A long time ago, I told my wife that I wanted one of those cool looking Dewalt power drills. She ended up buying me just that and for several years, that Dewalt drill stayed in my home office unopened! Truth be told, I had no desire to do any manual labor or install shelves. Eventually I got bored with my other hobbies and started hanging out at home improvement stores. I decided to actually open the Dewalt case and my journey into the world of power tools really began. This is what I found in regards to what I like about power tools. Your journey may be different and you may form an opinion that varies from what I have written below. Again, it is all about learning and of course safety. Take your time and be careful always.
Investing In A Brand
The most common power tool that everyone can use is your basic power drill. Making holes is a lot easier when you have a power drill and a basic drill is useful for every home improvement project. Drills come in a wide variety of models and kits. Before committing to any one drill, think about what you will need in the future. Pick a brand that is in your price range and there are many brands from the big pro brands like Milwaukee, to the home improvement store brands that Menards and Lowes have, to Dewalt who has so many models that they cover the spectrum for both do-it-yourself people to construction pros.
The reason that I advice to pick a brand, is because, the manufacturers really make their money off the batteries they sell. You will find a ton of great deals on a drill combo kit, but they say you want to buy a saw from a different manufacturer, well you will have to invest in batteries for that too. It is best to pick a brand and try to save, by not having to invest in different batteries.
Next, you will want to consider Volts and battery capacity. Most brands have a less powerful, more compact line of power tools that fall into the 12volt range. The regular lines are in the 18-20volt range or higher. If you see yourself buying more power tools, I would recommend going with the higher volt range line. You never know if you will buy an impact wrench or saw just cause you need to. Battery capacity or size is how long the battery will last. The bigger the size of the battery the more it will last. A great add-on that comes in handy are work lights. When the power is out in your house, bigger capacity batteries and a handy light are a lifesaver.
The Right Tool
Having the right tool for the task at hand makes all the difference. For example, I read a few books on making your own work bench and I thought, that is a great idea. I can make my own work bench from wood at Menards and it will be exactly the same as what is in the book. Then you get deeper into the project, and you find out that to make your own work bench, you need a router, you need a table saw, you need a sander, etc. Yes, you can make your own work bench, but you need to have all these tools! Here is a list of what tools to possibly include in your combo kit or later when you need them:
You will need a hammer drill or what I call the big drill if you are going to drill into concrete or build a deck. For those types of jobs, you do need the bigger drill.
If you are buying a kit, then it will come with an impact driver. I find myself using a driver more often than I thought I would. It makes assembling furniture so easy. Depending on the brand and model, the lower priced drivers will not have multiple speeds or auto-mode. I noticed that for some models, there is a switch to change the speed mode and for others, it will have an auto-mode feature. The more speeds the more versatile the driver is.
A good circular saw will save you time and makes projects so much easier. I have both a smaller size saw and the standard 7 and quarter size one. The smaller size one is easier to use for most jobs and a bit lighter. However, Makita has full size circular saws that are incredibly light, if weight is the main concern.
My goto tool for yard work and tearing down a shed is the reciprocating saw. Smaller ones are great for trimming bushes and light tree work, while your bigger ones are great at cutting down bigger tree limbs and tearing down walls. I find them safer than chain saws and easier to work with as well. You don’t need to adjust chains, just replace the blade and you are good to go.
If you are a Sunday mechanic, you will appreciate a cordless impact wrench. Only recently have power tools been able to do the work of some air powered tools. The impact wrench helps me untighten my oil plug, where before I use to struggle getting it off all the time.
This is a nice to have. You already have batteries, so a work light is a no brainer. They are great for working in your garage without great lighting or anywhere where you need a spotlight.
You can get more tools to add to your collection like sanders, routers, grinders,… but all those are just more specialized and you will probably get them anyway.
In the past couple of years, I have started multiple home projects and so I have had to shop nearby home improvement stores. Other than when I was in my twenties, when I bought my house, I really did not have much interest in home improvement. Buying a home, always comes with an immediate need to have tools and depending on your area of the country, lawn mowers and a few other things to do your basic maintenance. I made by with going to Sears and getting a few Craftsman hand tools and pretty much focused on my hobbies. There were a few box shelves that I made, but these were more about having a cheap solution than really something I enjoyed. Fast track to a couple of decades and I have amassed some power tools and done more projects in the last three years than in the previous twenty years. This is my short take on what my local home improvement stores are good for and what tool brands I have gravitated to. As always, your local stores may differ, or you may disagree with my assessment of these well known brands.
