Power tools get all the attention. But it’s the smaller hand tools that can make a big difference in how well a chicken-keeping project goes and in your resulting job satisfaction. Here’s a sample of a few tools that a chicken keeper will want to have handy for repairs, remodeling or new construction.
1. Speed Square
This is one of my go-to tools. First off, it’s indestructible and has no moving parts to fail. It’s a flat triangular piece of metal that’s just the right size to fit snugly into my back pocket and each of its three sides has a purpose.
One side has marks for measuring or marking lengths; another side has marks for reading angles; and the final side has a lip so you can slap the Speed Square on a plank and mark a perfect 90-degree angle for cutting a board or check a new board to make sure the ends are square.
You can flip the lip and also use it to draw a perfect 45-degree angle on a plank. And because a Speed Square is a right triangle—one corner is a 90-degree angle—you can use it to make sure corners of a raised bed or other structure are square or that the blade on your circular saw is square with the shoe.
Why is it called a Speed Square (and why is it capitalized)? Carpenter Albert Swanson wanted a tool for laying out roof rafters that would be faster than a combination square or a roofing square. He invented this little gem in 1925 and named it Speed Square. And now, like Kleenex and Linoleum, it has become the common name for this dandy tool.
2. Magnetic Drill Sleeve
I can’t recommend this tool enough. A magnetic drill sleeve only costs about $5, but it saves a lot of hassle. It fits into any drill, and you can slip a wide range of bits into the end. It’s magnetic, so you’re less likely to drop your screw, and the sleeve slides over the screw, which helps hold it in place until the threads bite the wood.
The sleeve also makes it easier to keep the bit and screw in alignment. If you’ve been stripping bits or screw heads, it isn’t the fault of the tool: It’s operator-error. If the bit and the screw aren’t in alignment, you will hear that horrible sound of the screw head being stripped to the point where the bit won’t drive it anymore. As you hear that sound, stop; then take your time and get the bit aligned with the screw. The sleeve helps with that, but it does need a little help from you.
3. Plane Rasp
There are tools called wood rasps and box planes, but the plane rasp, sometimes called a box rasp—a better description, in my opinion—combines features of both tools. Like a box plane, it fits nicely in the cup of one hand. Like a wood rasp, it grinds off more wood than sandpaper or a plane. It’s not the kind of tool that a furniture maker or a trim carpenter would use often, but for the kind of basic framing carpentry that a chicken keeper would do, it’s a very handy and simple tool.
Sometimes a cut edge is very sharp and would invite splinters: Smooth that edge with a box rasp. Or perhaps your saw left a ragged edge on the plank: Flatten it out with a few swipes of the box rasp.
The cutting surface of the box rasp resembles a cheese grater: Numerous holes with very sharp edges shear off a bit of material. If you get a lot of use from your box rasp, you’ll need to unscrew and replace the cutting surface, as those hole edges can’t be sharpened economically.
4. Quick Clamp
There are some coop projects that absolutely demand having a helper. But in many cases, a clamp can replace a helper. Granted, a clamp is not as chatty as a helper. That may be good or bad. Conventional clamps, such as bar clamps and C-clamps, take two hands to attach or release, but quick clamps, invented a few decades ago, can be installed and removed with one hand.
Hold the pistol-grip handle in one hand, apply it to the project and squeeze the trigger to tighten it up. When you’re done, grab the handle and squeeze the release lever, and it will come loose. When you’re working alone, a quick clamp can save lots of time and fuddling around.
5. Three-Way Plug
As a general rule on a carpentry project, you’ll be using more than one power tool. Perhaps a circular saw to cut planks, a drill to fasten them together and then maybe a sander or router to get a finished look. If you’re in the South in summer, you may also be running a big fan to stay cool. I know I do.
Switching plugs back and forth slows things down. And using more than one cord is an unnecessary expense. Invest instead in a three-way plug—sometimes inaccurately called a “pigtail,” which is really an electrical component—to save time and money. If you need more than three tools, put another three-way on the first one, allowing power for five tools at any time. Some carpenters use power strips, which allow for a half-dozen tools. But office equipment on a job site just looks wrong to me.
I keep all my cords and three-ways from getting separated by storing them in an upcycled, plastic, 15-gallon nursery pot with handles.
6. Tape Measure
Almost all tape measures are disappointing in one way or another, which is strange, given how necessary they are in almost any home, garden or farm project. For a tool that should be reliable and handy, they are mostly a handful of small problems. Either the hook doesn’t stay hooked, the tape is too flimsy to extend for much distance, the spring doesn’t retract the tape without plenty of assistance or it retracts so fast it hits your finger. Ouch! And then the tape or the spring breaks anyway, so you have to throw it away and buy another one. You spend even more money hoping for a marginally better tape measure. But still they disappoint.
Finally, a company has invested in a tape measure that works really well and should last for a long time. Milwaukee Tools has a red-and-black tape that solves all those problems, and it only costs a little more than what passed as top-of-the-line tape measures. It has a 360-degree hook so you can pull a measurement off the most obtuse angle. The tape is stiff enough to extend out 9 feet unsupported. It extends and retracts easily and the belt clip is designed so that it doesn’t tear up the fabric of your pants pocket if that’s where you carry it, as I do. It even has a stop to protect your finger. It feels sturdy enough that you may be able to pass it down to the next generation.
By no means are these all the tools you’ll ever need to perform every coop and garden project on your farm, but with them in your toolbox, you’ll be on your way to get your job-of-the-moment done.