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


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...

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.

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.

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.

Almost perfect air hose

Odd-job solution

Pry bar

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.

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 is a whopping 30 in. wide, so it also makes a great sawhorse or supports scaffold planks. Plus, it has steps on both sides.

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.

Nail sets

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
  • Stepladder
  • Pry bar
  • Safety glasses
  • 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

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