It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? There’s certainly something magical about the Christmas season. Drinking hot cocoa on a chilly winter morning, making snow angels (assuming you get a snowfall), and celebrating traditions with family and friends go down in my book as cherished activities that I look forward to each year. On the flip side, battling mall traffic in search of the perfect gift for those on your list can be a stressful undertaking.

Actual Black Friday stressful mayhem - no thanks!

Today, we aim to take just a little bit of the stress out of the decisions you need to make by suggesting a few items that we like and work quite well for us.

If you’re a consistent reader of Old Town Home, you may be familiar with our Toolbox Tuesday section – posts that offer a frank review of some of our favorite tools and home improvement items with which we have firsthand experience. So, if you have a handyman (or woman) on your list who would love to expand their arsenal of DIY must haves, here’s a list of our favorite tools that we've covered in some capacity here on Old Town Home.

Stocking Stuffers – Getting Started with the Essentials

There are a handful of small and inexpensive tools and items that are absolute must haves when tackling just about any level of DIY. These tools make excellent stocking stuffers and may be just what the gift doctor ordered to get someone's renovation heart pumping.

Tape Measure/Hammer/Pry Bar

The absolute essentials. It's no surprise this trio of tools were actually some of the first we placed in our tool bucket. They represent the three most steps items in any project, planning, demolition, and construction. These are the tools we'd be essentially lost without, and are the tools we use on a daily basis. Most importantly, the selection of a good hammer and tape measure make a world of difference in your own fatigue and the tool's longevity.

Work Gloves

It took us a longer time than it should have, but now that we've been using a good quality work glove, we're never going back. These gloves save your hands from the wear and tear that comes along with so many home projects. Whether you're talking about major knuckle busting demolition, or finger pounding electrical work, a thick and form fitting set of work gloves will make both the project itself, and the aftermath, much easier on you.

Safety Glasses

"You'll shoot your eye out" has become cemented into the lore of the holidays thanks to the movie The Christmas Story, but there should be an equally effective pop culture reference when dealing with eye protection around tools. We started using these better versions of eye protection after we got sick of our flimsy and scratched glasses. The improved plastic, better fit, and quality eye protection without bulk make them so comfortable to wear that I've noticed Alex forgetting to take them off (and sitting there watching TV with them on). If only Ralphie had been wearing some of these glasses, he probably would have been able to shoot Black Bart with no ill deflection effects.

Utility Knives

Alex swears by his utility knives...all of them. He's lost his utility knives so many times and later found them that he has at least three different knives that he uses on various projects. Truth be told, he loves all three. You can't go wrong with any of the knives we link to below. We know because we own all of them and have put them through their paces. He just recently picked up the Kobalt value pack of three knives because they were on the "special" rack at the store. He's a sucker for good marketing. While the other knives are all retractable blade knives, this new set also folds down for more compact storage. I think these will be the knives we will end up taking with us when we need to use them somewhere away from home.

Tool Bucket Organizer

Organizing your tools in a portable manner that lets you see what you've got is a tall task. Most tool boxes are either too big or layer your tools up too much. This 5 gallon bucket sleeve turns the extra bucket you may already have into a versatile, easily to carry, and organized tool storage device. Just slip this sleeve over a bucket and start filling the pockets and pouches with beautiful tool awesomeness. If you're looking for a great gift for a new DIYer, get this sleeve and a few small tools to give them a jump start on the rest of their hand tool collection. Personally, I gave this to Alex as a Christmas gift just before we moved into our house, and it's still in use almost a decade later.


A ladder is one of those items most don't often think of as a tool, but that opinion typically changes the first time you need to do something that's just out of reach from your standing position on a wobbly dining room chair. The ladder we use most often is an aluminum folding ladder that can be configured in one of many positions for the task at hand. Whether we're scaling the back wall of the house, or just changing a higher light bulb,  this ladder has been an important tool in our household in all of its many fold-able ways.

Painting Essentials

Good paint and good supplies are the key to a good looking paint job. I can't say that in a more clear or concise manner. A few extra bucks on high quality paint supplies, from paint brushes to roller covers, will save you hours of effort from trying to correct mistakes or a bad looking finish. Besides, wouldn't you rather be able to sit back and enjoy a job well done rather than spend your time picking fuzz or bristles out of your paint jobs? To me, this is a no brainer. Though there are many brands and styles out that that range from inexpensive to quite pricey, we prefer to use Purdy brand supplies. They've worked well for us and have been long lasting.

