Home Tips & Advice

Hand and Power Tools

I need to buy a chisel for a woodworking job. What size do you recommend?

You can handle most of your needs with a 1/4 inch model and one larger one - either a 3/4 inch or 1 inch.

I'm looking to put together a basic hand tool set. What do I need?

The tools needed for basic home maintenance should cost you less than $150 and include:

  • Tape measure
  • Handsaw
  • Hacksaw
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver
  • Level
  • Utility knife
  • Pliers
  • Locking pliers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Plunger
  • Tool box

What's the difference between a rip hammer and a curved claw hammer?

A hammer with a curved claw provides leverage for pulling nails. A rip (straight claw) hammer is often the choice of professionals because it is usually a slightly heftier tool that is used to rip apart wood that has been nailed together.

Can you recommend a tool that makes a good gift?

I would consider a cordless drill, a bench grinder, a palm sander, a level, a square, a chalkline or a new ladder.

What does the amp rating mean on power tools?

Generally, more amps translate into more power for electric tools.

Which is better: wood or fiberglass handles on hammers?

Some people say the wood provides a better feel and absorbs shock. While wood is durable, fiberglass is stronger.

What type of level should I buy?

A 9-inch torpedo level is good for hanging pictures and other small household tasks. A complete home toolbox should also include a 2-foot or longer carpenter's level for larger projects like checking walls, bookshelves and fence posts.

How long a tape measure should I buy?

A 12-foot-long tape is handy for most household work, but I recommend a 25-foot one because it can also be used for carpentry, plumbing and other major projects.

My door is rubbing the frame at the top. What should I do?

You can shave off the top with a block plane, which is the right tool when you need to trim wood but not enough to use a saw. Block planes come in a variety of sizes to fit the job.

Are staples interchangeable with different staplers?

No, the brand of staples should match the brand of stapler.

What hammer do you recommend for general use around the house?

A 16-ounce curved claw hammer.

How can I remove the moulding from my wall without damaging either the drywall or the moulding?

A pry bar is more efficient than a claw hammer, and its smooth base keeps it from damaging the wall.

What's the difference between a putty knife and a paint scraper?

They both look the same. Scrapers are too stiff for the efficient application of compounds. Putty knives are too flexible for scraping.

Which type of sander do you recommend?

For the homeowner, I suggest a random orbit sander because it balances the two main functions of a sander. It removes stock quickly and still provides a quality finish.

What type of pliers should I buy for general use?

A 10-inch set of adjustable pliers may look big, but they are a good choice for general, all-around use.

What are the advantages of locking pliers?

They can turn man y parts that no other tool can, and they are especially suited for clamping onto small parts and gripping pipe fittings. You can also use them when a nut or bolt head strips. But be careful because you can deform some parts if you overtighten them.

If I buy a cordless drill, what volt model should I buy?

A 12-volt model will handle the needs of most d-i-yers. For bigger projects, a 14-volt or higher model is a good choice. For lighter duty, a 9.6-volt model should be sufficient. For extended use, you should get two battery packs.

Can I drill a hole in concrete?

Yes a high-speed masonry bit is used on concrete, concrete block, cinder block, brick and stone.

What's the advantage of a carbide-tipped circular saw blade?

The cutting edges are made from extra-hard carbide steel that will last up to 20 times longer, and it is good for cutting materials of different hardnesses.

Do I need a special blade to cut plywood with my circular saw?

Yes, a plywood blade has small teeth that provide a clean cut and reduce splintering.

I want a hand saw for all-around use. What do you recommend?

A 7- or 8-point crosscut would be a good choice.

What size adjustable wrench should I buy for general use?

When it comes to gripping, bigger is generally better. If you are going to get just one, I recommend a larger one: either 10-inch or 14-inch.

What do I need to cut a hole in my wall for a new electrical box?

You want to use a keyhole saw.

Do I need to worry about what size straight-slot screwdriver to buy?

A screwdriver is most effective when the width of the head of the driver matches the width of the slot in the head of the screw. If you are going to buy just one of each, I recommend a number two Phillips head and a quarter-inch flat blade. However, I recommend that you get at least two sizes of each. In fact, you should really have a complete set of screwdrivers in your workshop to match the variety of jobs that occur around the house.

What drill bits do you recommend for general use?

For drilling smaller holes in a variety of materials, choose a high-speed steel twist bit. These can drill holes from about 1/16 inch to 1/2 inch in wood, soft metal and other materials.

I need to drill a 1-inch hole in a piece of wood. What bit do I need?

For drilling medium-sized holes in wood, a spade bit is a good choice. Common sizes range from 1/4 inch to 1-1/2 inch. They can also be used on chipboards and floorboards.

Do I need more than one Phillips head screwdriver?

Two sizes will handle most screws.

What are the quality differences between drop forged and cast metal hand tools?

During construction, drop forging removes more air bubbles. This means there are fewer weak spots.

What's an auger bit used for?

