A Finish Carpenter's Bag of Tricks

Veto Pro Pac XL Bag I keep my everyday tools in this bag. I like it because it’s heavily constructed and has a slim profile so it takes up less space in my vehicle. The small size of this bag forces me to be more organized than I might otherwise be – though the contents can get pretty jumbled when I’m in a hurry.

FastCap AcuScribe Pro We regularly scribe trim to walls and floors: base moldings, cabinets, shelving, and the like. For this kind of work reliable scribes are a must, and the AccuScribes have many cool features. The side across from the pencil is flat, which provides some stability as you run it across the surface you are scribing to. These scribes are more adjustable than most because there are two pivot points, one in the usual location and another just above the pencil. The built-in pencil sharpener (next to the main pivot) is also quite handy.

DoorJack The DoorJack is a sturdy piece of plastic that can be used to pry against the bottom of a door while lifting it onto the hinge pins or fitting it into an opening. You put one edge under the door and step on the other with your foot. It’s better than using a regular (metal) pry bar because it won’t mar the door or floor.

Picquic Dash 7 multi-driver I enjoy looking at the cheap gadgets that are displayed on the counters at lumberyards and supply houses. They’re usually nothing special but this multi-driver caught my eye because it’s very compact (A). Like other tools of its kind, the bits store in the handle; when you push one in, the one in front of it comes out (B). The included bits are better quality than most and have 1/4-inc hex shanks so you can chuck them into a cordless drill. If you need more torque while driving by hand you can apply some oomph by putting a wrench on the flats of the shaft.

Dalluge 16-oz Straight Claw Hammer Simple is better, at least when it comes to my hammer. I prefer the straight hickory handle design as it’s easier to retrieve from the hammer loops on my work wear. These hammers are light and the straight claw can be used for light demo work.

Playing Cards Need a fine adjustment? Playing cards are the perfect shim – so it’s worth keeping a few of them up your sleeve. When you see how well they work behind hinges and hardware you won’t be able to keep a poker face.

Mechanical pencil For most finish carpenters, mechanical pencils are a must. They strike the finest line and won’t add line weight like pencils do when they dull. When you’re working to 32nd (or finer) tolerances a thin even line really matters. Just remember to keep extra lead on hand.

FastCap Pocket Chisel I used to avoid putting sharp chisels into my bag or work wear pockets for fear it would rub against something and get dull or cut up my gear. That won’t happen with these chisels because the handles fold to cover the blade (A) and unfold to reveal it (B). They’re inexpensive and can be used for fine work or as general purpose beaters.

Eye and Hearing Protection It should go with our saying that you wear eye and hearing protection. Once you get use to wearing both it’s hard to go back to working without them. To me they are part of the uniform; once I’m wearing them it’s Game On!

Tajima GP 16 Tape I rarely use anything larger than a 16’ tape because most trim material is no longer than that. If I need to measure a large room I’ll use a laser distance meter (more on this tool in Part 2 of the story). What I like about this particular tape is that it’s light, small, and has a very comfortable grip. The numbers are very readable and it’s easy to get the thing in and out of a pocket or pouch. The hook recesses slightly into the case, which protects it from damage – though that does mean you have to pull it out by hand to hook it onto something.

Wood Rasps A simple set of files and rasps make clean up fast when coping moldings, or fine tuning joinery. I can’t remember what brands these rasps are.

Snap Blade Knife I never liked standard utility knives; there’s too much play in the blades of retractable models and no one makes a really good sheath for fixed blade models. And it can be a pain to change blades with either type of tool and if the replacement blades spill into your pouch – the pouch bites back when you reach into it. We like snap blade knives (this one is from Tajima) because they solve all of these problems. There is very little play, replacement blades stow where you can see them, and the blades can be extended far out from the handle for cutting insulation and other thick material. The blades are great for scraping. I sometimes use one as a marking knife.

End Cutting Pliers Carpenters often refer to these as Dykes (which is the brand of end cutting pliers everyone used to have). These are Channellocks. I use them daily for pulling brads and finish nails. They also are handy for cutting down screws or pulling and grabbing other items.

Tite-Mark Marking Gauge This gauge isn’t used for running trim, but it comes in handy when we’re building millwork. It’s my go-to tool when I need to make precise repetitive marks. The micro-adjust feature allow me to dial in settings that are dead-on. The circular tip scores the wood with a micro-fine line that can be used to start a chisel or handsaw cut. I bought this gauge while building mortise and tenon doors for my garage. I fell in love with it and now it lives in my everyday bag.

Bonus Photo: Jesse’s Poker Face This is why I don’t play poker (see figure 6 – playing cards). What can I say, I like being a carpenter.

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