June 15, 2010

Derby and Ball Scythe - Review

scythe_1.jpgWith 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.

scythe_blade.jpgAfter 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.

scythe_lable.jpg3. 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:

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (4) | social bookmarking

June 14, 2010

SallyeAnder Hogwash! Soap - Review

sallyeander_hogwash2.jpgBecause 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.

sallyeander_hogwash.jpgSo 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.

At SallyeAnder

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (1) | social bookmarking

June 11, 2010

Porter-Cable Heavy-Duty 15-Amp Circular Saw - Review

pc_saw_3.jpgThese 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.

pc_saw_2.jpgpc_saw_1.jpg

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.

At Lowes

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (0) | social bookmarking

June 8, 2010

Snap-On SuperGrip Gloves - Review

snap_on_gloves_hand.jpgSnap-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).

snap_on_gloves.jpg snap_on_gloves_texture.jpg

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

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (0) | social bookmarking

May 27, 2010

Poulan Wild Thing 18" Chainsaw - Review

poulan_hero.jpgNo 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.

poulan_front.jpg poulan_front_2.jpg

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.

At Amazon.com

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (5) | social bookmarking

May 26, 2010

Milwaukee M12 3/8" Right Angle Drill/Driver

milwaukee_rt_drill_hand.jpgThe manic depth that Milwaukee has achieved with their 12-volt platform is pretty well documented by this point. In addition to the standard tools like drills and saws, they seem more than happy to delve deep into the trades, coming up with things like electrical metering tools and PEX expansion tools. We've gotten our hands on a fair number of their M12 line and have hardly had any complaints at all. It's all very stellar.

Now, or rather, late last year, they added a right angle drill to the mix. They sent us one for something else we were working on (which is here, by the way), and we liked the tool so much, we though we'd mention it on this site as well.

Milwaukee_rt_drill_action.jpgBecause it's only constrained by the little 12-volt battery, Milwaukee was able to make the drill very small and the 3-3/4" head is capable of getting into some very tight spots (sorry about the blurry photo). It has a nice paddle switch, so it's easy to use no matter what contorted position you find yourself in, which is good because where right angle drills are concerned, contorted seems to be the norm.

There is also an LED, a 12-position clutch, and a fuel gauge. It's got great power and, if need be, can sink a 3" drywall screw.

The drill comes with a charger and a single battery, which is fine because, face it, if you're getting this, you've either bought into the Milwaukee 12-volt system and you're lousy with batteries, or you're getting it for those times when you absolutely need a right angle drill. If you're looking for your one and only drill, there are better options out there.

milwaukee_rt_drill_head.jpg milwaukee_rt_drill_case.jpg

The kit costs about $120, which isn't much at all when you start doing the, "what's my time worth?" equation.

At Amazon.com

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (2) | social bookmarking

May 25, 2010

Craftsman 4-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Pruner - Review

craftsman_pruner_hero.jpgIt's springtime here in the northeast and that means there is some pruning to be done. With this being the first year in the new place, we've come to notice how completely tangled the little fruit trees in the front yard are. They sort of look like big, green, messy muppet heads. Thankfully, for us, late last year, Craftsman sent us a sample of their new 4-volt Cordless Pruner, so last week, we charged the little thing up and spent some quality time with it.

The pruner is about the size of a tube of caulking and its got jaws that are about 1-1/2" long. Operation of the tool is pretty simple; pull back the safety lock with your last two fingers and press the trigger with your middle finger. The jaws, once in motion, have a slow and steady action.

craftsman_pruner_cutting.jpg craftsman_pruner_cut.jpg

We used the pruners for a number of operations in and around the house. It was far too bulky for our little bonsai, but it worked out fine for just about everything else. According to Craftsman, the pruner can cut branches up to 1/2". We found this to be true, but the 1/2" mark doesn't seem to come from lack of strength as much as it does the limitations created by the jaw size. The little tool had no problem with any and all 1/2" branches we threw at it and it seemed like it could cut larger branches, it just can't get its mouth around them. The cuts that it makes are nice and clean with no ragged edges.

Craftsman says that once the internal battery is fully juiced, it can make approximately 500 cuts. There was no way we were going to sit there and count cuts like some kind of forestry Rain Man, but we can say that during the time we used it, we never had to charge it up in the middle of a day, and we guess that the 500 mark is probably on target. Put it this way, unless you're really going at it, you'll get a day's worth of pruning in on a charge.

craftsman_pruner_in_hand.jpgWe were actually a little surprised that we liked this little tool so much. What we realized was that because you're not putting the effort into making the cut, you can increase your precision quite a bit. The size is a benefit as well. We were able to get into some spots that would have been difficult with traditional pruners (we no longer needed the room to open the handles).

