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My Favorite Tool

February 11, 2013

What is my favorite tool?  I get asked that a lot, and if I think about it, my pocketknife comes to mind, then my Felcos, my fence hammer, then my hoe.  But if I really think about something I use everyday in many forms, jars come to mind.  Mostly canning jars in all shapes and sizes.  I use them for canning, of course, but I use them for freezing foods too.  Butter, colostrum, lard, pesto, peas, corn, seeds, herbs and spices all find their way into jars for the freezer.  Canning jars are useful too for dry storage, I can see in them, I always have lids that fit, and the jars are sturdy.  It’s also helpful to me to know what quantities of what I have.  A quick look in the pantry will tell me if I have two pints of calendula infused oil, or one.  It makes it easy to know how many jars of what size I need when I make that infused oil into salve.  My life is filled with equations of 1/2 cup to a gallon recipes.

Monday's jar array

Monday’s jar array

Besides every size and shape of canning jar in my stash, I have jars for the home dairy part of the kitchen.  Wide mouth gallon and half-gallon jars, in addition to wide mouth half-gallon canning jars.  I like the half gallon canning jars for our whole milk we drink, and prefer the wide mouth gallons for milk that gets set aside for skimming.

I miss the days when you could buy goods in a canning jar or some type of useful container.  Now everything is designed for single use to keep you coming back for more.  Sigh.

What’s your favorite durable tool that you use everyday or quite often?

39 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2013 6:33 pm

    I do have a special place in my heart for my Korean Hoe, or ho-mi. Mine is more like a bent trowel, with blade at right angles to the handle, like a small pickaxe. It opens exactly the right hole for dumping a seedling from a three-inch pot into the ground. You can easily make one by taking a fairly stout trowel with a steel shank, binding the blade in a bench vise, covering the handle with a length of pipe and bending it. Saves a lot of wrist strain in use.

    • February 11, 2013 7:03 pm

      Risa, that sounds perfect! My wrists are getting old! Milking has certainly limbered them up after two years off, but still they need some TLC, your hoe sounds perfect.

    • February 19, 2013 8:52 am

      Me too! Though I found the long-handled version disappointing. Maybe I need to learn better how to hold it. I got mine at lee valley. They always have a free shipping week at the start of a new season, I have a wish list for March.

  2. Nick permalink
    February 11, 2013 7:01 pm

    What’s that white stuff – Milk?

    • February 11, 2013 7:04 pm

      Nick, that’s a gallon of cultured cream which will yield two pounds of butter, and almost about 3/4’s of a gallon of buttermilk.

  3. February 11, 2013 7:45 pm

    I’m a big fan of canning jars myself, although I’m lately come to an appreciation. Also I think a wire whisk. It works for cooking or for making soap.

  4. February 11, 2013 8:52 pm

    The top of my list would be jars and then maybe my garden hoe.

  5. A.A. permalink
    February 11, 2013 9:41 pm

    It’s not exactly my favorite tool yet, but because I’m a male I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention it as you’ll see: I’ve been clearing out a neighbor’s barns for old straw for bedding, and the last time I went to pick up some, he gave me a blade on an “extended loan” as he’d once got it, to cut up round bales to make them easier to feed. I was suspicious at first if it would handy, but it cuts a bale in half very neatly. It’s rusted reddish brown, the blade’s a sort of a half circle and a bit more than a foot wide, and the whole thing’s about a meter tall. It’s made out of an old plow’s blade with a handle put on it. Surprisingly the blade seems to stay sharp. If I had the rest of the trappings, I’d be all ready to go on a steampunk adventure to slay monsters, lol 🙂

    The tool I use maybe the most right now is a log hook, whatever it’s called in English. The kind you stick at the end of a log to lift it up. It’s very handy for a lot of uses, like to use it on one hand to pick up baleage, to chip ice off a door frame so the door’ll close, to pull yourself up here and there, to scratch your head, that sort of thing. I “need” it often enough to keep carrying it a lot of the time, so I’m Captain Hook at the moment. When summer comes, I’ll be Captain Insulated Pliers once again. It’s hard to imagine all the problems that can be solved by prying or banging or cutting with a pair of pliers, unless you’re always carrying a pair.

    What I really love though, is my millet husk pillow. But it’s not really a tool.

    • February 12, 2013 12:56 am

      I would love to see a picture of that bale-cutting tool! It sounds very useful.

