Welcome to our ultimate guide on the many different names, types, and uses of power tools in the world today. Some questions we often get from our readers include, “Which power tool is best for me?” “What types of power tools are out there?” “How do I know which power tool will best suit my current (and future) projects?”
In this informational guide, we will provide what the power tool is, how it works, a picture of the tool, our recommended buying guides for finding the best (whether it from us or around the internet), as well as any other informational video or resource we think will be helpful for you to learn more about the power tool you’re interested in. Our goal was to do the dirty work and research so you didn’t have to. Let’s get to it!
The ultimate list of power tools
Here’s a quick little table of contents for you in case you were here for a particular power tool. Click each tool below to jump to the designated description, or you can also continue reading for the full power tool list.
What is a power tool?
To review before we get into the details, a power tool is a device or machine powered by an additional source or mechanism other than our own human body (when compared to hand tools, at least). When it comes to their power source exactly, a majority of these are electric motor based, however many can also be fueled via gasoline (definitely a lot more rare, and typically only seeing in lawn and garden tools), internal combustion engines, and compressed air (also known as pneumatic).
In terms of the use of power tools, we ultimately can’t restrict any setting, environment, profession or type of home. However, the actual tool you buy will of course start to call for specific uses, environments and such. We’ve seen power tools used literally everywhere — in the home whether it’s a house, apartment or condo, all the way to the professionals at construction sites and home builders, to the middle of the pack in gardens, hobbyists, garages, metalworkers, down to the unique renovations, do-it-yourself enthusiasts, and at the end of the day, any human being who needs to do some work with a little extra power that the human hand, or body really, isn’t feasible enough. Broad, right? Let’s get into the actual details.
Which power tool is best for me?
Finding and buying the “best power tool” is too broad of a question for us to answer, especially since this guide today is an overview of every single type of (the popular ones, at least) power tools in the market today. So to try to break it down at least significantly for you before getting into the power tool types, here are a few questions we give our readers.
- What is your intended application(s)?
- Where will you be working?
- Portable or stationary?
- What type of material do you plan on working with?
- Do you prefer electric, gas-fueled or pneumatic?
- What is your budget?
You can always buy a power tool combo kit to knock out a few of these at once to get your shop going. Otherwise, you’ll have to slowly accumulate your power tool collection over time, or buy the first few you think you’ll need to get your project(s) going.
The different types of power tools
Here’s our ultimate list of power tool types and categories to help you learn what may be the most applicable for not only your shop, but home or even particular project coming up in the near future. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions on a type of power tool we may have missed, we’re all ears. We plan on updating this guide every so often to make sure it’s fresh and accurate, as well as add tools that come up as important to include.
As always, we want to remind our subscribers and readers to be safe when using any tool out there. This OSHA safety guide will be handy for you. And of course, enjoy!
An air compressor converts power (either electric or with gasoline) into energy that is stored as pressurized (also known as compressed) air. As you use the device, it continues to store this compressed air as energy in the tank until you reach its capacity. Depending on the model you have or purchase, both the capacity as well as pressure power will vary. They come as either stationary or portable.
Air compressors are used for a variety of applications, including cleaning various items, spray painting, DIY auto repairs, filling tires and gas cylinders, driving different types of HVAC control systems (such as in schools or offices), powering up pneumatic tools (nail guns, jack hammers, etc.), or really, any time you need some pressured air that you can’t do by hand.
Angle grinders are also labeled as side grinders or disc grinders, and they’re a handheld power tool that grind, cut (through basically anything — even steel, tile and mortar), and polish various objects and materials. They can be powered by compressed air, an electric motor or petrol engine. The key word here however is “angle”, and the geared head is at a right-angle mounted on a disc (replaceable) with a side handle an adjustable guard to get into those little spaces you can’t usually fit into as well as counter side forces that are sometimes created while cutting (as opposed to axial forces typically created by other tools like power drills). They come as corded or cordless.
Uses of angle grinders can include removing excess materials from pieces, (stone, metal), and smoothing rough edges on a heavy surface (masonry). Just be careful because these things can get dangerous (and loud).
A bandsaw works by consist of a steel band with a long, sharp and jagged edged (toothed) blade that runs over wheels that’s popularly used in woodworking, metalworking and lumbering. The consistent cutting action of the toothed blade is advantageous for an even distribution of cutting and overall control of the user since they hold the piece of wood and can move it accordingly against the stationary, long blade. They are available as stationary tools inside of shops, however there are some portable bandsaws out there as well.
Bandsaws are used for versatile needs when it comes to wood, such as resawing (splitting wood in half like a sub sandwich), resetting the edges and faces of boards, create veneer, bent lamination, process small logs, or really any cutting you need to do of wood that asks for tough angles or curves.
The useful belt sander is a device that are larger than most sanders out there, and they’re a great solution for those who want to sand a lot in a small amount of time. They work with an electric motor that turns a pair of cylinders with a loop of sandpaper that’s continuous. They’re pretty aggressive and aren’t for finishing projects, but mostly to begin a sanding adventure since they’re so powerful and hard to control. They come in as either stationary on a bench or portable as well.
Uses of belt sanders can vary, ranging from shaping and finishing wood for larger projects to trimming to a scribed line. More broadly, they can sand super rough surfaces, level surfaces, shaping and rounding.
You may see biscuit joiners also called plate joiners, and these things are used in woodworking to “join” together two pieces of wood (or “plates”). They use a circular saw blade that is small in size to cut a small hole (crescent-shaped — which many title the “mouth”) in the opposite sides of the two pieces of wood you’re joining. The compressed biscuit is then covered with glue and applied into the slot. The two boards are then finally joined together to give us a nice bond between the two pieces for various reasons depending on the project.
Uses can be the obvious of joining two pieces of wood together, regardless of why you need them joined — plywood, medium-density fiberboard and particle board are common materials. You can even use them with solid wood or replace some mortise and tenon joints.
We all know chainsaws at least a little, right? Technically, these are mechanical saws with rotating teeth attached to a chain that rotates on a guide bar. To put it differently, the saw blade is built into a chain, wrapped around the long guide bar (typically metal), and an engine that powers it all (a small, one-cylinder engine either with gasoline or battery pack for electric models). They take quite a bit of maintenance and of course, be safe! They’re portable and are often taken to job sites or used at home.
These power tools are versatile. Simply put, they can cut through anything, especially larger, thicker material you can’t do so by hand. We’re talking trees (save the forests, please), lumber, and more. Specially designed chainsaws can even cut through concrete, brick and natural stone.
The chop saw is definitely rare among tool enthusiasts, but still holds some use today. Also known as a cut off saw, these are often compared to miter saws since they’re pretty similar but hold a few differences at the same time. Chop saws have a blade that is always perpendicular to your bench top table and sticks to strictly 90 degree cuts. Miter saws on the other hand provide a swivel to cut in different angles as opposed to just 90 degrees. In summary, chop saws are a stationary saw that cuts what you need in a downward motion.
The uses of chop saws include are usually in building or production sites and shops. They’re great for home creation and framing since the cutting capacity is very big, more specifically for wood or metal planks at 90 degrees.
Circular saws are one of the most common types of power tools out there, and they are defined as a type of saw that consists of using an abrasive\toothed blade or disc to cut using a round (rotary) motion. There is typically a frame surrounding the top and sides of the saw itself for protection, leaving the bottom to do the cutting. They’re perfect for straight cuts along the board’s length, however they can also be set to make bevel cuts with models that have not only depth adjustments but bevel adjustments as well. They’re available as corded or cordless.
Circular saws are used to a wide variety of materials that need to be cut, such as wood, plastic, metal, or masonry. They can be either stationary mounted on a machine or hand-held and portable. They’re best for straight rips and cuts, and super fast, efficient and accurate if you need them to be.
A disc sander is a type of sander that consists of replaceable sandpaper that is circular shaped attached to a wheel generated by an electric motor (or in more rare cases, compressed air). You place your wood (although we’ve seen other materials used as well, such as some soft materials, metals and plastics) on the bench and adjust it in any angle you need. They’re stationary machines so your sander is spinning in place while you control your intended piece of material and control the sanding with your hands. This allows for great control over rounding edges, straightening surfaces and more. There are some hand-held, portable disc sanders that work the opposite — they will entail you to control the entire machine over the material.
Although a bit more rare in the power tool game, these are extremely efficient when it comes to smoothening surfaces by abrasion or removing waste materials.
We all have a drill, don’t we? Whether it’s a cordless drill or corded drill, a work shop or even small home or apartment without a drill is missing the backbone of it all. They’re technically defined as a power tool with a cutting or driving tool attachment (a drill or driver bit), that operates with an electric motor and spins the attachment at a rapid pace for quick, efficient drills and drives. The attachment is held by a chuck and pressed against your target, operating by using a trigger at your hand. Whether or not you want a cord on your drill is totally up to you (we know many who have both), with each having their own pros and cons.
The uses of drills are by far one of the most versatile in the power tool game. The broad uses include do-it-yourself projects from shelving to straight up rooms in homes, putting up a picture frame, woodworking, metalworking and construction in general — really anything you can think of when it comes to needing to make a hole or put in a screw.
Although we highlighted what “drills” are in a broad manner, the term hammer drill may come up for you that entails a different type of power tool. Also known as “roto-drills”, rotary hammers, or hammering drills, this tool gives your work flow a rapid hammering thrust to destroy material that is brittle as well as provide some faster drilling with less effort. It’s actually the same technology they use in those demolition hammers, just at a much smaller scale. They not only spin the bit at the end of the drill but also “punch” it repeatedly in and out.
The uses of hammer drills are geared towards projects needing a hand-held hammer that just needs more power, efficiency and speed. Your accuracy won’t be necessarily as spot-on if you were doing it by hand, but sometimes we need some ease and quickness to our projects, especially in controlled environments and easy-to-reach spaces.
Need some heat added to a surface or piece of material? Heat guns are hand-held, powered by electricity devices that beam hot air (typically around 100 degrees Celsius to 550 degrees Celsius) at a specific target. These tools create heat with an electronic element built into the gun itself (a few have gas flames inside but it’s more rare) combined with a mechanism to move the air (usually a fan powered by electricity), and lastly a nozzle to direct this stream of hot air to your liking.
The uses of heat guns is extremely wide since they’re versatile and there are many applications out there that may call for heat. This ranges from science and chemistry, to stripping paint, shrink materials such as tubing and film, dry wood, bend plastic, thaw pipes that are frozen and bending plastic. Even everyday use in the home will entail some handy heat gun work, like removing pesky stickers.
You may have heard of an impact driver here and there while looking around for different tools to apply some extra force to your projects. They give us a strong and sudden force that is both downward and rotational. They’re made of an outer sleeve that is relatively heavy surrounded a splined inner core that is curved to create the downward force we need to start turning a bit attached to it.
They’re usually used by those who want to loosen screws and nuts (typically larger ones) that are too stuck or ruined by too much torque. As compared to hammer drills that only give us the in and out motion, impact drivers are preferred specifically in applications where you need not only an in and out force to a specific object or material but also a simultaneous spin (you get a lot more torque and control this way).
An impact wrench acts as a is also known as air wrenches, air guns, torque guns, impactors and more, which acts as merely a powered socket wrench. It gives us a very high amount of torque with low exertion by the user — the energy is stored in a rotating mass and then delivered as we wish to the output. They’re typically powered by compressed air, but there are a few electric and even hydraulic models out there. Cordless, hand-held electric models are very popular nowadays.
