The Favorite Tools of Pro Tradespeople
We talked to a collection of professionals across the trades to learn which tools they rely on most on the job.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.
Chisel and Plane Sharpener
Pro: Dave Munkittrick, Woodworker
Like most woodworkers, Dave Munkittrick relies on sharp chisels and planes for his livelihood. He has a large collection of sharpening tools, but his favorite sharpening device is the WorkSharp system, which sharpens chisels and plane blades quickly with no mess. The best part is that you don’t need any practice to get a razor-sharp edge.
“I used to put off sharpening because it was such a hassle,” said Dave. “With this machine, sharpening is a quick task, not a project.”
Pro: Costas Stavrou, Appliance Repair
Costas has a ton of cool specialty tools for appliance repairs, but his Dremel tool is the one that often gets him out of binds. Costas fits his Dremel with an abrasive cutoff wheel to remove the heads from stuck sheet metal screws, cut through rusted-on laundry hoses and remove corroded appliance parts.
“This little tool has gotten me out of some bad jams,” said Costas.
Pro: Jeff Tim, Landscaper
When Jeff Timm installs paver patios and driveways, he focuses on top-quality workmanship in the most efficient way possible. This giant triangle is perfect because it allows him to quickly and accurately chalk square layout lines. He could do the same thing using the 3-4-5 triangle method, but this is faster. Just align the chalk line with the edge of the triangle and snap the line. The triangle folds to take up less room in the truck.
Do-Everything Electrical Tester
Pro: Al Hildenbrand, Master Electrician
Al Hildenbrand has several favorite tools, but the one dearest to his heart and the workhorse of his stable is the Greenlee GT-95 electrical tester. It’s durable and easy to use. The feature that sold Al was the ability to test for a hot wire without the need for a known ground. You simply hold the tester in your hand and touch one probe to the wire you want to test. Push the test button to see if the wire is hot. The GT-95 also features a GFCI tester, a non-contact voltage tester and a continuity tester in addition to a digital and LED display for reading voltage.
Pro: Bill Nunn, Painter
Bill vacuums everything before he paints it. He thinks the brushes that come with shop vacuums are too stiff, though. “They can scratch the surface and don’t pick up fine dust.” That’s why he replaced the dusting brush on his shop vacuum with a horsehair brush, which he got for $8 at a vacuum cleaner shop.
“Tack rags are good, but you need to vacuum to get a really smooth finish,” said Bill.
Kirk’s Helping Hand
Pro: Kirk Erickson, Woodworker
When you use a router table or shaper to produce a decorative edge, it’s critical to simultaneously press the board down and into the fence while you’re pushing it forward. Kirk discovered that Board Buddies are perfect for this task. The rollers are shaped to push in and down, and are available in three versions: clockwise, counterclockwise and freewheeling. If you want to provide anti-kickback safety as well, choose a one-way roller.
Les’s Quick Cutter
Pro: Les Zell, Master Plumber
Plumbers spend a lot of time cutting copper pipe, so it’s not surprising that one of Les’s favorite tools is a tubing cutter— but not just any tubing cutter. The one Les likes the most doesn’t require any adjusting—you just slip it over the copper tube and spin it to cut.
“I’ve tried other tubing cutters, but they just don’t last,” said Les.
Diamond Hole Saw
Pro: Dean Sorem, Tile Setter
Diamond hole saws are no secret to tile setters like Dean Sorem. But what’s surprising is that you can buy one for around $20. Diamond grits embedded in the perimeter of the hole saw cut through tough materials like stone and porcelain tile, making short work of what used to be a difficult task. The 1/4-in. hole saw is really handy if you need to drill mounting holes in tile for grab bars or other fixtures. The bit we purchased included a guide and a bottom seal that allows you to contain a pool of water around the bit to keep it cool and eliminate dust.