often far more comfortable and breath better without the risk of fogging up.
While not for every job or every level of skill, the table saw is an old standard that should be a part of any professional’s tool kit and even many homeowners--assuming they regularly work on larger projects.
The table saw features a fixed circular blade mounted onto a table and is driven by a powerful motor. This type of saw is designed explicitly for long cuts with thick or dense materials--generally lumber. Though, different blades can allow you you to cut different types of material.
Since the blade is fixed, the materials are fed into the blade by the user. This makes table saws one of the most dangerous tools commonly used and you should exercise extreme caution when using them.
While the benchtop table saw is the most common, other types exist like contractor, cabinet, hybrid, and mini or micro table saws.
Contractor table saws are for even larger cutting jobs and are not often used for general construction purposes, instead being preferred by hobbyists and homeowners.
Cabinet table saws are for more precise cuts as their design prevents vibration.
The hybrid table saw combines contractor and cabinet design features. These may find use on a jobsite, but a benchtop is still preferred.
Finally, the micro or mini table saw are used to cut smaller pieces of wood as they are less likely to damage delicate materials or snap of slender edges.
Air compressors are a vital power source for pneumatic tools. Unless you have a professional air compressor in a dedicated shop, chances are you will be using a smaller version that features a motor and a drum.
Keep in mind, air compressors need electricity to function, so unless you need a tool that is pneumatically driven, you are better off sticking with a standard electrical power tool.
Still, the sheer number of power tools that can be pneumatically powered--no to mention a few that are primarily pneumatic power tools, almost dictates that every professional has one.
Homeowners and hobbyists can often find use for an air compressor--especially hobbyists--but it is less necessary in this realm.
When purchasing an air compressor, the most important factor to consider is the maximum amount of pressure delivered. Low-pressure air compressors discharge up to 150 psi of air pressure or less while high-pressure air compressors can supply more than 1000 psi.
While electric nail guns technically exist, this is the most common tool to be found that will primarily be pneumatically driven. However, there are a variety of compression power sources with compressed air as only one.
Generally speaking, a combustion powered nail gun is ideal, though often far more expensive--both initially and in the long run.
Electric nail guns can be surprisingly effective, however they are also far more cumbersome than pneumatic nail guns. They utilize an internal motor to wind a spring which then provides the driving power.
This process takes more time and is often too slow for a professional jobsite. Moreover, electric nail guns are far heavier than pneumatic ones.
Nail guns are used to drive more than nails, however, as they are also one of the preferred tools for driving industrial staples as well. Chances are, most of the upholstery on your furniture was fastened by a nail gun--either by a person or a machine.
While less likely to cause the same kind of serious injury or death as a table saw, nail guns are also incredibly dangers. As such, you should exercise extreme caution when using a nail gun.
Miters saws look a bit like a table saw and a circular saw put together. They are mounted onto a stand that cannot be easily transported. However, the blade and motor both sit on an arm extended above the surface of the stand.
It's used by pulling down a circular saw blade on top of the material, though some miter saws use a sliding action as well or instead.Miter saws can make quick plunge and short rip cuts, but their purpose is to make beveled cuts.
A good miter saw will be able to provide a wide range of angles. The minimum angle you should expect from a quality miter saw include 15, 22.5, 30, and 45 degrees. However, the better miter saws will offer a range of increments well more than those four.
Another important quality when choosing a miter saw is its power. Since beveled cuts often need to be smooth, a miter saw that is not powerful enough to cut the material without splintering or warping the edges is less desirable.
Much like the table saw, miter saws can be incredibly dangerous and require constant attention to the placement of both the materials as well as your body and clothing or you could suffer a serious injury.
Oh the humble clamps, so often overlooked but also one of the most important tools to have on hand. Clamps can, and often should, be used for so many tasks and with so many tools, even homeowners who do not regularly do work around the house should have a pair or few.
The most common type of clamp to be found is the C-clamp, also called the G-clamp. These clamps are most commonly made from either steel or cast iron.
They feature a molded “C” design with a threaded hole at one end and a flat edge at the other. A screw with a flat edge sits in the hole and is cranked with a small, perpendicular metal bar.
The most important factor for a clamp is its size. Too small a clamp will not work for the job, while too large a clamp will take forever to screw and unscrew. That is why it is best to have at least three sizes of clamps for different sized jobs.
For construction jobs, there are a wide varieties of glue used, though each will generally be designed for use with a specific material. In this instance, super glue and other such adhesives may be used in a pinch, but they are not preferred as they will not stand up to the demands placed on them for very long.
Wood glue is one of the more common types of glue found in construction and is fairly self-explanatory. However, resins and epoxies are also incredibly common and offer far more versatility than wood glue.