The use can be any time you need some wrench-work done but don’t want to use those precious hands of yours. Sometimes that lug nut is too tight, or perhaps the screw head is stripped and a normal socket wrench isn’t feasible at the moment for a decent grip to get it out. Hard to turn bolts are the best need for an impact wrench, and we highly recommend everyone having at least one of these in their toolboxes.
The jointer helps those who need to make smooth, flat finishes on surfaces along the edges of wood. It can also cut wood into a desired thickness with very even and parallel surfaces. Often times, those who cut wood for changes in width by hand or with other power tools come out with uneven pieces. For jointers, the piece of wood is placed onto the in-feed table that passes evenly through cutting blades and out onto the other side. They’re benchtop power tools.
The uses of these can get tricky, because planers (listed later on) are quite similar. Jointers are recommended for those who have edges of wood that are uneven, wood that needs to be flattened, and other wood imperfections like twisting. Planers are on the other hand are better for those who need parallel surfaces on either side of the wood (think doors, frames and tables). In other words, jointers are used first with lumber to flatten out a face and square up an edge while the planer is then used to make the other face flat and parallel to the first.
A jigsaw, also known as a “bayonet saw” or even sabre saw at times, is the best power tool you can buy to cut shapes in a wide range of materials. They’re great for cutting curves (something many other saws can’t really do) to add some shaping and cutting versatility you’ll need in the future. They’re a handheld power tool that works with an electric motor paired up to a reciprocating saw blade. You can then control it pretty well of angles up to about 45 degrees at a time.
The uses of jigsaws include any time you need to cut some wood or metal in difficult shape or curve, making bevel cuts, or even home-use applications outside of the shop like carving pumpkins, etc! There are even other blades available for softer materials that you can interchange as you need. They’re great companions to other popular saws out there to have “just in case” (usually paired up with circular saws and other popular sawing tools).
The lathe is a popular machine for shaping material, such as wood, metal or other common material found in shops or at home. It shapes using a rotational drive that turns the actual piece you want to work on which is at the same time against the cutting tool you’ve chosen to use (these are interchangeable). The basis of how it works is with symmetrical objects on a rotational axis.
Lathes are used for a lot of different uses, such as cutting, drilling, sanding, facing, turning, knurling, and more. We’ve seen them used by a wide range of individuals, from pottery creators, to watchmakers, to your average woodworker or metal enthusiast for different needs of their projects. Objects with tricky designs that call for symmetry that isn’t easy to pull of with our hands or hand tools, such as cue sticks, table legs, baseball bats, bowls, and more.
The almighty miter saw is a powerful tool designed for making cuts at quite a few different angles. Also known as “compound miter saws”, these work by having a blade mounted to a swing arm that can pivot either right or left to create cuts that are angled. There are a few different types of miter saws if we want to get technical: compound miter saws, dual compound miter saws, and sliding compound miter saws. They all diff when it comes to their tilting capabilities. This will depend on your intended use and if you’ll also need some beveling done with your miter saw.
Uses range from crown molding, door frames, window casings, cutting trim, and picture frames.
When it comes to nail guns, the name may be rather self-explanatory. They’re used to drive nails into wood or really any material out there when a normal hand-held hammer isn’t efficient enough. But how do they work? The device is driven by compressed air (also known as pneumatic) or electricity, or flammable gases (a little more rare). You typically have a guide attached to the end for some protection and help with lining up the nails.
They’re typically preferred by those who need to nail several times on a project that calls for quickness and efficiency. This can appeal to many individuals, whether it’s a home-based user or for carpentry, roofing, flooring, finishing, and more. They’re not too expensive, either.
The orbital sander is a special tool with a sanding surface that vibrates in a very confined “orbital” design (think of planets orbiting the sun in a circular motion) driven by an electric motor at a high-speed. The sanding disk spins while at the same time moving in small ellipses. The advantages include getting into corners and against edges. They also have less obvious marks (cross-grain, typically) as opposed to sanding by using a belt sander or hand. You may also see random orbital sanders around that are very similar but offer a less obvious pattern (hence the term random, of course) to disallow swirl marks or against-the-grain friction that at times disturbs the look of our sanding projects.
