February 1, 2010
If you look in any carpenter's tool bag, there's likely to be something in there made by Channellock. The reason for this popularity is that most people are in the know that the company is one of the premier manufacturers of gripping, grabbing, and holding hand tools. We have a few of their tools kicking around; one in the tool bag, two or three in the shop, and (we think) one under the passenger seat of the truck. They're reliable and durable and that's really all we ask for out of a hand tool. So when Channellock sent us their new 6.5" V-Jaw pliers, we figured there was a good chance that we were going to like them. And, not surprisingly, we did.
What Channellock has done is miniaturized their popular V-Jaw pliers to make it easier to handle smaller round stock; things like 1/2" copper and small diameter PVC. That's all fine and it does work nicely for those uses (it's a perfect fit for 1/2" stock actually), but coming from a carpenter's perspective, and not a plumber's, we also found other good uses for it. In the past couple weeks, the 6.5" pliers helped us pull nails, fish a hard-to-get wire from a wall, and handle a sharp metal edge on a chimney liner. It wasn't long before we moved its status up to one of the coveted exterior pockets on our tool bag.
In our opinion, everyone needs at least one pair of pliers (and honestly, three or four extras don't hurt). For your first set, get the regular, big old kind that everybody has, but if you find yourself having a hard time with smaller materials or you just want some variety in your tool chest, the 6.5" Channellocks should be at the top of your list.
They're also made in America (Meadeville, PA) which is nice.
The little pliers cost around $13, a fine price for a high quality hand tool like this.
January 25, 2010
If you read the site with any regularity, you know that our 1915 farmhouse has some insulation issues. And when we say 'insulation issues,' what we really mean is that large portions of it simply aren't insulated at all. Over the past few months we've been trying to tighten things up, but our efforts have been a bit random and unfocused. Thankfully, though, Taunton recently sent us a copy of Insulate and Weatherize which we immediately read cover to cover. The bad news is that our situation is way worse than we thought, but the good news is that we now have an informed and comprehensive plan of attack.
It's tough to characterize what's in this book, but it goes way beyond insulating and weatherizing. The best way we can explain it is that it's a complete guide to efficiently conditioning the air and water within the four walls of your house. The book takes you through all of the major areas of your house (attic, basement, living space) as well as all of the major systems (water, heating, cooling) and describes every possible way that heat can be lost as well as how to contain that heat. The whole time it's a great split between hands-on tutorials and big-picture thinking. If you want to know the best way to insulate the ceiling of your basement, it's in there, but if you're just looking to understand how heat transfers from one material to another, it's also in there.
So when you read the title of this book, don't think that it's all 'R-values' and 'rigid vs fiberglass.' It's not. It's much, much more and anyone looking for a deeper knowledge of the way that their house works would be well served to read it.
And if you're one of those people, like us, who loves leaky, drafty old houses, this book will become an essential part of your library.
January 11, 2010
We have mixed feelings when it comes to jobsite radios. On one hand we like having a little background music while we work, but on the other hand, we can't stomach the musical tastes of most other people. Really, how many times can the human mind listen to 'Slow Ride' before there's some mental damage (and don't get us started on sports radio or 'wacky morning DJs')? So we always get a little nervous when we see a sub contractor getting out of their truck with some massive, John-Cusack-from-Say-Anything, boom box.
But like we said, we're not opposed to music at work, so when Milwaukee sent us one of their 12-volt radios to test out, we were predisposed to like it. And as it turns out, we did like it, but there are some caveats. We were into the fact that it's very small and stripped down (no cd player, no race scanner, not even a battery charger). All it is is a radio (with 10 presets), a weatherproof compartment for an MP3 player, and a clock. That's it. Basic and small. Minimal bling.
Oddly enough, we had just won an iPod Touch at the company xmas party, so we thought we'd give it a whirl in the Milwaukee. Strapping the mp3 player into the compartment turned out to be a little tricky. In order to prohibit the iPod from moving once it's in, there's a little elastic strap that holds it in place. Because the elastic is so tight, wedging the iPod in is quite difficult and the compartment leaves minimal room to access the power button on the top left of the iPod. Also, the elastic runs across the center of the screen, so using the Touch was also a bit of a pain. Our general thoughts on these drawbacks are that once the iPod is in, it's in. You're not going to be taking it in and out all day long, so we would rather have the iPod well protected and have the twice a day hassle of the tight elastic. We just have to get used to the idea of playlists and shuffle.
