The Essential Guide to Beginner DIY Tools

Hey guys! It’s Travis writing today up on the blog. If you’ve ever wanted to do home DIYs but, like me, didn’t have any experience with power tools, this essential guide to beginner DIY tools will help you decide what tools to purchase and features to look for. 

Getting started can feel daunting and expensive because there are endless options across many price points. Although each project has its little details that may require unique smaller tools, we have found that if you invest in a few high-quality keystone pieces, they will get used in almost every project. 

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If you’re just starting out and not sure you want to invest in, keep in mind that you can rent them as well. Trying to figure out if you should rent or buy a tool? Consider asking yourself some of these questions:

  1. How serious are you getting about DIY? Is this a one-off project or do you plan to add more projects in the near future?
  2. What is your budget?
  3. Do you have ample storage space?

If you decide to rent, most of us live near The Home Depot, and their tool rental program is super easy and affordable! 

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In either case, renting or buying, based on our beginner’s experience with home DIYing, here are the four power tools I cannot live without.

 

Circular Saw  

For me, this is the most versatile power saw you can use for basic carpentry and home DIY projects.

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As you move onto more advanced projects like building a dresser, you can invest in a miter and/or table saw as they’ll give you more precise cuts. Miters are also good for projects involving a lot of cuts, like the batten in our master bedroom. 

But until then, I’ve found that with a little extra prep and accessories I can do pretty much anything with a circular saw that you could do with the miter or table saw. There are even major advantages to learning to use your circular saw in ways you’d otherwise think you need a table or miter saw:

  1. Mobility: Circular Saw is much lighter making it easier to move around
  2. Storage: It’s smaller so it’s easier to store
  3. Versatility: Because it’s mobile and not stationary like a table or miter saw, you can make cuts to wood already nailed down
  4. Price: It’s significantly cheaper (though adding the cost of some of the accessories you may need will offset some of this)

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Features to look for: 

  • Corded vs. Cordless:

It’s a personal preference. With a cord, you lose the battery weight making for a significantly lighter saw. On the other hand, you do have to worry about the cord getting in the way. 

Having to stop in the middle of a cut because your cord got stuck, or you accidentally stepped on it, may lead to an uneven cut when you restart. However, what ultimately led me to go with the cord is that I didn’t want to worry about a low battery slowing down the blade in the middle of a long cut (which has happened to me) making it harder to push the saw. 

 

If you do go cordless, make sure to recharge the battery after every use. Or, purchase a spare battery, so while you’re using one you can keep the spare fully charged. 

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Some cordless power tools are even sold with a spare. If you’re weighing the price differences, make sure to look for things like extra batteries that may be included in one vs the other. Don’t just look at raw cost, all accessories must be included in your decision-making process.

  • Depth Setting:

As a general rule, the blade should be set ¼” more than the depth of whatever you’re cutting, so you need to make sure you can set the depth of the blade. 

Most saws allow you to do this but again, just add it to your criteria list so you can confirm before you buy (or rent). There is nothing worse than getting midway through a project and realizing you don’t have the right tools for the job.

  • Beveled Cuts:

You’ll want your saw to be able to make beveled, or angled cuts. At some point, you’ll probably need this option, so it’s good to invest a few more dollars on the upfront to get this feature. 

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Accessories to Consider:

Some of the accessories you are likely to need will be based on the types of surfaces you choose to make your cuts. 

Cutting Surfaces:

  • A foam insulating sheath, which is basically a large 4’x8’ styrofoam board. I bought mine for 1” thick. If you put the board on the ground, you can cut right over and into the board, making sure the blade depth is ¼”. I do not recommend this route if you have a bad back.
  • Or, you can use any table, as long as you can clamp down your wood. I prefer the trigger clamps over the traditional C clamps since the screws make clamping take longer. The cheapest are spring clamps, but they don’t open very wide. If you don’t have a table that lets you clamp along the edge, get some 2x4s or a piece of plywood to lay across two sawhorses. 

 

Cutting Assistants:

  • You’ll need saw guides. There are 2 basic cuts you’ll make, a cross-cut which cuts the width of the wood against the grain,and rip cuts which cut lengthwise with the grain.
  • For crosscuts you’ll need a carpenter’s square, which is actually shaped like a triangle. Clamp the square to the wood, line up the saw’s foot or edge with the square’s edge, then move the saw forward along the square.
  • For rip cuts, you’ll need to buy a circular saw guide or track that will attach right onto the saw.
  • For either type of cut you can use spare pieces of wood as saw guides, as long as the edge is straight.
  • Some saws come with their own built in guides. Although, the ones I’ve seen have pretty short edges which I’m guessing would make it harder to guide.

Blades:

  • Remember that the blade that comes with the saw is usually for construction work, meaning there aren’t many teeth and your cross cuts will likely splinter. If you don’t want this then buy a blade with more teeth. 

More teeth means finer cuts. It’s very easy to remove a blade and attach another as it only involves unscrewing the bolt with the provided wrench. That’s it!

Looking to learn more about the number of teeth you need and what they do, check this article out

Remember, ALWAYS use safety glasses and a mask. The mask is necessary because breathing in sawdust will harm your lungs. I’m still surprised at just how much sawdust comes from one or two cuts. 

 

2) Power Drill 

I probably use the power drill the most out of everything I have. Most projects require drilling holes and screws. 

 

Even if you’re not building something with raw materials, I love using the drill to install simple things like hooks, curtain rods,DEWALT ATOMIC 20-Volt MAX Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless Compact 1/2 in. Drill Driver w/ (2) Batteries 1.3Ah, Charger & Bag and other items that hang from the walls or ceiling. Over the course of all your small projects that a screwdriver would suffice for, using a power drill instead will save you so much time and energy!

