The range of options you have when shopping for power tools can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have any knowledge about what tools to get. Whether you’re making a few improvements or reparations, power tools are a great help. With the right tools at hand you can reduce the time and efforts required to do simple tasks around the house, and they’ll be well worth the money instead of doing the work manually.
In this buying guide we’ll introduce you to our top five must-have power tools for homeowners:
- Cordless drill/driver
- Shop vacuum
- Air compressor
- Nail gun
- Oscillating multi-tool
This article will cover the difference in types and key features you want to look out for when buying these power tools.
1. Cordless drill/driver
A cordless drill/driver is a versatile power tool that serves various purposes, and it’s one of the most popular power tools for homeowners. Whether you work on small projects around your home or work as a professional in the home improvement trade. With the right kind of drill, you will be able to easily carry out a lot of various tasks inside and outside.
There is a wide range of drills in the market, each one serving different purposes. Most drills have multiple features, making them more capable than others. This mini guide is to help you understand what a drill/driver is for, the different types of drill/drivers, and what you should look for when buying one.
Also read: The Best Cordless Drill/Driver
Corded vs. cordless drills
One of the things you might be considering before purchasing your drill is whether to get one that has a cord or one that is cordless. Both these kinds of drills serve their purpose well, and while the corded drills are often lighter (due to the absence of a heavy battery pack), you will always need to tote around an extension cord so you can plug it in for it to work.
On the other hand, a cordless drill will give you greater mobility and allow you to take it anywhere without having to plug it into an extension cord. It is a lot more expensive than a corded drill, which is due to the – often exorbitant – price of battery packs.
Why you should get a cordless drill/driver and what kind you should get
Are you planning to add a deck to your home? Remodel your kitchen or bathroom? Install new fixtures and some new furniture you recently bought?
A cordless drill serves various functions and purposes and before you purchase one, you need to determine what kind of work you need to do. This Old House provides a breakdown of the various kinds of jobs that you will be doing where you might need a cordless drill to make the work faster and more efficient:
1. You’re going to do some light maintenance and repair around your home
If you’re thinking of installing draper brackets, assembling barbecue grills, replacing door hinges or handles from cupboard doors and drawers, you’ll need to get a drill that will allow you to drill holes and drive screws. This Old House suggests getting a cordless drill with two fixed speeds and an adjustable clutch.
2. You want to remodel parts of your house
If you’re thinking of adding a new spice rack to your kitchen or a new bookshelf in your bedroom, or you’re thinking of replacing deck/porch railings and fence pickets, you’ll need a cordless drill with a little more extra power. A cordless drill with a variable speed, two-speed ranges, and a clutch and T-handle is the way to go. This Old House also suggests getting a second battery so you don’t run out of power in the middle of working on your project.
3. You are going to do some heavy-duty construction
If you’re going to be dealing with pressure-treated wood, landscape timbers, masonry walls, steel, and the like, you’ll need a very powerful cordless drill that will allow you to drill large-diameter holes and drive long screws into the surface of whatever you’re working with. If this is the case for you, This Old House suggests that you get a high-voltage tool with a longer-lasting battery and a larger chuck to handle the bigger bits.
Types of drills
After deciding what kind of work you’re going to be doing around your home with your cordless drill, it’s time to match your project with the type of drill that will suit it best. According to Consumer Reports, it’s best to choose your drill based on the voltage you want which indicates the kind of power it will give:
Heavy-duty drills have 18- to 24-volt batteries which allow them to drill holes and drive large fasteners through thick boards. They have a ½-inch chuck (the three-pronged clamp at the end of a drill that secures bits at the working end of the drill) that accepts almost any drill bit and is best used for jobs like drilling into brick or concrete blocks. Heavy-duty cordless drills are the most expensive and heaviest of cordless drills. Before you get one, make sure to test the weight of the drill with the battery clipped into place so you can see if it you feel comfortable using it.
General-use drills have a ⅜-inch chuck and are usually powered with a 12-volt battery. They are powerful enough so you can drill holes into wood without that much effort or difficulty and can even drive a pouch of screws without having to be recharged. If you’re working on larger projects, it’s best to get a second battery so you can keep one charging while you work and then just swap them around in case the one you’re currently using runs low.
