Here come the holidays again, full of family and friends, good food, and… tools! I've put together a list of the most essential tools in my arsenal for woodworking, concrete, metal, and general DIY building projects. Tools can add up in cost, so remember to check bargain barns and sale racks, Craigslist, and pawn shops, and some of the big ticket items you could loan/borrow, or also rent for a couple days. The items are more or less organized from low to high in average price, and all of the links are to products that I personally believe to be high quality, sturdy, brand-name tools. The links are also affiliate links—and I even have a special coupon deal or two—so if you do end up making a purchase, I'd really appreciate it if you just start by clicking through the link on our site. I hope this list is helpful!
DIY Pete's Ultimate DIY Gift List
The Kreg Jig is one of my favorite, neatest tools. It's kind of hard to explain, but it drills angled pilot holes so that a board can be screwed in like never before—from the side, super strong and hidden out of sight. I've used it for table tops and bed frames, attaching long boards side by side, and it's especially helpful in making shelves. Some of the angles you can put together would normally have to be glued and clamped, but the Kreg jig makes it very quick and easy. The kit comes with everything you need to get started, including a carrying case. But it only comes with a handful of their special screws—you might want to make a stocking stuffer out of some extra Kreg Jig screws. I've recommended it to a lot of friends and family, and everyone loves it as much as I do!
A good drill is a very important tool to have. There are always holes to drill and things to screw and unscrew. Drills now come with lithium ion batteries, which are lightweight, last a long time, and charge quickly. They often have a button you can press to show how many bars of battery life are still left. A regular or compact drill is good for drilling pilot holes and bigger holes with spade bits. The chuck piece can tighten around hex shapes or round shafts, so you can even use Dremel bits. An impact drill is a game changer when drilling in a lot of screws on big projects, like a deck. It provides pressure to the screw for extra drilling power and because of the way it works, it pretty much eliminates the trouble of stripping screws.
Of the bigger, stationary types of saws, a miter saw is a good starting point. It'll cut down long boards to size, like 2x4s, 4x4s, up to 2x12s, depending on the size of the blade. Most blades are 10 or 12 inches in diameter, and you can get sliding saws that slide out to increase the width of board you can cut. They're great for a right angle miter cut, and also adjust up to 45° on two different planes. They're usually not too tough to carry from place to place. Table saws are their counterpart, used for ‘ripping' wood—cutting it down the long edge to make it more skinny, instead of just shortening it.
In the world of handheld sanders, an orbital sander is the best one to start with, I think, because it is easy to use and works on a variety of surfaces and shapes. You might want to throw in some extra sandpaper discs for a stocking stuffer, which are available in a bunch of different grits, and attach on and off the sander easily with a Velcro backing. 80 grit is really rough and can sand some big chunks away, then 120 grit, 220 grit, and upwards are finer grits for finishing something really smoothly. Dewalt always makes a great product, but Ryobi also makes a more economical sander that still works perfectly well.
Ryobi has a new series of more than 50 tools that are all cordless and all work off the same 18V lithium ion battery. It's pretty amazing—you can run a jigsaw, sander, drill, flashlight, radio, nail gun, chainsaw, weed whacker, leaf blower, etc., etc., from the same little battery. Lithium ion batteries are lightweight, last a long time, charge quickly, and have a ‘fuel guage' to see how much charge they still have. Ryobi sells a couple combo kits to get you started with a few essential saws and tools, and they're all super high quality but still on the affordable side. They also sell packs of extra batteries so you can just swap 'em out and keep going, and they even have a six-battery “SuperCharger™” station!
Great DIY Stocking Stuffers
Hammers come in handy all the time. I don't even use nails that often, but there are plenty of things that just need a little bang to fit into place, or a strong claw to pry up and out. This Stanley Fatmax hammer is one solid piece of steel, and the handle is designed to be comfortable and minimize vibrations.
