Inova T3R USB Rechargeable Torch-A Solid Performer

Aimed at: Demanding users who need a pure light from good optics and tough body that will take a few knocks.

Pros: The torch has options of low and high power and strobe functions. Very well made alloy body and rechargeable via USB too. 

The choice of products in the torch market is truly overwhelming in my view. We have torches that cost less than £1 and others that are over £200. Relative quality is hard to tell sometimes because the “lumens” (light output) is not always a true measure of how good a torch is. The quality of the optics and the means of focusing the beam have a part to play as well. The general rule that you get what you pay for applies to torches, but there are pockets of good value and high quality to be had for the canny buyer.

With a typical internet retail price of around £65 the T3R is aimed unashamedly at the quality end of the market – typically the consumer who perhaps is a regular torch user – professionally or personally – who needs a reliable and relatively powerful device and who likes the idea of a rechargeable, thus eliminating the need to buy batteries.

The T3R has a reassuring “heft” in the hand. This is because it has a body that has been machined from solid aerospace grade alloy. It also has a US military spec, hard coat, black anodized finish, with a regular deep knurled pattern machined into the body exterior for good grip. The torch has a “made for serious business” feel that will reassure users of its rugged toughness. It is built to withstand a drop of 1 metre onto a hard surface and it also has IPX4 standards of water resistance. These measures indicate a device that is strong enough for tough and sustained use in domestic or outdoor environments. 

Other specs are not too shabby either… The maximum light output is 234 lumens, not a class leader, but as I have said before, the quality of the reflector and the LED are important too. I found that the light was clear and bright. The T3R boasts a nice round halo of light with no dark spots or lines in it with a wider halo of less intense light around the middle. This is an indication of quality optics. The double–sided anti-reflective coated glass lens on the front of the torch must take some credit for the beam quality I guess.

When high beam is not needed the low beam option is a mere 20 lumens, giving enough light for walking down a dark path in the woods for example, but at the same time ensuring that the battery lasts a lot longer.

The specs say that the run time on full beam is two hours and forty-five minutes; while on low beam the run time is 40 hours. A considerable energy saving indeed.

The beam range is given as 152 metres – which because the T3R has a good concentrated beam actually makes sense. In pitch dark from my back window into the fields opposite the centre spot of the beam was clearly visible surrounded by an aura of clear light that was well focused too.

There are rechargeable torches and rechargeable torches – some are easy and flexible, others are more difficult. The T3R provides a lot of options for recharging to suit all the expected needs of the target market. There is a simple charger plug that can fit three different plug types. The UK standard plug is easy to fit on the charger and feels like it is solid enough to be safe and long lasting. Other charging options include a standard USB connection and an in-car adaptor. Optional extra chargers will fit solar panels and computers for an even greater range of charging choices.

The lithium ion battery pack is separate from the torch itself, so it would be possible to replace it or have a spare one if needed. The battery is put into the torch by unscrewing the end cap that includes the integrated switch mechanism. The end cap can be turned half a turn anti-clockwise to lock the switch out so that it is protected from accidental switching during transit, or in a pocket for example.

For initial use, the manufacturers suggest that the battery should be fully charged. This charge takes about 4 hours and is a common thing to do with lithium ion batteries.

After this, it is suggested that the torch is plugged in to recharge after use to keep the battery fully topped up. There is no danger of overcharging. While charging, there is a red indicator light to indicate charging status. In use, the USB charging point on the torch is covered completely. When you need to recharge, simply unscrew the front end of the torch to reveal the USB plug into which the charging lead is plugged.

The multi-purpose press switch on the rear end of the torch controls the various light modes. One firm push means full beam is selected. A slower push selects low beam and a quick then a slow push selects strobe mode. If the switch is pushed only part way in in each mode the light switches off when you release the switch.

Because lithium ion batteries deliver full power until they run out quite suddenly, rather than slowly fading like old batteries did, there is a built-in warning of imminent loss of charge – the light will start to flash quickly before turning off automatically. This should prevent deep discharge, which is the enemy of long life for lithium ion batteries. Time then for a full charge if possible.