So once the iPod was in, we got some tunes going and discovered that the sound is pretty good. Not mindblowing, but really solid. Definitely good enough for a job site, in fact, better than is really needed for a job site. But if you're the type who can talk at length about the subtle production values of Johnny Cash's American Recordings, you're not going to be satisfied.
As we mentioned before, the M12 radio does not having charging capabilities, which is a standard feature on larger radios. It can run off a 12-volt battery or off the AC adapter, but sadly, it will not charge your battery when it's plugged into the wall. This is unfortunate, but our guess is that the miniature size of the radio would be sacrificed were this the case. We've had the radio on site for about a week and so far we've gotten an average of about 7 hours of iPod time per full 12-volt battery. Since we're down with the Milwaukee 12-volt system, we always have at least one battery kicking around so it works out for us.
The radio is also durable. We dropped a few 2x4s on it by accident (they hit hard enough to eject the battery from the back of the radio), and the radio didn't even take on a mark.
We also tested out the weatherproofing of the compartment door by bringing the radio to the sink and giving it a good hose down with the hand sprayer. After a nice drenching, we opened the door and the iPod area was bone dry. It's nice having the confidence that it can handle snow flurries or a light drizzle.
For our needs, this radio is right on target. We like not having to lug around a massive piece of equipment and it's loud and clear enough for our needs. For the low price of $100 it would be tough to ask for anything more.
December 23, 2009
When 3-in-1 sent us one of their No-Rust Shields to test out they had no idea that we would put it in an unwinnable situation, a situation so brutal that there was absolutely no chance for success. We felt that the one way to test this little tool was to break its spirit, totally demoralize it, and then punch it in the face. If you're not familiar with it, the No-Rust Shield is a little gizmo that you put in your tool box or your gang box or your tackle box (or wherever) and it prevents rust from building up on the metal in that space. It's meant for normal day-to-day levels of moisture, not the 98% humidity that we subjected it to. So, we essentially knew that the item was doomed from the start, but we thought the manner in which it let out its dying breath would be indicative of its quality as a tool.
According to 3-In-1, the No-Rust Shield (NRS) works by (we're not joking here) sending out "metal-seeking vapor phase corrosion inhibitors" which form a layer of protection around whatever metal it is that you're trying to protect. Sort of like midi-chlorians of the tool world.
For our test, we took two Ziploc bags and put about 1/2 cup of water in each. We then put a handful of nails in each bag and in one bag we placed the No-Rust Shield (NRS). We closed up the bags and positioned them in a way that neither the nails or the NRS was exposed to direct water. That was about two months ago.
We watched the test diligently for about two weeks. At that point, the control nails were fully engaged with rust and the NRS nails were just starting to show signs of falling victim themselves. We had big plans of taking a ton of photos of the progression, but it was at that point that (honesty alert) we completely forgot about our test. And then we were driving home from work the other day and, "isn't there something I should be remembering now....oh yeah." So we revisited the corner of the shop with the bags and at first glance, it looked like the NRS had completely succumbed to the rust and the game was up, but upon closer inspection, there were still patches of untouched metal on the NRS nails. Very interesting. We pulled the nails out and took some photos.
The water was now rusty in both bags, so we filtered it out and dried the results. We took some photos of that too. So, as you can see, there is a difference in the results. The NRS works. Not under impossible conditions, but it does work. If our results were translated into a box of nails or a box of router bits, we're convinced that the items would stay rust free. Or at least rust free for the 90 days that the NRS lasts for. Thankfully, the NRS also has a strip that turns red to indicate that when it's time to get a new one.
Honestly, our test was barbaric to the No-Rust Shield. We created a situation that is so unlikely and so brutal that it would really never be a real-life situation. If you're someone who is going to take the time and effort to purchase a No-Rust Shield, you're not going to be the type to store your tools in a bucket of water. But even with the punishing test, the No-Rust Shield displayed its effectiveness by putting up a good fight, even if it ultimately shared the fate of Tennyson's Light Brigade.
The No-Rust Shield goes for about $5 and is available at Amazon.com
December 22, 2009
To say our house is 'drafty' is a bit of an understatement. To say that there's actually turbulence at head level is more like it. In the summer it's easy to get all misty-eyed over the ancient windows filled with their wiggly, wavy old panes of glass. In the winter though, those windows are nothing less than the enemy. The other night, we were walking around taking temperature readings with the digital laser thermometer and one of our windowsills read a balmy 38 degrees (keep in mind, this is on the inside of the house). Think about that for a second. It's insane. We actually can't think about it for any longer than a second or we get heart palpitations.
