Four Essential Power Tools

by A Manly Guest Contributor on July 29, 2011 · 80 comments

in Manly Skills, Toolmanship

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Marc Lyman of

Tools. They are what separate most of us from the animal kingdom. For a species that started off chipping rocks into spearheads, we’ve come a long way. Even post-Neanderthal era, building just about anything revolved around hand (not power) tools. As your manly elders are all too happy to remind you, even today, there are plenty of carpentry and construction projects that a hand tool is best suited for. But that’s not why you’re here.  There are far more tasks in the course of a man’s life in which power tools put hand tools to shame (or, at least make them look slower than Congress passing a budget). Plus, power tools create noise, make dust, and embody our manly DIY-conquer-all spirit.

Here’s a list of four power tool essentials, along with some background, why you need them, and what to look for when you’re tool shopping.

Cordless Drill

Image by cogdogblog

Background / Why You Need It

A cordless drill is the most essential of essentials when it comes to power tools. Without it, you’ll be looking like an Amish carpenter as you hand-bore holes at a rate of one per hour. Nothing wrong with Amish carpenters by any means, but I’ll beat their suspenders off any day when it comes to drilling holes. With a solid cordless drill, you’ll be able to tackle most drilling tasks from small pilot holes to large holes to run electrical through, and driving fasteners from dainty screws to beefy lag bolts (although you might consider an impact driver if you’re doing much in the way of the latter). Let’s be clear: there’s no such thing as a modern handyman without a cordless drill.

What to Look For

The cordless drill market is filled with compact 12v tools. They’re light, high-tech, and strong for their size. But if you’re getting a cordless, make it count and get something beefier. There are few things less manly than having your drill whimper to a stop half-way through a piece of wood. An 18v is probably the sweet spot for good power-to-weight ratio, and it can handle most of what you task it with. Companies like DEWALT, Bosch, and Makita (among others) make solid 18v models that get the job done. Don’t cheap-out on your drill; it’s a tool you’ll rely on regularly, and you’ll thank yourself in five or ten years for spending a bit more for quality now. Most high-quality 18v models will set you back about $100-$200.

Reciprocating Saw

Image by Toolstop

Background / Why You Need It

Destruction and demolition have been man’s work for eons. Few practical tools embody the raw destructive force of a reciprocating saw (known more commonly by the Milwaukee Tool brand name Sawzall).

The reciprocating saw will cut through most metal and wood like butter. I’ve even cut down trees with one in a pinch. If you’re remodeling, demolishing, or doing plumbing or electrical work, a reciprocating saw will get you through 2x material, pipes, etc. in no time. Just don’t cut through a wall without knowing what’s inside it; a severed live electrical or water line is no fun.  Both electrical and water together is even worse.

What To Look For

Unlike the cordless drill, corded is recommended here. Sure there are some pretty beefy cordless versions, but if you have to have one, we think corded will serve you best. It never runs out of battery and most reputable brands and models have plenty of power. Some models have rotating handles which can be useful in certain cutting situations, but for most, it’s not a necessity. The venerable Milwaukee Sawzall and Porter Cable are our personal favorites. Expect to spend around $100 for a decent saw. Blades are also critically important. Get a good assortment so you can handle whatever manly jobs come your way.

Oscillating Multi-Tool

Image from Toolmonger

Background/Why You Need It

I won’t call it dainty, but this is definitely the least gritty of our power tool suggestions. You’re not going to wow the ladies strutting into the room with one of these (at least not until they see it in action). If you’re not already familiar with them, an oscillating tool features a long, slender body (which has natural man-appeal), and a head that accepts a variety of attachments for detail sanding, grinding, grout removal, wood cutting, scraping, etc. The beauty of the tool is that the accessory oscillates just enough to make quick work of many small jobs without kicking up a massive dust cloud. It’s the surgical scalpel of your power tool arsenal.

Up until a couple years ago, the only true oscillating tool on the market was the Fein Multi-Master. It’s a fantastic tool, but also has a reputation of being a spendy tool with very spendy accessories. Then Fein’s patent expired, and the renaissance of multi-tools exploded. Just about every major tool manufacturer now has at least one oscillating tool on the market. What used to be a splurge item, has now become so common and affordable, it’s really an essential. While you may at first wonder what you’ll use the tool for, you’ll soon find yourself reaching for it regularly (and marveling at how you survived without it).

What to Look For

This market is changing so fast, features and new models are popping up seemingly hourly rather than yearly. We again say go with corded unless a cord will be a massive pain for your intended uses. Battery life and battery swapping can be a major annoyance on longer projects such as sanding or grinding. OIS (Oscillating Interface System), put out by Bosch, is becoming somewhat of a standard when it comes to accessories. Bosch, Skil, and Milwaukee tools, among others, directly support OIS. Fein remains the cream of the crop, and their quick-change mechanism is still a stand-out feature (although Porter Cable recently released a quick change feature on their multi-tool). Fein and Skil are also the only two that currently come to mind for dust collection support, which can be very useful, particularly on sanding projects. Expect to spend between $100-$200 for most respected models.

Circular Saw

Background/Why You Need It

When it comes to making quick work of cutting through 2x material or sheet goods, nothing compares to a circular saw. If you find yourself needing to cut a piece of wood once or twice a year, you can stick to a handsaw.  However, if your wood cutting needs are more regular, a circular saw can cut through a stack of wood in two minutes, where a handsaw might have taken ten times that. Keep in mind circ saws cut through skin and bone just as happily as they do wood, so make sure you follow manufacturer safety recommendations when brandishing this tool (and the others in this article for that matter).