Light-duty drills are the best option for small jobs around the house, including assembling furniture, changing fixtures, hanging frames, and more. Their batteries range anywhere between 12 to 20 volts and they have a ¼-inch chuck that only accepts ¼-inch hex bits. They have small motors that don’t spin or drive with the same force as general-use and heavy-duty drills do, but they are efficient tools to have in your home for your smaller DIY projects.
What to look for in a cordless drill/driver
Before you finally decide on what to get here are some of the features you should look for in a cordless drill/driver, according to This Old House and B&Q:
- Chuck jaws/keyless chuck – A chuck is what holds the cutting bits for drilling holes and driving bits for screwing in fasteners. Depending on the kind of work you’ll be doing, you can opt to get a greater chuck capacity that can hold a bigger bit. The maximum capacity on most drills is ⅜ inches, while some of the heavy-duty drills can handle up ½-inch diameter bits. A lot of the latest drills have a keyless chuck which allows you to change bits quickly without needing to use additional tools.
- Torque control/clutch – The torque control or clutch allows you to adjust the torque which is the one that drives screws into your surface. The more settings a torque control or clutch has, the greater control you have over the depth your screws can be driven.
- Speed range switch – A drill’s speed tells you how fast a drill rotates. It’s best to find the widest range between the high and low in your cordless drill. Some drills will also allow you to adjust the speed of your tool (variable speed) while others remain fixed. As always, the speed of the drill will depend on the task you are doing. The high speed is used for drilling into harder materials like stone while the low one is used for drilling into softer materials (like wood) and driving screws.
- Forward/reverse switch – Drills/drivers have a forward and reverse function which allows you to turn the drill or screwdriver bit forward or backward. You’ll find that it can be quite convenient to use the reverse mode when backing the drill bit after boring holes. It’s important to find a drill with a forward/reverse switch that’s easy to operate so it can give you maximum efficiency.
- Hand grip and auxiliary handle – Before you buy a cordless drill, find one where the texture and contour of the handle is something that helps you and doesn’t make you uncomfortable. You might also want to consider getting a cordless drill that comes with an auxiliary handle. This extra handle can be positioned to the right or left side of the drill and can help to increase the force or better control the drill as you use it.
- Voltage – When you’re looking for a drill, find one with the voltage that you need for the job you’ve got to get done. Keep in mind, though, that more voltage also means more weight.
- Battery – If you’re going with a light-duty or general-use grill, it might be best to get two interchangeable batteries instead of just one so you can keep working while the other is charging. B&Q’s top tip when it comes to the battery is to find a drill that you’re comfortable working with in terms of drill and battery weight. You don’t want to exhaust yourself out with its weight when the drill should be helping you achieve maximum efficiency for your home improvement projects.
- Trigger – Before you purchase your cordless drill, make sure your index finger fits around it comfortably. Some of the newer drills also feature a trigger-activated LED that automatically lights up when the speed trigger is pulled. That way, you can see what you’re doing even if you’re working in the dark.
2. Shop vacuum
While technically not a power tool, shop vacuums are essential for keeping your workshop, garage, or the rest of your home neat and tidy. If you live in a place where you find that you have to constantly battle dust, dirt, and other debris, a shop vac can be very handy indeed.
Shop vacuums vs. regular vacuums
You may already have a regular vacuum cleaner, but it isn’t as versatile as a shop vacuum. Generally, shop vacuums can be used for dirty jobs in a workshop or similar environment with lots of saw dust, liquids, and more.
If you often find yourself fixing something around your house or in your workshop, a shop vacuum is definitely a must unless you enjoy sweeping the floors manually with an old-fashioned broomstick.
Shop vacuums can also suck up liquid and some even have a blower feature that could be useful for many purposes.
Key benefits of getting a shop vacuum
If you still aren’t convinced that getting one is the way to go, here are the key benefits to getting a shop vacuum, as listed by PowerToolBuzz:
1. Sucks up wet and dry messes
Shop vacuums will usually work for both wet and dry vacuuming. This means that whether you’ve dropped a glass of water on the floor or want to suck up a pile of dust and debris, the shop vac comes to your rescue.
2. Great performance
Shop vacuums are usually more powerful than regular vacuum cleaners, and they can pick up larger projects such as wood shavings, nails, and other stuff that you may find in a workshop. You can easily install a filter if you want to, and after use the bucket is easily emptied in your garbage container.
