Power Tools 101: A Guide for Beginners



It wasn’t too long after I moved into my house that an old friend of mine from out of town decided to come for a visit to scope out my new digs.  At that point, paint was the extent of the updates I had done on the house.  It certainly breathed life back into the dreary space that it once was, however, it was far from the vision I had in my mind. I shared with my friend all of the additions I intended to make and in his wisdom, as an experienced homeowner, he decided to take me to Home Depot to purchase a drill as a housewarming gift.  I insisted that the purchase wasn’t necessary and I vividly recall asking him, “What am I going to use a drill for?  I don’t need it.”  We bantered back and forth a bit and he finally just looked at me and said, “Trust me.  You’re going to need it and you will use it.”  This conversation occurred at a time in which I had NO IDEA how much it would cost to contract someone to do the work for me.  Today, I look back on that moment and all I can do is chuckle.  My friend was right and that drill was the first of many power tools that would join my collection.


If you’re a serious DIYer, then these tools are certain to make your household inventory at some point or another.  If you’re just interested in doing a project here and there, this list is a great guide for the most commonly used tools for home improvement projects.


Miter Saw



Hands down, this is the tool that I use the most!  The miter is a tool which is capable of making cuts at a variety of angles.  The base of the saw can swivel left or right, to make angle cuts up to 45 degrees and the saw itself rests on an arm which also pivots or bevels. Because the saw can adjust for angle at two different points, it is commonly referred to as a compound miter saw.  It is used mostly for interior mouldings, such as crowns or baseboards.


Circular Saw



A circular saw is primarily used to make long cuts.  For example, if you have a large sheet of plywood that you’d like cut, a circular saw would be ideal for the job.  With the correct blade though, the circular saw can also be used to cut metal, tile, and brick.


Angle Grinder



The angle grinder is a multi-functional tool that can be used for grinding down abrasive surfaces, cutting metal, plastic, landscape pavers, and tile, with just a change of the blade.  This is one of my favorite tools, because it’s tiny and easy to handle.  I also like it, because it packs the power of the some of the larger saws.


Table Saw



A table saw is really what it sounds like.  It’s a table with a circular blade extending through the top of the table.  The table saw is used to make a number of different cuts, but accuracy of the cut is why many people choose it over other tools.  The table provides additional support for the piece of stock or lumber being cut, thus helping to achieve accuracy.  As a DIYer or hobbyist, just about any compact, portable table saw (Ryobi, Makita, Store Brand, etc.) at your big box store will do.  However, if you’re serious about wood working, then you’ll probably want to invest in a stationary table with a few more bells and whistles.


Brad Nailer



A brad nailer is a must have for your DIY tool collection!  The brad nailer is typically used to install fine finishes, such as crown, baseboards, casings, and other types of mouldings.  It is also used when one wants to avoid splitting or filling big holes in the stock.  The gauge of the nail itself, 16 or 18, is how many pieces of wire there are per inch.  So, the 18 gauge would have 18 pieces per inch and the 16 gauge would have 16 pieces per inch.  For interior mouldings, I usually use 16 gauge nails.  Some brad nailers are powered by an air compressor.  Others are powered by battery.  Personally, I prefer the compressor powered nailers, because when a battery dies, it can really mess up your work flow.


Belt Sander



As a DIYer, you learn very quickly that power sanders are necessary.  Sanding projects by hand take too much time and too much work.  When you have larger projects to sand or when you need to remove large pieces of stock, a belt sander is the way to go.  The strength and the speed of this tool will help you to achieve a smooth and level surface more quickly than a sheet of sand paper ever would.


Random Orbital Sander



A random orbital sander can be used for removing and leveling stock, however it doesn’t do so quite as effectively or quickly as the belt sander.  The random orbital sander is my sander of choice when I want to remove a little bit stock from my work piece or do a light degree of leveling.  Most of the time though, I use this sander for finishing projects.  I currently have a battery-powered random orbital sander, but I recommend the corded one.  The cordless is great for portability, but the battery doesn’t seem to last very long.


…So, I think this concludes my list of tools that I use most frequently.  I might come back at a later time and update this.  If you have suggestions for additions or would like to know about a tool that is not on this list, please let me know in the comments below.