Leading the self-sufficient, homesteading lifestyle can be rewarding as well as trying at times. Over the years of setting fence posts, fixing barns and repairing equipment, I’ve built a little collection of specialty tools to make my life that much easier. The following list of farm tools and equipment are not the essentials, but instead a list of tools that many may not have thought of investing in. This farm tools list doesn’t replace the essentials, it enhances them.
A Whirligig, or re-bar tie wire twister, is a huge time saver when you’re doing DIY fence installation, and can be had for a Lincoln or less. What this tool was originally meant to do was twist hardware wire tightly while tying re-bar rods together at intersections when preparing to pour a concrete structure. What I wind up using it for, is slightly different. Anyone who has put up a livestock fence using cattle panels and steel T-posts can attest to the love/hate relationship that grows between an installer and those wire clips that are usually provided with the purchase of T-posts. They work but they can be annoying to work with, take what seems to be much longer than it should be to tie a panel to a post and you always run out of the darn things. Here is where the whirligig comes into play. Using tie wire, loop a length around the post and panel, bend both ends and hook both bends with the whirligig. Now spin the wire up tight and clip off or bend down the extra wire and your fence is now secured to the post. You can buy re-bar tie wire, hardware wire or in a pinch, save the steel ties that come on some bales of hay and straw. Buying a fair sized spool of wire and keeping some extra bale ties handy usually ensures that you won’t run out of wire to tie up your fence. Try it next time you put up fencing, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it makes the job.
Sometimes you change your mind. It happens to all of us, but when you change your mind about where that fence line needs to be, you have a problem. Remember all those T-posts you diligently pounded deep in the ground? They won’t be easy to pull out, especially when they’ve been there a while. This is a job for a farm jack! Farm jacks are an old school tool that really performs well at a whole lot of jobs like lifting, squeezing, pushing and pulling objects. Using a farm jack and short length of chain or a T-post attachment, you can easily pluck stubborn T-posts out of the ground.
As I said, the farm jack has a few tricks up its sleeves. A farm jack’s jaw can be hooked under the bumper of a vehicle or other sturdy point to lift it, a chain can be attached to either end of the jack to use it as a come-along or mechanical winch and if you have the additional jaw, it can be configured to squeeze things together such as bent steering components or twisted livestock gates. Being a beloved tool and something of a status symbol for the off-road community, they are readily available online and at your local big box farm or off-road store.
Even though a farm jack can double as a come-along in a pinch, nothing beats having the right sized come-along for the job at hand. The come-along is essentially a hand winch using steel cable, and they work great in the correct situation. For instance, if you have a stubborn fencepost that just won’t stay straight, you can use the next post in line, on the side the offending post is leaning away from, and winch said post back to straight. You can do so by attaching one end of the come-along to the top of the crooked post, the other to the base of the next post and then winch away until the post is back to being upright.
Using a come-along is more convenient than fighting with your bulky farm jack. Not only is a come-along typically easier to manipulate, lift, or carry, but it also has the distinct advantage of having a spool and cable instead of having to ratchet over the body of the farm jack. If you need to winch something a sizable distance, a come-along will make the job easier since you can continuously winch for a greater distance instead of winching and resetting like you would need to do with a farm jack. I’m not discounting the farm jack here since both come-alongs and farm jacks have their place on my list of farm tools and equipment, but one just so happens to winch better than the other.
I’ve been raised with a simple maxim that chains are worth their weight in gold. Although this may not be true in the literal sense, it sure sounds right when you really need one. They are tops on my list of farm tools and equipment. Chains have played some very important roles on our farm such as securing loads to our trailer, pulling trucks out of precarious positions, lifting heavy objects, stabilizing or binding objects together and they have always proven to be well worth the investment.
When buying chain, be sure to invest in a high grade 3/8” standard chain which is the size chain commonly found on 18 wheelers and logging equipment. The cheaper 5/16” or smaller chain may have an appetizing price point, but you really want the higher working load capacity of a 3/8” chain. In all the years I’ve been using and abusing chains, I have never succeeded in snapping a 3/8” chain, I have however seen 5/16” chains snap and result in severe consequences. When a chain (or steel cable for that matter) snaps, it doesn’t simply fall to the ground, it whips back with tremendous energy. I’ve seen small chains destroy truck cabs, shatter windows and scar trees, so imagine what it could do to a person who gets in the way.
Another thing to consider is attachments. You can attach various things to a chain to serve a specific purpose such as hooks and shackles. Shackles are a great attachment point if you intend to secure a rope to the end of a chain or you need a cable or another chain to slip within that attachment point without the risk of loosing the connection. Slip hooks, on the contrary, are hooks that will allow a chain or cable to slide like a shackle would, but they are best suited for use on attached lift points found on equipment because they are an open hook. Slip hooks are useful, but I prefer to have grab hooks on either end of a chain or at least one of each. A grab hook does as its name implies; grabs onto chain. Grab hooks lock onto a link of chain, being held in place by the links on either side of the link it has attached to. When I need to use a chain, a grab hook usually does the job I need.