3. Versatility in terms of cleaning
When it comes to cleaning your home, the robust motor and reinforced storage canister that comes with your shop vacuum enable it to outperform any other cleaning equipment. With a wet-dry shop vacuum, you will be able to unclog pipes, clear kitchen sink blockages, clean the garden pond, and much more.
What to look for when buying a shop vacuum
Before you purchase your shop vacuum, here are some things to consider:
- Power usage and horsepower – PowerBuzzTools suggests getting a shop vacuum with a minimum of 12 Amps. The more horsepower a shop vacuum has, the stronger the suction. Look for a shop vacuum that has 1.5-2 horsepower if you’re looking for one that will help you in cleaning your home and workshop.
- Sealed suction – A shop vacuum’s suction capability is measured in terms of how much liquid the vacuum can pull in against a certain amount of water pressure. It is measured by testing how many inches of water a vacuum will lift up in a glass tube. According to Do It Best, a shop vacuum with a sealed suction rating greater than 75 is often considered among the most powerful shop vacuum cleaners.
- Cubic feet per minute (CFM) – This rates the maximum airflow a vacuum can achieve at its larger opening or how much air your shop vacuum can suck over a certain period of time. PowerToolBuzz suggests choosing a shop vacuum with a 90 CFM rating to be on the safe side so that it can outlast any filter- or hose-related resistance during long cleaning sessions.
- Tank capacity and size – This will depend on the frequency, type, and variety of projects you have in your home. If you find that you tend to make larger messes or have a woodshop of your own or your basement is prone to flooding, Blain’s Farm and Fleets suggests considering getting a shop vacuum with a large capacity tank. Nevertheless, if you have limited space, a smaller portable shop vacuum would be much easier to store.
- Tank material – Most shop vacuums are made from durable plastic, which makes them lighter and easier to carry from room to room in your home. You don’t have to worry about them denting either. Metal or steel tanks are also available, however, and they are good for heavy-duty projects and a lot easier to clean. When choosing which one to buy, always take your cleaning needs into consideration.
- Filter – If you accidentally use the wrong filter, you could run the risk of dust and water blowing back into the air. Make sure to check with the manufacturer first to ensure that you are getting the right filter. If you are going to suck up a lot of large-sized debris, get a filter with a general household filtration level or better. If you have medium-sized debris, it’s better to get a medium filtration level. For fine-sized debris, get a filter with fine filtration. For wet debris, Do It Best recommends using a foam sleeve over your filter. If you or any other household member has asthma or is sensitive to other allergens, make sure to use a HEPA cartridge filter.
- Hose size – What will you be using your shop vacuum for? Shop vacuum hoses range from 1.25 to 2.5 inches, depending on the kind of cleaning you will do and the kind of debris you need to be suctioned up. The wider the hose, the bigger the debris it can suck up. The length of a hose will also depend on where you will be using it. Take note, though, that the longer a hose is, the less suction power it will have.
- Blower port – if you live in an area where the trees shed all their leaves in the fall, you might want to consider getting a shop vacuum that comes with a blower port or detachable blower so you can use it to help you clean up your yard. You can also use it to get rid of sawdust and other debris from a patio.
- Drain/hose valve – Some shop vacuums require you to lift them up and tilt them in order to get rid of the contents. The latest models, however, come with a valve or drain at the bottom of the body that allows you to easily empty the contents. That way, you don’t have to come into contact with anything dirty and it makes your cleaning a lot easier.
3. Air compressor
An air compressor is a device that converts power into potential energy and stores it in the form of pressurized or compressed air. If you have objects that need to be filled with air, such as tires or inflatable pools, you can use an air compressor. Certain pieces of equipment also work well with air compressors, like drills, nail guns, grinders, spray guns, sander, staplers, and more.
Compressed air can be used in piston displacement or to rotate a shaft. Compressed air can also be used to produce a high-speed jet, such as a paint sprayer. If one of the DIY projects for your home is spray-painting some rooms and/or objects, you might want to consider getting an air compressor.
Compressed air also gives torque and rotation power for pneumatic tools (tools that are driven by compressed air). Some examples of these kinds of tools would be drills, brushes, nut runners, screw drives, and riveting guns.
