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Best Tools of the Pros: The Secret Weapons

Favorite tools that make jobs easier, faster and more enjoyable

FH10NOV_SECWEA_01-2Family Handyman
Here are favorite tools of landscapers, electricians, tile setters, woodworkers and other pros that make their jobs faster, easier and better.

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Tool 1: Super-simple sharpener

Chisel and plane sharpener

This sharpener grinds quickly and easily without making a mess.

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 shown here, 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. The WS 2000 shown costs $100 at home centers and online.

Dave Says, “I used to put off sharpening because it was such a hassle. With this machine, sharpening is a quick task, not a project.”

Meet a Pro! Dave Munkittrick, Woodworker

Dave gave up his career as a commercial pilot to become a woodworker. He’s been building cabinets and furniture for 20 years.

Tool 2: Costas’s mini-cutter


This Dremel tool has an abrasive cutoff wheel bit.

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.

Costas says, “This little tool has gotten me out of some bad jams.”

Meet a Pro! Costas Stavrou, Appliance Repair

Costas worked in his dad’s appliance shop in Cyprus before starting his appliance repair business in the United States. He’s been at it for 28 years.

Tool 3: Time-saving triangle

Folding giant triangle

The large triangle speeds up landscape paver layouts.

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.

The Asquare folding triangle is available online for about $60. Search for “asquare folding triangle.” One source is

Meet a Pro! Jeff Timm, Landscaper

When Jeff isn’t installing stone and brick landscaping, he’s doing home projects like building a two-story dream garage.

Tool 4: Jeff’s boot saver

Boot saver

A coating of boot saver protects the toes of these work boots.

Jeff is hard on boots. Unfortunately, the dirt, gravel, stones and pavers chew up the toe box before the rest of the boot wears out. But he found a solution. He coats the toes of his boots with Boot Guard, and it really works. With a $12 investment, you can save your favorite $100 work boots from premature death. Look for Boot Guard at a shoe store or order online at

Tool 5: Do-everything electrical tester

Electrical tester

This durable tester checks for a host of electrical problems.

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.

The GT-95 costs about $80 online, but it’s the only tester you’re likely to need. And it’ll last a lifetime.

Meet a Pro! Al Hildenbrand, Master Electrician

Al is an electrical engineer who, after a brief stint behind the desk, decided he’d rather be wiring than computing. So he became a master electrician and has been wiring ever since.

Tool 6: No-scratch duster

Horsehair vacuum brush

Use a soft brush to vacuum dust before applying varnish or stain.

Bill Nunn says, “Tack rags are good, but you need to vacuum to get a really smooth finish.” 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. Take your hose and wand along with you to find a brush that fits. No vacuum cleaner shop near you? Search online for “horsehair vacuum cleaner brush.”

Meet a Pro! Bill Nunn, Painter

Bill owns a painting company that specializes in top-quality, hand-painted finishes. He’s been painting for more than 35 years.

Tool 7: Bill’s secret to super-smooth finishes

Cone filter stand

The stand simplifies paint and varnish straining, which is necessary to achieve a smooth finish.

Bill has two favorite tools for helping him achieve a flawless finish. One is this handy cone filter stand Bill picked up at a paint store many years ago. The other is mesh socks, available at paint stores and home centers, to strain latex paint before using it.

Buy a strainer stand like this for $10.50 at Enter “PST-0639” in the search box.

Tool 8: Terry’s magic dirt drill

Borit tool

Connect a drill and garden hose to the cylinder. Then thread on a length of pipe and screw the boring bit to the end. Water lubricates the bit as it bores through the ground.

If you’ve ever had to run a wire or pipe under a sidewalk or driveway, you know there aren’t many easy options. But Terry discovered this unique tool that solves the problem. Terry says, “The Borit tool saved me and my customers the expense and mess of trenching through gardens and busting up driveways.”

You can buy the tool online ($200 to $265) and see a video of the Borit in action at

Meet a Pro! Terry Boylan, Plumber

Before retiring to build, tinker and help us out as a Field Editor, Terry worked as a master plumber for more than 25 years.

Tool 9: Kirk’s helping hand

Hold-down rollers

These rollers clamp the board against the table and fence while you run the board through a table saw or router.

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.

If you can’t find Board Buddies at a local woodworking store, look for them online. One source is A set of two costs about $57; the optional aluminum mounting track is $25.

Meet a Pro! Kirk Erickson, Woodworker

Kirk caught the carpentry bug as a remodeler and now applies his skills to furniture-making and theatrical set building. He has a woodworking shop where he builds furniture and cabinetry.

Tool 10: Les’s quick cutter

Tubing cutter

This tubing cutter is super durable.

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 doesn’t require any adjusting—you just slip it over the copper tube and spin it to cut.

You can buy the Kopex tubing cutter shown here for $20 at Enter “ASP 7028” in the search box. You’ll find similar tubing cutters at some home centers and hardware stores. Keep in mind that you’ll have to buy a separate cutter for each size tubing. Les says, “I’ve tried other tubing cutters, but they just don’t last.”

Meet a Pro! Les Zell, Master Plumber

Les has been a master plumber for 25 years and runs his own plumbing business. His passion is solar heating.

Tool 11: Diamond hole saw

Diamond hole saw

Diamond hole saws bore through hard tiles and stone easily.

Diamond hole saws are no secret to tile setters like Dean Sorem. But what’s surprising is that you can buy one at home centers for as little as $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.

Meet a Pro! Dean Sorem, Tile Setter

Dean graduated with a geology major, became a remodeling contractor, and discovered he liked tile setting. He’s been setting tile for 28 years.

Tool 12: Dean’s do-everything tool

Linoleum knife

A linoleum knife is an ideal multi-use tool.

This hooked knife is intended for linoleum and vinyl flooring work, but Dean likes it for a host of other tasks. He uses the sharp point to lift misplaced or ill-fitting tiles, and to score backer board. He also uses the knife to clean thin-set from between tiles before grouting, but for this he prefers one that’s used and dull. And at $5 a pop for these handy knives, you really can’t go wrong keeping a few in your toolbox.

Dean says, “I picked up the use of a lino knife from working alongside a seasoned jack-of-all-trades flooring installer.”