Sunday, November 13, 2011

Do I Need This Tool

If you are intending to do things yourself, you will need to have tools. Each trade has its own tools, and frequently each task has its own. Unless you are part of that trade, it gets prohibitively expensive to have every tool for a trade, especially for a home owner who is a do it yourselfer. As a homesteader especially, you need digging tools, construction tools, electricians tools, plumbers tools, animal care tools, gardening/landscaping tools, and so on depending on your environment. If you happen to be wealthy and have the space to store all of those tools and buy them, all well and good. Most of the time though, one has to compromise between what you have, and what you need to do.

One of the challenges we have been facing is what tools should we have, and what should we work around or borrow. Some of these questions are easy to answer. For instance, borrowing the glass suction cups makes complete sense given the price tag to buy them and how often we will use them.  That said, sometimes borrowing just isn't an option. In those cases what do you have to consider?

How Often Will I Use The Tool
This one is kinda obvious. If you're deciding whether or not you need a general framing hammer for around the house the answer is probably yes if you don't already have one. A standard nail driving hammer is used regularly for many different tasks so you will use it regularly. If you're looking at say, a pneumatic nail gun, which by the way is an awesomely useful tool, you probably don't need it. Sure, it's a time saving device that is much easier to use than a standard hammer. However, more often than not you're not going to be driving 100+ nails in a day or building a structure.

How Perishable Is The Tool
This is a combination of factors rolled into one, how much maintenance does the tool need, how reliant is it on power, and how does it react to just sitting for a long time. The same hammer example. A standard framing hammer requires virtually no maintenance to keep it functional. Ideally you will keep it out of overly moist areas so it doesn't rust out, and you will need to replace the handle from time to time if you have a wooden handle. Both of these are easy to you're more likely to be able to keep it in good shape.

The nail gun on the other hand is quite the opposite. As a complex system that requires lubrication to function properly it requires maintenance. While regularly used and properly maintained nail guns last a long time with functionally minimal effort for high volume use. However for a standard use household where it gets put away for some time the chances of it developing issues, or rusting out are much higher. The costs of fixing it are much higher, and require more expertise.

How Adaptable Is The Tool
How many ways can you use the tool is one of the biggest things to consider. A simple hand saw can be used for many kinds of tasks, where as a circular saw can only do one thing. A sawzall can cut through just about anything with the proper blade, and has the ability to cut curves if you're good where as a router is a much more specific tool only used for what it does. For a starting off household you need to focus on the tools that are adaptable when you buy. A hammer, a saw for cutting straight, a saw for cutting curves, a drill with a good set of bits.

Is It Vital For The Job
Then there are some tools that you just have to have to do a job correctly. A level and a square for carpentry for example. A tester to find out if the line is hot for electrical work. These are tools you can't skimp on. There are also things that are literally the only tool that will do the job. At that point you just have to get the tool or borrow it, much of that decision will be based on if you can borrow it, and how much it costs.

How Much Does It Cost
A specialist tool that costs $20 is a lot more likely to be worth having than a specialist tool that costs $2,500.

How Often Will I Use It
Finally as a consideration is how often the tool will be used. Even if a tool costs you $1,000 if you are going to use it every day it's probably worth having. An example of this that came to mind for me was a log splitter. If we are going to be felling and splitting wood every year and doing so for 5 - 10 cords, we should probably consider paying for an efficient log splitting machine instead of using a splitting maul which has its own risks as well as a major efficiency factor decrease.

I'm going to be talking about making do with the tools you have, a closely related topic, on Thursday.


  1. This is definitely a great breakdown of the questions to ask ourselves, I hadn't even thought of a couple of them!

    On an almost off-topic note, When i got to the part about perishable I was reminded of mammalian studies where we were told that one of the quickest ways to attract a porcupine were tools with wooden handles that had been used with bare hands as they like to seek out and chew salty wood XD Something we may need to consider in our area!

  2. Huh, I hadn't known that. Given the fishercats I doubt we'll have to worry too much about it. That said, it's definitely worth noting. I think most of our large tools have fiberglass handles but our shovel for instance is wood.