Demolition: The Tools
If there was ever a fun excuse to buy tools, a demolition job that requires tearing out something ugly, rotten and out of date has to be it. Here's a list of tools I show up with for tear-down.
Reciprocating saw. You can demolish without a reciprocating saw, but why? The blade's back-and-forth (reciprocating) motion makes it ideal for cutting wood, nail-embedded wood, shingles, even steel. Use the right blade.
Circular saw. While a circular saw is a core building tool, it's also adept at taking things apart. Use it to plunge-cut into flooring or dissect a deck. Mount it with a masonry blade and cut into a slab, patio or driveway.
Rotary/jack hammers. For concrete and masonry, rotary hammers (also called breaker, demolition or combination hammers) are key. These are something you'd rent and use to bust out an old stoop, sidewalk or concrete wall or to crack a basement slab. Smaller hammers are sometimes ideal for breaking tile free from a wood or masonry substrate. Inquire at the rental shop which type of hammer—and bits—are right for your project.
Cordless drill. It's easier to unscrew that old vanity cabinet and save the wall it's attached to than it is to crank it off with a breaker bar and bring half the wall with it.
Angle grinder. When there's metal to come out—say, rusted bolts or an old wire fence—think angle grinder. You can also use it to "sand" wood. If you've removed tile from a wood substrate and are left with a substrate that looks like the surface of the moon, use the grinder with wood-sanding wheels. Fill in the divots with floor-leveling compound and re-tile.
Air cleaner. You may have seen one of these in your buddy's woodshop or overhead at the local pub. A good air cleaner sucks in loads of airborne dust.
Bars. I do the vast majority of my demolition with a little Estwing flat bar. It's small enough to move with me and big enough to wreak havoc. I use it to pry up shingles and remove plaster and lath. It'll sneak in behind a cabinet and drywall and between framing. I can also use it to pry out trim.
For going more whole hog on something like deck boards or a garden structure, a crow (or breaker) bar is the way to go. When you want there to be nothing left at the end of the day, look here. For a breaker bar on steroids, check out what firefighters carry: the Halligan tool. You also might find a nail pick (a.k.a. nail puller, cat's paw) to be ideal for picking out stubborn nails. And don't forget a hammer.
Pliers, nippers and snips. Pliers (the kind electricians call side-cutters or dykes) are great for cutting electrical line (make sure the power is off!), and the flat jaws are great for levering out nails.
For nails that refuse to leave, use nail nippers to cut the shank. They're also handy for cutting tough wire such as metal fences.
Snips are the way to go if you're cutting out old HVAC duct or aluminum window trim.
Brains. It's hard to overstate that demolition can be a good time, but use your head.
The goal isn't to gut your house (unless your goal is gutting your house) but to prepare the work area. And the goal of good demolition is to leave yourself with as little repair — and as many fingers — as possible after that fact.
Mark Clement is a remodeler and author of The Carpenter's Notebook and The Kid's Carpenter's Workbook, Fun Family Projects!