These are five tools that any DIY-er should have, as well as projects to use to justify the purchases. You’re welcome.

Things break; it’s just a fact of life. What happens next, however, can vary significantly. Either you pay someone to fix it, or you do it yourself.

Me? I’m a DIY-er. I’d rather spend money and time learning to fix something myself than pay someone else a one-off to do it for me.

Instead of paying a handyman a few hundred dollars to make some repairs or heading to the store to buy a replacement, I almost always elect to try to fix it myself. Sometimes, I am hugely successful and come in way under budget. Other times, well … let’s not tell my wife about the other times.

Whether you are an experienced DIY-er or someone just looking to save a few bucks here and there, here are five must-have tools and easy projects you can use to justify picking them up.

** We are going to assume that you already own a drill. If you don’t already own a cordless drill, go and buy one. Literally, any drill. The DeWalt cordless drill will probably last the longest and have the best long-term compatibility with other cordless tools they offer.

1) Miter Saw

Most of the times, you can get away with using a $50 circular saw or even a $30 jigsaw to cut boards to length. If you’re on a budget or just looking to get in an arm workout, a basic handsaw will set you back only $10.

But these cheaper tools are not exactly designed for precise miter cuts. Miter cuts are basically any cut other than a 90° cut. Even perfect right angle cuts can be hard with hand tools. Where miter saws excel is in their ability to make angled cuts.

Think about the moulding in your house. Notice how when the moulding goes around corners, it looks perfect? That is because each piece has a 45° cut that allows them to be joined perfectly. No one wants to replace all of the moulding in their house, but if you have a few problem spots here and there, if you have a miter saw, you can bang this DIY project out in a weekend.

A really good entry-level miter saw is the Homecraft H26-260L 10″ Double Bevel Compound Miter Saw (which is pictured above). It is made by Delta tools, which is the company that licenses its designs out to most of the other tool manufacturers. Being a compound miter saw, that means that the blade can cut angles other than just a 90° chop cut and it can also tilt to simultaneously make beveled cuts. For replacing moulding, this is definitely a good starter saw to go with. It costs around $130, but it has features that aren’t seen in any other models in this price range. It has a 10″ blade, allowing you to cut boards up to 5.5″ in width if you get creative (less if using the miter or bevel feature). The compound bevel feature is not offered by any other competitors in this price range and the saw also includes a laser to help check and doublecheck your lines (which usually costs a premium).

If you think you might move to cutting thicker and wider boards in the future, then it will make sense to spend a little more for a sliding miter saw. These models include a rail that allows you to pull the saw towards you and cut boards that are significantly wider than the blade would otherwise be able to cut while stationary. There is a 12″ double bevel sliding compound miter saw from Hitachi that will give you more flexibility without really breaking the bank.

2) Table Saw

The table saw is also a staple of any DIY-er’s shop. While miter saws are best at making crosscuts — basically cutting long boards to length — a table saw really shines at making rip cuts. Say that you have a wide board that you need to make thinner. With a table saw, simply press the board up against the fence and move it through the blade.

Table saws are one of those tools where it is really important to get a model that is safe, since your hands will inevitably get close to the blade. For that reason, unless you really are an expert, it’s best to stay away from $100 table saws …

While this may come with sticker shock, the DeWalt 7480 portable table saw is a great option for someone looking for value, versatility, and safety. The older DW745 model is still a good value and can sometimes be bought for $100 less, but it doesn’t have the same capabilities as the newer DW7480 model. With this $380 table saw, you will be able to immediately start seeing a return on investment with your DIY projects.

For example, my wife got me a small, 32″ television to hang on the wall in our work-out room in front of the treadmill. Just a cheap, $100 budget flat screen TV that she got on sale. Most of the wall mounts for flat screens will set you back between $30 and $100, depending on the features. I just seemed really silly to buy a mount that was almost half the price of the television itself, especially since it only weighs just 9 pounds. So what did I do? I turned to my DeWalt table saw and made what is known as a “French cleat.” Since the DW7480 has a bevel feature, you can cut a 2×6 (or similarly sized) board in half along a 45° angle. Then, use countersunk screws to attach the one half into the wall and bolt the other board-half to the back of the TV. Finally, just drop the TV into the wall board’s cleat and then, as long as you used scrap wood, you have a free TV stand that can be made in less than an hour!

No, saving $40 on a TV stand probably won’t justify buying a table saw, but if you plan to do any work with plywood or ripping boards to size, this is an indispensable tool to have.

3) Orbital Sander

If you have wooden furniture in your house, you’ll notice that it will begin to get dings and scratches over time. This is perfectly natural. The impulse when a piece of furniture gets scratched is to just replace it. Don’t! DIY it!

