Take it from me, I’ve lived and breathed tools for most of my life so if you’re looking for a DIY gift idea for that person in your life who loves to tinker; well, you’ve arrived at the right place. I have plenty of gift ideas for you based on the tools I’ve loved.
Buying the best Christmas gift for a person who enjoys DIY is not simple. Do it yourself can actually mean anything. They may enjoy building projects around the home, fixing cars, motorcycles, electronics, carpentry, or metal work. There are more topics and sub-topics that that can be discussed.
DIY Gift Ideas
I’m a complete DIY nut. It started with fixing and modifying my bicycle, around the age of ten. I soon gained a fascination for all things mechanical – motorcycles, cars, and any type of machine. I moved onto electrics and electronics, eventually following a long career in the electrical engineering field. If something breaks I fix it, or at least try. After many years, I’ve become somewhat of an expert DIY repairer of electrical appliances, cars, bikes, generators, basically anything you can think of. If it breaks, chances are I’ll be able to repair it.
Along the way, I also developed a love for DIY building. This includes carpentry work, masonry, tiling plumbing, and all the other skills you need when extending and renovating your home. You can most certainly say I’m a Jack of all trades. Master of some. When it comes to DIY, I consider myself the epitome of the home tool user. I have used just about every type of tool ever made for just about every task they were designed for. Even some they weren’t designed for. I’m sharing this with you, so you can get an idea of where I’m coming from.
I can’t give you a one size fits all gift idea for the DIY person. There are simply too many options and individual preferences. Tools for auto DIY are not the same as building. There are some basic must have items that every DIY enthusiast needs. It is easier to buy tools for a beginner. Some one who doesn’t own many tools and probably hasn’t graduated to the high-end, or specialized tools yet. We usually start out with basic kits from brands like Stanley or Craftsman. More affordable stuff, not the very best. As time goes by, we become more discerning. Buying tools for an old timer, like me, is not as easy. We have been collecting tools for decades and have evolved a particular sense of what we want. Notwithstanding, we probably have all we need.
By sharing my story with you, I hope to give you some insight on how to go about buying tools for a DIY enthusiast. Rather than give specific tool buying ideas, though I will be offering some suggestions. I’ll be mentioning my most memorable tool purchases, as this could be a great way for you to understand what the tool enthusiast may most appreciate. More importantly, you can derive a sense of what they may want, depending on how far along the DIY journey they are.
The Genesis | How it All Began…
My first tool kit that I bought, with my own money, was a proud moment indeed. I was ten-years-old, maybe eleven. I bought a small bicycle tool kit from the local hardware. Since my BMX was my pride and joy, this was a momentous occasion. So much so, that I’m recalling it vividly now, almost 40-years later.
The bicycle tool kit was nothing fancy. Not by a long shot. It was a small pouch that attached to the bicycle seat. This meant that you had your tools with you wherever you go. A concept that served me well in later years, when I started restoring old cars. Inside this little kit were three basic items. The most complex of these is what I call a bicycle multi-wrench, a fancy name for a very simple tool. It was basically a flat sheet of metal, roughly ¹⁄₈” thick, about 2’ wide and about 5” long. It had a number of small standard wrench shapes cut into it, up to ½”. Along the edges were the same wrench sizes, just in an open wrench format. This meant that I could remove a bicycle wheel, tension the chain, or adjust the brakes, no matter where I found myself.
The kit also contained a small pair of pliers, with a basic wire cutter. The final item was a double sided screwdriver. The shank slotted into the handle and could be removed. On one side it had a conventional flat tip screwdriver, the other was a Phillips screwdriver. You could turn the shank around and insert into the handle, depending on which type of screw you were dealing with.
While I would never consider using any of those cheap, extra-light duty tools today, they transformed my life back then. I was, on many occasions, the hero of the brat pack. Helping my friends get their bicycles up and running on one of many, often quite long, journeys through suburbs and parks.
The most significant thing about this rather insignificant tool kit was how it transformed me into a fixer of things. A sense of power for a kid of that age. I soon realized that with right tools you can do incredible things.
My parents were not very handy. Actually they had no clue how to hold a hammer properly. In my father’s perception, the only purpose for a screwdriver was to punch holes in cans. With my new-found tool prowess, I began taking on ever more complicated tasks. Attempting, with varying degrees of success, to fix everything around the home. Doors that would not close properly, a sagging gutter, basically any task that the average DIY dad would undertake, I took on at this early age. When appliances stopped working and were destined for the trash, I first attempted to fix them. At the very least, I managed to take them apart and figure out how they worked.
