Furniture Upgrades & Building Stuff

5 Power Tools That Changed How We DIY

You guys love to ask tool questions, and the truth is that it still catches me off guard that I’m The Guy People Ask About Tools. Growing up I remember taking trips to Hechinger (anyone remember those?) thinking “who would ever willingly go to a home improvement store?!?” And when my dad gifted me a set of screwdrivers in high school I wondered what the heck I’d use them for. But here I am today – 32 and the proud owner of more tools than I can count (and still fewer than I’d like) – including some of those same screwdrivers from my dad so many years ago.

Home ownership is what flipped the switch for me. I quickly witnessed how the right tools could make a project go smoother, faster , or just plain better overall. But even still, I’ve been a slow adopter tool-wise. Well, mostly power-tool-wise. Tim Taylor’s mantra was more power *grunt grunt grunt* but mine is probably closer to sufficient power *pretty please*. I still have a healthy fear of tools that could shock me, slice me open, blow me to bits, or poke me full of holes, so in many cases I play it safe and opt for more elbow grease. But my confidence with and reliance on power tools has grown bit by bit over recent years as I’ve tried new ones and realized I can use them successfully… and without maiming myself! And Sherry’s right there next to me grinning and firing them up.

In fact, certain tools have been game changers for us. Some were particularly confidence boosting. Some were the gateway drug (or saw). And most are now things that we can’t do without. So without further ado, I present to you: 5 Power Tools That Changed How We DIY. Note: none of the links in this post are affiliate links.

#1 – Power drill / driver  (we have one like this from Black & Decker) – I’ll start slow here, because a $40 cordless drill barely registers on the power tool spectrum. But my little 12v battery-operated drill/driver that I bought nearly a decade ago is still one of my best tool purchases. Just putting a little power behind the otherwise tedious task of screwing things together or drilling simple holes (like for picture hanging anchors) has made small DIY tasks much easier and faster. Seriously, just buy yourself a hex screwdriver bit set and see how much faster your next Ikea assembly goes.

#2 – Miter saw (we have one like this by Craftsman) – Power saws were the most intimidating power tool to me. I mean, c’mon, there’s a whole gory movie franchise bearing their name. But borrowing my dad’s miter saw to install trim in our first bathroom remodel was eye opening to me. Just making simple 45° cuts turned out to be super easy, fast, and even kinda fun. I got that little rushthat  you get when you conquer a fear and it triggered a complete 180° in me. I love saws. I own six of them (not counting the manual ones). And becoming confident with them has opened up a whole world of projects we can tackle – whether it’s cutting big sheets of plywood with a circular saw or ripping floor boards on our table saw.

#3 – Kreg jig (we have this one) – Now this one isn’t technically a power tool (although it does involve using a power drill/driver), but it was too significant in my “tool journey” to leave off the list. This was the device that got me interested in building stuff. It took some of the mystery out of joining two pieces of wood together (not that there’s a whole lot of mystery there to begin with). I started small with some shelves for Clara’s nursery and before long we were using it to constructing giant console tables, play kitchens and even real kitchen cabinets (okay, all of those should probably be singular). Although I’ll admit ol’ Kreg and I don’t spend as much time together as we used to thanks to the next item on my list…

#4 – Nail gun (we have this one by Craftsman) – After “saw”, “gun” is the scariest word in the tool dictionary to me. I was a slow adapter in purchasing a nail gun (we bought ours less than a year ago) and our model is far from heavy duty. But after hours of numb arms thanks to manually hand-nailing some crown molding in our last kitchen, I knew we had to up our game if we wanted projects like adding board and batten to take days instead of weeks to complete. And just like with the miter saw, within one use we were both full converts. Not only has it made projects like adding crown molding and installing our sunroom ceiling possible, but for the most part it (plus wood glue) has replaced a lot of tasks we had previously used the Kreg Jig for (mainly for speed reasons, since glue + nails is much faster than drilling pilot holes and screwing things together – although that’s still the best way to go for certain tasks).

#5 – Paint sprayer (we have one like this by Graco) – This is the latest power tool to join the Petersik ranks (it’s even newer than the nail gun) and it almost didn’t make the list. Just like numbers one through four, it has been invaluable for speeding up tasks that otherwise would’ve taken us days – namely spraying all of the blue/cream/mauve trim & doors on our house’s second floor before moving in. But it wasn’t a shoe-in for this list because I still have a love/hate relationship with it. While I love its painting speed, there’s a lot that I don’t love – from prepping and protecting against over-spray, to the time it takes to clean it after use – which means using it isn’t a no-brainer for us every time. I’m still glad we have it, and we definitely like to use it strategically (like for painting the kitchen cabinet doors that we could remove and spray in the garage while hand-painting the frames that were still in the kitchen to avoid an over-spray snowstorm), but it hasn’t caused us to ditch our old school brush and roller completely.


So those are our 5 power tool game-changers. What are yours? Are there any others you think I should add to our repertoire?


As a little Friday bonus, here are four fun projects, chats, or questions going on over on the Forums. We also announced this week’s giveaway winner, so you can click here (and scroll down to the Rafflecopter box) to see if it’s you.

by adiantumpedatum
by kschrav
by artisandesarts by rcmm




We have a nursery update for you guys in the form of two new purchases that we brought home, assembled, and will now attempt to customize. After this planning post we pictured ourselves diving right into constructing our two custom built-ins to flank the crib, but then we realized that before we could actually start on those, we needed to make some decisions about what we wanted them to look like (base cabinets with doors and a bookcase top? lower cabinets with drawers instead? dressers that we could top with shelves and molding? tall armoire-ish things for each side of that wall?).

