A Convenient List of Useful Equipment for the New Homesteader
Congratulations on your new land and your decision to finally get out of the daily grind of urban life and retire to the peace and quiet of the country. For months, you’ve been dreaming of the good life and now that you have finally taken the plunge, you are ready to pack your things and head for the open spaces. But like your pioneer ancestors, you suddenly discover that you really do own A LOT OF STUFF and a great deal of it is probably not going to be very useful on your raw land.
It’s a good thing that you actually own an axe and a good gardening spade. You know those will get plenty of use from day one. But is it likely you will ever have a use for that waffle iron you got as a wedding present or Great Aunt Minnie’s silver chafing dish? Do you really need the 6 frying pans languishing in the pantry, when the big black cast iron skillet is the only one you use with any regularity?
And then there are all the things you know you don’t own, but that you have heard mentioned on the Forum. All those fascinating gadgets, you have secretly lusted after in the Northern Tool and Equipment Catalog or while browsing the aisles at Farm and Fleet. And like your ancestor with his single covered wagon, you plan on packing everything into one single Ryder truck and the back of your Dad’s old Chevy station wagon.
So maybe, we better make a list, several lists actually and then begin the process of selecting and pruning, until you really can move it all in one trip and arrive on your raw land with the essentials for your new life.
Let’s set a few basic parameters for our New Homesteading Family. Your situation may be a bit different, but we have to start somewhere. Let’s say our new homesteaders, The Hopewells, are your basic family unit… father, mother, 2 school age children and a dog.
The Hopewells have just purchased a nice piece of undeveloped land in Zone 6, maybe a nice little 8 acre paradise. There’s a bit of open ground, but mostly woods and some rolling hills. There is a nice flat spot for the house and garden. The Hopewells lucked out and there is power right on the road and a little year round spring with potable water, so they won’t have to dig a well right away.
But town is a good 17 miles away and it only has a gas station and a Mom and Pop grocery and a combination hardware/lumber yard and the nearest Wal-Mart is another 20 miles away, so running back and forth to the store is not going to be an option.
The Hopewells figure it will be wise of them to arrive with most everything they will need to get started, short of fresh groceries, heavy equipment and building materials. They plan to move in the early spring, as soon as the good weather has arrived and they figure they can survive the first month or so camping out in their old 6 man tent.
The Hopewells plan to build a simple pole house, as a starter home, with an attached shed (see my earlier article, The Simplest House of All – The Dacha Series) and getting that built will be their first priority. Once they have moved into their little house, the Hopewells plan to clear enough ground to plant a simple garden. Nothing too elaborate that first year, but enough to keep them in a few fresh veggies and to learn the basic skills. And if things go well, maybe, they will get a few chickens and Mrs. Hopewell would really like to try her hand at a goat or two, if they can manage it.
So all and all, the Hopewells are in pretty good shape with power and water on the land and the time, means, energy and motivation to make a start. They just have to get everything sorted and packed and purchase the things they don’t own already and for that they will need THE LIST.
This list is not meant to be comprehensive or graven in stone. It is meant as a jumping off point, but will change, in it’s particulars, with the specific family. Place and climate will also have some effect on priorities and needs.
In the case of our model family, the Hopewells, once they have arrived and set up their tent camp, their first priority will be clearing a building site, so their first list had better be:
TOOLS FOR LAND CLEARING and GARDENING:
I won’t presume to lecture on Tractors or the need for one on the Homestead. Frankly, I’ve never owned one and probably never will. On the one occasion, when I needed one, I had no problem convincing a kind neighbor to come round with his own implement of destruction, and for a very reasonable price and a good hot lunch, he cleared away the few trees that were in my way, flattened my building site and augered out all the post holes I needed for my house. It took no time at all, he made a bit of extra cash money and we were both happy with the result and the lunch. I daresay if I ever need similar work done, he will be glad to come to a similar agreement.
But every man likes his toys, so I will leave this question to those who know more and feel the need to make their case. However, I could not manage my little acreage without:
A Lawnmower Even if you don’t have grass, you will find this a useful tool for clearing away small brush and weeds from your first campsite. And that nice cleared area is a great way to instantly boost moral and make you feel as if you have made some headway against Mother Nature. My old suburban push-mower was adequate for my needs, but I’m getting old enough that a rider will probably take its place in the near future. And even the most stubborn soil will grow grass eventually.
