With the right tools - you can build anything you can imagine. We made this wine rack from a piece of old barn wood and a simple stainless wine rack that was headed for the trash pile.
With the right tools – you can build anything you can imagine. We made this trestle table from old barn wood left over from our barn building project.

With the ever-increasing popularity of turning old into new again, re-purposing and upcycling have become great ways to redecorate and furnish on a budget – all while keeping our landfills and junkyards from filling up.

Traditional carpentry methods and tools are not always the solution when working with old materials such as barn wood, pallets and metal roofing. Although a table saw and a circular saw are great in traditional workshops –  it can be a bit more more difficult to use them to cut a nail infused piece of  barn wood.  So for this week’s DIY post – we thought we would highlight 6 tools we utilize that have really made our life easier while working on our re-purposing projects at the farm. I think it’s important to understand that you don’t have to have a $50,000 work shop like Norm from This Old House to make quality re-purposed items. In fact, the six items listed below could all be purchased together for less than $500.

So here you go… If you don’t  have these in your tool arsenal already – you will want them soon enough!

Swanson Speed Square

The Swanson Speed Square
The Speed Square makes a breeze out of squaring boards and cuts

It’s such a simple tool.  It’s rugged and tough, and best of all, it’s under $10.00 at your hardware store.

Although called a square – the Swanson speed square is a triangular-shaped measuring tool.  Originally designed for carpenters and framers to help figure out angles for rafters and steps – we’ve found 1,000 other uses for it.  Other than maybe the tape measure – it’s one of the most used tools in the tool box.

It makes quick work of creating mark lines for cutting lumber or to square off old pieces of jagged barn boards in seconds. It also makes an amazing cutting guide for my circular or jig saw when placed beside the cutting surface.  We also use it to check for squareness on tables and furniture that we make – and its the perfect squaring guide when we mark off our pergola ends.  Oh, and yes – it does work great for the rafter angles – we used it to make all of our rafters for the barn 🙂

Pressure Washer

A good power washing was all it took to clean up the floor board that we made into these barn doors.  It- saved hours of sanding to clean off the dirt and grime.

This one may throw you – but yes, a pressure washer makes our top 6 list when working with old wood.  We would be lost without it.   It makes quick work when you are trying to take layer upon layer of grime and paint off of old lumber and salvaged pieces.   Instead of taking hours to sand off years of  wear –  a quick power washing with plain old water can clean up wood beautifully.   The trick is to get a nice even spray tip and work gently down the piece  – it leaves old wood looking great without damaging the surface.  It’s a relatively inexpensive way to get great results.  A lot better than spending a fortune in sandpaper and hour upon hour sanding – or trying to run through expensive wood planers that seem to struggle handling old, dense surfaces.


A sawzall is invaluable to a DIY repurposer to cut all kinds of hard to get at materials

We have talked about this tool in other posts before –  but I can’t begin to tell you how valuable a sawzall is to a DIY’er who works with reclaimed materials.  We use them to disassemble pallets – cut nails, screws and bolts from almost anything, and to easily cut thorough old barn beams and metal pipes.   It gets in tight spaces and fits through slim openings.  There isn’t much a sawzall can’t cut through – and when you combine it with a 12″ construction demolition blade – you can tear apart just about anything.

Jigsaw – (Orbital)

A good jigsaw is a must for making curves and cuts in all sorts of materials

If you want to be able to cut curves in metal, wood or almost any material you can think of  – then the Orbital Jigsaw is a must.   We use our jigsaw non-stop. For all of the cuts, notches and curves in our pergolas we build, the jigsaw handles the job.  We’ve used it on hundreds of re-purposing projects – including cutting the metal roofing for our barn and cutting out the barn wood letters for our fresh egg sign.

Impact Driver / Drill

Once you use an impact driver/drill to set a screw – you won’t want to ever use your regular drill to put in a screw again.

Tired of bending and stripping out screws?  Get an impact driver/drill.  After using my first impact driver – I knew I would never use another drill again to drive a screw.  It has power – it handles all of the tough old barn wood with ease, and makes self tapping screws  go through metal quickly.  In short – it is perfection when it comes to attaching screws into anything.  We used to break and bend a lot of screws before getting one –  not so anymore.  It also requires far less strain on the user when applying pressure to drive the fasteners into the wood.   It is a must have as far as I am concerned.

