March 18, 2010
We've had an eye on the Craftsman Vibrafree Sander for a while. It's been out for a couple years and we've read a bunch of reviews of it and they all seem pretty positive. Way more positive than we would have guessed from our first skeptical glance at the tool. The whole thing just seems too good to be true: an orbital sander that doesn't vibrate? So we had some anticipation in the works when Craftsman offered to send one our way for testing.
If you don't know, the Vibrafree's special superpower comes from its sanding pad, or rather sanding pads. Craftsman has taken the standard design of a singular disc and replaced it with a circular inner disc and a separate outer ring. The two pads orbit in opposite directions and thus cancel one another out. It's a simple idea and a nice one, but no matter how much we read, we wanted to know for ourselves if it did indeed work, and if there were any big drawbacks to the system.
One thing we noticed immediately is that the Craftsman is heavier than the standard orbital. We suppose that this is from having to stuff two orbiting mechanisms in the tool. It's also slightly bulkier than most, but even with both of these characteristics, the size and the weight, it's easy to manage with one hand. It also has a nice long cord (10'), which we're always in favor of.
Now on to the whole 'no-vibration' thing.
We started it up and got going. And, well, yeah, it actually works. There's still the general movement and occasional stutter of an orbital sander, but that constant micro-shimmy, the one that wears your arm out and gives you pins and needles after about five minutes, is entirely absent. It's a strange feeling, using an orbital without that ever present jiggle. It's sort of like the first time we sat in a Hybrid and realized it was on, even though there was no motor noise: it's great, but there's something about it that's slightly unsettling. Using the Vibrafree on a few small projects, we discovered that the wear and tear on our arm was considerably less and we realized what a struggle on the wrist standard orbitals actually are.
A second interesting feature of this tool is the dust collection. Instead of a soft filter dust bag, the Craftsman comes with something they call a 'cyclonic dust box,' which seems to work fine, but gains awesome points because it's called a 'cyclonic dust box.' It even has this nice little flip-up door at the back end of it so you can empty the canister without having to take it off the tool. Unfortunately the connection point between the tool and the dust box is done with these two little clips that look like they're one workbench drop away from breaking off. If you're not into the whole cyclone thing, the Craftsman comes with an adapter for a vacuum.
The one real downside to the tool is the fact that it's a single speed. If you're not used to variable speed orbitals, it's probably no big deal, but we like having that kind of control over disc speed based on the situation and it's too bad it's not an option with this tool.
Another minor bone that we have to pick with this tool is the case that it comes in (we can actually hear some of you clicking away from the site). It's one of those cases where there is only one possible way for everything to fit in (which includes removing the dust canister from the tool), and there's really no room left for storage. in our experience, orbital cases end up being sandpaper clearing houses, and here, there's no way for that to happen.
Less vibration means more money because the Vibrafree sells for $100, which is a good $30+ higher than the average high-end name brand orbital. There's also the issue of discs. Because of the anti-vibration design, the sanding discs are unique and, thus, not easily available. They're on the Sears website (a 3 pack for $4), but items like this, you need to have available on the fly. It's likely that they're also at your local Sears. Also, it's worth noting that Rockwell has also released a Vibrafree sander that looks similar to the Craftsman. And when we say, 'similar,' what we really mean is, 'identical.' It's like someone photoshopped in some new colors and a new logo. The Rockwell even has the kickass "cyclonic dust box." The tools are so similar that there's got to be some sort of licensing agreement going on. But anyway, our point is that while the Craftsman may have limited availability with their discs, the Rockwell may be easier to find.
So our final say is that the orbital works great, even though we have some finicky little issues with it.
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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March 15, 2010
There are two main factions in the tool belt world; the leathers and the nylons. It's sort of like the carpenter version of the Sharks and the Jets. Us? We usually dodge the question by opting for the simple nail pouch with a separate hammer loop. Our quasi-supervisory role at work doesn't allow us to spend too many days fully tooled up. But on those days when we're forced to do it, we go for the old leather belt that we have. In our opinion, there's something about them that just feels more...well...authentic. But we don't have anything against the nylon belts, it's just that we've never really found one that we've been all that into. They seem a little too modern and futuristic for us.
But we're open-minded folks so we jumped at the chance to review the the nylon ToolRider GSR Suspension Rig when Rooster (also makers of McGuire-Nicholas rigs) offered to send one on.
Continue reading: "ToolRider GSR Suspension Rig - Review"
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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March 9, 2010
Now that most of the big players have their oscillating tools on the shelves, the first phase of the oscillating extravaganza of '09 is coming to an end. At the moment, it looks like we've just entered phase two: accessories. This era will likely be marked by companies releasing all manner of accessory, each more creative (and strange) than the last. We recently checked out Fein's orbital sander attachment and we were very impressed. Today, we just finished up our testing of Rockwell's new SoniShear. The function of this attachment is to turn your SoniCrafter into a pair of shears. When Rockwell said they'd send us one, we really didn't know what to expect.
