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The Popular Mechanics 2020 Tool Awards

Aug 25, 2023Aug 25, 2023

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These 47 exceptional tools—the best we’ve tested that are on the market now—will unleash your capability and help you take any project to the next level.

At Popular Mechanics, we’ve been evaluating tools for more than 100 years. We test nearly 1,000 each year—out in the field, in our shop, and on projects throughout our homes. The ones here are the models that we’ve found deliver reliable performance, quality craftsmanship, and often a strong value, excelling in our use and earning our admiration. Most are new, but a few have been kicking around for a while because better options have yet to arrive. No matter their age, we’re confident these will help you get any job done.

The EGO's design is outstanding, featuring lots of aluminum and impact-resistant plastic. And the mower cuts an impressive amount of grass on one charge (about 8,400 square feet in our test), plus the controls and adjustment are easy and intuitive, even for first-time users. Its handle folds forward quickly and easily, then telescopes in for rapid and compact storage in a garage or shed.


If you’re worried that cordless blowers lack power, you have nothing to fear with the LBX6000 and its king-size battery pack. In comparison testing with other blowers, it cleared leaves faster and farther than all but one of the gas-fueled models. We particularly liked that the handheld part of the blower is lighter than any other model we tried, at only 6.4 pounds.

Stihl's small but surprisingly capable motor makes this the champion of cordless chainsaws. The thin-kerf chain (its teeth are 3/32-inch wide) zips through each cut with smoothness and precision. Yes, the MSA 200 is expensive, but it's every bit a high-torque Stihl saw.

Ryobi RY48ZTR100

This is a zero-turn mower unlike any other we’ve operated. Its 100-Ah lead-acid battery and four motors (one each to power the rear wheels and the two blades) provide a top speed of about 7 mph. That speed, quietness, and lack of choke and throttle to futz with make this thing easy—and, dare we say, fun—to operate. But it's also a grownup machine that cuts in 42-inch-wide strips, reducing your mowing time.

Don't let the diminutive stature of this 3.1-pound saw, which has just a 4-inch guide bar and a 10.8-volt motor, fool you. Although it's designed for minor yard-care jobs, particularly pruning, we were able to dice up a fallen tree limb with it, cutting both small sticks and branches up to 6 inches thick. The whole cut-and-clear job took a mere 15 minutes, without almost any noise.

The Greenworks is commercial-grade, but if your trimming requirements are on the heavy end of the spectrum, then a model like the GT 161 could be ideal. We admit it can be expensive ($475 with a 2.5-Ah battery and charger). But its explosive power gives it the muscle of a gas-engine machine for mowing down the tall stuff and scything through weeds and saplings.

Worx WG521

With cordless tools dominating this space, it's easy to overlook good products just because they need to be plugged in. But don't skip over this one. We connected the powerful, 120-volt WG521 to a 100-foot extension cord on a cold autumn day and blew our front yard clean of leaves, dried berries, pine cones, sticks—the works. Then we air-swept the garage, all in half an hour.

With a 22-inch blade on a pivoting head and a telescoping pole providing a maximum reach of 11 feet, this is the most versatile hedge trimmer we’ve tested. Use it to clean up and shape tall bushes, even their tops, or stretch down embankments with it to get at those hard-to-reach spots.

While so much power-tool innovation lately has focused on cordless, we still maintain that you turn to a gas-engine tool when you need outright tenacity. Take the Rapidtrak. Powered by a 420cc engine and a hydrostatic transmission, the snow thrower clears a 32-inch path and launches its output (in our case, wet sawdust, weighing 21 pounds per cubic foot) a whopping 36 feet.

The SP30 is a self-propelled mower; at its top speed, you’d need to jog behind it. The aluminum deck reduces its weight and the potential for rusting, and its 223cc engine provides all the power you need for clipping and bagging wet grass and leaves.

The beauty of the PB-2520—a simple gas-engine, handheld blower—is the offset tube that recoils in line with your arm, where you can best control it, not to your side. By reducing that twist inherent to leaf blowers, Echo made one of the least-fatiguing handheld models we’ve used. And it's got power to spare.

Another simple-but-great Echo product is the CS-361P. Its torque-rich 35.8cc engine and 10-pound frame give the chainsaw a high power-to-weight ratio. Combine that with the responsive trigger, and you get a saw that's productive and fun to use for feathering your way through a branch or using its torque to fell and limb.

Metabo NT1850DE

The heavy-duty NT1850DE has a permanently sealed air cylinder for rapid-fire capability; Metabo (formerly Hitachi) estimates that it can punch three nails a second. Even professional carpenters would be hard pressed to make use of that, but what we can say is that it rapidly sank every nail we fired in softwoods and oak.