There is no doubt that the T3R looks and feels like a quality product and that reflects its quality price tag. The alloy body is good to handle and all the functions work smoothly. There is even a delicate but useful wrist loop that is threaded onto the rear cap. The T3R comes with a limited lifetime warranty covering manufacturing defects.

With its range of charger options, users should never be without a method to top up the battery when needed, so it should suit professional users like paramedics or roadside assistance personnel. 

For more information on Inova Torches and other products from Whitby & Co , please visit www.whitbyandco.co.uk

Leica Utilifinder – Not Quite Magic, But Nearly

Aimed at: Independent trade professionals who need to locate buried services quickly in order to avoid them or dig them safely.

Pros: Easy to use, quick, accurate and versatile. Will repay its cost in safety and peace of mind.

Building and construction is a key issue today. As a nation we are trying hard to build enough houses in a time when skill shortages are acute. So anything that will help construction workers do their jobs more efficiently and safely in an increasingly crowded island is to be welcomed. So, step up the UTILI-FINDER+ from Leica Geosystems.

The UTILI-FINDER+ is aimed at small organizations involved in building and maintenance on domestic properties with a price tag to match and is essentially a utility avoidance system that is used to reassure workers of the location and track of cables, pipes, drains and other utilities.

There is a code for safe digging, but accidents still happen, and they can often have dangerous consequences in terms of injuries, delays and financial losses. In a world where brown field sites are increasingly going to be used for new building and where extensions to existing properties are more popular, then safe digging is the responsibility of the contractor. The UTILI-FINDER+ would be utilized on small building sites and around residential applications. Let’s face it, even putting up a new fence probably needs a check to see that the fence posts won’t foul any utilities.

So for me, the case is made, and all that needs to be done is to use the right piece of kit to achieve it.

The UTILI-FINDER+ comes as a comprehensive kit. Packed in the tough, padded water resistant wallet/carrier you not only get the UTILI-FINDER+, but the UTILI-GEN, UTILI-DRAIN, and also, a nice touch this, a couple of jumbo sticks of chalk for marking the ground. 

The instruction booklet is slim and to the point. Using mainly diagrams and short notes it aims to familiarize the user with the capabilities of the device without becoming too complicated.

Once out of the case, the UTILI-FINDER+ is pretty easy to get going. It is held by the big black handle (not too heavy for sustained use) and the yellow trigger under the handle is pulled to start it. An electronic signal tells you that you are ready to go in Auto mode and the LCD display confirms with a rising bar display and depth indicator icon. In this mode a scan over the area where you are digging will tell you that there are metallic pipes and cables underneath the surface. By adopting a method of slowly swinging the UTILI-FINDER+ in a zigzag pattern over the target area, it is possible to track and mark the course of these cables or whatever.

The message to the user is not complicated – the device tells you that something is buried, so dig carefully or avoid the area completely if you can.

However, most plumbing and gas pipes are now earthed to the electrical supply and by plugging the UTILI-GEN into a nearby socket an extra dimension of information can be gained. Once plugged in the UTILI-GEN shows two lights on top of it. A green light indicates that power cables can be traced, and a blue light shows that other utilities can be traced. Fortunately for my testing purposes both lights showed, so I was able to use both functions.

I knew I had a cable going to an outhouse since there was electric power to it, but I am in the process of drawing up plans for a more ambitious shed, as I need more space for my tools and related activities. I was able to trace the cable from the meter box, down the side of the house, diagonally across the patio, down some concrete steps and of course, the entrance of the cable to the outhouse wall was already apparent. To be honest, I was surprised at the course of the cable as it was not, to me, the most logical route. However, it just underlines the point that sometimes logic doesn’t come into play when routing cables and utilities, and also things at ground level don’t stay the same because people add and change things all the time. In this case the steps appear to have been added after the cable was laid, I just hope nothing ever goes wrong with the cable!!

It really does prove the point that the only safe way to dig is to check first, rather than relying on what you think might be a “logical” route. Again the thing to do is to use a zigzag pattern to follow the cable and mark it every time you get a beep and an indication on the bar display. It is actually not rocket science – and you soon get used to focusing your effort and using the device for most accurate results. The more you use it, the better you will get at interpreting the data it gives you. Training in using the UTILIFINDER isn’t essential but in my view, if you could have a simple demo from the retailer or hire company, then it would give you more confidence that you are working accurately.

