Eighteen years ago, I packed my British toolbox in the delivery van, along with the rest of our belongings.
It had no more than a dozen items in it, including my trusted one-speed Black and Decker drill, which I assumed would be enough to cope with most tasks. What more was I going to need to work on my new French farmhouse?
Now, when urban friends come to visit, they assume I must be an obsessive toolophile. It looks as though I own one of everything.
That’s not quite true but it’s not far off.
To tackle an oversize country building, you need a serious tool collection, but more is not necessarily better. It has taken me a long time to learn the difference between what I think I need and what I really do need – between a tool that looks as if it will be useful and one that proves truly indispensable.
My ladders and scaffolding I discussed in an earlier article: both have proved solid investments. In my next article, I’ll tell you what I wish I had bought at the beginning but didn’t because of the expense.
For now, here is the result of 18 years of testing DIY tools in France.
I keep a general-purpose portable toolkit with a range of implements that you would expect. I also have a dedicated plumbing box containing hefty wrenches and a drain unblocking “snake”.
Larger tools – including machinery – stay in the workshop. As do assorted heavy duty stone chisels, scraping and filling knives, clamps (you can never have too many), saws (regularly replaced because sharpening is an art in itself), shovels, crowbar, etc.
I wish it were true that you get what you pay for but it is not a 100% fast rule. In the first years in France, I was often tempted by the annual supermarket promotions of generic tools.
Many of them broke or otherwise malfunctioned – but umpteen years later, I still use the planer, angle grinder, pneumatic drill and cement mixer I bought in the early noughties: there is not much to go wrong with them.
Cordless electric drills are a different matter.
My two Makitas are constantly travelling around the property. One is set up for drilling, the other for screwdriving, but they are interchangeable, as are their batteries.
It took me a lot of research to establish the features I really needed and then to find the right product at the right price.
I’ve found it much cheaper buying such things in the UK than in France, even with delivery costs added in.
For some reason, over the Channel, competition is fiercer and last year’s model can be had for a realistic price.
Some other items I prefer to buy on trips to Spain, where professional ferreterías have an excellent choice of masonry tools, including rubber buckets and trays to mix cement in. I’m generally happy with the hand tools available in French shops.
Stanley is my brand of preference, partly because the quality is generally good but also because they are bright yellow and losing low-visibility tools down holes and on roofs is an occupational hazard of DIY.
There is one item I have had problems finding.
Every handyperson relies on a craft knife, either with snap off or replaceable blades. I have a waste bucket of 10 or so knives of different brands that have failed me at some point.
Only one I now rely on: the Olfa XH1, which has a no nonsense locking mechanism.
I know it does not sound very manly but another indispensable tool is a vacuum cleaner kept solely for DIY use.
A cheap Karcher did the trick for 15 years, although it now needs replacing. I will never let it be said of this handyman that you cannot see me for dust.
DIY tips for French farmhouse renovation: Where to get help?