A Chainsaw Again I won’t presume to lecture, other than to urge you not to skimp on quality. And make sure you know how to use it properly before you even set foot on your land.
Axe and Hatchet Learn how to sharpen it and keep it that way.
Froe and Wedges
Clam shell posthole diggers (2)
Assorted spades for digging
Iron garden rake (2)
Spring rake (2)
Hoes and cultivators
Pitch fork and gardening fork
Hand trowels, rakes and dibblers
Sledge hammer A 12-15 lb one at least, heavier if you can swing it.
Hand clippers, several pairs
Wheelbarrow that can also be used for mixing concrete
5 Gallon Gas Cans (3)
100 feet of good rope
Ball of gardening twine and real construction stakes
Once the ground is clear and level, the Hopewells will want to lay out their new house and start construction. Until they have a real roof over their heads, that old 6 man tent is home and all their possessions are stuck under a couple of tarps and in danger of the weather. So they better have the following:
Framing hammers in various weights
A trim hammer and tack hammer
Hand saws: rip, crosscut, hacksaw, and a backsaw with a mitre box
A pry bar and cats paw
Two sets of screwdrivers, regular and Phillips head
A 25’ measuring tape
A reel tape 100-300’
A Level at least 5 feet long
Chalk line and chalk
A set of good chisels and a sharpening stone
A basic box plane and blades to fit it
A good all purpose knife
A taping knife
A putty knife
Pliers in assorted sizes
Needle nose pliers for wiring
A circuit tester
Several heavy duty extension cords and some household cords
A set of standard wrenches with a ratchet
Soldering iron and solder
A standard plumber’s blowtorch
Trowels and floats for concrete and plaster work
An extension ladder and a step ladder
A paint tray, roller frame, and rollers
Assorted paint brushes
Window putty and glass points
Staple gun and staples
Caulking gun and caulk
Our pioneer forefathers were many things, but most of them were not fools. When Mr. Porter-Cable started peddling the Skil-saw, I can’t imagine too many working carpenters poo-pooed the idea and went about speechifying on the nobility of the handsaw.
I can certainly appreciate the skill and care needed to build a timber frame house with nothing but hand tools, but when you are living in a tent, I don’t think it morally reprehensible to haul out the power tools. There is no more miserable activity than trying to cut a 4×8 sheet of plywood with a handsaw on a hot day, while your significant other attempts to hold it down and offer helpful advice. That way lies murder, mayhem and divorce. Do NOT do it. There is plenty of time for nobility of purpose after you have a solid dry roof over your family’s head. So, that said, the Hopewells will be happy to have:
Skil-saw or circular saw (2)
Sawz-all….good for awkward cuts and useful for trimming trees and small brush
Jig saw for trim work and cabinet work
Extra blades for all the saws
Electric drill and assorted bits, particularly extra ¾ inch bits for drilling holes for wiring the house.
Nails – Box and common, 16p, 12p, 8p, roofing, and ringshanks for siding and decking, at least 20 lbs of each. 4p and 6p finishing and casing nails, 10 lbs or each.
Wood and metal screws in quantity
Door hinges in various sizes
T and H hinges
Two pair of heavy duty gate hinges and latches
Metal shelf brackets in assorted sizes
Hooks and eyes
Door hasp and padlock
Door bolts and window latches
Assortment of door pulls and knobs
You may not think so, but I guarantee, you will find a use for all the tools and equipment on this list in the course of building even the simplest shelter in your first weeks. A handy supply will save you many trips back and forth to the nearest hardware store.
FURNITURE AND HOUSEHOLD EQUIPMENT
This list is somewhat subjective. One person’s necessities are another man’s luxuries, but these are the things that I think any basic household ought to own, if they plan to live simply, but comfortably, on their land. Some of the items may not get immediate use, until the house is built and ready to furnish, but you are going to be glad you have them packed away when that glorious day arrives. It’s all the little things, you take for granted that you miss the most when you need one. How many of us have gone on a picnic and forgotten the salt or a bottle opener? Case closed. Okay let’s start with basic furniture.
Work Table – Let me suggest you get your hands on a standard folding banquet table, the kind that folds flat. If you can get two, even better. They sit well on uneven ground and will make a handy place to prep food and do dishes and cook. They also make dandy work benches for various construction projects. And they can be folded up and won’t take up valuable space when not needed.
Dining table and chairs – Either a round table or a drop leaf as they take up less space. Eventually this will be the center of family life so it’s best to have a separate table for dining that isn’t used for rough kitchen work.