Arrow GT 300

The Arrow's 300 watts delivers rapid and sustained glue-melting power. Use it to gob on an adhesive or apply a thin line—both are afforded by a simple-to-adjust trigger mechanism. This was the only gun in our recent test with an on/off pilot light, which is important for safety and saving energy.

Fein pioneered the oscillating multitool category in 1967, and it still builds the best ones. The 3.6-amp MultiMaster does more cutting, sanding, and grinding per amp—and does so more smoothly—than any other we’ve tested. And its many accessories (such as sanding and grinding pads, saw blades, and a putty knife) snap easily on and off.

Bosch GWX10-45DE

Changing an angle grinder's wheel has gotten a lot faster with the Bosch X-Lock system. Pull up on the tool's lever and the two spring-loaded jaws retract, freeing the wheel. Push the next wheel into place, and the jaws lock with a satisfying click. It's true that the tool accepts just X-Lock accessories, but it's the first (and only) angle grinder that requires mere seconds to swap parts, which is a big step forward.

Bosch ROS20VSC

This Bosch is comfortable and fast. But what we like most about it is how the rubber O-ring seal on the dust port and the airtight canister work together to pick up all the dust generated during sanding. And less dust on the surface of what you’re sanding means there's less to grind into the abrasive pad, keeping it clean so you get more use out of it.

Any small tile job can benefit from this 20-volt wet saw, powered by the same battery used in Craftsman's other cordless tools. Our test on ceramic floor tiles was conclusive: The 30-pound machine is a clean cutter and highly portable, drawing water from an onboard tank without the need for a hose attachment.

DeWalt's 4.5-inch circular saw is a spunky little character powered by a 20-volt battery. Its hefty gears, remarkably large for such a small tool, translate motor torque into some serious wood-cutting output. We used it to crosscut 2x4 framing lumber and 3/4-inch plywood, and found that it handled both easily and efficiently.

Ryobi P590

Put down your hacksaw and pick up the P590, a cordless metal-cutting solution priced for the rest of us. (It's south of $180 for the saw, two blades, the battery, and the charger.) It cuts through typical hardware-store steel cleanly and in no time.

Skil 5280-01

Skil's long experience with the circular saw comes to the fore with this inexpensive-but-capable tool, the best in our recent test of homeowner-grade machines. It handles nicely, its cutting depth is easy to adjust, and its 15-amp motor powers it through wood even up to its full blade depth of 2.36 inches.

Makita XWL01Z

Makita's 14-inch cordless chop saw is equipped with a gigantic brushless motor powered by two 18-volt batteries. It's a single tool with only one mission in life, which it carried out better than any other we’ve tried. Let the sparks fall where they may.

Digital devices can be cranky and frail, and it's right to wonder whether adding digital features to hand tools is ill-​advised. But we’ll admit, this trio has won us over. Consider the em105.9. Its backlit screen reads level with a horizontal line, and arrows tell you which end of the level to move and in which direction. It expresses slope as degrees, tenths of a degree, percentage of slope, or a ratio such as a quarter of an inch of rise per horizontal foot (or run, as it's known). That's a lot of capability in a tool that is only 9 inches long and about 2 inches wide. And it has three powerful magnets that help it cling to pipe, conduit, or metal strut.

This angle-reading orange cube, the Klein 935DAG, is small enough to tuck into a tool bag or a pocket, and we found it useful for measuring the slope of our mower test areas. That tiny size (about 2.25-inches long and wide and 1-inch thick) makes it easy to use in tight spots. A zeroing function finds the angle from one surface to another, while a Hold button locks the reading.

The Flir C3 is a power tool in its own diagnostic way. We use it here during our testing of everything from appliances to workwear. Why? Taking a thermal image can reveal potentially useful info about the mechanical or electrical health of a machine or show you whether a garment leaks heat. If the Flir's screen indicates a particularly hot or cold spot where it doesn't belong, take that as a sign that something could be amiss and check it out.

Our test revealed that Skil's 20-volt Pwrcore is ideal for heavy-duty use around the house. It takes European-style bits that slip-lock into the chuck automatically, easily drills wood and steel, and strikes with percussive action strong enough to hammer a hole into concrete. In chisel mode, it hits in a direct line without rotation.

The Installer's Tool gives you about as much versatility as can be packed into a soft-sided toolbox. It consists of a 12-volt drill body and four nimble heads: a keyless 3/8-inch chuck, an offset driver head, a 1/4-inch hex- head chuck, and a right- angle head that the other heads snap onto and off of. It's fast and effective in both drilling and driving around corners, over obstacles, and in tight spots. Any repair or installation is guaranteed to go faster and easier with this little gem.

