My shed building season is soon to be upon me and it is time for me to get organised, my business has expanded, I have taken on more builds and I will be travelling between jobs this year. All of this means I will need to be mobile with portable equipment so I have designed a trustworthy and efficient tool kit that will fit into a backpack and this is what I will talking about today.
Most of the gear in this portable kit are hand tools, in fact I only have one power tool which is a drill driver. Don’t get me wrong, there will be power tools on site, but my own portable kit will allow me to do most jobs and will be smaller and lighter if I use a mixture of versatile and very specific hand tools. These days it is easy to become a little too reliant on power tools, (and I include myself in this) the modern tools are very impressive; we can all get seduced by new models with increased power and longer battery life. Power tools can certainly help to achieve a fast result, but it’s not always a new power tool you should be searching for, sometimes it is a new skill you need to be learning, power tools should be an addition to your hand tool kit, not a replacement for it.
Everyone has their own set of favourite tools for different reasons, and there are no rules, it is about becoming familiar with your equipment.* I love to see someone working well with a small sharp axe for example, and even getting used to something like stripping the bark of a branch with a knife, is going to make your hand and tools skills better, due in part to the increased concentration that follows painful cuts. OK. Let me give you a rundown of my portable kit. For those interested in the details, at the bottom of this blog are details as to why I carry around each of the tools featured.
Far left: Dewalt leather tool belt with Brimarc braces.
Top row: Screw gun accessories left to right. Countersinks, Armeg Beaver drill, spare bit holders, hss & masonry drills, Wera screw bits with magnetic holder.
2nd row: Tool belt tools left to right. Dewalt DCD790D2, Stanley FatMax 8m Tape, Rexel Blackedge carpenters pencils Hard, Stanley FatMax Folding chisel, Nail Punch, Site multi tool quick release knife, Estwing weight forward 17oz framing hammer.
3rd row: Hand tools left to right. Tajima pull saw, Stanley FatMax 450 box level, flat head screwdriver, Stanley compact chalk line, Fisco plastic roofers square, sliding bevel, Roughneck ratchet clamp.
Bottom Row: Personal gear left to right. Howard Leight folding ear guards, kevlar gloves, Petzel headtorch, snood, travel first aid & pain killers, Dewalt USB charger.
There is a certain philosophy involved in all of this; it is the skill that is important, not just with regards to the completion of the job, but also your connection to the tools and materials and ultimately your state of mind. You should become familiar with your hand tools, use them over and over until they become an extension of your hands. You should master the movements involved so they become instinctive, you should understand how much pressure to use, how much strength is required, the position of your tool, the position of your hands. In any walk of life, there is nothing quite like seeing a person who uses a given tool with a sensitivity and accuracy that it becomes an extension of the hand itself. When you grow more confident with your hand tools, you will become calmer and you will work better.
Hand tools are the staple diet of carpentry, and there are certain hand tools I use right through the day, so I like to know they are going to serve me well and this is something that translates to other parts of life. I am always confused to see for example a person pull out an old cheap tape measure with a kink in it, and struggle with it over and over, day after day, exuding a relentless crapness. This job your doing, the time that passes whilst you are doing it, this is your time, it is your life. So why not get yourself something nice, get the best tool instead of the worst and then enjoy using it. Respect it and it will be good to you. That is what all this is about, respecting the time we have here on earth and expressing that respect with a love for what you do.
I’d be really happy to hear of tools you have used, your own kits and opinions, because everyone is different and it is good to share what you have enjoyed with other people.
Love what you do, do what you love. Joel
Here’s the details of all the tools in my portable kit.
Stanley Fat Max Back Pack. This one has a solid bottom, good strong straps and lots of compartments.
Dewalt leather tool belt with braces. I’ve owned this tool belt for over twelve years, it’s a great example of how spending more money on something of quality can save you money. Brimarc braces I found had clips wide enough to grip my thick tool belt and I find they help to keep some pressure off my lower back.
Counter sinks. I use a lot, but mostly for window and door frames. They help to avoid splitting wood by drilling a pilot hole, and sink the screw beneath the surface so it can be covered up.
Drill bit roll. (Armeg beaver drill bit, spare bit holders, hss and masonry bits) These bits will do most jobs in my shed build. The beaver bit is great for drilling holes for wiring, spare bit holders are important should you drop one into next doors garden nettles, which is more common than you might think, and masonry bits, choose sizes that will fit wall plugs.
Wera drill bits and magnetic holder. I find these hard wearing, but I keep them for myself, if the labourer has poor technique I give him my slightly cheaper dewalt bits, the magnetic holder with these wera bits is really very useful. Sometimes in shed builds you can find yourself in precarious positions and are able to only to screw one handed, this wear drill bit will save you a lot of time and dropped screws.
