Top Trim Carpentry Tools

A veteran trimmer reveals his secret weapons

Pro-quality finish work is a lot easier with the right tools—and they don't have to be expensive. Check out a master carpenter's list of must-have hand and power tools.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Overview

In my 20 years as a contractor, I’ve become pretty good at trim work. But working alongside my friend Jerome makes me feel like a beginner. He manages to combine speed and perfection in a way few carpenters can match. That’s why I asked for his advice on trim tools. Here’s what he told me...

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Brad nailer

A brad nailer is a small, lightweight tool that shoots skinny 18-gauge brad nails that are ideal for thin trim. A good selection of inexpensive, brand-name guns are available at home centers and online. Before you buy, check the maximum brad length. Many models shoot brads ranging from 5/8 in. to 2 in. long, but some max out at 1-1/4 in.

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Finish nailer

For trim that’s 3/4 in. thick or more, you need a 15- or 16-gauge finish nailer, which shoots fatter, longer nails (up to 2-1/2 in.). A finish nailer is also good for hanging doors and installing windows and jamb extensions. Before you buy a gun, make sure the nails it requires are widely available—not just at one store at the other end of town.

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Small compressors are big enough

For most trim jobs, there’s no reason to lug around a compressor that weighs 40 or 50 lbs. There are lots of options in the 20- to 25-lb. range. And that’s big enough to keep up with a one-man trim crew. A little compressor can even power a big framing nailer if you give the compressor a few seconds to catch up after three to five shots.

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Almost perfect air hose

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Odd-job solution

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Pry bar

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Odd-angle calculator

The bevel gauge has been around for thousands of years (give or take a millennium), and the beauty of the tool is its simplicity. It has lots of uses on trim jobs, but the most common use by far is for dealing with a corner that’s way out of square. A basic bevel gauge is inexpensive and will last a lifetime.

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Terrific trim ladder

A 3-ft. ladder is perfect for trim work. That height puts you right where you need to be for crown molding or provides a perfect work surface for jobs like coping. This sturdy model (Werner TW373-30, available through our affiliation with Amazon.com) is a whopping 30 in. wide, so it also makes a great sawhorse or supports scaffold planks. Plus, it has steps on both sides.

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Spot sander

Trim carpentry produces sharp edges and splinters that need to be smoothed out one way or another. Some guys like sanding sponges, but Jerome prefers a 100-grit adhesive-backed sanding disc folded in half. It’s tougher than regular sandpaper, doesn’t eat up valuable tool pouch space and doesn’t tear on sharp edges the way sponges do. Pick up a pack of five discs at any home center.

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Nail sets

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Coping saw
  • Nail set
  • Pry bar
  • Safety glasses
  • Stepladder
  • Wood glue

You'll also need a finish nailer, an oscillating tool and an angle measure.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Adhesive-backed sanding discs