Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

By Virginia Gardiner
Design-build practices invest considerable time in setting up shop and tremendous capital in tools. Three basic categories of shop work dominate almost every project: cutting, assembly, and finishing. The following items are especially useful.


Table saw: Indispensable for cutting wood or composite boards, these beasts are familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in carpentry. They come in many incarnations: Extra money buys a quieter motor, sharper blade, and more precise fence—the part that lines up wood blocks to the proper width and angle.

Horizontal bandsaw: These cut tidy ends when machining metal parts, which are crucial to contemporary living spaces. A good one will set you back at least a couple thousand. They are down-feed, meaning that the ribbonlike blade is lowered onto the piece to make the cut. Most experts agree that bi-metal blades last longer than carbon ones.


Pneumatic air hammer: These use compressed air to shoot nails and other fasteners into wood and woodlike materials. A portable handheld version is best for design-builders, who often assemble work onsite. Among its selling stats are torque and blows per minute.

Welder: Protective goggles and gloves, not to mention some know-how, are necessary when operating one of these. A welding
gun raises the temperature of metal thousands of degrees Fahrenheit—either with a gas nozzle or by converting electricity to a direct current—allowing the user to join melting surfaces.


Handheld sander: These save tremendous time and elbow grease when creating smooth surfaces. One attaches whatever sandpaper is needed onto these rapid-vibration machines. The best versions are random orbit, meaning they won’t create redundant pressure areas that cause unwanted ditches. To make a rough surface shiny, reduce the sandpaper’s roughness by degrees, and eventually replace it with a buffer.

High-volume, low-pressure paint sprayer: A gas mask is required while using one of these, which spread varnishes, lacquers, or ordinary latex paint so smoothly that the paintbrush is rendered obsolete. The low pressure of this air compressor that mixes paint and blows it through a gun is what distinguishes these from ordinary paint guns.


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