5 Under-appreciated Tools for DIYers

You’ve all read the must-have tool lists. Stuff like lithium-powered multi-tools, laser levels, and cordless rechargeable work lights. While they may be wonderful, there are a handful of humble hand tools that have existed for hundreds of years, or a lot longer in a couple of cases, that every toolbox should include.

None of these tools cost more than $20, and the entire collection would ring up for about $55. For you thrifty individuals, you can also often find them at garage sales. Each one will pay for itself many times over in saved time and reduced expenses.

1. Brad Awl
The drill is every so much more convenient than it once was, as long as it’s nearby, charged, and there’s a bit chucked in it. For starting screws in soft woods, I let my drill slumber in the workshop and pull an awl (technically called a brad awl because it’s designed for making pilot holes in wood) from my kitchen toolbox. Just press the point about 3/8-in. deep into the spot where you’d like to drive a screw, and away you go. A great alternative (and one that can often be found at garage sales) is an old ice pick (a wood handle version is shown next to a new awl). You’ll be amazed by how often an awl comes in handy. Just be sure to keep it out of the hands of little ones.

2. Mill Bastard File
I don’t really want to know the derivation and hope I’m not being politically incorrect, but the mill bastard file is a great tool for sharpening everything from a paint scraper to mower blade. Always sharpen on the push stroke at the angle the manufacturer originally put on the tool. A grinder is, of course, a quicker way to sharpen tools – unless you’re on top of a ladder scraping blistered paint off your clapboard and the scraper goes dull.

3. Paint Brush Comb
I was so enamored with the idea behind this tool that I made my own as a young man. I clipped the heads off about 20 finishing nails and set them in a handle-size piece of scrap wood. It’s a lot easier to buy one readymade, which I did some years later and still use today. What’s so great about it? With it you can resurrect any paintbrush that was insufficiently cleaned. Just soak the stiffened brush in the appropriate solvent for 10 or 20 minutes and begin combing. Once you begin to reach the center of the brush, re-soak as necessary.

4. End-Cutting Pliers
End-cutting pliers are a better tool for pulling errant nails and staples than a cat’s paw-type of nail puller or the claw end of a hammer. Just grip and pivot. The round head rolls easily on your work piece without leaving dents or gouges. They can also be used to snip nails flush to a surface.

5. Prybar or Flat Bar
Many homeowners have a wrecking bar. These tools are great for demolition. But some jobs need finesse. Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to remove (but save) an old, hard-to-match molding. A 15-in. flat pry bar (Stanley makes one called the Super Wonder Bar and Estwing’s is the Handy Bar) is just the ticket. It can slip behind moldings without damaging them but still give you plenty of leverage for prying. It's often easiest to gently pry off molding by slipping the flat end behind the molding and then rocking the bar sideways (above).

Bonus Video: