One of the jobs on a ranch is to mend fences. Years ago this meant getting on a horse and riding the fence line and making any needed repairs. You couldn’t carry a lot of tools with you so the fencing tool pictured above was developed. Now I think fence repair is done from something like a ATV of some kind so more tools can be carried. However don’t discount the usefulness of this tool in dealing with anything fence or wire related. I find it is my go-to tool in dealing with my chicken coop. It has a hammer to drive staples, a tooth to pull them out, you can cut wire with it and bend/tighten wire into the shape you want it.
I have always been cautions of “all in one” tools and generally I find they do not do any job well. While I would not want to spend hours pounding in staples with this tool, I feel it works exceptionally for the job it was designed to do, repairing anything with wire.
So while most of us will not be working on a large ranch spending the day working on fencing, I recommend this tool for anyone trying to build a small homestead. A word of caution, I first had a cheap one and the end of the tooth broke off. I have since got a version by Channellock and it has held up well.
First of all everyone should own at least one hammer and if you are only going to own one hammer I recommend the Estwing 20 oz Ripping Hammer. I’ve had this hammer for probably 30 years and while I didn’t use it daily like a carpenter would, I have used (and abused) it for a long time and it still is in good shape. This weight balances something heavy enough when you need some force, but still light enough for the average user to control. This hammer is available from many local store as well as Amazon Prime for less than $30. If you don’t already have something like this then is an excellent place to start and as long as you don’t lose it you will find you can pass it on to a grand-kid.
Don’t get drawn into lots of fancy “features”, the basic hammer is what you really need. If you do a lot rough framing some of those feature you might find useful, but if you know that you are way beyond this recommendation. Really be careful of a hammer with a cross-hatch pattern on it, you miss what you are aiming for and catch your thumb it will really hurt and you likely lose your nail as well.
“We are not rich enough to buy cheap things” – Ancient Persian Proverb
Unless you are independently wealthy you have to budget the amount of money you spend on tools. In doing that you have to balance the quality of the tool, what you need it to do and how much it costs. A cheaply made tool that doesn’t function well or breaks easily will cost you more in the long run than a tool that cost more up-front but lasts longer. However you can spend money you don’t need to by buying tools that while expensive are worth every penny to someone who can take advantage of the level of precision that the tool offers, but you are not that person and will never be that person. Another thing to consider is how often will you use that tool and will a value priced tool be good enough. Personally I tend to spend more on my hand tools to get a higher quality as I know they will last forever and the technology will not change. For power tools I tend to go with a more affordable option or buy used. Let me give you some examples and reasons for my decisions.
Mechanics Tools (wrenches, sockets & screwdrivers) Pay More – I bought the Craftsman brand from Sears 25+ years ago and they are still going strong. I can’t say if the current production runs are the same, but they sure work for me. Plus the few that did fail were replaced for free by Sears. However I also bought a no brand set of impact sockets from Northern Tool and broke my own rule, but this set has been fantastic and they are not showing any signs of cracking or wear. Impact sockets take a lot of stress and I am surprised at how these have held up.
Circular Saw/Miter Saw: Buy on the lower priced side – I bought what I would consider “one step up” from the bottom and have been happy and had them for years. Now I do not use either of these on a daily basis so if your use pattern is different you might want to go higher up the price scale then I did. For what trim work I did the precision of the Ryobi miter saw I got was more than a match for my skill level. However I know a master craftsman that builds stairs that you wouldn’t believe that spent thousands on a miter saw but his skill level is high and he needs the more exact tools.
Handheld Grinders: I bought Cheap – I have both a 4-1/2″ and an 8″ right angle grinder that I got from Harbor Freight. The pricing on these was very low compared to other brands. But I only need these a few times a year. When I need them it would be very hard to get done what I need to do without them (mainly sharpening mower blades) but I just do not use them that much. I have to say I do not regret at all this purchase even it is one of my “cheaper” buys.
Cutting Things (Blades & Chisels): Pay More – I have found that investing more in quality cutting tools is wise. I’ve bought the bulk pack of sawzall blades and they were not worth the cheap price I did pay for them. Also spending a bit more on a circular saw blade will make the saw you do have perform much better. While not high-end I did buy a set of Stanley wood chisels and I did have to sharpen them but the do very well for me.