What To Look For

Circular saws comes in cordless and corded varieties. If you’re cutting balsa wood for your son’s model airplane, cordless might be acceptable.  But most people cut some pretty hefty material with circular saws. If you’re going to get a circular saw, you should go straight for a corded model. Corded versions breakdown into two camps, smaller, more traditional circular saws, or more heavy-duty “worm drive” saws.  If you’re a DIY’er and have typical cutting needs, a traditional circ saw with sufficient power is all you need. Worm Drive saws tend to be popular with framers and carpenters. The worm drive saw will cut through material like butter, but they’re also heavier and tougher to manage safely with one hand.

That’s our list of four key power tools to build an altar for in your man-cave. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.


Marc Lyman is the Editor and Diabolical Mastermind behind, a tool and home improvement site that threatens to entertain you as much as inform you. Get weekly updates with the latest tool reviews, how-to’s, and even a chance to win free tools by subscribing at



{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zac Morris July 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

Oscillating Multi-Tool? Really? Been pretty successful 43 years without one. Sure they are “handy”, but essential? {shrug}

AND it’s only been in the last year that I finally purchased a Reciprocating Saw, and that was for cutting steel. A good hand saw with a “speed cutting tooth” is all I’ve ever needed.

I think I’d put a hammer drill on the list before either of these two, and a jig saw before a reciprocating saw; but I guess I’m old school…

2 J. Marshall July 29, 2011 at 11:46 am

Good list, I can say I own one of each! Although, I would have added a Dremel to the list. The Dremel is definitely one of those tools that you will use all the time, whether for home projects or hobbies.

3 David July 29, 2011 at 11:47 am

For the circular saw you have a cordless 5 1/2″ pictured. I would STRONGLY recommend a CORDED 7 1/4″ circular saw. Unfortunately the cordless “mini-circs” a really only good for trim work. My experience has been that if you’re cutting 2×4 or deckboard the batteries only last < 20 cuts (yes, that's with a lithium ion battery). If you have to cut full sheets of plywood, forget it.

Seriously, if you are only going to have one circular saw in your kit bag – make it a corded 7 1/4".

4 Matt Cozz July 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

I have to agree, i’m not sure what I would use a Oscillating Multi-Tool for either. I’ve been fine without one.

Dad knew what he was doing when he got his tools. Cords have broke and been replaced. Switches have been fixed. But the Circular saw and the corded drill are older than I am and i’m eager to have them pass to me.

We used every drill we had to put down decking and the Milwaukee drill took some skill. It had enough mass you had to stop 1/2″ above the surface and momentum would carry the screw the rest of the way.

5 uncle smokin' joe July 29, 2011 at 11:51 am

I agree with Zac. Jigsaw is much more essential than a reciprocating saw, although they are very handy. And if you’re going with a hammer drill, pay the extra and buy a rotary hammer. The speed difference is amazing. I have never needed one of those multi-tools and I have done every conceivable remodel on my house and others (I was a contractor for 7 years). I would suggest a decent table saw instead.

6 Ken Steinberger July 29, 2011 at 11:53 am

I like the article. And just to be sure you know, I liked the article. I would stipulate, however, that there are actually 5 tools you need to get anything done.

The fifth? A damn belt sander. You can hand sand to finish, but there’s more than one occasion that you need to remove a lot of material quickly. Multi tools usually have sanding attachments, but you don’t want to inch along for hours sanding 6 square feet of tabletop. Plus you can use it to sharpen cheap chisels on the fly.

Impact drivers make life a thousand times easier as well. Usually if you buy a nice cordless drill you buy it as a set (one drill, one impact.) I know that you can drive screws with a standard drill, but the convenience of the impact is unparalleled. With the exception of an 18 gauge pin gun, a Milwaukee 18v Impact is the tool I use the most. (I’m a furniture and cabinet builder/installer, so your results may vary)

That being said, my favorite power tool is a 16 5/16″ circular Beam Saw. I also like to laugh maniacally when using it.

7 jeremy July 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm

A table saw can do some crazy awesome things. Try cutting a perfectly straight line with that circular saw above.

If you’re working on baseboards, making boxes, or need other angled cuts a miter saw is also awesome.

Not a “power tool” but get a vise.

8 Dan M July 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I’ve never owned a cordless drill that I really liked for general handyman activities. Corded drills are where it’s at. I’d much rather spend the 10 extra minutes getting out and putting away an extension cord than fool around with batteries that don’t last long, drill motors that don’t have enough torque, etc.

I would agree that a power drill is somewhat essential for handyman activities. The other tools, however, I’ve not had much need for.

I’ve borrowed my dad’s corded circular saw on a small number of occasions, but not enough that I would consider buying my own. 90% of the time, I only need to cut 2 or 3 boards, and a sharp hand saw will make quick work of that. If I do my research first, most hardware stores in my area will cut my lumber to length with a chop saw if I can tell them how long I need it.

I’ve never used an “oscillating tool,” and the only reason I have a Sawzall is because I couldn’t find the correct size cutting wheels for my die grinder and the Sawzall and metal cutting blades were on clearance.

9 Joran July 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Though it is far from the point of the article, there are a number of animals that are known to use tools. That fact doesn’t take away from the point of the article, but as a matter of interest, crows are well known to make simple tools from time to time as well as a few primates. In case you are interested:

10 Doug B July 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I would add an “Honorable Mention”:

If you are considering doing some beginner/intermediate woodworking projects, having a router is very useful for bolstering the aesthetic appearance of your work, among other things. It’s not essential; but, man, can it do some pretty cool things.

I disagree with a previous commentor that a table saw is an ‘essential’ . Google “Circular Saw Jig” if you doubt its usefulness in cutting a straight edge. Moreover, circular saws make even the most portable table saw look cumbersome.