We almost had a problem with the trigger (but didn't). Like we said before, you have to pull back a safety lock with two fingers and then pull the trigger with a third. While some sort of safety lock is absolutely necessary with this item (it wouldn't even pause going through a finger), we first thought this design was a bit awkward and that it might not be an easy set of motions for someone with aged, possibly arthritic hands (just the person we initially thought this tool would be perfect for), but once we spent a while with the tool, we came to see that the motion is, in fact, very subtle and easy to perform. We started out wondering why Craftsman didn't opt for some sort of thumb safety lock, and ended up very impressed with their engineering.

Overall, it's a nice item and if you're a gardener, particularly one who is losing some hand strength (or has none to begin with), you would probably appreciate the Craftsman Pruner.

The Pruner is $50 at Sears

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (2) | social bookmarking

May 14, 2010

Bosch GLL2-80 Dual Plane Line Laser- Review

bosch_level_hero.jpgWe break our lasers down into two groups; the big tri-pod style rotary lasers, descended from transits, and the little jobsite ones like the fantastic PLS2. Each of these styles has limitations though; the rotary lasers, while they can project a 360 line (meaning a line completely around the level), are large and awkward to use; and while the little guys are barely bigger than a juice box, they can only project a line out in front of them, so they constantly have to be shifted around the room in order to complete some tasks.

Bosch with their new GLL2-80 actually combines the good from both styles of lasers. Now, for the first time, you can get the 360 line, both vertical and horizontal, in a small package.

bosch_level_hero2.jpgThe technology here is actually very interesting. In a normal 360 level, the laser itself spins, and it's this additional mechanism that leads to their bulky bodies. What Bosch has done to get around this is to utilize something they call Cone Mirror Technology. What happens is that the laser shines against a little reflective cone which then projects it out 360 degrees. Our guess is that the little cone is about as finely machined of an item as you're going to find in any tool. With this set-up in action, Bosch has found a way to deliver the 360 laser in something that's barely larger than a pocket dictionary.

bosch_level_on_stand.jpgThe GLL2-80 has a number of smart features beyond the whole 'shoot the laser at the cone' thing. First off, it can be used in any one of three modes; horizontal line, vertical line, or both simultaneously. You also have the option of locking the leveling pendulum, so you're able to work in crooked, saggy houses like ours where level is less important than straight. The Bosch level shuts off automatically in 30 minutes, but you can override that if you want, and it also makes a little squawk when it's too far out of level, but you can override that as well. When it's off, the pendulum locks into place so there's no risk of damage during transport. There is also a mode that assists the laser in getting picked up by a remote receiver (not included in all packages).

There is also a little stand for the tool complete with an adjustment knob, so you can set it up and then tinker with the height of the level. The functionality of this stand is fantastic and we were able to really fine-tune the laser height to exactly where we wanted it.

bosch_level_top.jpgThe one minor detail that we wished was different is the on/off slide switch (the red one on the side). Unlike the PLSs, Bosch went with a hard switch (PLS's have soft-touch buttons), so it's difficult to switch the tool on and off and keep it stable at the same time. We've been on sites where we leave our laser set up in one spot for days on end and we practically build a razor wire enclosure around it so it doesn't get bumped. Keeping the level stable makes turning the laser on and off every day an operation like Indiana Jones fiddling with the statue in the first scene of Raiders. We're not saying this is impossible with the Bosch, it's just more difficult.

bosch_level_in_use.jpg bosch_level_in_use2.jpg

But that's a minor quibble when placed against the positives of this laser. Normally to get this kind of functionality you've got to use something the size of a watermelon. So what does this all mean to you in a functional sense? Well, it means a single laser set up for an entire roomful of wainscotting. It means no more setting up your laser in the corner to try to get the most coverage out of it's limited beam. It means one click and you can tell that your kitchen floor is two inches out of level fron the sides to the center (we're serious on this one), it means knowing exactly where the entire face of a new partition wall will land. it means a lot of things, all of which translate directly into more a more efficient work day.

Bosch_level_in_case.jpgThe bottom line is that Bosch has once again stuffed big tool functionality into a small tool body (remember their PS21?). And then there's the price. It's looking like the GLL2-80 is going to retail in the $300 range (which is just a bit more expensive than the 180 cross line PLS). To say that this is a very good price for this item is a bit of an understatment.

At Amazon.com

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (2) | social bookmarking

May 11, 2010

DeWalt Magnetic ToughCase - Review

dewalt_toughcase_1.jpgWhen DeWalt sent us a sample of their new ToughCase, we thought, "oh yeah Toughguy, we'll show you how tough you are." We started thinking of ways to condense a year's worth of abuse in about 45 minutes.