The uses of orbital sanders include when your project requires light sanding, prepping a surface for sealing or painting, refinishing wood (such as floor) if you need to get into corners or baseboard, or even knocking a layer of paint down. These are called “finish sanders” because they seal the deal when it comes to finishing that surface for its final stages.
Also known as multi-tools, an oscillating tool is one of the most versatile hand-held power tools in the world. Hence the term “multi”, these things can range extremely broad in terms of application due to the ability of having interchangeable attachments. They work by using the attachment of your liking fitted on the tool that when turned on, rapidly rotates back and forth (hence the term oscillating). This will create some friction for you to direct onto an object or material — whether it sanding, cutting, or grinding motions.
Popular uses of multi-tools include, but aren’t limited to, sawing, sanding, scraping, cutting, polishing, grinding, and more. A lot of brands offer accessory packages with 100+ attachments to give you endless possibilities. They’re also hand-held and super easy to travel with.
The planer is a power tool that helps woodworkers create parallel pieces of wood for various projects. They’re used to make a board of wood that has already been jointed (hence the frequent comparison to jointers) flat into equal end-to-end thickness. Planers (sometimes called thickness planers) are used after a jointer give us the basis of what needs to be parallel. The planers job is to then grab the board and pull it through its feed roller which it then passes through a measured and exact cutter head above the bed. The result is a precise thickness of the board. Lastly, the jointer is then used again to straighten and square one edge of the wood. They also come in portable models if you please.
Planers are used by those who need precision. Projects typically include a wide variety of carpentry, such as tables, chairs, doors, window frames, or really any job or project you can think of that requires to parallel pieces of wood on opposite sides or next to each other.
A power screwdriver will merely give us a screw driving capability at a quick and efficient manner. They’re designed to work at a slower rate than typical power drills. They however have more torque than drills, giving us the ability for more power, such as drilling screws into materials without having to do any predrilling. Solid models will give us torque limiters and allow you to set the maximum torque to save the head of the screw or any mishaps of snapping.
Uses of power screwdrivers will really depend on the person and project. They can technically work for any drilling project out there, but are less versatile since the attachments are as of variety when compared to drills. We know many who have both a power screwdriver and drill for more versatility in their work flow. They can also help us in hard-to-reach spots and corners since they’re usually smaller than drills and only take one hand to use.
A radial arm saw is a machine for cutting that’s made up of a circular saw mounted on to a horizontal arm that can slide. Many consider these to be a thing of the past since miter saws have become more popular for some of the same type of work. They can also be configured to make some rip cuts, dado, half lap joints or rabbet.
These are preferred by tool workers who need to cut long pieces of stock to length. Again, miter saws are useful for basically the same applications. However, many praise radial arm saws for their versatility, especially if want to do some shaping and you add some sanding accessories or chucks.
Reciprocating saws use a “push-and-pull” method to cutting (hence the word reciprocating) with a blade. They’re also known as sawzalls (Milwaukee coined this), recip saws, or hognoses. The blade slightly resembles a jigsaw since it’s toothed and large, and they’re equipped with a long nose and handle at the end to handle vertical surfaces. A lot of them also have variable speeds to give you more versatility and control over what you’re cutting.
This most common use of reciprocating saws can be found in demolition and construction work as well as repairing and major remodeling. Window fitters, most construction workers and even service workers in the emergency workers can find use with a recip saw. You can also grab some variants and accessories (clamps, longer blades, etc.) for even more customization.
Rotary tools are one of the most versatile tools the human has ever created, at least for smaller uses and projects. They come with more than enough attachments (just like multi-tools), some brands even offering packages of up to 100+ accessories at a time. They are a handheld power tool with rotary tips that spin at a high rate. They’re super compact in size, able to travel easily or be stored nicely on a workbench or shelf. The power packed into these small little devices is very useful for a wide range of individuals in the tool realm.