Lowe’s Home Improvement
There is no denying that Lowe’s is one of my top three stores to go to. They are known for carrying major brand name products and they offer a variety of services. They will install appliances, windows, water heaters, and much more for you. The installation services for things like windows are done by third party contractors and this is where you will read many complaints about their installation services. The problem is that any time you pay someone to do a contract job, the specifics of the service is down to the contract you sign. You have to be very clear about what you are signing and what work you specifically want. I did purchase a high end water heater from them. I paid a nominal fee to have the installer come to my house and review the space. The person at Lowe’s was not an expert on water heaters, so the installer told me that Yes, this was a basic installation and there was no problem with the model I chose. When the water heater arrived at the store, the installer went and got it and he installed it just fine. I had spoken to the installer about replacing a valve as well for a separate fee and he did that too for a reasonable price that I paid directly to him. It was a good experience and I had no problems. Communication is key for these situations; do not think that anyone will recommend anything to you, so do your homework about the service and what more you need in order to make it appropriate for you.
In the store you will find a good variety of tools. Lowe’s has what is left of Craftsman products, although Craftsman today is not what that brand was twenty years ago. Dewalt is probably the main brand that you will gravitate to while in the store. They offer a wide selection of Dewalt tools and accessories. The yellow and black design of Dewalt is pretty popular among both do-it-yourself people and professionals. They offer a wide range of drills from inexpensive to bigger and powerful models. In my store, they carry Bosch tools as well, which is another popular brand for professionals.
Home improvement stores are not the best place to buy lumber and specialized wood. Lowe’s has a lumber selection and their prices for construction lumber is reasonable. You will also find what I call hobby shelf wood. This is what I would use to make some box shelves or a cabinet for my stereo in college. Overall, I am not really impressed with Lowe’s lumber selection. It is not any cheaper than competitors and the hobby wood is not cut perfectly straight, so I rather purchase elsewhere. However if you are looking for some decent 2×4 boards or construction grade, Lowe’s has you covered. They will also cut some boards for you if you ask. This is a must for anyone who is doing a small project and doesn’t drive a pickup truck.
The hardware selection at Lowe’s spans an entire aisle. They carry Hillman and other name brand bolts and screws. The Hillman stainless steel hardware is my goto for most projects.You can also find cheaper Hillman hardware at most Walmarts. This is one of my favorite areas of Lowe’s. My wife is a fan of the Garden Center at Lowe’s, since they have the best selection of good plants during the Spring and Summer seasons.
I really do think that if Lowe’s added a diner section to the store, people would literally never leave the store.
On the minus, Lowe’s pricing is always on the high end. They charge the full price on 90% of everything. Clearance items are a good bargain as they are almost in any store. Name brands like Dewalt control their pricing, so there is not much you can do about that. If Dewalt has a deal, they usually have it everywhere, including online.
There was a time when Sears considered buying The HomeDepot. Obviously, Sears made the wrong decision and today The HomeDepot is one of the most successful chain stores and Sears is gone and forgotten from most of the country. I’ve never gotten any services from The HomeDepot, however the same recommendation that I have of Lowe’s goes for The HomeDepot. Unfortunately, I live at least 35 miles from the nearest store, so I do not frequent The HomeDepot as much as I like. Instead I make a weekend trip to The HomeDepot and spend a good 2 hours in the store. For me I get the sense that The HomeDepot store is smaller in footage, but that may be my imagination, because The HomeDepot literally has tons and tons of stock. In other words I find more stuff in store, and unlike Lowe’s, you can literally order anything from The HomeDepot online. I have purchased butcher blocks, tools, and accessories and every time there was free shipping. For some reason, one item I ordered, I had to pickup, but I think that was my mistake when using the website. If you can’t find something in any home improvement store, I will recommend you check their website, because they have an amazing selection and it is often cheaper than other stores.
