May 23, 2007

Porter-Cable 371K Compact Belt Sander - Review

371k_1.jpgWe were pretty intrigued when we first heard about Porter-Cable's 371K Compact Belt Sander. Could it be true that we could have the power of a belt sander but with the size of an orbital? Does this mean no more aching arms after stints of operating our large, way-too-powerful belt sander? Well, that's the intent behind the 371K, but the question is, did Porter-Cable succeed?

The 371K is certainly compact, weighing in at around the 5 lb mark. Considering that Porter-Cable's two larger belt sanders weigh 10 lbs and 14 lbs, the 371K is a huge advancement in this area. Because of its small dimensions, the 371K does not have any traditional handle to speak of, only a removable front pommel and a padded area that wraps around the sides and top for gripping. This style of handle (non-handle, really) makes it very easy to switch around your grip on the tool, and, because of the likelihood that it's going to be used in some tight spaces, this becomes an innovative and essential feature.

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May 22, 2007

The Quick Angle – Review

quick_angle_2.jpgIt’s hard to summarize the Quick Angle in just a couple of words. We’ve thought about it and the best we can do is to describe it as the Swiss Army Knife of the measuring world. We first saw the tool at last year’s JLC show and then again at this year’s show and both times we were impressed with, not only its versatility, but also the amount of thought that must have gone into its design. It's part bevel gauge, part measuring square, part compass, and part Stephen Hawking.

The tool is a little larger than your standard bevel gauge and folds out with a third, central arm, which is where all the mathematical magic takes place. Each side of the arm is loaded with numbers and lines that may or may not come into play depending on which of the million and one functions you’re currently using the tool for. The arm also has a little mechanism that allows you lock the angle in place, so there are no worries of things shifting while you’re getting down off that ladder.

The Quick Angle can (are you ready for this?):

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April 30, 2007

Ridgid 3-1/2” Round Head Framing Nailer - Review

Ridgid_framer.jpgWe’ve been pretty impressed with Ridgid these days. Their recent release of the Fuego 6-1/2” Framing Saw busted open a whole new class of tools by combining well thought out features with a compact and lightweight design. Their 3-1/2” Round Head Framing Nailer also has a number of great features and although it isn’t as revolutionary as the Fuego, it’s a great addition to the current flock of framers and one that is definitely worth taking a look at.

When we took the gun out of the box we immediately noticed a few things. First, the balance of the tool is fantastic. Our experience is that most framing guns have about 80% of their weight in the head, so the tool wants to constantly tumble forward. But Ridgid’s gun evens out that ratio to more in the 60/40 range, probably due to the magnesium housing. The gun weighs over 8lbs, and there are lighter guns out there, but this one feels right in the hands and once we got to using it, we had no fatigue issues.

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April 23, 2007

Setting Up Shop - Review

setting_up_shop.jpgOur workshop used to belong to someone else, so when we moved in, we pretty much kept things as they were; the workbench is against the same wall and the lumber racks are in the same place. We made a few changes and built some shelves, but nothing too severe. Well, we just finished Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Setting Up Shop and now we’ve got some work to do. This book has opened the door to such a large array of possibilities for our workshop that we don’t even know where to begin the renovations.

Nagyszalanczy makes that point that every shop should be different in order to match the working style of its owner. But even with this difference, there are a lot of universal considerations to take into account before rolling in the table saw and having at those oak boards. This book is about those universals, some big and some small, that all come together and create the functionality of a workspace.

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April 13, 2007

Microplane Stainless Steel Sanding Discs - Review

microplane_fine.jpgMicroplane has recently come out with an interesting and innovative idea; stainless steel sanding discs for an orbital sander. According to Microplane, the discs, which are available in coarse (40 grit), medium (80 grit) and fine (120 grit), remove wood five times faster and last seven times longer than regular sandpaper. It supposedly takes 35 regular sanding discs to measure up to one stainless steel disc.

The discs are just what you would assume they would be; Borg versions of the standard orbital discs. The back of each disc has eight little Velcro pads that are placed so as not to interfere with any of the dust collection holes (the discs are compatible with both five and eight hole orbitals). The sanding side of the discs have a number of little blade protrusions on them. The coarse grit disc resembles a bullet-riddled piece of metal, while the finer two grits take on the appearance of a flattened version of Microplane's great kitchen graters. The discs attach to the sander just like regular ones do.

