First a word about my tool budget. Actually, I didn’t have a tool budget as such. I did have an overall build budget of about £15,000 (not including the land, which was already paid for). All the tools would have to come out of the £15k. The more I spent on tools, the less I had for materials …
So my philosophy was to buy tools of an appropriate quality for the job in hand but also to get good deals wherever possible.
Given the tight timescale for construction, I didn’t have time to go chasing around trying to buy second-hand stuff. Likewise, I couldn’t afford project delays due to old equipment breaking down.
I was able to take some things with me but space was limited. Travelling in a Ford Mondeo hatchback, even with a roofbox, most of the room was taken up with people, luggage and camping gear. The remaining tools were going to have to be purchased when I got to France.
So here is a list of the essential tools and equipment that I bought or borrowed in order to build the tiny house.
Building a timber framed house, it was obvious that a gas powered nail gun was going to be invaluable for saving time and making the job easier.
I had used a Paslode nail gun for roofing before and it was OK but had a few niggles. I had heard that the quality was better now but I chose to go with a different brand anyway. My parents had owned Hitachi electrical products and they lasted for years so I reckoned their nail guns might be worth a punt..
In the end I purchased a Hikoki NR90GC2/J8 First Fix Nailer (Hikoki is the new name for Hitachi). This can fire up to 90mm nails. Shopping around, I got the best deal from powertoolworld.co.uk. The total price was £274.99, including delivery. The gun comes in a hard case with charger., two batteries, safety glasses and a bottle of machine oil.
But this is much cheaper than buying in France. A quick search showed the best price for the same model was €425 (about £370) from the online retailer Racetools.fr (who I had never heard of).
Anyway, I am happy with my choice. The nailer worked perfectly for the length of the build, and was still in great condition at the end. I used it with 90mm and 65mm galvanized nails, which came with gas cartridges included.
All of these guns are quite heavy and take some getting used to, until your arm muscles get bigger!
Sliding Mitre Saw
Clearly, I was going to be cutting lots of timber and needed a decent saw. I didn’t have room in the car to take one from the UK, so I ended up buying one in France from the large DIY and building products store Leroy Merlin.
I pushed the boat out and bought a Metabo KGS254M, which was 1800w and came with a spare blade. The 10″ blade was a good size and Metabo are a trusted brand, so I thought it would do the job.
The cost was €350, which wasn’t cheap (for me at least) and I later found that it would have cost much less in the UK. In fact online sellers such as FFX and Powertoolmate are offering the saw at less than £200, which I think is a bargain.
I can’t complain about the saw’s performance. Virtually all the timber for the house was cut with it and it coped absolutely fine. I had never used this type of saw before, so it was a good learning experience for me. As a bonus, the inclining saw head feature came in handy when I had to join some weatherboarding lengthwise on the gable ends.
Mitre Saw Stand
I didn’t want to be scrabbling around on the ground when cutting timber, so I invested in a mitre saw stand (for the sake of my back!).
It isn’t the cheapest stand (or the most expensive) but it is very sturdy and easy to use. Once you have used one, you wouldn’t want to be without it. The telescopic arms are good for longer pieces of timber and the end stops are dead handy for repeated cuts without having to measure every time.
As the tiny house would be off grid (except for the water supply) I was going to have to run all my power tools off a generator.
It would have to be quite powerful to cope with the electrical loads on it (power tools can pull a high load on start up, apparently). I thought about hiring one but, at over €40 per day for a 2.5kw machine, it would have been far too expensive, even if I had managed to negotiate a discount for a 5 week hire period.
So I looked around for a reasonably priced but powerful generator to take with me to France.
I opted for a Bohmer-AG 3800K 3000w. At only £300 and with 4.5 stars from 250 reviews it seemed like a good bet. It was powerful enough and also had wheels to cart it around the building site.
To be fair, the Bohmer did the job (just about!). It got the house built and saved me a lot of money on hire costs. However, there were a few problems with it. Firstly, the fuel cap seal wasn’t very good. So it was better not to fill the tank completely to the brim or it could leak a little when moving it around. The second problem was that the fuel pipe popped off the carburetor after a few weeks use. The pipe clip wasn’t great but the problem was easily solved with a new bit of (better fitting) rubber hose from the local DIY shop.
Unfortunately the Bohmer stopped working right at the end of the build. Luckily, the house was wind and waterproof and I was at the internal plastering stage, so it didn’t matter too much, but it was still disappointing. The problem was that the generator would still start but when under load it would falter and cut out rather than revving up to supply the required output. So I think there was a problem in the control system rather than the engine itself. Nevertheless, it became unusable after 5 weeks work. Not great.
Had I been in the UK I could have sent it back for a repair or refund but as I was in France, it would have been a bigger hassle. Perhaps it would still have been financially worth doing, but I didn’t have the time to spare and needed another generator quick.
