essential tools for renovating old buildings: picture of old barn

Most rural properties—farms, ranches, river cottages and hunting lodges—have at least one outbuilding, such as a barn, shed, cabin, stable or garage. While these outbuildings are often small, they’re an extremely valuable asset, but only if they’re maintained in good condition.

Unfortunately, outbuildings are often neglected and abandoned, creating an eyesore rather than an asset. However, if you devote the necessary time and effort to rebuild old outbuildings, you’ll gain valuable indoor space and increase the overall value of the property.

The key to tackling any renovation project is equipping yourself with the proper tools. Here, we’ll review the top five portable power tools for repairing neglected outbuildings. Keep in mind that these five tools are available in a wide range of sizes and prices.

#1 Cordless hammer drill

essential tools for renovating old buildings: cordless hammer drill

The cordless drill is one of the most popular and practical portable power tools, but its close cousin, the cordless hammer drill, is much more useful for renovation work. A hammer drill can bore holes in wood and metal and drive screws, and it’s specially engineered to drill holes through concrete, brick, stone and other masonry materials with speed and ease.

A hammer drill combines bit rotation with concussive blows (hammering action) to quickly blast through concrete. As a result, you can bore masonry holes three to four times faster than with a standard drill. Think of it as a mini-jackhammer: As the drill bit spins, an internal hammer pounds on the bit to blast holes into the hardest, most abrasive masonry materials.

The hammer drill is ideal for boring holes in concrete to set anchors and drive in masonry screws. During wood-frame construction, it’s often necessary to drill holes into concrete piers, slabs and footings for metal brackets and anchor bolts, and these holes are often a half-inch in diameter or larger. A hammer drill has the power and speed to blast through the concrete and whatever aggregate (gravel) it encounters.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a cordless hammer drill:

  • For optimum hole drilling and screw-driving power—without added weight—choose a hammer drill that uses 20-volt lithium-ion batteries. Be sure the tool comes with two batteries so that when one battery runs out of power, you’ll have a fresh battery on hand. Confirm that the batteries have a fuel gauge, which conveniently shows the amount of power remaining.
  • Look for a model with a brushless motor, which increases run-time up to 50 percent per charge over standard motors.
  • Check to see if the drill has an onboard work light. You’ll often be working in dark or dimly lit areas, and an LED light can illuminate the work area.
  • The hammer drill should also have a half-inch keyless chuck, two-speed motor, rubber over molded handgrips and at least 18 slip-clutch settings.

#2 Cordless impact driver

essential tools for renovating old buildings: cordless impact driver

You might be wondering why you’d need an impact driver if a hammer drill can be used to drive screws. Here’s why: An impact driver drives screws faster and more efficiently than any other tool and will save you a significant amount of time and effort.

An impact driver is similar to a standard drill, except for one noticeable distinction. Instead of a keyless chuck, it has a collet that accepts hex-shank driver bits. And, like a hammer drill, an impact driver uses both bit rotation and concussive blows to power-drive screws through the thickest, gnarliest woods. As a result, impact drivers typically deliver three times more torque (turning force) than the average drill. They’re ideal for building decks, constructing and installing cabinets, fastening tile backer board and screwing down plywood subfloors.

Impact drivers are also extremely comfortable to use, especially over long periods of time. The concussive action transfers much of that high-torque energy directly to the screw, not to your wrist or forearm.

#3 Circular saw

essential tools for renovating old buildings: circulating saw

The portable circular saw provides a fast, efficient way to slice through solid wood, especially 2-by construction lumber, and most sheet goods, such as plywood and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Circular saws can also be used to cut metal and masonry materials, including concrete, stone, brick and concrete block, when fitted with the appropriate blade.

You can use this tool during both the demolition and reconstruction phases of your renovation project. Its portability makes it ideal for cutting out damaged and deteriorated siding, framing and roof sheathing. Then use it to cut new replacement materials to size. Circular saws can also enlarge window openings, trim doors down to size and cut stair stringers and treads.

Corded electric circular saws are available in two standard sizes, 7¼ inches and 8¼ inches, which refer to the blade diameter. Both saws will easily slice through 2-by lumber, but an 8¼-inch saw cuts about an inch deeper than a 7¼-inch model. It also weighs and costs more.

If there’s no electricity at your outbuilding, a cordless circular saw can give you the freedom to cut without being tethered to an extension cord. Most cordless saws have 5½- or 6½-inch-diameter blades, but some models range in size from 3⅜-inch blades up to 7¼-inch blades.

The majority of cordless saws are powered by either an 18- or 20-volt battery, which delivers more-than-adequate power for standard renovation work. However, for those desiring considerably more torque and longer run time, consider a 60-volt saw powered by two rechargeable batteries.

#4 Reciprocating saw

essential tools for renovating old buildings: reciprocating saw

With this one versatile, super-aggressive tool, you can slice through virtually any building material, including solid wood, plywood, sheet metal, reinforcing rods, plastic pipes, copper tubing, asphalt roofing and even nail-embedded framing lumber. You can also use it to execute both curved and straight cuts.

