Building tools buying guide

Building tools buying guide

Dennis, self-taught DIYer, Bristol

Guide written by:

Dennis, self-taught DIYer, Bristol

18 guides

If you want to build with brick, concrete or stone, you'll need the right tools! There's a huge range of tools and equipment on the market including trowels, chalk lines, chisels, hammers, squares and wheelbarrows. From spirit levels to mixing buckets, read on to find the most important building tools for your project.

Important features

  • Chalk
  • Level
  • Trowel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Square
  • Hammer
  • Cement mixer
  • Clamp
  • Straight edge
  • Plasterers bath
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When performing any kind of masonry work, it is essential to keep checking that everything is lining up with your plans. Of course, this means measuring lengths and angles to ensure that everything is square, plumb, and level. Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help you out!

Tape measure

There are a lot of measuring devices out there including folding rules, retractable tape measures and laser tape measures. However, a 3-metre tape measure will suffice for most tasks.

A high-quality tape measure will have a robust case and solid tape. Need more length? Go for an extra-long tape measure!

Straight edge

Straight edges can be used to line up different elements, check that edges are straight or to level material while pouring concrete slabs.

Aluminium models are lightweight and easy to handle. These tools generally measure about 2 cm in thickness, 10 cm in width, and 1 to 5 m in length.

Square

Squares are metal tools that can be as long as 1 metre on each side. Fixed at a 90° angle, these tools are used to ensure that all of your corners and angles are square.

Spirit level and/or plumb line

Spirit levels and plumb lines are used to check that things are level and plumb, respectively. When laying bricks, it can be really useful to have a spirit level measuring at least 1 metre in length.

A plumb line features a weight (called a plumb bob) that is suspended from a string. These tools are used to measure how plumb (or vertically aligned) a surface is. However, a spirit level can be used in place of a plumb line for most applications.

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Spirit levels

Taking accurate measurements is great, but you'll also have to be to record them! Here are a few tools that can be used to mark out your measurements.

Builder's line

A builder's line allows you to visualise a straight line or level surface. It's a simple tool that consists of a string stretched between two points and can be used for tasks such as lining up the posts of a fence, the edges of a wall or the boundaries of a pathway.

A chalk line works just like a builder's line but is also equipped with chalk which transfers a visible line onto the surface when the line is snapped against it.

Builder's chalk

This coloured chalk is used to replace the chalk in a chalk line. It is usually blue or red in colour, and should be stored away from any sources of moisture.

Line marking sprays

Lining marking sprays are weather-resistant and especially handy for marking out foundations.

These sprays come in a range of colours including fluorescent shades for extra visibility.

Markers, chalks and pencils

Markers, chalk, and pencils come in a range of sizes and tips which vary in terms of applications and accuracy. Markers and pencils work well for materials such as wood and plasterboard, but chalk is preferable on coarse surfaces such as concrete, brickwork, and stone.

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Markers, chalk, and pencils

Bricklaying and plastering tools are some of the most important equipment in building work.

Trowels

Trowels come in a number of different shapes (round, square, pointed, trapezoid, etc.) and sizes. They are used to apply, spread or smooth out a variety of mortars and plasters.

They can also be used to fill in holes or to mix small amounts of cement. Their handles can be made of wood or composite materials, the latter of which provides more ergonomic designs.

Finishing trowel

This type of trowel, also known as a float trowel, consists of a flat surface with a handle on one side. It can be used as a tray for carrying mortar or plaster up to a height or to smooth, level or texture a top coat.

Builder's clamp

Clamps can be used for a wide variety of tasks, such as holding formwork or guide rails together while your concrete, mortar or plaster dries. Adjustable clamps can usually be tightened and loosened by hand. Choose a clamp made entirely of metal for masonry work.

Dutch pin

Dutch pins are kind of like large nails that are used to temporarily hold things like straight edges, rules and profiles, and can stand in for a clamp.

Plasterer's bath

Plasterer's baths are containers used to mix mortar or plaster. Usually made of plastic, these mixing baths come in different sizes depending on the scale of your project.

Plastic models are cheap but tend to break easily, while sturdier rubber models are more resilient yet flexible.

Bucket

Like mixing baths, buckets can be made of plastic or rubber and are usually used to mix smaller amounts of mortar or plaster.

Wheelbarrow

Wheelbarrows are essential for transporting large amounts of materials (sand, gravel, cinder blocks, etc.), tools, and different bonding materials (concrete, mortar, plaster, etc.).

Models vary but generally have a volume of 90 to 100 litres, and are able to carry about 200 kg. The material of the wheelbarrow may also differ; opt for galvanised steel for a long-lasting purchase.

Cement mixer

Cement mixers can be manual, electric, or petrol-powered and are used to mix materials such as concrete, mortar or plaster in large volumes.

The capacity of the drum will vary, as will the number of mixing paddles.

Builder's sieve

A builder's sieve is made up of a round wooden frame that holds mesh of various sizes in place.

Its role is to filter aggregates.

Tyrolean gun

A tyrolean gun is used to spray plaster or render onto a surface.

These machines feature a metal body and a handle that's used to control the spray gun.

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Rendering machine

Demolishing or digging up stone or brickwork requires specific tools.

Mason's chisel

A mason's chisel can be used to square the edges of gaps, cut bricks or shape stone.

These tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes for a wide range of tasks. The striking end is often rounded to protect your hand.

Brick hammer

The mason’s hammer features a chisel blade opposite the striking surface for chipping off small amounts of stone or brick.

The handle can be made of wood, composite materials, or metal.

Stoning hammer

A stoning hammer is handled like an ordinary hammer but has a head mass of about 1 to 2 kg.

Crowbar

Crowbars can measure up to 2 m and can feature flat or pointed ends. They are useful for demolition work or providing leverage.

The 'power version' of a chisel is a hammer drill or, for large-scale demolition, a jackhammer!

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Crowbars

Of course, you will need also need to get your hands on a range of more general use tools, such as a shovel.

It goes without saying that your tools should all be thoroughly rinsed after each use to keep them in top working condition. And remember: big things are built one brick at a time!

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Shovel

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Guide written by:

Dennis, self-taught DIYer, Bristol, 18 guides

Dennis, self-taught DIYer, Bristol

I started doing DIY 10 years or so ago, when I bought a house that needed to be renovated. After having installed loft isolation, and having refurbished the bathroom, the toilets, the kitchen, the bedrooms… I built an extension, installed a new fence with a gate and kitted out the house with a solar panel to make hot water. I have poured tens of tonnes of concrete into slabs or into the foundations and renovated the roof… I can say that building materials and tools are no stranger to me! If I had a pound for every hour spent looking up information in forums and DIY magazines to find solutions to my problems, I'd be a millionaire! So passing on my knowledge on tools and home equipment is natural, as it is just giving back what I borrowed.