5 tools you’ll wish you’d bought sooner

Even an affordable welder is a great asset. Kyle Smith

There are always more tools to buy, whether we need them or simply want them. Most at-home wrenchers have some version of a “man, I wish I had one of those” list, but not all medium- to high-priced tools deserve to remain on the wishlist simply because a cheaper version exists. Any tool in your shop is an investment, and putting more dollars into a purchase is sometimes wiser than holding out or scraping by.

We pulled together five of our favorite tools that, in hindsight, we would have invested in sooner.

A nice set of jack stands

Corvair on jack stands
Kyle Smith

Let’s start off with the basics: Tools that most home wrenchers already have but could likely stand to upgrade.

Jack stands are literally the only thing keeping you from becoming an uncooked organic pancake on the shop floor. Not only should you not be cheap here, you should err on the side of spendy. Jack stands can be purchased for for very little money from places that rhyme with hazard-fraught, but why subject yourself to questioning whether that wiggle was “just normal”? Buy a set of stands with more metal than the hull of the Titanic and use them religiously. It’s nearly impossible to wear them out—we implore you to try.

Drill press

drill press on bench
Even an older, bench-top drill press like this one is a nice upgrade from hand drilling everything. Kyle Smith

Space is a premium in every home shop. Dedicating some floor or bench space to a drill press can feel like wasting space, but the ability to accurately put holes in objects is invaluable. You will soon find yourself building jigs and, even if you don’t use it every day of the week, finding it more useful than you ever imagined.

We love using a drill press to start taps at a perfectly perpendicular angle by tightening the tap in the chuck and the workpiece in a vice. Use the quill to apply even and straight pressure while hand-turning the chuck (drill unplugged!) until the tap is started, then pull the workpiece and attach a tap handle to finish the job. Cheap drill presses can be just a few hundred dollars. Used, medium-duty pieces can be just under a thousand and last your entire lifetime if well maintained.


The ability to permanently join metal is a superpower. With few exceptions, you have no reason to deny this to yourself. Inverter welders have smaller footprints and friendlier prices than ever—you will likely spend more for scrap metal to practice on than you will for the welder itself. Welding can be intimidating, but an evening class at a local community college goes a long way to learn proper technique and build relationships that make advice a phone call away. A welder often provides another solution to some common problems when wrenching on old cars, like corroded or broken hardware.

As big a bench as you can afford

The floor is sometimes the only place to work, but if it becomes your go-to space for disassembly or diagnosis, you will tire of projects quickly. Mount a bench to the wall or put it on wheels to make it mobile, but build it as big as your space allows. (You will still want more space in the future, trust us.) When you do, look into adding work tops to toolboxes or other horizontal things you already have. Who says you can’t have storage and a workspace?

A quality drill index

Two ways to go about this one: Buy what you need as you need it, or buy once and be happy you aren’t making trips to the hardware store covered in grease right before closing because you need a specific bit. A quality drill index feels über expensive when popular sizes come in $5 blister packs, but those cheap bits rarely hold up to much use. Also, they often don’t contain the proper wire gauge sizes you will need if you get into any fabrication or thread repair. Sure, you can do conversions to an SAE or metric size and have it be “good enough,” but are you really going to settle? For the money, you shouldn’t.

Have an addition to this list? Leave it in a comment below.

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    My contribution to the discussion of tool Ethiopia, A good quality set of pressure pullers. My neighbor had a set that included different sizes and also a caliper press.
    #2. A set of tap and dies.
    As you mentioned on the article sometimes a DIYer needs to fabricate and/or retread a part needed to finish a project, I used a die for the first time recently and man! It is a workout, but very satisfactory when the plan works.

    Learn how to sharpen your drill bits or buy a drill doctor. A sharp drill bit is key to a good drilling job. A drill press that accepts a taper shank drill is also good to have for fabrication. They also have a standard chuck adapter on them.

    How could you leave out a heavy duty floor jack and a set of drive up ramps? If you have ever attempted to change a tire (you still need jack stand) or change your oil, or just take a look under your car, you’ll really need those things. They should be in your top 5 right after a set of tools, drop light, spark plug gap gauge, some shop rags.

    When I brought in my Bridgeport mill, I figured I would never need that floor standing drill press anymore and bought a used benchtop one for occasional hole drilling, with the goal of saving floor space. Uh no. the bench-top space became more valuable. I bought an older floor standing drill press and offed the bench-top unit. If you can squeeze it in, go with a floor standing drill press.

    Just recently my Son and I grabbed an induction heater and it is a game changer!!! Working under the car near fuel and brake lines and not worried about using a torch, the induction heater got those nuts red hot within seconds and everything came apart quickly and easily!!

    Funny, like most who have all the tools, I’m in my later 60s. It takes time and money to accumulate a good shop. My last 2 were big. An insulated, heated and cooled 20 x 30 x 10 pitched roof garage with scissor trusses and a 2 post lift. Had I started with the garage, it would have been cheaper as I would not have had to replace many of the tools lost over the years. Oh, the new garage: well it’s just for projects. The one attached to the house is one that my wife for some reason thinks she should park in during the winter.

    A critical tool I got as soon as I had a permanent garage (i.e., not apartment) was a three ton hydraulic floor jack. Dozens and dozens of times I used it to get a car up off the floor, on jackstands and under the wrench.

    I also learned growing up on the farm with makeshift tools, is buy the best tool you can because quality tools make for quality work.

    A good volt meter. I got my last one for about $50, I had a weak battery when I first bought my Hot Rod and didn’t have a battery load tester YET. I was able to tell it was my battery and not my alternator ( it did take about 1 week of testing though) but I was right, after getting the load tester, got a new battery, a Optima battery isn’t cheap.

    If only the knowlege came with the tools! I can do basic stuff, change the oil, change the plugs and set the gaps and flush the radiator for my stock ’34 Ford. But I am no mechanic. I would rather have a friend with knowlege and experience do my work. I would screw it up. Some take money, some do not. I don’t mind paying long as the job is done right.

    I read a lot about welders, but need size and cost?
    To the guy who talked about age and maybe thinking about finding a different hobby I am 85 and. Just changed out the headers on my 1928 model A Roadster 350 Chev. powered with no help. Floor jack & jack stands & a creeper.

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