If you’re planning on engaging in any painting projects at all, a painter’s multitool can make the process a lot easier. We researched the topic and tested four, ultimately finding that the Hyde 17-in-1 is the most versatile of the bunch.
Basically, this tool can assist with every element of the painting process, other than the actual painting. Like most similar tools, the Hyde can open a can of paint, scrape and apply putty, set a nailhead, open a bottle, pull a nail, and unscrew little things like electrical plates or light enclosures.
So why this one? What really sets it apart is that it can clean paint from large and small roller covers, both of which are essential to big painting projects—and no other tool we found could do that. Squeezing out excess paint may not seem like a big deal, but you could argue it’s this tool’s most important task, because once you start adding up the dollar value of the paint you throw away on a full roller, it’s too much to ignore. In fact, properly used, this tool will probably pay for itself after just one or two painting projects.
If you just want a basic painter’s tool for a minimal investment, we recommend the Hyde 06986 6-in-1 Multi-Tool. It is missing a number of the functions of our main pick, such as the small roller cut-out, the screwdrivers, and the bottle opener. But you can still use it to clean a large roller and do most prep work like scraping and puttying.
I spent 10 years in construction, and since 2007 I’ve been writing about and reviewing tools for such magazines as Fine Homebuilding, This Old House, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, The Journal of Light Construction, and Tools of the Trade, where I’m a contributing editor. But for this guide, my more relevant experience is that over the past two years, I’ve completely painted, oiled, or stained every single room of my house (floors, walls, ceilings—three or four coats each). It was all part of a full gut and remodel of my 100-year-old farmhouse. In the process, I became acutely aware of all the tools that added efficiency to what can be a mind-deadening job. A painter’s multitool is chief among these. While specifically made for the needs of the painter, many carpenters, myself included, use these items as all-purpose, prying, scraping, fill-in-the-cracks tools.
For this guide, we also spoke with Mark Clement, licensed contractor and co-host of the MyFixitUpLife radio show. Clement has written for a wide variety of tool and construction publications and has a very good grasp of the needs of the homeowner as well as the full-time carpenter.
For a tool that weighs less than 5 ounces and has almost no moving parts, the Hyde 17-in-1 contains a vast amount of functionality—including one key feature your typical painter’s multitool doesn’t have. The reason we liked the Hyde so much is that it’s the only painter’s tool that has a second, smaller semi-circular cut-out to clean paint from a small-diameter roller. During my own renovation, I found this to be an invaluable feature and one that clearly set the Hyde above the rest of the tested models.
Small rollers, known as hot dog or sausage rollers, are essential to any painting project. They’re not only perfect for tight spots, like behind the toilet tank, but I also used them to roll paint on window and door casings.1 Having a 17-in-1 tool that can quickly squeegee off excess paint from these little guys is much easier than using the larger cutout found on any painter’s multitool. The big one doesn’t wrap around the sides of the rollers to push the paint off, so it takes about 16 passes, as opposed to eight or so with the small one.
Squeezing paint probably sounds like pinching pennies, but proper use of a painter’s tool for cleaning rollers can add up to significant cost savings. By removing the excess paint, you’re not only preserving the roller for the next use, but also putting a good bit of paint back in the can. As the painter in this video shows, an average-size 9-inch roller can hold about a half pint of excess paint. With a gallon of quality paint running anywhere from $30 to $60, this amounts to about $2 to $4 worth of paint per roller—easily worth a moment or two cleaning off the leftovers.
Beyond the small roller bonus feature, the Hyde multitool has a lot of what you’d expect from a good tool of its kind. For prep, the edge of the tool can scrape old paint and apply putty; the pointed corner can gouge out a plaster or drywall crack for repair; the center hole can pry up a nail, and the little screwdriver can remove outlet covers and pendant lighting. During painting, the small flat edge can pry open a paint can, and the metal butt end of the handle can bang it back on. And when you’re done painting, the Hyde even has a bottle opener.
We’re not the only ones who like the Hyde 17-in-1. Joe Provey, writing at BobVila.com, states, “In the short while I’ve owned my 17-in-1 Hyde Painter’s Multi-Tool, it has come in handy for filling voids in the bathroom subfloor that I’m prepping for tile, removing old caulk along the base of the tub, setting protruding nail heads, removing old drywall screws, and knocking down the nubs on the wall I’m about to paint. It has now earned a permanent place in the kitchen junk drawer.”
David Frane of Tools of the Trade says that the Hyde is “along the lines of what a Swiss Army Knife might be if it had been designed by a painter.”