When we first saw it on youtube, we thought that attaching it to the SoniCrafter was going to be a hassle, like we had to take apart the head of the tool or something. As it turns out, that's not the case at all; it fits on just like any other attachment.
Once it was on, we started a cuttin'. We began with the terrible blister pack that it came in and the SoniShear zipped right through it at an impressive speed. Then we went to corrugated cardboard and had the same results. After that was a thin strip of poplar. Here, not so much. The SoniShear couldn't handle the 1/8" bulky wood. It wasn't from lack of trying either, we actually loosened the whole attachment while we were jamming the thing into the wood (note: no where does Rockwell say that the SoniShear is able to cut wood, we just wanted to push the accessory). So you can't cut wood, but how about aluminum flashing? The SoniShear had no problem here, but the bulk of the tool made things a little awkward, so we'd probably stick with tin snips in the future. We didn't get around to cutting carpet, but from what we saw, the SoniShear would have no difficulty with that material.
There's no question that it's easier on the hands then regular snips or shears. It's also no problem cutting curves. But with the accessory offset from the tool body, there are going to be times when the tool isn't going to fit where you want it. It's a minimal concern and shouldn't stop anyone from taking a closer look at the SoniShear.
It's inexpensive enough at $25 that it sort of falls into the, "eh, why not?" category. Unless you're lined up to remove a carpet, there's probably no reason to go running out to get one, but if you see one at the store and you've got some cash in your pocket, why not have it on hand in your arsenal? It'll definitely come in handy at some point.
And because the SoniShear wraps around the body of the tool, it is incompatible with the other brands of oscillating tools.
We also just noticed that Rockwell has cleaned up their website a bit, check it out here.
It'll be available at Amazon.com and Rockwell Tools
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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March 2, 2010
It's funny, but each time Dremel releases a new rotary tool, we think to ourselves, "man, this is the best Dremel evah!" Then they release another one and we think, "Whoa, now this is the best Dremel the world has ever seen!" And on and on. Last year they released their new corded 4000 series tool and we loved it for it's strength and all around 'Dremely vibe.' Well, now they've released the cordless 8200 which seems to be a companion to the 4000. We were happy that they let us check out a pre-release sample. Oddly enough, we got it in our hands, played around with it for a bit and thought, "Hot damn! Now this might be the greatest Dremel we've ever used!"
The 8200 operates in a range of 5,000 to 30,000 rpm with the adjustment made with a slider on the back of the tool. Above the slider is a battery fuel gauge so you can keep an eye on how much juice you've got left. It's a feature that we think should be standard in li-Ion tools and it's nice to see Dremel getting on board with it.
Because we're carpenters and not hobbyists, we would have liked to see this tool come with two batteries instead of just one. Were that the case, the 8200 would be fully jobsite ready, but the extra battery would also tack on at least $50 to the price and it would be something that isn't used by a lot of the people who buy Dremels and use them sporadically in the garage workspace and won't mind the 1-hour charger.
(Update: We're dopes. Dremel does indeed offer an 8200 with two batteries. It's the 8200 2/28 and it will be retailing for $140. It also includes a cutting guide, a right angle attachment and 28 accessories. Sounds ideal to us. A thank you to Dremel for pointing out our error.)
In general, the cordless aspect of this tool is fantastic. It makes the use and set-up of it that much easier. And it's powerful too. According to Dremel, the 8200 has a speed of cut that is twice as fast as the leading cordless rotary tool. We didn't verify this, but we did use the tool to cut metal, plastic, and stone and thought it was right up there with the 4000.
The one thing we're not fond of with the tool is the case. Because the tool we got was an advance copy, the case we got may or may not be the one that is being sold with the tool. We have no reason to think that the production case will be different, but you never know. As our friends at Milwaukee are aware, we can get really hung up on tool cases. The blow-molded jobbies that some companies use drive us crazy, and while the Dremel case does have plenty of room for accessories, there is also this panel piece that creates an odd space for loose accessories to hide behind. And getting them out is like getting a pick out of a guitar. Dremel accessories are very tiny and some of them break down into even tinier pieces, so why make a case like this? No comprende.
But that's just our hangup and all of you who read that last paragraph with glazed over eyes can just walk away knowing that Dremel has made yet another great rotary tool.
it's also worth noting the we received a marketing sample, so the 100% finished "in the store" product may (or may not) have a look that is slightly more polished.