A chain binder is nothing without a chain, but it’s an incredibly useful addition to a chain and should be added to your list of farm tools and equipment. Chain binders are a tensioning device commonly used on flatbed trailers and are used to tighten a chain firmly to the side rail or other attachment points when securing a load on the trailer. Although easy to find second hand, the old style lever lock chain binders are not very desirable, however, the safer ratcheting style chain binder (built similarly to a 3 point hitch top link) works wonders for tensioning chains. Even if you don’t own a trailer to secure a load to, a chain and binder can secure or even winch (albeit a short distance) with respectable ease and accuracy. I’ve used them to pull metal frames back into square, bind poles together, square up a shed’s framework and even inch a heavy transmission away from an engine while the transmission was held up by a transmission jack. They may be a limited use tool, but they are useful none the less. If you own 3/8” chain and you find a ratcheting chain binder for sale at a yard sale, tag sale or flea market, grab it. If I spot a good chain binder for less than $20, I’ll snap it up.
If you own livestock, especially breeding livestock, having a wireless baby monitor is a handy item to have. Technology has come a long way since I last bought one, so I will refrain from even attempting to suggest a brand or type. I will say that night vision and a good microphone are essential when parking one in the barn. If you have an expecting or sick animal, or just want to check in periodically, then a good wireless baby monitor is a great thing to have. You could go overboard with a whizbang IP camera hooked to your home network (think Hencam.com), but that’s a project better left to the more technologically inclined folk.
A union scoop, union shovel or scoop shovel is my favorite shovel for handling loose material, especially pine shavings. In my chicken coops, I use a deep bedding pack of pine shavings for litter and eventually it needs to be cleaned out. I’ve used digging shovels, flat shovels, and even snow shovels, none can beat the union scoop. Union Tools Company makes the Union Scoop, hence the name, but other companies make similar style scoops. I especially like the plastic styles since they stand up to corrosives and are easier to disinfect.
Cordless Impact Driver
Things are bound to break, and more often than not the broken equipment didn’t break near your tools, or for that matter within reach of an electrical socket or air hose. Ratchets and wrenches are great tools and essential for anyone who needs to fix things, but wrenching for hours gets old quick especially when you’re in a hurry. Every big box tool or home improvement store carries name brand cordless impact drivers nowadays, and they can be a great investment. Most stores offer a 1/4” quick change impact driver which accepts standardized screw bits, which is great for contractors and carpenters, but we want to attach sockets to this tool. Many different name brands now offer 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2” socket adapters to fit these impacts which work great for our application. Be sure to buy several of these adapters in the size you intend to use the most (for me, that’s 1/2”) since they do occasionally snap. Now you have the power and speed of an impact in a small, light, easy-to-use package to make your mobile repairs that much easier.
Last year, I purchased a Milwaukee 18v impact driver after I was amazed by the Dewalt impact driver I use at work, and I really don’t know why I never thought to buy one until now. I wound up purchasing the Milwaukee brand tool because I already had compatible batteries, but both perform equally so I really don’t have an opinion to differentiate one from the other. I do suggest going with either brand since other well known “economy” brands just don’t offer the resilience the typical homesteader and backyard farmer would expect. I’ve used my impact with the 1/2” socket adapter to do a lot of things such as spin lug nuts, remove a pitman arm nut and drive a ball joint tool while installing drive shaft joints. This thing also drives screws like nobody’s business, so much so I’ve all but retired my drill.
One thing I will admit, however, is the socket adapters do break when you really abuse them, hence I suggest getting a few adapters. Milwaukee does offer the same tool with a 3/8” or 1/2” socket head instead of the quick change chuck, but you will likely have to order that online since I’ve never seen it on the shelves. Santa’s running late this year, otherwise, I would comment on the performance of the Milwaukee 1/2” socket style impact.
This is one of those goofy bargain bin, made in China things, but boy is it handy! I bought this on a whim for $5 to hang on my tractor for when I need to attach, detach or adjust the 3 point hitch. I was always hunting down a hammer and adjustable wrench when I needed to change implements, but now I have both in the same tool dedicated to the tractor. It may be cheap China stuff, but the coating on it has somehow survived a few years of dangling from my tractor’s roll bar and it always gets the job done. If you happen across one of these at your local hardware, tool or farm store, it’s well worth the few bucks.
Last but not least, I strongly recommend to anyone; buy a high-quality compact flashlight. If you don’t have one, definitely add this to your list of farm tools and equipment! Gone are the days of the mighty D cell Maglight (unless you need a flashlight baton) and welcome to the new age of flashlights. Tactical flashlights were first introduced as a lighting tool for law enforcement and military, but the civilian market has fully embraced these highly useful, blindingly bright tools, and for good reason. If you need to see what’s in that bush, across the field, on the other side of the road, then this is your flashlight. I carry a Surefire brand E2D Defender and although it cost me $140 at the time (and currently about $200 on Amazon) I would buy another tomorrow if I lost mine, that’s how much value it offers. I will admit the price sounds ridiculous, after all, it’s just a flashlight, and the special batteries it uses don’t last all that long when being used at full power, but when you need to see in that engine bay, you need to know what’s creeping around your chicken coop in the dark or what’s bothering the cows in the field at night, you need a serious flashlight. There are several brands and styles of tactical flashlights available online, at the big box outdoors stores and likely your local firearms dealer, so take a look. Just remember, you get what you pay for so don’t go with some cheap knockoff light, get a good light that puts out 500 lumens or more, and preferably has great reviews online.
Will everyone find these tools to be as indispensable as I have? Definitely not. But it you’re a do-it-yourself homesteader like me, then there’s bound to be a few things on this list of farm tools and equipment that will prove to be handy to you. What tool or tools have you found to be marvelously useful to you? Comment below and let me know what I’m missing!
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.