What I love about The HomeDepot is their tool selection and their prices. If you go to the store or the website, they have specials every week and the prices are always a good bargain. In store, I find great clearance items, so if I go to pickup some drill bits, I walk out with say a kitchen stove fan, just because it was 65% off. Major brands for tools are Milwaukee Tools, Makita, and they have cheaper brands like Ryobi and Husky. Professionals stand behind the quality and durability of Milwaukee Tools. You will find diehard proponents of Milwaukee over Dewalt, which The HomeDepot also carries. For do-it-yourself people, Makita has a great following among consumers. Makita is known for their quality just as much as other tool brands, but their pricing is on the high end. For example of you are looking at comparable drills you will find the Makita model to be more expensive. I prefer Makita 18volt tools and I think they are worth it. I check the Makita USA tools site for specials and then order from The HomeDepot website. Toolkits are probably the cheapest way to get into any tool brand, just be careful that you are purchasing the right battery type, 18volt and 20volt tools will always be more powerful and run longer than 12volt tools. Lower power tools tend to be smaller and easier to handle, so if you don’t need the power and running time, then 12volt tools may be fine.
Lumber selection is similar to Lowe’s, though it seems to me that Lowe’s has more stock. For hobby wood, The HomeDepot sells both by the foot for some woods such as oak boards, and entire pine boards. The HomeDepot appears to cut more wood in store than Lowe’s. I always see customers getting this service while I am in store.
The best place in The HomeDepot is the front of the store. They place lots of specially priced items in the front of the store as well as some big items like furniture and tool chests. Their prices on some of these items are incredibly competitive. I travel the entire store and then come back to the front, just to make sure I did not miss anything on my way out.
I remember reading on a forum post once, about there being this magical place where you could buy anything and prices were cheap and they even gave you an 11% rebate on everything you bought. This was written by someone who actually lived on the east coast somewhere and apparently they don’t have Menards there, but he kept hearing about Menards on the forum. This place does exist and I go there every other day, just to walk, because Iowa winter weather is not warm enough for me to get my steps. Menards is the closest store to me, so it is very convenient for me to drive down there, turn on my Spotify and just stroll the store for an hour or less. The employees there must be tired of seeing me there by this point.
Unlike Lowe’s or The HomeDepot, Menards does not install windows or water heaters. They have a list of contractors in those areas that you can contact directly about those services. Menards is for contractors and do-it-yourself people. We hired a contractor to redo our bathroom before the pandemic. I met him at Menards and we walked through the store picking what we needed and the contractor took care of picking everything up and doing the job. It took three days to finish, and another day for things to dry. I make this joke all the time, that everything in my house comes from Menards and if they don’t have it, then I am in trouble.
Here are just some of the things I buy from Menards:
Wood stain, glues, and painting supplies, they have a wide selection of quality stains and treatments. Their prices are the cheapest and if they don’t have it, then you can go to a professional paint store or wood store.
Light bulbs, electrical outlets, switches, ceiling fans, shop lights, Menards has a large selection. Lowe’s will have high end items, but their prices are terribly high.
Hardware such as screws, bolts, construction nails, is another great area at Menards. I still end up going to Lowe’s half the time, but if I need quantity or don’t need a specific brand then Menard’s is my choice.
Drill accessories, drill bits, drivers, anything Bosch, I get at Menards. They tend to have some kits on sale and if I need something cheap or want a single drill bit, I will pick them up at Menards. I bought a Bosch cobalt drill kit at an incredible price, just last month. They have a the best selection of different drill bits and drivers. This is also the same for router bits. Both Lowe’s and The HomeDepot have very limited wood working tools and router bits. Menards has variety that is the best for home improvement stores, otherwise I head to Woodcraft or the Rockler website for anything that I can’t find in Menards.
Work Tables, this was my latest big purchase from Menards. I got a long work table for the garage. I happen to walk in one day and the table that was priced at $469 was on sale at $349 and I had a stash of Menards rebates. I literally paid something around $223 for this table. It is rock solid and better than any work table from Lowe’s or The HomeDepot.