To add to the info you get, by pressing the “F” button on the left of the display you can select 33kHz mode. In this mode pressing and releasing the “i” button allows the device to give you an indication of how deep the utility is buried. I was surprised to find a reading of over one metre on my cable – again I hope I never have to dig it out.

The UTILI-DRAIN is another clever idea that extends the use of the UTILI-FINDER+. This is a battery-powered sonde shaped like a little bomb that is introduced into the drain system by attaching it to plumbers’ drain rods. It is used mainly to trace drains and find blockages so that they can be dug out and cleared. By selecting 8 kHz on the device the depth of the drain can be read too. The instructions recommend that the sonde is introduced to the drain, its position marked, then moved another metre, then marked again and so on. It works well, but my experience of it was limited by the fact that I had access to only about four metres of drain rods. Again, careful use and a comprehensive covering of the ground give the best results.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is a valuable tool for plumbers, builders, electricians and fencing contractors, to name but a few. With a retail price of £599 I can already hear the sharp intakes of breath in some quarters. But add up the cost of delays, accidents and injuries that could be avoided by the skilled use of a UTILI-FINDER+ and suddenly it doesn’t seem that silly.  

For more information, please visit www.cabledetection.co.uk

THS Show 2015 – 40 Years to Celebrate and a New Venue

Report by Peter Brett

With 40 years of trading to celebrate, 2015 is an important year for THS. The Directors spoke of addressing the range of challenges facing the tool market with confidence. Perhaps one of the less challenging decisions was to organize the annual show at the new venue at Donington Park. The decision was, in the opinions of everyone I spoke to, a great success because it got the thumbs up for a wide range of reasons. For visitors, the warm space was welcoming and well lit and organised, with facilities like tea, coffee and snack food available on tap. There were a number of informal sitting areas where the free Wi-Fi could be accessed as well as a huge demo area for the people who just need to see the “hands-on” stuff. People like me for example!

The exhibitors also liked the venue because of its easy motorway and airport access and free and generous parking close by. But their biggest thumbs-up was for the ease and speed of access to the hall for setting up stands. A big plus, especially for those who need to get going quickly at the end of a day – October being a very busy month for shows and exhibitions.

A theme for some of the exhibitors I spoke to was how to make the best use of show days. Many had new stand designs, publicity, video demos, mini-competitions and the staples of free pens and chocolate. Successful marketing often means being able to stand out from the crowd, so they are looking at increasingly ingenious methods to do just that. However, it still seems that a really slick demo is a crowd puller and sales generator. I await the results of the post mortems with interest…

The power tool market continues to grow in double digits each year, and there were many power tool companies who had new models on display. Flex Power Tools had a range of new 18v drivers to show. Very compact and up to date, I look forward to giving them a review in ToolBUSINESS +HIRE soon.

Key news at Hitachi centred on the new site radio (see this November’s issue) and the 12v cordless driver duo.

Metabo’s big draw was its excellent range of well-priced and very capable mitre saws – all bases covered from mains to cordless. The new Lithium HD battery technology has been a phenomenal success too.

Fein had newish mains Multi-Master with reduced noise and vibration, but with the 18v cordless version now in stock, my fingers are twitching to get a test done soon. Also new, were the 12v cordless drivers (It seems to me that 12v is the new 14.4v as so many manufacturers seem to be launching new models in that segment.) 

Over at Panasonic, the new “carbon fibre” look drivers have a number of key advantages like dual battery platforms and weather sealing. In an era where choosing the best battery platform for you is key, since it will very likely ensure continued loyalty to a brand, battery flexibility makes a lot of sense.

Draper had a prominent stand as ever and with new products aplenty promised in the New Year, I am keen to get down to Draper’s demo and sales area at Chandlers Ford to get my hands dirty.

Wera always has a steady stream of new concepts to market, most of which add directly to the Wera “System” and make it easy for users to continue to buy Wera kit.

Rollins had a generous display of some very good “standard” products like Estwing Hammers and Channellock pliers that no trade can afford to ignore. But when you have used a quality hammer for example, it is very hard to ignore the shortcomings of a cheap hammer, especially if you are using it every day.

