Homesteading Tools

The right homesteading tools can make the difference between success and failure in DIY building. Combining good guidebooks with proper tools enabled us to build our straw bale and adobe buildings.

Barbara and I believe that average people with average tools and average skills can do what we did with our DIY straw bale home. On this page, we will list most of the tools we found necessary for our building projects.

Your tool preferences will certainly vary somewhat from ours, but probably not much. You will acquire and develop your own unique set of tools. Our list is just a guide based on what we did. It worked well for us.

Please don’t flinch at the extent of our list. The tools listed do not have to be purchased new from a store. Pawn shops, garage sales, farm auctions and the like will usually have serviceable tools for sale.

Hand Tools

Shovels, Forks, Rakes and More — Over the years, we have accumulated a variety of useful long handled homesteading tools from auctions and stores. As a farm auction, old-tool junky, I have picked up some real bargains.  Other times, I have had to pay retail price, but it was worth it to have the right tool for the right job.

1)      Shovels – Among the shovels I recommend are:

     a)     Spades or Digging Shovels – Most important is a long        handled round nosed shovel with either a wooden or fiberglass handle.

     b)     Transfer shovels – A square shovel with a long handle of either wood or fiberglass is a must. If you only choose two shovels, one should be the long handled round nose digging shovel and the other should be the long handled square point transfer shovel.

2)     Mattock, Pry Bar, and Tamper  - For digging trenches in hard ground or removing shrubs and rocks, a mattock and pry bar are great. We used our tamper to pack your sub floors and patio. Tough on the shoulders, but it does a good job.

3)     Forks – We use an old three-tine hay fork for straw and brush clean-up and a heavy-tined spading fork in the garden.

4)     Rakes – You will need at least one 14 to 16 tine “bow” or garden rake for leveling and working subfloors and landscaping. A lighter “broom” rake is a great tool for cleaning up straw and leaves.

Trowels, Hawks, Floats and Plastering Tools

1)      Trowels – The number and variety of trowels available for plastering adobe walls is enormous. Our basic trowels include brick trowel, rounded pool trowel, rectangular 11” finish trowel, notched trowels for tile work, margin trowel and various Japanese pointed trowels.

2)     Hawks –I use a Japanese-style hawk. I can build them myself out of scrap wood and I find them very comfortable in use.

3)     Floats – For tile work, a heavy rubber float is good. For adobe walls, we use a hand-made 4’ Darby float.

4)     Misc. For adobe plastering, we used a string trimmer (weed whacker) or a mulcher, saw horses, articulating ladder or light scaffold, shovels, wheelbarrow, mixer or heavy mortar tubs, hoe, screens, joint compound blower, and mortar tubs. See our pages on plastering.

Pointed Homesteading Tools — You will need a small variety of screwdrivers, both Phillips and flat plus nail sets, chisels (both for wood and metal), punches, and a good awl. See our shop pictures on the building pages.

WrenchesA set of combination open end / box wrenches in both metric and SAE up from 1/4" to 1”. Auctions and pawn shops are a good place to look for these homesteading tools. Include a pair of 14” pipe wrenches.

1)      Socket Sets A 3/8” drive socket set with sockets from 9 – 17  mm and from 1/4" – 3/4”. If your budget permits, a set of deep sockets saves some box wrench time when the bolt is a bit too long. In addition, a heavy duty 1/2" set is handy if your budget allows.

2)     Pliers – A decent quality set of lineman, needle nose, side cutting, channel locks, and slip joint pliers sold as a package can be found for a reasonable price. Don’t forget at least one vise-grip.

3)     Specialty Wrenches – You will want a set of Allen wrenches as well as a (nice to have) set of star, hex, and Torx wrenches. The latter can generally be found packaged as heads only that fit into a screwdriver handle with a socket receptor.

4)     Nice to have – A small set of nut drivers with screwdriver handles and a set of tiny screwdrivers (as used for fixing eyeglasses) will be handy, especially for things like light fixtures imported from Absurdistan.

Pounders, Pullers, and Priers While building and beyond, we have used and still use a variety of sledges, hammers, nail pullers, and pry bars.These primitive homesteading tools are still a real necessity.

1)      Hammers – We regularly use a small hand sledge, framing hammer, and carpenter’s hammer. You will want at least one carpenter or framing hammer for each builder.  Also, get a good nail apron for each builder. Saves time and clothes.

