more must-have tools

Marian Parsonswoodworking34 Comments

Any time you see this logo on a post…


…it means that the post is written by Jeff and it’s about the behind-the-scenes stuff that happens in our workshop.  We’re talking tools, setting up a workshop, furniture repair, designing & building built-ins and freestanding furniture and all of the other crazy things I ask Jeff to do for me.  I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from my other half on occasion.  He’s been talking tools lately, but I know he has some great tutorial ideas brewing.  In this post, he’s rounding out the top seven most useful tools…


I thought I’d continue discussing my most indispensable tools by offering numbers four through seven. After recently posting my top three, I felt more needed to be said about some other tools that have been enormously helpful in completing projects.

Because I’m such a swell guy, here is a brief recap of the top three. Keep in mind that drills don’t count.

1. Compound Sliding Miter Saw. So versatile and functional. I wouldn’t say it’s my “favorite” tool, but since I use it on just about every project I do, it has to be numero uno on the “most indispensable” list.
2. Clamps. Perhaps it sounds like a boring pick for the top three, but there it is. Two words: extra hands. Anyone who fixes up old furniture smells what I’m cookin’.
3. Table Saw. Centerpiece of most woodworking shops. Rips, crosscuts, dadoes; it can be used for so much. With a well constructed crosscut/miter sled (a future video tutorial, perhaps?), you can do even more with it. Truly an indispensable tool for me.

So that’s where we left off. Here are numbers four through seven.


4. Nailers. I tacked an “s” on the end because I generally use two types of nailers. The first is a pneumatic (air) nailer that hooks up to an air compressor. Mine is an 18 gauge brad nailer that hooks up to a small compressor that I got on sale at Lowe’s a long time ago. Mine is a Porter Cable, but there are many good ones out there. I’ll probably look to upgrade when I move into a new shop space. 18 gauge brads are small pin-like nails and run anywhere from 5/8” to 2” long. I use the brad nailer whenever I’m working on more delicate projects such as drawer repairs or attaching a face frame to a cabinet. The brad nailer leaves a much smaller hole than the larger nailers, which makes for easier filling…

Miss Mustard Seed-8324

My other nailer, which I use for so many different applications, is a finishing nailer. Mine is a DeWalt 18V cordless electric model and it shoots 16 gauge nails which are larger and stronger than brads. I love this tool! If I was doing a list of top three tools I would hate to part with, this one would definitely be on it. If you have one then you know whereof I speak—this thing is so useful. One of my favorite ways to use it is to pop a nail into a piece of wood to hold it in place and then I come back later and drive the screws—in this way it’s like having an extra person to help you hold something. The uses of this tool are too numerous to list, but it is incredibly convenient and time saving when doing any kind of trim work or finishing (like the planked ceiling in our bedroom or the wainscoting in the family room.) One thing it is not, however, is cheap. Plan on dropping around $300 on a new one. But if you can swing it, then it is, in my humble opinion, money well spent.

Miss Mustard Seed-8325



5. Combo Square. Some of you may think that this one shouldn’t count as a tool. To be honest, I’m not sure it should, either. I’ve included it, though, because I do most of my measuring and marking with it. To those of you who are new to building things, especially things with corners and right angles, measuring and marking is fairly important. The combo square is highly functional. It seems like I am always learning something new about it, some new use for it that I had never considered before. I use it for everything from drawing straight lines to setting the height of my table saw blade or the depth of a router bit. So often when I’m working on projects I’ll stop and ask one of three questions: Where did I put my tape measure, where did I leave my pencil, or where did I leave my combo square. It’s on pencil level, people! It’s that important. To prevent losing things, I suppose I could wear an apron. The only problem with that is I’d be wearing an apron.