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April 6, 2007

Handi-Shims - Review

hs_side.jpgOne of the more interesting products we saw at this year’s JLC Live, was the Handi-Shim. We talked to the guys at the booth and they were pretty excited about their little multi-colored, reusable shims. In fact, they were nice enough to let us take a bag to test out. Well for about two weeks now, we’ve been using them for just about everything and we have to say that we’re very impressed. They are a quick, easy, and durable alternative to traditional shim shingles and because they are reusable, they make for an economic purchase as well.

The shims come in three sizes; 1/16” (red), 1/8” (white), and 1/4” (blue), and are 1-3/4” by 1-3/4” (we've also been notified that a fourth shim; green and measuring 1/32" is in the works). With such convenient sizes, just about any measurement can be achieved with a combination of these three. In addition, they are made so that you can easily snap each one into four smaller shims. This gave our bag of 30 the potential of being a bag of 120.

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April 4, 2007

Ridgid Fuego 6-1/2" Framing Saw - Review

Fuego.jpg
We were pretty thrilled when Ridgid sent the Fuego along for us to test out. It’s a unique idea, and the first of its kind: the 6-1/2” framing saw. It’s lightweight, powerful, durable, and loaded with more features than James Bond’s Aston Martin.

We’ve been punishing this saw for about a week now. We’ve cut every piece every piece of wood that crossed our path. We measured the accuracy of the bevel gauge, the depth setting, and the kerf lines, and, yes, we dropped the thing. Not a casual, accidental, elbow knocks it off the workbench onto a pile of tarps drop. Nope. Ridgid said that the Fuego’s composite plate can withstand a fall of one story, so we heaved it up to a healthy height and gave it a full-on, nose to the earth, 9.8 meters per second squared, watch it go, drop.

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April 3, 2007

Renovating Old Houses – Review

renovating_old_houses.jpgIf you’ve ever owned an old house or even known someone who has, you know that the effort involved in keeping them going is huge. The process of fixing one thing usually leads to fixing something else and who even knows where to start when everything needs fixing in the first place? It's enough to make you jealous of Sisyphus and his boulder; at least he knew what was coming at the end of each day.

But old houses are filled with a personality and a feel that you simply can’t get with a new home and, for some, those characteristics far out-weigh the time and effort needed to keep these old warhorses afloat. But, there’s also no doubt that the process can be intimidating and, from time to time, overwhelming, even to the experienced builder. What should you tackle first? How will fixing this problem affect that other problem later on? Is that sagging old roof going to fall in on me while I’m sleeping? All these questions need answers, and thank the Lord for George Nash and his book, Renovating Old Houses, because he has all the answers.

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March 27, 2007

Skil Octo Multi-Finishing Sander - Review

octo_full.jpg
Sanding is a very zen experience. It's the woodworker's moment of contemplation; the cutting, gluing, and fitting are all done and the piece is almost finished. The only thing left is to apply some stain and your hand-crafted piece of art is complete. It's a time to run your hands over the wood, to consider the process that got you here, to experience a communion with the piece, and to gently work out any small imperfections in the hope of achieving something that is without fault. A peaceful last breath before it is all over.

Garbage.

Pure garbage. And anyone who has ever done a woodworking project knows it. Sanding is a tedious, and at times, frustrating process. Orbital sanders take some of the pain out of the procedure, but there are always areas, little rabbets, nooks, and cut-outs, that you simply can't get to, not even with a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a pencil or taped to a stick (we know you've done it, we have too). If you're like us, you look forward to, and actively seek out, anything that makes sanding easier.

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March 22, 2007

Bosch Fine Cut Power Handsaw - Review

bosch_finecut.jpgBosch has proven to be one of the most innovative tool companies out there. Just look at the miter saw they released a couple years ago. They not only put all of the bevel controls up front, but they added a great micro-adjust feature. The innovations are so conceptually simple that it’s surprising that it’s taken someone until now to come up with them. Along those same lines comes their Finecut Power Handsaw. You’re telling us that no one’s ever done this before? Why wasn’t there a major market release of this tool, like ten years ago?

It’s a moot point because it’s here now and judging from what we experienced, it’s going to be around for a while. In fact we’d be shocked if a few of the other big companies didn’t follow suit with similar tools in the next few years.

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