With the growing popularity and adoption of pneumatic nail guns and impact drivers, hammers are no longer used as much as they once were. However, they are still a required tool on every job site.
We tested 6 different hammers and found the Estwing 20-ounce Straight Claw to be the best available for the tiny home builder. Its 20-ounce weight provides a good balance of strike force and low user fatigue.
This hammer also comes in a curved claw version. While the straight claw is not as efficient as the curved claw at pulling out nails, it is a lot more versatile. I can’t tell you how many times I have struck two boards with the claw of a hammer to split or separate them. You just can’t do that with a curved claw.
The Estwing is a few dollars more than our runner up, the Stanley 20-Ounce FatMax Rip Claw, which is also a great hammer. But this Estwing hammer will last you a lifetime and is made in the USA, which is always worth a few extra bucks in my opinion.
I good set of screwdrivers is something every homeowner needs. Because of the simplicity of this tool you may think that they are all created equal, but some sets are made with better, harder steel. This will result in them not wearing down as quickly and thus lasting longer. Assuming they are used properly and cared for, you can expect a high quality set of screwdrivers to last a lifetime.
In addition to being high quality, the set you select should include a variety of different sizes to accommodate various screw sizes. We found the Stanley 10-Piece Standard Fluted Screwdriver Set to match all of our criteria. This set is also color coded depending on the tip type to make them easier and faster to locate in your toolbox.
While some other brands offer a lifetime replacement guarantee, I have personally never needed to take any of them up on their offer because of the reliability of this type of tool. So I wouldn't suggest paying too much more for this feature.
Lineman’s pliers have a curious name. Essentially they are larger, usually at least 9 inches long, pliers and wire cutters. Since their handles are longer you can apply more torque and thus more force at their cutting end. This is important because of the thickness of the sheathed wiring used in the electrical system. If regular wire cutters are used, you will likely find that you need to make multiple cuts to cut all the way through the all of the wires within the sheathing. Lineman’s pliers on the other hand, are large enough so that all the wires can be cut with a single squeeze. The large tip of the pliers is also very useful for twisting a group of wires together prior to installing a wire nut.
The price of lineman’s pliers can vary substantially with a high of around fifty dollars. However, we found the IRWIN Tools VISE-GRIP Lineman's Pliers, priced under $15, to work exceptionally well.
Wire stripers are multi-purpose tools, but they are primarily used to easily remove the sheathing from wires during installation. They can also be used as pliers, wire cutters, and screw cutters.
The quality of the wire strippers in your tiny house tool arsenal can determine if your electrical installation is easy or hard. Klein Tools is a recognized name when it comes to electrical tools, so it was no surprise that the Klein Tools 11055 Kurve Wire Stripper/Cutter was selected by our team as the best wire strippers from the batch we tested. We might have been a little biased as each of our testers have this exact tool in their personal collection, but I thought that spoke volumes as well.
If you end up selecting a different set of strippers, be sure that whichever ones you pick are spring loaded like the Klein’s. That feature alone significantly speeds up the installation and results in less hand fatigue.
A good utility knife is another tool no homeowner should be without, as they are incredibly useful. What we looked for in our search for the best utility knife was one that was compact and yet comfortable to hold, with a blade that was easy to change out.
After evaluating 8 different knifes we liked the Milwaukee Fastback Flip II Utility Knife the best. It felt great in our hand and folded up to easily fit in our pocket. It also has the added bonus of being able to be operated with one hand, which isn’t always the case with folding knives. This may not sound that important but when you are installing the house wrap and holding it with one hand, it’s convenient to be able to get your blade out with just the other. Our biggest complaint from the first version of this knife was the lack of extra blade storage, but that has been address with this second version.
If you prefer a full size, non-folding knife, then I recommend the Stanley FatMax ExoChange Retractable Knife. It’s a substantial knife that is easy to hold and has the best system to quickly change out the blade.
Tin Snips make cutting through sheet metal really easy. They contain a gear mechanism that allows you to exert the force needed to cut metal without straining your hands. You will use these very early on when you are adding flashing to your tiny house trailer and again when you are cutting the metal for your roof. They also come in handy on a few other miscellaneous jobs as well.