Features to look for:

  • Corded vs. Cordless:

For power drills, I prefer cordless. If my battery starts running low, it won’t impact the hole I’m drilling in the same way it could impact the straightness of the cut from a low battery on a circular saw. 

Again, charge the battery after every use, or have a fully charged spare battery so you don’t have to wait to charge.

  • Torque Adjustment:

I don’t think I’ve seen any drills without this, but it helps when the wood is harder to be able to increase the torque so the drill bit or screw goes in easier. It also helps to be able to decrease the torque for softer materials so I don’t ruin the screw threads.

  • Hammer Option:

This makes the drill hammer while spinning. This is necessary for drilling into concrete or masonry. I’ve only used the hammer function once, but I was grateful I didn’t have to buy a separate hammer drill.

Most drills have various settings so look here for a description of common settings. 

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Accessories to Consider:

Drill bits and drill screwdrivers are sold separately. If you want to drill anything but wood, make sure your bit is made to drill that material. 

For example, drilling masonry requires a carbide bit. Usually, the packaging will tell you what it can drill through so just take a moment to read the packages before buying. 

Need help deciding which drill bits to buy? Here are a few things to help guide you. 

3) Nail Gun 

I love my nail gun! This has saved us so much time, I don’t know what we did without it. Can you imagine if we tried to use a hammer when nailing 70 sticks into the front panel of our mid-century modern murphy bed box? It would have taken forever!

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  • Corded vs. Cordless:

I went with cordless, though now I wish I’d gotten corded. 

My thinking at the time was that corded meant I’d need a separate air compressor which is cumbersome to lug around and can be pretty noisy when it’s building up pressure. However, a nail gun plus compressor can actually still be cheaper than battery operated. 

On top of that, each nail gun pretty much only takes one type and size nail. Mine can only use 18 gauge brad nails (various lengths are OK). If I wanted to use a different gauge (thicker or thinner) or something other than a brad nail, I would have to use a completely different nail gun. 

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If I think I’m ever going to need more than one nail gun, it makes more sense financially to have 2 or more corded nail guns and 1 air compressor, rather than 2 or more expensive battery operated guns. If you’re renting, this shouldn’t be an issue. 

After trying a friend’s corded gun, I love that it’s so much lighter than mine. If you’re getting only one gun, I went with the 18 gauge brad because it seems about the right size for a lot of what I do, plus the head is small so that there’s less nail to hide if I’m going to caulk or spackle over it.

There is a wide range of different nail guns. Access what you think you will be doing with the nail gun over the course of your projects and let that guide your buying decision. 

4) Orbital Sander 

I’m not a big fan of sawdust, but you’ll need to sand for most projects! Some things, like our fireplace mantel after the first coat of stain, require super light sanding, so you’ll hand sand with a block and sandpaper, but for most other things, a power sander is the way to go!DEWALT 3 Amp Corded 5 in. Variable Speed Random Orbital Sander

Features to look for: 

  • Corded vs. Cordless:

I went with corded, but it’s been so long I honestly can’t remember my rationale. I’ve had no problems with it and having the cord get stuck has never ruined my sanding work. 

Just like all the other tools, if you end up going with a cordless option, be diligent about keeping batteries full to ensure every time you grab your sander, you know it’s ready to use. 

  • Speed Control:

This controls how much the sander vibrates.

  • Vacuum Bag vs. Vacuum Attachment:

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Most orbital sanders collect dust through holes in the sanding disc. Mine has a bag which collects some of that dust, but there’s still plenty of dust everywhere after I’m done. 

If you’re planning to sand indoors, or even your garage, attaching your sander to a shop vac is generally more effective. The brand I have makes a separate vacuum attachments to replace the bag which I should probably buy at some point. 

Accessories to Consider:

  • Sandpaper Discs: The lower the number, the coarser the grit of the sandpaper. I keep a package of 120 grit and another package of 320. I don’t think a lot of people use 320, but I like how fine it is which means you’ll have a smoother finish. 

 

Other Tools For Later Down The Road:

 

I do have other power tools, but I don’t consider them essential for starting your DIY game. For example, my miter saw is probably my favorite. It makes cross cutting so simple and easy. I also have a table saw which I use for rip cuts. 

However, I would recommend buying these only when you know you’re in it for the long run, because they’re expensive, heavy, and large to store. Since I hate cleaning the dust in the garage, I prefer using them in the backyard, but since they’re heavy it’s a haul getting them from the garage. I could invest in a rolling stand but that’s another $150 to $200. 

Though it takes more prep, as mentioned above, a circular saw will work for these types of cuts.

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I also have an oscillating multitool. As the name implies, there are multiple applications. It has a small saw straight blade about an inch in length that oscillates. 

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It’s not the most precise cutting tool, but it’s good for when you need to make small cuts in wood already nailed or glued in place. For example, when we tiled our fireplace, I had to cut off a half-inch section of baseboard on either side of the fireplace to make the tile fit. I didn’t want to remove the board from the wall, so I used the multitool to make the cuts.

 

There are several items on my wishlist, but the one at the top is a jigsaw. I’ve used one before when we had to cut shapes into wainscot to get them to fit around the door trim in my mother-in-law’s powder room.

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All in all, the 4 tools recommended above (Circular Saw, Power Drill, Nail Gun, and Orbital Sander) should get you well on your way to DIY pro! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and I am happy to help you with your decision on buy vs rent, cord vs cordless, brands vs others, etc. 

Enjoy and happy DIYing!

 

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