11 Ken Steinberger July 29, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I second the motion for a router and a jigsaw, though a router is not something I would recommend to a beginner. A lot of thought has to go into using a router effectively.

And I think some people are missing the idea that these are for general projects, not for one specific job. The average DIYer doesn’t need a rotohammer (How many times have you thought “gee, i really need to anchor this into concrete”) and making a strait cut with a circular saw is as simple as a big ruler and two quicky clamps. Nine times out of ten a lithium battery will produce enough power to do whatever you need, and a battery powered drill can reach a lot of places that a corded one can’t (climb a ladder and hang upside down to install truss packs. Lug a cord with you.)

12 Bernie Gilbert July 29, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I got a reciprocating saw a few years ago rather than go through the hassle and annoyance of either sharpening or replacing the blade yet again on my little electric chain saw, which was used only for light garden work. Now that reciprocating saw is my go-to tool in the garden; I use it for stuff that would destroy a chain saw chain in a couple of minutes, such as cutting away roots the after I’ve removed the above-ground portion of shrubbery.

As far as the drill goes, I would recommend a hammer drill to anyone who owns a brick house, especially if you’re planning on building a deck. You don’t even want to think about drilling a dozen or so holes for the expansion bolts that will be holding the ledger board to your house without one. Trust me.

13 John B July 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Second the miter saw, get a compound one in the biggest cut size you can afford. More uniform cuts in boards with less effort than a circular saw. Angle cuts with the #s right on the saw.
Compound lets you do all of your own trim among other things… god i hate trim work.
This is the tool i borrowed the most until i bought my own.
I think overall a recip saw is more useful than a jigsaw. Your not going to cut pvc or metal pipe or like someone else said underground roots with a jigsaw. I bought mine to cut out a built in cabinet without the destroying the stuff around it to make room for a larger fridge.

14 Scott White July 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I agree with most of the above, although the oscillator sounds remarkably like the aforementioned Dremel suggestion. Also, call me lazy, but I’m pretty sure my power buffer gets as much use as my leatherman every summer, so I’d add that to the Honorable Mention list. I’d also second the suggestion of belt sander.

15 Steve July 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I’d purchase power tools in this order:
1) Good hand tools. Most jobs can be done without power, and while it might take you five minutes instead of one minute to saw through a 2X4, how many times a year do you really do that?
2) Cordless drill
3) Corded circular saw
4) Random orbital sander
5) Dremmel or other mini multi tool for fine work.
6) Jig saw or reciprocating saw, depending on what kind of work you do most
7) Belt sander

16 Jeremy July 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I’m starting to think that I may be the only person left who doesn’t see the reason he should stop using a perfectly good corded drill and buy a cordless. Are extension cords really that big of a bother? Or is there some other advantage that I just haven’t been enlightened on?

17 Ken Steinberger July 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Mostly the reason for a corded drill over a battery drill is power. But with advances in batteries things like brushless motors, it’s not the case anymore. And especially when working inside an area (like installing cabinetry) or when you have to move around a lot (installing door frames) having a cord that slides over everything, wraps around legs, or tethers you to a wall is really inconvenient.

18 claude July 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

@ Jeremy

Cordless is definitely not a necessity. I used only corded drills for years. I now have cordless and it does simplify some jobs, and if you get a good one they’re just as powerful as corded ones, but still not a MUST HAVE in my opinion.

19 Chris E. July 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm

My #1 tool is the drill/impact driver. The impact driver is a tool sent from the gods, it’s a beat and pretty much handles 70% of my driver/drill needs. Not a bad list but I would have a impact over the oscillating tool.

20 Ilana July 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Maybe it’s because I’m a girl, but my #2 (after the drill–you can’t argue with that) would have been a Dremel.

21 Justin July 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I like the premise here, but overall this is too much. My dad is a carpenter and can tackle any mechanical job and taught me these skills and how to use a number of tools (except the osc tool). I love these tools listed, but only one of them is essential: the power drill. Whether a working man with his home shop/garage/shed or a guy that works indoors and lives in a little apartment, you will always need a drill. The others are for specific lifestyles/phases of life/projects. Like others have said, a jigsaw, sanders, mitersaw are just as essential given the circumstances.

I was kind of repulsed by what little is written about the saws. It seems to me you are telling people that may have never held a saw or even watched one used up close to go purchase one and depend on the manual for safety. If you are new to tools and want to start using them, excellent. Talk with someone that knows how to use them, espeically saws and sanders. DON’T just rely on the warnings in manuals.

22 John July 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm

maybe it’s personal perspective, but I cannot believe the list doesn’t include two things, an arc welder and a handheld grinder.

Probably because I work on farm equipment constantly, but still. It’s a welder and honestly in a pinch it can be a cutting tool too. I’ve had things a torch couldn’t cut effectively because they were too thick, but an arc welder would slog through them. it doesn’t make pretty cuts but it can melt metal, which is what you need to cut cumbersome stuff with. Additionally it can serve as a heating torch (with a carbon rod arc-torch attachment), and welding a variety of grades of steel can be accomplished just by changing the type of rods or electrodes you use.

The handheld grinder or “angle grinder” as i call them, is a cutter, grinder, polisher, sander, paint remover, wire brush, rust remover, buffer, and several other things with just the purchase of different attachments for ten bucks or less like cutting wheels or heavy brush wheels.

23 Chris Ritchey July 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm

circular saws are for more than wood. Me and my wife recently installed our own brick patio in the back yard, and getting a tile blade for my 7.25 circular saw was critical in getting it done. I tried a hammer and chisel but the results were horrible, probably due to lack of experience and/or know-how. and this would not have been possible with a cordless circular saw.

oh And a respirator for all the dust.