The DEWALT DWHT70278 3 Pack Aviation Snips performed very well in our tests. Marginally better than the more common WISS brand. You will want to get the 3 pack since each one works better in specific circumstances. They are color coded based on the orientation and angle of the blades which determines what curve direction they are best suited for. For instance, if you need to cut a curve to the left you would select the red handled version. This may sound like it would be difficult to remember, but when you are using them it is obvious which one works best.
A PVC cutter is an inexpensive tool that allows you to easily make 90 degree cuts in both PVC and CPVC. While other tiny house tools can be used to do the same thing, like a miter saw, this does it easier and cleaner. It’s also compact enough to use right where it’s needed, which will save you time.
There aren’t a lot of choices in the stores when it comes to PVC cutters, and they all seem to be about the same. There are some bigger brands like Lenox that make these, but for the price the Cobra PST002 Ratcheting PVC cutter works well for us.
Nail pullers are great for fixing framing mistakes without causing excessive damage to the wood. They aren’t needed often, but when they are, they are a lifesaver.
We tested 4 different nail pullers and they all performed well and as expected. The feature that set our pick, the Dewalt 10 in. Claw Bar, apart from the others was its unique nail digger feature. It cleanly removed the wood around a nail which made it a lot easier to get the tool in to remove it. It’s an innovative solution in an otherwise simple, but useful tool.
There’s not much to a flat bar, but like a nail puller they are occasionally really handy. For instance, if you need to make a small adjustment when installing a door, a flat bar can be put under one side and stepped on to get the door exactly square. This also frees up your hands to secure the door with your impact driver. It's also used when installing the flooring to make sure your last row or boards is tight.
We tested 3 different flat bars and found the Estwing 15-Inch Forged Half-Round Handy Bar to be the best. It’s the only flat bar with a curved shaft which reduces flexing. That extra rigidity is nice when you don’t have a lot of room to move the tool. We also have a few of the Vaughan Original SuperBar’s that we use, which are also great, although not as rigid as the Estwing.
A quality tape measure is a must for your tiny house build. It’s one of the most used tools in your toolbox, and a cheap tape measure will only result in frustration.
The optimal size for a tape measure is 25-feet. Any longer and it gets a little bulky, any shorter and it’s too small for some of your measurements. The tape material of shorter tape measures is also thinner, which means it can’t extend out as far before it collapses under its own weight. This makes them harder to use.
We tested 7 tape measures from Dewalt, Milwaukee, Stanley, Komelon, and one from Harbor Freight just for the heck of it. Besides the one from Harbor Freight, they all worked very well and I would be happy to use any of them daily. But since we are trying to find the best, AND the best value, we picked the Stanley 25-Feet FatMax Tape Measure. It is well built, durable, easy to read, and bright yellow so it’s easy to find. It’s just an all-around great tape measure for a good price.
Carpenters have their own pencils for a reason. Their thicker lead holds up well when marking rough wood. But other than that, there’s not much to say about a pencil. I could tell you how these pencils have been engineered to have the perfect ratio of wood to led, so that they achieve a perfect balance in your hand. Or that they have been hand painted by an artisan in Sedona Arizona. But no, they are just carpenter pencils.
12 pencils should last you through your entire tiny house build, but unfortunately, if you are anything like me and you have a tendency to loose stuff, you may want to buy 2 packs.
A chalk line is used to mark a straight line over an extended length. You’ll use this primarily when installing the siding and flooring, as well as a few other times.
The classic design of our pick, the IRWIN Straight-Line Aluminum Refillable Chalk Line Reel is time tested. This particular set also includes blue chalk which is a must, as red will frequently stain whatever it comes in contact with and is very hard to remove. As with several of our other picks, it’s simple, but works great.
A level is used to make sure that lumber is either parallel or perpendicular to the ground. This is important to not only make sure that your house looks right, but also to make sure that it works right. If your house is out of level and not square, you may find that you doors and windows either don’t fit or don’t work correctly.
Four feet is the optimal length for a level if you have to choose just one, as shorter lengths are not as accurate. You also want one that is easy to read and well built. It’s not uncommon for a level to fall off of a surface, and a cheaply made level can be damaged such that it is no longer accurate. After looking at a few different levels we liked the IRWIN Tools 1000 I-beam 48 inch Level. It is well built, it has a small window on the side so that you can view the gauge from above when checking a horizontal surface, and the end gauges can be rotated to check for a specific angle. All-in-all, another great tool from IRWIN.