Two types of air compressors in terms of air displacement
For the air compressor to compress air, internal mechanisms within the compressor need to work to push air into the chamber. This process is called air displacement and there are two kinds, as shown in Quincy Compressor:
- Positive displacement – Air is pulled into the chamber where the machine reduces the volume of the chamber to compress the air. After that, it is moved into a storage tank and saved for later use. Most air compressors use this method.
- Dynamic displacement – This is also called the non-positive displacement and uses an impeller with rotating blades to bring air into the chamber. The energy created by the rotating blades builds up air pressure in just a short amount of time. Dynamic displacement can also be used with turbo compressors because of the way they generate large volumes of air.
What to look for when buying an air compressor
Before you head to the nearest hardware to get an air compressor, check out this guide of what to look for when it comes to buying an air compressor:
- Air tools – Check the kinds of air tools you have and the pressure and volume requirements of those tools. This should help you decide if you will get an air compressor with more pressure and volume to accommodate your heavy-duty tools. You need to choose a compressor that will be large enough for what you will use it for.
- Type of compressor – According to Industry Buying, piston-type compressors rely on a motor to build up air pressure when it gets depleted while portable compressors do not offer tanks and run continuously to deliver air. Consider what you will be using the air compressor for and where before you choose which one to get.
- Horsepower – An air compressor’s horsepower typically ranges somewhere between 1.5-6.5 HP. If your main purpose for the air compressor is for some projects you may have on the side, then you can get somewhere within that range for small to medium-sized applications. If you need an air compressor for industrial usage, it’s better to get one with a larger HP.
- Cubic feet per minute (CFM) – Air tools need a certain amount of air to keep them going and the volume of air produced is rated in CFM. Sometimes, there can be several CFM ratings at different pressures on a compressor. According to The Tool Corner, however, the most important CFM rating in smaller air compressors is at 90 PSI, as that is the pressure required to run most tools. As always, it’s better to check before you buy.
- Power source – When you’re looking around for an air compressor, you need to determine the main power source for your air compressor. This will also largely depend on your work environment, according to Quincy Compressor, and will help you determine whether you need an electric motor or gasoline engine drive system. It’s important to note that electric motors are less expensive and require less maintenance, while gasoline engines are more portable.
- Tank size – While the tank size may not be as important as the other factors because you’ll never run out of air, no matter how small the tank is, it’s important to note that you can save a lot of money if you get an air compressor with the right tank size. Smaller tanks are sufficient for quick, concentrated bursts of usage, while larger tanks can sustain longer periods of usage.
4. Nail gun
If you find yourself often having to fix roofs or frames, whether in your work or for simple renovation projects around your home, you’ll find that you can do your work faster and more efficiently with a nail gun. A nail gun is a power tool that is used to drive nails into wood. It is either pneumatic (air-driven) or cordless (battery powered).
Also read: The Best Cordless Brad Nailer
Nail gun magazine types: coil vs. stick
One of the first, most noticeable differences between nail guns is the distinction between their magazine. According to Tool Crib, there are two kinds of nail gun magazine types:
- Coil – A coil-style magazine holds nails in long, flexible strips that are wound in a coil. Coil nail guns hold more nails than other kinds, as they can hold about 150-350 nails at a time.
- Stick – A stick-style magazine holds long strips or cartridges of nails in 20-40 increments. This strip slides into the gun and because the configuration distributes the weight of the nails, they are often easier to handle as compared to coil nail guns, according to Lowe’s.
Nail gun application types
Aside from differing in terms of the kind of magazine they have, nail guns also differ in terms of the type of nails they use which also determines where you can use them. According to Air Compressor Scout, there are six different types of nail guns:
- Framing nail guns are used if you want to get some serious, heavy-duty work done. They can fire 2.88 mm nails into any type of wood and are used the most when they need to withstand large burdens (e.g. wooden beams or other heavy wooden construction).
- Roofing nail guns are used for firing roofing nails. They’re very light and easy to use, which makes them easy to wield when you’re working on the top of a roof. They are also able to hold more nails because they have coiled magazines.
- Finish nail guns usually have high-gauge nails which are used in carpentry and furniture-making. There are different types, depending on the nail head and size of the nails. One of the most popular ones is the 16-gauge nail gun.
- Flooring nail guns come in a specific shape that allows them to stand on the floor and fire nails at a right angle. They are two kinds of flooring nail guns: cleat (which is more useful if you’re working with denser types of wood) and flooring staple guns.