Paint Removal Tools

If you're doing any old home restoration, or if you're looking to use any salvaged items from antique stores, there's a good chance you'll be needed some or all of these indispensable tools. From heavy duty scrapers to intricate dental tools that will allow you to get into the tiniest of details, a full range of tools is a must have. These are the tried and true hand tools that we seem to use on just about every project. No gimmicks or promises of miracle paint removal, just a few tools that make a very hard task just a little bit easier.

Nail Pulling Pliers

A stubborn nail is a pain, and there's few general purpose tools we've found for pulling nails that work better than a set of end cutting pliers. Best of all, they are a general purpose tool used for everything from electrical work to those general instances where you just need to nip the end of of something.

Carpenter's Pencil

Tucked behind your ear or in your shirt pocket, there are few tools that can be used in as many ways as the standard issue carpenter's pencil. We buy in bulk and stick with the traditional wood style that is as tried and true as they come. Beyond the pencil, you'll need to pick up a good sharpener. A blog commenter recommended this Keson carpenter's pencil sharpener sharpener and I've never looked back. The sharpener is a bit more expensive than most, but it will save you so much time and effort, not to mention wasted pencils, that the extra money is well worth the charge.

Lil' Ripper Stripper

This is one of those tools that once you have it you don't know how you completed electrical projects without it. Alex picked it up on a whim, and we have both loved it ever since. This little hand tool strips the jacket from Romex, gives you a cutting guide, and allows you to put a perfect curl on the end up your wires. This is the absolute perfect stocking stuffer for that electrical enthusiast or up and coming DIYer that always seems hard to shop for.

Mid Priced Items to Take Your Toolbox to the Next Level

If you're feeling pretty good about your workshop, or you know someone who's already been doing their fair share of DIYing but wants to get just a little more into it, these tools and supplies are a great next step.

Shop Vac

This "tool" is one of the best investments we've ever made, hands down. More specifically, the use of a shop vac in combination with drywall dust filter bags and a HEPA filter, it may be a bit dramatic of me to say, but it's probably saved our marriage. Alex hooks the shop vac up to just about any significant dust creating tool, and this combo does an amazing job of keeping the dust to a minimal level, even when sanding joint compound. We've completed many tasks that would have otherwise left the whole house coated in a fine layer of film, but we've needed little more than a quick local dusting after wrapping up the project. Do yourself or your cleanliness challenged spouse or DIY friends a favor and give this gift. It's the gift that keeps on marital bliss.

Orbital Sander

As one of our first tool purchases, we had no idea the extent of use this little dynamo would get over the years. With all of the paint stripping we've done, woodworking, and general cleaning up of rough surfaces, I feel like the buzz from this sander is a near constant in our household. We've used it so much that we've replaced the sanding pad twice, yet the motor keeps running. We can absolutely recommend this style and brand of sander, without a doubt.

Pancake Compressor

We use our compressor constantly. From finish nailing to blowing up our party pool, it's a tool we typically use on a weekly basis. The pancake shape and small size makes it portable, but the capacity is plenty for everything we've needed. Alex hopes to even expand on its use in the coming weeks/months by using is to drive a paint sprayer.

Dado Blade

This is another example of a tool we didn't know just how much we needed it until we bought it. Now, Alex uses it on just about every woodworking project. It makes short work of cutting a groove in wood for strong and long lasting slot joinery. The blade we have is a good entry level blade for cutting dados, and one that is well worth the price tag.

Biscuit Joiner

Alex has been talking this tool up quite a bit lately, and for good reason. The biscuit joiner is one of those tools that both make life easier and make your projects look better and more professional. It allows you to join two pieces of wood as one in a nearly seamless manner. It really came in handy when we installed our new IKEA butcher block counters this summer.

Kreg Pocket Hole Jig

Though we do love our biscuit joiner, sometimes everything needs a pocket hole or two. When we started working with pocket holes many years ago, we bought this full kit to make our lives easier. It comes with all of the essential pieces necessary to cut pocket holes in a jig, or with a clamp on-site. It includes the necessary drill bit, square head screw bits, and even comes with a few screws to get you started. 

