The Weekenders: Our Favorite Tools

  |  July 13, 2012
Red Tractor

The tool we WISH we had

We’ve been working on several different house projects so far this summer and it’s become increasingly clear to us how important it is to have the right tools to do a job quickly and with the least amount of pain and frustration. We often find ourselves using a few key tools over and over, no matter what we’re doing. We’ve also made a few new tool discoveries.

We had a small raised bed garden last year that we built from a kit from Gardens to Gro.  This year we made it three times bigger, using the brackets from from Gardens to Gro and drawing it out ourselves.  We used many if not all of the tools below when building the garden.  The caretaker watered the garden last summer, but this summer we got a drip irrigation system from Drip Depot  which has been a life saver with the dry summer we’ve been having.

For gardening, these are some of my favorite gardening tools:

Garden cart: Though we did have problems with the rear axle and had to have them send us a replacement (four times because they kept sending us the FRONT rather than the rear) we use this a lot for other projects.  Just load it up with all of the tools you need for a project and wheel it around to where you are working. It saves a lot of back and forth trips between the house and the barn. We also got a dumping garden cart, but at some point we’ll probably replace it with a regular wheelbarrow.

Fiskars geared bypass loppers: We have a lot of trees and shrubs in the yard that had been pretty neglected pruning-wise in the years before we got our place. The geared loppers make it much easier to cut up to two-inch diameter limbs. Aluminum handles mean that it’s really light. We also have some small geared Fiskars pruners that are great as well.

A foldable garden stool: My birthday present from Mr. Sticks, it has several outside pockets to store tools, handles to carry it around, and it folds out for a place to sit.

Hori-Hori:  No, it’s not a kind of sushi – but a very sharp concave Japanese garden knife that you can use for digging and cutting (great for harvesting ramps).

Pointy hoe:  Great for digging and tilling our super-rocky soil.

Some of our favorite general purpose tools:

Jawhorse:  Do you ever wish you had three hands, or if you are working with another person that you had six hands, two of which are super strong and can hold anything?  If so, you need a Jawhorse.   More than just a saw horse, a Jawhorse is a tripod saw horse with a clamping mechanism that securely holds up to a 37 inch wide board.  You only need one since you can clamp a long piece of wood into it and use it as a work table, cut lumber or hold things securely.  Watch the video – it explains it all.  One of our favorite new tools.

Ryobi 18Volt cordless combo kit:  The circular saw is really only good for sawing light stuff, but the drill, the flashlight the mouse sander and the reciprocating saw all work well. We also recently got the electric caulk gun (don’t laugh, when you are doing a lot of caulking, a manual caulk gun is really a pain -literally- in the hand to use for long stretches of time). There are lots of different brands of these types of cordless toolkits at different price points. The more expensive brands like Makita and DeWalt are professional grade and offer more functionality and power, but as a weekend DIYers and not full-time renovators, it didn’t really make sense to have anything more expensive. Because it’s a kit, the batteries are interchangeable, and you can add new tools as you need them. The important thing is to make sure you can get parts (sand paper, new batteries, drill bits) that fit whatever brand you get from a hardware store near you.  Unfortunately, we’ve only found Ryobi parts at Home Depot, not at our closest hardware store.

Ryobi impact driver:  The newest addition to the family is the impact driver.  You know how annoying it is when you’re trying to screw a screw into something and the bit keeps slipping out and you strip the screw head? The impact driver stops this from happening.  This guy gives a good demonstration of how they work and tests many different brands.   I can attest that it really is fantastic for screwing long screws into wood without requiring pilot holes.  When we built the garden last year, we had to drill pilot holes for EVERY screw.  This year, with the impact driver, we used Torx head screws and bits and with the impact driver we easily cut our work in half.

Porter Cable multi-tool: Otherwise known by my woodworking father as a “tweedler,” the multi-tool is an  oscillating multi-function tool that you use for sanding, cutting and scraping. We looked at the Fein that was highly recommended (it is the original multi-function tool) but ended up going with the Porter Cable since price-wise it was much more reasonable considering how often we thought we’d use it.

SOG Twitch pocket knife:  I don’t have one, but Mr. Sticks swears by his and carries it with him everywhere. You can open and close it with just a twitch of your index finger which makes it really handy.

Bucket aprons:  This isn’t the exact one we have, but you get the idea.  They are really helpful when you are starting a project – just put all of the things you’ll need in the bucket and tote it around to where you are working.  It helps keep things organized and easy to find.

Gloves: I like Leather gloves for working with wood, but our newest discovery is nitrile or latex coated gloves.  I use the nitrile coated for gardening because they are thinner, but in general, any sort of latex coated gripping gloves  have become essential. The thermal ones are a great help in winter for stacking or stacking firewood while still keeping your hands warm.  One pet peeve of mine with work gear and work clothing: many companies (L.L. Bean is a huge offender) make all of their work gloves or outdoor gear for women in insulting colors like pink, lilac, mint green or baby blue, while men’s stuff is normal colors and look much better. Why can’t I get womens sized work gloves (or rain coats or flannel shirts) in grey or black like the mens?

Wet/Dry utility vacuum – AKA, shop vac. There are several different brands, and models vary depending on where you get them (Lowes vs. Home Depot vs. your local hardware store). As with the cordless tool set, try to make sure you get a brand that you can easily find filters and bags for. We have two Shop Vacs – a small one we use in the house and a big one we use for projects and out in the barn. We haven’t used it for wet applications yet, but the dry applications are great. There are lots of different attachments available, and you can use disposable bags and filters which makes dusty clean-ups easier.

Still being tested: since we have so much paint to strip and sand, we splurged and got a Wagner Paint Eater. We haven’t used it extensively yet, but it’s looking promising.

I love tools of all sorts.  I’ve written several posts about kitchen tools over on my cooking blog, Edible/Usable if you’re interested.

What tools have you found invaluable when doing work on your house?

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