The Menards lumber department is both inside and outside. Inside you will find nice straight cut boards for construction or framing, along with a large selection of hobby and project wood that is of higher grade. You won’t find professionally dried wood that carpenters covet for building furniture, for that you have to go to a lumber yard or wood store, but you will find red oak boards for making a nice stained shelf, or some aspen boards for making a light stereo cabinet. Like all wood, you are still going to have to look at it carefully to pick out the straightest and better looking pieces. I spent about two hours one day just deciding between different pieces. If you want longer pieces or say all kinds of cedar boards for making a deck, most of that wood is outside in their yard. If you ask them to they will cut wood for you. I am not sure if they still charge per cut, but outside in the yard, they have a miter saw and you can cut it yourself! If you can find the wood you want at Menards, I would purchase it there. They have the larger lumber department and they carry better hobby wood than the other improvement stores.
Now, the strangest thing to me is that Menards carries items that you would not associate with a home improvement store. Many people go to Menards for groceries! They have milk, cereal, dry goods, and in the freezer, ribs! There is a large selection of both outdoor and indoor furniture sets, so if you need an inexpensive sofa, they probably have it. You can pick up a mattress set, pillows, and kitchen ware near the appliances. Work clothes is another decent area, where you can pickup work pants, gloves, and jackets.
The areas where Menards disappoints is auto. I end up going to Walmart for motor oil, filters, lamps, and other car care. Walmart has better brands and carries a good selection of items.
Some consumers may still prefer more name brand tools than what Menards offers. They don’t carry Milwaukee, Makita, or Dewalt tools. The main name brand they have is Bosch and their own store brands. If you need those brands go to the other stores and then buy your drill bits at Menards.
For pricing, Menards is the cheapest, and most times they will have their 11% off rebate promotion. You have to mail in your receipts and fill out the rebate and they send you a postcard with a rebate amount. If you shop there often, save up your rebates for large purchases like a miter saw or a garbage door! If you are a contractor, you probably shop there already.
Why Home Improvement Stores?
Overall these type of stores are big places to go for a variety of project and home improvement supplies. They specialize in giving you one place to go to get everything, but they are not going to beat your local hardware store, when it comes to good advice on a problem or if you want exceptional custom service. For that find someone local who will cater to your needs and who you know you can call if you have questions or need service years later. For example, you can buy a washer and dryer from these stores, but your local Maytag dealer may have similar pricing, and if you aren’t happy with your purchase, they will show up at your house and fix it. You are not going to get this type of service from big box stores. I know that when we redid our bathroom, our cabinet was literally damaged each time we opened the box. It got to the point, where my contractor went to Menards and had them open the box to make sure the cabinet was not damaged inside. These stores are not great for real wood. If you want authentic dry kilned wood that will look beautiful for your project, you need to go to a wood store or custom order from a professional lumber yard.
I personally shop in store at all three of these stores. I have used the website for each and ordered several items. The HomeDepot site is the best for online shopping. I purchase the most online from them, and while at Menards I use the website to lookup prices on lumber by scanning the code into my phone. Since I go to Lowe’s and Menards the most, I can also tell you that they have free wi-fi. I use a VPN on my phone, and the Lowe’s website does not accept VPN connections and Menards WiFi will not let you search competitor websites. Just the little annoyances of today’s connected and not connected world.
One of the projects I took on during the lockdown months was to build a desk for my son’s room. It use to be that a desk meant some piece of furniture that featured drawers for all your paper files. Now multiple decades into the computer age, we no longer need all those drawers and file cabinets. Today a desk means a simple table and perhaps a riser for monitors. Most desks are just particle board, some metal, and perhaps a glass top in some cases. The problem with inexpensive desks is that they are flimsy and not made to last. On the internet you will find plenty of people who build their own desks. These do-it-yourself projects do not end up being cheap. Even a simple wood top can cost a few hundred dollars and that is before you consider if you will treat and finish the wood yourself. For my son, the cheapest option I found was a very affordable butcher block board from HomeDepot and some simple steel round legs. For some reason, I was able to get the butcher block top delivered to my house, however the table legs, I had to actually drive to the store and pick them up. Both items were not in stock in the store, so you had to order them on the website.
