Build / Shopping

Tool Time and The Real Skinny with Absolute Must Haves

09.09.11
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I thought we might do something a bit differently today and chat about the real skinny when it comes to tools that you will DEFINITELY need if you are planning on building!

I am going to be giving you my thoughts on those things you absolutely need but I will post later on those you should definitely add to your wish list just as quickly as possible, because they are oh so fabulous. I will only occasionally give my opinion on brand and will otherwise suggest that you buy the best you can afford without sacrificing the other really important items.

A good rule of thumb when you are on a budget is to choose from the tools with a middle of the road type of price with the most value added features, and then ask the sales people or your friends and family about brand (everyone has a different opinion on this). Brand and the “things” a tool will do can be chosen well only through experience. Look to review sites as well for more information on any particular tool or brand. Of course the fabulous readers here at TDC are so wonderful I imagine if you have questions and you post them here, you will get some good answers!

I am going to be creating a new forum (we had one previously) for questions just such as these and for you to post your opinions in response. Let’s get a good conversation going and help each other get the most bang for our buck!

1. In order to do any building at all, you must have something to fasten boards together.. in other words a Drill! MUST!

I prefer corded drills but I know most of the populous enjoys battery operated Drill and they purchase an extra battery to remove the charging inconvenience. Corded drills definitely have a bit more power and torque, you need to watch that because you can drill the head right off your screw if you aren’t careful and you should have the torque turned down until you have gotten the feel for the material you are working with.

There are several different types of drill some only drive screws while others can drill holes, but for our purposes here today, my thought is you should start with a drill that does both. You will need or want to drill holes (pilot or countersink) and you will need to drive screws (duh). This is going to be a standard drill type with a chuck to allow you to change from a drill bit to a driver bit at the tip.

2. Accordingly you must have appropriately sized Drill bits or Counter Sink Bits to pre-drill or countersink for your screw size and diameter. This most likely means you may need a few… to say the least.

I generally choose a 3/32 drill bit size to pre-drill for a #8- 2″ Screw. The size of the drill bit or counter sink bit will change every time you use a differently sized screw. I would invest in a kit that has numerous sizes of drill bits and driver bits. They are inexpensive and you will use them constantly and will be very glad you purchased it! Below you can see just such a kit followed by a few countersink bits below that.

Countersink Bits, (the bit we use to not only pre-drill but to create a shallow bowl for the screw head to sit down into just below the surface of your wood…see the middle image below for an example of this) generally come in sizes such as #6, #8, and #10. These correspond to the screw diameter and honestly you will not very likely stray far from these 3 sizes, and will even more likely hover around a #8 most of the time.

3. Similarly, you must also have an appropriately sized Driver Bit to screw in your screws properly. Most Screw packages will lend a recommendation on the appropriate size driver bit for that particular screw.

A #8- 2″ Screw suggests a #2 Philips head Driver Bit. When and if you destroy the screw head, which you will likely do at least a few times while you get your building sea legs, you will need a Driver bit one size larger than you previously used (in this example that would be a phillips #3) to continue screwing in your now torn apart screw head.

As I mentioned above, they sell some very reasonably priced packages that have various drill bits and driver bits together with several sizes in each. This would be a good choice especially if you are a beginner. It is an inexpensive way to determine which brand you prefer etc.

4. You must have Glue regardless of your skill level, and you will most likely continue to use it throughout your building experiences. I have used quite a few and they are all pretty similar to me, to be perfectly honest, none are the ‘crazier than whatever’ bond that they claim to be. Just keep that in mind and buy the one you can afford. I attempt to design my plans without relying on the glue for stability, though it definitely aids in a stronger joint without doubt and it allows for an ease of constructing, since it helps hold things together while you are trying to fasten them.

When I’m not using pocket hole joinery, I will personally glue, then clamp, then pre-drill (or countersink) and screw toward the middle of the drying time allocation because this process works best for me. The glue and clamps act as my extra sets of hands and the strength I need to fasten something together perfectly square and easily.

Which brings us to the next item you absolutely must have in my opinion. There are ways around this next step, but honestly, bite the bullet and buy some clamps and you will not have to worry much about whether you are squared up or not.

You must have Clamps! MUST MUST! I most especially recommend Corner Clamps.

Here’s the deal on this front. They make clamps for corners and so you should take advantage of that! There are a few varieties out there and I won’t state a major preference for brand aside from the Kreg clamps, because I don’t necessarily have one.

As far as corner clamps are concerned I can recommend something like this for an easy 90 degree clamp. Simple to use and 90 degrees everytime. These particular adjustable angle clamps, are the ones that I use 90% of the time and I love the fact that you can use them at various angles. I use both varieties depending on which angle I’m clamping at and how many angles/boards I’m clamping at once.

If you buy corner clamps it will ensure that you are squared up properly as you join sides to tops and bottoms. This will save you an infinite number of steps as you build so…buy clamps….corner clamps in particular! Almost every attachment in every set of plans involves a 90 degree angle for fastening…corner clamps will help you attach fixed shelves, and compartments as well.