Jig Saw

A good jigsaw is hard to find. Trust us, we know. After tiring of the poor and splinter filled cuts from our first jigsaw, Alex did a ton of research on the best jigsaw without totally breaking the bank. What he found was a simple answer to a difficult question. "What jigsaw to get?" Of course, get the jigsaw that This Old House's Norm Abram uses! Norm is Alex's idol, and anything that's good enough for Norm will absolutely be good enough for us.

Big Ticket Items for Those Who Have Been Very Good This Year

At the top level of our list are the items reserved for those that have been very good this year. These are the items that carry the biggest price tags, but are absolutely key to some of the more involved and in depth projects the hardcore DIYer will encounter.


Whether you're trying to round over the edge of something small, or if you're trying to add a decorative edge onto butcher block counter tops, a good router is an absolutely essential piece of any woodworker's shop. We love our router and I've seen, first hand, Alex work a little bit of magic with it. The best thing about the router we have is its versatility and ability to work with standard size jigs. Do yourself a favor and invest in a good router.

Table Saw

If a DIYer doesn't yet own a table saw, they're doing a lot of work the hard way. A table saw makes short work of cross cuts, rips, angles, and a myriad of other functions. The table saw we purchased a few months after we moved into our home has been a wonderful workhorse of a tool, and one we would be lost without. The more complex projects require a tool like a table saw, and the intermediate tasks are typically made easier with it. Though our specific version is no longer available, I love the Jet brand for saws. A good table saw is easily worth it's cost, but it's important to know what you're buying based on your specific needs. The Jet saw we use has not let us down, and we can absolutely recommend the brand. Here are two comparable saws to the one we have. The job site saw is very similar to ours, but not on a base, and the workshop saw is basically the next version up from ours.

Miter Saw

Our sliding arm compound miter saw was one of our very first "big ticket" tool purchases. We knew we'd need it to install crown molding, and we also knew we'd need it for a million and one other projects. We decided to spring for many of the bells and whistles available. Sliding action, guide laser, soft start, compound action, you know, the works. It has been one of the best tool decisions we've made since owning our house. Alex reports that it has worked flawlessly since our initial purchase, has not needed any significant re-calibration or alignment, and has cut like a hot knife though butter since day one (his words). There are many options out there for a good miter saw, but we like the one we went with, that's for sure.

Benchtop Mortiser

This is what we consider a "luxury" tool. We've been doing a fair amount of mortise and tenon joinery over the last few years and this little modified drill press has been a life saver. It's a purpose built tool for cutting mortises and it takes the pain and uncertainty out of attaching an unreliable jig to a drill press. It takes up a bit of room in a shop, but the perfectly square and true mortises that it cuts are worth the sacrifice.

Belt Sander

Alex caved and finally purchased a belt sander least year after abusing his random orbit sander for many years. The belt sander makes short work of the items the orbital sander would take hours to complete. Once we took and plunge and made this purchase, we regretted not doing it much sooner. It would have made some of our more arduous tasks much simpler, and would have saved quite a bit of Alex's cursing.

We hope that this list might give you a few gift ideas for yourself or the DIYer on your shopping list this hoiday season. Especially when starting out, we know the array of tools available can be totally overwhelming. 

Is there an item on your Christmas list that you’re really hoping Santa will put under your tree? Alex has been dropping hints about a new hammer drill and a bench planer for a while now. We’ll just have to see if he’s been naughty or nice.

Comments 6


11/26/2012 at 1:41 PM
My multi-ladder was one of the first things I bought when I bought my house. It has been invaluable and easy to store for those of us without a garage or shed, but...that thing does weigh 30 something pounds. It is not an everyday use ladder for me. I finally invested in a quality step stool to go along with it. Painting the inside of my house this summer would have been (more) exhausting if I had to lug that monster ladder all around!
I know exactly what you mean. This ladder is incredibly functional but weighs a ton. Think of the toned arms we could be sporting if we used this for all our projects! :-)
Karin K
11/26/2012 at 4:28 PM
Very helpful - Thanks! And FYI to anyone interested: the pancake compressor above is on a Lightning Deal at Amazon for the next hour and a half (it is currently 4:27 pm EST on 11/26/12)for $132.99!
Thanks for the heads up on the sale. That's a pretty good bargain for that compressor.
11/27/2012 at 1:19 PM
Love the list.

I just wanted to add (for prospective gift buyers) that I have both the Freud SD208 dado blade and a Harbor Freight dado blade listed below and routinely get identical results from both. However the Harbor Freight blade is often on sale for less than $25.
Thanks for the tip, Mike!
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