Pantry cupboard – Until you have wall mounted kitchen cabinets, you will be glad to have enclosed storage for food and kitchen goods. One of those tall metal kitchen closets is what I have in mind, or a pie safe.
Kitchen dresser with drawers and open shelves – Until you can manage wall mounted cabinets, you will need somewhere to store dishes, pots and pans, silverware, utensils, and linens. Even a few old kitchen wall cabinets, stacked together with some board shelves or an old bookcase is better than nothing.
Comfy chairs or rockers – Real ones not some glorified camp chair. Even in a tent, babies need rocking and tired bodies need a soft place to sit. And a little footstool or hassock so you can put your feet up at the end of the day.
Double bed with box spring and mattress
Single beds for the children with box springs and mattresses
Chests of drawers or dressers
Chest/chests for storing all the linen (separate linen list to follow)
Pitcher and bowl, soap dish, mug for toothbrushes etc.
Slop jar and a chamber pot (really very useful item late at night)
Chaise perce – This is French for a potty chair and honestly they are a great idea for the simple homestead. Pick up an old invalid potty chair at Goodwill, make a slip cover for it and keep it in a corner of the bedroom or in a little closet. It makes a handy spot to sit down to put on your shoes and again it’s useful at night and in bad weather, when you can’t face the trip to the outhouse or the bushes.
Towel bar or hooks
Mirror – One good sized one for the bedroom at least, more if you can.
Bath mat – A big fluffy one to catch the water when you use the bowl and pitcher.
At the very least you are going to need a tripod and grill for an open fire, but eventually you will need to have a cook-stove of some sort; wood, gas or electric, as the case maybe. The Hopewells are going the traditional route and have managed to get their hands on a small but serviceable cook-stove that will use both wood or coal and do double duty as the primary source of heat. Once it is properly installed, they will need the following equipment for the stove:
Poker, shovel, and brush
Coal hod and log basket
Wall mounted match holder and lots of matches
Every cook will of course have their own list of absolutely necessary kitchen equipment. I think this one covers the basics, but also includes a few items that will add greatly to the ease of cooking and the quality and variety of Homestead meals. I’m not going to make any suggestions as to brand name or materials. I started out on my Homestead with plain old agateware pots and pans I bought at the Dollar Store and an assortment of utensils bought new or at yard sales secondhand. You make your own choices.
3 skillets – A big deep one for frying, a smaller one for sauté and a little one for delicate work or small dishes
3 graduated saucepans with lids
Tea kettle and a trivet
Coffee pot or stovetop percolator – Don’t bother bringing Mr. Coffee, unless you have power right away. You can always buy one when the house is ready for small appliances and you may discover you don’t really want one after all. Ditto on the toaster, electric can opener etc.
Stock pot – A big one is best as it has a multitude of uses, including use as a hot water heater.
2 soup kettles with lids
Covered roaster – If I could only have one pan it would be my over-sized Agate roaster. It will cook anything.
2 round cake tins, 2 square cake tins, 2 cookie sheets, 2 pie pans, 2 loaf pans, and a muffin tin.
Casseroles – A deep one and a shallower gratin dish.
Bean Pot with cover
Colander – The biggest you can find
Sifter, sieve, rolling pin, and a cheese grater
Cooking spoons, spatulas, slotted spoons, and ladles
Measuring cups and spoons
Can opener, bottle opener, and a corkscrew
Kitchen knifes, a sharpener, and a good block for storage
Cutting board – A wooden one. God made maple for a reason.
Masher, whisks, and an egg beater
Carving knife and fork
Pastry brush and a bulb-baster
Salt and pepper shakers for the stove side
Canisters, storage tins and assorted Tupperware
Covered basket – You need this for the covered dish social.
Garden basket for collecting veggies etc.
Our homesteaders, are a family of four, but they are friendly folks and want to be hospitable, so let’s make this service for six. The dog of course will need a food dish and water bowl of his own. No plate licking at the Hopewells. Naturally if your family is larger or smaller, you can choose appropriate quantities. Again, it’s your choice.
