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Issue Date: January 2007 Issue


Tool Time

You can save a bit of money doing repairs and renovations yourself. Here’s a rundown on the power-tool essentials for the home do-it-yourselfer.
Mark Karges

So you’ve moved beyond replacing light bulbs and tightening loose screws, but remain rather clueless about the next step, not to mention the tools you’ll need to get there. We consulted Ace Hardware repairman and DIY expert Lou Manfredini, who showed us 10 tools any handyman worth his weight in sawdust should have in his arsenal. 

Cordless Drill
Though drills aren’t normally thought of as dangerous, you must familiarize yourself with them. Be careful to maintain a solid grip and good footing; a drill can really wrench your wrist. Manfredini recommends at least a 12-volt drill (volts equal power) with two batteries (one as a backup) and a quick-charging charger. Lithium ion, the newest technology, provides more power, longer battery life and better overall performance. Cordless drills have the advantage of portability, so you can use the drill throughout the house and never need an outlet.
Cost: Expect to spend between $100 and $170 on a quality cordless. Manfredini stresses the importance of buying name brands: “A lot of the cheap stuff just isn’t as good.”

Circular Saw
This straight cutting saw handles both cross cuts and ripping with ease. “This is a must-have for any kind of woodworking, inside andoutside,” says Manfredini. Circular saws pose obvious safety issues. Manfredini knows guys who’ve lost fingers for underestimating safety concerns. The saw should always be used on a solid surface, the user in a balanced stance. Of course, get familiar with the saw’scapabilities. “Even if used properly, I’ve seen bad things happen to goodpeople,” warns Manfredini. “You’ve got to respect the tool.” Spend money on both a quality saw and a quality blade. You can spend $10 on a decent blade, but $20 on a great blade, advises Manfredini. Ten dollars makes a tangible difference. The kind of blade is important, too. Different teeth can mean a finer cut, especially for finish work.
Cost: Starting out at $60, you may spend up to $150 for a good saw and great blade. Expect to replace the blade as it wears.

Jigsaw
The jigsaw handles curving cuts and excels at intricate designs. While it takes a bit of practice to learn the saw, it maneuvers much easier and weighs much less than the circular saw. It’s less intimidating, too. The jigsaw’s portable size and simple blade adjustment equal easy maintenance. However, as with any saw, you must watch your fingers. The small blades can snap, too. Manfredini recommends stocking up on blades: “They’re like diapers. You never buy just one. You’ve got to get a few at a time.”
Cost: $20 to more than $100, plus the cost of replacement blades

Reciprocating saw
Hold on with two hands! The reciprocating saw requires a strong grip. This DIY tool comes in handy for demolition work. Use it to cut through walls or roofs, whether expanding a room, installing a skylight or demolishing in bulk. This tool can cut through metal or wood (depending on the blade), but a bit of experience is necessary. “It can get away in a hurry,” warns Manfredini. But the tool’s portability and easy maintenance make it a desirable tool for those looking to move to larger projects. The blade requires replacement after it dulls.
Cost: $70 and up, plus the cost of replacement blades


Palm sander
Time to smooth out the edges. The portable, lightweight palm sander needs only a quarter sheet of sandpaper to operate. You need only to replace the sandpaper when it’s worn out. Whisk fine dust out of the unit when it gets dirty with a quick gust of air. This sander works for all kinds of woodworking around the home. Wear safety glasses and a dust mask; fine dust irritates the eyes and lungs.
Cost: $20 to $50

Belt sander
With a bigger motor than the palm sander, the belt sander is great for the beginning stages of any rough sanding task, including refinishing and table building. The belt sander’s aggressive forward motion requires a firm grip, a flat surface and full attention. It’s outfitted with a 3-inch sanding belt, and users should get well acquainted with the feel of this sander to harness its full capabilities, because the belt sander jumps if not used properly. The unit’s maintenance depends on whether you buy one with a dust collector for less mess.
Cost: $70 to $180

Electronic stud finder
Use this tool to locate the framing inside a wall, whether you’re hanging a heavy picture or knocking out a wall. Easy to use (just hold it to the wall and press a button), the stud finder fits into any toolbox. Besides replacing its batteries, this tool needs no assembly and no maintenance.
Cost: $10 to $30

Dremel tool
A Dremel tool is a high-speed rotary tool that may be used for any number of tasks: detail work, sanding, binding and cutting in tight areas. Hundreds of bits are available to augment the versatility of the Dremel tool, so the potential to expand its uses is only as far as the nearest hardware store. A brief sampling of attachments includes brushes, engraving cutters, polishing accessories and grinding stones. This “very portable” tool comes in corded or cordless models. You will need safety glasses for this, as its high speeds throw loose material into the air.
Cost: $80

Air compressor
A small air compressor opens the door for a slew of pneumatic tools. Sanders, drills, nail guns, power washers and specialty painting can all be done with an air compressor. They range from large, powerful units to smaller, less powerful ones, both of which are portable. It’s easy to use: Just plug it in and attach the hose. You must plug the unit directly to a power source, warns Manfredini, or risk overheating by using an extension cord. Take care not to overpressurize an air compressor (though most have valves to prevent this). And don’t aim the hose at anyone; the pressure can be strong enough to penetrate skin.
Cost: Air compressors may be quite inexpensive at $100, but more powerful compressors cost more, sometimes up to $3,000. It all depends on what sort of work you expect to do.

Nail gun
Powered by an air compressor, the nail gun aims to render the hammer obsolete. This machine can shoot nails up to 2 inches long into any wall. Just connect the gun’s diaphragm to the hose and lubricate it with a dollop of oil. Prepare the surrounding area by keeping a 6-foot human-free zone around you, as some nails have a tendency to jump after you shoot them. Also, be sure to wear eye protection.
Cost: $50 to 100


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