A carpenters square isn’t used that often, but can be useful when cuttings rafter or when building stairs. It’s basically a ruler that is bent at a ninety degree angle. This allows you to measure two distances from the same point at the same time to mark a notch. For example, a roof might have a 12/2 pitch, meaning that it rises 2 inches for every 12 inches of run. If you lay a carpenters square down on a rafter and line up one side of the square at the 2-inch mark, and the other side at the 12-inch mark, and trace the square, it will draw a notch which can serve as the birds mouth (note that the size of the notch may need to be adjusted for the size of the wood you are working with). If these terms are confusing, don’t worry, they will make a lot more sense when you start working on your roof.
There is not much to look for in a carpenters square. I do recommend buying an aluminum version like this IRWIN Tools Carpenter Square. I have both an aluminum and a steel version that are about the same age, and while my aluminum one looks brand new, my steel one looks like it’s from WWII.
A speed square is used primarily during framing. As I show in the Tiny House Design & Construction Guide, you use it to mark your stud locations on both the top plate and kick plate at the same time. Because of this, it is sized to be right around 7 inches long, the width of two 2x4’s.
I prefer a speed square that is made of brighter plastic like the Stanley Quicksquare Layout Tool. It is lightweight, inexpensive, and its bright color makes it easy to find. Since the entire square is just a single color it can be harder to read, but it is rare that I ever actually need to read it since it is normally just used as a straight edge. If you want one that it easier to read Stanley also makes a dual color version for a few dollars more.
A plywood square, sometimes called a drywall square, is a large square used to make straight lines on large sheet material like plywood or drywall. A chalk line or even a straight 2x4 can also be used for this purpose, but this tool is faster.
Like the carpenter's square, I prefer a plywood square that is made from aluminum like the Johnson Level and Tool JTS48 48-Inch Aluminum Drywall T-Square. It’s lightweight and yet durable, and won't rust if left outside.
The miter saw is the most used tool when building a tiny house. Almost every single piece of wood, except for the sheathing, will be cut by this saw before going into your tiny house. Miter saws can have many different options and range significantly in price.
We tested 4 different saws and the best miter saw was the DEWALT DW716XPS Compound Miter Saw. This is a 12-inch saw with enough power and reach to cut through almost everything we threw at it, and the build quality is outstanding. This saw includes an LED guide system instead of a laser that had mixed reviews from our testers. Overall most of us liked it, but unlike a laser, it doesn’t show you accurately where the blade will cut until the arm has been lowered to where the blade is very close to the lumber (by casting a shadow of the blade onto the lumber). On the positive side, it doesn’t require any adjustment and it also lights up the work area nicely.
Another thing we liked about this saw was that the vertical angle could be adjusted in either direction, to the left or to the right. On some of the cheaper saws this can only be changed in one direction and may thus require you to rotate your lumber before making a cut. This isn’t a deal breaker, but can be a real annoyance when working with material like the siding that requires a lot of angled cuts.
This saw does not have the slide mechanism that some of the others have. While the slide gives you a little more reach so that you can cut lumber that is wider, it also adds a lot to the price, adds quite a bit of weight to the saw, and makes the saw less accurate. Considering the benefit of the added reach is not needed often, we preferred saws without the slide.
The only thing about this saw that we weren’t as crazy about was the price. Our second place pick, the Hitachi C12FDH 15 Amp 12-Inch Dual Bevel Miter Saw with Laser, is a great saw with many of the same features as the DeWalt but for about $125 less. We just didn’t like the fence or the angle adjustment mechanism as much. But if you are on a tighter budget you will surely be happy with this saw as well.
A circular saw is used primarily to cut sheet material like the sheathing. A good circular saw finds a balance between power and weight. My personal circular saw is an older 15-amp Milwaukee that is a beast, but it weighs about 12 pounds. After just a few cuts I really start to feel it in my arm. This can be exacerbated by any attachments like the Kreg Rip-Cut that I talk about in the table saw section.
