I’ve written a couple of other posts in the past about my essential DIY power tools list, but I find that as I tackle new and different projects, and as I acquire new tools myself, my recommendations change. Since I’ve been asked about my recommendations a few times recently, I thought it might be time to update my power tools list. So here are my top choices.
1. Miter Saw
A miter saw will always and forever be my #1 top choice as the most essential DIY power tool. If you can only afford one power tool, or if you’re buying them one at a time in order of importance, make your first purchase a miter saw.
My father-in-law surprised me with a new miter saw on his last visit, and he got me this Ryobi 10-inch sliding compound miter saw. I absolutely love it. I had owned and used the previous model, and it had some design and accuracy issues, but all of those issues were fixed with the design of this new model.
A 10-inch saw, especially if it’s a sliding saw (which allows you to cut larger items) is about all most DIYers need. I’ve never owned anything other than a 10-inch miter saw, and as long as it slides, you can cut items up to about 14 inches wide.
Miter saws are invaluable tools if you’re cutting and installing baseboards, framing doorways, installing crown moulding, etc. You can do quite a bit of home improvement with nothing but a miter saw, hammer, and nails.
2. Air Compressor and Nail Gun
While it’s completely possible to install baseboards, crown moulding, and frame out doorways with a hammer and nails (I did that for many years myself), an air compressor with a nail gun will make your life so much easier, and will allow you to do those projects in a fraction of the time.
My first air compressor/nail gun combo was a cheap Campbell Hausfeld that I purchased at Lowe’s for $99. It was okay, and got the job done. But then a couple of years ago, I treated myself to a new air compressor and nail gun combo, and I got this Porter Cable 6-gallon 150-PSI compressor* that comes with a 16-gauge finishing nail gun that shoots up to 2.5-inch nails, an 18-gauge finishing nail gun that shoots up to 2-inch nails, and a staple gun.
The difference in quality between this compressor and my first cheap one was immediately noticeable. I love this thing, and find that I use it several times a week. I use both nail guns regularly, depending on the project, so I would certainly recommend having both.
I don’t use the staple gun very often, but I could not have made my upholstered headboard without that staple gun. So while I don’t use it very often (simply because I do far fewer upholstery projects than I do wood working projects), I’m so glad I have it for when I do tackle those upholstery projects.
3. 5-inch Rotary Sander
No DIYer should be without a 5-inch rotary sander, and I’m pretty sure I have found the best one. Until recently, I always bought the cheapest ones (whatever the blue brand is for about $35), but my last one stopped working during my kitchen remodel, so I decided to get a nicer one. I bought this DeWalt variable speed sander*, and it’s amazing.
I never really knew that there was such a difference in quality among sanders, but there is. I’ll never go back to the super cheap things again after using this one. It’s a variable speed sander, it’s not super heavy, and it sands so beautifully. I highly recommend it for your DIY power tools list.
You can get larger sanders. When we moved into our house, I purchased a 6-inch DeWalt variable speed sander, thinking I would use it on so many projects and get them done faster with a larger sander. The problem is that the 6-inch sander was so heavy and bulky and powerful that I was forced to use two hands to use it. (5-inch sanders are often called palm sanders because they’re small and require one hand to use.) Quite honestly, I hated it, and would never recommend it. A 5-inch sander is generally all that any DIYer will need.
4. Dremel Multi-Max
I’m constantly finding uses for my Dremel Multi-Max*. It’s one of those tools that I use several times a week now, and wonder how the heck I made it all those years without one.
The Dremel Multi-Max is an oscillating saw, which means that the blade vibrates back and forth at a very high speed. The small flat blade allows you to cut things that you just wouldn’t be able to cut with any other tool. In addition to cutting, you can also use it for detail sanding.
When I removed the wall in my kitchen and had to cut the thick 3/4-inch paneling flush with the ceiling in the breakfast room, this is what I used. I also used it to remove the panels from my kitchen cabinet doors so that I could add glass. I used it when installing my hardwood floor in the kitchen to quickly remove misfired cleats. I used it to cut the panels out of the rolling doors so that I could add fretwork. And most recently, I’ve used it to patch my hardwood floor in areas where I’ve widened or added a doorway. But I can’t even list all of the uses for this thing. I honestly find myself reaching for this tool several times a week now. I heartuly recommend adding a Dremel Multi-Max to your DIY power tools list.