      • A.A. permalink
        February 12, 2013 7:46 am

        There you go:

        It’s really just a homemade battle axe. I would’ve never thought it made feeding a bale easier splitting it sideways with this than going around taking one layer off at a time. I’m not sure about the kink in the handle. A straight handle attached at a slight angle would probably be better. At least it’s long enough that I don’t think I’ll reach my toes 🙂

        • February 12, 2013 8:40 am

          Don’t go getting all Braveheart on us now 😉 Maybe that is what Chris (Head Farm Steward) is using to chop his ice with!

        • A.A. permalink
          February 12, 2013 9:32 am

          In a kilt, in this weather? Hardly! 😉 No, really, it’s been a very mild winter, I just don’t have a kilt yet. I might try to use it in the kitchen though, as I have a chopping board to size…

          I’ve used a foot long hatchet also to take apart frozen bales, and I still use it to slice open the plastic. You really need to be careful of your thighs and knees when hitting anything with the short ones, and with a bale do the part of the side that would otherwise be closest to you from the other side so the bale’s always between you and the hatchet.

        • February 17, 2013 11:47 am

          Wow, that is quite the medieval-looking bale-cutter! I use a brush hook (for cutting brush, not bales) at times, which has a similar “feel” to it (plus a strong element of “watch your legs!”), but that borrowed monster beats the brush hook right into the ground. Yikes!

  6. February 12, 2013 3:38 am

    I use a lot of tools and have an appreciation for them all, but having heard your pick of the canning jar, I have to agree. I use them fin just about every area of the homestead for one thing or another. Had never thought of them as a tool, but if we decide to call them a tool, they are most useful..

  7. Kristin permalink
    February 12, 2013 6:03 am

    Can I rant about how I do NOT like those 1/2 gallon & 1 gallon jars you use? I find they leak. A friend brought me milk for cheese making this week and while warming them in the sink (in water less than 120 degrees), one of them spontaneously cracked. You just look at them and they break. And forget pouring milk out of them! Give me a 1/2 gallon canning jar any day!

    • February 12, 2013 6:35 am

      Kristin, that’s weird…do you suppose because mine are old that they are better made? I just read a thread about a recent spate of the half gallon canning jars breaking all over the country – new jars – never banged around or treated rough. Speculation was that Ball is manufacturing out of the states…I have no idea.

      My gallon jars are all old pickle jars, and the half gallon ones were jerky jars – I have never purchased any of the ones from the link so maybe they aren’t good quality anymore?

      I do use the half gallon canning jars for our drinking milk, but I would never skim all that cream out of them, that would drive me crazy and it’s not a far trip I’ll tell you 😉

  8. February 12, 2013 6:04 am

    We also use our gallon and half gallon jars daily and I can’t imagine doing without them but I must say that my bread pans are up at the top of that list of frequently used tools!

  9. February 12, 2013 6:28 am

    My hatchet. I split wood in the morning, chop holes in the ice, used it to set my maple spiles, cut low, small limbs from trees…I carry it with me just about everywhere. I have even used it to scrape a hide.

  10. February 12, 2013 7:51 am

    I love canning jars, too. Don’t let the Jar Nazi know you’re using canning jars for dry goods storage! Probably not okay to store milk in them, either. 🙂

  11. Emilia Mejia permalink
    February 12, 2013 8:40 am

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  12. Lorna permalink
    February 12, 2013 10:52 am

    The best gift my mother gave me when we left MN for MA was her collection of canning jars–dozens and dozens of them! I worried about them the whole way here 🙂

    I get so angry at manufacturers for using useless packaging! I reuse glass containers as best I can for as long as I can, but they just aren’t practical the way things were when my mother was homesteading. Even worse–much of the glass that gets ‘recycled’ is never actually recycled. I took my students on a tour of the recycling facility in my former hometown; they took all the glass and crushed it to lay down on the landfill roads; they said it was easier for the big machines to drive on the crushed glass than the dirt (which would be too slick after a rain). So, the glass ended up in the landfill after all. I’m sure this is not true of every place, but it’s worth looking into.

    As for favorite tools, I’d have to say my pocketknife.

    • February 12, 2013 12:29 pm

      Lorna, I have to agree I am lost when I don’t have my knife, like when I’m in town clothes and then you need a knife! But I would be terribly lost without my gazillions of jars. I just traded a neighbor some of my precious squatty pints for her Dad’s WM pint and half jars.

      Not nice about the recycling:(

      • Lorna permalink
        February 13, 2013 5:59 am

        I love my jars too! And so does my husband. . . I have to sneak them back after he’s commandeered them! I do let him use the old applesauce jars for drinking his ice tea (they work a bit better than the vase he was using before).

  13. February 12, 2013 6:32 pm

    I believe that using the glass on the roads might be a very good idea, as it would replace gravel which might be hard to come by .