Our team tested 4 circular saws and found the best to be the DEWALT DWE575SB 7-1/4-Inch Lightweight Circular Saw with Electric Brake. It is compact, powerful, and relatively lightweight. The trifecta of a perfect power tool. Another feature that we liked is the electric brake. This stopped the blade from spinning much faster than the saws without this feature, and the faster the blade stops, the smaller the window for an accident. We also liked the ability to achieve greater bevel angles with the DeWalt, and the guard design is one of the best we’ve seen as it rarely got caught on the lumber.
A table saw is essentially an inverted circular saw attached to a flat surface. The big difference is in the way it is used. With a circular saw, you push the saw through the material to be cut. With a table saw, you push the material through the saw. By pushing the material through the saw, you also push an edge of the material against the fence, a surface that is parallel to the blade, which produces much more accurate and straighter cuts.
We tested 3 table saws and found them all to be very similar in many ways except for one, the fence design. As previously mentioned, the material being cut is pushed up tight to the fence of the saw. So the fence needs to change position based on the size of the wood you want to cut. On almost every saw we evaluated, the design for how the fence moves was the same. The one standout was the DeWalt table saw design. The fence on their design is moved with a rack and pinion system that always kept it perfectly parallel to the blade. If the fence is not parallel, the material can be incorrectly cut and even bind up creating a dangerous condition. With the other fence designs we found it much easier for the fence to become incorrectly aligned. But with the DeWalt system, this was never an issue. DeWalt makes several table saws in different sizes. The larger the table saw the easier it is to cut larger sheets, as the work surface is bigger. But if you are working with someone else who can help you manage the larger pieces, the DEWALT DW745 10-Inch Compact Job-Site Table Saw should be big enough. I personally wouldn’t buy a table saw made by another manufacturer.
If you are on a tighter budget, another option to consider is the Kreg Rip-Cut attachment for your circular saw. While it can’t produce the same results as a table saw, we were surprised by how good the results actually were. It works by attaching to your circular saw, and essentially adds a portable fence which keeps your saw at a specified distance from the edge of the material being cut. If you don’t plan to build your own cabinets, where precision matters the most, the Keg Rip-Cut is a great, inexpensive alternative to a table saw.
A jigsaw is another tool that works great but isn’t used that often. All of the saws that we’ve talked about thus far have had flat, circular blades. Circular blades are very efficient at cutting, but incapable of making a turn or curved cut. A jigsaw’s blade on the other hand is very narrow, so it can easily turn in the material you’re cutting and thus excels at curves. The straight blade also means that where the blade exits on the top of the material you’re cutting is the same as where it exits on the bottom. This is not true for round blades and can present a challenge at times.
Considering how little you will likely use a jigsaw, we recommend the inexpensive BLACK+DECKER BDEJS600C 5-Amp Jigsaw. It’s a no frills, homeowner grade tool that will get the job done.
If you have more of a budget and expect to get more use out of this tool, you won’t be disappointed with the Bosch JS470E 7.0-Amp Jigsaw. It’s what a few of us use here and we all really like it.
An angle grinder is often needed when working with metal roof panels. While other tools like steel snips and electric shears cut metal more cleanly, they can be difficult to maneuver over the humps in the panels. A grinder doesn’t have this limitation as it simply cuts through them.
DeWalt again steals the show with the DEWALT DWE402 4-1/2-Inch 11-Amp Paddle Switch Angle Grinder. It’s compact, powerful, and lightweight. Be sure to wear protective gear when using this tool and always position the guard properly. It’s the most unruly tool you’ll use during your build.
Power shears are great at cutting through sheet metal. There is no other tool as effective and if you are installing a metal roof you will surely want these. Unfortunately they are expensive and will likely only be used for a few days. So I recommend either buying used or buying a professional brand that will work great and have a higher resell price, since you will likely be selling them.
A good option is the DEWALT DW890 18 Gauge Shears. These are the shears that I own and they work great.
The drill and impact driver are two of the most used tools when building a tiny house. If you are unsure of the difference between these two tools, I recommend watching the free video from our eWorkshop where I explain what they are and how they work. Since they are so heavily used during the build, and something every homeowner should have, I recommend investing in a nicer set.