For other clamping needs there are a variety to choose from, and I like several different types for different purposes:

I adore the Kreg Face Clamp, Large Face Clamp, Over Sized Face Clamp, and Right Angle Clamp. Hands down some of the best clamps in the biz.  They are easy to close in place with one hand and are flexible in size for your clamping needs.

I like the over sized monster clamps for joining adjacent boards (like for a headboard) since they help ‘hold’ everything together as you work.

I like a self tightening clamp for use with various things and easy fast irregular clamping that doesn’t require precision, just a bit of hold.

I like a good C-Clamp for securing wood to a work table or sawhorse or your saw to a work table, and I like a mini set too.

I love the various angle strap clamping mechanisms for some of the odd things I find myself doing. It’s funny how often this comes in handy.

There you have it, 6 different clamping specimens and so many different purposes. I don’t have a lot of clamps overall, just one or 2 of each specific kind mentioned above and it seems to get the job done! Having the right clamp for the work you are doing goes such a long way.

If you plan on building pieces that use trim, you should definitely get a Pneumatic Nailer (Nail Gun) or Finish Nail Gun. This also means you will need a compressor to make it work. This combo kit shown here is a reasonably priced package deal and the one I just purchased for myself!

It is possible to use a finish set and hammer, but let’s be honest here…if you don’t use a hammer very often you will do a terrible job of hammering in nails with such a teeny tiny little head. Given their small size you will have an even more difficult time removing them with your hammer after you screw up, and hammer them in sideways.

If you are building pieces that don’t have trim, you do not need this…not really, unless you plan to build with nails instead, which you can if your piece does not require major strength of structure, or if you like to use a nail gun as your “clamp” to hold your pieces in place while the glue dries or while you fasten with screws.

If you plan on building something with curves, a Jig Saw is a great place to start. There are a variety of brands and pricepoints for this item so choose the best you can get in the mid section of the price range. Honestly not sure you will get enough use out of an expensive one to warrant the price, but you can use a jig saw to correct problem areas and to make straight cuts wider than a miter saw will cut. I have a few of these and I have to say my B&D corded jig saw seems to outdo every single other more expensive brand and model, so who knows. I have found it to be more about the blade and the power than it is about the saw itself so the fact that mine can adjust and cut at an angle is really nice for many additional applications aside from curved cutting.

This is a handy tool to have around for making cut alterations when your blue or orange screw up the cuts you need for your piece. They will screw them up…there is no doubt about it. Even if they are off by 1/8″ it will still be off and if it is 1/8″ too large you can fix this with a jig saw (or your sander). You can also fix this with any other number of saws, but you notice I don’t have them on this list. That is because unless you are doing curves and need a jig saw or your local Blue or Orange refuse to cut your wood or MDF (which would be strange) then you don’t absolutely NEED one of your own, it’s simply a major help if you have one.

Is it easier to have your own saw…YES…because then any errors you make, are your own and you have the power to fix them right there on the spot. Is it necessary? Well no…

You should at least have some Sandpaper in both medium and fine grit to smooth your cuts and to sand your wood filler etc. But let’s be honest… if you are new to building, you are very likely going to make a lot of mistakes, so having a sander is important. A sander can whisk away many mistakes, rough cuts, uneven edges…you get the point. Not to mention a good sanding before finishing is the key to a nice looking piece. It’s all in the sander and wood filler.. don’t skip out on this tool.

If you choose to work with Pine and you plan to stain it, you will need a Random Orbital Sander with variable speeds, this last part is very important… it will help any staining you do, absorb more evenly and without blotchiness and you won’t be scratching your boards or damaging them in the sanding process. If you can afford to make the investment, and since sanding is something you will spend a lot of time doing, I would highly recommend upgrading to something amazing like this beauty.

If I am planning on staining and I am not going for a rustic look, I avoid Pine at all cost, because I simply don’t have the patience! It is just to hard to stain well and evenly without laboring for hours to sand and condition. Don’t even get me started on what you will have to do if your finish turns out badly…you might as well just paint it, and then use this sander on a low speed setting with a fie grit of paper between coats to smooth any raising of the grain that occurs when you paint and prime.

If you aren’t planning on staining pine, a good sander like this one will be perfect (I say this because I have this one and LOVE IT!) not to mention you will save a ton in sandpaper since the 1/4 sheets are dirt cheap! A 1/4 sheet finish sander can be used for a majority of your sanding purposes and is certainly more budget friendly, but won’t remove as much material as a Random Orbit or a Belt Sander so if you need to remove a lot of material, you should consider this. Also a Belt Sander and a Random Orbit can’t reach corners very well (not at all actually) so that is something to consider. I hate to say you should have all 3 for different purposes, but if you plan on a variety of building jobs… it is something to consider. I personally get by with a belt sander and my 1/4 sheet sander and do very well with just the two. But, I very rarely stain, and I never, ever, ever stain pine so there you have it.

I will go into more detail on saws and varieties on the Tool Time “Wish List” post.

Otherwise, this very short list is all you actually NEED for building. This is a total of 8 items, 4 of which are under $5 and 2 of which you may not actually need if you aren’t building with curves or trim. That pretty much leaves clamps, a drill, and a sander as your remaining few that are over $5 and absolutely necessary (in my opinion).

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