The time will come when every DIY person will have to reach for the wrecking tools. There’s nothing more therapeutic than taking a bolster and lump hammer to a wall that needs to come down!
When and Where to Use Wrecking Tools
But this article isn’t going to tell you how to find out if it’s safe to take a wall down or not. That’s for you to find out, using expert help rather than DIY guesswork, by the way. No, we’re assuming you’ve got past that point and you need to use the right tools to safely deconstruct someone else’s construction.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a wall. You can use wrecking tools for removing old woodwork and plaster that needs replacing, perhaps some period trimmings like picture rails or dado rails, or even pulling down a decrepit shed in the garden. Whatever the job it’s important to understand what wrecking tools are available and what each one does, because using them incorrectly can be very dangerous.
Wrecking Bars and Crowbars
There are numerous different types of wrecking bar and different words used to describe them, the most common being ‘crowbar’. They are all long, robust levers with either forked (‘claw’) ends or splayed ends and often curved into a ‘U’ shape at one end. The curve is to allow them to be used as levers but also often has a heel on it that can be hit with a hammer.
A bar with one forked end and one splayed end is called a wrecking bar and also a nailbar because its primary use is to remove nails. The splayed end can be inserted between two pieces of wood or other material that are nailed together and once the head of the nail is visible it can be attacked with the claw end of the nailbar and levered out. There are wrecking bars with just one claw end and a handle at the other end which are usually called prybars.
If you are using a wrecking bar like this to remove wooden trim then work very carefully. Go along the edges with a sharp knife first, cutting any paint or wallpaper at the join. Then ease a small tool like a pint scraper in and work along the edge before repeating the process with the crowbar or nailbar.
Using a Bolster or Cold Chisel
To attack plasterwork, brickwork and masonry you need cold chisels and bolsters. A cold chisel is a hardened or tempered steel chisel which is strong enough to be hit with a club hammer. There are various widths and lengths. A bolster is essentially the same but very wide, up to six inches.
The cold chisel is used to split bricks, chiselling out mortar, while a bolster, with its wider blade and therefore more even distribution of force, is for chipping plaster off. The wide bolster allows more accurate lines for jobs like running channels in plaster for cabling or plumbing, or cutting back bad plaster until you reach the good stuff. Some bolsters are chunkier and can be used for splitting bricks and blocks.
With both bolsters and cold chisels there are versions available with large moulded umbrella-shaped guards. As long as you grip the shaft of the chisel or bolster below the guard it will protect you if you misfit the end with a club hammer. It’s well worth paying the little extra for the protection.
And that’s the key point, staying safe. Everyone doing work like this must wear gloves and eye protection, not juts DIY novices. Practice using these tools before you start. Although we’ve talked about wrecking it’s important not to be too gung-ho. You need to feel what you are doing and only experience will tell you when to apply force safely.