Miss Mustard Seed-8323



6. Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. I think I can safely say that no tool has revolutionized my workflow more than this one. Thanks to the Kreg pocket hole system, I can do now in three or four hours what it used to take me a full day—sometimes two—to accomplish. Building a cabinet face frame, for example, used to look like this: cut pieces to size, lay pieces out on a large work surface, formulate a clamping strategy (no small feat, I assure you), glue up pieces making sure all surfaces are flush and all corners are ninety degrees, clamp it all in place, wipe up the squeeze-out, double check that all surfaces are flush and all corners are ninety degrees, wipe up the sqeeze-out that occurred while I was double-checking the corners, then walk away for 4-6 hours while it dried. Then one day, I watched master craftsman Norm Abram on The New Yankee Workshop (one of my favorite programs of all time) using the new Kreg pocket hole jig on a project. It was love at first sight. I bought one, and that’s when the magic happened. Here’s what my cabinet face frame workflow looks like now: cut pieces to size, lay pieces out on a large work surface, draw marks (with my combo square!) to indicate where pieces are to be joined, drill pilot holes on the jig, screw pieces together, done! No clamping strategies, no glue clean up, no waiting for glue to dry. You end up with flush, tight, strong face frames in a fraction of the time. I spent about $200 getting set up with the jig and plenty of extra screws. So worth it! Sorry this sounds like a commercial, but I mean every word.

Miss Mustard Seed-8331

Miss Mustard Seed--3


7. Circular Saw. This, too, is incredibly diverse and functional. I have an old Craftsman middle-of-the-road model that has been running strong for years. This is an indispensable tool for those who do not have a dedicated workspace large enough to accommodate a table saw or a sliding miter saw. For those in town homes and apartments, this would probably be your go-to saw since it will make just about all the cuts and stores easily. I use my circular saw quite a bit. My one issue with it is that it creates a lot of dust. Don’t think so? Try cutting a full sheet of MDF in a basement with one, then let’s talk.

Miss Mustard Seed-8332

Note: I predict that my next “love at first sight” moment with a tool will be with a track saw. Though I have never used one, I have seen them and they are impressive. I am strongly drawn to the fact that they are built with dust collection in mind. The price tag (over a thousand bucks) is making me hesitate for now, but it won’t be long. Hear that, Marian?


Jeff, hon.  If you build me things, you can have whatever tools you want.  Amen, ladies?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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34 Comments on “more must-have tools”

  1. A Kreg Pocket Hole Jig, huh? I always wondered how to make those angled holes for screws. You do great work. Since my husband is busy playing golf or fishing in his free time, I will have to learn to do this stuff myself. I am looking forward to your tutorials!

    1. Not to take anything away from Jeff because he is giving us great advice you might want to look at “Addicted 2 Decorating”. Kristi, the blogger, uses the Kreg jig and has some awesome tutorials.

  2. Jeff, I agree with all your picks. Wish we had the kreg, but hubs doesn’t do much woodworking lately, so can’t justify buying one. 🙁 And I agree Marian, as long as we benefit, they can have any tool they want! And we get OUR toys the same way! 😉
    Glad you got the site running today!

  3. Thanks for the tips Jeff! We can see how much work in the background gets done by you it beautify both the house and furniture, so getting your opinion on the important tools to help achieve the job is fantastic! I especially liked the explanation on the nailers as have found them them confusing in the past. Even though you have not included a ‘drill’ in this article, we bought ours a couple of years ago based on the one you and your wife recommended and we’ve been so happy with it. Both you and Marion make an awesome team! Love it!!!

  4. I love it: If they’ll build it tools will come!
    Thanks for explaining why each tool is important to you. You have helped with my Christmas list. Just like others, I’m looking forward to your tutorials about the perspiration before Miss Mustard Seed can work her inspiration on some pieces ; )
    Have a lovely 4th!

  5. What a great post! I have to admit, I usually glaze over whenever the words 16 gauge are written. Your humor and the pictures really helped!! Look forward to the next one.

  6. So glad this will be a regular feature–with a logo and everything! You guys are adorable together. My husband is very handy, too (only tool we don’t have from this list is a Kreg Jig). I have dreams about us working together one day also!

  7. Jeff,
    If I can get a new tool or two to get a project done my wife just chalks it up to the cost of the project.
    My wife’s main complaint about my tools is the amount of dust I make and how it is “everywhere”.


    1. Jeff and Rick, I recently invested a few bucks in some dust collection equipment and it has made a world of difference. My “shop” is in an unused office about 18 x 18 in the back of my office building. I bought a used Jet dust collector (650 CFM) and some ducting, as well as an Oneida Cyclone to attach to my shop vac. I put many feet of 4″ galvanized duct work around the ceiling of my shop and dropped flex lines down to each piece of equipment. I also pull the shop vac/cyclone combo over to tools that aren’t connected to the dust collector and locate the hose near where the dust and shavings are being generated. It is definitely worth the trouble. All in all, I probably spent less than $400.00 but the dust level in my shop has decreased dramatically. Less cleanup required and I can breathe!