If there's one thing that really holds the DIY community together, it's duct tape. From usual tape jobs to making wallets or waterproof boats, duct tape fixes everything. I always keep a big roll of classic gray duct tape around, but you can pretty much get can any color you want these days, even leopard print.
Sawdust and splinters, metal debris, fiberglass insulation: these are all things you don't want in your eyes. A good pair of safety glasses keep your eyes happy and safe when you're watching a cut-line closely or any other work where there might be flying debris involved. And hey it can't hurt to look cool, too; you can even get different lenses like rose or yellow!
Protect your DIY pals' hands from cuts and splinters with a good pair of work gloves. I like gloves like these, with a durable synthetic or leather palm side, and a more breathable material on the back of my hand. I also like these because they have an elastic cuff—some gloves have a Velcro cuff that you can tighten, but usually it's just more annoying than good. If you pick up a three-pack like this, it makes it easy for friends to lend a helping hand, too!
A lot of people shrug off ear protection, but if your DIY friend is spending long days with the miter saw or intense metal work, ear protection is definitely a good idea. I like big headphones like these because they are easy to take on and off, or just slide off of one ear so that you can still hear some things. Plus, they are not as easily misplaced nor do they get as dirty as little foam ear buds.
Tape measures are one of those tools that you can never have enough of. I use them so often that I either misplace them or just wish I had one for the shop, the truck, the basement, etc. A good thick tape is sturdy so you can reach and measure things further away, like ceilings. For most projects, a 25 or 30 foot long tape gets the job done.
A simple square like this can make all the difference in a DIY project. They help to make perfect right angles on any project, and also have a few other uses. It's a little confusing at first, but they can measure any other angle for you to mark and then work with. Another cool use is that you can run the edge with the lip along a straight side of a board, with your marker in one of the interior notches (on the left side in the image above)—so you can draw a perfect line exactly one inch (or any other measurement) in from the existing edge.
Traditional wood working pencils are thick and flat, and made of wood—so you have to carve them to a point with a knife. This mechanical take on the subject makes life a lot easier. The mechanical carpenter pencil has the same sturdy stick of lead, but you just pump it ahead when you need more or it breaks. It comes with three interchangeable colors of lead, too, which can be better for certain applications or materials: black, red, and white.
When hanging a shelf or a painting, or attaching anything else to a regular sheet rock wall, you'll want to tie it into the underlying 2×4 studs—and a stud finder will help you find them. By scanning the device back and forth across your wall, it locates the edges of the 2x4s, and you then you know the sturdiest place to screw or nail into. Some of the nicer stud finders include a built in bubble level and/or laser to help you draw straight lines where the 2×4 should be.
DIY folks might not always be level-headed, but at least there's a tool to keep their projects level! Levels come in all different lengths, and I like this 24″ level as a good all around tool. With a big straight edge and some floating bubbles in tubes, a level can double check projects like tables or chairs, or make sure the things I've hung on the wall (with help from the stud finder) are set straight.
If you buy a guy a sander, he's gonna need sandpaper; if you buy a gal a jigsaw, she's gonna need blades. Most tools have a lot of adjustable accessories or other necessary pieces to really make them work. A box of wood screws or nails, nuts and bolts, drill bits, sandpaper discs, or saw blades are all smaller, less expensive pieces that go well with other tools your gifting or that your DIY person may already own.
If you aren't sure what tools your DIY friend already has, exactly which size of accessory to get, or which color of paint to choose, throw in a gift card. Home Depot is my favorite big hardware store; I can find pretty much everything I need there.
Smaller Ticket DIY Gift Ideas (Below $100)
After they've finished a big project, the finish work might include painting or staining. You can get kits like this with several different types of brushes and rollers, or just buy a big pack of brushes or fuzzy roller covers. I've found that some of the less expensive brushes can lose a lot of their bristles to the paint—leaving little hairs all over your project. You also might include a box of rubber gloves and maybe some sort of mask to help against fumes.
