Off-Grid Essentials: The Top 10 Hand Tools when the Power's Out
Three key saws to have on hand. Top to bottom: rip saw, crosscut saw and hacksaw.

Off-Grid Essentials: The Top 10 Hand Tools when the Power’s Out

We live in a world governed by power. Our daily lives are controlled by energy sources,  particularly electricity. We can’t go a day without being impacted by electricity. It powers our homes and all the devices we use every day. It makes our industry roll. Just think about how much we rely upon electricity. Now, think about what would happen if that energy source were gone. What would we do? How would we live our lives? Could we live our lives? People go crazy any time their supply of electricity is disrupted. Even in a short-term power outage, store shelves are stripped bare, including things that aren’t needed. Without electricity, there would be no industry, no manufacturing, transportation, communication, food or medical supplies as we know them today.

Here, in the Northeast, we often get severe ice storms that bring down trees and wires, knocking out power for days or even weeks at a time. Power will eventually come back on, we believe, but when that will happen is anyone’s guess. What would happen if we suffered from a large EMP (electro-magnetic pulse)? It could happen. The sun is just a big ball of nuclear energy, and it sends out EMPs all the time. Power could be lost indefinitely—and then, forget about the Internet, cell phones and GPS.

I know some of you are thinking, “I have a generator, so I don’t need to worry about this.” That is fine. I have a couple generators myself, but what happens when you run out of fuel? It will happen. What will you do then? Gas station pumps run on electricity. No electricity, no fuel; and it won’t take long for the tanks to be siphoned dry by manual means. People who live off the grid and rely upon solar and wind to power their limited electrical devices will have it a little better. But let’s face it: The majority of the world is not prepared to live an extended period without electricity. Even those who are off the grid need to purchase things from the outside world from time to time, and if there is no power, there are no goods to purchase. How would we get the things we need—or think we need?

The answer to that question is simply that we would need to fix things ourselves and make the items we need. Humans thrived long before there was electricity and the many things it powers. We can—and will—do it again.
What follows is a list of what I consider to be the top 10 hand tools we all should have on hand. When I say, “hand tools,” I’m talking about tools that are not powered by electricity.

Power is out, land lines are down. Cell phones are your only means of communicating with the outside. A SunJack unit will keep your phones charged.


Despite the doom and gloom, all is not lost. With a few simple hand tools, you can handle most maintenance and building projects. You can fix or make just about anything you need with the implements discussed here.

Ratchet and Socket Sets.

This is probably not what you were expecting, but these tools are worth their weight in gold. I carry a set (both standard and metric) in my truck, and I also have a set at home. There are so many uses for these tools that it is impossible to list them all. Even with no traditional power available, things will need to be kept in working order.

People living off grid or those who just have solar panels on their homes will need to make repairs. If you are lucky enough to have alternative sources of power, more than likely, you will reserve that power for things such as the well pump and refrigerator. Those items need to be kept working, and a ratchet and socket will make fixing them all that much easier.

Ratcheting socket wrench and a full selection of sockets should always be on hand.

Hand Saws.

You’re going to have to heat your home or camp, so you’ll need to cut wood. How about cutting lumber to make repairs on your home, an outbuilding or shelter? Many other repairs and scavenging tasks will require saws that cut materials other than wood. What about cutting metal or PVC pipe to fix your plumbing? There are many types of saws available and, while some are suitable for cutting a small variety of materials, you’ll need several different types. I keep many different hand saws on hand. There are hacksaws for cutting metal and plastic pipe, bow saws in several sizes for cutting firewood, and rip and crosscut saws for making lumber or cutting boards.

Jab saws are handy for cutting holes on the inside of sheet materials or boards, and coping saws let you make fine, precise straight or curved cuts.

Three key saws to have on hand. Top to bottom: rip saw, crosscut saw
and hacksaw.
The Gerber folding saw (bottom) can easily be carried in a pack, but the larger saw makes quicker work of limbs and small trees. Both are valuable around the house.


I can’t tell you how many people ask to borrow my hammers. Everyone should have a hammer on hand. Without a hammer, how are you going to repair things around the home? Remember: When things come to a screeching halt, you can’t call someone to come over and fix a leaking roof. You’ll have to do it yourself. Just as with saws, there are many different types of hammers. In my shed, you will find sledge hammers of various sizes, framing hammers and finish hammers. Each one has its job. You wouldn’t fix a roof shingle with a sledge hammer, just as you wouldn’t drive a wedge into a log with a framing hammer. Consider tools with fiberglass or steel handles for the greatest durability.