The 8200 isn't available until April, but when it is, it will sell for $100 to $140 depending on the accessory package that comes with it. It's not there now, but it will likely be at Amazon.com
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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February 17, 2010
Miter saws are one of those tools that dribble through the innovation process. Not a whole lot happens between generations other than a few more amps of power, or a couple more degrees of cut, at best, a laser sight is added. All in all it's a slow and rather boring progression. Festool released their mighty Kapex a couple years ago which added a good jolt to the process, but at a price of $1300, the most the average person could do was read the stats and say, "cool." But now here comes Craftsman with something called the MiterMate. When you first look at it, it's pretty strange. It's essentially a miter saw with two adjustable fences, as opposed to an adjustable blade. This feature, when used with their angle finder, allows for a single adjustment for two cuts which result in a perfect miter. Craftsman/Sears was nice enough to send us a sample to review and we found it to be an effective, but not perfect, tool.
Continue reading: "Craftsman 10" MiterMate - Review"
February 5, 2010
For most of us, a can of WD-40 is all we need. It acts as a lubricant, a penetrant, a cleaner, and, for some, a deodorant. It's sort of a 'one can fits all' product. But for those who are really into their lubes, sprays, and foams, or for those rare occasions when the WD just won't cut it, WD-40 (the company, not the product) has just released a line of eight specialized items geared toward the heavy-duty and the hardcore, and, thankfully for us, they sent us a few cans to check out.
The new products are:
- Industrial Grade Silicone
- Industrial Grade High-Performance PTFE Lubricant
- Industrial Grade Dry Lube PTFE Formula
- Industrial Grade Multi-Purpose Lubricant
- Industrial Grade White Lithium Grease
- Industrial Grade Contact Cleaner
- Industrial Grade Penetrant
- Industrial Grade Degreaser
Reviewing things like this isn't easy. It takes too long and is too tedious to rust a couple bolt/nut combos together just to test out the Blue Works Penetrant against the leading brand. So we just put the cans on the shelf and used them as needed. Of the products, we tested out the Penetrant, the De-Greaser, the White Lithium Grease, and the Silicone.
The one we ended up using the most was the silicone, which had no issues assisting us with a gummed up slider and a couple sticky windows, as well as a few stuck wrenches. The White Lithium Grease, we put right in the truck (our old boss once said, "every old truck needs a can of white lithium grease under the driver's seat), and the penetrant did actually help loosen a rusty nut.
We liked the products and the cans have a cool look about them. The Blue Works website has a boatload of information on each one, including the MSDS sheets and scientific-sounding test results that firmly establish their dominance against other brands. We take a lot of those types of manufacturer's tests with a grain of salt, but WD-40 has a great reputation, so even if their products aren't 50 times better than the competition, they're at least 5 times better.
So now when WD-40 isn't doing the job or you're looking for something a little more specialized, you now have a place to go.
There's a boatload more information (including the MSDS sheets) over at blueworksbrand.com
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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February 4, 2010
Our normal reviews go something like this: we find an interesting tool or get a press release on something new; then we query the manufacturer (or their PR company) and beg and plead that they send us a sample to test out; if they are kind enough to take pity on us and do so, it arrives at the shop and we spend a few weeks giving it the once over; we then sit down and write a Pulitzer-worthy review of said tool (making sure to comply with new FCC regulations and let you know that the tool came from the manufacturer). Well, this time it's different. We didn't just get our hands on our two Bosch Bulldogs, and we didn't get them from Bosch. We paid for them outright and to be honest, it's some of the best money that we've ever spent on any tools.
It's easy to review the precision or functionality of a tool, but when it comes to durability we usually combine 'general feel' with 'previous experience with that company's tools' and add in a few drop tests, and come to our conclusions. Here, that's not the case. We've had one of these tools for about five years and the other one (the dirty one) we had on an aggressively brutal jobsite for about 18 months. We can only say that these tools are phenomenal and that if you're thinking about getting one, just go ahead and do it. There were days when we treated these tools so poorly, you'd think that we hated them. They've been dropped, tossed, kicked, stepped on, and one of them was even lost in a snowbank for a short period of time. As far as tools go, they're like the paperboy from Better Off Dead; always there, ready to go, non-stop (minus the annoying voice).
In addition to the unreal durability, there's the power/size ratio which, in our eyes is perfect. If you're a carpenter, you really don't need some massive hammer drill, but you still want the ability to chip concrete and spend a day driving tap-cons. This tool does all that, and it doesn't take up that much room in the back of the van.
They cost around $200 and there are a couple different versions with different handles and features, but they've all got the same ass-kicking quotient.
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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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.
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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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.
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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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.
Doug Mahoney at Permalink
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