It was through this process of trial and error that the journey began. Although the toolbox in our home was limited to a few screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, and a hammer. At the age of fourteen, I got a job at the local golf course and this provided the income to start buying my own tools.
Th next great step in my journey to becoming a tool junkie was around the age of 15-years. I discovered the wonders of the internal combustion engine. This became a life-long obsession and so began a lifetime of buying and upgrading an ever-increasing array of tools. Once you start on the gearhead path, there’s no turning back.
I started fixing and rebuilding motorcycles and graduated onto cars around the age of sixteen. By this time, I had acquired a few basic tools, used for my increasing handywork around the home. Probably the most memorable was the adjustable wrench. What a versatile tool. Though I soon discovered that an adjustable wrench is not the best tool for auto repairs. You need solid flat wrenches and a good set of sockets. At least, I had already bought a fairly decent Stanley screwdriver set. Stanley is not a top professional brand, but quite good. For a youngster starting out, perfectly adequate.
In order to do even the most basic of DIY auto repair jobs, I needed decent wrenches. The first purchase was a full set of Gedore combination wrenches. I had to save for a month before I could afford it. The socket set took longer, they are more expensive. Like the Stanley screwdrivers, the Gedore wrenches were not top of the line, but pretty good quality. If you want to buy reasonably priced, quality DIY tools, these are two brands that you can depend on. There are others, this was just my initial experience and I stand by it to this day.
Of course, back then we had no option for battery-powered tools. Though I doubt I would have been able to afford them on my budget at the time.
Pretty soon, my toolbox began to fill and grow in size. Various styles and sizes of plyers accumulated, along with an ever-increasing variety of screwdrivers. A vice grip was also one of the early purchases. Another versatile tool that should be in every toolbox. I bought these tools as the need arose. Though, if I had the cash, I would have rather bought a decent tool kit. It actually costs a lot less to buy a large selection in one kit, compared to buying individual items.
These days, we have so many tool kit or combo options and they may be the best gift idea for beginner DIYers. There are some really cool, high-end tool kits too, especially cordless tools. DeWalt has an endless variety of combo kits which, for DeWalt quality, are wonderfully priced. For more affordable cordless combo kits, I’d recommend Black & Decker or Craftsman. You will also find great kits, containing more conventional hand tools. Some are assembled for basic DIY, others are more specialized, like mechanics tool kits.
Through my twenties, I mostly collected mechanics tools for DIY. In my professional environment, dealing with electronics, I obtained a few more specialized tools for electrical work. In this regard, a good multimeter is the king of all electrical tools. If you know someone who does a lot of electrical repairs, or enjoys tinkering with electronics, a good quality multimeter will be greatly appreciated. I’ve come to depend on Fluke as a top brand for multimeters. They are not cheap, but there many options. Ranging from reasonably affordable basic products for DIY electricians, to devices that can provide all the information that an engineer would want on a jobsite.
For DIY purposes, I did not require many sophisticated tools. Though, my multimeter was always a great advantage, whether it was electrical work at home or for the car. As for the mechanics tools, a timing strobe was about as sophisticated as it got. That was until onboard computers started to become more common in cars. Through the 1990s increased reliance on computers for vehicle management changed the way we diagnose and repair cars. It became important to use On-Board Diagnostics (OBD).
An OBD is a portable device that you connect to the onboard computer of any modern vehicle. Professional auto repair shops will have a more capable, larger computer for this. Even a small portable OBD provides just about all the information on the performance of the vehicle and any faults. A modern mechanic, professional or DIY, cannot successfully diagnose most vehicle faults without one.
The Building Years
I guess it’s common for most people to start changing their focus around the age of thirty. This is the time when we generally become more family and home oriented. Obsessive hobbies, like cars and motorcycles, become secondary and the home becomes a priority.
With this change in life comes a new perspective on the tools we use. Even if you have never been much into tools before, once you become a homeowner there are some basic items that are essential. The obvious hammer, screwdrivers, and pliers are a staple. An electric drill is also quite important. Though, if you don’t intend doing serious DIY work, a good quality cordless drill/driver should be fine. Regardless of what type of DIY a person is interested in, I’d say a cordless drill/driver should number one on anyone’s wish list.