  14. February 13, 2013 3:29 am

    I use a lot of canning jars, and the old gallon jars. The smaller ones, like in your photo, are very hard to come by. I found 2 last summer at a tag sale. That’s where I’ve found most of my gallon jars, tag sales and especially estate sales. All my food storage in the pantry is in the gallon jars. I lived in Florida just long enough to appreciate being bug free.

    Another jar I use a lot of is the old glass peanut butter jars. Some have the even older metal lids, but most are the plastic ones. They are at least a qt in size and some are larger. These are pantry use only.

  15. Diana permalink
    February 13, 2013 11:00 am

    While on sabbatical in NZ, I did a lot of small batches of jams and chutneys. I used what every on in NZ seems to use– old jelly, pickle, spaghetti sauce jars and they worked great! I wouldn’t use them to can beans or tomatoes but for these high sugar and salt items they’re fine. I made green tomato chutney this summer and canned it in sterilized salsa jars. They actually all vacuum sealed too!

    As to tools I value, I’m not sure they’re considered a tool but clothes pins come to mind since here in Colorado I hang our clothes out year round! I also have a child’s garden rake that’s useful for raking all those annoying crab apples from between perennials on the median strip.

  16. February 14, 2013 12:44 am

    I never thought of calling jars tools either but I see what you mean. I have started using them much more now to can produce. The great advantage here in Latvia is that many things are sold in jars and replacement lids are very easy to come by. Most people keep jars and if you ask around there is no need to buy any, someone usually has too many anyway.

    I like my long handled dutch hoe in the garden, I don’t get on well with other types of hoes. Think I might invest in a kneeler this year for gardening and that way I will save a few aches and strains in the weeding department when there is no alternative but to get in there and pull by hand.

  17. February 14, 2013 7:25 am

    My husband says his favorite tool has to be his DeWalt drill. At 49 he already has severe arthritis in his hands and it’s difficult to use a screw driver or a hammer for long. Most things we build use screws now.

  18. Theresa Katuski permalink
    February 15, 2013 12:40 am

    Love your blog; Great Job!
    In the kitchen where I spend more time than I’d like I have discovered that a large $1 nail brush is a tool I use repeatedly all day. I use it to scrub veggies because it has great stiff bristles, and then it also scrubs my sinks and fry pans etc. and then it goes into the dish washer with everything else.

  19. February 16, 2013 2:57 pm

    the pocket knife is king but second is the 5 gallon bucket.. after that the lightweight ‘pick’ fork for building the compost pile every day with the 2nd hand hay from he horses… I tend to break one a year for various reasons and my hubs just got me a new one.. umm I love me a new fork… — I posted a question a while back on size of deep bedding cow she d and can’t seem to find it to see if you by chance had an answer for me… sorry to bug you again… you can also e-mail me at clare at .. thank you in advance i know how precious time is so please know shared info come with much gratitude!!! cheers – c

    • February 17, 2013 12:18 pm

      Clare, it’s buried back there somewhere. Here is what I said:
      Hey Clare, our shed is 20′ x 40′. I have had as many as 23 (cows, calves and long yearlings) which was too crowded for my taste, and as low as 16 which was much better. This year 19 head is filling it out okay. In your planning include room for carbon storage, it’s nice to have it handy.

      Hope that helps, let me know if you have anymore questions.


  20. February 17, 2013 9:36 pm

    I’ve enjoyed checking in on your blog periodically. We’re small scale CSA farmers (22 families), and we’ve never eaten better! I’m with you on glass jars being one of my favorite tools. I use them like you do–for dried, frozen, canned goods. I have gallon pickle jars for freshly ground cornmeal and flour and use an assortment of pints and quarts to hold left-overs in the fridge. I’m trying to rid my house of plastic. I’m a far ways from it, but every canning jar helps! If you freeze berries, what do you store them in? I’m still using plastic bags because they hold so much more, but cringing…
    Thanks for a great blog.

    • February 18, 2013 5:51 am

      Lisa, cringing here too, I am still using bags for my berries, prunes and peppers 😦 Bags do take up less space, and are pretty convenient. Baby steps right? 😀

  21. Nick permalink
    February 18, 2013 6:39 pm

    What kind of counter is that the jars are sitting on?

  22. February 19, 2013 10:03 am

    Oh man, I’m a total fan of the glass mason jar. To the point that I wonder what the ettiquette is of sharing some of your homemade goodies in a jar with a friend and mentioning that you wouldn’t mind getting the jar back.


  1. Links: Whipped Feta, Useful Tools, and Sponge Custards - Food in Jars | Food in Jars
  2. Links: Whipped Feta, Useful Tools, and Sponge Custards - Food in Jars

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