24 Mr_T July 30, 2011 at 8:17 am

I have the Porter-Cable 18v Li-Ion cordless kit that includes a 1/2″ drill motor, reciprocating saw, circular saw, and flashlight. The XL Li-Ion battery packs have endless power. I’ve yet to have a need to revert to any of my corded tools on a job. My Dremel Multi-Max oscillating tool was also a good buy. It allows me to effortlessly undercut door casings before putting down laminate flooring. Finally, I’d have to say that my little 5-gal air-compressor and 18-ga brad nailer have also become essential for completing projects around the house. (If nothing else, it’s nice to be able to air up your own dang tires!)

25 Scott St. Clair July 30, 2011 at 8:45 am

Any wood that needs staining or painting has to be sanded first. And that little thing won’t cut it. A good orbital sander is a must. I swear by my DeWalt.

Toss the dust bag since it only gets in the way and clogs in the first three minutes.

26 rj arena July 30, 2011 at 8:56 am

John beat me to it – a grinder, 4 1/2″, rather than the Multi-function tool. I do have most if not all of the above others, but I believe the point of the article was the basics, the essentials, and while the multi function tool does offer many options, it is like the dremel, you don’t need it, but it is great to have. The grinder gives you the ability to shape and cut steel and concrete which is hard to do with the other tools.And it is fast. a basic model works at 11,000 rpm, which makes fast work of most projects. I have always believed in getting the best tool you could afford, and most times price and quality are together, but on this type of tool, cheap is good. Grinders get a lot of abuse, since the kick up large amounts of dust, which ends up in their housing, killing motors and brushes. You can try to keep them clean, and replace the brushes, I would rather buy a $15.99 one and spend the left over $ on blades and disks.

27 Native Son July 30, 2011 at 11:21 am

I’d beg to differ a bit. I’ve found my “essential”power hand tools to be:
1. Electric drill (I’ve got both corded and cordless, sometimes the cordless one just doesn’t have enough torque or battery life to make it through a big job.).
2. Corded circular saw.
3. Corded jig saw.
4. Dremel tool (not really “essential”, but handy to have).

If one adds powered bench tools,
5. THE shop essential has to be a bench grinder.

28 Tistom July 30, 2011 at 11:49 am

Good article I would like to make some suggestions as to which ones to get

A sell tools and would always recommend going to an independent tool shop and not a large DIY retailer, get them all at once and you can hammer out a deal with them.

For the Cordless drill get a BHP 452 from Makita and you wont go far wrong. Look for Li-Ion Batteries with as much of an Ah as you can afford. That way the batteries will last a lot longer than if they are Ni-cad or Ni-Mh, either that or a DC988 from Dewalt.

The multi tool is an essential I know guys that have used these things for a lot of jobs and saved a lot of time in the process. The Fein is the top of the range but the blades are expensive make sure you dont hit a nail or you loose the blade. The Bosch version is cheeper and has cheeper blades but you loose some of the range that Fein has built up.

I would disagree with the recip saw and change it to an angle grinder. Makita 9554NBKD is a good 4 1/2” grinder that wont brake the bank but will last through a lot of abuse.

Also parts are easier to get hold of for Makita than anything else. You dont need to know the serial number just the model and I have sourced parts for 10 year old + Makita tools.

Just my 2 pence

29 Chris July 30, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Further proof that everyone is a critic. Is anyone happy with anything? Thanks for a good article for those of us who AREN’T big tool people.

30 tim_lebsack July 30, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Fantastic article.
I don’t have an electric reciprocating saw yet but I’ve been wanting to get one for trimming trees. No oscillating tool either, I’ve always made do with a Dremel tool.
I’d recommend some sort of sander other than the oscillator because most sanding is done on a larger scale.
re: ”
there’s no such thing as a modern handyman without a cordless drill.” (Guess I’m not a modern handyman.)
“There are few things less manly than having your drill whimper to a stop half-way through a piece of wood.” (this is why one must purchase multiple batteries)
“An 18v is probably the sweet spot for good power-to-weight ratio, and it can handle most of what you task it with. Don’t cheap-out on your drill; it’s a tool you’ll rely on regularly, and you’ll thank yourself in five or ten years for spending a bit more for quality now. Most high-quality 18v models will set you back about $100-$200″
My corded drill is 110v, set me back $25 about 25 years ago and still going strong. Granted, sometimes I do have to move the cord to a more convenient location. Maybe there’s something about electrical power I don’t understand, but I’m not getting how the 18v you recommend can come close to my 110v in “good power to weight ration”.
If I can mention non-power tools, my anvil and my vise are probably the most popular tools in my workshop.
Thanks for the tips. Keep ‘em coming.
P.S. Never let lack of some tool keep you from starting and finishing a project.

31 D. Solomon July 30, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Fun article and even better comments. Love all the debate about most essential power tools. I have to second the few calls for the table saw and router. For any kind of carpentry requiring joints the router is essential, unless you want to hand chisel for hours. Also, totally second the statement that the table saw is a must for making long straight cuts. I spent last summer restoring a 60′s Craftsman and love it/use it all the time.

32 D. Murphy July 30, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Great Article but would veiw it as helpful for beginning do it your selfer.
As for me- Have all things listed
Agree that a router is a must have and would add that a radial arm saw is great as well as it is a multifuncoinal cutting machine if you know how to use one.

33 Mike July 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Gonna have to disagree with most of this list. I’ve been building professionally and for myself for about 15 years. The only two on this list that are essential are a drill and a circular saw. The drill doesn’t even need to be cordless, and for an occasional DIY’er a corded one would be better. You don’t have to remember to charge the battery that hasn’t been used for months. It’s always ready to go as soon as you plug it in, and typically has more power than a cordless.
I’ve found a jigsaw more useful than a reciprocating saw. You can get blades to cut just about every material that a reciprocating saw can cut. No, the jigsaw can’t cut as large of materials or as quickly, but it has much better cutting tolerance than the recip saw.
For the oscillating tool, I’ve gotten by for 15 years without one. Yeah, it’s nice to have but not what I would call essential.

34 Jeff July 30, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Ok, I rebuilt my 100yr old timber house with power tools and only one of these was essential.
My list of essentials;
: Power drill, cordless or mains, dosent matter which. Cordless is very handy for out the way work in tight spaces or at heights but sooner or later you will need to change batteries, usually halfway through some tricky manouver you didnt want to repeat. That said the day my old SKIL shorted out in a shower of sparks and flames I was working on an iron roof and wishing very hard it had been a cordless.

: Circular saw, mains only. go for the largest one you can get, these are an incredibly useful tool can double up as a rip saw/table saw with some ingenuity.

: Sliding compound mitre saw, these are expensive for a good one – real expensive. But in the above named project this was the tool that was used for every job. Nothing gives a better finish to a job than joints that align perfectly and cuts that are the angle they are meant to be every time.

: Thicknesser, these turn any snotty piece of wood into timber you can use, perhaps 20% of the timber in my house came off a swap your rubbish collection pile.

Nice to haves;

Belt Sander, This is really an essential, not everyones choice I’m sure but these tools remove material at a prodigous rate of knots. Sand with it, use it as a shaping tool, a thicknesser or just let it take off and annoy the hell out of you. Well maybe not the last one but give the chance and it will.

Electric planer, usefull for rapid repetative work, but can be a way to ruin a job faster.

Table saw, very useful but most affordable ones are limited to an 80mm cut depth

Biscuit joiner, THE way to laminate accurately.

Lastly buy the best tools you can afford, if cant afford much then buy cheapies and accept that it wont be as accurate or powerful but if you use it enough to break it or wear it out then you deserve to buy a good one. My cheapo sliding compound mitre saw took forever to wear out, and by the time it did I was so used to its inaccuracies and eccenticities I could barley use the good one I bought.

35 Mick July 31, 2011 at 12:23 am

My power tools of choice are in no particular order


Sandpaper and block



The power is provided by the user and is variable to suit the mood or the job at hand. I can fix or make many things with them and I think I can do it in a more manly way than the bloke who has a grip on his…Oscillating multi Tool.

All fun aside, it was a good article even though I mostly would have chosen things like drill press, angle grinder, benchgrinder/beltsander and dremel as my four, but then I used to make knives as a hobby, and they were what I used aside from the first list of hand-tools.

36 Noah July 31, 2011 at 12:57 am

I’d like to add that a pocket hole jig is a fantastic addition to the drill. It makes building projects a LOT simpler for those with little/no experience with wood joinery. I’m sure a seasoned woodworker could find a number of superior joints in place of it, but for simplicity and speed with better-than-decent quality, it really is an indispensable tool. I’ve built a lot of furniture in the past year that I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking on if not for that jig. Worth every penny.

37 David July 31, 2011 at 2:38 am

I probably use a Dremel (with all its various attachments for grinding & cutting) as often as I use a cordless drill. I’ve also found a good quality jigsaw most helpful when a job is too small set-up a circular saw. The jigsaw also is excellent for making something other than a straight cut. If I could get one tool I’m missing, it would be a bench grinder – my Dad had one and found endless uses for it as I helped him in the garage when I was a young pup.

38 Tim July 31, 2011 at 8:11 am

Most of the tools that one chooses is based upon one’s experience and what work you do. As an electrician, I have a different set of priorities. Cordless for drills, a corded rotary hammer, and both a corded & cordless recip. saw for demo. One thing I did find that’s really cool is a cordless band saw. It’s not for general housework, of course, but for conduit & strut, it’s awesome. For home, I just need a corded recip & a cordless drill for 90% of the work. Milwaukee is my preference. I have a cheap but never used jig saw and an old Sears circ that’s been used a few times.

Most reputable companies make a cordless drill/hammer unit and that might help a homeowner that needs to put in an anchor once or twice a year. It’ll take a while because they are slow when hammering! (Drilling in mortor is always a better choice than the brick if you have the option. A good masonry bit is essential.) They are also more expensive.

I’ve never used a oscillating multi-tool. My house has lots of hardwood floors so I am thinking of getting a band saw. Would an oscillating tool work good for the corners? Any suggestions?

39 Ian July 31, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Because I mostly do small, detail work on things, I would also support the addition of a Dremel. It’s great for getting into small spaces for carving, sanding, cutting etc.

40 Steve August 1, 2011 at 12:56 am

I find my 18v impact driver to be much handier than the cordless drill. I don’t know about all of you but if you ever tried to put a 3 or 4 inch screw in 2x’s with a cordless drill your going to strip the head of the screw 9 times out of 10. However, with the impact driver you will be able to do this effortlessly ON A LADDER… WITH ONE HAND!!!

41 Shootist66 August 1, 2011 at 5:31 am

On circular saws I say go with worm-drive. The venerable Skilsaw (the orginal…going back many decades. Makita makes one now, as well.). Even though it’s a little heavier, ergonomically it’s a natural fit with the human hand and arm to maintain your line of cut. You’ll cut a much straighter line (I’m not talking cabinet quality here…you need a good table saw for that, like my 65 year-old Delta hand-me-down from my contractor parents.).