It was around this time in my life that battery-powered tools started to make an appearance. At the time, it was only the high-end brands that manufactured cordless tools. By today’s standards these early (mostly 12V) cordless tools were hopelessly under-powered. At the time, though, they seemed like the best thing since sliced bread. As I had already become a fan of high-quality tools, through my hobbies and professional interests, this new technology caught my fancy. I had to discover the wonderful world of cordless tools.
At the time, Makita was the leader in the cordless tool market. Although incredibly expensive, I bought one of the first Makita drill/driver kits available. I found it at a discount which helped persuade that this was the right thing to do. Though my inner kid was saying I just had to have this cool tool kit, at any price. A big metal toolbox was included. It contained every type of driver tool imaginable. Every type of screwdriver bit, poly bits, square bits, and sockets of every size and description. It was a revolutionary idea for its time.
While Makita is still one of the best brands for cordless tools, I gradually changed over to DeWalt. As one starts to depend on cordless tools we realize that keeping to one brand is the best way to buy these tools. It means you’re using a single battery platform for all your cordless tools. This is cost effective, as you don’t need to buy multiple batteries and chargers. It also reduces clutter in the garage. We typically have several batteries, so that some can be charged while others are in use. This means you don’t have to stop working when the battery runs low, you simply exchange it for a fully charged one.
Here’s a quick tip when buying cordless tools or accessories for the DIY person. Check what brand is their preference. For the reasons mentioned above, it’s important to know what cordless tools they are already using. If you have any doubt as to what they might need, batteries are always welcome. This may not be the most glamorous gift but will definitely be appreciated. You can never have too many batteries and brand new batteries always perform better than older ones. I can promise you this; new quality batteries will definitely put a smile on the face of any tool enthusiast. It’s what we most depend on.
I’ve mentioned Makita and DeWalt as two of the best brands for cordless tools. Though, we can never ignore Milwaukee; considered by many to be the ultimate power tool brand. My preference for DeWalt has mostly to do with the variety of tools available. The DeWalt 20V MAX tool range is incredible. Makita and Milwaukee also have many options, though I think DeWalt is the best for choice. Comparing DeWalt and Makita vs Milwaukee, the latter is usually quite a lot more expensive. As much as I admire Milwaukee tools, I’m inclined to think that DeWalt and Makita are better value. In this discussion, we cannot ignore Bosch, a great power tools manufacturer with some very affordable options, as well as more expensive high-end tools. Bosch, however, does not have quite the selection of cordless tools as the top three brands I mentioned.
For the more average DIY cordless tool arsenal, you may not need these more expensive brands. Black & Decker is, in my opinion, the best brand for more affordable DIY cordless tools. They have some amazing kits, complied specifically for the DIY homeowner. A wonderful, quite affordable gift for the first-time DIY homeowner, would be the Black & Decker LDX120PK kit. It ahs all the basic essential hand tools, and a Black & Decker 20V drill/driver kit. Everything the first-time DIYer needs to get started in one kit with a tool bag to store the tools in.
The Power Years
As I grew into the homeowner role, I never lost my passion for cars and restoration. I simply added new interests to my DIY repertoire. It didn’t take long for my imagination to run wild with all the DIY possibilities around the home. It started with new tiles for the bathroom, then a kitchen makeover. In time, these became fully fledged building projects – a second bathroom, more bedrooms, extended entertainment areas. It never really stopped. The completion of one project merely provided inspiration for the next.
When one starts with home renovation DIY, a whole new set of tools become necessary. I started with additional hand tools. No matter which power tools you rely on, there are some hand tools that are indispensable. Most importantly, a good selection of hand saws. As many sizes and shapes as you can find will always be handy. You often need to work in places where an electric saw, or larger hand saw, simply won’t fit. Another important hand tool is the hand planer. Again many sizes and types will always be an advantage. Never underestimate the value of a good quality hammer. To the untrained eye, one hammer may seem pretty much like the rest. This far from true. A top-quality hammer, with a good handle and head will last a lifetime. Actually, several lifetimes. There are also a multitude of different hammer designs, each with a specific purpose.
It’s the power tools that I bought for home improvement DIY that have left the longest legacy in terms of memorable purchases. Two Bosch tools were amongst the first power tools that I acquired for building projects. Both have been imprinted in my memory ever since.