Far be it from me to argue china patterns, but you can’t go wrong with plain old white restaurant ware. It wears like iron, is easy to clean and replacing broken items is a cinch. I started out with plain white ironstone, but will admit that as soon as the first section of my house was finished, I bought some good china for Sundays, holidays and special occasions. Again, it’s your choice. Here’s my basic list:
6 Soup bowls – I prefer the old fashioned rimmed soup plate model as they can do double duty for pasta or stews.
6 Tea cups
6 Dinner plates – Big ones
6 Dessert plates
6 Coffee mugs
6 Water tumblers – The thick restaurant kind with a solid base
3 Big bowls for mixing, serving, and salads
2 Smaller bowls
2 Serving bowls with lids
2 Platters – Big ones
Tea pot, sugar bowl, and creamer
3 Pitchers, 2 ceramic, 1 glass
3 Serving trays, 2 big ones, and a small one
Salt and pepper shakers for the table
Forks, knives, teaspoons, and soup spoons – You can’t have too many, and make sure they are solid and heavy. Cheap tableware is a lousy investment. It doesn’t have to be grandma’s sterling, but you are better off with old secondhand tableware than the stamped tin that passes muster nowadays.
Silverware tray – A plain wooden one that can be carried to the table.
Serving spoons, serving forks, a cake knife, and a pie slice
A bread dish or basket
If you don’t have electricity right away, you will need some form of safe lighting. It’s a good idea to have a selection of options for various tasks.
Naturally, you can make do with a Coleman lantern, but sometimes the Hopewells will want a nice subdued light. Again make your own aesthetic judgments, but I had the following in my house before we got electric light. They were all standard oil lamps I purchased at auction and I generally used lamp oil as opposed to kerosene.
Table lamps – At least two, more if the house has many rooms. It’s safer to light a lamp in a room than carry a lamp in with you.
Hanging lamp – Better light for working. Hang it over the dinner table in the center of the room.
Saucer/bedside candlesticks – The kind with the little ring handle. Easy to carry with you to bed.
Sconces – At least one for each bedroom and more for living rooms.
Lanterns – At least two good ones for walking about outside at night.
Flash lights – A big bright one for emergencies and a pair of hand-held lights. Be sure to have batteries and bulbs for all of them.
Box of candles
Wicks and mantles
Brush – For washing lamp chimneys and a soft cotton cloth for drying them.
This list contains the obvious basics for a family of four. I’m going to assume the Hopewells will be doing their wash by hand, at least at the beginning of their adventure. A washer and dryer are seldom priorities on a new homestead and the Laundromat is not always a feature of small town life. I would bring the following to start life and add to the list as time and money permitted.
4 pairs of double sheets – This allows you to rotate the sheets each week and save wear and tear. One set on the bed while the other is in the wash.
4 pairs of single bed sheets – Ditto
8 pillow cases
3 light summer blankets – I prefer blankets one size bigger than the bed so that they hang down over you and the bed.
3 heavy winter blankets – Ditto on size
3 quilts or comforters
3 coverlets or bedspreads
Pillows, bolsters, etc. for each person
12 bath towels – Ration them or wash more than once a week.
12 hand towels – Ditto
24 wash cloths – Double ditto
Just because you are Homesteading doesn’t mean you have to live like a barbarian. Table linen can be a bit extra work but if you manage it right, the job isn’t overwhelming. It’s a little detail, but a crisp white tablecloth makes the simplest meal a feast. And I have never understood paper napkins. One good cotton napkin per person per day is not a lot of linen. It’s why God invented napkin rings.
2 table covers – One of these goes on the table first and is nearly floor length.
8 table cloths – One per day. If you’re sloppy cover the spots with dishes, use place mats, or make lots of table toppers in your spare time.
36 napkins – Extras for guests and messes. Stick to the “one per” rule and you wont be washing all of them each week.
12 dish towels
12 dish cloths – Yes, I know, they disappear like socks. Good thing they are cheap to buy in quantity at the Dollar Store.
2 Fancy table cloths – For those special days. Grandma’s lace.
WASHING AND CLEANING EQUIPMENT
It was only a matter of time before this subject had to be discussed. Water is an absolute essential on the Homestead and the Hopewell’s are blessed with a dependable source of water from a little spring. No matter what your source of water, the following equipment will be necessary for moving it about and keeping the Homestead and your possessions clean and tidy. The only alternative is maid service and the Laundromat, until you can manage modern electrical equipment.
Wash Tubs – At least 2 large galvanized tubs for washing clothes and rinsing them out.
Wash Boiler or a Large Stockpot – For creating hot water and boiling dirty clothes before you scrub them.