As far as cordless goes, I’d go for the Ryobi 18v One+ family which even includes a small 10″ chainsaw useful for one-handed tree pruning.. They’re all interchangeable with either their Ni-Cad or Lithium-Ion One+ batteries so two batteries are all you need to operate all of their tools in that grouping…and Ryobi makes quality tools at about half the price of DeWalt or Milwaukee. Corded is good for steady power when working in a shop, but your work isn’t always in a shop. So unless you’ve got a couple of hundred feet of drop cord along with the attendant voltage loss, go with the cordless for the little odd jobs most of us are faced with.

42 Alan August 1, 2011 at 6:28 am

What a bizarre list?

My 4 essentials:

1. A real hammer drill, corded. Nothing cordless is gonna come close.

2. Grinder, sometimes referred to as an ‘angle grinder’. They’re happy to chew through concrete or steel, or wood (smokes a bit) or fiberglass or even cast iron…. anything. Need to reshape, trim, sharpen or just hack something out of the way, nothing hacks like a grinder. Corded, obviously.

3. Jigsaw. Forget your recip’ saw. They’re all over the place and the blades go blunt fast, you need to change the blades for different materials and none of them can handle fiberglass, as I discovered last year. The recip’ saw can’t do anything you can’t do equally with your grinder – but a jigsaw… ah!

A jigsaw is when you make that change from someone who can mutilate wood into splintered lumps of not quite right, into a handyman who can cut wood into whatever shape he wants. Your jigsaw is a life changer.

4. Power sander with dust trap.

If the author had ever really done any DIY projects he’s know this HAS to be on the list.

The fact he starts off suggesting we like dust shows that he hasn’t.

43 Mike August 1, 2011 at 10:28 am

“If a first you don’t succeed, switch to power tools” – Red Green

44 JaimeInTexas August 1, 2011 at 10:35 am

I am handy around the house and have built and repaired bunch of stuff through the years. My perspective is that of a husband and father that needs to take care of things in a very tight budget. Here is my list of the power tools that I think will get you through most of life:

1) Circular saw: I have a table saw that has seen some use. It has made things easier but everything I have used the table saw on I could have done with my circular saw. I recommend the largest circular saw possible. Mine is corded and old. No money for cordless. BTW, a small teeth blade, placed backwards can be used to cut metal sheets.

2) 3/8″ Drill: I have a 3/8″ corded and a 1/2″ corded (switchable to hammer mode). 3/8″ drill will tackle most projects. Somethings the 1/2″ hammer drill is the only solution … rent it. I would like to have a 3/8″ cordless.

3) Dremel: As times moves on I use it more the time. Heck, I have even cut rebar with it.

4) Reciprocating saw: I do not own one but there has been a number of times where I used the circular saw where the reciprocating saw would have been the best tool and the safest tool. Think 4″ tree branches, the result of an oak tree pruning, being cut for fire wood.

5) A sander: I think that the orbital sander would get more common use than a belt sander.

6) A wet/dry vacuum shop vac: Explanation needed?

45 wonz August 1, 2011 at 11:19 am

nail gun for me… I think paslodes patent has expired, starting to see a whole market array of copycats. I make unassuming furniture and have no time for dovetails, sliced joints, scarf joints and spliced joints…. for me, it’s put another piece of timber on top of another piece and nail away. I don’t even use glue. I can make most pieces in less than 2 hours.

46 Edgar Westmoreland August 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm

You could make up all sorts of lists and some would like them and others would not. Of this one I would have to say cordless is convenient, not essential. A true craftsman would not even make such a list. Not really all that manly.

47 Aaron Ginn August 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Granted, I am not a construction worker who has to plan to work on site where there is likely no access to power, but I will never use a cordless drill again. The reasons are simple: technology and planned obsolescence. Batteries for cordless drills are constantly changing due to better battery technology or simply because the manufacturer wants you to buy a new version of its product. The batteries for the last two cordless drills I’ve bought eventually wore down and finding replacements to fit my particular model proved to be impossible. Corded drills have more power and 110V outlets are always readily available where I use my drill.

48 Cameron T. August 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I prefer a corded drill because the cordless one always seems to have a dead battery when I need it.

49 Eric August 1, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I’d for sure go w/ the drill and handsaw (though when my cordless drill bit the dust a few years ago, I started using a spare -and much older- drill w/ an electric cord, and must admit I prefer the additional power so much that I never replaced the cordless).

However, for me personally, if I’m going to round it down to just two additional power tools, I’ve gotta go w/ a rounder and a jigsaw.

50 Crazy_Redneck August 1, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Y’all are thinking too small. My essential power tools are:

1. 1952 Ford 8n Tractor with brush hog and box blade.

2. One man auger with 6 in. bit

3. Husqvarna 455 Rancher chainsaw

4. Air compressor

51 Williamsjm August 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Shop-vac. It’s the one thing I almost always use regardless of the job. I don’t even know what an Oscillating Multi-Tool is.

52 Mike Mahoney August 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Four? That’s like 3 legs on a horse. The few cordless tools I have I wouldn’t sell at a garage sale. That would be mean. A radial arm cross cuts, rips, mitre and compound mitre cuts, sands, routes, dado cuts, plunge mills and taper cuts. Not all of it with the best precision, though. An air compressor is a must to go with an air die grinder especially.

53 Harold Chase August 2, 2011 at 12:32 am

I’ve worked in the construction trades since 1974. Here are the power tools you need: A 7 1/2″ corded circular saw, a corded 1/2″ drill, a 10″ table saw. With these tools and a basic set of hand tools you can efficiently build a house. The operative word is power and corded tools are about half the cost and have four times the power of battery tools. Don’t get me wrong I use all sorts of battery tools also, but corded tools are the real essentials.

54 Brad August 2, 2011 at 1:02 am

I love handyman articles… make me laugh my arse off! A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.
Anyway, one power tool that is versatile above all others and sadly neglected here is the angle grinder, show me something it can’t do.