It primarily used for cutting deep holes in all types of wood.

What type of drill do you recommend for do-it-yourself projects?

Most consumers use a 3/8-inch model that reverses, has variable speed and has a keyless chuck. You should get one that draws at least 3.5 amps.

Which type of sander do you recommend?

For the homeowner, I suggest a random orbit sander because it balances the two main functions of a sander. It removes stock quickly and still provides a quality finish.

Isn't a belt sander the best choice for removing a lot of material?

Yes, they work quickly, but I don't recommend them for do-it-yourselfers because you have to be very careful. One mistake can ruin the piece you are working on.

What do the teeth-per-inch numbers mean on sawblades?

The numbers indicate the number of points per inch on a saw blade.

Are more teeth per inch better when buying a crosscut handsaw?

Fewer teeth work more quickly but provide a coarser cut with rough edges. Saws with more teeth work more slowly but provide a finer cut.

What type of handsaw blade should I use to cut paneling?

Use an 11-point blade - with a fine cut - so that the wood will not splinter when it is cut.

Does the number of points on a blade also apply to hacksaws?

Yes, the higher the number of points, the finer the cut.

I want to cut some lightweight sheet metal. Which hacksaw blade should I use?

Use a fine-cut blade. On heavier metals, such as steel pipe, a coarser-cut blade will be more efficient.

Can hacksaws cut other materials besides metal?

Yes, the fine teeth of a hacksaw can cut other materials too tough for wood saws, such as bricks.

I want a hand tool to cut a rather intricate design in plywood.

A coping saw is best for this job.

What all-around circular saw do you recommend?

A 7" is the most popular size. It lets you cut to a depth of 2-?" and to cut through any standard 2x piece of lumber even when the blade is set to 45 degrees.

How do you recognize a quality circular saw?

Look for amperage and types of bearings - top quality saws pull 12 or 13 amps and run on ball bearings. Lower-quality saws use roller or sleeve bearings and are rated about 9 or 10 amps. While plastic housings are not a sign of inferior quality, make sure the saw has extruded or cast metal base plates. Stamped metal plates can warp.

What is a worm drive circular saw?

Unlike standard circular saws, these have the motor mounted parallel to the saw blade. In addition, they usually have a larger motor. These features make for more powerful, stronger tools that are preferred by pros looking for heavy-duty, long-term use.

What can I cut with a circular saw?

With the proper blade, it can cut wood, metal, plastic, fiberglass, cement block, slate and brick.

What are other features that I should look for on a circular saw?

How easy it is to see where the blade is cutting, is it easy to change the blade, will it cut bevels, can you use a vacuum attachment and can you attach a rib fence guide?

I need to make an accurate cut with a circular saw, but it is difficult to keep straight.

You can get more accurate cuts by using a guide or fence that helps you stay on the right path.

What type of blade should I use when I am cutting wood across the grain?

A crosscut blade has a series of evenly spaced, medium-sized teeth that are bent alternately from the left to the right.

What type of blade is designed to cut along the wood grain?

A rip blade also has teeth bent to the left and right, but its teeth are on the top of the blade, not on the inside. They like chisels that scoop out the wood as the saw moves along the grain.

Do I need to buy both a crosscut and rip blade?

For general use, you can, but a combination blade incorporates the features of both rip and crosscut blades.

Can I use my circular saw to cut masonry?

Use an abrasive wheel, which looks like a thin grinding wheel. It can also be used to cut fiberglass and light metal.

What type of drill do you recommend for do-it-yourself projects?

Most consumers use a 3/8" model that reverses, has variable speed and has a keyless chuck. You should get one that draws at least 3.5 amps.

What weight hammer should I buy?

Buy the heaviest hammer that you can control because the heavier the hammer, the easier it will be to drive nails. However, the heavier the hammer, the harder it is to hit nails on the head and the more quickly your arm muscles will become fatigued.

Why is there such a wide price range for claw hammers?

The higher-priced hammers have sturdier handles and better steel in their heads. These hammers will perform better and last longer.

I want to pound a chair leg back into place. What tool can provide the force without marring the surface?

Wood or rubber mallets are a good choice.

Do you have a hammer I can use with a chisel?

Yes, small sledge hammers weigh between 2 pounds and 4 pounds. A 2-pound model is a good choice.

I want to tear down an old shed in the backyard. What should I use?

A wrecking bar or crow bar, which comes in different lengths, would be a useful tool.

I need a hex key wrench, but I don't know the size.

Since they are not expensive, an 18-piece all-purpose hex key wrench set is recommended.

Do you have a tool for cutting lightweight metal sheeting?

Yes, they are called metal cutting snips, and they come in a variety of sizes and designs.

Do you have a good tool to cut chicken wire with?

Yes, tin snips are a good choice for cutting many kinds of mesh wire.

Do I need more than one Phillips head screwdriver?

Two sizes will handle most screws.

What are the quality differences between drop-forged and cast-metal hand tools?