DART Tools have a similar philosophy, picking from a range of manufacturers to provide best value and quality for many users.

The brightest stand by far was Schneider’s – lit by its range of very well designed and flexible work lights. In a market driven by price it was good to see such clever functionality and bright but diffused lights.

As a dealer, one can’t afford to ignore work clothing these days, and the competition is very fierce. Brands like Dickies and JCB are well established, but the new boy on the block, Dassy from Belgium, displayed a good range of standard workwear for men, as well as a range designed to fit women perfectly - a trend that acknowledges the growing number of women in the trades.

Adhesives, paints, lubricants were also well represented. I need to find a good use for the sample cartridge of Siroflex adhesive, but since I use wipes all the time now, the Ambersil ones look like they will go straight into my site bag ready for use. Delta adhesives and silicon tapes are also high on my agenda since I always seem to have a few minor emergencies that need dealing with. And to throw a light on it all, a good torch from Coast or LED Lenser is now an absolute necessity as the clocks go back on Sunday.

Although gambling wasn’t on the menu this year, the Radisson Hotel was a spacious and gracious venue for the annual members’ and suppliers’ dinner. A relaxed event, and judging from the babble of conversation, a very friendly and chatty one too. Well done THS organisers!

For more photos of the day visit www.facebook.com/ToolBUSINESSHIRE-Magazine/

The Pacific Laser Systems PLS480 – Pinpoint Laying out Laser Lines

Aimed at: Builders, tillers, decorators – anyone who regularly needs to mark out.

Pros: Easy to use, accurate and efficient. You will wonder why you used chalklines. 

When I think of all the “fun” we used to have with laying-out before the days of innovative and affordable lasers I don’t miss the “good old days”. Frankly, what a pain in the neck. Plumb lines, especially on windy days, were always a bit dodgy. Chalk lines sometimes didn’t mark properly and weren’t really possible to use if there were any small obstructions in the way and rickety right angles made up of bits of 2x1 became inaccurate almost as soon as they were made.

Lasers have changed all this, from surveyors’ laser levels that cost thousands to jobbing builders and plumbers’ versions that cost hundreds or sometimes less, we now all have the convenience and accuracy of lasers to help us layout. Because they are self leveling and the lasers project over obstacles they are so easy to use that even DIYers have no real excuse for a duff job these days.

The Pacific Laser Systems PLS480 is a classic example of all of the above. It arrived packed into a grey plastic case that neatly contained all the components in their custom spaces. There are great advantages to this – nothing moves in transit when the case is closed, and it is also easy to check that you have everything before you pack up. There really is a lot that you get with this laser, all of which is designed to be versatile, useful and accurate. In fact, it could be just about all the laser a small tradesperson would need, except, maybe, for a laser distance measure.

The laser device itself comes packed into a black nylon case as well, so it is well protected. Taking nearly as much space, there is a clever dual- function adaptor to mount the laser for use. This adaptor enables the laser to be mounted easily onto a standard surveyor’s tripod or it can be fitted over a stable batten or beam. In my kit I also had a piece of alloy angle onto which the laser device can be screwed for use on floors when laying wall or floor tiles.  Two laser targets are also included, one a simple reflector target, and the other an electronic target that can detect both vertical and horizontal lines with a beep function to indicate when the laser line is accurately found. There are also a couple of laser mounting clamps included. One has magnets so that the laser can be attached to a metal profile or scaffolding pole and the other has a simple screw clamp system.

So you get the idea that you have all you need in the box, but really the best bit is to get out into the open air or on site and find out just how easy the kit is to use.

I was lucky enough to have a surveyor’s tripod included as part of the test kit. This has a built in spirit level so it is pretty easy to have a basic level ready for the laser to be attached (it automatically cancels itself if the self-leveling function cannot operate) The adaptor for the laser has a sighting hole downwards through the middle so once the laser is mounted and switched on, there is a pinpoint of laser light to show plumb, your starting point.