Resins and epoxies, however, will also often require you to mix different components together to create the adhesive. While this generally makes a stronger adhesive, it can also be difficult to get the mixture right and will generally take a bit longer to set than other types of adhesives.
However, heat curing adhesives can be an effective fix for the slower setting epoxies and resins but also generally cost more too.
Much like drill bits, screws come in such a wide variety that to catalog them all would make your head spin. However, there are few screws without a corresponding driver, so that at least limits the head designs somewhat.
Still, the shaft of a screw need not come in the standard spiral design that one commonly thinks when they imagine a screw. Moreover, the head may be somewhat different, like for eye screws, but these are fewer and farther between.
One of the most important qualities of a screw, other than the length and head design, is its material. Generally, the stronger the material, the better the screw will hold up. However, stronger screws are also more expensive.
If you're driving a screw in a location that is liable to endure the elements, like a deck or garage, you will want to select a screw that is made from stainless steel. Or some other material that is resistant to rusting and corrosion.
The need to make quick cuts is ever pervasive on the jobsite. That is why every professional will carry a utility knife. However, not all utility knives are made equally, and some will be better suited than others.
There are 3 general types of utility knife used on construction worksites: the safety knife, the snap-off knife, and the stamped knife. The safety knife is generally preferred by professionals.
It features a housing of either metal or plastic--with metal being superior. Within, sits the blade that is either mounted on a spring or fixed to a slide. These blades are quick and durable, though changing them can be more difficult.
The snap-off knife also features a metal or plastic housing, but these blades are almost always slide operated. The blade itself is segmented, so when the edge becomes dull, it can be snapped off and slid out to expose more of the blade which still has a sharp edge.
The stamped knife features a single, molded metal housing which holds a blade that can be slid out for cutting. It is effective and takes standard razor blades. However, you will often need to replace the blades quicker than with the other two.
Aside from tying, nails are one of the original fasteners. Nails are pin-shaped objects and are often seen as the yin to the screw’s yang in terms of fasteners--though bolts are the 3rd type of commonly used fastener.
Nails are either driven by a hammer of some sort or shot with a pneumatic power tool--often a nail gun.
While not quite as exhaustive as screws, nails can come in a variety of types, each suited for a different purpose. For instance, roofing nails are often short with a broad head to hold down shingles, while flooring nails are flat, angular, and tapered to keep floorboards down.
When selecting a nail, the material is one of the more important factors. Nails are generally made from steel with a corrosion resistant coating. In fact, most nails are actually made from low-carbon steel--one of the lower grades of fastener material.
Nails designed for harder materials will often include a much higher carbon concentration.
Our final tool is the level. This tool is arguably as important as the tape measure. The same principle about measuring twice and cutting once applies similarly to the level as well.
This tool is designed to ensure that the surface is parallel on either a horizontal or vertical axis. A poor level can cause an entire project to run off-course and will result in poor craftsmanship--even if the user in question is highly skilled.
Generally, a level is a glass vial filled with some kind of alcohol, usually ethanol, with an air bubble inside. The vial will be protected by a housing, and it also may be made from some shatter resistant or shatterproof material.
The vial will feature marks that, when the bubble is squarely within them, indicate the surface on which the level is placed is indeed parallel.
While a carpenter’s level is the most common and will often feature a different vial for not only horizontal and vertical alignment, but for angular alignment at 45 degrees as well. However, a bullseye level is also popular, though it is circular in design and requires a bit more skill to properly utilize.
Wrapping it Up
Two adages should stay with you forever: “pick the right tool for the job,” and “it is not the tool, it is the carpenter.” Taken together, these two adages can serve as a solid rough guide for any job you have.
If followed properly, you should never find yourself in a position of having to improvise or do a substandard job.
Keep in mind, with hand tools, on of the most important factors will almost always be the materials. Since hand tools generally have no or fewer moving parts, the power generated will be whatever power you personally can generate and the maximum amount of power the tool’s material can handle.
In this regard, you should select hand tools that are made from steel, preferably with a high carbon content, or harder materials. The lower the grade the material, the more likely the tool will bend or break, rendering it useless. Though, proper form will often play a factor.
For power tools, it is all in the name. Power is king. While precision is important for fine work, it can often be somewhat compensated by a superior level of skill. No amount of skill will be able to compensate for a power tool that is simply not powerful enough to accomplish the task asked of it.
The next important factor with power tools will vary from tool to tool but will hinge primarily on the features associated with its primary function.
For a miter saw, this will be the bevel range and capacity.
For a drill, it will be the range between speed and torque.
However, each tool will have to be judged on its own merits and the jobs for which it is intended.