During construction, drop forging removes more air bubbles. This means there are fewer weak spots.

I want to hide the nail head in some molding that I am installing.

Use a nail set to sink the nail head into the molding. Then you can fill the hole with a spackling compound, sand it smooth and paint it.

What should I look for when buying a saber saw?

Look to see if the mechanism for adjusting the base plate is sturdy. On less-expensive models' these are weak and will eventually wobble, making it difficult to cut accurately. Look for a model that draws 3 amps and has variable speed.

What factors are important when choosing a reciprocating saw?

Generally, the higher the amp, the more cutting power. These saws range in size from about 4 amps to 11 amps. Other features include cordless options, orbital action that cuts more aggressively, adjustable shoe to change the depth of the cut and variable speeds.

What is a saber saw?

It's a portable jigsaw that can perform many tasks, such as cutting curves and holes. However, it can't handle heavy jobs. Some models have orbital blade action for a more aggressive cut. Another feature some people like is a blower that keeps the cutting line visible and sawdust free.

My saber saw blades seem to dull quickly.

That's common, but make sure you are using the right blade for the material you are cutting - wood, tile or metal.

What types of power sanders are there?

The four most common are belt sanders, finish sanders, orbital sanders and random orbital sanders.

Isn't a belt sander the best choice for removing a lot of material?

Yes, they work quickly but aren't recommended for do-it-yourselfers because you have to be very careful. One mistake can ruin the piece you are working on.

What are the advantages of a finish sander?

Rather than orbiting, it moves the sandpaper back and forth and should be used where it is absolutely necessary that the sandpaper moves in a single direction. A finish sander often uses square sheets of sandpaper, which also makes it easier to get into corners.

What is the difference between an orbital sander and a random orbital sander?

An orbital sander moves only in a circular motion while the random orbital sander also moves back and forth. As a result of the two separate motions, it leaves less of a swirl pattern on the wood.

I have accidentally gouged some wood with my random orbital sander.

It's best to put the sander onto the surface before you start it. In addition, when using an orbital sander, don't press down too hard on the tool. Let it's weight do the work.

I'm drilling in some wood, where I will probably hit some hidden nails. What bit should I use?

A spade bit is a good choice because it is are relatively inexpensive and you can resharpen it with a file.

What type of drill bit should I use for cutting a large hole for a new door lock?

For larger holes, use a hole saw. It ranges in size from about 1" to 4" and has a pilot bit and a saw-toothed circular rim.

What's an auger bit used for?

It is primarily used for cutting deep holes in all types of wood.

Is there a small power saw that is good for lighter work?

Yes, there are 3-?" saws that are designed for trim work. However, they are also good for people who don't want to handle a large saw. They can be used to cut everything from lattice to a 2x4.

I need a pair of pliers that I can use in tight quarters.

Use a pair of needle-nose pliers, which are good for this task as well as gripping small items, precision work, cutting wire or bending wire to wrap a terminal. The jaws and cutting blades meet evenly. If you hold them up to the light, you should not be able to see any diagonal chinks of light coming though.

How do I know if my level is accurate?

To check it, place it on a level surface, then flip it over. Both readings should be identical.

What else should I consider when buying staples?

The thickness of the material to be attached and the hardness of the wood. In hardwood, a ?" penetration is sufficient, but softwood requires up to a 3/8" penetration.

The staples I am using do not go far enough into the wood?

Your stapler does not have enough power to drive the staple into the hard surface. If you can, use a shorter staple or you will have to use a more powerful tool.

Sanding Tips

  • You can make regular sheets of sandpaper or emery paper last longer and work better by backing them with tape.
  • The tape gives each sandpaper sheet more body and helps to keep it from tearing or creasing while you are working. A few pieces of masking tape on the back of a regular sheet of sandpaper will increase the life of the paper two to three times.
  • Use regular sandpaper to smooth the sharp edges of cut glass, ceramic tile, porcelain, etc.
  • Wrap a piece of fine sandpaper around a scrap piece of wood. A short piece of 1x2 lumber makes an ideal block for sanding these types of cut materials.
  • Rub the sandpaper sheet along the edge of the glass evenly and smoothly.
  • As the cutting edge of the sandpaper is worn away, rotate the sheet of paper on the block to provide a new surface until the sheet is used up.
  • Sanding irregular and uneven surfaces can sometimes be a problem. Corners and grooves can be extremely difficult to reach with a flat piece of sandpaper.
  • For sanding irregular edges of table tops, chair legs, etc., use a deck of cards as the sanding block (see image).
  • The cards and sandpaper will adjust to the contour of the surface you are sanding. This makes a sanding block that is quite flexible, yet provides a firm base for holding the sandpaper against a curved surface.
  • Use old record covers to hold various grades of sandpaper (see image). They keep the sandpaper clean and orderly.
  • Old record covers also enable you to determine the grit of the paper quickly and easily, since the texture and grit show through the holes.

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Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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