The unexpected hero being a cheap 8” Bosch circular saw. This was not a sophisticated saw, by any means. The DeWalt 10” saw I bought many years later was definitely a more refined machine. If I were to pay top dollar for the very best saw, it would be a Festool model. I don’t see the price as being justified for the casual DIY carpenter, but Festool are the undisputed champions of woodworking tools. More to the point, my trusty little Bosch saw deserves a mention for shear tenacity. No matter what abuse I put the tool through, it would not give up the ghost. For such a cheap saw, it has won my enduring respect.
The second Bosch tool, that will never be forgotten, has to be my Bosch Bulldog SDS 1” rotary hammer drill. If you need to drill into concrete, brick, or rock, there can be no better drill. They are also wonderful for chiseling, like removing tiles. A rotary hammer drill has to be super tough, as it is one of the tools that has to work the hardest in extremely harsh conditions. Fine concrete (silica) dust will destroy a cheap drill very quickly. Not only is the Bosch Bulldog drill a wonderful tool to use, it is virtually indestructible. More than twenty years later, my Bulldog is still going strong. I reckon it will be with me for the rest of my life.
When we start looking at the more sophisticated, and expensive DIY tools, it’s important buy from a good brand. A contractor table saw is a wonderful thing to have. This is basically a portable, compact table saw, capable of ripping full boards. Few home shops can accommodate a full-size table saw. A portable jobsite, or contractor table saw is much more practical and perfect for DIY jobs. Another great saw to have is a compound sliding miter saw.
Both the saws I mentioned are more specialized tools, not what the average DIY user would usually require. Though very nice to have and important for building and carpentry enthusiasts. The fundamental thing to consider when buying this type of saw, is quality. Because they need to be accurate and have a lot of complicated components, cheap table and miter saws are not worth buying. I’ll always recommend DeWalt as my number one go to brand. Though this is very much a matter of personal preference. Any of the recognized, high-end brands manufacture good saws.
Other tools that have been a big part of my life have been my Metabo angle grinder, another one of those purely indestructible tools. Angle grinders usually have to work in extremely tough conditions, so good quality is important. A welder is another incredible tool to own. Ideally, we would all own a Millermatic welder. They are superb machines and so easy to use. They are, however, prohibitively expensive for many home users. Some great DIY welder brands include Hobart, Lincoln Electric, and Forney. These would be my top three affordable welder brands. I reckon Lincoln is the best of these. They manufacture word-class industrial welders and also some cheaper, less powerful models for DIY welding.
The Twilight Years
Now that I own all the tools I’ll ever need, it’s difficult to say what I would really be happy receiving as a gift. There are some real wish list items, like a milling machine, and a full-size cabinet table saw. These are really expensive tools, and I don’t, strictly speaking, have a real use for them. They would just be nice to have. I definitely wouldn’t expect to see any of these under the Christmas tree. For one thing, they are way too big. Notwithstanding that I would expect anyone to spend thousands of dollars on tools of this caliber as a gift. That would be an indulgence I would award myself, if the inclination grabs me.
If you’re wondering what type of gift would be great for the DIY dad, or grandad, who has just about all they need, keep it practical. We know what we want and have specific preferences, acquired over many years. Having been through the mill, buying tools, I won’t be easily impressed by flashy looking tools with bling, bells, and whistles. The necessities, things I use all the time and have to replace regularly, would be most appreciated.
I’ve already mentioned batteries for cordless tools, this is a guaranteed winner. Other gift ideas for the guy who has all the tools he could possibly want would be driver bit kits. These need to be replaced over the years, so they will always come in handy. There are some great driver kits. A kit that includes a quality storage box would be my favorite. The box is the best part. Every experienced DIYer values good quality, well-designed storage solutions. DeWalt and Festool produce some of the very best tools storage modular systems, and these are fantastic gifts. Everyone with tools in a garage, shed, or home shop, will treasure a gift like this.
If you started out looking for an instant gift idea for a DIY person, I might have to apologize. Instead, you got the tool autobiography of a DIY-crazy old man. None the less, I hope sharing this journey with you has brought some value. I’ve tried to provide insight on how to set about finding our wants, likes, and needs.
Understanding what we do, and what we appreciate, should help you buy a gift that will leave a more lasting impression. After all, it’s the thought that counts, right? My aim was to assist in thought process. The rest is up to you.