When you're DIYing, you can make a lot of messes. I like these heavy duty shop towels to clean up spills, dry my oily or paint-covered hands, or wipe down anything covered in sludge. They're almost as sturdy as actual cloth rags, but you can just throw them away when you're done. They come in rolls, like paper towels, and the box dispenser is really handy.
When I'm working on a big project, I need a tool belt to keep track of all my different tools: tape measure, screws, utility knife, pencils, square, etc. Otherwise I set them down in a different spot each time—and spend half the time just looking for the right tool! A good belt should have several pockets that are easy to get into yet secure, and should be easy to get on and off.
A jig saw can cut a lot. For smaller DIY projects, a jig saw can cut wood, plastic, even metal—just swap out different blades for each material. My little brother is still building up his tool collection, and he swears by his jig saw as one of his most essential and versatile tools. He uses it like a circular saw to cut large sheets of wood, or chops steel axles for a homemade bike trailer. Ryobi has a whole new series of cordless tools called ONE+ that all use the same lithium ion battery, including a jig saw. They're all great, but I think the jig saw is one of the best tools to go cordless with because, man, I've come awfully close to cutting the saw's own cord before!
For straight cuts, long or short, the circular saw can get the job done. It's easy to use, but takes a bit of skill to be as accurate as a miter saw or table saw (see below). Long cuts down plywood at a site without a table saw is their usual use, but before I had my miter saw, I used it to cut all of my boards.
As if the Kreg Jig system wasn't already awesome, they've come out with a few other jigs too. Some of the kits include more screws, a clamp, or a funky level and measurement stick. This DIY kit is geared toward making shelves. In addition to the original Kreg Jig, it includes a jig to drill a bunch of evenly spaced holes for adjustable shelf pegs, and also a jig for cutting straight lines with a circular saw. The Rip-Cut jig basically works like a rip fence on a table saw, just in reverse: it attaches to the circular saw and extends perpendicularly to the edge of your board and runs along that edge for a guide.
Wherever your DIYer does there work, they might like a sign to label it. It could be as simple as “John's Wood Shop,” more general like, “DIY Depot,” or something funny like, “The Dullest Tool Shed”. Signs of the Mountains is actually my own business, and I make all sorts of custom signs with vinyl and aluminum. Other signs that I make include inspirational quotes, custom trail names on ski signs, or rectangular parking signs. With my vinyl plotter, I can also make custom stencils that are basically giant stickers with your design.
Medium Ticket DIY Gift Ideas ($100+)
Clamps hold things in place while you glue, screw, weld, or otherwise attach a project together somehow. Quick-grip clamps make a big difference when working by yourself, when you need to tighten things with one hand. These Jack Clamps are especially awesome because they have a couple attachments that make them more versatile and useful for the DIYer on their own, from holding round pipes or dowels together, to jacking up a cabinet along the wall or anything else up to 300 lbs. Plus they have a built in level, and they're super durable—the website even says they can be run over by a truck and still work! Jack Clamps are such a great DIY product that I've partnered with the company to offer an exclusive $5 coupon, so if you decide to purchase them, use the following code during checkout and save a few bucks! Use code: DIYPETE5
Most nailers require an air compressor for their power… not these Ryobi ones, though! Nailers can make a lot of projects go a lot quicker, and different sizes work better for different applications. A smaller nailer will shoot tiny finish nails into trim around your house, furniture, or picture frames. A bigger nailer can go through 2x4s and other lumber on construction projects, or siding on a house. A cordless nailer makes a huge difference if you're up high working on beams or roofing, when an air compressor hose could actually be dangerous to be dragging around. The Ryobi cordless nailers are part of the ONE+ series, so they have plenty of power from lithium ion batteries.
A basic tool set like this one can help with all sorts of random jobs. Regular old wrenches, socket wrenches, adjustable wrenches, and pliers can take care of anything with nuts and bolts. Screwdrivers of course screw things, but can also help with prying things and getting into small places; the same goes for needle nose pliers. Drill bits will sometimes fit into the screwdrivers for even more versatility, and you can always put them into your drill, too.
