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

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

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

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

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


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.