But first, about the item. The little case is well built and has the nice clasp that DeWalt uses on their tool boxes. The main features of the box are the magnets on the lid that allow you to open the box and stick it to something metal (a metal stud, a piece of duct work, etc.) and work out of it like a feeding trough (in fact, the ToughCase would make an excellent birdfeeder - if you had a metal tree to hang it off of). In a smart move, DeWalt added little o-rings around the magnets so the case won't slide once it's stuck to something, but also to prevent any magnet to metal marring if you need to shift the case around. It's a clever little idea and one that certainly comes in handy from time to time. There are also little hooks on the back of the case so if there's no metal around, you can hang it off something.

dewalt_toughcase_2.jpgWe tested the ToughCase's durability a number of ways. First, we just sort of threw it around the driveway, then we kicked it a few times, then finally during lunchbreak the other day, we challenged the painters to a game of ToughCase soccer. Although we lost 2-1 (the painters are Brazilian, soccer's in their blood), the case showed its resilience. It got some corner dings and scrapes, but the functionality was perfectly intact.

So it's a tough little case, but there's one little glitch in it. It's sort of unavoidable, but the magnets that work so well on the outside of the case also work on the inside of the case. This means that the case is opened up, there are always a few drill bits or driver bits stuck on the inside of the lid. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but knocking them off each time we accessed the case was a bit annoying. But following the 'make lemonade' theory of life, we utilized these magnets a few times in situations when we were constantly switching between two bits. Instead of dropping it back in the box to get lost among its friends, we just stuck it against the lid for the next time we needed it. It's a nice little unintended feature of the box and one that offsets having to constantly knock bits off the inside of the lid.

dewalt_toughcase_3.jpg dewalt_toughcase_4.jpg

It looks like you'll be able to get the ToughCase in three versions; just the case, with a set of driver bits, or with a set of impact-ready accessories. Just the case will be about $12, the driver bits $20, and the impact gear $35.

ToughCase with driver set at Lowes

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (1) | social bookmarking

May 7, 2010

Tanos Systainer - Review

systainer_1.jpgIf you know Festool, you probably know the Tanos Systainer. They're the funky gray boxes that the uber-expensive tools are stored in. The Systainer isn't easily available on its own, but now the guys at Tool Nut have become only the third distributor in the western hemisphere to offer these little boxes. We got in a conversation with them one day and they offered to send a sample on for us to review and we happily agreed. We then checked their very slick website (Systainerworld.com) and almost had a heart attack when we realized that a $75 tool box was about to show up on the doorstep.

In reality, we should be the last people on earth to review this product. We're beyond cheap when it comes to tool storage. We have a few 5-gallon buckets loaded with hand tools out in the shop and we even keep a few tools nicely stored in coffee cans (no joke, we're pathetic). So what do we think about a $75 tool case? We naturally think it's pretty insane. But once we wrapped our head around the Systainer system we realized that it's so insane that it just might make perfect sense...

systainer_4.jpgThe Systainers are a collection of different sized containers that are all compatible with one another. The smaller ones fit into the larger ones, the medium ones click onto the big ones, and so on. It's like Duplo for middle-aged men. They can easily stack and the latches give a hard connection from one box to the next. The whole thing is very smart. There are also a number of 'inserts' and foam pads available for the different boxes. Some specifically for certain tools and others that are more generic.

So we got our Systainer, which came with a Fein MultiMaster molded insert and we immediately filled it up with non-Fein junk and tossed it in the back of the truck where it bounced around for a few weeks. While its a nice box, it's really not made for what we put it through. The walls of the molded insert don't connect up with the underside of the lid, so when it's treated like a hacky-sack things can migrate from compartment to compartment, and because of it's rectangular shape and the handle being on the top, it takes up an unusual piece of back seat real estate, particularly when stacked next to other standard tool cases.

systainer_3.jpgBut we realized that we were making the mistake of treating it just like any other $5 Home Depot tool box. We were thinking too small, which is easy to do if you only have one of these things. If you have two or more, now you're starting to get somewhere and you can really start reaping the benefits of these boxes. The Systainer is all about modularity so having a single case is like having one mitten. We've actually seen this theory in action a few years ago when a flooring guy pulled a hand cart out of his van and rolled about 1/2 dozen Systainers into the job. The whole thing took like nine seconds an he had all of his tool ready to go.

We contacted Tool Nut and asked them who they thought could benefit from the Systainer systems and they sent back an enthusiastic email with the following:

It's used in Europe to transport organs (insulated accessory). Used in military for efficient and simple transportation. Used by Emergency response teams in Europe for quick and easy choice in an emergency situation by color coding the latches or Systainer themselves as well as linking together specific Systainers that might be color coded and include their rescue dive gear, etc. Used for packaging and transportation - they make 100% efficient use of a pallet in shipping. Imagine investing in Systainers for your packaging and transportation. In Europe they are not even palletized in most scenarios, just used as a shipping container and then RETURNED to the shipper. You buy your shipping material once. Imagine the return on investment and savings?

So there are definitely times, places, and situations where the Systainer is the tool box to go with. If you're just looking for a place to stash your RotoZip so it doesn't get dusty, stick with the el cheapo cases, but if you're motoring around in a Ford Transit, this system is going to save you a lot of hassle.

At Systainerworld. Like we said, the website is very nice, so even if you're only half interested, it's worth checking out.

Doug Mahoney at Permalink | Comments (1) | social bookmarking

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