You can tell a lot about a carpenter when you look into their tool bag.  A mechanic is only as good as the tools to help them get the job done.  Now that doesn't mean they have to have all brand new top of the line stuff.  In fact, if I look into a guys bag or van and see all brand new tools I run the other direction!

People look at my tools and probably have passing thoughts as to how beat up they are.  But lets be honest, I have some tools that have been handed down to me from other generations that work just as good, if not better than some of the new stuff on the market.  With that said I put a list together of the top 10 must haves for your tool bag.  Some are much pricer than others, but remember, you don't need the most expensive or flashy tools.  You just need the tools that help you get the job done and make you feel good about what you accomplish every day.  Price ranges below reflect the general tool, not the specified model in the description.

1 - 30 Foot Tape -

We all fall into the 25' measuring tape trap.  They're light and stores always price them at $9.98 so why not just toss one in the cart? (I still fall victim all the time...) But then we get on the job and that really important measurement you need when you are 10 feet high and balancing over an edge is always JUST over 25 feet!  The extra 5 feet will pay off in the worst of situations, trusts me!  I always choose to go with the simple Powerlock model from Stanley.  They're always dependable, affordable and when your's gets grabbed by someone by accident you will be glad you didn't spend $35 on it...  Price Range $15 - $50


2 - Nail Punch Kit - 

Nail punches are nail punches.  As long as you have a variety of sizes you should be good to go.  But not having them can be a nightmare.  A 16D nail can due in a pinch but man it is nice to have a solid steel punch when the time calls for it.  Price Range $5 - $30

3 - End Nippers (also called Dikes if you are old school...) - 

If you do any finish work at all these are by far the most useful plier in your bag.  These are perfect for those pesky gun nails that decided to bend over, or to pull nails out of the back side of a piece of trim so you don't damage the front.  Can you do the same with Chanellocks or vice grips?  Sure.  But these cause less damage and allow you to get in tighter spots.  Price Range $10 - $30

4 - Combination Square - 

One of the most useful tools in the strangest situations is the combination square.  You won't think this will get used much, but once you have one it will be out of the bag every day.  The adjustable length allows you to set the ruler for exact measurements.  It also allows you to replicate the measurement perfectly time after time once it is set.  The built in level comes in handy when you never expect it, or just don't feel like running to the truck for your other level!  Price Range $7 - $20

5  - Stilleto Hammer - 

Okay so the first time I saw this $90 HAMMER I thought my business partner Mike was out of his mind.  $90!  Thats crazy!  But then I used it.  The Stilleto Titanium hammer is fractions of the weight of a traditional striker, but thanks to the dense nature of the material has the same, (if not harder,) impact on your subject matter.  Seriously, this thing feels like a feather but packs a serious hit.  Perfect for those who have bad elbows or just need to get through a full day of hammering without feeling like their arm is going to fall off.   Price Range $75- $230 (yeah you read that right...)

6 - Utility Knife -

The key to so many tasks is the simple utility knife.  You can buy so many fancy versions but at the end of the day they all do the same thing.  Cut stuff!  But you will also depend on this trusty tool to pick grout out of a corner, score something when you don't have a pencil, cut sheetrock, split a bagel at coffee break... you name it.  By far the most used tool in the bag!  Price Range $5 - $30

7 - Pencil Scribe - 

The scribe is not used often but when you need one it is worth its weight in gold.  If you are as OCD as me you hate when things don't line up or fit perfectly with finish work.  The scribe allows you to make that perfect mark so that your OCD can be rest assured it will fit perfectly.  Price Range $5 - $50 

8 - Non Contact Voltage Tester - 

Anyone that works with me knows I HATE wires.  But man am I good at ripping them out of houses during demo.  The key to staying safe and making sure you don't get zapped or cause a fire is to make sure the wires are dead before you tear them out.  (duh...)  A Non Contact Voltage Tester will beep and light up when in contact with the outer sheath of a wire that is hot.  This way you can be 100% sure you will not be zapped when you hit that electrical box with a sledge hammer!  Price Range $15 - 45

9 - Folding Wood Ruler -

Every time someone sees this thing they take a double take.  My dad swears by the stick ruler and for a long time I avoided it.  Why use this stiff old school ruler when you have fast and simple metal tapes??  The truth is these things are AWESOME.  They fit neatly in your back pocket and let you get a perfect measurement every time.  The metal tips on tapes get worn out and can vary by up to 1/8".  You can't argue with a folding wood ruler.  They are always right.  Be sure to not cheap out and buy the version with the extension on the end.  The extension comes in handy when you want to get an exact inside dimension.  Just trust me and be ready for the "old school" comments... Price Range $13 - $30

10 - Speed Square - 

I saved the most simple and best for last.  The speed square is by far the key to any good framer or carpenter.  They are light, always right, easy to use and fit in your back pocket.  They make perfect 90 and 45 degree marks, but do a lot more than people realize.  The speed square combines what a combination, framing and try square do into one triangular version.  Using the measurements printed on the sides you can reference any framing book and mark any type of cut with this square.  Price Range $7 - $17