Cordless Tools: Homeowner grade – I have went with the Ryobi brand and I use the impact driver frequently. I would expect any brand you recognize and is sold in the big box stores would work for most people. Interestingly I know some contractors that also buy “value-priced” home owner grade cordless tools because they have found that it usually isn’t wearing out that causes them to replace these tools, it is theft, dropping or doing something you shouldn’t. Why buy expensive stuff for your workers to destroy?
Hand Tools (hammers, hand planes and the like): Pay More – For these tools you need to buy a brand that is recognized as quality, otherwise you will be disappointed. The big box stores do sell quality hammers (I have an Estwing that I bought 30 years ago) I have tried a wood plane once and it was close to worthless. I have done much better with used ones from eBay, a little clean up and sharpening and the work good. Lee Valley makes some absolutely wonderful planes, but at $250 and up I cannot justify spending the money.
In closing I would say do not let tool snobs prevent you from getting a less expensive brand of something you need. There is something to be said for saving your money and buying something that will last a lifetime, but keep in mind many power tools will not last that long no matter what brand they are or how much you spend so consider carefully how much you spend. Your best option would be to talk to someone who would have a similar use patter to you and see what they have and what they think about it. If anyone says with great enthusiasm “I would never buy anything but XYZ brand”, carefully consider their stance before you decide to follow them. My personal recommendation is to spend more money on non-powered hand tools and look for lower priced options on the power ones. Unless you are rich then I don’t think you will be coming to me for advice anyway.
Cordless tools took the world of contractors and builders by storm about 20 years ago. The price kept coming down and now they are very affordable for the home owner and are extremely convenient and have enough power for most jobs. One thing to keep in mind with cordless tools is the batteries will be a noticeable expense and they will need to be replaced over time. Also the various brands use their own proprietary shape and connectors so you cannot swap batteries between brands of tools, they are not like AA’s, C-cell or D-cell batteries. Therefore you will likely stick with a brand once you start buying it. For the homeowner and DIY’er I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the main brands like Dewalt, Black & Decker, Makita or Ryobi. There is a lot of debate over which is the best, but my opinion on the matter is unless you are making a living with the tool they are all good.
Personally I have all 18V Ryobi tools for the simple reason many years ago there was a 5 piece set for sale at Home Depot and that is what I started with and so that’s what I stayed with. I am a home owner, not a contractor so keep that in mind as it did influence my decision. However I did have a new house build and did most of the inside work myself using these Ryobi tools and while none of my original batteries are still good the only Ryobi tool I had stop working was the radio and having it outside in the rain might have had something to do with that. I’ve also talked to contractors and many of them are going with cheaper tools like Ryobi because when the get dropped off a ladder or left in the rain or on a job site or stolen, they are easier to replace. They are finding that a tool get damaged due to the operator or conditions it is in rather the just breaking because it is not up to the work. Buy what you want, just consider you may be paying more money than you need too based on your usage pattern.
After having said all that I recommend to start your collection of cordless tools with a drill and impact driver. Home Depot has the Ryobi set on sale for $100 and that price will probably stick through the holidays. I did find a similar Black & Decker kit for about $110, but I don’t personally know anything about it. You really do need both the drill and impact driver, they do different things. The drill obviously drills holes and can be used to drive screws, however an impact driver does a much better job. I have also used the impact driver to work on my tractor when I was not near a power source to use an air-powered impact wrench. I was surprised at the stuck bolts the impact actions could get out that I could not get out by hand with a socket. Of all my cordless tools (and I own more than I care to admit) I have used the impact driver probably more than the rest combined. After you buy these two you will also need some drills and driver bits. At this stage I would recommend just a small $10-$20 set until you know what you really need and there will be a future post on this subject.
First of all let me start by saying I love tools. Old, new, power, hand it doesn’t matter. For some activities you must have tools and sometime special tools, other times you can make do with something close or cobble something together. I believe that everyone (and I do mean everyone) should own some basic hand tools, further if you own or take care of a home there are some additional tools that you should have. Then as you develop additional interests you can acquire tools specific to that area of work i.e. plumbing, mechanic, woodworking.
Tools will be assigned levels to give you our recommendation on when you buy them as your progress toward being a well tooled man or woman. Note that everyone’s circumstances are different so this should just be viewed as guidance. Each tool or category of tool will be described along with why you need it, how flexible/specialized it is. Level 0 are things that I believe every person should have, this will be a short list and will only let you do the very basics. Even those that live in an apartment should have the level 0 kit However everyone needs to start somewhere and this will be a set that doesn’t cost that much and doesn’t take up too much room. From there we will go to level 1 which is designed for the home owner and again are things that I consider to be the “must-haves” for anyone that wants to do their own projects around their house/property. We will try very hard to have options depending on your budget including answering “if I can only buy one, which one should it be”.
