Our top 10 tips for buying power tools

Are you thinking of buying power tools for the first time, or maybe upgrading your existing collection?

Or perhaps you’ve got them in mind as the ideal present for the DIYer in the family.

Either way, it may seem like a maze out there, with an immense range to choose from – but here are a few tips to set you on the way to making a good selection.

  1. Get the right tool for the job. Are you confident that you know what you’re looking for? Could you tell the difference between a sander, an angle-grinder, a circular saw or a jigsaw, and describe exactly what each one does? If in doubt, seek advice before you buy. A brilliant introduction to the subject can be found here: http://www.diyfaq.org.uk/powertools/index.htm
  2. Make sure you understand what is and isn’t included. One of the first lessons we all learn in DIY is the frustration when you get home and find you haven’t got what you need. Don’t get so carried away with the prospect of shiny new toys that you ignore the extra blades, bits or sanding belts that aren’t included and that are crucial for you, right now. Also ask questions about battery life and the cost of replacements, especially when they are rechargeable – these can be significant.
  3. Talk to other people. Ask any handy mates, or partners of mates, what they use. Get recommendations off any tradesmen and women you hire. And don’t neglect family members, despite the potential for being told: “I don’t think you want to do it like that…” Take a look at this blog: The Power Tool Geek. (You’ll have to make a mental adjustment for the fact it’s US-based – but still lots of useful tips there!)
  4. Plug-in vs cordless. In a nutshell, plug-in tools are cheaper, more powerful and much more convenient to run – so long as you’re in range of a socket. Cordless tools, on the other hand, can be taken anywhere and don’t leave you struggling to reach things or avoid getting caught up in the cable. They are also sometimes less bulky and therefore easier to get into those tight, inconvenient little corners that every job seems to throw up. After that, it’s up to you – as ever, consider the kind of jobs you expect to do and assess which best meets your needs. The first cordless tool in your toolbox should definitely be a drill/driver.
  5. Branded vs own-brand tools. Many big-name DIY retailers, such as B&Q or Wickes, stock own-brand power tools. Popular brands in the UK include Erbauer, DeWalt, Makita, Black & Decker, Ryobi, Trend and Hitachi. So, which should you opt for? Well, the choice is very large but we would counsel keeping sight of your goal – basic tools, not loaded down with unnecessary features, which are sturdy, right for the job and good value for money. And you also need to ask how much you will be demanding of them – intense, heavy-duty use such as may occur during a long project will probably call for quite a different set of criteria from occasional home repair use. For some advice on understanding how the market works, read this article: UK.D-I-Y FAQ: Power tool categories and brands
  6. Kit yourself out with the basics. Don’t run before you can walk. A basic set of power tools might include a decent electric drill or cordless drill/driver, a circular saw and maybe a cordless screwdriver if your kit doesn’t do the job already. This will be more than adequate to find your feet with, and will give you a chance to find out what you do and don’t like to use. The wonderful world of belt sanders, tile cutters, planers, grinders and mitre saws awaits – but don’t get ahead of yourself and spend a heap of cash on these more specialist items until you actually find yourself needing them.
  7. Don’t buy more than you actually need. Keep your head when you’re standing there talking to that nice, well-informed assistant. This is not a new car or the latest iPod. No-one’s going to agree to come on a date with you because your drill has two-speed variable and reverse settings, 17 options for torque or all-metal gearing. (Or, if they do, they are very, very odd and you may have problems we can’t advise you on.) Ask for help in the shop to find exactly what you need. Better to use it happily and upgrade when necessary than be so intimidated that you’ll never take the damn thing out of the box.
  8. Think about storage. Your tools will need to be stored in a place where they can’t cause a hazard, for example by cutting or falling on someone, or hurt inquisitive children or pets. They also need to be secure – leave them in an unlocked shed by a scaleable garden wall, for example, and they’ll be stolen before you even get round to using them. We shouldn’t need to point out that electrical equipment is best stored somewhere dry and relatively dust-free. You may want to consider getting some extra garage shelving units especially for them or even a lockable storage box.
  9. Keep an eye open for labour-savers and safety features. Check what safety features come as standard – and learn how to use them. For example, some cutting tools come with two-handed operation to save you from reaching into the blade. A circuit breaker, or RCD plug, can be a life-saving investment designed to prevent electrocution from a damaged cable. Never skimp on things like eye protectors and dust masks if the job demands them. Make sure you consider the safety aspects of any job and act accordingly. There are now rules regarding electrical work, for example, that you must observe to comply with the building regulations. And don’t forget those items that will simply make your life easier – a good stepladder that you feel happy using and that prevents you having to stretch, a decent workbench and an adequate extension cord.
  10. And finally… have fun! It’s an old cliché, but a true one, that there’s nothing so satisfying as a job well done. You’ve probably started out down the DIY road because you think it’s something you’ll find enjoyable and satisfying – so don’t make your life a chore. Choose tools that are up to the job, that’ll help and not hinder and, perhaps most important of all, that you will be comfortable using. This is the secret of a truly long partnership and the road to DIY success.