French farmhouse renovation: Tools I should have invested in

Nick Inman charts the ups and downs of renovating an old French farmhouse. Here he talks about essential equipment for the job

23 March 2021
By Nick Inman

To tackle DIY in a large old French farmhouse, you need the right equipment.

Flush from selling our house in London, I went on a spending spree for tools. I made some good investments (and a few bad ones) but more interesting is the list of tools that I wish now I had bought when I could have.

'Buy a few good professional tools, even if you have less to spend on crates of wine'

These are expensive items that I hesitated over as the money began to get short. Would I really get my money’s worth from such a cumbersome piece of kit?

In hindsight, I can be certain of the answer. Here are my top three that I let get away. It won’t do me any good but it might help you decide what to splash out on. The prices in this article are approximate and are for new items, not secondhand.

Trailer (and towbar)

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that I would spend a lot of time lugging materials back from builder’s merchant and DIY shops – or paying for lorries to deliver them.

My poor old 1990 Peugeot 309 has been bashed and scraped. Its shock absorbers have felt the weight of cement and sand, and its roof rack is sagging from timber.

If I could turn back time, I would have had a towbar (attelage: €100) fitted (€250 ) and bought a medium-sized trailer (remorque – at least €500). I’d have got my money’s worth in no time – and would still be benefiting from it.

Carpentry machine

Next on my fantasy list would be at least one heavy-duty carpentry workshop machine.

There are all-in-one gizmos – the equivalent of food processors – but a good workshop really needs several quality machines bolted to its floor.

You don’t buy such things from your local DIY shop: you go to a specialist. I ummed and aahed long about this subject and concluded that I wouldn’t be doing that much precision cutting and planning.

Who’s laughing now? I have since spent a fortune on handtools such as saws. I could have saved hours of work and frustration had I been more forward thinking.

In my defence, I must point out that we are talking serious money. A single-purpose machine (combiné à bois) costs around €500 but to do the job properly, the budget would have to start at €1,200.

Plasterboard hoist

The reason I didn’t buy it was because I didn’t think I would get that much use out of it.

I knew I would be putting up a few pieces of plasterboard and I was sure I’d improvise something when it came to the ceilings. The results are there to see overhead. Plasterboard is ludicrously heavy stuff and, even between two strong men, it is hard to get it into position a metre or more above your head and keep it static while you trim it to size and drill screws into it.

Halfway through plaster boarding my first ceiling, I thought: “It’s too late to invest in a hoist. Shame it didn’t occur to me at the beginning.”

A couple more ceilings later, I was still cursing myself. The thing would be sitting rusting in the barn now but I would have got my value out of it.

A manual plasterboard hoist (lève-plaques, €170) once seemed expensive, but if I had to do another ceiling, I would certainly spare myself the masochism.

The lesson is obvious: big job, big machinery. Buy a few good professional tools, even if you have less to spend on crates of wine.

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