Every Tool You Need to Work Side Jobs as a Carpenter
Considering a side gig as a carpenter? Make sure you have these essential carpentry tools.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Taking accurate measurements is an essential part of any carpentry project, and a good carpenter is rarely without a reliable tape measure. Yours should be robust enough to provide accurate measurements regardless of the work and weather conditions, so a pro-grade measuring tape will have:
- A protective coating over the measuring blade to resist warping, bending and breaking;
- A sturdy blade hook that doesn’t stretch or move too much when it’s hooked onto the material you’re measuring;
- Sturdy housing that’s comfortable to hold and won’t be damaged or broken if dropped.
Although a hammer may seem obvious, there are some essential features a carpenter should look for in a reliable general-purpose hammer. Get one with a smooth-face head so it can be used for framing along with finish carpentry, instead of a milled head framing hammer that leaves ugly marks after driving a nail flush into the wood.
A hammer’s weight is also important. A 16-ounce hammer offers plenty of nail-driving power without causing fatigue. An ergonomic and shock-absorbing handle will also help reduce strain from repeated hammering.
Carpentry doesn’t just involve driving nails into wood; it also requires removing nails when mistakes are made, or during demolition. Although the claw on your hammer is great for removing nails with exposed heads, a cat’s paw nail puller helps yank those nails driven flush into the wood. A cat’s paw features a claw on each end (one with a 90-degree bend and the other without a bend) so you can grab nail heads at different angles.
Cat’s paws are available in various sizes, but the eight- and 12-inch models are the most versatile.
A carpenter’s square (a.k.a. Speed Square, for the tool made by the Swanson Tool Co.) measures and marks angles between 0 and 90 degrees. It’s typically used for quickly marking perpendicular (90-degree) angles on framing lumber to ensure square cuts.
Some carpenters use it as a guide for their circular saw to make perfectly square cuts without marking the board by running the edge of the saw’s baseplate along the vertical edge of the square. Along with that, a carpenter’s square is used to find and mark angles when working on roofs, stairs or any other angled material.
Levels are absolutely essential for ensuring the structure you’re working on is truly horizontal (level) and vertical (plumb) when installing shelving or cabinets, framing walls and other carpentry tasks.
While there are several types of levels, the spirit level is the most commonly used. They consist of three liquid-filled tubes with an air bubble inside. When the bubble is between the two marks on the tube, that indicates level (when held horizontally), plumb (when held vertically) and level at 45 degrees (when held diagonally).
These tubes are installed onto a straight-edged shaft of varying lengths, and the length of the shaft will dictate the accuracy of the reading. As a result, a nine-inch torpedo, a 24-inch and a 48-inch will cover you for most projects.
From drilling pilot holes for nails and screws to boring out large ones with a hole saw, no carpenter can be without a good cordless drill. Depending on the bits, you can drill through wood, metal and plastic. If you get a drill with a hammer feature, you can also drill into concrete and masonry. Some drills have LED lights for illuminating the workspace, and a belt clip for keeping it readily accessible.
Along with drilling, these tools can also be used to drive screws if the appropriate bit is installed, though they lack the driving torque of an impact driver.
Where drills specialize in drilling holes, impact drivers specialize in driving screws. An impact driver generates considerably more torque than a conventional drill, so it drives fasteners with greater speed and ease. An impact driver also requires special bits rated to withstand the additional torque stress, and has a hex shank base that locks into the driver.
You also can drill with an impact driver by using drill bits specifically made for impact drivers. These bits are more expensive than conventional drill bits and often aren’t suitable for the precision drilling required in finish carpentry.
A circular saw is a carpenter’s go-to construction cutting tool. They’re available in multiple sizes to accommodate different blade diameters, with 7-1/4-inches the most common. A circular saw can be used with blades of varying teeth quantities to make finer or rougher cuts, with more teeth generally equating to cleaner and more precise cuts.
A skilled carpenter can use a handheld circular saw in place of bulkier and more expensive tools like a miter saw or table saw, which makes it an incredibly versatile cutting instrument.
Just as the circular saw is a carpenter’s construction tool of choice, the reciprocating saw is their destruction tool of choice. You can use a reciprocating saw to cut through practically any material, including wood, drywall, metal and nails, depending on the blade that’s installed.
A recip saw can also be used in place of a jigsaw for making curved cuts in plywood, and in place of a circular saw to make square cuts through thick lumber.
As the name implies, an oscillating multi-tool serves multiple functions, like cutting, scraping and sanding. Carpenters most commonly use this tool for making precision cuts that other saws can’t.
Just like a reciprocating saw, you can also cut through various materials, including wood, metal, tile and plastic, depending on the blade. Multi-tools often feature quick-release heads to easily swap out blades, change the blade angle for accessing hard-to-reach spaces, and for adding compatible accessories like sanders and scrapers.
No list of carpentry essentials would be complete without a carpenter’s tool belt, often simply referred to as “bags.” These belts are designed to keep a carpenter’s essential tools on hand. The best ones feature a pocket for your tape measure, several pouches for nails and screws, a loop for your hammer and nail puller, a pouch for your square, and several more pockets for tools of your choosing.
Tool belts are traditionally worn around the waist, but many come with suspenders to evenly distribute the weight to help reduce back strain. Some belts also feature carrying handles so they can be transported around your worksite like a regular tool bag if you don’t feel like wearing it.