tools

I’ve Tested Thousands of Tools. Here Are the 14 That Make the Best Gifts.

Photo: courtesy retailers

Whether they’re just starting out or have been doing DIY projects for years, every home handyperson needs one thing: more tools. There are tools they want that they don’t want to splurge for. There are great tools they didn’t even realize they’d need. In my five decades as a carpenter, contractor, and custom cabinetmaker, I’ve worked with and tested thousands of tools. I’ve also written eight books (on topics including tiling, sheds, and floor installation). Here are some of the best tools I’ve found, organized by the type of person who might need them.

For the college student

Gerber Multitool

The Gerber Suspension Multi-Plier is an ideal tool for the dorm, the road, or studying abroad. (For more gifts for college students, suggested by college students, click here.) This pocket-size multi-tool contains everything they’ll need for minor repairs, assembling furniture, and cutting into care packages from home. It has 12 handy tools in one sleek, compact package: needle-nose pliers, wire cutters, a pocket knife, a serrated knife, a wood saw, scissors, a Phillips screwdriver, two slotted screwdrivers, a can opener, a lanyard hole, and, most important, a bottle opener.

For the first-time homeowner

Porter-Cable 20V MAX 8-tool Combo Kit

One of the hardest parts of learning to do household repairs (other than remembering to put on safety glasses even when you don’t think you’ll need them) is having the right tools for the job. This eight-piece cordless combo kit includes a drill/driver, an impact driver, a circular saw, a reciprocating saw, an oscillating multi-tool, a jigsaw, an orbital sander, and a flashlight. It’s all the power tools they’ll need to tackle virtually any home-improvement project and at a substantially lower price than buying them all separately. With tools, you really do get what you pay for, and Porter-Cable is a great mid-level brand that will last. The kit also includes two 20-volt rechargeable batteries, which give you the most power you can get from cordless tools.

For the first-time homeowner who’s more concerned about the lawn

Nelson Traveling Sprinkler RainTrain

If you want green grass, you need watered grass. Often, that can mean setting up your sprinkler, then setting a timer to remind you to move the sprinkler to the next part of your yard. Once you move it, you set another timer so you know when to move it again, and so on. The Nelson Rain Train sprinkler saves you all that effort by moving itself. Simply stretch the hose across the lawn and attach the sprinkler; it will pull itself along the hose (using water pressure to move), traveling as far as 200 feet and watering up to 13,500 square feet of lawn. Plus, it automatically shuts off upon reaching the end of the hose.

For the first-time homeowner whose realtor said everything could be easily fixed with a coat of paint

Wooster Pro/Contractor Painting Kit

With painting supplies, you really do get what you pay for. Inexpensive brushes and rollers will drop bristles or fibers as you paint and thus leave streaky, mottled finishes. Help them invest in good gear with this kit, which includes three different sizes of brush, two paint rollers, six roller covers, a paint tray and liners, a paint cup and liners, and an extension pole for painting high walls and ceilings without a ladder.

For a newly impassioned woodworker

Kreg Pocket-hole Jig 320

For someone new to woodworking, clamps will always be a great gift. They hold your work in place, and even if you already have a couple, you can always use more — especially these one-handed clamps from Irwin. But if you want to buy them something a little more technical, try the Kreg pocket-hole jig. It’s an easy, strong way to join two boards at an angle if you’re adding a leg to a table, for example, or building a bookshelf. The kit includes the hole-drilling jig, a step drill for boring pocket holes, an extra-long screwdriver bit, and two boxes of pocket-hole screws. All they need is this and a drill to get started.

For the person who built their own table. And chairs. And bed frame. And deck.

JessEm Ultimate Excel II Package

What do you buy the woodworker who has everything? This JessEm Ultimate Excel router table, which converts a portable router into a sophisticated stationary routing machine that can be used to cut raised panels, shape decorative moldings, and create wood joints. It’s expensive but worth it and features an oversize worktable, a fully adjustable aluminum fence for guiding wood, speed control, and a built-in lift that easily raises or lowers the router with the turn of a handwheel.

For the sibling who’s getting into welding

Lincoln Power MIG 140MP MIG Welder K4498-1

Even if they don’t realize it, welding is not beyond the capability of novice metalworkers. This compact Lincoln Electric welder features a quick and easy setup and a simple two-knob operation that controls wire-feed speed and voltage. It plugs into a standard 120-volt electrical outlet and accommodates the four main types of welding: MIG, flux-cored, stick, and DC TIG.

For the person who could have taught that class

Jet 756031 30-Inch 3-In-1 Shear Brake and Roll

No metalworking shop is complete without a shear for cutting, a brake for bending angles, and a roller for bending curves. Instead of making them buy all three, get them this three-in-one machine from Jet Tools. It combines a shear, a brake, and a roller in one compact, space-saving unit, and it’s designed for working a wide variety of metals, including mild steel, aluminum, copper, brass, lead, and zinc.

For the person looking to expand their plumbing skills beyond just using a plunger

Populo 20V Max Lithium-Ion Electric Drain Snake Auger Kit

If you know someone who’s learning how to do their own plumbing, this battery-powered drain snake will let them clear most household clogs in under five minutes. It has a 25-foot flexible steel cable that can clear obstructions in pipes up to two inches in diameter, which means you can use it on a sink, a toilet, a shower drain, and most everything else that can clog in a house. The clog-busting snake is driven by a 20-volt rechargeable battery, so it’s easy to use anywhere, including in the cramped spaces they’re about to always find themselves in.

For the plumber friend everyone calls for help

Ridgid 55898 Micro CA-350 Handheld Inspection Camera

No matter how good they get at plumbing, they’ll never be able to see inside the pipes — at least not without a tool like the Rigid CA-350 camera, a miniature video-inspection camera mounted on the end of a flexible cable. The three-foot neck lets them check pipes for damage, obstructions, or standing water; just feed the cable down inside the pipe and the camera will project live video images onto the included handheld monitor. If you really want to impress them (and don’t mind spending a lot more money), buy the 100-foot extension cable, which allows access deep into any plumbing system.

For the gardener who probably grows 90 percent of their produce

Snapper XD 82V MAX Electric Cordless Cultivator

Dedicated gardeners know the importance of tilling the soil prior to planting. They also know gas-powered tillers are loud, smelly, and often hard to start, which is why you should buy them this cordless electric tiller. It’s powered by a rechargeable 82-volt lithium-ion battery and starts at the push of a button. The five-inch tilling depth and a superefficient brushless motor will let them turn any part of the backyard into a garden. Or even the whole thing.

For the person who can’t sleep if their hedges aren’t uniform

Worx WG252 20V 20-inch Hedge Trimmer

Maintaining perfectly shaped hedges will never be easy, but you can make it easier by buying them this cordless hedger. The 20-inch trimmer attaches to a telescoping pole that extends up to 12 feet. It’s powered by a 20-volt rechargeable battery that’s strong enough to shear through branches up to five-eighths of an inch thick. The most helpful aspect, however, may be the adjustability. The rear handle rotates 180 degrees to accommodate both vertical and horizontal trimming, and the blade angle can be adjusted to trim the top, bottom, or sides of the hedges comfortably.

For the person who already owns every other tool

Next Wave Automation 10020 CNC Shark II CNC Router

Many of the most dedicated tool lovers still don’t have their own CNC router. With it, all they have to do is program the desired cutting pattern into the machine and the router will automatically execute the cuts. This CNC unit accepts a standard woodworking router and can be used to carve, cut, and machine a wide variety of materials, including wood, plywood, plastic, and even soft metal.

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