This time I did buy second hand but it was actually a machine that had never been used. The owner had bought it in case of a power cut but realised after a few years that he had never needed it. It was made by Robin, which is part of Subaru, and cost €250. It was obviously a better quality unit, it started and ran very well, with enough power and a simple throttle rather than a complicated control system. Sadly, it seems that this model is discontinued now. The nearest I can find to it is a similar open framed machine by SDMO which has a Honda engine www.screwfix.com/p/sdmo-hx3000-3000w-generator-115-230v/84152.
At nearly £550 for the SDMO/Honda generator, it’s a fair old chunk of cash. But that seems to be the price you have to pay if you want something durable. If you did build an off grid tiny house then a good generator would be good for topping up solar electric batteries (if the weather is very cloudy) or to run, say, a washing machine.
In conclusion, I would advise going for a Japanese engined generator (or at least a well known brand). A new machine with a guarantee would be ideal, if you have the money. But buying a good condition used Japanese machine might be a better idea than a brand new, but potentially troublesome, budget brand.
I actually completed the entire build with a cheap cordless drill that I got from ALDI! It is18v, has two Li-Ion batteries and works well enough. As the timber house frame was nailed together, the main use for the cordless drill was to fix and unfix the hempcrete shuttering.
Having left the ALDI drill in France, I looked around for a replacement when I got home to Scotland (I had a few jobs to do). This time I went for a DeWalt drill to see if they were really that much better.
The model I bought was the DCD776S2T-GB 18v, £99.99 from Screwfix. This still a budget item but you can tell that it’s a bit of a step up from the ALDI drill. It’s faster, has higher torque, is lighter and has a better case. The batteries didn’t seem to last quite as long, but with two of them and a charger it doesn’t really matter.
I’m sure all of the ‘premium’ brands such as Makita, Bosch and Hitachi make excellent cordless drills. As it’s something that gets a lot of use, you could probably justify getting something high end. My experience has been, however, that even for £100 or less you can get something perfectly adequate.
Cordless Drill Accessories
If you have a drill you will need (at the very least) a screwdriver bit holder, preferably magnetic, as well as some drill bits (for pilot holes and holes for cables etc) and screwdriver bits (mainly size 2 posidriv for normal woodscrews and philips head for plasterboard screws). Buying all this stuff separately soon adds up and the bits and pieces will be rattling around inside your toolbox.
I bought this Makita accessory set for £25 from Screwfix. It was cheaper than buying stuff separately and it also kept everything organised. Well worth the money.
In order to build the tiny house I had to remove a lot of branches from an adjacent apple tree and cut down one or two other smaller dead trees. I have owned a Stihl petrol chainsaw in the past and it was fine, but I didn’t want to spend hundreds of euros again for something that I would use very little.
As I already had a generator, I reasoned that an electric chainsaw might do the job. I took a chance on this €50 cheapo from Leroy Merlin and it worked great.
Apart from being much lighter than a petrol model there was no fiddling around with 2-stroke oil mixing, it was quiet, simple and also surprisingly powerful. Just the job!
Oddly enough, a similar spec model on Amazon UK is more expensive, at just over £70.
I needed a cement mixer for mixing up the hempcrete and a small quantity of concrete for the foundations. Again, it would have been very expensive to hire one for the duration of the build, so I bought this 160 litre mixer. It came from Leroy Merlin (I got loads of things there while I had the hire van) and it cost €270. You can get similar models at similar prices in any of the big DIY chains in France as they are a very popular item (more so than in the UK, I suspect).
It’s electric, quite low power consumption, and worked well throughout the build. By using a long extension lead, I sited the generator a good distance from the mixer so that the noise was reduced.
160 litres is the biggest I could get at this price. I could have bought a petrol powered mixer with twice the capacity but at a cost of €1650. As I was working on my own, there was a limit to the amount of hempcrete I could use anyway.
If I were to build another hempcrete house I would ideally need at least three helpers and a second mixer. With two people per mixer, progress would be much faster and a second mixer wouldn’t add greatly to the overall cost. Of course, if funds allowed, a single large petrol mixer could be used instead.
A jigsaw is one of things you wont be using constantly but you will probably need it for something. In my case I needed it for cutting the tops of the weatherboarding planks to fit around the rafter ends. I also used it for cutting holes in the ends of the gutters.
As an ‘occasional use’ tool, I went for a 750w jigsaw from the budget brand WORX. This cost €89.99 from Leroy Merlin. You can get them from Amazon in the UK for less than £60.
For the price, I’m happy with the performance. It did what I wanted and is light and easy to use with a quick change blade system. I will also use it when I fit out the interior of the tiny house.
With hindsight, it would have been ‘nice’ to have something a bit better, such as a Makita, but I couldn’t justify spending twice as much for a machine with a similar specification.
I already owned this circular saw, so that was one less thing to come out of the house budget.
The model is an Erbauer ECS2000 from Screwfix (2000W, 235mm blade) and it cost £120.
