July 7, 2010
There's a certain type of book that we really dislike. And we must be in the minority because we're constantly seeing examples of it on the new release shelf at the bookstore. It's those tedious books centered around someone's 'voyage of personal discovery.' They're all sort of the same: Some dude (or dudette) decides that their life is lame and lacking so they get involved in some new hobby/lifestyle/passion, etc, and 250 agonizing pages later, we find out that they're a better person because of it and, golly, look at all the quirky people they met along the way!
So anyway, a couple weeks ago Penguin Publishing sent us a copy of Mark Frauenfelder's book, Made by Hand. Frauenfelder is one of the founders of the mega-blog Boing Boing, as well as the Editor in Chief of Make Magazine (he also looks like he has a closet full of Weezer bootlegs). Anyway, once we got started on the book, we started to get that sinking, 'personal discovery' feeling, but we kept reading anyway...
In Made by Hand, Frauenfelder, recounts his journey over to the DIY side of life. Being an Editor of Make Magazine, it appears that he knew that the lifestyle was out there, he just hadn't fully embraced it. Frauenfelder uses the DIY idea in the macro sense, putting under its umbrella more than just house fix-it type stuff. He uses the term to include everything from food preparation to spoon making to chicken raising. With him it's more of a self-sufficiency thing than a 'I just fixed the squeaky hinge' thing.
Each chapter in the book is dedicated to one of his forays into this new found world of technology, carpentry, animal husbandry, food preparation, and just general homesteading, some successful and some not. Because he understands that failure is a pretty good teacher, he almost seems to relish in revealing his mistakes along the way, which gives the book a nice wide-open honesty.
Although the book is mostly an account of his actions and the people he meets, it does delve into ideas from time to time, but things never get all that deep, which is fine. The book stays nice, light, and humorous throughout, which is really its strongest point. The grand theory of the book, which is repeated about once a chapter, is that if you start making things by hand you'll gain satisfaction and knowledge and you'll have a finer appreciation of your surroundings. It's a simple idea, and one that's impossible to refute.
And the bottom line is that Made by Hand is a fun book to read. The style is engaging and the author doesn't really take himself all that seriously, which is good and places the reader right with him as he tries, tries, and tries again. It all makes for a 'voyage of personal discovery' that is not only tolerable, but enjoyable.
Subscribe to Make here or here (great magazine)
July 2, 2010
So what's a worm drive?
Continue reading: "DeWalt DWS535 Worm Drive Circular Saw - Review"
If you're in the dark on the whole worm drive thing, here's the deal: When compared to a direct drive circular saw (the kind you think of when you hear the words 'circular saw'), a worm drive has a more significant 'gearing down' of the motor, giving it higher torque, but at a less speed. The speed part, you don't really notice, but the power part, you do. Because of the design of the worm drive gear, the blade runs parallel to the motor, as opposed to perpendicular to it, accounting for the generally cylindrical shape of the tool.
June 30, 2010
There are a lot of ways to measure tool companies against one another; length of warranty, availability of parts, number of tools in their cordless lines, etc. But we think one of the more important ways is by the quality of pen that they give out at their annual press events. We recently acquired a DeWalt pen at such an event and put it head to head against our Bosch pen we got at an event in the summer of '09.
The Bosch pen has these three rubberized nubs at the tip, presumably for the thumb and first two fingers. While writing with the pen, our fingers didn't always land comfortably on the nubs making for grip that felt slightly 'off.'. In contrast, DeWalt has encircled the entire lower half of the pen with a rubberized area (save these little yellow hash marks) and has smartly placed a divot on the top side where the first finger lands.
Bosch opted for more of a modern shape, giving their pen tapered ends. The body of the pen is metallic blue with a silver nose and a silver central ring. The pocket clip transitions once again to silver with a graceful angle and curved return back over the pen body. It's a sharp looking pen, one that smells of elegance. The DeWalt pen has less of a rear taper (hardly any at all actually) and the yellow DeWalt color is a tad loud. In addition, the pocket clip sits on the pen in an unremarkable and quite pedestrian fashion.