Where the Hyde falters is with the screwdriver setup. To access the bit storage, the rear cap needs to be pulled off, which is difficult to do. Hidden in the handle are two double-headed bits (Phillips #1, #2 and slotted #1, #2) and a nail set, which is basically a pointed metal cylinder used in conjunction with a hammer to tap small nail heads flush before painting. Each of these pieces can be inserted into the removable cap, which provides something to hold on to while you use them. The nail set is really low quality and it actually bent the first time we tried to use it (none of the other painter’s tools come with a nail set). Also, one of the other 17 uses for the Hyde is to utilize the nail set as a scribe, but there are much easier and more effective ways to do that. As for the screwdriver bits, they work fine, but it’s not easy to remove them from their storage slots.
Because of the benefits of the small roller cutout, we feel these failings are offset by the overall usefulness of the tool. The reality is that the screwdriver bits are probably the least important functions that the tool has to offer, particularly if you already own the MegaPro 13-in-1 screwdriver (which we highly recommend). Using the 17-in-1 as a screwdriver is really an “emergency only” option, so it needs to be functional and little else. Also, in looking at the other painter’s tools we tested, the screwdriver ability was a weak point for all of them.
We also noticed that after a decent amount of use and banging paint lids back on, the butt end of the Hyde became dented. The dents don’t seem to be causing any problems, and the handle itself still appears to be sound.
The blade of the Hyde also has two wrench cutouts (¾-inch and 11/16-inch), which are sized to fit the connections on a paint sprayer. As Clement told us, “They’ll never be used by anyone who’s not a pro painter.” Since it doesn’t detract from any other element of the Hyde, it doesn’t bother us that it’s there. I found that the wrench cutouts fit on some of the connections coming off my boiler and I’m sure they’d fit on other things in the house as well, but it’s a little awkward to use for any extended period of time. The Hyde is best used as a back-up/emergency tool, and not for any real bolt tightening,
If you’re on a slightly tighter budget and willing to sacrifice a few of the more advanced features of the 17-in-1, we recommend the basic Hyde 06986 6-in-1 Multi-Tool (about $9). It doesn’t have the small roller cutout, the bottle opener, the nail puller, the screwdrivers, or the wrench cutouts, but it does have a stainless steel blade, the large roller cutout, the prying edge, the scraper edge, the gouging corner, and a metal cap for banging a paint lid on. It’s also “guaranteed forever” by Hyde.
What separates this one from the rest of the basic 6-in-1s that we considered were the stainless steel blade, the metal handled cap, the guarantee, and Hyde’s overall reputation when it comes to painting equipment.
When I asked Clement about painter’s multitools, he said, “Almost any time you need to lever, wedge, scrape, gouge, cut, clean … I can go on … they’re a go-to. We use them for everything from opening paint cans to what we call a ‘trim shim.’ From honey-do lists to down and dirty, all-in DIY, we use them constantly.” He then told me, “Every tool pouch and project should have at least one of these.” Personally, I couldn’t agree more. When I was a full-time carpenter, I always made sure to have one in my bag, which was difficult because they were constantly being stolen, which I guess is another testament to how useful they are.
After looking at about 30 different available painter’s tools, we noticed that the Hyde was the only one with the small roller cutout. We weren’t sure how successful it would be, so we also tested three other tools, each in the 14-in-1 category. With all of the units costing less than $20, it made sense to go for the ones with the added functionality of the bottle opener and nail pryer. Also, knowing from personal experience how nice it can be to have a quick and dirty screwdriver on hand while prepping a room for paint, we keyed in on tools with that feature as well. We ended up with three for our primary testing: Hyde 17-in-1, Linzer 5600 14-in-1 ($11), and Husky 482 256 14-in-1 ($6). As a control unit, representative of the simpler models, we also looked at the Hyde 06986 6-in-1 Multi-Tool ($9).
The Linzer has much of the same functionality as Hyde’s 17-in-1, but is missing the small roller cutout. The screwdriver storage is a little better on it, with the bits accessed through the side of the handle and placed into the butt end of the cap when in use. The downside is that in order to accept the driver bit, the rear cap has a ¼-inch hex hole in it. So if you’re using the cap to tap a nail in and you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a hex imprint on the wood. But as far as the scraping, gouging, and prying functions of the Linzer go, it’s a solid tool.
The Husky is very similar to the Linzer, but is marred by a very low build quality. Within four minutes of starting our testing, one of the magnets that holds the screwdriver bits to the handle fell off. Even at the rock bottom price of $6 (a third the cost of the Hyde), all of the testers said they would avoid this one.
To add speed and efficiency to your painting projects, we recommend picking up a Hyde 17-in-1. It’s the most versatile painter’s multitool on the market because it’s the only one that is specifically designed to clean small rollers as well as large ones. For a more basic tool that doesn’t cost as much, we like the Hyde 06986 6-in-1 Multi-Tool.
Tip: When putting paint back into a can with a painter’s multitool, it’s best to run it through a paint strainer, like these. This prevents any roller lint or other gunk from getting mixed into the can. Lint-free rollers work as well. I’ve bypassed this step in the past, and it’s very frustrating to paint a wall and see small hairs embedded in the paint.
(Photos by Doug Mahoney)