Tool Talk: A dozen tools that get the job done

As you can imagine, a multitude of tools is introduced every year for woodworkers, professional builders/remodelers, and for the do-it-yourselfer. Earlier this year I decided to round up a dozen such tools that have either been introduced this year or have stood the test of time through frequent use and still prove their worth on a daily basis.

The Stanley Tool Company introduced a number of tools this past year, and one is so clever I am surprised that someone didn’t come out with this before — a Lighted/Magnetic Torpedo Level. This small level — 9 in. long and 2 in. high — is very handy for working in tight, poorly lit areas as all three vials are lighted. It has a lightweight aluminum frame, shock-resistant rubber end caps, and shatter-resistant vials with rubber insulation around the top center vial. The internal light is activated by pressing a rubber-covered button on the side of the level. One long edge is magnetic and the other edge is V-grooved for use on iron pipes. The Stanley Lighted High Impact Torpedo Level sells for around $15.

A number of new age hammers have been introduced in the past few years — enough for an entire article — and my favorite is the Stiletto Titan Titanium Framing hammer. While this wooden-handled hammer only weighs 14 oz., it drives nails like a 22 oz. framing hammer. The titanium head has a magnetized groove that holds a nail while you set it. The 18 in. long hickory handle — in straight or curved shape — is ergonomically designed and helps to generate lots of leverage. The striking head of this hammer is available with a smooth or milled face. The Titan is a powerful framing hammer but light enough to use all day long without the typical arm strain common with conventional framing hammers. Retails for around $65.

Everyone has a need for a prybar and nail puller occasionally and I wouldn’t be without my Shark Saw, especially for delicate finish work. This unique nail puller — often called a ‘cat’s paw’ — is not designed for removing 16 penny nails, although it can be used for this. This tool is really helpful for removing finish nails where the object is to do as little damage as possible to molding and trimwork. The sharp V-blade bites into the shank of a nail below the head, then the nail can be levered out. The prybar end of this 8 in. long tool is thin and sharp. It is the ideal tool for getting between a wall and molding prior to removing the trim. The Shark Saw 8 in. prybar/nail puller sells for around $19.

Earlier this year Stanley-Bostitch introduced a line of oil-free trim nailers, and I have grown fond of the BT200K-2 18 gauge 2-in. brad nailer. The frame is made from a highly durable magnesium alloy, which results in a very lightweight nailer — at 2.1 lbs., the lightest in the industry. Unlike most pneumatic nailers, the new Bostitch does not require the use of oil to lubricate the drive motor on a daily basis. Another unique feature is the rear exhaust of air when driving fasteners. This is very much appreciated when nailing base moldings in dusty conditions and in tight spaces. Another good feature is the open channel design, which allows the tool free access to the drive channel for clearing a jam. A highly visible reload indicator shows when it is time to reload, and an exclusive magnetic strip makes loading fasteners easy by holding them in place. There are also 30 fewer parts than competing nailers, which translates into fewer parts to wear or maintain. This tool has a driving power of 170 in./lbs. and can drive fasteners from 5/8 to 2 in. in length. The product comes with a carrying case, 1,000 2-in. brads, and 1/4-in. quick connect fitting. Retail price is around $100.

Back in September Bosch Power Tools introduced two new additions to its professional line of cordless power tools — a jig saw and 3-1/4-in. planer. Both of these new tools rival corded units and are available in 14.4-, 18-, and 24-volt models.

I have been testing Bosch’s 18-volt Jig Saw (#52318) for several months and find that it can do anything that a corded jig saw can do. This model has a variable speed 0-2,000 rpm motor and a lock-off switch just above the trigger. The new Bosch One-Touch blade change system is simple and fast to use. Installing a new blade involves pushing a T-shank blade into the drive shank until it clicks into position. To remove a blade, simply press a small lever and the old — and usually hot — blade is ejected. The drive gear housing of this saw is made from lightweight magnesium for durability and long life. Cutting capacity is 2-3/4 in. in wood and 5/16 in. in steel, the highest capacities of all the cordless jig saws on the market. Other worthwhile features include an aluminum foot that bevels 45 degrees left or right, a smooth removable plastic foot cover that protects the workpiece from scratches, a dust blower, soft grip handle, a four-position orbital selector switch, and great balance. The new Bosch cordless jig saws retail for $219, $249, and $299 respectively (14.4, 18, 24 volts).