A router is all about the details. If your DIYer is making anything that needs a rounded edge, like tables, plaques, or picture frames, they'll love a router. You can get different bits for a different edge radius, or other bits that make an even fancier beveled edge, like on wooden award plaques. A router can also cut the ‘rabbet' out of the back of a frame for the glass to nest in.
A chop saw looks and functions a lot like a miter saw, but has a different blade and a clamp system that is specifically designed for chopping different kinds of metal. Pipe, square tubing, angle iron, and flat iron are no match for this saw, which produces nice straight cuts no matter the thickness of the metal. You'll definitely want to wear eye and ear protection while working with a metal chop saw.
If your DIY-er is likes working with concrete, a quality concrete polisher will definitely ramp up their game. This Hardin polisher is an industrial strength wet polisher / grinder, and it comes with everything you need to smooth a rough concrete slab into a shiny counter top. The variable speed control can adjust between 2,000–4,000 RPMs, and the diamond polishing pads are made especially for concrete with seven different grit levels included. It also includes a 5-foot hose to attach to a standard garden hose or spigot to supply water while polishing.
This shop vac can suck up all of your shop's sawdust and dead bugs, plus water in the basement or your spilled cup of coffee. A bunch of attachments can get in all sorts of places, and the top pops off for easy emptying and cleaning. This one is a 14 gallon size, so I don't have to empty it that often. There are smaller 5 gallon ones too that might work fine for the DIY weekend warrior.
Big Ticket DIY Gift Ideas ($200+)
For big painting projects, especially with a lot of weird angles or textures, a paint sprayer is really the way to go. When I was growing up, I remember painting an old trampoline frame and borrowing an equally old sprayer for the job—and boy did I wish I had something better. Wagner recently came out with a new sprayer that is powerful, easy to use, and just makes a lot of sense. The heavy motor and turbine pump are kept on the floor with an 11.5 foot hose, and the handle has all of the controls right on it: spray pattern, material flow, and air power—so the handle is nice and light, and won't have to return to the motor all the time to adjust things. This sprayer is also nice because it works with unthinned paints, so there's no extra thinners and mixing involved.
A table saw is used to make long, straight cuts, called rip cuts. A heavy duty saw makes a big difference, but a portable one like this can still work great. You can adjust both the height and angle of the blade, and you slide your board along the straight edge of the adjustable rip fence to ensure straight cuts.
An air compressor can power a bunch of different tools, or just pump up your bike or car tires real quick. I especially like my air compressor for powering nailers—this kit comes with three different nailers. Three might seem like a lot, but they all have their uses, and make life a lot easier. This smaller air compressor is easy to move around, and doesn't take up much space in the garage or truck.
Welding and working with metal can seem like a whole different world from wood working, but it's actually pretty easy and fun. I had no idea how to weld, but after some reading and a few Youtube videos, I was making metal bases for my concrete tables, fixing furniture and tools, and making some neat art pieces. This electric welder is especially easy to get started on because it plugs into a regular old wall outlet, and doesn't need gas (MIG) or any other power source. Just plug it in, make sure there is some Flux Core wire feeding out of the nozzle, and get to welding! You will definitely some safety gear to go along with this though: thick leather gloves and a welding helmet.
Once you start welding, the next big tool to get is a plasma cutter. You can cut metal up to 1/4 inch thick in any shape you want, so it's especially good for art projects. Like the welder above, this plasma cutter also plugs into a normal 110V wall outlet—many bigger tools like this will need a 220V outlet, which has a larger plug and supplies a lot more power. You can check out some of my cool projects here, like jumping trout and the Minneapolis skyline.
Well, that's a big list of most of my favorite tools. If I didn't already own them, I'd definitely be happy to see them under the tree! I hope this list give you some good ideas for the DIY-er in your life, and please Like, Pin, and Share this if you found it useful. Cheers from Montana! – DIY Pete