Bare Wood Needs Care
If you decide to get unfinished wood, you will need to treat it somehow. For a butcher block, you can use a conditioner or mineral oil. I ended up using oil-based pre-stain, stain, and finally a polyurethane finish. This was my first experience with a wood staining project and I learned that you need a lot of patience for doing this type of work. Wood needs lots of sanding and it becomes tedious work really quickly. It is also the little things that count in wood furniture. The edges of wood should be rounded and for someone who is not a carpenter, you would never have thought of that. Now when I go to a store and look at furniture, I can’t not notice if the edges are rounded or slightly beveled. The reason to treat wood is that wood dries out and sealing it, staining it, or using some other penetrating oil keeps it looking good. For a new shelf that I wanted to build quickly, I used teak oil on bare wood and was amazed at how smooth the wood came out days later. The smell took a week to go away, but other than that the process was very easy compared to multiple coats of stain.
The one tool that I can’t live without is my Dewalt Drill. For the longest time I had it still in the box and now I can’t stop using it. I used it to for all sorts of projects in the last year. For my son’s desk, I used the drill to drive in 4 screws for each leg mount. Once all the mounts were setup, we moved the butcher block top to the bedroom and attached the legs. The end result was a nice sturdy desk that will last for a long time.
The Home Office Desk
I was planning on making a secondary desk for my home office, but I’ve had some trouble with sitting all day long. Instead I needed a quick solution, so I looked at the options on Monoprice and found a couple of different ones. I settled for this Workstream dual motor frame and a matching 5 foot Workstream Table Top. The 6 foot table top seemed appealing, but when I measure my current table, it was actually less than 5 feet wide and so it would be more work to make a 6 foot table top fit.
Due to inventory, I ordered the frame from Monoprice directly and ordered the table top from Amazon instead. Both arrived in a few days. The frame was heavy and unassembled.
I removed my old desk that I have had since college from my office and once I cleared the floor space, I was ready to assemble the new desk. The frame comes with the necessary hex key tool. You will need your own Phillips screwdriver, and I would recommend your trusty Dewalt Drill with a driver, a measuring tape (I used instead a carpenter’s square). The frame is easy to assemble, just take your time. You will need another pair of hands to help you slide the table top underneath the frame. The predrilled holes in the table top will not line up with the frame. I used one hole only to line up the frame and then measured using the square to line up the legs equally on each side. Using your screwdriver drive in the one screw to the predrilled hole for each leg. You might need some lighting or a flash light if you got the black table top like me. Keeping each leg properly lined up on each side, use your drill to drive the rest of the screws for each leg. It goes without saying, but do not over tighten the screws. To be careful, I only use the drill most of the way, and then use the screw driver to finish tightening.
The rest of the assembly is the wire management. You might consider getting some adhesive Cord Clips – size 3/8″. They are rather expensive, but will help with the cord management. I prefer them to cable ties, because you can easily unclip cables if needed.
At this point, you will need your friend or spouse to help you lift the desk upright and move it to its final resting place. The rest of the setup is putting back all your equipment. The immediate need will be for having longer power cables. I ended up making a narrow shelf to hold my UPS to the right of the desk. A quick trip to Staples for a two outlet extension cord to plug my monitors into, so that raising the desk would not be a problem for my monitors.
Standing or Sitting
The control panel allows for three memorized settings. After two weeks, I’ve setup a standing height and a sitting height. Most mornings, I start with a standing desk and have my same routine of a couple of morning meetings on Teams and responding to multiple emails. In the afternoon, I’ll switch to a sitting desk position and be more in engaged in doing some work in Excel. Generally if I have a meeting where I have to present or that I am hosting, I will choose a sitting position, otherwise I stand for most meetings.
Overall the Monoprice solution works well. The implementation could be better. The wire management is still a pain when it comes to computers. It would be nice if either the table top came with pre-drilled holes for cables or some other cord management system, such as an attachment underneath to hold wires. You can buy third party solutions at Staples and even Monoprice offers some of their own too. My other leftover issue is that due to the monitors getting bigger, I have to figure something out for my studio monitor speakers which are bookshelf size. I may need to add a shelf to the wall to hold those. For now I will place them underneath with a small riser for them to be off the ground.
The big improvement that is evident is that my home office is clean for the first time in years. My old desk was mostly a cluttered mess of computer parts and paper work.