Cabin Workshop Checklist


Cabin Workshop Checklist

Not sure what to put in your cabin workshop? Follow this checklist to ensure you have all the tools you need.

Written by Jim Kneiszel
Cabin Workshop Checklist
You just bought a cabin retreat and you’re starting with a clean slate in the workshop. Or you’ve finally decided that you must have a workshop at the cabin. It’s any putterer’s dream: a shopping spree to buy every tool for a second time!
Where to start?
A cabin workshop should include basic tools you’ll need most often for common household repairs – and those projects you’ll inevitably get caught up in. If this is your second home, you can plan to transport specialty tools from home for those big electrical or plumbing projects, for example.
Space also may be at a premium. You might need to confine the workshop to a corner of the basement, the back wall of the garage or a small shed. Compact size, tool portability and efficient storage are key to a well-stocked cabin workshop where most critical tools will be at the ready when you need them.
After 25 years of running back to the hardware store an average of 3.2 times per home improvement project, I offer up the following list of must-haves for the cabin workshop:

Hand tools.

Pay attention, you’ll hear this advice again later: More important than the variety of tools is the quality of the tools. Get the best hand tools you can afford. Poorly engineered tools can yield knuckle-crushing results. Besides injury, if a tool breaks, you might be an hour away from replacing it and starting work again. Among the basics are: screwdrivers (variety of sizes in slotted and Phillips heads), Crescent or adjustable wrenches, pliers, wire cutters, pipe wrenches, a pry bar, claw hammer, nail set, handsaw and a utility knife with extra blades. Also handy are a variety of clamps, tape measures, an angle, a level and a plumb bob. If you have doubles of any hand tool at home, take them to the cabin.

Portable power.

A small direct drive table saw – usually a 10-inch model (refers to the blade size) – is the backbone of the small cabin workshop. It’s one large-scale tabletop tool you’ll want to duplicate from your full workshop back home. The table saw is useful for virtually all cabin carpentry projects, including building the cabin itself. Get a portable model that can be carried to a worksite for convenience.

Go cordless.

The advent of affordable cordless tools has been a boon to the handyman, especially one with a lot of rustic territory to cover. Get a good portable kit with a carrying case for stowability, including a drill driver, circular saw, jigsaw and sander. And don’t forget the charger with at least two batteries for ready power. Buy powerful units with at least 18-volt batteries, enough to torque a long deck screw into place. One cordless kit will handle myriad jobs around the cabin, even on a dock over water, a place where you wouldn’t want to use a corded power tool.

An ounce of prevention.

You wouldn’t give safety the short shrift back home. Don’t do it at the cabin, either. Stock a first aid kit before you flip the switch on a power tool for the first time. Keep a cabinet chock full of all items necessary to prevent a trip to the emergency room: respirators, work gloves, eye and ear protection.

Painting and glazing.

Window and exterior woodwork repairs are among the most common do-it-yourself cabin maintenance chores. A five-gallon bucket will hold most of your supplies: various wood scrapers, weatherproof caulks, a caulking gun, steel wool, an assortment of sandpaper, a wire brush, stapler, glass-cutting tool, paint can opener and stir sticks, a bag of rags, paint brushes in various sizes and bristle types and paint pads. Keep a container of wood glue and paint thinner or turpentine nearby.

Yard tools.

Buy high quality to last longer and work more reliably. Another rule: Keep blades and edges sharp. So keep a file, wire wheel and bench grinder handy for proper maintenance. Landscaping needs vary, but the most common necessities include: a hand tree saw, pruning shears, loppers, ax, splitting maul (flat end doubles as sledge hammer), assorted shovels and spades, rakes (one for leaves, one for dirt), hand tools (look for soft grips for comfort) and a chain saw.


There’s no excuse to be caught short of a few nails or screws to button down a home repair project. You can cheat and get one of those assorted “can-o-screws” packages at a home center, or take a supply of fasteners from your stockpile at home. The must-haves for common cabin projects: galvanized deck screws and drywall screws (various sizes), nuts and bolts (from very small to longer lag bolts), galvanized nails (roof and common, various sizes), finishing nails and hooks and hangers. And don’t forget clamps.

Quick fixes.

Convenient quick-fix products are especially handy when you’re at the cabin and usually many miles from the nearest hardware store. Sure, everyone giggles when they talk about the many uses of duct tape, but it really is a lifesaver when you need to patch a problem for a day or two until you head into town for supplies.
Other items in the “Emergency Fix-It Kit” should include WD-40 lubricant to loosen rusty bolts or stop the screen door from squeaking; vise grips (large and small size) for a solid grip on stripped bolts or to clamp anything in place; spray primer to protect metal surfaces from rust; bar soap to rub on screws for easy driving through hardwoods; bungee cords, extension cords of various sizes and current capacities, baling twine, heavy-duty rope and an oil can. Also critical for any workshop are flashlights, especially a snake light that can be used in tight places.

Jim Kneiszel has to drive 16.4 miles to the hardware store nearest his cabin on Tippecanoe Lake. It takes 42 minutes round-trip. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, thanks to this list.