We tested 4 different brands of drills and impact drivers. We evaluated them on price, battery size, features, comfort, and overall impression. The set that we found to be the best drill and impact driver is the DEWALT DCK283D2 MAX XR 20V Lithium Ion Brushless Compact Drill & Impact Driver Combo Kit. This kit is part of DeWalt XR line which means it includes their brushless motor technology. This feature allows the drill and driver to run longer on a single charge and also requires less maintenance so their expected lifetime is much longer. The batteries are a reasonable 2.0AH each which means you should get plenty of use between charges. I wouldn’t go any smaller though, so avoid any ‘special buy’ kits which will frequently include batteries that are only 1.3AH. The system is advertised as being 20V but that is just marketing, its nominal voltage is actually 18V. So don’t assume the higher number means more power when comparing these to other 18V systems. With that said, these have plenty of power with some to spare. In a test the drill actually outperformed a corded unit we have here. Overall, this set is fantastic and will last through your build and many years afterwards.
As you may have noticed our testers have a tendency to favor DeWalt brand tools. This is not arbitrary, nor do we just favor the color yellow. DeWalt makes a very high quality, professional grade power tool. They are more expensive than a typical homeowner grade tool, but in most cases it is worth it. This is just something that we have discovered, unfortunately at great expense, over our combined 68 years of experience.
Driver and Drill bits should almost always be purchased in kits. The price for individual bits is simply too high to justify. But many kits don’t have that much variety, so you may end up buying a kit only to find that you are still missing required bits. We evaluated 8 different sets of bits and liked the variety of the Ryobi Speed Load Plus Driving 68-Piece Kit the best.
While Ryobi is a homeowner brand (i.e. not professional grade), we have never noticed a significant difference in bit quality between the different brands. Impact drivers can be rough on bits causing them to brake more frequently, and some brands make bits that are ‘impact ready’. But those aren’t required and this set will work great.
The material that drill bits are made of determine their strength and cost. The options include, starting with the least expensive, standard steel (sometimes called high-speed steel, whatever that means), black oxide, cobalt, and titanium. In our tests we found the titanium bits to significantly outlast the alternatives, enough so to justify their higher cost.
We especially liked the DEWALT DW1361 Titanium Pilot Point 21-Piece Drill Bit Set. It contained a good variety of sizes and the pilot point significantly reduced the drifting of the tip when first starting to drill.
Hole saws are needed to cut holes in the walls and floor, mainly for the plumbing. They are sold individually as well as in kits. The kits can be very expensive and not many of them include the larger sizes that you will likely need. For this reason I recommend buying these bits individually. The Lenox Tools Bi-Metal Speed Slot Arbored Hole Saw is a great option. It comes with the arbor already installed, and has a large slot on the side that makes it easy to remove the wood from the bit after your hole has been cut. You will likely need a 2-1/8 inch and 3-1/8 inch bit for the 2 inch and 3 inch drain pipes and the exhaust vents.
For the compressor, brad nailer, and finish nailer, I recommend buying the BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT 3-Tool and Compressor Combo Kit (the kit actually includes an additional stapler that won’t get much, if any, use). For the price, this kit is hard to beat. It includes a pancake compressor, three guns, and a hose for less than the cost of most compressors. The guns aren’t quite as nice as the ones you would get if you had purchased them separately, but they still work really well.
Pancake compressors are a less expensive style of compressor. Their tanks are usually smaller and they refill a little slower, so they aren’t frequently used as much by professionals. But for single person use they are fine. Especially when compared to the price of some of the alternatives. I have constructed entire tiny houses using just a single pancake compressor, so they are definitely sufficient. The only issue that I’ve ever had is that they don’t work as well in extreme cold. They work by moving a rubber diaphragm that I have had freeze and brake in extreme cold temperatures (10 degrees Fahrenheit). But you are not usually working outside in those temperatures.
The brad nailer is used to install all the small pieces of trim and interior siding. The finish nailer is used when a slightly longer nail is required for thicker trim like when installing the baseboards and casing around the windows.
This kit also includes a hose, which I recommend replacing, but we’ll talk about that a little farther down.
A framing nail gun is only needed if you plan to nail your framing together, as opposed to screwing it. A long time ago I used screws to fasten the framing together on the first house I built, but after using a nail gun on the second I decided I would never go back. The nail gun makes the framing so easy, it’s not uncommon for us to frame an entire house in just one day.