Ryobi D620H

Another example of something that's not new but still good, this corded drill was twice the tool compared to others it faced in our inexpensive-​drill shootout. We tested them all with spade bits, twist drills, and drill taps. The motors in the others burned out, and they stalled and jammed while drilling holes in wood or steel. Not the Ryobi. It sailed right through.

Ridgid R9603

The best buy from our tests is this Ridgid. Its drill driver isn't as powerful as others, but it's fast and comfortable, making it an almost outlandish deal when you consider that you get the drill, the impact driver, two batteries, a charger, and a case for the price of one tool.

This svelte and compact driver is also a pleasure to use. Pull the trigger and you’ll immediately notice the XDT12Z's smooth, quiet motor. These are the marks of a tool intended—and, based on our testing, great—for daily professional use. It's equipped with four speed settings, wood and bolt modes, and two tightening modes that prevent fasteners from breaking or stripping.

Kreg 320

The 320 is a beautiful redesign of Kreg's existing small pocket-screw kit, making the method of joining with these fasteners even easier. It contains two guides that can be used together or separately, the drill bit, a depth gauge, and a clamp head. Kreg even throws in two small boxes of pocket screws for the price.

Lenox Speed Slot

The stair-step slot in the side of these hole saws enables you to get some leverage with a screwdriver to pry out the waste plug that the saw has just cut. It's also good that each hole saw is toothed with finely ground carbide tips, allowing you to cut through steel, wood, cast iron, stainless steel, fiber cement board, and plaster.

Cle-Line Bit Index

Proof that high-quality, American-made twist drill bits aren't extinct, each of the 15 in this set is beautifully machined and coated with a wear-resistant finish. Their split-point, 135-degree tips don't easily slip off the starting point, especially handy when you’re drilling hard steel.

Bosch DDMS40

Unlike with most other kits, the bits in this one go in and out of their holders easily. Everything in the DDMS40 is rated, and tough enough, for you to use with an impact driver. Among its 40 pieces are many common sizes of Phillips head, square drive, and Torx, and eight twist drills (1/16-inch to 1/4-inch), seven 2-inch bits, and a bit holder.

Mag-Mate WS410CP

Magnetic welding squares catch molten metal splatter as they hold parts in position at 90 degrees to one another. To test if the Mag Mate's copper jacket lets this flying junk slide off, we handed it to a member of the boilermaker's union. After running yards of mig wire on two-inch steel plate, he returned it (no worse for the wear) approvingly.

GearWrench Bolt Biter

The Bolt Biter socket is a substantial improvement over products like it that have come and gone before. Formed out of tough, chrome-molybdenum steel, each socket has a tapered, clover-shaped cavity to help it better grip rounded bolt heads. Plus, they work with any tool: ratchet wrench, air tool, or a cordless wrench.

Stanley S50

We like the newest bells and whistles as much as anyone. But sometimes you just don't need all that, especially when the work is as basic as locating a wall stud or ceiling joist. And Stanley's S50 makes it easy. Just press the button and glide the device slowly along the wall, keeping an eye on the indicator. When it lights up, you’ve reached an edge

DeWalt DWST08820

DeWalt's DWST08820 has an ingress protection (IP) rating of 54, meaning airborne dust and splashing water can't get in. That's useful, but how does this radio sound? Outstanding. Even subtleties of classical music and jazz come through clearly with saws running and hammers whacking away. Suddenly, a jobsite feels a lot more tranquil.

Craftsman CMMT99206

Craftsman made its name with products like this mechanics’ tool set. Each of the 216 pieces—1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-inch drives (both standard and deep), extensions, combination box-end wrenches, a screwdriver and bit set, and Allen wrenches—is covered with a smooth and lustrous chrome plating over chrome vanadium steel to defend against corrosion and fracture.

Klein 32288

Klein's screwdriver is here for several reasons. First, the bits are extremely sturdy, suited to the work of professional electricians. Second, they swap easily in and out of the handle: Push them in to lock, and twist the handle collar to pop them out. The whole shebang—five bits and handle—stores in a neat little wallet.

Milwaukee 48-22-0225M

Milwaukee added features you wouldn't normally expect in a stout, 25-foot tape measure. And it got them all right. But our favorite is the combination of standard horizontally arranged numbers on the front and vertically arranged numbers on its back, making it far easier to read regardless of your view.

Leatherman Free K4

The Free K4 is an outstanding example of a tool that combines the features of a standard folding pocketknife with the more useful ones of a multitool. You can easily open its main 3-inch blade with one thumb, and out of its back fold all manner of other good things: scissors, an awl/punch, a straight screwdriver bit, and a Phillips screwdriver–bottle opener combo tool.

