10 Tools You Should Own By 40
A few hand tools and a smattering of common power tools can get you through your 20s and even most of your 30s, but as you enter your fifth decade it’s time to take a hard look at your tool collection. What is missing? Are there specific tools not everyone has that can change your DIY life? The answer is yes. Here are some to consider (in no particular order) as you begin to get used to being over 40.
Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Basic Set of Power Tools
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 tool kit as: circular saw, jig saw, drill/driver, corded drill, power miter saw and sander(s).
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.
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.)
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. And, opening price point models start well under $100. Tip: Get or make a folding stand for your benchtop table saw.
Affordable laser level kits are easy to use and if you choose to use one you will see 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.
Full Set of Clamps
This is the only non-power tool to make the list, but in many ways your clamp arsenal defines your shop. Many tasks related to metalworking to carpentry to picture framing are made easier with the right clamp. The basics 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!
If you’ve never used one of these relatively new 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, grinding and much more. And, an oscillating multi-tool does it all with interchangeable blades and a single tool body.
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). Mount the blade with the spine facing in and it’s a flush-cutting saw. This is sometimes overlooked, but very versatile, saw.
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 and big tools that are useful mostly for woodworking and work best in router tables. Most DIYers would use a router only for edge-profiling, and a good laminate trimmer that can be held in one hand is up to the job and very easy to manage.
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, benchtop 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 stops too. A great time saver on clean-up and dust collection, and also a good way to improve air quality in your shop.