So enter DAP, a company nice enough to send us a tube of their new Seal N Peel removable weatherstrip caulk. The principal of the product is simple; caulk it in along open joints in windows, doors, wherever there's a draft, and come spring, just peel it off. It's a nice fine line that DAP is walking here, a caulk that's sticky enough to stick but at the same time, unsticky enough to be easily pulled off months later.
We had a big red flag go up when we saw that the tube was labeled, "vanilla scent." The only reason a product like this would have an vanilla scent would be if it needed to mask a horrific chemical smell, leading to one of two outcomes: 1) in order to hide the odor, the vanilla is intensely powerful or 2) the vanilla doesn't work and the nasty chemical smell is unavoidable. Before opening the tube, we checked the reviews over at Amazon and saw that a few people were complaining about the fumes.
So we cut the tube and went to work, expecting to be lightheaded within minutes. We're not sure if we were anticipating the worse, but it's really not that bad. Is it a smell we want made into an aftershave? Probably not. But were we running for the door in a HazMat suit? Not at all.
From what we experienced the product works great. We did a couple windows and completely stopped the drafts. The snout of the tube is extra long so getting into odd spots was easy. We also dropped a few beads on a piece of pine to test how easy the Seal 'N Peel is to remove. It comes up like a charm. The packaging does say, though, that after a year, it gets more difficult to remove.
Seal 'N Peel goes for about $6 a tube. It's a small price to pay for stopping the wind through the dining room.
December 14, 2009
Fein had told us they were sending out a new accessory that they had just released, but when we saw that it was an orbital sander attachment we began to wonder about the move. Was this one of those times when a company just releases something just to release it? Was Fein in the process of jumping the shark? Multi-tools are a bit problematic; there's a certain tipping point where the disparity between the job that the multi-function tool does vs. the job that the traditionally purposed tool does gets so great that it renders the multi-tool somewhat pathetic. To put it in the terms of the situation at hand, if the Fein orbital attachment isn't anywhere near as good as an orbital sander, then what the hell good is it at all? Orbitals are basic tools and they really haven't changed much over the years because they're great at what they do. Now here comes Fein with a matching accessory? the train wreck potential here was huge. These were the thoughts we had when we packed up the attachment and brought it to work where we had just been tasked with a large sanding project.
Once we got the Fein up and running with the attachment, it really didn't take long for those thoughts to disappear. Using it head to head against our new Ridgid orbital, we could hardly tell any difference. We spent all day switching between the two tools struggling to discover some problem with the Fein, but we really couldn't. The orbital attachment is fully compatible with the tool's dust collection system, so it even matched the orbital on that front.
We then brought it back to the shop and did a more scientific test to compare the two tools. We found a board with a 2-3/4" stripe painted on it and marked out 2 12" lengths of it. We outfitted both tools with 80 grit paper (the Fein with the included paper and the Ridgid with a piece of Norton paper) and then timed how long it took each tool to sand off the paint. The Fein got through to bare wood in 21 seconds and the Ridgid did the same in 15 seconds; faster, but not by all that much. After the test, we put a piece of 180 on the Fein to see how smooth we could get the board, thinking that regardless of the grit, the oscillating motion would always leave marks on the wood. The Fein had to have an Achilles heel, right? Nope, after a few moments with the 180 grit, the piece of wood was smooth as Tool Snob Jr's rear end.
So where does this leave us? Are those six seconds from the timed test crucial? Depends what you're doing. If you're setting up for a full eight hours of sanding, it probably is. But if you're taking on a small or even medium-sized project, it's pretty insignificant. The end result here is that your Fein can now double as an orbital sander. If you're a carpenter, it means one less tool that you have to lug around and if you're a DIYer, it's one less tool you have to own. Fein's multi-purpose tool just gained another purpose.
The only real drawback to this attachment is that it doesn't easily fit into the MultiMaster case. It's hardly worth mentioning, and we're really only saying it because we don't think we've ever said anything negative about the Fein MultiMaster or any of their accessories so we thought we'd give it a shot. So that's us sticking it to Fein: "we have to take the accessory off the tool in order to fit it in the case." Pretty sad on our part.
The orbital sanding attachment costs about $32 and comes with six sheets of sandpaper (2 each of 60, 80, 180 grit). It should be available where other Fein accessories are sold. We can't find it anywhere online, so it might be too new.
December 11, 2009
Craftsman has recently released a new 12-Amp Recip Saw, geared for the pro and equipped with one very interesting feature. Luckily for us, they were nice enough to let us try one out.
