Here at The Family Handyman magazine, we love tools! We own a lot of tools (and use them constantly) and we spend endless hours discussing the superior qualities of one tool over another. After consulting our favorite pros and voting among ourselves, we came up with a list of tools that we use regularly, but that you might not be familiar with yet.
“The best addition to my woodworking shop over the past 10 years was a basic, low-cost dust collection system,” said Gary Wentz, senior editor. “My goal was cleaner air, but I soon found that a dust collector has an even greater benefit: It's a time-saving tool. It drastically cuts cleanup time—I don't have to sweep off every surface and tool. I used to do the dustiest work, like sanding or cutting MDF, outdoors. Now I do these jobs in the shop—no need to drag tools and cords outside.”
“What I like about the automatic-feed screw guns is their speed. You don't have to handle individual screws—the screws come in strips that you feed into the gun,” said Jon Jensen, set builder for The Family Handyman and former contractor. “You can adjust the depth for sinking screws and for different types of screws. It's really versatile.” The DuraSpin 14.4-volt model by Senco ($150; senco.com) and the Autofeed Screwdriver by Makita ($110; makita.com) are two automatic-feed screw guns.
“A Kreg jig will let you make a joint in about two minutes,” said Jeff Gorton, associate editor. “It's become one of my favorite tools because it lets me build furniture, cabinets and bookcases without having to cut fancy (and time-consuming) joinery.” A Kreg jig lets you drill pocket holes, then screw the pieces together with special screws. You'll leave visible holes, which you can hide inside the project or fill with special plugs. The two-hole version shown costs $45. A mini kit for drilling one hole at a time costs $22 (kregtool.com).
“I've gone through many, many air hoses over the years—rubber, plastic, synthetic, you name it,” said Travis Larson, senior editor. “Three years ago I converted to polyurethane lines.” Polyurethane is soft, so it's more flexible than rubber. The air hoses are lightweight and easy to coil up at the end of the day, even in low temps. And they don't leave scuff marks, so you can use them inside without marking up the walls. They're well worth the premium price tag.” A 50-ft. polyurethane hose costs $30, versus about $10 for a traditional hose.
“I used to use two tools for wiring projects—a goofy little stamped metal tool to strip off sheathing and a pair of wire strippers to strip insulation off individual wires,” said Ken Collier, editor-in-chief. “Those days are gone. My new wire strippers do both tasks admirably. I've rewired my cabin, my workshop and most of my 100-plus-year-old house. Wire strippers that strip the sheathing and the insulation make wiring faster, easier and more pleasant.” These strippers start at $15 at home centers.
“A friend introduced me to mini
rollers, only 4 or 6
in. long, made of
dense foam that spreads
paint or varnish smoothly for a
uniform, mark-free finish (unlike
nap rollers, which leave tiny bumps).
I was amazed the first time I used one.
But the rollers aren't perfect. They
spread the finish thin, so you usually
need two coats. And the rollers are a pain
to clean, but since most cost less than $5
at home centers and paint stores, you
could toss them when you're done.”
“LED flashlights and work lights are great because the
bulbs seem to last forever and so do the batteries—making cordless trouble lights
feasible (finally!). These LED lights
bulbs that last 50,000
hours or more and they
cast a clear white
light that's easier on
the eyes than the
yellow-white light of
standard bulbs. Sure,
they cost a bit
more on the front
end, but you won't
have to replace the
batteries or bulbs for
— Elisa Bernick, associate editor
The Japanese cat's paw has three intended uses: It pulls nails, works as a pry bar (the thin blade will get under just about anything) and acts like a small hammer to whack things. Once you own one, you'll find other uses for it too. “It has a permanent place in my tool belt,” said Ken Collier, editor-in-chief. “I use it for prying open cans, as a rough and ready scraper, and for pulling small nails. It's an always-with-me tool.” Japanese cat's paws and other small cat's bars start at $10 at home centers.
“One reason I love
lithium-ion batteries is they
have a longer life span than other batteries—twice as
long according to some manufacturers.
But the best thing about lithium-ion
batteries is that they're about half the size
and weight of other batteries. That means
power-guzzling tools like saws can pack
more punch and run longer without being
too heavy. And the screwdrivers are small
enough to drop in your tool pouch, but
powerful enough for just about any job.”
— Gary Wentz, senior editor