55 Harold Chase August 2, 2011 at 1:10 am

I notice a lot of comments comparing jigsaws and reciprocating saws. The jigsaw is a finish carpentry tool and the reciprocating saw is for fast and efficient demolition. They don’t really have any overlapping tasks. I’m also surprised at how many people mention the Dremil, that has to be my least-used tool.

56 Polmental August 2, 2011 at 7:47 am

No, I’m afraid tools don’t separate us from the animal kingdom, as many of our opposable-thumbed cousins could demonstrate.

57 Rev. Brian Pryor August 2, 2011 at 7:51 am

No power tool is essential. yes, using hand tools takes longer but it encourages precision, patience, dedication, and hard work. Faster isn’t always better. Power tools are great for when your paycheck is on the line, but for the man at home, use a hand tool and do some real damn work, youll feel better when you complete a project with only hand tools. Now that’s something to take pride in.

58 MattheusPaulus August 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Before ANYTHING else, I would be certain to recommend EYE PROTECTION! You get all this cool power tool generated stuff flying around and it’s gonna get in yer eye! Hope it’s not metal – that’ll leave a “rust ring” and you’ll have to get the eye doctor to get out HIS (or HER) eyeball grinder to buff that out!

Then, I’d be sure to have both an orbital and belt sander. Doing all your cutting and screwing fast is great and all, but you’ll still have to smooth it down BY HAND without one of these. That’ll slow you down.

59 Ross Henton August 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Sorry, but everybody seems to be missing the most important thing. THE CIRCULAR SAW PICTURE IS TERRIBLY UNSAFE. THIS IS WHAT *NOT* TO DO.

First: BOTH hands should be on the saw whenever it’s in operation. In the picture, the user’s left hand is on the board. The workpiece should be clamped in position, either on both sides, or on the non-waste side so the waste piece falls away. Having one hand on the board, off the saw is an excellent way to lose fingers if the saw should kick back or hit a knot, nail, or other obstruction.

Second: Never, ever wear gloves during an operation like this. They’re not strong enou to protect you from injury, and can pill your hand into the blade if they get snagged.

The “essential” tools is really an argument based on the kind of work you’re doing. Power tools are mostly less than 100 years old, and you’ll notice the number of beautiful things that were made before them. Hand tools are generally safer in the long term… I’ve never heard of anyone losing three fingers to a hand saw, but lots of people have had serious (life-changing) hand injuries from misuse of circular saws. Don’t sacrifice safety for convenience.

Whatever you choose, please take time to learn the safety procedures. AofM: please take this photo down, or at least post a note about its potential safety issues. A real man does potentially dangerous things safely, for himself and his loved ones.

60 Ross Henton August 2, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Pull, not “pill”. Spell-checkers have their own dangers. ;)

61 caleb August 3, 2011 at 1:09 am

I love how every comment on this entry proposes a “better” list that basically caters to a certain specific set of needs, whereas the original post is going through 4 “basic” tools that will cover most everything a homeowner/man will need, including functioning in most of the uses of the other tools on the “better” lists. It is not an exhaustive list, but a starter from which to build while determining what YOU need.

Since everyone’s biggest beef is with the cordless drill, as someone who has both, including a professional grade corded drill, the cordless gets used 99% of the time.

62 Jacob August 3, 2011 at 3:54 am

As an apartment-dweller with no large projects on my plate and no permission for remodeling, the only power tool I have in my tool box now is a small Craftsman cordless drill. It’s barely a step up from a power screwdriver, but it’s plenty powerful for small projects. If I were building my own furniture, I would need to step up to something serious, but mine has an adjustable handle to reach a comfortable angle or to fit in tight spaces where its larger brethren are useless. If you’re working with a small budget and a small project, a small quality drill may be a better investment.

63 Adam August 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I’m surprised that it took until comment #58 for someone to mention protective eye wear. All four of the tools listed in the article (and most of those mentioned in the comments) are going to produce dust and debris and sooner or later a piece of that will end up in your eye. Working in the health and safety field I have seen a number of cases where a simple pair of cheap, comfortable safety glasses would have prevented injury, loss of time, or the loss of vision. Do yourself and your family a favour and buy some half decent safety glasses and keep a couple pairs in your toolbox (or in each power tool case).

As far as what tools are essential, it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. This list is a good starting point for a new handyman looking to get started with simple projects around the house. Those of you who work in the construction/carpentry trades are obviously going to have varying needs depending on your industry. Just because your favourite tool wasn’t mentioned doesn’t mean the list is bunk.

64 Buddy August 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Osciliating Tools: I can only speak to the Fein and Rockwell brands. I bought a Rockwell in the $100-200 range a couple of years ago. So far it has only been successful at plunge cutting drywall, cutting MDF, sanding, and grout removal (barely). I just got a comparable Fein MultiMaster (paid $300) and it is brilliant. I’ve been able to cut through solid wood moulding and trim, and have even done some minor end trimming of pressure treated fence planks. The other brands mentioned make good tools, so I’m sure their osciliating tools are servicable. Just stay away from Rockwell.

65 Dan August 4, 2011 at 12:21 am

Cordless drills always run out of power at the worst moment — when you are trying to finish the job and are already tired, getting “the look” from your impatient spouse, and the light from the fading sun is dying… If my goal was to work on maintaining a zen-like calm in the worst of situations, a cordless drill is a good choice, but my goal is normally getting the job done. Another poster mentioned a 1/2″ corded drill — I owned one, but after installing a ceiling, my shoulder hurt for weeks from the weight of it.