First, we'll start with all of the standard recip saw items. The Craftsman has an 12-amp motor, a quick blade change, and an adjustable shoe. All features that are all pretty much standard on recips these days. The motor was plenty powerful for the tasks that we put it through. The quick blade change is done with a lever on the side of the tool as opposed to the spring loaded kind that Makita has on their saws. Our preference is the latter, which actually ejects the blade from the chuck. With the Craftsman, the blade needs to be manually removed (with a little jiggle), so handling a piping hot blade is going to be something that you'll have to deal with. As far as the basics went, we liked the Craftsman. Honestly, a little more than expected. It has a very solid feel to it and it looks like it can take a bit of a beating. To get a idea of the size of the tool, we took a shot of it next to our trusty Milwaukee 10 amp and our building-killing Makita 15 amp. It's about the same size, just a little bit longer.
But this isn't your average recip saw. In fact, it has one feature that really sets it apart from the pack. The nose of the tool is not only capable of spinning around, but it can do this while the motor is running. This gives you, depending on how you look at it; a) a somewhat awkward scroll saw, b) a turbo powered jigsaw, or c) a very versatile recip saw. If you want, the nose can be locked into place at any one of the four compass points, or, like we said, it can be maneuvered around while the saw is running.
We tested this out quite a bit and it really is not only useful, but damn cool as well. Just think about the last time you had to notch a joist in a crawl space or some other awkward procedure. Now, with the Craftsman, you can keep the tool stationary, but still have the full 360 degree cutting ability. We made some cuts in a piece of plywood to show the scrolling action. Now, obviously, no one's going to use a recip saw for intricate scroll work, but cutting rough circles and working in confined spaces just got a little easier. It's an innovative tool and as far as we know, the first of its kind. We've never used Porter-Cable's recip with the rotating nose, but we're led to believe that there are a number of positive stops which prohibit smooth scroll cutting (we could be wrong here...anyone know?).
The Craftsman comes with a thin scrolling blade and a carrying case. Thankfully, Craftsman opted to give this tool a duffel-style bag, as opposed to the 'zero-additional-storage' blow-molded cases that they usually hand out with their recips. The whole package costs about $100, which isn't bad considering the scrolling action. The big jobsite brands pretty much all up in the $120 range for their 12-amp models.
November 27, 2009
"Man, this thing has some stones."
That's what our coworker said after borrowing the Dremel 4000 to fine tune a radius cut on a piece of 1/8" steel. The grinder bit was devastated after the five minute process, but the tool seemed like it was just getting warmed up.
The Dremel 4000 is simply the latest update to Dremel's omnipresent rotary tool. Over the years, we've tried a number of different rotary tools and we keep coming back to the fact that Dremel is where it's at in this category. In fact no one we know even uses the term 'rotary tool,' preferring to use 'Dremel' as the catch all, like 'Kleenex.' So with the release of this new installment in the ongoing Dremel saga, the company was nice enough to ship a unit our way for reviewing purposes. We immediately tossed it in the back of the truck and headed off to work to see what it was capable of.
So what's new with the Dremel 4000? Quite a bit actually. And as an added bonus, the changes are pretty significant when it comes to the functionality of the tool.
First, the 4000 is more powerful than its predecessors, ticking in at 1.6 amps, as opposed to the 1.15 amps of earlier models. We understand that 0.45 amps might not sound like much, but here it makes a large difference. Compared head to head with an older Dremel, the 4000 has reached a strength level that really increases the uses of the rotary tool. Until now, we saw Dremels as items that are useful in many situations, but their 'hobbyist' vibe (read: low strength) prevented us from embracing them as a job site item. Since we're coming at things from a carpenter's perspective, the added strength is right up our alley and, like we said, it opens a lot of new doors for the tool.
But there's also a 'double-edge sword' thing going on here though. Yes, the tool is more powerful, but because of this added strength, the Dremel has outgrown some of its accessories. We used the 4000 to tinker around with the pre-cut lock set openings on a metal door and while the tool showed no signs of stress, we went through the grinder accessories like they were made of origami paper. They might be fine for someone sitting in their basement carving ducks, but on a job site, a more aggressive grinder wheel is necessary. If we were Dremel, we'd start considering a 'Pro Line' of accessories. If they're going to make a tool with this strength, morons like us are going to push it well beyond its limits on a regular basis. (For all of you non-carpenters out there reading this, you can probably ignore this paragraph and take comfort in the fact that the Dremel 4000 is powerful enough to do what you ask.)
The added power is just one of the cool things about the 4000. There is also a new handle attachment called a 'detailer's grip,' that screws onto the chuck and allows a tremendous amount of control over the tool (not available in all kits). During use the handle would loosen some, but this was nothing more than a minor irritation compared to the level of added maneuverability. The kit we used also had a sanding guide and a multi-purpose cutting guide (not available in all kits).