I have also been testing Bosch’s Cordless 3-1/4 in. 18V Planer (#53518) and find it very handy for projects around the shop and on the job. It can be used for trimming or beveling door and window edges, rabbet joints, trimming protruding window jambs, or scribing workpieces to fit irregular surfaces. Like its corded brother (Bosch #3365) this unit has one reversible carbide cutter blade for a smooth finish. Other features include a two-way chip ejection port, an ambidextrous lock-off switch, and an electronic brake. Equipped with a dust bag, this planer can also be connected to a shop vac. Depth of cut can be adjusted from 0 to 1/16 in. A 14.4 model is also available. Retail price $219 for 14.4 Volt and $249 for 18 Volt planer.

Earlier this year Porter Cable introduced a line of laser tools for professionals. One of the handiest is the Laser Square, a self-leveling, 3-beam level, square, and plumb laser. This little unit shoots out three beams at the same time — front, top, and side — and is very useful for layout work. It uses gravity-leveled pendulum technology for self leveling. Other features include an out-of-level indicator, low battery indicator, an auto-off feature after 20 minutes of inactivity, magnetic base, tripod mounting hole, and pendulum lock for transport. Retail around $199.
The handiest set of box wrenches I have found in years are the Reversible Ratcheting Combination Wrenches from Crescent. Available in four- and seven-piece sets, these open-end wrenches are just the tool for working in tight places as the ratchet feature turns fasteners in 5 degrees rather than the 30 degrees needed for standard wrenches. Retail price around $30.

The DeWalt Heavy-duty Cordless Screwdriver (DW920) is so handy I find myself grabbing it for a wide variety of fastening tasks such as attaching bathroom vanities and kitchen cabinets to wall studs, installing locksets and door hardware, assembling and disassembling electrical boxes, clamps and fixtures, and almost any other task that does not require the power of a drill/driver. While this little unit is rated at 7.2 volts, it will drive fasteners all day long within its limits. The variable speed motor runs at 0-500 rpm and generates 80 in./lbs. of torque. It has a 16-position adjustable clutch. The two-position head of this unit can be adjusted for working in confined spaces. This screwdriver comes with two bits — Phillips and slotted — onboard and a Quick Release Chuck that accepts only 1/4-in. hex accessories. This cordless screwdriver sells for around $99 and comes with two batteries, charger, and case.
The DeWalt 4 gallon air compressor (D55155) is a good choice for a small, easy to carry, and powerful air supply on the job. This unit puts out 4.5 cu. ft. of air per minute at 100 psi, which is more than enough to run two finish nailers or one framing nailer all day long. It has a 2 hp, 14.5 amp motor that runs on 120V household current. It also has a high output, oil lubricated direct drive pump with a cast iron cylinder for long life. The single tank is easy to drain at the end of the day with the built-in ball valve. Additionally, dual soft start valves improve cold weather and low voltage start-up. Two dial gauges indicate tank and working pressures in psi, and there are two quick-connect couplers. The compressor and electric motor are covered with a metal plate that offers more than adequate protection from damage on the job or during transport in the back of a pickup. This professional air compressor sells for around $350.

The DuraSpin Cordless Screw Driver (Model DS200-14v) from Senco is a very handy tool for driving lots of screws — drywall, floor sheathing, underlayment, etc. This 14.4 volt screw driver uses preloaded strips of 50 screws 1-2 in. long. Both Phillips and square head screws are available for around $18 to $24 per thousand, depending on length. Features include a depth of set adjustment, clutch, belt clip, and 2,300 rpm high torque motor. Retail price around $199.
The Ryobi Benchtop Planer (Model AP1300) is a versatile thickness planer. It will plane stock up to 6 in. high and 13 in. wide. The powerful 15-amp motor spins the knives at 9,900 rpm and runs material through at about 25 ft. per minute. Other features include eight preset depth stops, a depth gauge, and replaceable double edged knives. This unit has many of the features and capabilities of planers that sell for twice as much. If you are looking for an affordable thickness planer, this is it at around $199.

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