They say you have to spend money to make money – a concept that most people understand. But you also have to spend money to save money and this is especially true as it relates to tools and equipment. One of the most rewarding aspects of homesteading is doing (by choice or force) for yourself what others phone out for. Growing food, caring for animals, canning, etc. If you didn’t love to tinker, toil and tear apart, it’s unlikely you’d make the move to the country to begin with. Of course in addition to being fun, these things all save money – if you can accomplish them. Here are the literal tools you’ll need to expand your self-sufficiency.
You can go to Jiffy Lube and get an oil change from a guy who knows just slightly more about cars than you do (regardless of how little you know) for about $30. You can do it yourself for about $20 if you get the most affordable oil and filters. The first time you do it, you also have to add a floor jack, jack-stands and a catch pan. A total cost of much more than a stop at Jiffy Lube. However, over time all these items are investments that will pay off.
Changing your oil (if you enjoy it) will lead to changing your brake pads and rotors, replacing a power steering pump, changing transmission fluid and flushing your coolant. With a good wrench set and a few auto specific accessories you could wind up saving thousands, provided you do research and don’t take on bigger jobs than you can handle. And even though the oil change itself saves very little – you don’t have to go through the hassle of being upsold on some premium oil or paying an extra $15 to have window washer fluid topped off. An oil change is a great place to start working on your own car.
Tools you should buy: Start out with a ratchet set and a set of wrenches. I wish I could say, “If you have a foreign car, go metric. If American, go standard,” but that advice just doesn’t hold true anymore as assembly plants get parts and fasteners from around the globe. Still, if you go to a store like Harbor Freight, you can get a set of SAE and metric ratchets very cheap. I paid under $40 for a very large set of Pittsburg Steel ratchets and I’ve been using them to pull the engine out of the Subaru. I’m sure at that price, the quality isn’t the best, but they are clearly capable of all I’ll never need them for.
Also, purchase a good floor jack and jack stands that are rated for your vehicle. If you want to be safe under a car, jack stands are a must. Never rely on the scissor jack in the trunk or ramps to lift your car and never set it on cinder blocks.
You can’t save money if you’re not building things yourself. I’ve bought enough lumber and deck screws in the last two years to build an ark and it’s been a great learning experience. I’ve learned how to make miter cuts and fashion supports, build a small A-frame, and even improved my coping skills when remodeling our kitchen. And by coping I mean curved cuts, not stress reduction, although the latter was improved too.
Tools to buy: One tool that has been used over and over is my impact driver, which is ironic because I never intended to buy it. While still living in Chicago a few years back there was an unbelievable sale on a DeWalt drill for $99. This deal was made even more amazing by the fact that it included the impact driver. I sort of dismissed it at the time and never needed it in the city – but I couldn’t live without it now. If you’re not familiar with the differences between a drill, a hammer drill and an impact driver, this article by Tool Guyd has a good explanation.
My next suggestion would be a compound miter saw – I found one on craigslist for $100. It’s an off-brand and was used, but has worked wonders. If you’re cutting a lot of lumber, it helps ensure a straight, even cut and saves much time.
A bench grinder is useful too, although just a middle or bastard file with some elbow grease can do the trick. Watch how-to’s on sharpening drill bits, knives, shovels, shears, machetes, etc and you’ll save lots of money while having superior performing tools.
I’ve simplified the nonstop work we do to our land as “yard work,” but needless to say I’m not suggesting this is the must have list for maintaining a suburban lot – this is for bigger stuff. I’m also not including gardening tools, as they are a post of their own. No, these are the tools I believe you need if you’re going to tame the wild aspects of your homestead – clearing trees, removing heavy brush and reclaiming land for pasture or a future garden. Also, the tools needed to sink posts, flatten out hills and move earth. In other posts I’ve mentioned tools that came in handy, and I’ll continue to do that, but here’s a short summary.
Tools to buy: A pick axe or pick mattock is exactly what you think it is… That thing that ‘49ers lugged over their shoulders on the way to the gold mine. But don’t write this tool off into the history books. If you have rocky land or clay in your soil, this is the only way to go at it without a backhoe. After bending more than one shovel blade I purchased one of these and I feel like a bionic steam shovel when I have it.
My interest in chainsaws borders on a fetish. They make such quick work of tasks that otherwise seem impossible and since we heat with wood, I couldn’t live without it. Still, I have taken down a tree with an axe and I have a buck saw (from my great grandfather!) that goes through a 2-inch limb before you can pull the cord on a chainsaw. So, while I recommend a chainsaw, unless you have some serious clearing to do, consider a bow saw, pole saw, sturdy weed whip and powerful lopping shears or pruners first. Hand tools will often do the job.
Until last year, hearing the word machete usually made me think of Danny Trejo. Like the pick axe, it seemed too crude to be useful in the modern age. Not true. No attachment for a weed eater and no DR what-have-ya provides the punch of this tool. Not for its size, not for its price and certainly not for entertainment value. When clearing the smaller willows, briers and inch-thick vines that had taken over the creek bed, nothing else worked. Lopping shears just pinched the wet vines, the chainsaw whipped the smaller trees around and the briers tied up the weed whacker. But if you put on your big boy pants and start hackin’ like an 80-year old chain smoker, you’ll have the brush gone in a day. We’d swing on it for a few minutes, then just pull out large chunks of brush using a steel rake.
What to buy first?
When getting started, buy things as you need them – but keep an eye out for good deals. We got a few shovels at a farm auction for a $1 each. If that doesn’t like something to be excited to over, go to Home Depot. A “new” shovel is $15 – $60 and trust me, the design hasn’t changed in one hundred years, except for an “extra soft, super grip” handle and other gimmicky shit. If you’re about to dig a hole on a farm and you’re worried about blisters on your hand, then you need to put down the shovel and pick up your checkbook… because you should be hiring someone. Or you could get some good leather work gloves, which should be on your day-one shopping list.
So in summary – don’t overspend, but accept that tools are part of the life. We’ve talked a lot about recycling, reusing and fabricating and that’s a great way to save time, money and reduce waste. But sometimes having the right tool more than pays for itself. Do some research before starting a project and think about tools you might need down the road so you can pick them up when you see a deal or you have extra dough.
Every time you buy a tool you’ve saved yourself money down the road. Nothing is a greater investment in your home, land and other assets than the ability to fix or improve them yourself.