A Finish Carpenter’s Bag of Tricks Slideshow

I keep my everyday tools in a Veto Pro Pac bag. I like it because it’s heavily constructed and has internal compartments that make it possible to stow everything in a particular spot. The bag’s small size forces me to be better organized, and its slim profile fits well in my vehicle. The heavy-duty shoulder strap allows me to sling it and free up a hand—which means fewer trips when loading and unloading. Web price: $200. 877.847.1443. vetopropac.com.

These small but powerful clamps make it faster and easier to glue miter joints in solid moldings. They aid in pre-assembly and hold joints tight while the glue sets. I still use nails, but with the clamps I can use fewer of them—a definite plus in high-end work. Though the clamps can be installed and removed by hand, I use Collins Miter Clamp Pliers because they can open the clamps farther for a stronger grip. Be careful using them; the spring-action is stiff and the tips are sharp, so you don’t want to accidentally close them on a finger. Web price: $35 for 12 clamps; $16 for pliers. 888.838.8988. collinstool.com.

I’ve never liked standard utility knives; no one makes a really good sheath for fixed-blade models and the blades of retractables have too much play. It can be a pain to change blades with either type, and if the replacement blades spill into your pouch, the pouch will bite you when you reach into it. I prefer snap-blade knives: The blades have less play, they can be extended far out from the handle for cutting insulation and other thick material, and replacements stow where you can see them. The blades are great for scraping, and I sometimes use one as a marking knife too. This particular knife is an older model from Tajima. Price: varies by brand. 888.482.5462. tajimatool.com.

As we regularly scribe baseboard, moldings, cabinets, and the like, reliable scribes are a must for us. Accuscribes are not only reliable; they have many cool features that make them easy to use. For one, they’re more adjustable than most because they have two pivot points, one in the usual location and another just above the pencil. Also, the side across from the pencil is flat so the tool remains stable as it runs across the surface you are scribing to. The built-in pencil sharpener is handy as well. Web price: $18. 888.443.3748. fastcap.com.

This gauge from Glen-Drake Toolworks is my go-to tool for making precise repetitive marks while fabricating millwork. The micro-adjust feature allows me to dial in settings so they are dead-on, and 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 and fell in love with it. Now it lives in my everyday bag. Web price: $90. 800.961.1569. glen-drake.com.

I retired my traditional sanding block and replaced it with this Festool sanding pad—probably the only non-dustless sander the company makes. I like the quick-change Velcro abrasive as well as the lipped design that allows it to fit into small fillets and profiles in molding. It can also be used like a shoulder plane by running it inside a rabbet. The proprietary replacement paper is expensive, but it’s very high quality and lasts a long time. Web price: $15. 800.365.6677. festoolusa.com.

Need to make a fine adjustment? Playing cards are the perfect shim—so it’s worth keeping a few of them up your sleeve. They work great behind hinges and hardware. Use them whole or cut into pieces.

You can make small shims on a table saw but it’s not worth the time or the risk to your fingers. It’s much better to buy them. These tiny shims from Nelson are phenomenal. I use them to make fine adjustments to trim at inside corners and other areas where standard shims won’t fit or would be wasteful. When I need to make those little—1/8 inch or less—adjustments, these guys are perfect. The 3 1/2-inch shims are hard to find; we buy them from a nearby molding supplier. Price: varies. 800.441.7390. shims.com.

We don’t use a lot of staples, but when we do, we usually need to remove some of them. The pinching action of this tool clamps the crown of the staple as the lever pulls it so both legs of the staple come out. It’s much better than using a flat-head screwdriver and pliers. A number of companies make staple removers; this one happens to be from Crain Tools. They’re normally used to remove carpet staples, so you can find them wherever flooring tools are sold. Web price: $8. 408.946.6100. craintools.com.

Tape measures are fine, but for setting up machines or making extremely precise measurements nothing beats a stainless steel rule. The lack of a hook makes it easier to measure small pieces and allows you to stick the rule where a tape won’t go (like into a slot or mortise). And instead of going to 1/16 inch, as tape measures do, most steel rules go to 1/8 and 1/16 inch on one side and 1/32 and 1/64 inch on the other. This rule happens to be from iGaging, but any brand will do. Web price: $6. 949.366.5708. igaging.com.

I often work with my father, and on many jobs I’ll be on scaffolding while he’s at a cut station in another room. In the past when I needed another piece or discovered I had given him the wrong dimension, I had to yell and hope he would hear. That was just silly. Now we carry two-way radios on our belts (they happen to be Blackbox radios from Klein Electronics—but they could be any brand). My dad turns his up really loud so he can hear my requests while he’s cutting. The only problem is getting both parties to use proper radio protocol, because these are not cellphones: “10-4.” Web price: $200 apiece. 800.959.2899. headsetusa.com.

I normally use a 16-foot tape; it’s long enough for most trim (when I need to measure large rooms, I can use a laser distance measurer). What I like about this particular tape is that it’s light and small and has a 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. Web price: $19. 888.482.5462. tajimatool.com.

I use this 9-ounce brass hammer when the chisels come out. It packs a punch but fits in the palm of my hand and in my pocket. It’s handy for installing locksets and hardware, when a regular hammer would be too much. And I like the way it looks and feels. The Tite-Hammer is made by Glen-Drake Toolworks and is available in 6-, 9-, 11-, and 14-ounce models in brass and steel. Web price: $52. 800.961.1569. glen-drake.com.

I used to avoid putting sharp chisels into my bag or workwear pockets for fear they would cut up my gear or rub up against something and get dull. That won’t happen with Pocket Chisels because the handles fold to cover the blade and unfold to reveal it. They’re inexpensive and can be used for fine work or as general-purpose beaters. They’re available in 1/4-inch increments between 1/4 and 1 inch wide. Web price: $18. 888.443.3748. fastcap.com.

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