Outside, the best target to use is the reflective one. The reflective surface looks a lot like reflective road signage, but as I discovered, it is incredibly effective at making the laser line visible.  This reflector is placed on the desired reference point by unfolding the base and standing it on a handy brick or flat surface.  Using the appropriate laser mode, (pulse) a laser light is projected, and by careful adjustment using the fine-tuning knobs on the tripod base, the laser shows up on the target. This laser beam is strongly visible if your eyes are right behind the laser beam looking directly at the target and will be so, I am told past a distance of 60 metres. Even in bright daylight at over 40 metres I had no trouble seeing the mark - without my glasses!  If you need to make the designated mark permanent, it is straightforward to put in a marking peg.

Then using the electronic laser detector, the laser line at right angles to the marked line is detected and marked. It really is that simple – simple marking out done in minutes without hassle and fuss.

But the joy of laser marking out is that it doesn’t matter if there are obstacles in the way. I managed to lay out a rectangle in the car park near my house despite a metre high wall that was in the way of the electronic detector. I had the help of a colleague to do this, but in reality, I could have easily done it by myself once the laser had been positioned initially. If I had wanted to lay out accurate distances all I would have needed was a suitably long tape measure pegged to the original plumb point under the tripod.

Apart from being able to be used inside and out for marking out of most small building tasks, this laser is so versatile that the jobbing tradesperson could use it on floors for laying out all types of floors from laminate to quarry tiles. It is equally at home on walls, should bathroom tiles be the job in hand, or even leveling kitchen worktops as well.  By overriding the self-leveling system (pressing the level lines button twice) a laser line can be projected at any angle onto a surface. Great for doing stairway marking out or even for marking out wallpaper lines that are at an angle other than right angles.

This PLS480 laser is another great example of how new technology can help us work more efficiently and accurately and more to the point – simply. You don’t have to have a degree or be a professional surveyor to use this device. If you do a lot of marking out, laying of tiles and other exterior or interior leveling work, then this laser will quickly pay for itself in time saved and accurate results.

The PLS480 is fully assembled in California, USA and has a three year warranty against manufacturer’s defects.

For more information on PLS, please visit plslaser.co.uk

Vargus Deburring Solutions- Plumbers and Electricians Take Note

Aimed at: Professionals like plumbers and fitters who need quick and easy deburring.

Pros: Easy to use, comprehensive choice of products that have a long working life.

Vargus Ltd has been making and supplying deburring solutions for industry and trades since 1960, so they know a thing or two about the best way to go about deburring a wide range of things. The subsidiary, Vargus Tooling UK, is based in Shropshire and supplies many industries and trades here.

Vargus serves customers in over a hundred countries worldwide with three major product lines: - VARDEX thread turning and thread milling tools, GROOVEX groove turning and groove milling tools and SHAVIV hand burring tools.

On review this month are three different products from the range of SHAVIV deburring tools. Once again, these demonstrate the huge range and expertise that Vargus has in the area of deburring, and also how, no matter how niche, Vargus can supply a tool that will do the job. Finishing metals and plastics is a specialized task, but even I have had to use deburrers when I have made special brass joint supports for furniture for example. And I have a couple of friends who routinely use them in their specialist model building activities.

The deburring tool that caught my eye this month is very specialized – it is used for deburring and slightly chamfering the inside and outside edges of pipes. It would be an area easy to ignore, but ask a good plumber how important a neat finish is to ensure a first class soldered joint on a copper pipe, and you will get the answer that it is very important. I have come across the same problem with big 150mm diameter plastic pipes used in groundwork. A simple method of beveling the outside of the pipe before leak-free jointing is very important, because once the pipes are joined and buried, any leaks are going to be hard to find.

The Plum-burr (get it? plum – ber) tool looks very simple – a black tube that comes in transparent plastic packaging for easy identification. The Plum-burr comes in a range of sizes from 6mm to 41mm so plumbers, installers and electricians are well catered for in terms of the usual range of tube sizes that they work with. This tool can deburr aluminium, copper and brass tubing, but there is a Plum-burr plastic range of tools specifically aimed at deburring plastic pipes. The range of sizes covered is 4.8mm to 38mm – again covering all the popular diameter sizes used.

But you really get to appreciate the Plum-burr when you start to use it. It has two ends – one for deburring the inner edges of pipes and the other for the outside edges. They are easy to tell apart. The inner edges deburrer has a conical middle that fits into the pipe and a swift twist of the tool will deburr the pipe. On the other side, there is a short lead in to a pair of sloping double sided cutters that will swiftly – and I do mean swiftly – it takes only a couple of sharp twists left and right - put a neat bevel on the pipe end. It is another example of a tool that just does what it does, but so well and so simply that you don’t have to worry about it.