Wash stand or bench – This is a low sturdy table or bench to hold the washtubs at a convenient height for the laundress. Even better is a set of galvanized washtubs on legs if you can find them.
Laundry Basket/bags or hampers
Clothesline/clothes pins and bag/clothes pole for propping up the line.
Hot water bag – The black rubber ones with a hose and spray nozzle are extremely handy. I suggest one for each member of the family and a few extra. On warm days fill them early and hang them up for evening showers. I still don’t have running hot water in the house, so I hang one over the kitchen sink and use it to rinse dishes.
Soap dish, scrub brush, bottle brush
Garbage pail with a lid
Garbage bags – Strong ones with ties.
Broom, push broom, dust pan, whisk and duster
String mop and roller bucket – Heavy duty kind that janitors use. Think of sailors swabbing a deck.
Writing box or slope and a locking metal deed box – This is the place to keep important papers, information, and the basic equipment for writing. In my writing slope, I always keep the following supplies:
Plain white paper – I use plain printer paper
Pens, pencils, markers, and a bottle of ink
Envelops – Standard letter sized, business sized, and some big manila envelops and folders
Penknife, pencil sharpener, and a rubber eraser
Box of paperclips, a sack of rubber bands, and spring clips
Blank composition books – Lined and unlined. I use one as a Household Diary and another as an Account Book where I keep a record of every penny spent on the Homestead.
Scotch tape, masking tape, and string
Roll of heavy brown paper – It won’t fit in the writing box, but you will find this handy in many ways: shelf lining, pattern making, wrapping parcels.
A Clock – Either an old fashioned key wind clock or a battery operated clock with extra batteries. If it chimes the hour, even better. It may seem extreme, but a nice clock can be your sole ornament in your little home. And it’s very comforting to hear that tick-tock-tick in the middle of the night.
A Sewing Machine – I’m a big advocate of the old treadle machines on a Homestead, as you don’t need power to sew. If you can’t find one, consider bringing at least a portable sewing machine. They can always be bought cheaply at yard sales or the local Goodwill or Salvation Army.
A Sewing Box – I know it sounds very old-fashioned, but you will be surprised how often you will need to make some small repair. Include the following items:
Assorted thread in basic colors, lots of black and white.
Book of needles – Assorted sizes, including an over-sized needle with a big eye for upholstery and rough sewing.
Straight pins – Old fashioned ones with big bead heads
Shears and pinking shears – Make sure you don’t use these scissors for anything but sewing.
Elastic, bias tape, ribbon, lace, and other notions
Buttons – All sizes
Hooks and eyes, skirt/pant hooks, snaps, and some Velcro
Embroidery hoop and assorted floss
Knitting needles and yarn – You can learn how on long winter nights.
Bolt of plain white or unbleached muslin, middle weight or plain cotton gingham – For curtains and other quick sewing needs. Plenty of clip on or sew on curtain rings and a couple of plain telescoping café rods. Please NO SHEETS at the window. Start off life with style.
Rugs – One for each bedside and one for under the table or in front of the hearth.
Medicine box and first aid kit – Make it a big one, easy to find and keep it well supplied at all times.
Books and Amusements
I wouldn’t presume to suggest specific reading material of any sort so I will keep this as generic as possible. Choose your own authors and titles, but the following types of books are I think essential to the Homestead bookshelf.
Home Medical Book/Herbal
Cookbook with sections on canning and preserving
How-to-build a House Book
Gardening book with plant identification
Bird/snake/wildlife identification handbook
Religious book of your choice (absolutely optional)
Standard book of verse and other light reading
Amusements are up to you. Yes I have a television, a radio and an old fashioned record player. I also like board games and play cards and unless you violently object to them, I urge you all to bring along any and all of the following. The Hopewells are going to make due with:
Radio – AM/FM. Absolutely necessary for emergency announcements, if nothing else.
Chess/checker board and playing pieces
Playing cards and dice
Musical instruments – I can’t think of anything finer than the sound of real hand made music coming from a Homestead on a summer night. Even the clinkers sound good, and as the psalmist says “even the little hills rejoice on every side.”
That would seem to about cover it. To some it may seem a scant list that suggests a life of toil and unceasing drudgery. To others it will be a list filled with fripperies and furbelows. I, for one, would be hard pressed to start Homesteading without most of the equipment I have discussed. No doubt, the Hopewells and my readers will discover things I have completely forgotten. By all means add them to the list.
“The wise man carries his possessions with him.”