So after a lot of inspiration-room browsing and comparing measurements/product choices on a slew of cabinetry and furniture websites, we finally landed on something that we hope will be extremely functional for the long-haul. Strong sturdy wood drawers as the base, with a bookcase-like top that we’ll build to the ceiling and frame out with molding. So far we’ve picked up two of the best drawers we could find for the job (more on that in a sec) and put them together, so the room’s currently looking like this:

But eventually we envision them looking a little something like this. Except less photoshop-y.

I’ll get more into the DIY part of this post in a minute, but first I wanted to talk about some insecurities I’ve been having about becoming a second-time father, and how (oddly enough) putting these dressers together helped me work through some of them. Sorry to get sappy for a moment. Can I blame it on pregnancy hormones?

Let me preface this by saying I’m a harsh critic when it comes to my own parenting. I generally think I do a good job, but there are always things I’d like to do better – be more patient with Clara, have more adventures with her, and generally give her more of my undivided attention. It’s that last one that seems especially daunting in the context of having a second child: how do I give two kids sufficient attention when sometimes I feel like I’m falling short with just one?

Life also felt simpler back when we were expecting Clara. She arrived on the very day I was leaving my advertising job to come blog full-time with Sherry. So Clara came into a household where time felt almost leisurely. Sure, the blog was still somewhat busy back in 2010, but suddenly having two full-time employees made it feel like we had plenty of hours to soak up this new baby of ours – especially since we moved at a slower project pace and had lots of other stuff in the mix like multiple mood boards, Reader Redesigns, House Crashings, Email Answers, and Window Shopping posts along with lighter fare like Budget Blooms, random posts about mushrooms, or weird dreams.

Things won’t be that way when the Barnacle arrives. He’ll land right as we’re scrambling to finish our showhouse. Right as we’re supposed to be photographing some of our second book. Right after our secret project will finally be out of the bag. So I already worry that this awesome little boy will be meeting a busier, more distracted version of us. And sometimes I feel like I owe him an apology that he won’t get the same experience that his big sister got back in 2010.

But building these Ikea dressers snapped me out of my worry-fest. Why? Because as I opened that first Ikea box after dinner – tired and less than excited about the task – Clara walked in and asked if she could help. It made me realize that yes, this baby’s experience will be different, but in many good ways. Mainly in that he’ll hopefully have fun doing random things like assembling furniture or other house-related stuff that Clara seems to love sharing with us. And that he’ll have a doting big sister to play with him, watch over him, and love him. That’s something Clara didn’t have and that will be an exciting experience that’s uniquely his.

As usual, Clara and I had fun building together. Sometimes she was just playing or singing nearby. And as you can see in the pictures above (and the video below), she also enjoyed pretending she was in “furniture jail” and dancing to the Tangled soundtrack in her “pirate-witch costume.” You know the usual. I love that we now have these memories attached to these two pieces of furniture.

But the more amazing memory will be of how she actually participated in the build. She helped me pick out the pieces from the bag (“I need six wood pieces that look like this, can you find them for me?”) and even took over the task of putting dowels in the right holes.

She was quite the little helper, and I realized how cool it is that this baby’s room won’t just be created by his parents, but that his big sister literally had a hand in it too.

All of this is not to say that I’ve squashed every one of my insecurities about fatherhood 2.0 (“do I even remember how to hold a baby?“), but at least I’ve realized that I should stop comparing the two experiences and beating myself up over what will be different. Things are different, and that isn’t a bad thing. But enough about my feelings. {insert manly throat clearing here} Let’s talk about these built-ins…

Most of the other built-in projects that we saw online were either made using base cabinets from the home improvement store (a bunch of which looked a little too kitchen-y to us, or felt a bit steep in price for not-solid-wood) or with Ikea items like BILLY bookcases (like this one), the BESTA system (like this one), or even some combination of the two (like this one). But we wanted something a bit deeper (BILLY is 11″ and BESTA is 16″) and we wanted the bottoms of ours to act like dresser drawers, not like cabinet doors (for some nice deep, easy-to-access storage). So when we stumbled upon the FJELL dressers (21″ deep) online, they seemed to fit the bill nicely. And when we checked them out in person, they looked – and felt – even better.

At $299 each, they’re a little pricier than your usual Ikea dresser, but they’re made of solid wood (i.e. no particle board) and we liked some of the details like the wood grain texture on the top and drawer fronts (which has inspired us to stain the top). Plus we figure if we’re spending the time and money building these dressers in, we like the idea of paying for something a bit more substantial that will hopefully hold up for the long haul, so we won’t find ourselves replacing them anytime soon.

We’re pretty sure we’re going to paint everything but the dresser top (which we’ll stain) just so whatever wood I build the tops out of will match the bottoms. But as you can see from the rendering, we’re considering a non-white color. Maybe a medium gray or a very muted green? Either way, we’re waiting to have all of the building and painting finished before attaching the hardware (no sense in putting that on, just to remove it when it’s time to paint). So for now we’re rocking some temporary string handles. But the hardware that comes with them is actually really nice.

We also picked these because they were a good width. I know from the picture below it looks like we could’ve gone a little wider (don’t mind that off-centered crib) but we wanted to be sure that the space between them would eventually fit a twin-bed (lengthwise) or even a full or a queen (widthwise). Just typing that feels like we’re jumping the gun, but obviously we want them to grow with the room and last longer than its relatively short-lived nursery phase.

As much as I’m hoping my next post on these will be of the “yay, they’re done!” variety, I’m trying to be realistic that there’s lots of building involved here, which will then be followed by caulking, priming, painting, and staining. And somewhere in there we’ll probably be installing crown molding around the whole room (to match the crown that’s going on the built-ins). So if you don’t hear about these for a little while, you’ll know what we’re up to. Though maybe I can enlist my little building assistant to help move things along.

She does have a pretty good handle on dowels and allen wrenches…