Cool Tools

Construction tools have never been better, and most of this improvement comes from an approach that the Japanese call ‘kaizen’. The word means ‘continuous incremental improvement’, and that’s what you find everywhere in the tool business these days – a whole lot of little advancements that add up to big gains. Sure, there are quantum-leap improvements in battery technology, carbide cutting edges and tool diversity, but a huge amount of real-world improvement comes from a slew of little things. Here’s your kaizen tour of the very best.

Cordless tool headlights

Cordless Tool HeadlightEver since super-efficient light emitting diodes (LEDs) hit the scene in a big way two years ago, the tiny, long-lasting bulbs have been popping up everywhere. And one of the best uses for LED technology is on the business end of cordless saws, drills and impact drivers. The best LED headlights run off the main tool battery, switching on automatically every time the trigger is hit, staying on for ten or fifteen seconds afterwards. LEDs are rated to last for hundreds of thousands of hours of continuous use, so you never have to worry about them burning out.

Circular saw trigger lockouts

All the best cordless circ saws now include a trigger interlock system that makes starting the tool more of a two-step, conscious act. And that’s a good thing since these machines don’t have a power cord to unplug and make safe. Lock-equipped triggers won’t move until you hold down a small tab first. Found on both sides of the handle grip, trigger lockouts work equally well for right-handers or southpaws.

Impact driver drill chuck

Hitachi now offers a three-jaw, key-type chuck that pops right into the hex drive hole of any impact driver. It won’t be long before other manufacturers follow. Now there’s no reason at all to pass on the awesome screw driving ability of an impact driver just because it can’t bore holes. Simply slip the chuck in place whenever you want to do some drilling.

Magnet-equipped levels

With more and more metal studs, posts and beams showing up on building sites these days, it creates the opportunity for hands-free level use. But that’s only if you’ve got the right equipment. Today’s best levels – both four-footers and torpedo levels — include magnets built right into the body, letting the tool stick to any ferrous metal

Tool-free circ saw arbor

Flip a lever, change a blade. It’s that simple. No wrench needed. The system is fast, simple and — as unlikely as it sounds — it works great. Similar tool-free blade anchor systems boost jigsaw performance, too.

Nail-tough recip saw blades

Recip saws are like the Marine Corps of the power tool world. They get assigned all the toughest jobs, slashing through unknown enemy territory, come what may. But a saw is only as good as its blade, and that’s why today’s nail-tough blades are so useful. They sail through the ugly stuff hidden inside every real-world renovation

Awesome pry bars

Stanley’s new Fubar is designed for serious wrecking, for wrestling twisted joists into position, bashing holes in walls, removing nails and prying apart boards. It combines weight, power and versatility in a way that sets the standard for workbars right now.

Stiff tape measures

The best tapes now extend 12 feet before buckling. That makes for much easier and more accurate one-man measuring, plus longer life. Hyper-stiff tapes get their backbone from more resilient metal and a deeper trough-shaped bend in the tape profile.

Illuminated extension cord ends

Small, internal light bulb molded into the clear, female end of the power cord glows whenever the cord is live. You don’t have to guess any more whether or not you’re plugged in, or why a tool isn’t working. @[email protected]

Nail-grip framing hammer

A small, rare earth magnet set into the top of the hammer head holds a single nail for hands-free nail starts. Clip the nail in place, hammer the tip into some wood, then pull off the hammer and pound the nail home. This is the resurrection of an old design feature that goes back to the days of a famous hammer called the Cheney Nailer.

High-performance wood screws

Today’s best screws include thick, hot-dipped galvanized coatings (durable even in ACQ lumber), serrated thread patterns and dual-drive head designs that take both Philips and Robertson driver tips. Superstar screws start easy, they grip strong and last forever. They’ll even drive into the hardest wood without need for a pilot hole.

Toothed drive belt designs

From chopsaws to belt sanders, more and more machines are being driven by tough, toothed belts these days. This design system is quiet, long lasting, inexpensive and efficient.

Headless pin nails

Invisibly secure small trim and molding with an ultra-thin diameter, 23-gauge brad that has no head. Although pin nails don’t have a lot of holding power on their own, they’re great with glue. The pins hold small trim elements steady while the adhesive dries. Think of it as a tiny, instant, air-powered trim clamp.

Cordless tool lanyard

This is Ryobi’s idea. It’s a strap-equipped device that clips into the battery slot in place of the battery pack, creating a tethered grab point on all tools. Carry multiple tools on your belt, or hang them up in your truck or on a building site.

Dual-range, random orbit sanders

Dial in a large orbit for fastest stock removal on coarse work, then flip a lever or push a button for finer results. Dual-range sanders don’t eliminate the need for different sanding disk grits, but they do extend the range of options that are possible with just one machine.

Paper-collated strip nails

More durable than plastic collated nails and less dangerous since there are no flying bits of hard plastic every time you shoot a nail home. Paslode made paper-collated nails popular, and Hitachi is continuing the tradition with nails for their new hoseless gas framer.

Double-bearing flush-trim bit

Flush-trim bits are the fastest way to copy curved, architectural trim and fittings of all kinds using a plywood pattern and table-mounted router. Trouble is, single-bearing bits force you to mill against the grain on some kinds of curves. Double-bearing flush-trim bits solve this problem by allowing you to rout both ways with complete safety. Rout all you can with the grain direction and the pattern on top and riding on the upper bearing, then flip your work piece upside down and rout troublesome curves in the other direction. Wood grain that was contrary with the pattern on top now works in your favour with the pattern underneath the work piece and riding on the lower bearing.

Like I said, today’s best tools are great because of a whole lot of little things. On their own, none of these refinements matter much. But put them together into a truckload of tools and you’ve got one reason why there’s never been a better time to be in the building business.

Posted on November 11th, 2010