- Brad nail guns are your go-to companion when you’re doing the finest kind of woodworking tasks. They are most suitable for trim work and also use high-gauge nails. The most common types (18-gauge and 23-gauge) are used for constructing dollhouses. When a brad nail gun can’t do the job alone, such as in upholstering furniture, it can be reinforced with the use of a staple gun.
- Concrete nail guns are the most powerful of all the guns as they shoot nails directly into concrete. Most of the time, these are found only in industrial sites as they are usually reserved for industrial use and framing nail guns will work just fine for home use.
Features to consider when buying a nail gun
Before you purchase your nail gun, you need to determine what kind you will be getting. Ask yourself what kind of renovation or repairs or building you expect to create. Will it be easier for you to get a coil gun because you want to work without interruptions? Or is a slide gun easier to handle? Will you be framing things or fixing roofs most of the time?
Tool Crib also lists some of the key features to look into before buying a nail gun:
- Swivel tube – if you’ve got a pneumatic nail gun, you should get a swivel tube connector so the tube doesn’t get tangled up and it will also make the reloading easier
- Easy jam cleaning – jams are common occurrences in nail guns, so make sure it’s got an easy access so it doesn’t slow down your work
- Nail depth adjustment – you’ll want to get a nail gun that lets you control how deeply you drive your nails; make sure you get one that’s easy to adjust and control
- Adjustment for nail size – if you think you’re going to use a wide variety of nail types and sizes for your project, it’s best to go with a nail gun that accepts a wider range of sizes
5. Oscillating multi-tool
An oscillating multi-tool (OMT) is a tool that is able to cut holes in drywall, shear off metal pipes, trim moldings, grind out grouts, sand surfaces, and more. It saws, sands, scrapes, polishes, and does a lot of different home improvement jobs.
Unlike a power circular saw, a jigsaw, or a reciprocating saw, the blade doesn’t saw back and forth or cut when spinning in a circle like most conventional power saws. Rather, the flat metal blade oscillates from side to side about 20,000 oscillations per minute (OPM).
Some jobs you can do with an oscillating multi-tool
If you aren’t yet convinced with the power and efficiency an oscillating multi-tool has, here’s a list of the various things it can do, as compiled by Tiler’s Place:
- Cut metal, plastic, and wood
- Flush-cut door casings
- Remove old grout and caulk
- Sand, paint, and varnish wood
- Refinish old furniture
- Strip vinyl
- Remove mortar from tiles
- Cut holes in drywall
Corded vs. cordless
There are two kinds of oscillating multi-tools: corded and cordless.
The battery-operated cordless oscillating multi-tools have lithium battery better power and extended life and can be used anywhere. Nevertheless, after several years of use, the batteries can eventually stop recharging and must be replaced.
Corded oscillating multi-tools, on the other hand, are generally more powerful and never run out of juice. They can be used with an extension cord and some models have up to 20-foot cords. Home Tips advises going with a corded model unless you plan to use the oscillating multi-tool where an electrical outlet is not reachable or available.
Things to consider when buying an oscillating multi-tool
Before you choose your oscillating multi-tool, here are the things you need to take note of, as listed by Howe Tools:
- Oscillations per minute (OPM) – Oscillations are measured by how often the blade moves from side to side. Thus, the more oscillations per minute, the faster the cutting speed. They often move at 6000-20,000 OPM, depending on the type. It’s important to note that if your strokes are too low, the blade will be unable to cut, and if the strokes are too high, the material could become too hot and burn.
- Wattage – The higher the wattage is, the better the performance it gives, especially for tough jobs. Higher wattage also helps the motor last longer.
- Angle of oscillation – The angle of oscillation depends on how far the blades move from side to side. They often vary from 1.4-3 degrees. When the angle is great, the movement is greater and the cutting speed is faster.
Tool holder – There are two main tool holder options on an oscillating multi-tool. One is a standard fitting that most manufacturers use. This consists of small holes on the multi-tool attachment that fits into matching holders on the machine. It is then fixed in place by a mechanism that uses an Allen key or lever. The second type of tool holder is called the Starlock system where the attachments are held in place by a star at the end of the attachment. This can be fitted into the multi-tool with a simple push and can be released by a lever.