The uses are very versatile, preferred for sanding, carving bevels, buffing, polishing, etching, shining metal surfaces, and more. We’ve seen these used in a range of various settings, from garages to nail salons. The attachments you can buy is endless, seeing a use for mostly anybody out there through out your life.
A router is a power tool used to hollow (or “rout”, hence the label) a groove or hole of a hard material (plastic and most commonly, wood) or for plunging. However, mostly woodworkers use routers, in particular cabinetry. It works with a spindle driven by an electric motor and a hand plane with a broad base. A lot of woodworkers consider this to be one of the most versatile portable tools out there, mainly due to the fact of how many different router bits there are available today.
Grabbing a router can come in handy in quite a few uses for you, whether it’s for a few handy home projects or any shop use that requires trimming, cutting, shaping (even with metal or laminates). Aside from the standard grooves or holes, you can also produce and finish edges, curved contours, re-create patterns, recess door hinger, cutaways, recess door hinges, carve out clean rabbets, and more.
The scroll saw is a special power tool with a large range of cutting capabilities, but is mostly preferred by many for many cuts that are fine and intricate, such as for hobbies or crafts. So how do they work? they’re typically pedal-operated with a fineness blade that cut quite delicately, a lot better than jigsaws or even hand-saws. There is a plate to rest your wood on and the finely-toothed blade inside of an arm is vertical to allow you to position your project as you please.
They’re used for mainly cutting decorative patterns or spiral lines. We’re talking signs with wooden letters, jigsaw puzzles, smaller sculptures, or any other craft use you may need to cut some wood for. Aside from hobbyists however, scroll saws are also often used to cut dovetail joints or intarsia projects.
Need to get some quick and efficient cleaning of not only the shop but merely the home as well? Grab a shop vacuum. As opposed to normal vacuum cleaners, shop vacs have power motors with a very large nose, storing all of that dirt, chunks and junk into a large canister. The motor power and canister storage capacity will depend on the exact model you grab, but most of these are going to give you a lot better of a vacuuming experience as opposed to those home cleaners we all are used to. Another plus is that they have no belts or rotating brushes (other home vacuums often have these, tangling with random material, especially carpet strands).
The use can really go wherever you want them to be. Aside from shops of all material (metal, wood, plastic), we’ve also seen shop vacs used for car washing and detailing, pet grooming, retrieve valuables from drains, draining baths or ponds (they’re sometimes called wet\dry vacuums since they can also suck up water), clean vents of all kinds, and more.
When it comes to extreme cuts, cross cuts, and overall power when it comes to needing to saw some material, the table saw will have it covered. The table saw consists of a circular saw mounted underneath a bench or table with enough of the blade projecting through the slot to allow you to glide whatever you need cut smoothly. They’re driven by electric motors (some with a belt, gears or even directly). What’s better about table saws is the fact that you can adjust how much of that saw you need to protrude out of the bench or table by moving it up and down.
Uses are strictly for vertical or horizontal cuts, especially deeper cutting that’s just too tough for hand-sawing or other power saws that are hand-held without as much power. Benchtop table saws can be portable and taken to job sites, while contractor table saws are larger but will have wheels to allow you to roll it around your home or shop. Regardless of the setting, if you need to rip, miter-cut, cross-cut, dado, square or rabbet, you’re good — just please, be safe!
A wall chaser is a special power tool designed to cut narrow grooves in walls. They’re typically powered by an electric-motor that powers up a pair of discs that are abrasive and closely position together (such as those in an angle grinder). They’re hand-held to give you some versatility, especially since you’ll be having to get into those hard-to-reach wall spaces at times.
They’re typically used for laying electrical table, installing pipes into property, cutting grooves, cutting “channels” into masonry walls, and more.