To reveal the tip of the Bosch pen, you have to give the body a quarter twist. It's a silent operation and very smooth. The DeWalt is more old-fashioned with the rear click button. It's a loud click, but it's a solid, satisfying sound.
Advantage: Bosch (if you're sneaking up on someone)
DeWalt (if you're trying to alert someone that you're choking)
We traded off pens while completing pages 1390 to 1456 of our memoir and we discovered that the Bosch is a smoother ride. This is caused by the release of a consistent and very, very slightly excessive amount of ink. The downside of this is that we noticed some 'blobbing.' The DeWalt glide is a bit stiffer, but the ink lines, while a tad lighter, are more even. Both pens are black, which is good because blue ink would have led to immediate disqualification.
These are both fine pens, each with some good points and some not as good points. We are of the opinion that there's room in the world for both pens. The Bosch is the one that we would bring to the client meeting; it's sleek, professional looking, and the amount of ink dispensed lets us write faster and makes it easier to transcribe the wild demands of the client. The DeWalt, on the other hand, goes in the truck. It's what we fill out our construction log book with. It's bright yellow, so we won't lose it, and when we're stressed out because the stone stair treads were just delivered and they don't fit the metal pans, we can just sit and furiously click the pen while we figure out what to do.
Update: We just got word that Milwaukee is currently developing a 12-volt fountain pen for release in August of 2012.
June 29, 2010
A little while back, we cobbled together a glowing review of the new Bosch pocket driver, the PS21-2A. It's a little monster of a tool and we found it could basically replace our 14.4 drill and could even handle some things reserved for the 18-volt (although not on a day in and day out basis). Well, soon after releasing that little fella, Bosch hit the stands with the PS31-2A, which is basically the same tool, but with a 3/8" three-jawed chuck. They dropped one in the mail for us, and for the last month or so, we've used it extensively, both on the job site and in the shop.
And there's really not a whole lot to say other than that it has quickly achieved the spot of our primary drill/driver. Everything we liked about the PS21 is there but now we have the added functionality of the three-jawed chuck. Because of the chuck, the PS31 is a longer tool than its driver counterpart, but we'll take that extra bit of length any day in order to get the added versatility. Sure, we know that you can buy bits with the 1/4" hex end, but that's honestly a pain in the ass and we don't want to have to go out and get a special set of bits just for one tool. Not to mention, the three-jawed chuck lets us use countersinks, centering bits and all kinds of oddballs that we couldn't use with the PS21. To put it simply, this is a fully-functional drill.
Out of all the 12-volt drills and drill/drivers that we've seen and been able to really field test, this one is the best and it's all in the power. Sure the other features are there, the battery gauge (a very nice feature on li-ion tools), the LED, and the case with all the extra room for bits, but a drill needs to be powerful first and foremost, and this one certainly is. The PS31 had no problem passing the TimberLok test, sinking a 6" screw into a block o' PT. It was a strain on the tool, but not that much of a strain. In addition to this, the PS31-2A just performed well everyday. 1-5/8" screws, no problem, 3" screws, not a problem (but a whisker too slow for production work).
So if you're a handyman who does a lot of punch list work, or maybe someone who doesn't want to lug around a massive 18-volt drill all the time, or a homewoner who wants something small, reliable and powerful, it would be smart to seriously consider this tool.
As far as price goes, the PS31-2A is about $150, making it one of the more (if not the most) expensive 12-volt drill/driver on the market and putting it $20 above the PS21-2a. For the added ability and raw power, we think it's worth the investment.