I also consider what you have in the kitchen to be tools and while I’m a little less qualified to speak in this area we will try to provide sound guidance. One of my favorites from the Food Network is Alton Brown and in his book on Gear For You Kitchen he describes moving everything out from his kitchen and putting it in the basement. Then when he needed something he went down and got it and in the end he was surprised how few things he really needed. I feel this is the case for many things we have, we may buy large sets of things thinking the company that put the set together must know what we need. However I suspect that many times it is the case they put together sets to sell more product.
If you are just starting out on building your tool collection I hope this series will help you. I’ve seen many articles and discussions on building a tool collection and I always felt they overwhelmed the new user with too many options and too many choices. This series will answer the question “What should I buy first” so analysis paralysis will not set in. if you don’t have everything in level 0 seriously look at buying them first. Next level 1 will likely be a “should have for most people who would read about tools on this or any other web site. Further there will be projects that are focused on learning how to use a particular tool to help build skills.
Electrical circuits are a mystery to many people and to be fair even household current can kill you, so unless you know what you are doing you might want to leave any electrical work on your house to a professional. However I firmly believe that everyone should know that basics about as many things as possible and with a basic electrical tester you can know if there are faults in household wiring that require someone with expertise to look at it. While I will not go into electrical theory and standards in this post, a simple tester like the one shown below will really tell you a lot. These are available at any hardware or box store like Home Depot or Menard’s and from Amazon and are in the $10-$15 range. By looking at the pattern of lights it will show you five different wiring faults as well as a correctly wired outlet socket. Further pressing the button will create a ground fault that should trip your GFCI protection. All plugs in wet areas (kitchen, bathroom outside…) should be GFCI protected. After the test make sure you reset your GFCI circuit which can be either the button in the center of the plug or could be in your circuit breaker box depending on the type your home has.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive test as it will not check voltage levels or tell you the size of a circuit, for basic circuit testing it is too cheep and easy to use for everyone not to have at least one. Further if you are having trouble with an electrical device it is good to make sure the plug is wired correctly. That way you will know if you need take the device in for service or have the house wiring looked at. The biggest thing this does for a novice is tell you if the power is on to a plug and if it is wired correctly or if there is a problem. Also it is safe for anyone to use because you don’t have to take anything apart to do the test, you just plug it in like anything else and look at what lights are on and compare it to the code printed on the unit.
One of the many activities around the farm during the fall season is building and mending fence. We have several styles of fence around the farm, woven wire, high tensile single strand, and board panels to name a few.
If you have fences or plan on building fences on your property it is well worth the effort to cut your own posts and install the fence yourself. Contracting a fence builder can be expensive!
This past year we built traditional fence and had some fence installed professionally. The contracted fence wound up costing $5.00/ft. or more and when we do the work ourselves it costs $0.65/ft. That is a huge cash savings! However, it is a large investment in sweat equity!
Most of the fence posts around the farm are locust or hedge (osage orange) that we have cut and split from the property. If you’re going to be building fence around your property you will need a few tools. The first tool you’ll need is a chainsaw to fell and limb the trees that will be cut into 7′ fence posts.
Once the post are split it’s time to start building fence. We set the first corner post and run a string near the ground, 550 cord works great for this, to the next corner post. If the fence is longer than your string just set a post at the end of your string. Along the string we mark a spot on the ground every 10′ where we will dig each post hole.
Digging post holes manually can be quite a chore. If you have a tractor with an auger the job is much easier. If you don’t own a tractor you could use a 2 man power auger which could be rented at most equipment rental stores and possibly Home Depot or Lowes. If you have no powered auger option then your left digging post holes with a shovel, digging bar, and a post hole digger. When I was growing up on the farm, my brother and I built many miles of fence this way. Even if you use an auger, it’s still a good idea to have these tools on hand to clean out and level the bottom of the post holes.
Now you can start setting the posts you have worked so hard to cut and split. Move the string to the top of the end posts and align the top of the post you are setting with the string. When you have the post aligned start filling the hole with a shovel and tamping evenly around the post as you go. Continue in this fashion until all posts are set.
You are well on your way to finishing the fence!
In future posts I will be discussing corner braces, gates, water crossings, stretching & stapling wire, and much more on building and repairing fences. Also, tune into the Save Our Skills YouTube channel for future videos on this subject.