6 Handy Tools Your Builder Uses and You Can Too

By Marcie Geffner

Tools Your Builder Uses, and You Can Too!


Chisel. Clamp. Nail gun. Ladder. Sawhorse. Cat’s paw.

Cat’s paw?

Yes, you read that right.

Here’s a look at six of the many tools that builders and contractors use on their job sites and you can use to make do-it-yourself (DIY) upgrades to your new home after you move in.

1. Chisel

A chisel is a hand-held tool with a flat end that looks like a non-Phillips screwdriver but is much sharper. Chisels are primarily associated with woodworking, which makes them useful for repairing cabinets or wood floorboards. There are also special types of chisels designed to shape stone, brick or other materials used in flooring, tiles, fireplaces, driveways, walls, walkways and other hardscapes. Chisels are sold singly or in sets of various types and sizes with prices ranging from $10 to $40. A sharpening stone and bottle of honing oil are must-haves to keep your chisel ready to use.

2. Clamp

Clamps also come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. They all do basically the same thing: hold two parts together while an adhesive sets or you perform other tasks on the parts. A trigger clamp has a quick-release mechanism that makes removing the clamp when its work is done faster and easier. A C-clamp is shaped like the alphabetic letter of its name. A clamp attached to a workbench is known as a vice. A simple handheld C-shaped or corner clamp can be bought for less than $10.

3. Nail gun

A traditional claw-end hammer can be a great tool to have around your house. But if you want to pound in a lot nails, up to 200 per minute, you’ll need a nail gun. You can buy an entry-level nail gun for around $30 or up to $100 for better quality. A professional-grade, high-performance model costs $300-$800. If you’re doing a weekend project, you can rent a nail gun at a big-box hardware store.

Another handy tool is a nail punch, which is used to hide nail heads in a finished project. A punch should have a concave (indented) tip. Set the tip on the top of the nail, tap it with a hammer and the nail will disappear into the wood or other material, leaving a tiny hole that can be filled in to match the surface. A set of three nail punches in different sizes costs about $10. A bigger kit with, say, 18 sizes costs about $50.

4. Ladder

Standing on an empty cardboard box, upside-down bucket or retired piece of furniture you’ve stored in your garage is a good way to end up in a siren-screaming ambulance on your way to the nearest hospital. Rather than risk an injury, it’s smart to buy a sturdy ladder to get your feet off the ground more safely. A general purpose, folding, seven-step, A-frame aluminum ladder costs about $150-$250. An extension ladder that slides open and leans against your home is best for reaching your upstairs windows, rain gutters or roof. A top-of-the-line, heavy-load-bearing, fiberglass ladder system can set you back $400-$800.

5. Sawhorse

Unless you decide to invest in a table saw, you’ll need a pair of sawhorses to cut wood or plywood safely. When they’re not in use for their primary purpose, these handy steeds can be used as portable skinny tables to hold tools or parts. Place a piece of plywood or an old door across the top of two sawhorses and you’ll have a workbench or drying table for glued or painted objects. Sawhorse prices range from $20 for a bare-bones model to about $70 for a two-pack or a foldable, collapsible, adjustable or heavy-duty model with a lower shelf. You can also build your own sawhorses.

Once you have your sawhorses, you’ll want a selection of saws. Options include the traditional handsaw, a hacksaw and a coping saw, which has interchangeable blades to cut different types of materials.

6. Cat’s paw

If you thought we were kidding about this one, think again. In construction, a cat’s paw isn't part of your pet. It’s a tool that helps you remove embedded or headless nails that can’t be extracted with a traditional claw-end hammer. Sometimes called the “carpenter’s eraser,” this tool is a simple handle with a scoop shaped like a cat’s paw on one or both ends. Whack one end with a hammer to drive the “paw” into place and then pull out the nail. Expect to pay $10-$15 for this handy tool, also called a nail puller.

Good-quality tools that are well maintained and used properly can last a lifetime and make repairs and remodeling projects easy for any homeowner to do.
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Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, writer and editor. A second-generation native of Los Angeles, she relocated in 2015 to Ventura, a beach town in Southern California, where she owns a split-level hillside home.

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