      1. Dave, sounds nice! I’d love to see pics. I use a Jet air filtration system and a 1 3/4 HP Delta dust collector. It does the trick pretty well. I installed all flex hose, but I wish I had gone with PVC or metal duct work like you did.


    2. I hear you, Rick. When we lived in a tiny town house, I did most of my woodworking on our deck. Obviously I did not need to worry about dust collection out there as most of my dust probably ended up on the neighbor’s screens. Then I moved into a basement workshop and I realized how important dust collection is. Where is your workshop space located?


  8. Great list! We’re still in that phase of borrowing tools from friends and family, but we really need to start buying these things on our own.

  9. Thank you so much for these great posts! I have a question, as someone who doesn’t know ANYTHING about tools… I would love to have wainscoting and board and batten in different parts of our house. What would be the best saw for such projects? I’m kind of hoping we don’t need to buy three different ones…

    1. You definitely want a compound mitre saw. That will make the cuts you need for just about any trim you want to do.

  10. Thanks Marian! You are so kind and generous to show how you create things! Praying you have a blessed day!!!! Thank you again!

  11. Well timed. I was just thinking yesterday that I enjoyed your husband’s last article so much I wish he would write another and here it is. I found this as helpful as the last one. Thanks.

    I’m slowly adding tools to my garage and the list is helpful. Any little “tricks” for fixing stuff would be greatly appreciated. For example, how to fix and patch veneer. I find nice stuff but many times the veneer has lifted and chipped away. It would be nice to know how to repair that.

  12. Great post. I appreciated hearing the “why” behind the choices. Birthday, Christmas, and Mother’s Day this momma is given another power tool. Happy, happy! And I LOVE my Kreg jig. Practical, time-saver, and just plain fun to use!

    1. Carla, I will try to get a post with a video tutorial up by next week. It is such a wonderful tool with so many uses!

  13. I’m a bit of a tool dork and I missed the first post. What are Rips and Dadoes? types of cuts or another way of saying “doodads”?? I read it and all I hear is “maybe it’s time to head to Goodwill and hunt for some Ironstone”?! Sorry 🙁 If my hubs was home he could probably tell me but he’s not!

  14. Amen – sista! Totally read your whole post to my husband, over breakfast. He’s drooling. LOL. Enjoying Jeff’s posts and I pass them on to Marty, who then uses it like a Christmas/Birthday/Father’s Day wish list! Like you said, if he’s going to build me things, he can have the tools …

  15. thank you jeff and marian! these are our fav too!!!
    i have a question – if i have space for only one of either a sliding miter saw or a table saw, which one would be more versatile? would a table saw do more than a miter?
    happy 4th of july!

  16. Have you purchased a trac saw yet? My husband has the DeWalt jobbie trac saw. We have 2 sets of tracs too. 1 set for the garage & 1 set for the “shed”. I’m his only help and we do a lot of BIG projects. Like BUILDING the shed. While it’s a costly tool, it’s wonderful! Tear-out is nearly non existant – and if you really have to, you can cut a 8 foot peice of plywood on the long side all by yourself! And i had to multiple times for the roof sheeting – getting it up to him was a whole nother matter!


  17. I think brad nailer is very necessary for carpenters and electric workers. Besides that even for our home or office improvement, we must need a nailer.



    Love your blog!!!! You are so inspiring. Can you please tell me what kind of gun you use for upholstery please. I’ve been using a staple gun or hammer and small tacks and I know I need something much better. Yours seems to work so easily.

    Thank you,
    ~Debra Germain

  19. Thank you, you did a good work! There is a reason why I choose dewalt. They practically gave this drill set away. A must have for any household. great for standard projects. Bump up to the impact models if your gonna build a barn.

  20. Marian,

    I think you need to clone your husband! If successful I will order five. I could use a man or 5 like him about now. You’re a lucky lady.

  21. Ha! I feel the same way: If you build me things, get whatever tool you need to do it….within reason of course. We’re moving from an 18 year old house into a 120 year house, and although we have movers for the contents of our home, hubby insists on renting his own truck, to move his tools. He won’t trust them to anyone! Whatever, honey, just make me stuff!

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