Hand Tools vs Power Tools for Homesteading: Which is Better?

Hand tools or power tools? What kind of question is that?! Power tools all the way, right?

This may seem like an odd topic to discuss but for someone that is considering homesteading or homeownership, it is worthwhile to think about it before investing a lot of money in one or the other.

When I was growing up, we always used hand tools whenever something needed to be fixed, adjusted, or built. As I got older, I invested more in power tools and used them whenever I could. 

Quality tools are an investment and when taken care of they will not only take care of you but will last a lifetime. Just as there is a right tool for the job, there is also the right tool for the person using it. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before buying any tool there are a couple of questions that you should always ask yourself. By answering the following questions, you will be better informed as to what you should buy, a hand tool or a power tool.

  • What will you be using it for?
  • How frequently will you be using it?
  • Is the tool for a one-time project or do you expect to use it over time?
  • If it is for a project, how time can you devote to the project?
  • Will power be readily available?
  • Can you physically handle tool, and can you do so safely?

Tools of the Trade 

Part of homesteading is living a self-reliant lifestyle. This could be out of desire or out of necessity if one lives far away from modern conveniences.

Either way, becoming familiar with hand tools or power tools is going to be an important part of homesteading. They will ultimately save you money and allow you to complete projects without waiting for professionals to do it for you. 

But should you use a hand saw or a power saw? Sand by hand or a belt sander? Power drill or hand drill? To help you make these decisions I am going to break down several aspects of using tools from my own experience. 

Time 

The amount of time someone has to complete a project or job is one of the top considerations when choosing a tool. Our time is valuable and finite. Every day we must make decisions to use that resource effectively and efficiently.

Without question, a power tool is going to perform work drastically faster than a hand tool. Consider the following example.

Recently, a large tree limb fell in my yard after a particularly strong storm. The limb was roughly ten inches in diameter at its base and close to thirty-five feet long. 

Time was not an issue, so I decided to use a large bow saw to process the wood. It took me the better part of an afternoon to cut the wood up and carry it to the woodpile. 

However, if I had other things to get done, I could have used a chainsaw, loaded the wood into a truck, and been done in one hour. Since time was not issue, and for other reasons I will discuss later, I chose to use a manual saw.

Physical Exertion

Using hand tools requires a lot more energy than using power tools. This is because you are supplying the power to the tool and not the other way around. 

But believe it or not, some power tools can be tiresome to operate. For example, I have used a chainsaw a lot in my life and while they are quicker and easier than an ax or hand saw, they are tiring to use for prolonged periods. 

Another thing to consider is a person’s age or physical abilities. Due to these, a person may not be able to provide the energy needed to use a hand tool or be capable of operating a power tool depending on person’s limitations.

Is Power Readily Available?

Cordless power tools have become commonplace and the ability to charge them has also become easier. This means some tools are not dependent on a wall outlet and can be taken offsite. 

This is also a negative because at some point a power tool will need to be recharged, refueled, or supplied power through a generator. Hand tools however will keep going as long as someone is willing to put in the effort.

If a project is being worked on away from a source of power, plans will be needed for supplying power to those tools. If power cannot be readily supplied, hand tools may be your only option.

Work Area Size 

The area in which you find yourself working may dictate whether a power tool can be used. Sometimes the work area is just too small to accommodate a power tool and a hand tool must be used in its place.

Overkill

There are countless small tasks that using a power tool for would just be overkill. A common example I run into a lot around my property is adjusting hardware. 

For example, if I have a loose handle on a kitchen cabinet, I am not going to go out to my garage, grab my power drill, make sure it is charged, bring it inside and use it to rotate a screw one or two turns. Instead, I am going to grab a screwdriver from my junk drawer and quickly tighten the hardware.

Another aspect to consider is that some projects require a light touch. Like a superficial amount of sanding or the smallest amount of material cut away. 

There have been more than a few occasions where I ended up making more work for myself or ruined an item because it is extremely easy to go too far with a power tool.

Relaxing 

I may get a few eye rolls with this one but that is okay. Power tools are loud and can shake you to the core. With many projects, I find it much more relaxing to use hand tools, even meditative.

They allow me to take my time and focus on the task at hand while at the same time allowing me to clear my mind. When the project is complete, I also have more of an appreciation for the work that was done, and the result.


The Answer?

In my opinion, people should start off using hand tools. This gives a person time to understand how the tool works, learn safety skills, and develop an appreciation for the process.

Once comfort and a level of skill have been established, move on to power tools and begin the process over.

If you have a large project, like installing a fence over several acres, and time is limited, I suggest using power tools all the way.

However, if you are working on a smaller project, say building a small shed, and time is not a factor and you want a deep appreciation for the process as well as the finished result, then I would suggest using hand tools. 

It is also my opinion that hand tools are a must-have no matter what. Power tools are great, but they rely on a power source to operate and they have more moving parts which can break down.

For every power tool you have, it is a good idea to have a backup hand tool that can complete the same work.

For instance, I have a circular saw, but I also have a hand saw.

I have a power drill and a hand drill.

Ultimately, a mixture of hand tools and power tools is ideal. By having both you will have more options, be able to use your time more effectively, and save wear and tear on your body. 

Thanks for reading and remember to always pick the right tool for the job!



Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. Recently, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide and Paracord Projects For Camping which is scheduled to be released March 2, 2021 Read more of Bryan's articles.