There are different styles of nail guns, including strip nailers and coil nailers. With strip nailers, the nails that are loaded into the gun are in a straight strip, whereas with coil nailers the nails come in a coil. Regardless of which type you choose, you will want to make sure the nails have a ‘full head’. On some strip nails, a part of the nail head is removed so that the nails can be tightly stacked together. This style of nail does not hold very well and is against local codes in many places. I personally use a coil nailer because of its higher capacity, but the gun is bulky to use and the nails are hard to find (I have to special order them).
In our search for the best framing nail gun we evaluated 13 different models and tested 4 of them. The unanimous winner was the Hitachi NR90AE(S) 3-1/2" Plastic Collated Full-Head Framing Nailer. Hitachi's air tools are well respected, and this gun deserves that respect. It was comfortable in our hand, lightweight, and easy to use. We fired no less than 250 nails through this gun and they all sunk to the proper depth without a single jam. The price also won’t break your budget, and is around half of what some of the coiler nailers cost.
The Bostitch air compressor kit mentioned above includes an air hose, however it is both short at only 25 feet, and the material that it is made from is inexpensive PVC, which is very rigid and thus difficult to work with. I instead suggest getting a hose made of rubber, like the Goodyear Rubber Air Hose. Rubber air hoses are very flexible and easy to work with. They are heavier than PVC hoses, but it isn't noticeable while using the air tools. The 50 feet length also means you won’t need to move your air compressor with you as you move around your house.
Be aware that when you buy a hose they don’t normally include the fittings, so those will need to be purchased separately.
Eye Protection is an absolute must. There have been several times that I have been working and had something fly up and take a chunk out of my eye protection. Each time I have paused and thought about the outcome had I not been wearing protection. If you don’t wear eye protection, it is extremely likely that you will get hurt while building your house. So of all the protective gear I’m writing about here, eye protection is in my opinion the most important.
A simple and affordable option is 3M Virtua Protective Eyewear. They’re not fancy, and not particularly stylish, but they are comfortable, fog resistant, and provide good coverage. Their low cost is also nice considering all brands scratch easily.
If you are looking for a more stylish option that can also serve as sunglasses, 3M and Dewalt make a better looking tinted version. Unfortunately neither of these options fit over prescription glasses, which is a must for me.
Some of the tools on a job site are particularly loud. Enough so that sustained exposure can result in hearing loss. Most of these tools are only used in short bursts, and thus your exposure is somewhat limited, but protection is still recommended.
We tried 4 different types of hearing protection to see which were most effective, comfortable, and easy to use. We figured if the solution isn’t comfortable or easy, then it may not get used, in which case it doesn’t matter how effective it is.
Our pick for the best hearing protection is the 3M Peltor X-Series Over-the-Head Earmuffs. They were comfortable, easy to take on and off, and significantly reduced the noise level of the tools we tested. They didn’t block out all the sound, which we actually liked since we could still talk to and hear others around us. Although they did have to yell.
We also tried the 3M 1100 Foam Ear plugs. These had the benefit of not making our ears hot if we left them on for an extended period of time, unlike the over-the-ears design of the 3M Peltor’s. But we also found them to be very easy to lose, or they would blow or roll away after we put them down. So while these were effective and comfortable, we didn’t consider them to be as easy, and thus aren’t certain they would be used as much. They are however, a good and economical solution if you need to provide hearing protection to a group of people. We use these when we host our workshops.
I don’t frequently wear gloves while building. Most of them feel too bulky to me and I’m always afraid they are going to get caught in a power tool or something. I really like to have my hands on and feeling the materials I am working with.
The one exception when I do wear gloves is while working on the metal roofing. The roof panels can have extremely sharp edges and the enamel surfaces can be slippery. MaxiFlex Ultimate Nitrile Grip Work Gloves address both of these issues by adding an extra anti-slip layer to your hands. They fit snug against the skin, yet are breathable so they won’t cause excessive sweating. These are gloves that do their job, without getting in the way.
Some of our builders that don’t mind wearing gloves really like the Custom Leathercraft Handyman Flex Grip Gloves. They do fit well, but when I put them on I feel like I’m going skiing, not working.
You’ll want to use a respirator when painting or staining and when working with the CPVC and PVC cements. Especially while indoors where it is harder to properly ventilate. None of the chemicals in that stuff is good for your body, so keep it out with the 3M 07193 Spray Paint Respirator. It’s efficient, comfortable and sturdy.