2)    Nail Pullers and Wrecking Bars – A flat pry bar and a goose neck wrecking bar are indispensable.

Hand Saws and Hack Saws When a power saw won’t fit or is overkill, an adjustable hack saw frame with a variety of blades and a good 24" crosscut hand saw fill the bill.

Files and Rasps –Our shop includes a flat metal file with medium or fine teeth and a good wood rasp.

Planes and Sanders –In our “average guy” shop, we have done very nicely with an old 12” Stanley jack plane.  An random orbital sander and a soft hand sanding block takes care of our sanding needs.

Measuring, Leveling, and Miscellaneous:

1)      Steel Measuring Tapes –Hand-held 25’ x 1/2"steel tapes are necessary tools when building anything.

2)     100’ Reel-type Measuring Tape – We use an inexpensive cloth 100’ x 1/2" open reel tape for laying our building footprints and squaring our buildings.

3)     Squares –  A carpenter’s or framing square, a speed square, an adjustable square and a good trisquare are a must for framing and cabinet work. We include a 4’ steel rule for cabinet case work and many other uses.  

4)     Level and Plumb –The levels most commonly used around here are the 2’ and 4’ bubble or “spirit” levels. For plumb porch posts, you will find a post level invaluable. We used an old surveyor’s level for leveling our building site and foundation. Works great even though it’s older than I am. Laser levels are readily available for modest prices.

Clamps –We use a variety of clamps including spring clamps, F-style bar clamps, “quick grip” clamps, and C-clamps. Nice to have as a “third hand” and imperative in cabinet making.

Guides for ripping can be purchased or made in your shop. The only issue is one true, straight edge that can be clamped to a stable surface while making your cut. A straight board or rule clamped to a table works great.

Tables are great for layouts, cutting, and assembly. A good pair of sawhorses and a dedicated piece of 3/4" plywood is our work table of choice.

Power Tools and Equipment:
While I really enjoy working with homesteading tools that don’t buzz, roar, or have a cord attached, I probably wouldn’t have completed our DIY home building project without power tools.

There is definitely a place for both hand and powered homesteading tools in my life. I refer to hand tools as tools without a motor and power tools, even if hand-held, as tools with motors, batteries, or cords.

1)      Power Saws In my shop you’ll find a wide variety of power saws including a table saw, chop saw, circle saw, scroll saw, reciprocating saw, and a cordless electric chain saw.

       a)     Table Saw – We managed to build our DIY home with an inexpensive lightweight table saw. Doing it again, I would upgrade to a slightly higher quality saw with a larger table.

       b)     Circle Saws – I  have two circle saws – one with a fine tooth blade and one with a utility blade. Saves lots of time.

      c)      Jig Saws – For tasks such as making cut-outs for sinks, pipes, and fixtures, a good jig saw will make your job not only easier, but possible.

     d)     Reciprocating Saws and Chain Saws – While used much less frequently, these two saws have important roles in building with straw bales. In both cases, I use a battery saw. Straw chaff will clog the intake filter and oil-soaked straw chaff is a messy nuisance.

2)     Drills– Without my drill guns, the house wouldn’t have happened. I have four drill guns including a corded 1/2", a corded 3/8”, and two battery 3/8” tools. In addition to the hand held drill guns, I use a bench mounted drill press for greater accuracy in angle and depth of cut.

3)     Sanders –I use a mid-priced orbital sander as my one and only power sanding tool.

4)     Cement Mixer and other special equipment –A light duty cement mixer for stem walls, mortar, plaster, and adobe floors made our lives so much easier after mixing in tubs for the first buildings.

5)     A String trimmer (or weed whacker) is an important tool in straw bale building. Before borrowing a Mulcher from a neighbor, we used the string trimmer to chop straw for adobe plaster. Also a string trimmer is great for “truing” a straw bale wall.

Depending entirely on your final design and what material you select for your DIY straw bale or adobe home, you may well find that you need homesteading tools that I have not used or even considered.

Have a great time browsing hardware stores, haunting auctions and pawn shops, and checking out flea markets. Hunting for your homesteading tools can become an enjoyable part of your building process.

For more detail on DIY homesteading tools and pictures of their use, we offer a downloadable guide for a modest price. (Soon available)


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