5. Paint Sprayer
There are so many different sprayers on the market, and they can get pretty expensive. But if you’re only painting cabinets, furniture, and small projects, then all you need is a Critter Siphon Gun*. It uses regular pint size Mason jars, which is incredibly convenient. You can fill up two or three jars before you start your project so that you won’t have to stop and refill, and if you have any leftover, just pop a lid on it and store the jar. I absolutely love this thing.
It’s very inexpensive, but you do need an air compressor to hook it up to. The air compressor I have (the one listed above) will work wonderfully with this sprayer.
I used this sprayer to paint all of my kitchen cabinets, and it did such a beautiful job. It sprays a finer mist of paint than most sprayers, so you’re less likely to get runs and drips in your paint. So far, I’ve used this to spray oil-based primer, latex paint, and water-based polyurethane. I did find that it sprays the oil-based primer better if I add a bit of paint thinner to it (not much!!), but I don’t water down my paint at all. I just use it straight out of the can (paint that has previously been opened needs to be strained* as you pour it into the jar), and it does a great job. It sprays polyurethane beautifully as well.
Please note: This sprayer isn’t for huge jobs like spraying walls, ceilings, and house exteriors. For those big jobs, you would want a sprayer that shoots more paint. But this sprayer is perfect for painting cabinets, furniture, and smaller projects.
6. Circular Saw
A table saw is preferable, but for those who don’t have room for a table saw, or who just don’t want to spend the money on a table saw, a circular saw will do*. After years of DIYing without a table saw and relying solely on my circular saw, I finally got a table saw. But I still find that there are times when using my circular saw is faster and more convenient.
This is the tool that you’ll use to make long, straight cuts, like if you’re cutting pieces of plywood or MDF for a project. But in order to make those straight cuts, you’ll also need a long, straight fence (I generally use a piece of 1 x 4 lumber) and a couple of C-clamps* to hold the fence in place while you’re cutting.
This is one of those tools that I think a basic model will do. There’s no need to spend a lot of money here. There are no fancy bells and whistles that you’ll need on a circular saw. As long as you can push the button and the blade spins, it’ll be just fine. The thing that will determine how well it cuts is the type of blade you put on it.
Honestly, most DIYers can do without this, but a jigsaw* is one of my favorite tools, so I’m adding it to my list. But obviously, there are other more important tools to spend your money on. Save this one until you’ve bought the really essential ones.
For years, I’ve used a very old workhorse of a jigsaw that belonged to my dad, and possibly belonged to my grandfather before that. That thing was solid and cut straight as an arrow. But the motor finally started going out, so I purchased a new jigsaw. I purchased a Skilsaw that cost around $50, and the thing was a piece of junk. I tried cutting the scallops for my niece’s bedroom built-ins, and the thing nearly brought me to tears because the blade wouldn’t cut straight up and down. Any side pressure on the blade at all (which is inevitable when cutting curves with a jigsaw) caused the blade to bend to the left or right, meaning that my cuts were angled through the wood, rather than straight up and down through the wood . Fortunately, I was able to get the old one to work long enough to get the job done.
All of that to say that if you plan on doing any fine detail cutting with your jigsaw, you’ll want to spend some money on it and get a really good one. Don’t bother with the cheap ones. My next one will probably be the Dewalt pictured above, or one very similar to it.
8. Table Saw
Last, but certainly not least, on my DIY power tools list… the table saw. I put off buying a table saw because I thought I needed an expensive one, and I made it just fine for years with just a circular saw. Boy, was I wrong! I actually ended up winning one in a contest, but it’s a relatively inexpensive Ryobi table saw that comes with a stand*, and so far it has done every single thing that I’ve needed it to do. This is another tool that I wonder how I lived without it for so long.
After DIYing for so many years without a table saw, I can’t even express how nice it is to finally have one! Being able to set it at a certain measurement, and then cut several things knowing that they’re all going to be exactly the same, is worth every penny of the price. I couldn’t have done my music room ceiling or my bathroom ceiling without a table saw.
So that’s my current essential power tools list for DIYers. If you’re a DIYer, and there’s a tool you highly recommend that I’ve left out, let me know!