Basic Tools for Construction
Basic Tools for Construction
The basic tool-kit required to construct a patio, path or simple garden stairway is within the means of most people. Although some power tools, for instance a drill and a saw, will make carpentry easier, most projects can be completed with hand tools. Larger items, including concrete mixers and compacting machines (which are useful for the more ambitious paving job) can be hired.
Virtually every project you tackle will require a spade and perhaps a shovel, a hammer, wheelbarrow and tape measure. Without these basic tools you will not be able to set out the area accurately or excavate it.
Tape measures are probably the first item in any tool-kit. You will need a good quality retractable steel tape, ideally with a locking mechanism which makes it easier to handle if you are working single-handed. They come in various lengths; 8m and 10m are both useful lengths.
Pegs and line are used to set out paths, steps and patios. Although you can use proper builders’ line (commonly used to ensure that brick courses are straight during bricklaying), ordinary string will suffice. Make pegs out of excess or reject timber.
Chalk is sold for setting out building sites, but it can be pricey. Instead you can use a little cement or even flour, which often works out the cheapest.
Spades and shovels are indispensable for all projects. You will need a spade to dig foundations and to prepare the sub-base for patios, as well as to level paths and excavate steps. A shovel, which has a slightly rounded shape (with either a curved or squared-off end), is better suited for shifting loose material as well as for mixing concrete and mortar.
Picks or mattocks are useful if you are excavating hard ground or removing large stones and rocks.
Wheelbarrows are essential for transporting materials on site and useful for mixing small quantities of concrete and mortar in. Invest in a proper builder’s wheelbarrow, preferably with a pneumatic tyre, as flattish gardening wheelbarrows are not suitable for.
Hammers are the handyman’s best friend. Officially part of the carpenter’s, they are also used for knocking in pegs, extracting and assembling formwork for concretework and profiles for steps. In addition to an ordinary claw hammer, you will find that a hefty club hammer is useful for heavy-duty tasks (knocking in pegs or formwork). A brick hammer (which has a chisel end instead of a claw) is the answer when it comes to breaking bricks for bricklaying and paving, and a rubber mallet (essentially a hammer with a heavy, rubber-topped head) is invaluable for knocking paving bricks, blocks and slabs into place.
Tools for levelling and checking
Good building practice demands that brickwork is level and plumb, that paved surfaces are flat and that the corners of all structures or paving are square or set accurately at the correct angle. Certain inexpensive tools will help to ensure accuracy; some of them may even be made at home.
Spirit levels are used to check that both vertical and horizontal surfaces are level, no matter what materials you are using. Available in several lengths, they usually incorporate two spirit vials; if the bubble in the vial is centred, the surface is level. Although 1.2m is a handy length, you will have to use it in conjunction with a straight-edged piece of timber if you are checking a patio or a long path. Alternatively, work with a line level, which comprises a vial indicator attached to a length of builder’s line.
Water levels are simple home-made tools which work well over large areas and are invaluable when you are setting out a slope or when there is a need to establish points at the same height around a corner. They are also a useful aid in making a profile for steps. All you need is a length of transparent tubing (or a hosepipe with a length of transparent tubing inserted at each end) filled with water. Working on the principle that water finds its own level, attach one end to a post or to brickwork so that the water is at a specific height (the datum level), then take the other end of the tube to another point whose height you wish to measure, taking care not to spill any. The level of the water here will be exactly the same height.
Squares are vital for checking right angles. Steel builder’s squares are fairly bulky tools, but more accurate than a home-made square made from sawn timber assembled to form a right-angled triangle. They are marked off in metric and/or imperial measurements. Smaller combination squares (also used for carpentry) incorporate a spirit vial and are useful when you are working on a small scale, for example if you want to check that timber steps are square. Of course, you can use a home-made square to lay out a patio; to make one, cut three lengths of sawn wood in the ratio 3:4:5 (for instance 900 mm, 1.2m and 1.5m) and join them to form a triangle. Alternatively, use the 3:4:5 method, measuring and pegging to check for square.
Tools for construction
When it comes to building, whether you are going to tackle bricklaying, concretework or paving, there are certain tools which you cannot be without. Others will merely simplify the task at hand.
Compactors are needed to flatten the sub-base for paving, to compress the backfill behind steps and in some cases to compact paving once it has been laid. While a mechanical vibrator (which may be hired for the project) is essential if there is fill (broken bricks, stones and so on) beneath a patio, it is usually sufficient to use a home-made punner or ramming tool. For small projects, even a thick pole will suffice. To make your own punner, set a post of some sort (a broom handle is perfect) in an empty 5 litre tin and fill the tin with concrete. Alternatively, weld a metal plate to a metal pole or affix a heavy block of wood to a post.
If a mechanical plate vibrator is used to level paving, care should be taken to avoid damage — a single pass of the compactor is usually sufficient, and going over the same area a few times may cause the pavers to crack.
Concrete mixers are useful for jobs which require a fair volume of concrete. Available in several sizes from hire shops, they may be powered by, petrol or diesel.
Trowels, used for bricklaying, rendering brick and block surfaces and flattening small areas of concrete, are available in different shapes and sizes; which you use will depend on the application.
Mortarboards and screedboards are used by professional bricklayers to hold small quantities of mortar while they work. These are useful but not essential tools.
Floats, made from both wood and metal, are used to smooth the mortar used for rendering and for screeds laid over concrete.
These are necessary for constructing decks, timber steps and pergolas, and include drills (see below),and a variety of saws and screwdrivers. Since both the formwork for in situ concrete and the profiles for steps are commonly made from wood, it is a good idea to include at least one of each in your toolkit. There is a good range of hand saws commonly available. Useful saws include the general-purpose bowsaw, which is ideal for sawing logs, the stocky , with a rectangular blade, which is perfect for cutting smaller sections of timber, the larger , and the , which will cut through just about anything, including metal. You probably have screwdrivers already, but if not, consider investing in a spiral ratchet screwdriver which, with its variable positions and reverse action, not only simplifies the task of screwing in , but also allows you to remove them relatively easily.
Although not an essential requirement for the average path, patio or step project, several power tools can make life easier. An electric saw in particular will enable you to cut timber with little effort, while a drill will simplify the insertion of bolts and. An angle grinder is invaluable for cutting thick tiles and bricks, while a block splitter or masonry saw is indispensable for cutting any precast concrete products.
Larger power tools, such as concrete mixers, compactors and vibrators, can usually be hired for a particular DIY project if necessary.