It was used for cutting all the floor joists and ripping down the odd piece of timber as required.
I consider this to be an ideal size. It’s not too large so as to be unmanageable or place too great a strain on the generator. It does though have a good cutting depth (85mm) and plenty of power.
Supplied with a tough canvas toolbag, cutting fence and good cord length, it’s an excellent, good value piece of kit.
*UPDATE* Alas, it seems that the ECS2000 is no longer available. Alternative saws with the same blade size and cutting depth are available from Makita and Bosch for about £230. Quite a jump in price although I also own a smaller Makita circular saw and it is an excellent machine.
This is another Erbauer item that I already owned, the ERH750 SDS Plus drill from Screwfix.
These type of drills are really good for drilling into concrete, stone and brick as the hammer action has more ‘hitting power’ than a normal drill, even at low rotational speeds. When building the tiny house I didn’t have to drill into concrete but I did have to drill lots of holes in the wall studs for the electrical conduit to pass through. The Erbauer drill had plenty of torque to drill the large holes using a spade type drill bit fitted to a chuck adapter. You could just about use a cordless but I didn’t want to risk damaging it. A corded drill like this was much better suited to the task.
As for price and quality, I have no complaints. At £80, it’s pretty good value and it’s performed exactly as it should. If you’d rather have a ‘big name’ brand, I noticed that the equivalent Makita drill costs £120.
Like a jigsaw, you probably won’t use an angle grinder every day but it is handy for some jobs. In my case I knew I would need one for cutting up the steel reinforcing bars for the foundations and possibly some roof tiles.
So for a whopping £25 I bought the MacAlister MSAG750, again from Screwfix (I have a branch close to my house!).
The guard was a bit fiddly but otherwise the grinder did the job with no problems. I didn’t need to cut any roof tiles with it but it was great for cutting the 10mm steel bar and for trimming the tops of my concrete pier foundation blocks.
While not being absolutely necessary, my laser level was very useful for building the foundations of the tiny house. I used it to mark where to cut the tops off the concrete piers, leaving them all exactly the same height. The level I used was the Stanley Fat Max cross line laser kit. I originally bought this for a tiling job but have also used it to install plasterboard ceiling rail hangers and to help level floor joists.
At £110 the kit isn’t cheap although it is easy to use, accurate and reliable. One thing to note is that the line isn’t visible outside in bright, sunny conditions (it’s fine indoors though). So when I used it for the foundations, I waited until dusk, marked the levels and cut them the next day.
These are the hand tools that I used to build the tiny house, in no particular order.
- Tape Measure
- Spirit levels, small and large
- Aluminium straight edge
- Carpenter’s pencils
- Tri square
- Set of chisels
- Mastic gun
- Foam gun
- String line
- Plumb bob and line
- Hand saw
- Bucket trowel
- General purpose trowel
- Plasterer’s hawk
- Plasterer’s finishing trowel
- Rigid plastic plasterer’s float
- Set of screwdrivers
- Wire strippers
- Tin snips
- Spade and shovel
- Adjustable spanners
- Stanley knife and spare blades
The bulky items like the wheelbarrow and spade I bought locally. Most of the smaller items I brought with me from Scotland to France. I find that, in the UK, Screwfix and Toolstation are convenient places to buy handtools, screws, nails and consumables. Prices and stock levels are good and there are branches in larger towns and cities.
Before starting work on the tiny house, I made sure I had most of the above ‘ready to go’. Otherwise a lot of build time would have been wasted making repeated trips back and forth to DIY shops.
I was lucky in being able to borrow or make all of the access equipment needed to build the tiny house.
Also known as builders trestles, I was able to borrow four of these from Rob (the carpenter who helped me with the build). Used in conjunction with some stout timber planks they were enough for most access up until we started insulating the roof.
If you were to buy them in the UK, they are about £20 each for the larger size.
Again (thanks to Rob loaning me one) I didn’t have to buy a stepladder. They are an essential item on any building site but you don’t need anything special.
For years I got by with a basic aluminium stepladder but have also used a professional quality item made from glassfibre. Either is fine and Screwfix have a good range. The 6 tread model pictured is suitable for trade use and costs under £50.
I was on good terms with the old couple who sold me the land and they very kindly loaned me an aluminium ladder that I used to access the roof and the high points on the gable end when installing the weatherboarding.
Another option would be to buy a ‘two-in-one’ ladder that can also be used as a step ladder.
Homemade ‘hop ups’
I made two ‘hop ups’, of different heights, from left over timber and pieces of OSB. The smaller hop up can be used to step up onto the larger one. They are also handy as somewhere to place trowels and buckets of plaster.
The photos give an idea of what they are like. I was careful to brace them at the corners so that they were nice and rigid. Apart from costing nothing, they are quite light and you can make them to exactly the height you need (to be able to reach the ceiling, for instance). I didn’t have to worry about keeping them clean as they are basically just scrap timber.