Every tool kit should have a good hammer.

Where to Find the Best Values

If you buy tools new, it can get very expensive. So, where do you get them? Places such as yard sales, estate sales and flea markets are great options, as are salvage yards. You’d be surprised what you can pick up for very little money.

When you find tools this way, make sure they are in good shape. Dirty and rusty is fine, because these can be removed with very little effort. What you should look for (and stay away from) are tools with broken handles or damage to parts not worth repairing.


An axe is an indispensable tool. Used to split wood, cut down a tree, de-bark a log for lumber or double as a hammer in a pinch, no home should be without at least one. I actually have two—a full-sized and a smaller one, sometimes referred to as a “camp” or “hand” axe. If I have to bug out quickly, the camp axe goes with me.

Adjustable Wrenches.

You can have a toolbox full of wrenches (I do), but nothing replaces a good adjustable wrench. They come in several sizes and are perfect for getting into places a ratchet and socket can’t manage. With the turn of a thumb screw, you have a single wrench that will fit many nuts and bolts in U.S. and metric sizes.

I carry a few in my truck and have some around the house. If I could have only one type of wrench, this would be the one—but make sure you have a couple of each size.

“With a few simple hand tools, you can handle most maintenance and building projects.”


Today, we rely heavily on screw guns to make our jobs easier, but these tools run on electricity. Even with no power, you will still need to deal with screws. It might take longer and require more effort to accomplish a task, but you should have a good set of screwdrivers, both slotted and Phillips, on hand.

Hand Drills.

I know it is hard to believe, but there was a time before the invention of power drills when people made holes in things. A hand drill was how it was done. Slowly, but efficiently, a hand drill will get the job done—as long as you have a decent set of drill bits. There are two types of hand drills: the “egg-beater” style, with a side crank, and the hand brace, which looks like a squared letter “C,” with the head or knob extending above and the chuck end extending below.


Shovels come in all sizes and shapes, each one having a specific purpose. A long-handled spade can be used for everything from digging a latrine, making a root cellar or turning soil for your garden (which, by the way, you’ll probably need, because food won’t be able to be shipped in). If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, you’ll need a flat snow shovel to keep the snow from building up on your roof.

Shovels of all types are good to have on hand, but the key version is the spade. Its pointed blade is ideal for digging in most types of soil, and it can cut through roots or construction debris.


A couple of car jacks are always handy to own. Besides lifting your vehicle, jacks can be used to lift buildings, move heavy logs (fallen trees, etc.) and other heavy items. My favorites are the old scissor jacks that came with  older Fords, although I also have a floor jack. Check your local auto salvage yard for some of these old jacks, and be sure to keep the workings lubed.


Nobody is going to show up to remove a stump or pry something open for you. You need to be prepared to do it yourself. Whether it is removing embedded rocks while digging your latrine, scavenging a building for scrap or gaining leverage on something heavy, a crow bar is the tool for the job. These tools can be pretty hard to find, because a lot of people don’t use them. Check yard sales or estate sales—both are great for picking up all sorts of items. These are the 10 tools to always have on hand. However, add others as you see fit for your circumstances. Remember that when something drastic happens, you will be on your own. With these 10 tools, you should be able to handle almost anything. It would be wise to collect them now so you’ll be prepared when something happens. And if you find some great deals, it is the perfect way to replace broken tools or to use for bartering purposes.

“… the majority of the world is not prepared to live an extended period without electricity.”


If you have tools and other items that use rechargeable batteries, but the power is out, there are many  portable solar panels on the market today that will do the trick. I have two that I have used many times during power outages or while in the field.

A SunJack solar charger is shown topping off a Rubicon headlamp and a flashlight.

One unit is the Powersync Solarwrap Mini-Max, sold by Bushnell; the other is made by SunJack. Both hook directly to your device via USB ports. They both have internal batteries that charge themselves while you are working (as long as you have enough sunlight). At the end of the day, all you need to do is plug your device in and charge it from the energy stored in the battery.

“Humans thrived long before there was electricity and the many things it powers. We can — and will — do it again.”

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.

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