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12 Great Gifts for DIYers

Need the perfect gift for the old-house restorer on your list? We’ve got you covered, from the newest gadgets to the classic must-haves.
By Noelle Lord Castle & the OHJ Editorial Staff

    Gifts for old-house restorers
    As gift-giving season rolls around, most folks begin dreaming of expensive electronics, new clothes, pampering bath products. But not old-house restorers—for them, a high-tech hammer is much more useful than the latest iPhone incarnation, and a sturdy wrench will win out over bubble bath any day.

    That’s because, even during the holidays, the restorer never forgets his or her true love: that old house. Gifts that make working on it easier, faster, and better—from basic toolbox staples to new-and-improved gadgets—are always a welcome addition under the tree.

    The Latest & Greatest

    Pancake compressor

    Pancake Compressor

    Compressors are a must-have item for serious DIYers—they make nailing trim and other decorative elements as easy as pulling a lever. Porter-Cable’s new 165-psi, 4-gallon pancake compressor packs more usable air and a faster recovery time into a compact package that’s also lighter and about 30 percent quieter than previous models. About $170; (888) 848-5175,

    Stay-put tape measure

    Stay-Put Tape Measure

    Tapes that stay where you want them—without rolling over or pulling away from the surface you’re measuring until you’re done—are key to making efficient measurements. The hook on Bostitch’s new Bi-Material Tape with BladeArmor has a surface area 150 percent larger than traditional tape measures, and its 13′ standout makes it easy to measure materials from a variety of angles. 25′ tape measure, $25; (800) 556-6696,

    Ryobi laser level

    AirGrip Laser Level

    In an old house, where there’s rarely a straight line, a level is a must, and one that keeps your hands free is even better. Ryobi’s tiny laser level vacuum-grips the wall, even on uneven surfaces, to stay in place while you align shelves and picture frames. Unlike other hands-free levels that use sticky paper or pins, this one won’t mar your walls. $20; 800-525-2579,

    Anti-vibe hammer

    Anti-Vibe Hammer

    All hammers are not created equal—some can make jobs move faster. Take the new Anti-Vibe hammers from Bostitch: A strike face that’s 75 percent larger than the industry standard makes it easier to hit your target, while improved tuning-fork technology works to minimize vibration, and torsion control stabilizers help ease arm fatigue. Available in several sizes. 28-oz. hammer, $28; (800) 556-6696,

    The Classics


    Reciprocating Saw (aka Sawzall)

    For major projects like removing clapboards or getting rid of rotten porch planks, the Sawzall’s ability to cut through both wood and metal makes it invaluable. Word to the wise: This demolition tool can spell disaster in the hands of uninformed homeowners, so make sure your recipient knows what should and shouldn’t be removed. (Might we suggest an OHJ subscription as a companion gift?) Around $80, (800) 729-3878,

    Reusable respirator

    Good-Quality Respirator

    It may not be as flattering to wear as, say, a cashmere sweater, but no old-house restorer should be without a decent respirator. A
    rubber half-mask with a changeable cartridge is a good bet for basic home repair needs—we like the 3M 6000 Series because it comes in several sizes, and filter changes are a snap. Include HEPA (for airborne dust particles like lead) and charcoal (for organic vapors like oil paints and strippers) filters to protect against the most common repair-related toxins. From around $11; (888) 364-3577,

    Wood planes

    Wood Planes

    Anyone creating woodwork for an older home—where new pieces can stick out because they lack the hand-planing marks of older craftsmanship—can appreciate a set of good wood planes. For general use, 6″ to 10″ block planes are a toolbox staple. Scrub planes are also good to have on hand; the subtle U shape of their blade creates hand-planing definition. Standard block plane, $145; (800) 871-8158,

    Utility shears

    Utility Shears

    Capable of handling a wide variety of projects both inside the house and out, utility shears can’t be beat. They can prune trees, cut tubing and dowels to size, trim weatherstripping, and more. Stanley’s latest version features a 1″-wide opening that cuts with standard utility blades, attached via a nut for easy changeovers. There’s also storage for up to five standard utility blades in the handle, so you always have a fresh one at the ready. $10; (800) 782-6539,

    Stocking Stuffers



    This inexpensive little tool is an absolute must-have for any wooden window owner. Its triangle-shaped head allows you to get in between sashes or any other adjoining woodwork pieces that are stuck together by paint buildup. The serrated edges “unzip” the paint bead to regain sash movement. $8; (800) 423-3845,

    Electrical tester

    Circuit and Polarity Testers

    Before plugging an electrical device—especially high-tech gear like a new computer—into an old socket, you’ll first want to make sure the outlets in your house are safe, meaning their polarity is properly wired and grounded. That’s where these testers come in. Ideal’s version diagnoses wiring via easy-to-read colored light combinations. Around $8; (800) 445-6937,

    Adjustable-jaw wrench

    Adjustable-jaw Wrench

    Whether you’re working with old bolts or new plumbing, this wrench—often called a Channel Lock wrench after a common brand—is invaluable. A slide offers multiple positions to hold and turn, and better-quality ones have spring systems to lock the grip in place. Parallel-jaw adjustable wrenches, from $65; (800) 221-2942,

    The gadget

    The Gadget

    Landscape buffs will appreciate this handy, compact multi-tool from Arnold that combines 11 commonly used tools in one easy-to-carry accessory. Armed with four standard-sized sockets; standard, Phillips, and T27 TORX screwdrivers; and even a chainsaw file holder, The Gadget can be a pinch hitter on a number of old-house projects. It even comes with a handy bottle opener, and hangs from a belt loop via an attached carabiner clip. $15; (800) 466-3337,

    Online Exclusive: Now that the shopping’s done, enter your home in our holiday decorating contest! Click here to find out how to submit your photos.

    Published in: Old-House Journal December/January 2011


    Teresa Enterkin January 23, 2012 at 11:43 am

    You have the Stanley Utility Shears pictured on your website gift ideas, but I have been unable to purchase them. The Shears are not listed on the Stanley online catalog and I even called the 800 # you provided and was unsuccessful. Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.
    Teresa in Louisiana

    Catherine Brooks, Eco-Strip July 20, 2012 at 10:17 am

    For the serious wood restorer who needs to strip old, lead-based paint (usually any pre-1978) or damaged varnish, the Speedheater Infrared Paint Remover and ergonomic, steel scrapers are the real thing. Safe by not creating toxic lead fumes with their low 400℉ heat and by scraping soft paint, window glazing, and varnish into easily containable clumps. $499 for Kit with scrapers and Ladder Hooks. 703-476-6222

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