The “recip” saw is often the first power tool used when refurbishing an old building. It’s portability, maneuverability and power make it perfect for cutting through rotted studs, joists and rafters; removing dilapidated windows and doors; and slicing out water-damaged roof sheathing.

There are dozens of various types of reciprocating-saw blades available, ranging in length from about 4 inches to 12 inches. (They’re most affordable when purchased in multi-blade kits.) Just be sure to match the number of blade teeth and length to the material you’re cutting. Shorter blades are suitable for most work, but longer blades extend the reach of the saw and allow you to cut through extra-thick materials. Blades with fewer teeth per inch cut faster but much rougher than blades with more teeth per inch.

When fitted with the proper accessory, you can also use the reciprocal saw to scrape up old flooring, grind away wood, brush off rust and paint, scratch out tile grout and scrub away stubborn stains.

#5 Oscillating multitool

essential tools for renovating old buildings: oscillating multitool

The oscillating multitool features a powerful motor that oscillates (vibrates) back and forth at extremely high speed. When tackling demolition and renovation work, it’s hard to beat the power and run time of a corded multitool. You may need to run an extension cord, but it’s worth it to not have to worry about the battery running out.

Oscillating multitools accept a wide variety of interchangeable accessories for cutting, sanding, scraping, grinding and polishing. When fitted with the appropriate blade, the multitool will slice through virtually any building material, including wood, metal, drywall, cement, mortar, plastic and fiberglass. Here are just some of the jobs you can perform with an oscillating multitool:

  • Remove old paint. Attach a steel scraper blade for removing loose, blistered paint. Then switch to a sanding pad to sand down to bare wood or shiny metal.
  • Grind away mortar, grout and adhesives. Attach a triangular-shaped carbide-grit rasp to the multitool, and use it to grind away mortar, cement and even dried adhesives. The super-coarse rasp pulverizes the rock-hard mortar to dust in mere seconds. And because the rasp is triangular shaped, it easily fits into tight corners.
  • Remove old caulk. When fitted with a sharpened steel scraper blade, the multitool will slice through the hardest, most stubborn caulk in a matter of minutes. Use this method to scrape caulk from around tubs, sinks, counters, backsplashes, windows and doors.
  • Cut drywall openings. The multitool provides a quick, easy and extremely accurate way to cut square and rectangular holes in drywall walls and ceilings. Mark the outline onto the surface, and use a wood- or metal-cutting blade to plunge right through the surface, making sure not to cut into any pipes or wires buried behind.
  • Salvage room moldings. Prying off wood moldings without damaging them is virtually impossible—unless you use a multitool. Install a fine-tooth metal-cutting blade and cleanly slice through multiple coats of dried paint, old caulking and even finishing nails. Use this technique to safely remove virtually any type of room trim, including shoe molding, baseboard, window and door casings and chair rail.

With the right tools and some dedication, you can turn your rundown shed, barn, or cottage into a useful and attractive outbuilding.

image of Joseph TruiniJoseph Truini writes about building remodeling and repair as well as tools and techniques for both homeowners and professionals. He is a home-improvement expert who has written six books, and his work has appeared in several national magazines. Joseph also writes for The Home Depot, which carries a wide range of power tools and accessories like those he describes in this article. You can view their selection by clicking here.

This article is editorial content that has been contributed to our site at our request and is published for the benefit of our readers. We have not been compensated for its placement.


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  • Show Comments

  • avatar
    Molly J. Ballantyne

    Hey, I’ve found your writing and read your information about the 5 best tools for repairing old building barn. It’s very handy and got a ton of ideas from it. It is a very helpful article for me. I want to repair my old building. Thank you very much for your tool list.

  • avatar
    Danny Sigmon

    Really these #5 tools are very helpful for our DIY Projects. These tools help me more to complete my home mini task. I LIKE YOUR TIPS.

  • avatar
    Wayne Ledoux

    I’m very much glad to find this article. It gives me some great Information that I’m looking for and I hope you have a great knowledge about It. Thanks and keep sharing 🙂

  • avatar
    Adrian Jones

    I never knew that there were other important things to consider when looking for drills–like how there are certain drills that work only for certain surfaces, or for when some tools can be used across multiple surfaces all at once because they can be used as a jack of all trades and a master of none at the same time. Of course, when using these heavy power tools–safety always comes first! If I had the chance to use some of these tools, I would definitely try some of them out with construction on a heavy project somewhere…

  • avatar
    Greta James

    Thank you for informing me that an impact driver can help to install screws more efficiently than other tools. Yesterday, I was talking to my husband and he mentioned that he wants to repair the shed that is in our yard. We have no tools, so I hope he looks for places to buy the needed tools for a good price.

  • avatar
    Jill L Swartz

    Thank you for informative article on tools I will need. I really need to start somewhere.

  • avatar
    Hailey Miller

    I found it interesting when you said that the oscillating multitool can cut drywall openings. We have this in our old storage room since we were kids, but we’re a little scared to use it for our bathroom renovation. I think we should look for a company, that uses high-tech equipment, to do concrete cutting for our bathroom floor and give it a modern look.

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