$150 at Amazon.com
June 22, 2010
Paslode, a company that makes nail guns and only nail guns, has recently released a new Positive Placement Nailer (PPN). If you don't know what a PPN is, it looks like a miniature framing gun, but it has a way to pinpoint the location of the nail. On other brands, this is done with the tip of the nail sticking proud out of the nose, but Paslode does this with a little metal beak. So you just press the beak where you want the nail and pull the trigger. With this in mind PPNs are created specifically for nailing off metal straps, joist hangers, hurricane ties, and other pieces of perforated metal. Paslode was nice enough to send a sample of the new nailer our way, so we happily tested it out.
First, a bit about this gun. The most significant change that Paslode has made is to reduce the gun to a single nail size (1-1/2"). It's the most common size for metal hangers and meets most code requirements. Because there is only one nail size, Paslode could minimize the width of the nail magazine and thus make it longer without sacrificing any weight. The Paslode can accept two full strips of nails meaning less pauses in the workday.
The feel of this tool is great and it looks like it can really take a beating, which is good, because we've seen how professional framers treat their tools. And even with the extended magazine, the gun is compact enough so there's no problem jamming it into joist bays and other tight spots (it's pictured below next to the Paslode framer).
We tested it in the shop with a ledgerboard mock-up and we also took it to work for some day to day action and the tool really performed well. If you've never used a PPN before, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to use and how fast it makes things go. And we're happy to note that the Paslode is powerful enough so that if you feel the hanger is light on nail holes, you can just blast additional nails right through the hanger.
Obviously, this is not a tool for Jimmy, the neighborhood DIY guy who wants to build a deck. He'd be wasting his money. But if you're part of a construction company or if you're just getting started in the business and you're still in the 'I'll build a deck for anyone' phase, this tool will pay for itself in no time.
The PF150S goes for the somewhat large price of $369 and is available at your local Paslode dealer. You can call Paslode direct if you can't find one). It's a lot to pay, but it's a really nice tool.
June 15, 2010
With the field out by the apple tree starting to get a bit overgrown and with FOTS (Father of Tool Snob) informing us that we'd better get to doing something about it before it goes to seed (he's in the know on this sort of thing), we decided we'd fire up a string trimmer to deal with the tall grass.
The long, overgrown grass (complete with thick weeds) seemed to be a good match for the heavy duty 4-stroke LEHR string Trimmer (we have the Craftsman branded one, but it's the same tool). After about ten minutes of relentless starter-cord pulling, we had nothing. So we pulled some more, and then some more after that. This coming from a tool that touts: no winterization and an easy start-up every time. We began to see that unique shade of white rage that accompanies uncooperative lawn machinery. We tried the 2-stroke trimmer that we have and that one was no better. No starting, no nothing. We went back to the LEHR and got another ten minutes of anger.
We were actually in the process of putting the trimmer in the log splitter when we recalled that the house came with an old scythe tucked in the back of the shed. After a few satisfying kicks to the trimmer, we went and dug it up also locating our box of sharpening stones.
After a pass with the angle grinder and a fine tune with the stones, the scythe was pretty damn sharp (a slip with the sharpening stone almost took a finger off, giving us a nice way to test SallyeAnder's claim that their hand soap works on bloodstains). Never having used a scythe before, but having once gotten a lesson from FOTS, we headed out to the field.
A few things to note about the remainder of the morning...
1. The scythe worked great. It's nice rhythmic work that quickly puts you smack dab in your 'happy place.' With no annoying trimmer motor or uncomfortable earplugs, we were relaxed and somewhat hypnotized by the satisfying swishing noise made by the cutting. The neighbors were probably pleased as well to not hear the high-pitched, 10lb mosquito whining of the trimmer motor.
2. We lasted about an hour, but after that we were toast. It's exhausting work. It's sort of like using a post-hole digger in that it seems to rely on muscles that you didn't know you even had. Our technique was OK, but not that great. We're going to have to work on it next time.
3. And there will be a next time. The trimmer would have been much less effort with the only energy burned being done by moving the shaft around. But the scythe gave us the whole package; we not only got a workout, but were engaged with the process, tweaking a grip, shifting our weight, trying to figure out the best way to work the tool. Above everything, we simply enjoyed ourselves. With no motor, we were able to hear the birds and the wind and all those other little noises that you miss in the muted cone of semi-silence that earplugs provide. The scythe was also able to handle some weeds that the trimmers would have likely had some problems with.