It is also a great tool just to fling into the toolbox so you know exactly where it is for immediate use. Being as it is, a strong metal tube with some ribs on it to help your hand grip, it is unlikely to be damaged and requires no special care. Also, all the sharp edges are on the inside, so the danger of cutting yourself on it are minimal, even if you are a tool box rummager.

With a list price of £30.86 it is the kind of tool that you can buy and forget about because it is bound to have a long service life and will also simplify the deburring jobs that can be more difficult with other tools.

Also on review this month is a neat set of three Scrape Burrs that handily also includes a free Glo-Burr tool with blade.

I am told that these three scrape burrs (another pun – Scrape – ers) are the most popular choices by end users and they come in a handy transparent plastic wallet. The tools look like miniature triangular files without the teeth and the three edges on each tool are VERY sharp. Each tool ends in a point too. The handles are quite key because they enable the user to safely handle them and apply the necessary pressure to an edge that needs deburring.

Each handle is made from rigid red plastic with a ridged rubberized grip and a shaped end for gripping like a pen for detailed work. There is also a pocket clip. But I wouldn’t put one in my pocket unless I had remembered to put the plastic guard over the point. The tools are designed to be used on straight edges, hole edges, inside and out, back edges and flat surfaces. I found that I could use them for deburring pretty well anything from metals to plastics. They are so sharp that it is easy to dig them into an edge, so controlling the angle of attack is key to efficient use.

Incidentally, I also found them quite useful for scraping off small spots of paint, glue etc from hard surfaces.

They will last a long time because they have three edges and they are made of very hard metal.

The free Glo-Burr Yellow handle holds a more familiar hooked deburrer blade that can rotate freely in the handle. I find that these deburrers are very easy to use and literally take seconds to produce a finished edge on hard materials. The good thing about this tool is that the blade can be removed by simply twisting the base of the pen-type handle. This releases the blade, and a replacement can be slipped in.

With a list price of £34.21 this kit will be an irregular purchase because the Scrape-Burrs are designed for a long life. 

Five Toughies – THE Competition in Turf Equipment?

Aimed at: Professional groundskeepers with LOTS to do.

Pros: Toughly built for a long life and very easy to operate. They are not toys, they do the job.

Little Wonder and Classen turf care equipment, marketed by Mantis UK Limited, is probably most well known by users who have significant amounts of land to look after. These machines are, without exception, toughly built in that simple “if it ain’t broke no need to fix it” American tradition. Largely made from sheet steel either welded or bolted together, they have a long working life built into them. Routine maintenance is generally easy because key parts are easy to get to by the simple wielding of a spanner or screwdriver. The almost universal adoption of consumer-favoured Honda four stroke motors has helped too – all five of the machines I tested used these, and despite all of them being brand new, they all started and ran without any difficulty, often on the first pull of the starter cord.

My overriding impression of the five machines I used was that they outperformed my expectations of them, making difficult and tiring jobs easier to do. As a relative novice, even I was capable of a level of productivity that astounded me. I could only guess at the productivity possible in the hands of an experienced and expert operator.

With guiding hands and sound advice from David Goose, MD, and Malcolm Mullender, Regional Sales manager, I was let loose on an umpteen acre area of land on which to test the machines. The tests were very realistic, encompassing steep inclines, heavy brush, the best damp English Autumn rain and heavy Sussex clay soil.

First up was the Little Wonder Pro Edger. These machines have been built in a similar way for over fifty years and what the pros want is a machine that is easy to use and will cut edges at around 28 metres per minute. The simple steel deck and tubular frame hold a 118cc Honda GX120 motor that drives the cast iron cutter head with two cutter blades via twin drive belts (no slippage and extra power delivery) User adjustment is tool free and easy – a ratchet system is used to set the cutter height and the motor is controlled from the handle that have anti-vibration grips. I was very quickly able to get the hang of edging with this machine because the four-wheel design makes it stable. At the same time it is easy to adjust side-to-side movement from the handle because the centre of gravity of the machine is quite low. I was able to look back over my shoulder at a 20 m long strip of edging that I had done that was not only quite straight, but didn’t need any further attention from a spade.

