Gift guide for wannabe do-it-yourselfers

We wish you a merry tool set

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 10, 2010

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We wish you a merry tool set

Bill and Kevin Burnett
Inman News™

Christmas morning, 1957. Two little boys crawl out of their beds and tiptoe past their parents' bedroom. They hurry to the living room to see what Santa has brought.

Prominently displayed under the tree is a bright blue wooden box about 3 1/2 feet long, a foot wide and 16 inches high. Taped on the box is a tag that reads "To Kevin and Billy, From Santa." What could it be? Bill opens the box and finds tools -- not toys, but real tools.

We've been around tools all of our lives and became interested in them at a young age. Grandpa was a carpenter and Dad was a plasterer. It seems as if we never knew a day when one or the other wasn't building something.

We stuck close to them in Grandpa's workshop and would pick up a spare hammer or saw and try to drive a nail or cut a board while they worked. We guess Dad and Grandpa saw the interest and decided that we should have some tools of our own.

Our first toolbox, which Grandpa built, contained a basic set of woodworking tools. There was a hammer, a handsaw, a brace and bit (an old-time hand drill), a collapsible rule, a screwdriver or two, a pair of pliers, a block plane and a couple of chisels.

With the tools in that box we learned some of the skills we've carried with us our whole lives: How to drive a nail, how to saw a straight line, how to measure accurately.

We've never been tool junkies. We don't pore through catalogs in search of the latest titanium this or laser that.

We do admit, though, that tools have improved exponentially since the blue toolbox showed up under the tree. Laser-guided saws are pretty cool and lithium battery-powered drills, saws and drivers are eliminating the hassle of extension cords.

But we still draw the line at using a sonic measuring tape to figure the area of a room. We'll take a 25-foot Stanley and a clipboard any day. The math just isn't that tough.

We've bought our tools as the need arose for the job required. Many of our tools are multitaskers. Utility knives mark wood, cut Sheetrock or sharpen a carpenter's pencil. A power drill can drive a screw, drill a hole or mix paint. Rotary tools, such as those made by Dremel, cut, polish, sand and route, making them ideal for small jobs.

Two rules we try to live by when it comes to tools: buy quality and take care of them. Quality doesn't always mean the heavy-duty contractor model. Look at the job you want to do and match the tool to the job.

For what we do these days, a 14-amp Craftsman battery-operated drill works just fine. But, back in the day when we were doing some pretty heavy building, the 1/2-inch corded Makita or Milwaukee was the only way to go. Our other firm belief is that if you take care of your tools, they will serve you well for many years -- perhaps a lifetime.

With that gift almost a half century ago firmly in mind, we offer our view of what a well-stocked beginner's toolbox might contain for 2011.

Carpentry
Carpentry tools are the heart and soul of our toolbox. They all do double or triple duty. Studs, floor joists and rafters are the bones of a wood-frame house. The tools used to build the bones are the same tools that open the way for plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems. Here are our suggestions for the essential carpentry tools you need in your toolbox:

Tool belt: Many a time we've been frustrated by having laid a tool somewhere only to have to go hunt it down to do a job. French cooks have it right. "Mis en place!" (French for "Everything in place!") That place is the tool belt.

We've worn out more than a few Sears specials over the years. Most tool belts come with a leather loop or a metal ring for a hammer. Also, pouches come without a belt and may be hung from an ordinary belt or to a separately purchased Web belt.

We've used 5-gallon plastic buckets to haul odd tools around the job site and to store them and keep them organized -- plumbing tools in one bucket, electrical tools in another.

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