Needless to say, there was no stopping to load another string on the trimmer, no re-gassing, and no engine troubles. The only engine was us (with a pathetically small gas tank, by the way).
4. We also got to thinking about the time when people would spend entire days, no weeks, doing this work. It was one of those, 'we're a nation of sissies' moment, and while we were gasping for air around minute 55, we were in awe of the men who cut hay by hand.
5. If you've got a similar situation going on and there's a part of your property that gets overgrown and you only want to hack it down once or twice a year, we recommend getting a scythe and giving it a go. At the very least, it will give you a deep appreciation of your rural grandfathers. And probably a sore muscle or two.
Here's one at Amazon.com (looks like you have to buy the handle and blade separately). We also some on ebay, but if you start trolling barn sales, you'll probably have a good chance of finding one.
And a video on proper technique:
June 14, 2010
Because there are now so many tool blogs out there, we've decided to shift focus away from tools and towards things like soaps and facial scrubs. The first foray into this territory is SallyeAnder's Hogwash! Soap.
Actually the truth is that we were contacted by SallyeAnder, who thought that their multi-purpose soap would be a good match for all of you, our readers. Being the tool-using types, you're also probably the greasy, grimy, muddy pants types. If you've ever heard, "don't even think that shirt is going in the laundry with my blouse' then we can relate. You probably have a bar of Lava sitting on your basement slop sink.
And that's sort of where Hogwash! fits in. It's basically an all-natural Lava. It's made with an olive oil and soy base and doesn't have any artificial dyes. It has some cornmeal in it which gives it that pumice vibe, good for scrubbing glue off your fingers. It comes in a 6 oz. bar which is basically a 1-1/2" by 2-1/2" by 3" cube.
So on to the whole, 'does it work?' part of the review. Since our samples arrived from SallyeAnder over a month ago, we've been using Hogwash! on a daily basis and its size has hardly diminished at all. In fact the only wear is that the crisp edges of the brick are a little rounded over. This bar of soap is going to be around for a long, long time whether we like it or not.
And thankfully, we like it. We might even name it. It works great on everyday filth and SallyeAnder also claims that it works on grass stains and blood stains. We ended up testing both of these conditions (you'll have to wait until tomorrow's post to find out where the blood came from), and the soap does indeed work. Our stained rag was nice and clean in no time.
If you're concerned with the 'naturalness' of the products that you buy, it appears that all of the soaps that SallyeAnder makes are edible. We cut a small chunk off of our Hogwash! and gave it a go. It tasted terrible and it took about two hours before our mouth returned to normal, but if you're stranded on an island, at least it's something.
We also wanted to mention that SallyeAnder also sells a soap (and lotion) called No-Bite-Me which is a bug repellent in addition to a soap. We tried out a sample of this and it works great. There are also shave soaps and other similar things available. They're neat products with some really great packaging and we're happy that they took the initiative to introduce themselves to us. It's nice knowing that funky little companies like this are out there.
June 11, 2010
These are the hardest reviews to write. When we're writing about some freaky new tool that we've never seen before like the JobMax or the JawHorse, we never have any shortage of things to say (which is why some of our reviews compete with Anna Karenina on overall length). But when it comes to a direct drive circular saw, we lose our word mojo. Because we're carpenters, we do the carpenter thing; grab the saw, give it a heft and a quick look-over, make a few cuts with it, and pass judgment.
So what is there to say about the new Porter-Cable 15-Amp Circular Saw? Since Porter-Cable sent it to us over a month ago, we've brought it to work for some framing (and some additional opinions), then we brought it back to the shop and built a gate with it, and in that time, we've also used it for all those little odds and ends that you end up using a circular saw for; a cut here, a cut there, some kindling for the fire pit and some dunnage for the woodpile. And, well, honestly, it works great and was liked by everyone who looked at it. Are there any insane, dynamic features that we've never seen before that are going to revolutionize the tool industry? Nope, not really. Are the features that it has successful and well thought through? Yep.