My tool belt tools are the tools I will be using most often throughout the day on a shed build.
Dewalt DCD790D2 screw gun. this is the only power tool in my portable kit, but a great piece of kit. Technology changes fast, so this model like all models will become dated, but the principles for choosing a model will be the same. For me this is the best on the market for what I need right now. It is great to use, don’t underestimate how a balanced tool can help you. Brushless means the battery will last me a long time, it has a lot of power and although it has no hammer, it is smaller than the DCD795, which is what I wanted for a portable kit. I did consider an impact driver, but I wanted a chuck so I could use masonry bits.
FatMax 8m tape . Most of my builds are around 5m x 3m so an 8m tape is all I need really. I find this one to be strong and will extend a long way, so I can use it without help.
Black edge hard pencils. Don’t forget to buy pencils, when I think of the time I have lost looking for a pencil to use, there are of course lots of pencils on the market, I just got used to buying these, they seem to last longer, especially the hard ones, carpenters pencils do not roll away should you need to be on a roof, and supposedly don’t follow the grain of the wood when marking out lines, I think it’s just nice to use a carpenters pencil, they feel nice in the hand.
FatMax fold away chisel. I just recently bought this, it’s handy to transport and fits into my tool belt nicely, important for hanging doors etc, but useful to have on you at all times for awkward bits of wood that need to be removed, this one has a nice metal strike point.
Nail punch. sometimes a forgotten tool, if you need to sink a nail beneath the surface of the wood, this is the only tool that will do it, so get one. Site multi tool knife, this knife doesn’t have any particular quality, but it is a good example of a tool that you ‘just like’. I have got used to this knife, it fits nicely into my tool belt, and it has a strange mini saw which is not useful in itself, but the saw has a flat end and the amount of times it comes in handy is ridiculous, bespoke building is by nature not always predictable so sometimes a tool you know and like can be really valuable.
Estwing weight forward framing hammer. Some might say a hammer is just a hammer, I happen to like this 17oz framing hammer, I am not a massive guy but I find this hammer gives me enough beef to get most jobs done. The square strike point is great for squaring framing work but it is unbelievably painful when you hit your fingers. So don’t!
Tajima pull saw, a really nice saw to use, it fits into my back pack, pull saws are nice to use once you get used to them, they make logical sense in that the act of pulling means they are cutting whilst in tension instead of compression thus avoiding those awkward bendy saw moments.
FatMax 450 box level. its a nice size for my backpack, I find it to be sensitive which is a good thing and I’ve heard they are quite robust so it should last a while. Flat head screw driver, the flat head bits for your screwgun are just not meant to be in my opinion. So I always have a screwdriver, one example is removing the old hinges from a second hand door.
FatMax compact chalk line. since my back pack will not carry a 2.4meter aluminium straight edge, the old faithful chalk line is still the best way to get a straight line of any distance. Fisco plastic roofers square, essential for a quick square pencil mark or cut. I bought the plastic because whenever possible it’s good to try to keep the weight of my back pack down, this might sound a bit mad when you look at my hammer, but like I said, whenever possible.
Sliding bevel. still a great tool for finding an angle and using this angle to make cuts.
Roughneck ratchet clamp. I’ve been using this to help me work alone by keeping the wood still, it’s really quick to fix in place, I am considering getting the larger one though as this irritatingly doesn’t reach across two four by twos. Fold away ear muffs, it’s nice to be able to pack these away, small things like packing tools away nicely at the end of the day when you are tired can make a real difference to your day.
Kevlar gloves. great for cold days, most wooly gloves will last around 5-6 minutes on a job, but these genuinely and rather unbelievably last me all year!,
Petzel head torch. Petzel make the best head torches, it keeps your hands free and allows you to see in dark places, need I say more.
Snood. I use this primarily as a mask but it also keeps my neck warm in winter. I find as long as I don’t have a draft down my neck or my waist then I can work in pretty cold conditions. A better mask is a nice idea and important but I had a problem with using them, they can be uncomfortable, so I didn’t bother, the snood may not be the best filter, but it’s better than using nothing!
Travel first aid kit & painkillers. the most used first aid device on my site is basically masking tape, used to try and stick together a nasty gash so you can keep working or drive to hospital. But it’s a good idea to have antiseptic wipes and sterile tape to give you the best chance of healing quick.
Dewalt USB charger. This basically converts my Dewalt batteries into a phone charger. Good when you’re waiting for a delivery and forgot to charge your phone, not so good when people are pestering you to work and you just want to enjoy the job you’re on.