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The Power of Tools

DIY weekend warriors: Is your arsenal at the ready?
By Steve Umland
Published: June 1, 2002
tool guy DIY weekend warrior
Dick, our weekend warrior, shows off his favorite Cool Tools. And don't forget the safety equipment!
Photo by Steve Umland

I’ve always said I didn’t want to build my own cabin. I just wanted an excuse to buy more tools. But I have built my own cabin, and in the process my cabin tools have become as important to me as the cabin itself. The essence of cabin life – at least for us weekend project warriors ­– revolves around putzing with our tools to work on our chosen project for the weekend.

Weekend warriors understand that there are two different kinds of tools. A Cool Tool is one that is purchased without guilt and is easily justified to whomever might question its necessity. A Hot Tool is, of course, just as important but it takes more effort to justify its purchase.

Cool Tools
Nearly all of my most-used tools fall neatly into the Cool Tool category. First, there are the cordless powered hand tools, which I use for the majority of my work around the cabin. I’m hooked on the large combo kits made by Bosch, DEWALT, Craftsman, etc. These kits come with interchangeable batteries and recharging unit and can include drills, saber saws, jigsaws and planers to name a few. Newer models are better designed and far more efficient than the models your dad tried out years ago.

It’s amazing the different kinds of combo kits available in cordless tools. The Craftsman 18.0 cordless combo kit contains power drill and circular saw. Combos from Milwaukee, DEWALT and Makita can include power hammer drills and reciprocating saws. Be sure to pick the combo that has the tools you will most often use.

I am partial to the smaller 4.5- to 5.5-inch trim saws, which are ideal for weekend projects. I use my keyless Craftsman cordless drill every weekend, I swear. Last weekend I used it to reattach a dining room table base by making an eight-sided insert that fit down in the base and using screws to secure the sides after I reglued it. Picking up a light cordless drill when you have all the pieces glued and in place, and not having the cord get in the way … well, you know, it saves wear and tear on the family’s ears. Also, a small, light cordless tool is easier to place in your tool belt when working from a ladder.

Every cabin has to have a cordless, general-purpose screwdriver. I use the Craftsman 10-in-1 screwdriver. For swapping switchplates, putting new knobs on the kitchen drawers or taking off cabinet doors, this tool can’t be beat. Be sure to mount the recharger on the wall so everyone knows where it is and so that when the battery is not in use it’s recharging.

Tools garage shed workspace bench power DIY
There are certain tools and equipment you must have at the cabin, including a reciprocating saw, jigsaw, cordless drill ... well, you can pick them out in the photo above.
Photo by Steve Umland

An equally essential – but less frequently used – group of tools includes a variable-speed, 7-amp right-angle drill by Milwaukee. This tool is perfect for larger projects. A larger, heavier drill with a 90-degree angle allows for more downward force while drilling mounting holes for deck bolts or drilling through logs or timbers to run electrical wires. This tool is a must. I use it with a paint mixer attachment to mix five-gallon buckets of paint, stain or even landscaping soil mixtures. A tool that can be used to make your significant other’s weekend project easier is definitely a Cool Tool.

Hot Tools

Moving on to Hot Tools, one of my cannot-do-without large power tools is a Sawzall, sometimes referred to as a reciprocating saw. My Bosch model with a complete set of blades for metal, masonry and wood comes in handy for the larger heavy-duty cutting jobs. A few months back I had to remove a front window to reroute electrical wires from my front porch through the jambs. After removing the molding, I used a metal blade to cut through the nails that were securing the window to the jamb. It turned what could have been an hour-long project of removing nails into a five-minute window removal. A reciprocating saw is definitely a macho Hot Tool.

You also have to have a handheld RotoZip. My wife Bev bought me one for my birthday. (What a great spouse!) Talk about a Hot Tool that quickly became a Cool Tool. I use it for everything, from cutting ceramic tile to replacing broken tile. Be sure to get the 90-degree Zipmate accessory. It takes some time to master the drill-cutting tool, but it gets into spots and cuts areas that you just can’t reach with a conventional saw. The RotoZip folks make a blade or attachment for everything. How cool is it when your partner for life buys you a Hot Tool that instantly becomes a Cool Tool? You don’t have to justify the purchase, and your partner feels good when you spend time with it.

Another hot cabin tool I use almost every weekend is my workbench electric grinder. I have a grinding wheel on one side and a steel brush on the other. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved cleaning rusted bolts, screws or whatever. In half the time it takes to run to the hardware store, you can clean and make an old bolt like new, or sharpen a wood bit or a wood chisel. I recommend bolting it right down to your bench. Rig a work light right over it and have a pair of safety glasses hanging right over the top.

Safety Tools
That brings to mind the most important tools you should have: your safety tools. No, they’re not as glamorous, but they’re definitely necessary. Buy multiple pairs of safety glasses and put a set wherever you might pick up a power tool. I prefer the glasses style, which is more comfortable – and any safety accessory that is more comfortable will be worn more often. Always wear gloves when using larger power tools, and be sure you have a safe place to set down your tool while it powers down. I also wear earplugs, the kind with a string holding two together, when working with loud tools like routers.

Oh! Almost forgot. Be extra careful that loose-fitting clothes don’t get caught in the working parts. I once had a circular saw catch a shirttail of mine as I was dropping the saw to my side. It barely stopped before reaching my six-pack abs – or was it my 12/24-pack abs? Never mind.

Just remember the No. 1 cabin rule: No cabin weekend should ever include a trip to the emergency room.

Steve Umland believes in the old adage: Always use the proper tool for the proper job. Steve didn’t say this; your dad did. And he was right!

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