To wrap things up, this is a fantastic tool and by far the best rotary tool in Dremel's already stellar line up. The ergonomics are off the charts and like our pal so eloquently said, it does indeed have 'stones.' Lots of 'em.
It looks like there are three kits available, the differences being in the number of included accessories and chuck attachments. We tested out the 3/34 (3 attachments, 34 accessories), and after looking at the other kits, that's probably the one we'd recommend. There is also a 2/30 kit and a mega 6/50. We suggest checking out each kit to see which one suits your needs best.
Dremel 4000 2/30 at Amazon.com ($80)
Dremel 4000 3/34 at Amazon.com ($87)
Dremel 4000 6/50 at Amazon.com ($150)
November 19, 2009
Ali Industries, makers of the Gator brand of sanding products (which we've covered here), recently sent us a few sample packs of their new Black Zirconium sanding discs so that we could check them out. The timing was fantastic, because just a day or two after they arrived, we were tasked with sanding what felt like 3-1/2 miles of shelving. Not only could we use the opportunity to review the product, but because we were testing out something, 8 hours of sanding made the leap from 'water-boarding bad" to barely tolerable.
At our disposal were three packs of discs (12 discs per pack, 50-grit, 80-grit, and 120-grit). We stuck to the 80, but dipped from time to time into the other two. We also used a few 80-grit discs from another manufacturer (Porter-Cable) to see how they compared.
Gator claims that the BZ discs last three times longer than regular discs. While we're not sure on the 3x number, they certainly to last much longer. It seemed that every eight or so shelves (they were big shelves, each one was about 7' long), we were replacing a Gator disc, while the PC discs only lasted maybe three shelves. Along with holding their grit, the Gator discs impressed us because they took much longer to fray at the edges.
Gator also talks about how good their pads are at not clogging up. Again, we got a chance to test this out on some Bond-O, the scourge of the sandpaper world. As they did with general sanding, the Gators lasted much longer than the other brand.
The Gator discs are available in a variety of grits (50, 80, 120, and 220) and are sold in packs of 4 (under $5), 12 (under $12), and 40 (under $20). Amazon sells Norton discs in packs of 10 for about $9, so the Gators are a little more expensive, but when you think about the amount of extra work you'll get out of each one, they make sense.
Available at Lowe's and participating Ace, True Value, Do-it Best, and other local hardware stores
November 4, 2009
We've got this great Toro electric leaf blower and before we bought it we did all the right research and truly agonized over the purchase. We finally decided on the make and model we wanted and went to the local HD to pick it up. At our last house, it was a charm. With the yard hugging the house so closely we could get most everything with a 50' extension cord and when necessary, break out the dreaded 100' (*shudder*). Now, at the new place, everything is different. Our front yard is practically an orchard and threading between the trees with the cord (attached to the lone exterior outlet on the wrong side of the house), while do-able, is impractical and tedious. Thankfully, the folks at Craftsman were nice enough to let us test out their blower attachments for the string trimmer. Could this little guy deliver adequate power to get the job done?
So how is it? Honestly, it's pretty nice. It blows at a peak speed of about 150 mph so it's not the full-throated blowing madness of our electric blower which operates at around 230 mph, but it does work and it's certainly better than raking (which occurs at about 2 mph). The length of the attachment places the blower unit at just the right height, making it easy to get the air under the leaves and the convenience of not having an entirely separate tool for the task is a real space saver in the garage. We should also note that there are gas and electric blowers that operate in the 150-200mph range, so don't think that the Craftsman is a step down from the other methods.
Removing the trimmer head and attaching the blower is a really easy process, just turn the tightening knob and press a little button and the trimmer is off. Installing the blower is as easy as sliding it on the shaft and clicking the button into place.
For speed's sake, the leaves we can reach with the electric, we'll probably still do that way, but the ones way out at the horizon line can be easily done with the trimmer attachment. So all said and done, we see this little guy benefiting both our situation as well as someone who has a pretty small yard with maybe only a couple trees and limited storage space. It's likely that you already have a string trimmer, but do you also have the space for a full-sized leaf blower?
The attachment fits any high quality trimmer. If you've never noticed before, string trimmers are essentially a hand-held PTO with the trimmer being just one of the attachments. In fact, Craftsman also has an Edger that we're reviewing as well. The blower attachment costs about $70 so it's definitely less than a regular blower, it also takes up a fraction of the space.