In this article I go over the basic tools I have used and recommend for people either looking to live off the grid or move into the simple living lifestyle. I have provided the links below to all the tools I not only recommend, but I actually own myself, you can rest assured they are verified and tested by yours truly.
Unless you have unlimited resources, plenty of time, and the patience to have others do your work for you, you will probably have to learn a lot of new skills as you construct your off-grid or more remote home.
First, when constructing and living in an off-the-grid/remote living building, it is essential to have a good set of tools. Growing up in the sticks, I have had at least a basic set of tools since I was probably around 10 years old. That bike and Evel Knievel jump ramp were not going to build and fix themselves. (For you youngsters: Evel Knievel was a famous motorcycle stuntman.) So very early on I was using my hands, my own tools, and my Dad’s tools to fix and build things (without his permission . . . most of the time).
Once I got older and purchased my first property, these tools and skills became incredibly handy. As any homeowner knows, things constantly need fixing! I still had a lot to learn, but knowing some basic fix-it principles was a huge help.
After realizing that contractors are expensive and (usually) a pain in the butt to deal with, I started doing most of the work on my homes myself. I actually did almost all the remodeling work on my first place by myself. Truth be told I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I purchased numerous books on home renovation and just figured it out. Today, YouTube has a video on pretty much every type of remodeling or building project. This makes it far easier to learn these skills, and to see how they are performed.
A word of warning: any idiot can make a video and post it on YouTube. I saw a show recently showing a young couple who decided to build and live remotely exclusively using YouTube videos for their information. I haven’t seen an update to see if they have been eaten by a bear or starved to death, but it looked like they were well on their way to that.
Of course, you will still need tools to get the job done. Here are some of my favorites.
Instead of giving you a long list of basic tools, I recommend you get a “homeowner’s tool set/kit.” These are basic sets that contain a multitude of tools commonly used for homeowner projects such as a hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, a socket set, a tape measure, and so on. These usually run from $50 to $100 for a decent starter set.
The reason I recommend this for beginners is that it’s a cheap and easy way to get started. Tools can be very expensive, so until you get more familiar with them and figure out exactly what you need, the tool kit is a great way to get started and figure it out.
As a matter of fact, I carry one of these “homeowner tool sets” in my travel trailer, so I don’t have to carry a bunch of expensive individual tools that I will probably not use on a regular basis and will just take up space.
Over the years, there is a basic set of power tools that I have used for a majority of my handy work. Here is the list I think everyone considering an off-grid journey should have:
Drill/driver: is primarily used for drilling holes but can drive screws and small bolts.
Impact driver: used primarily for driving (or removing) screws and bolts. Differs from drill/driver in that has more torque and has a fast-moving hammer that continually pounds the bit, letting you ease up on the pressure you would normally have to exert.
Sawzall: (reciprocating saw): is considered the workhorse of demolition tools, as it is compact and can cut through wood and steal.
Circular saw: (skill saw): is a small handheld saw that can cut most wood construction materials. Different blades allow you to cut through concrete and steel as well.
Miter saw: is more of a specialty tool but one I have used a lot over the years. This will make quick work of miter cuts (angled cuts), such as those used on baseboards, crown molding, and cabinet finishing work.
Cut-off grinder: is, for me, probably one of the most versatile tools I own. For a metal fabricator, this is a must-have tool, but it can also be used to make difficult cuts with different blades on wood, concrete, and tile. I have primarily used this for cutting steel or metal piping and for tough angled tile cuts.
With the advancement of cordless tools, we off-the-grid enthusiasts now have a great set of resources to perform jobs that, in the past, used to require a generator and extension cords. You can get a decent set of the above listed tools, cordless, for about $500 to $600. (Note that you will still have to plug in the battery chargers for cordless tools somewhere, but they become ultra-portable throughout your work site without the need for wires!)
The contractor (professional) grade of these cordless power tools costs more because they usually have more torque and a longer battery life.
Now if you have never used power tools before, I wouldn’t recommend you buy a set and just go for it. There are many professionals in the construction business missing fingers because of accidents. Power tools are very dangerous and can injure or even kill you or someone else if used improperly.
If there is a large hardware store (such as Home Depot) in your area, consider attending one of the numerous how-to classes they offer on home improvement and tool usage. These classes are typically free, so the price is right! The last thing I want to see is someone who read my book missing a finger or hand, so always educate yourself first on how to use tools with which you are unfamiliar.
One more safety tip, and I can’t emphasize this enough: always, always wear eye protection when using power tools. As a matter of fact, I would recommend safety glasses when using any type of tool. I have lost count how many times a piece of debris has been deflected away from my eyes and I was spared injury because of safety glasses. I have multiple sets of protection glasses, so I always have access to them. They are cheap and readily available at any hardware store.
Also consider industrial noise-blocking earmuffs, especially if you frequently use power tools (there are a lot of long-time builders out there with hearing problems!), and a hard hat if there will be overhead hazards at your work site. Again, all are inexpensive and easy to find at the hardware store.
This is a pretty basic list of yard tools to get you started. Depending on your project, and the type of yard you plan to have and maintain, this list may quickly expand. However, I have found these five yard tools are the ones I have used the most.
Digging shovel: talk about one of the oldest, but most-used tools around today. Dig holes, move dirt, move rocks, mix concrete, chop tree roots, take care of that annoying . . . the many uses just keep on going.
Post-hole digger: (manual, not powered): if you live off-the-grid or in the sticks, digging fence postholes is going to happen. It is a cheap and back-saving tool that I highly recommend.
Steel rake: this is not to be confused with a leaf rake that is for those yuppies in the suburbs. This is the tougher version with teeth spaced farther apart and made of hardened steel. You will be raking up many types of heavy debris and smoothing dirt on a remote property, so this is a must.
Hand ax: most off grid livers will have trees on their property, so a small ax is a great tool for cutting down small dead trees and removing limbs without having to use a chainsaw.
Wheelbarrow: besides moving dirt, debris, materials, and tools around, it is a great tool in which to mix concrete by hand.
Obviously there are many more tools that can and will be used on your off-the-grid property. But over the years I have found the above tools to be the most commonly used in everyday projects. Depending on your preference of buying used or new, the price of the tools will vary. Even if you decide to purchase all these recommended tools brand new, they can be all be had for well under $1,000 if you take your time when shopping and get them on sale.
That is not bad when you consider that—with some creativity—you could build an entire house with just these recommended tools. Tools also hold their value well, so you can resell them fairly easily down the road if you exit the off-grid life.
Conversely, if you don’t buy these tools, you are going to have to pay someone who does own tools to come and do every handyman and yard project that pops up. Over the long run, that will be much, much more expensive.
Also check out my new book “Going Off The Grid”
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