Even deep gouges and scratches can be sanded down and refinished. However, this can be a real pain to do by hand with just simple sand paper. But with an orbital sander, you can sand away a tabletop’s finish in just minutes, with minimal elbow grease. The orbital sander uses a randomized motion to sand down a surface without leaving noticeable sanding marks.

A truly entry-level random orbital sander can be bought for $25. I owned a Black and Decker 5″ orbital sander for a while and it worked pretty well out of the gate. But what you will notice from any entry level tool is that comfort is never a priority. The grip doesn’t fit as well into your hand and the on/off button seems to require just a little extra effort. If you just need something to get a few jobs here and there, then the Black & Decker BDERO100 (pictured above) will probably do everything you need and more.

But for a few dollars extra, you can get a much better tool in the DeWalt DWE6421K which will cost a little more than $50. But take it from someone who owns both: the upgrade is worth it.

The DeWalt fits better in the hand, the on/off switch is much easier to activate, it has a more powerful motor, and the dust collection system is just much better than the Black and Decker. Plus, it comes with a carrying bag, which is good for when you need to move it around but don’t want to leave a trail of sawdust in your wake. If you see yourself using it a lot and on different types of wood, then it might be a good idea to take one step higher and pay just $20 more for the DeWalt DWE6423K, which lets you adjust the rotation speed.

4. Router

Eventually, DIY-ers move beyond the desire to repair and want to build something new. Quickly, however, you will realize that most of the lumber you’re working with has straight edges with sharp right angles. No one wants to bump up against a table top or bench that has sharp edges.

Routers are designed to cut into boards. With a simple roundover bit, you can turn any sharp edge round. But routers aren’t just about rounding edges. Take a tongue and groove bit as an example. With this, you can reshape the edges of boards to make it easier to join them together. Whether you are in a ’70s mood and want to install wood paneling or just need a few boards to fit together to make a headboard, these bits can be lifesavers.

The Bosch 2-1/4″ Combination Plunge and Fixed Router is one of the most popular routers on the market. There are less expensive options, but not ones that include both router bodies. If you want to round edges, then you can use the fixed router body to drag the bit across the edges of a board. But suppose you want to cut a recess in the middle of a board. With the plunge body, you can use the router to do everything from adding a channel to a cutting board to plunging holes for a mortise and tenon joint.

Then, as you get more proficient and need to increase your routing speed, you can easily upgrade with the Bosch RA1171 Cabinet Router Table. All you have to do is mount your router underneath the table and you can make the same perfect cuts on board after board. The table will set you back another $130, but when you reach the point where you need a router table, it will more than pay for itself.

Standard router bits aren’t all that expensive, but remember that they do not come standard with routers. So if you need the basic router bits, this basic kit is a pretty good starting point.

5. Air Compressor

Eventually, it gets tiring striking each nail by hand. An air compressor, even a small one, will open you up to a wide range of pneumatic tools to make your DIY project go faster and smoother.

Most DIY-ers have air compressors to run a nail or staple gun. If you’re going to do moulding or cabinetry work, a compressor is a must-have. You won’t be able to hand-strike nails that are small enough to disappear, and screws are usually out of the equation. A pneumatic nail gun can fire a finishing nail through a piece of moulding that is so small and thin, you won’t even be able to see it after the first coat of paint.

If you’re just going to use a compressor here and there and don’t mind having to wait for it to recharge during long projects, then a simple pancake air compressor is definitely the way to go. A Bostitch BTFP02012 is a small, six-gallon compressor that will be more than enough to run your pneumatic tools. And since it retails for only $100, it won’t destroy your budget either. There are other companies that sell pretty much the same design with a different logo on it, but I have never had any problems with any of my Bostitch tools.

But if you also happen to have an in-ground sprinkler system, upgrading to a more expensive compressor can save you a lot as well. Winterizing a sprinkler system isn’t fun. You pay a company $50 to $150 to come out and blow all of the air out of your sprinkler lines. Then, the following year, you have to do it all over again. If you get a larger air compressor, though, you can pay for the tool in just two seasons by saving the money you would be spending to winterize it. This is literally something you can do yourself.

Depending on your sprinkler system, you will need either 50 psi or 80 psi in order to clear the lines. That itself isn’t the problem. Even a small compressor can hit those numbers. The problem is that you need the compressor to be large enough to run continuously for at least two minutes. For that, many professionals recommend no less than a 20-gallon tank.

For just $280, you can get a Porter Cable 20-gallon air compressor, which will have more than enough power to blow your lines out. While that might seem steep, remember how much you’re paying the sprinkler company every autumn and do the math. Two or three seasons and it pays for itself. Add in the fact that you’ll also be able to use it to fill up tires, torque down bolts on your vehicle, nail or staple together pieces of wood, and even spray paint!

What do you think we left off the list? Tell us your most-used DIY tool in the comment section below!

Best sledding hills in Northern Virginia!

Comments