I would add a random orbit sander and a light. A light means you are not fumbling in the dark, and a sander because sanding is the most tedious part of almost every job I do.

66 JaimeInTexas August 5, 2011 at 10:52 am

Folks, the theme is power tools. Yes, protective eye wear is a must it is an accessory to the tool. I agree with Dan, that a flashlight (a torch for our fiends across the pond) is another must have.

67 jim August 5, 2011 at 10:54 am

tip: If you are going into cordless anything make sure that the batteries of the different tools are compatible
2) a good angle grinder can replace at least 2 of the aforementioned tools, not to mention add polishing capabilities . this is not inexpensive but boy is it good,made in germany bosch
and let us not forget the most important tool there is

68 Paul Maysura August 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Cordless drills are a necessity for every avid DIYer. Add an extra Lithium-ion battery pack and you have enough power to complete almost any project.

69 bearfoot August 13, 2011 at 6:38 pm

@dan>> so buy an extra battery with it. if you’re working over 10 hours a day on a project it’s not a project, it’s a job.. :)

70 marc August 20, 2011 at 12:17 am

I totally agree with Harold Chase,mitre saw,circular saw and a drill,all corded which also can make them more reliable,batteries can fail and stop recharging and are very expensive to replace in the uk.

But it is a good article and gets us thinking.

71 Andre August 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Oscillating Multi Tool?? nope My Grandpa and Dad didn’t have one, so neither do I, instead I would opt for either a palm sander or bench grinder.

72 Chris October 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Yeah, an oscillating multi-tool is pretty far down on my list as well. For about the first 13 years of my life, I remember my dad getting by with only:

1. a 3/8″ corded drill
2. a 7 1/4″ skillsaw, and
3. a jigsaw

Later he added a palm sander. Those were the first four I purchased, and the four I reach for most often.

73 Kitten November 26, 2012 at 5:39 am

My Dad Was a Jack of all trades & i Grew up in His Shop While He did his carpentry & woodworking, Furniture, you name it! Also Followed Him around the yard Helping build Raised Cedar Garden Beds & such But He Never Taught Me about the Powertools Except corded drill, Jigsaw & The Bandsaw Other then those To This Day I’m Still Lost When it Comes to Other Powertools..

74 Kitten November 26, 2012 at 6:11 am

So I Just Skimmed Through Most of these Comments To See what i Could Learn & NOT MUCH HELP lol I mean I Get the Shop Talk But I’m a Beginner who is 27 Female Needing To Fix Her Mothers Roof & Tear down Then Rebuild an addition To the House So Jerks Don’t Take Her cash, Do less then half the Job & run again Sooo Yeah What am i Going to Need To Always Be Capable & Prepared to Fix a House Alone.. lol

75 Brandon November 30, 2012 at 8:46 am

Never worked in the trades but concider myself a good DIYer. I use the hell out of my cordless drill, hammer function is handy when adding an electrical box to your poured concrete foundation in the basement. The cordless circ saws on the market today will cut through a sheet of plywood without a problem minded you can balace the process to keep the saw from binding. Recips i used to cut through PVC and take down 2×4,s comes in very handy, have also used it for outdoor tree limbs as well! I have used the Ocillating tool a bit to make a clean cut out in drywall to get at pipes and also used it for easily flushing the trim around my doors before putting tile and wood down on my floors.
I believe the list is good. It makes the job faster and easier.

76 Andrew November 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm

biological correction: You claimed that tools are what separates us from animals, and that is one thing (sophisticated tools), but apes, monkeys, and bears have all been observed using tools. Just thought I’d point that out.

77 Joshua July 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I might replace the reciprocating saw with an impact driver or a router but otherwise agree. Definitely don’t get any kind of battery powered saw unless accessibility is an issue. You will tear through a battery in the slow in noisy process of cutting a single 2 x 4. They’re ok for some thinner particle board or plywood though.

78 joshua July 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Saw a special claiming that primates were the only animals that use tools (trying to link them to humans). I thought, don’t sea otters use rocks as tools to open shellfish? Wonder if they think that some descended from otters.

79 Rodney February 2, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Great article and posts. I read through almost all of them! I am a DIY by budget and own a home- average Joe. I have no building hobby or business. What I have found I needed through trial and error. Also, it all depends as to the type and size of project. Smaller tools take longer but they are usually better than a hand tool; however, there are times that I SHOULD have used a hand tool as I ruined some things quickly.

Here is my homeowner’s list:

*Power drill (corded & cordless)
*Circular Saw- just got a small one handed Saw-Max Dremel. It will cut 2x4s but a larger one would do better for those cuts on a regular basis.
*Jigsaw- used many times.
*Sander (bought one tri-shaped and one flat larger- belt would be better)
*Dremel??? This is where everything else falls in- I have used this little device so many times for various house jobs. At times too big a job for the tool but, it worked. Other tools would may have been a better choice (specialty) but for a once in a while and because I did not own such specialty tools, it was nice to have power versus a hand tool.
I am curious about scroll saws. Over the years I have come across home fix-its that needed precise cuttings and router cuttings on a small scale. Anyone experienced with a once-in-a-while tool like the Dremel Trio for jigsawing, scrolling, small sanding?

80 Charlie March 14, 2014 at 6:43 am

I definitely agree with the cordless drill and a circular saw, but would skip the reciprocating saw and oscillating tool. Recip saws are great for demo work, but are far too imprecise for actually building anything. Oscillating tools do a lot of things, but none of them well.
Instead, I would include the following:
1. Jigsaw for making curved cuts or holes in sheet materials, cabinets, etc.
2. Angle grinder – makes quick work of sharpening lawn mower blades and cutting metal.
3. Shop vac for cleaning up all the messes you will make with the four tools above. :)

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter