10 DIY Tools You Should Own By 40

DIY tools in your 20s and even most of your 30s may only include some hand tools and a smattering of common power tools. But as you enter your fifth decade, you should take a hard look at your tool collection. Consider these recommendations (in no particular order) as you begin to get used to being over 40.

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Basic Power-Tool Set

As you progress in your DIY career, you will naturally want to upgrade the core power tools you use most. For example, you should have a cordless drill/driver with at least a 20-volt lithium-ion battery pack, not a clunky, 12-volt NiCad.

Let’s define your everyday power tool kit as: circular saw, jig saw, drill/driver, corded drill, power miter saw and sander(s). Here are some excellent tips on buying cordless tools.

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Cordless Impact Driver

Impact drivers add percussion to your drill action, meaning you don’t have to lean into the tool to get it to drive tough screws. They work best with screws that have a square-drive or Torx head. If you have ever tried to drive a 4-inch Phillips-head deck screw into wet, pressure-treated lumber with a regular drill/driver, you will be amazed at the ease with which an impact driver gets the job done. They’re also great with nut drivers. Here are our tips for choosing the best impact driver for your needs.

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Cordless Nail Gun

A couple of years ago, this spot might have read “air compressor and air tools.” But most home DIYers use air compressors almost exclusively with nail guns and pneumatic staplers. The new generation of higher-power, battery-driven nailers and staplers has done away with the need to lug around a compressor unit and 50 feet of hose just to tack on some crown molding. (If you do metal or automotive work or use a coil nailer eight hours a day, you’ll still want the compressor.) Don’t forget to check out these important tools for DIYers.

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Benchtop Table Saw

Benchtop power tools have come a long way in power, precision and portability. A good benchtop table saw can come close to the performance of a decent contractor table saw, even when panel cutting or making long rip cuts. Tip: Get or make a folding stand for your benchtop table saw. See our review of seven portable table saws.

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DIY Tools: Laser Level

Using an affordable, easy-to-use laser level kit makes a marked improvement in the precision of your work. Hanging pictures, building decks, installing drywall — a laser level takes most of the work out of wrangling a 4-ft. bubble level and is much more accurate. Here are 13 clever tricks and tips for using a laser level.

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DIY Tools: Full Set of Clamps

As the only non-power tool to make the list, you should know that in  many ways your clamp arsenal defines your shop. Tasks related to metalworking, carpentry or picture framing become easier with the right clamp, and these jobs only scratch the surface. Your basics should include a full set of spring clamps, C-clamps, bar or pipe clamps, quick clamps and hand-screw wood clamps. Pick up specialty clamps, like corner clamps or spreader clamps, as needed. You can never have too many clamps! Check out this collection of clever ways to store clamps.

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DIY Tools: Oscillating Multi-Tool

If you’ve never used one of these tools (corded or cordless), you might look at one and wonder what it does. Well, just about everything. Flush-cutting, plunge-cutting, metal-cutting, even sanding and grinding. And, an oscillating multi-tool does it all with interchangeable blades and a single tool body.

Learn more by reading these oscillating multi-tool reviews.

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DIY Tools: Reciprocating Saw

Some might argue that a DIYer needs a “recip” saw (often called “Sawzall” — a Milwaukee Tool brand name) long before they turn 40. And, it’s true that a recip saw has many uses, including demolition work, cutting off fence posts set in concrete (using a bi-metal blade), cutting up tree limbs (using a 12-inch pruning blade) and if you mount the blade with the spine facing in it becomes a flush-cutting saw. This is a sometimes overlooked, but very versatile, saw. Here are some examples of the more popular recip saw blades and attachments.

Find out why we call a recip saw the ultimate remodeling tool, with attitude.

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DIY Tools: Laminate Trimmer (Compact Router)

Designed mostly for cabinetmaking, the laminate trimmer is a downsized router, and for many DIYers, that’s a good thing. Regular routers are big tools that see use mostly for woodworking. These full-size tools work best in router tables. Most DIYers would use a router only for edge-profiling, and a good laminate trimmer that you can hold in one hand is up to the job and very easy to manage. Here’s more on why we recommend a compact router.

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DIY Tools: Tool and Vacuum Switch

This simple tool and vacuum switch links your power tools to your shop vacuum. First you attach the shop vacuum hose to the dust collection port on any power tool (especially sanders, routers, bench-top tools and power miter saws). Then, when you activate the tool, the shop vacuum turns on, too, and collects the dust instantly. Shut off the tool and the vacuum also stops. A great time saver on clean-up and dust collection, and also a good way to improve air quality in your shop.

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Mark Johanson
Mark Johanson is an experienced home and garden writer/editor/publisher. He has written several books and hundreds of magazine articles. He has edited and directed more than 400 DIY and gardening books, including the BLACK+DECKER® Home Improvement Library series and two of the best-selling gardening books in North America. He is an experienced DIYer and enthusiastic gardener.