The stand outs for us are the 1-amp motor that's strong enough for everything we threw at it, the nice long cord (huge plus, in our eyes), the large, easy-to-grab bevel handles and the fact that it's 9.5 lbs (very light for a 15 amp saw, due, in part, to the cast magnesium shoe).
We tested its durability with a few drop tests and one 'hurl-it-across-the-garage' test, and other than a few little scuffs, it survived with no problems. We could see this saw taking job site abuse without any issues.
The bottom line is that it's a really nice saw and we would recommend it to any serious DIYer and any carpenter as well. It's priced at about $100, which is more than reasonable for a saw of this nature.
June 8, 2010
Snap-On, makers of the disorganized mound of tools that you see at your mechanic's garage, has just released a new work glove. The interesting thing here is that the palm side of the glove is covered with these little silicone nubs in order to provide increased gripping power. They were nice enough to send a pair our way so we could check them out.
To evaluate the gloves, we simply tossed them in the truck and used them at work over the course of a few weeks. We even let someone borrow one (and only one), which was returned with the statement, "sorry, got a little paint on it" (see photo below for what a 'little' paint looks like).
For the most part, we use Mechanix gloves, which we like for a lightweight, light-duty glove, but we're really not a fan of the aesthetic. Unfortunately, they decided to print the word, 'Mechanix' all over the gloves, giving them a strange and way too flashy look. It's actually a little embarrassing, wearing a pair when talking to a client. Anyway, the Snap-On are the same style, but minus the obnoxious bling. They're thin enough so you can pull a single nail out of a pouch and they tighten with the Velcro wrist strap. They're nice gloves. The silicone nubs are good too. They do add extra gripping power, but thankfully, they don't interfere with any other operations, like using a pencil or tying the boots or anything like that.
We're in favor of the Snap-Ons and after using them for a while, we're going to start getting them instead of the Mechanix. It's basically the same price so the extra gripping power and the lack of flair easily tip the scales.
$25 at Auto Zone and Pep Boys
May 27, 2010
No one is ever going to mistake us for lumberjacks, but we're also not going to pass for city-dwellers either. Because of the wood stove and all the trees on the property, we need a half-way decent chainsaw. We happen to have gotten this Poulan a few years back as a gift from our old boss and we've been using it ever since despite the fact that it's purple and green and has the words 'Wild Thing' printed on the bar (which, thank the heavens, has finally rubbed off).
But aesthetics aside, it starts when we want it to and it cuts when we need it to. We neglect it most of the year and don't pay too much attention to properly winterizing it. From time to time, we have to fiddle with the idle, but that's not a bother. The only thing that's functionally wrong with it is that the pull cord got all tangled up once and in the process of fixing it, we lost a few revolutions of tension, so it hangs a bit loose. No big deal. It still starts.
We don't think a whole lot about the saw (like we said, we sort of neglect it), but what spurred this review was last weekend's project of making a patio/planting bed border out of railroad ties (have you ever tried picking up a railroad tie? Oh man, are they heavy). The front of the patio has a curve in it to follow the driveway, so we had to make a number of relatively precise cuts with the saw. Like all the other times, the saw started right up and acted just like a chainsaw should. It handled the railroad ties without a problem and other than a fine creosote dust on everything and a chain the needs sharpening, all is good in the world.
Seriously, the only problem we have with the saw is the whole "Wild Thing" thing. Had this not been a gift, we would have never purchased it ourselves based on that alone. We think it's just kinda lame. Sort of like the tool equivalent to having neon lights on the under-carriage of your car.
The Wild Thing costs about $150 and as long as you can handle the look of the thing, it's a great choice for someone looking for a reliable homeowner saw without a big price tag.