Power tools are the perfect way to take the effort out of most DIY jobs, but you must know how to choose and use them for safety and optimum results. Follow our tips for a perfect job every time.
The Electric Drill
The power drill is the undisputed most useful electric tool in the homeowner’s arsenal. It not only drills, screws, and unscrews, but with the right accessories it can also function as a wire brush, paint mixer, and sander.
The first choice to make when shopping for a drill is to decide between a mains plug-in model or a battery-operated one. A rechargeable-battery drill is more convenient (no cord, see), but the battery may not hold up to a hard day’s labour – and nothing’s more boring than waiting for a battery to charge. Some are sold with a second battery included, so you always have one on charge; look for lithium-ion batteries for longer life.
Cordless batteries are rated in volts, 9.6 to 36; the higher the voltage, the tougher the job it will handle. A drill pulling 12 to 14.4 volts should handle most household chores. Corded drills are rated in amperes; more amps means more power. Look for a drill rated at five amps or better for use around the house.
Drills also vary in the size of the drill bits they use. The cheapest might use bits 1/4″ in diameter, but a more useful and common size is 3/8″. Other features to look for are a keyless chuck (chuck keys are incredibly easy to lose), variable speeds, and reverse operation (for unscrewing). Don’t forget to buy a selection of drill bits if they don’t come with the drill.
The Circular Saw
There’s a certain romance about using a hand tool such as a saw, crafting objects with one’s own hands. That romance disappears after hacking through a few 2×4″s, after those first blisters form. A circular saw can rip through boards, plywood, and any other similar material, saving you time and skin.
Again, one has the choice of battery-operated or corded. In this case, given that sawing quickly drains most batteries, the average homeowner would be well advised to seek out a corded model. They also come in a variety of blade diameters. The 7-1/4″ blade size is fine for home use.
Some other features to look for: a power cord that’s at least six feet long, a spindle lock to hold the blade stationary so you can change it, a safety interlock (which can save you from a mishap), and long-lasting carbide-tipped blades.
Make sure you can clearly see the cutting line and blade while operating; some are even equipped with a laser guide, useful except in bright sunlight. Look for one that allows the blade to be tilted in relation to the cutting plate, which will allow you to make angled cuts along the edge of a board.
When it comes to creating ornate shapes in wood, a circular saw just can’t cut it. That’s a job for the jigsaw. It’s also useful for crafting, as it’s light and easily controlled. Again, battery vs. corded is the first decision to make. If you plan to work with a lot of hard wood, steer clear of the battery-operated models.
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Look for one that offers variable speeds, 500 to 3,000 strokes per minute or so. This can be controlled either by a dial or by the degree to which the trigger is depressed. Orbital action, rather than a straight up-and-down motion, will cut faster. Make sure the jigsaw has an adjustable foot, so you can make angled cuts. Tool-free blade changing will save you the hassle of finding an Allen wrench that fits.
A good smooth finish on a piece of furniture or a metal surface doesn’t result just from a careful paint job; it is also determined by how well the surface is prepared before the first coat of paint goes down. Hand sanding can feel like it takes forever, and unless you are very careful, it will still be uneven. An electric sander can do a better job faster, and doesn’t cost a great deal.
There are a number of types of sanders on the market: belt, finishing, detail, and drum. But for the homeowner, the hand sander probably satisfies most needs. They come in a variety of grips, including the palm, pistol, and right angle. The palm grip is easy to control, and it’s kind to your hands, too.
With a palm sander, battery life is very limited, so a corded version is probably your best bet. Look for one with at least a 1.8 amp motor. It oscillates in your hand in a random orbit, and is measured in oscillations per minute; look for a model operating at over 10,000 opm (orbits per minute).