Last year I wrote a post about 10 great tools under $50 and it was a huge hit. So this year I’m back just in time for the holidays with a revised list that contains some my all time favorites and some new discoveries that have recently become indispensable elements of my tool belt.
Not every awesome tool needs to cost a lot. Some of my favorite and most useful tools are things that have cost me the least and last the longest. Check out these winners that check the box of being super useful and super affordable.
I had to list this one first because it has been a total game changer for the work I do. With this handy little tool I no longer need a hammer and nail set because this baby is a spring loaded nail set. I use it to set nails below the surface, punch pilot holes in wood or weatherstripping, or even punch hinge pins out of hinges. It’s strong, versatile, and hard to kill.
When it comes to removing parting bead on double-hung windows there really isn’t another choice for me. Everything else tears the parting bead into pieces making the work more difficult. So I set out to make my own tool based on sheet metal pliers that grabs the parting bead with a wide grip and gets it out in short order.
I don’t know exactly what “end cutting” is, but for me this inexpensive tool has lasted years in my tool belt and I use it for several pivotal tasks in restoration like pulling nails without marring the surface and cutting sash rope. It’s also strong enough to cut through nails, wires, thin pieces of wood or anything else I may find the need to cut or otherwise mangle.
I hate scraping paint, but when I do it’s almost always using a ProScraper. Its 2” reversible carbide blade and hollow body design allows me to hook it up to a vacuum so my paint scrapings are safely contained and don’t end up on the table or my client’s floors. For anyone dealing with lead paint it’s a must.
I have a major problem with slotted screws unlike a lot of preservationists. They are a pain to deal with and strip so easily. Then I found an antique yankee screwdriver and I changed my tune. This vintage tool is a screwdriver on steroids that makes driving screws without an impact driver a breeze. It’s an old technology that still work great today so I find them where I can, restore them, and sell them in my store.
I used to buy standard glass cutters by the dozen. They would last me a couple weeks and then get dull and go in the trash. Then in 2014 I bought a carbide glass cutter and I haven’t had to buy another one since. This model glass cutter comes with a carbide cutting wheel that has continued to cut cleanly and consistently for years. It also has a reservoir for cutting oil which extends the life of the cutter. At this point I’m beginning to wonder if this thing is immortal.
If you have a tool belt the first thing you should buy is a tape measure and the second is a speed square. The versatility of this little tool that last for generations is incredible. At its simplest you can use it to draw perfectly straight lines, in more complex uses I can space my cuts perfectly for framing, mark rafter angles, draw any angle, or use it as a guide for my circular saw. It’s so incredible if you buy a quality metal speed square. Don’t skimp and go with plastic or you’ll regret it.
Old houses are notoriously not square. When I’m installing trim, or repairing window sills, or any number of other tasks where I am dealing with imperfect angles then my T-bevel is incredibly useful to know how to match that imperfection. You can match any angle, lock it in place and then transfer that mark to your board or you can check what the angle is by reading the gauge and then set your saw to that angle.
Maybe you’re not a vintage tool guy like me with the Yankee Screwdriver, but you still want something more than a standard screwdriver. If that’s the case, then this is the best I have found. You get a ratcheting screwdriver that has held up better than most I have tried and this one comes with bits conveniently stored in the handle. In case you lose the bits you can use most standard driver bits to make this tool immensely compatible for any and every job.
I love simple tools and this one is about as simple as it gets. It’s a magnet with a colorful little toggle on it that pops into place when it’s placed over something metal. This simplifies the trouble of finding (and paying for) a stud finder that works on plaster walls which are notoriously difficult to detect studs. This little magnet detects the drywall screws or the lath nails in the studs making stud detection dummy proof. And you’ll never need batteries!
I’m constantly prying things open in old houses, but I don’t do HGTV demo where a mega pry bar is needed. For prying windows open, removing baseboards, trim, stops, or floor boards my molding pry bar is the go to tool for me. One side has the slim line prying side to slide behind things without damaging them, and the other side has the cat’s paw which will dig out old nails or help tear apart things when I have had enough and finally decide to destroy the item to get it to move.
If you want the ultimate nail puller that won’t cut through small wire nails (18 ga and smaller) then this the nail puller you need. With its rolling action it doesn’t mar the wood surface and unlike other nail pullers there is literally zero chance you will cut through the nail while pulling it.
When I’m installing hardware, cabinet parts, door hinges or anything else that need to have a precise fit I really rely on my self-centering drill bits. The last thing you need is a pre-drilled hole that is off just slightly resulting in a screw head that won’t sit flush or moves your hardware just enough that things don’t line up. With three sizes this set fits most applications for me and I rarely need anything else for a smooth install.
This one isn’t a tool per se, but holy cow, when I found this I was like “WHAT?!?” This handy little shim allows you to insert it behind a door hinge to get just the right fit and reveal on your door without removing the hinge. Simply loosen the screws and insert this hinge shim as needed then tighten the screws back down. Now I can fit a door or casement windows in half the time and get a perfectly even reveal. Cut off the excess with a razor knife and no one will ever know. They’ll just think you’re a door wizard.
These tools are all great choices for any DIYer or homeowner. Hopefully, you’ve got some great tool options to up your old house game now and keep your wallet from being emptied at the same time.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.