Beginners’ Tips for Going Rural
When you first buy land or move into the country it can be daunting to know which tools you need. Here is my list of the first 10 things I’d buy. I also asked around in our Facebook group, and not everyone agreed with me, so I'll add the valuable recommendations of those off-gridders at the end.
Forget the expensive high tech at the beginning, especially if you’re off-grid. Consider where you are going to store this stuff and how you’re going to power it. The more machines you have, the more headaches if you ask me. They are prone to get ruined by weather, or even stolen. I’ve grown to love the simple tools. How amazing they are— the axe, the pick, the scythe. They are cheap, need no power or fuel, they are quiet, and many times do a better job than their noisy mechanistic counterparts. No one nicks them, either.
If you’re starting from scratch, you want some old-school gardening tools at the outset, because the first things you’ll be doing are clearing spaces and digging. Sadly a lot of folk can’t seem to do anything without involving some earth-wrecking hulk of a machine, but if you’ve been with The Mud Home a while, you’ll know that isn’t how I roll. Land is so precious, so alive, so communicative. Using the simple old tools keeps us in shape, and always returns a more aesthetic result without demolishing any number of treasures our land is holding that we haven’t noticed yet.
Probably the most fundamental tool of the lot. Whether it’s for digging a hole, digging rocky ground, or breaking ground, the pick is the one.
You need some sort of undergrowth clearing tool, and it depends on your land as to what that will be. In Turkey where it was rocky scrubland, the sickle and machete were more useful. Here in Spain’s grassy north, it’s the scythe. Scything is such a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. I’m still baffled by why anyone would want to strim instead of scythe. Strimmers and petrol mowers are ghastly, noisy, wildlife massacring, and unpleasant to use. They’re not even faster than the scythe. Take a look at this video to see what I mean.
There are many different kinds of spades, and again it depends on your soil, but if you can only buy one at the outset, get one that can both dig earth (has a pointy end) and that you can use as a shovel too (not too heavy).
So fundamental. I try to imagine life without the wheelbarrow sometimes, and it’s a back-breaking world of drudge. Hail to the wheelbarrow inventor! The tyres burst sometimes, which is the only bummer. I have a spare wheel for mine just in case.
I have come to love the axe after I was taught how to use it properly. I have two: a big one for wood splitting, and a little one which is just such a wonderful tool for chipping points into posts, scraping off bark and dry rot, and for some basic chiselling too.
Up there with the pick and the spade. If you’re terracing or gardening, a metal rake is a must for dragging that topsoil where you want it to go, or for ‘sweeping’ rocks and stones from said topsoil.
Other Mud Homers' comments:
"A shovel, wheelbarrow, and a Portuguese hoe-like tool called an ‘enchada’ will accomplish a lot and they’re what I started with for my first job clearing top soil for a parking area. Also, I’m a massive fan of rock bars... " Says Kirsty who's doing an amazing job of building her own off-grid world in Portugal.
"To the above list, I would add an auger especially if you have any fences to erect or sheds to build etc. We use it instead of the clamshell fencepost diggers." Says Kit who's a very handy off-gridder in the States.
"The pick I use a ton. I have 2 because i keep breaking the handle." Says Chris who's sitting in an idyllic bit of rainforest in Columbia.
7. Hammer and nails
I suppose if you were desperate (I’ve done this) you could use a rock as a hammer, but yes the hammer is fundamental for wood work, stone bashing, and so much more.
8. A decent hand saw for wood cutting
Easier said than found sometimes. Choose the teeth length carefully. Too long a tooth and the saw is always catching and harder to control. Too short a tooth and you’re busting a gut to saw anything.
9. A wrench and spanner collection
This can be pretty handy too for fixtures, plumbing, and so on.
9. A decent battery-operated drill/power driver (and screws)
Without a doubt the most empowering power tool of the lot. I mean there’s so much you can do with a drill because of its multiple attachments: bore holes in wood, metal, and masonry, screw in screws, you can get wire brush attachments for cleaning, attachments for digging out mortar, attachments for sanding...yeah. Sometimes the tech really does what it’s supposed to, and the drill is one such example.
Love it or hate it? I hate the noise and the forest-ripping brutality of this machine, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s useful. Not just for firewood, but for building. I can now cut joists by chainsaw almost as straight as with a circular saw. It’s also necessary for pruning large branches. But seriously, if we can make cars almost silent, why oh why has the chainsaw not been modified with silencers?
A bad workman blames his/her tools.
If you’ve got these 10 tools, you can do pretty much anything, and if people reckon they can’t, I find it a little strange, because this is about all I had to work with for most of my time building my earthbag house in Turkey. But…
Bonus luxuries that could make life pretty sweet
Depending on your areas of interest, there will be some other power tools that allow you to create with more finesse, particularly for wood work and metal work. Do yourself a favour though and buy a cordless, battery-operated, nifty device. I can’t quite work out why anyone is still buying these massive mains-powered machines anymore, they’re so outdated (unless you’re a professional carpenter or something). I’m wondering if people don’t realise how the tech has improved and how powerful the new cordless devices are. Cordless, battery-operated tools have so many advantages:
1. If you’re off-grid, you can easily charge them on a solar power system (conversely you’ll be hard pushed to have enough power margin to use the mains’ versions).
2. Cordless tools are much easier to store. You can keep them in the boot of your car if you want.
3. They are way easier to use, and in my opinion way more useful. You can carry them to any part of your building or land, rather than trying to carry bits of timber to the machine or messing around with dangerous extension cables.
The Most Fundamental Power Tools
Grinder – Again with its many attachments the grinder can be very useful, though it’s by no means totally necessary. I never had one in Turkey and we built a whole house.
Circular saw – For woodwork enthusiasts and joiners, this is definitely going to be useful. Get one of the new battery-operated beauties though. You can carry them wherever you want, up onto a roof if necessary.
Sander – Well, you can get sanding attachments for grinders, so this would be last on my list. But a decent sander can do a better job on flat pieces of wood.
Jigsaw – I do things with my jigsaw that are best not mentioned. If you like curves and circles, this is the tool for you:)
I’ve only mentioned the bigger tools. Of course there are zillions of small cheap extras, like tape measures, knives, screwdrivers, and paintbrushes, but that would kinda take forever.
Other Mud Homers' Comments:
"For carpentry definitely a tape measure, a good saw, a good square, chisels, and lots of pencils! For power tools I think my orbital sander is great because I can’t realistically sand giant beams by hand but many other power tool jobs can easily be done with hand tools." Says Kirsty. And I second the good square, and the pencils which are often devoured by the lesser known pencil weasel that hides in all building sites the world over.
I used to go to the gym when I lived in the city. Now I get better exercise, outside in the sun and fresh air, and improve my land. No monthly fee for that. I do miss a bit of the social aspect of the gym, but this is better in every other way. Says Chris in general. So true! And yes, that's what you don't get when you sit in a mechanical digger all day:)
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