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What's in a Deck Builder’s Toolkit?

Pamela Au/Alamy Stock Photo Man wearing used tool belt filled with carpenter tools carrying a yellow level, hardhat and hammer
The late Marv Johnson demonstrated his favorite tools to use on the job site in a webinar at the second annual Deck Specialist Symposium. We share what he always carried with him.

This tool talk is important for new carpenters getting into the industry, as Johnson said he saw many unprepared young people in apprenticeships along the way.

Johnson’s first go-to tool was a Stiletto Titanium framing hammer, something he had always used. He had the same hammer for around 15 years. Johnson explained that he liked the tool because it was reactive and made driving nails easy. The lighter titanium head made it easier on his arm and was a little more forgiving than steel-headed hammers.

For his tape measure, Johnson used a Stanley 25-foot FATMAX. He said everyone who worked for him used this tape measure. Johnson advised that for everyday carry tape, you want something that fits in your hand. He added that it was important for every member of his team to measure things the same.

Next up, Johnson shared his foot marker of choice: the Bon 84-289 two-in-one pencil and lumber crayon. Johnson said for doing layout, it was the only way to go. The tool enabled him to mark accurate lines and make any notations needed in lumber crayon.

Every carpenter needs to have a square. Johnson used a Swanson Speed Square that he had for his entire career and said it’s something you probably wouldn’t need to replace.

Johnson chose Lenox for his utility knife. He liked the tool because it was easy to change the blade quickly and the knife got a good grip on the blade.

As for his nail puller, Johnson used a Mokuba 200-mm Japanese Restorers Cat’s Paw. He liked that product because its steel construction allowed the tool to hold its shape better than others, which resulted in less damage to the tool. There was also less damage done to the surrounding wood when pulling a nail with it. Because of the Cats Paw's “spoon shape,” Johnson said it extracted nails differently than using the back of a hammer.

Johnson also carried an air nozzle in his tool bag, which he said was handy to have. He used the WhisperJet Air Gun by Guardian, which he liked because it was quiet and put out a good airflow. Johnson always had an air compressor on site, even if it was to blow his clothing or his tools off at the end of the day.

Johnson noted that it’s important to hold a tool before buying it. He recommended shopping at lumber yards or “old school” building supply companies because you can get a better feel for the quality of the tool there as opposed to big box stores where everything is much more generic.

“Higher quality tools enable you to do higher quality work.” Marv Johnson

Another useful tool, Johnson added, is either a manual or laser level, depending on the job. He recommended that both are necessary for a deck builder’s toolkit.

Marv Johnson passed away unexpectedly in early August 2022. He made his living as a builder and was a regular columnist for Deck Specialist magazine. 

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