I can power through any type of wood and recess any screw I am driving.  One of the Trestle Tables we just finished was  a breeze to assemble because of  the impact drill – driving through the hard old wood like butter.  It’s a little louder than your standard drill – but so worth it!    On the topic of “worth it”  – if you look around – you can pick up a cordless impact driver, sawzall and jigsaw together in some of the combo tool kits the big stores offer.  They can be a huge savings when purchased as a bundle.   One extra note of advice – spend the extra money to invest in the new lithium battery technology – and get at least an 18 volt kit.  They last longer – have more power – and life for the DIY’er without a cord is good!

Star Bits and Star Screws

Star Bit and Star Screws

So although not technically a “tool” – these need to go in your tool box.

Have you ever been frustrated by those #2 Phillips screws and bits that seem to strip out in seconds?

About 6 months ago – I purchased a big 20 pack of standard Phillips # 2 screwdriver bits for my drill.  Within a week…yes – a week – I had destroyed almost every one of them.  They seem to strip out under the slightest pressure – sometimes just completely breaking off in my drill.   So one day, in the hardware store, I bought a package of star screws on a whim.   After using them, I literally have no idea why Phillips screwdriver bits and screws even exist anymore.

Use star bits and screws and trust  –  you’ll never again use a Phillips head screw.  The screws don’t strip out – and they don’t slip or bend –  and best of all – the bits last forever.  When you combine the impact drill with star bits, your building projects get completed faster and stronger than ever.

There you have it…our six must have tools.  We have included photos of a few of the projects we have completed below using them.

Mary and Jim

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24 thoughts on “6 Must Have Tools for The DIY Re-Purposer

  • October 19, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Love this new found site.I am just a beginner so need tools and advice in easy to understand language.Like it when you can direct us to suitable makes of tools for people who are new to these ideas.Thank you.

  • July 17, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    This is a great list of 6 tools. I need to buy a The Swanson Speed Square for my tool box. Thank for share !

  • June 18, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Nice table! I also have a project to do a coffee table, this post helped me with a lot of experience to implement it.

  • January 14, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    I’m all about the cordless Makita drills. They’re not great for projects where you need to drill 20 large holes with a forstner bit, but their ergonomics beats a corded drill any day. Getting into tight spaces or drilling upward is much easier without a cord hanging down. And for the clumsy among us, one less tripping hazard.

  • October 15, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Great site–love the list–have everything–what about a pry bar?–Love your wine rack–made one for my brother-in-law but it didn’t have the center shelf–next one will have it though–the jig really speeds things up and keeps everything lined up–took it down Tuesday and he had filled up Saturday…….

  • April 2, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Thanks for the info. My Aunt introduced me to your website, and I follow it every week. I have so much great information here, like today’s. Many thanks!

  • March 29, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Thanks so much for this! I’m just getting started on up-cycling projects and your lit of tools is immensely helpful!

  • October 31, 2013 at 10:12 am

    I agree, the star bits and screws are the bomb and the best, Iwill not use anything else anymore.

  • October 30, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I was volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and someone handed me an impact driver and OMG…I left that day and went straight to Home Depot. I have more tools than most men and this is definitely one of my favorites!

  • July 18, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    So enjoy your posts ! And now also your wine choices ;-]

  • October 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Oh good heavens! I have a great sawsall and never use it! I always pull the nails LOL!!! I feel so silly!

    OK you can laugh with me on this ( my husband is gone you see) I just realised AS I TYPED the word sawall that is says ‘saws all’ Duh!


    • October 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      LOL!! That is hilarious! It really does work great – you will have to let us know how it works for you – and so glad you stopped by our blog Jim and Mary

  • October 19, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    thanks for sharing at repurposed ideas weekly, fellow Ohioan!

    • October 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      You are more than welcome!!! You have a great blog ! Keep up the great work!

  • October 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Looks like I need to do some shopping 🙂 Stopping by from Transformation Thursday

  • October 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    I have all the tools that you listed plus more BUT I don’t have those star screws, going to have to get some of them because I know just what you’re talking about with the regular ones stripping out. Thanks for that tip!!

  • October 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Great Post! Thank you for sharing at the Thursday Favorite Things hop xo P.S. did you enter my latest giveaway?

  • October 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Thanks for the tip. I will be looking for the star bit and screws this weekend!

  • October 17, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I don’t know if you can get Square Bit Screws (Robertson) where you are (they are the default screw in Canada, but uncommon in the States), but if you are impressed with the star screws I think you’ll be blwn away by Robertsons.

    • October 17, 2012 at 10:39 am

      I do like the square bits as well! The only problem I have found with them is that I do wear out the bits a little bit when the corners round off. But you are right – still a great fastener!!

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