True Temper 1603400

This Ames True Temper shovel is a study in sturdiness. Its 1.25-​inch-diameter steel handle is firmly planted to the 18-inch-wide blade with a heavily ribbed socket. And what a blade. It's molded from one piece of slippery, high-density polyethylene that resists clumping snow, meaning you spend more time shoveling and less time trying to bang the True Temper clean. A wear strip riveted on the blade's tip helps it withstand the occasional rough cleaning, though.

Kershaw Skyline

The U.S.-made Kershaw Skyline is a slim, attractive everyday carry. And its blade is made from 14C28N, a stainless-steel alloy with loads of uniformly distributed carbides—super-hard particles locked in the steel's microstructure. These help it resist wear, corrosion, and a dulling phenomenon called rolling, where the edge or even the knife point bends back like the tip of a breaking wave.

Oneida Supercell

Two things go into removing flying sawdust: air volume and suction. The Supercell has plenty of both. Oneida designed it to bring industrial-duty air movement to the small shop or garage. Its 230-volt, five-horsepower motor and fan assembly moves an astonishing amount of dust. It's so powerful, the company warns that you should use only vacuum-rated flex hose and duct; the system's suction is so great that it will crush lesser materials as flat as a pancake. The benefit to you: Dust and chips from your machines and power tools find their way into the Supercell's collector, not into your lungs or onto the shop floor.

Metabo HPT C3610DRJQ4

This is the only table saw we know of that's both cordless and corded, giving you maximum mobility and more options of where and how to cut lumber. Use it in the garage and plugged into a wall outlet. Or go cordless out in the middle of the yard or on a construction site where cleanup is less of a concern. We like the 68-pound saw's soft start, which brings it up to working speed slowly to reduce motor strain and increase safety.

DeWalt DWE7480

We have several years logged with this compact DeWalt table saw in the Popular Mechanics shop. And it has earned our unqualified endorsement. The DWE7480 is surprisingly accurate, due to a fixed fence that rides on rack-and-pinion rails. Weighing just 48 pounds and running off of a 15-amp, 4,800-rpm motor, it has a power-to-weight ratio that simply can't be beat.

The Most Iconic Anvil Ever Made

Most of us would rarely use the word "graceful" to describe an anvil, the hulking block of steel or iron used to pound hot metal into shape. Not so professional and amateur blacksmiths, especially when they refer to a Hay-Budden anvil, the prototypical implement of the late 1800s and early 1900s. A Hay-Budden—from petite foot-size models weighing 10 pounds to 800-pound behemoths—has an unusually beautiful sweep and an incredible strength achieved by the manufacturer's working knowledge of metallurgy that was quite sophisticated for its day. Today, these anvils are as sought after as they were back then.

Sadly, Hay-Budden as a brand came to an end in the 1920s. But it's a testament to its peerless design that, in this digital era, a host of companies, like JHM and McLellan Blacksmithing, carry on its legacy, shaping beautifully wrought anvils that look every bit the part. These aren't toys for the dilettante. Visit the website of these manufacturers and you find deep dives on metallurgy, heat treating, and anvil features that help a smith shape a knife, say, or form up graceful ironwork that might become a gate or fence. It speaks to the enduring fascination with forming hot metal that there are probably as many anvil makers now as there were in Hay-Budden's time.

Dremel began making its iconic rotary tool in the 1930s to create an alternative that was lighter, slimmer, quieter, and easier to handle than the only tool like it at the time, the industrial die grinder. It achieved this with a new form of collet mounted atop a slim high-speed, low-torque motor. Within 10 years or so, the company had refined that rotary tool, which hasn't changed much since. Today's product looks unmistakably like that older one, and its ability to drill small holes, sand, grind, and cut has withstood the test of time. It was the first power tool I used, in my dad's basement workshop around 1973. It has an uncanny versatility suited to the many oddball jobs that crop up during small repairs around the house, particularly grinding or cutting metal in a tight spot. And it's got guts that allow it to punch well above its weight class. Example: I used mine to make a tight-radius cut when removing rotted steel from the windshield recess of my long-gone 1979 Chevy truck. By the time I cut away the affected metal, the Dremel was almost too hot to hold. I let it cool off, and I’m still using it. How's that for durability?

Roy Berendsohn has worked for more than 25 years at Popular Mechanics, where he has written on carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, electrical, woodworking, blacksmithing, welding, lawn care, chainsaw use, and outdoor power equipment. When he's not working on his own house, he volunteers with Sovereign Grace Church doing home repair for families in rural, suburban and urban locations throughout central and southern New Jersey.

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