This is the second in a five-part series called In the Workshop: Tools & Machinery. To read part one, click here.

Ask any tradesman who earns a living clambering about in customers’ roofs how much easier their lives have become since the advent of rechargeable battery-powered tools and prepare to be overwhelmed by their enthusiastic response. By being able to dispense with needing to unroll (and often unravel) extension cables, plugged into a mains supply, they are able to start and complete their jobs faster, making for less fatigue and greater productivity.

And the same can apply to the DIYer smallholder. Being freed of the need for a power cable means that you have the convenience of a power tool anywhere on the plot, even far out in your fields, way further than an extension cord could reach.

Moreover, the new lithium battery packs used with these tools are readily interchangeable should they run flat, so the trick is to have a few on hand, all charged up for the day’s work, simply swopping them out as the need arises, and recharging them after hours.

Nowadays just about any electrical power tool is available in a battery-powered option, including quite robust (and semi-professional) drills, angle grinders, sanders, saws, screwdrivers and more.

So, if you are looking to buy tools for your workshop, start by looking for a battery-powered device. Then, if one is not available to suit your needs or pocket, downgrade to a mains-powered option.

Must-have machinery for a smallholder

Small tiller.

So what will a well-equipped smallholder’s workshop contain? Around the garden and farm are a range of devices that one might not necessarily need in an urban setting, including a brushcutter, a chainsaw and a high-pressure washer.

Brushcutters and chainsaws are available as mains-powered, battery-powered and petrol-powered options, and for a smallholding the battery-and mains-powered options may be more suited to smaller properties and lighter use, although a battery- or mains-powered chainsaw is a useful tool in a workshop setting for quick and rough cutting of poles, planks etc. Petrol-powered will be better suited to working out in a field.

A high-pressure washer is useful for car, bakkie and machinery cleaning, for clearing moss and dirt from paving, and for deep-cleaning stables, chicken coops etc.

Also in the garden on a smallholding a powered tiller or small hand-operated cultivator makes quick work of weeding and bed preparation.

Portable diesel generator.

With the power troubles South Africans now endure courtesy of Eskom any smallholder will tell you that a generator is vital if one wishes to keep the lights on (unless one has already gone off-grid ~ which is a topic for another day). But a portable generator is also useful out in the field, as a power source when using electric equipment on site, for example when welding fencing.

If you have any need to occasionally move water, from say a dam to a tank, a portable self-priming water pump is useful, too.

In the workshop itself, an electric drill is a vital tool, as is an angle-grinder (or two, one with a steel cutting blade and the other for cutting masonry).


In the woodwork department, a small circular saw should be your starting point, and can be followed by a table saw when funds and space permit.

On your workbench a small drill-press makes drilling and milling jobs easier, and if you are a serious DIYer, then a lathe, either for wood, if that’s your thing, or metal, is good to have. A welding set is also useful and, finally, probably the most versatile item of the lot, a compressor.

On the subject of compressors, you will be amazed, if you’ve never had one, by the number of times you will use it on a smallholding. By changing the device at the end of its hose you can: blow air, spray-paint, wash machines, pump tyres, clean air filters, dry components, blow away dust, dirt and metal filings, and even force-start recalcitrant small engines.

For part three in our series In the Workshop: Tools and Machinery, click here.

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