For the uninitiated a wide expanse of green grass usually signifies a healthy lawn, but apparently it is not that obvious. Grass needs to be raked regularly to ensure that moss and other intergrowth does not slowly choke it. The machine for this is the Classen TRS-20H Turf rake. A self propelled (thank goodness for that – I used it on quite a steep patch of field) machine with a top speed of around 3.4mph with forward and reverse drive. It is squarely and solidly built with a 5.5 hp Honda engine. The four wheels are semi pneumatic and the rear two are big enough to ensure grip and drive on slippery grass surfaces. Height adjustment is via a lever on top of the machine and the handle can be folded for easy storage in a greenkeepers’ store or the back of a truck. When I first used the machine it just seemed to chew up the grass surface, but when I cleared away the debris a bit, it was clear that the grass survived very well, only the entangling moss was ripped out, leaving a lot more room for the grass to spread out evenly into the space cleared.

Also needed for healthy grass is aerated soil. I remember helping my dad do it on our small lawns at home - plunging a pair of garden forks at intervals into the soil. We only did it once! The Classen RA-21 reciprocating aerator is the professionals’ way of doing the same job, and believe me, it is the only way I would consider doing it again. A look “under the bonnet” of the RA-21 reveals a sturdy cast iron crankshaft with the aerator cores attached to it. These cores can be solid or hollow according to need and soil type, but it clearly needs the powerful Honda GX120 motor for this demanding job. The steel chassis and foldable tubular handle are rigid and strong. There is no need for self-propulsion because the action of the cores into the soil drives the machine forward at a very controllable 2.8 mph and the specs say that an operator should be able to cover about 26,000 square feet per hour. I can believe this – I managed to aerate several hundred square feet in a few minutes, leaving a carpet of cores behind me.

What better to clean up the mess I had made with the rake and aerator than to try the Little Wonder Pro Vac SP? It is a big solid machine, but with its 270cc Honda engine and hydrostatic transmission it is very docile and easy to control. The vacuum nozzle is easy to set at the correct collecting height and it incorporates a shredding blade so that by the time the waste arrives into the 282 litre collecting bag at the rear it is as compacted as it can be. Emptying the bag is easy too – it simply unclips and with the aid of the handle underneath, it can be tipped onto the compost heap. Despite the damp conditions where the autumn leaves tend to stick to the ground, the Pro Vac left behind a clean wake on tarmac and grass. Definitely one of my favourites that day.

But the best was kept to last – the Little Wonder Hydro Brush Cutter is not so little, but it is wonderful. The machine is built from solid steel plate with massive tractor style 16-inch wheels on the back. With a Honda GXV390 engine it has a forward speed of up to 4.2 mph and a reverse of up to 1.7 mph. Despite the more complicated controls on the handles I was able to get the hang of it quite quickly and was soon creating clear spaces in patches of nettles and brush that was up to chest height in places. The brush cutter never faltered and I must admit the feeling of power was tremendous. It can cut individual brush stalks up to 50mm thick. The best fun I have had testing for ages. In my view it is one of those machines that once you have seen it working, you will be convinced – it is just very capable and strong and it looks like it will last forever. Apparently, a working life of over 15 years is not uncommon.

Despite the weather, I had a great day trying out machines that do exactly what they are supposed to do and are simple to operate to get the best out of them. Green keepers and estate managers everywhere should take a look. Highly recommended. 

For information on Mantis Products, please visit mantis.uk.com

 

Hitachi UR 18DSDL Site Radio -Wedge Shaped Sound

Aimed at:- Anyone who needs a tough radio – mostly site pros I guess.

Pros:- Bluetooth, phone charging and good sound and lots more.

Dedicated worksite radios are now quite common. Thank goodness.  The old paint-and-plaster-splattered, slightly out of tune, and usually very loud, radio tuned to Radio 1 is now nearly a thing of the past. The wonders of Bluetooth, MP3 players and new broadcasting technology mean that site workers have no excuses for poor sound quality and endless audio rubbish. Workers and clients can breathe a collective sigh of relief. In fact I had a client come over and examine the Hitachi a couple of weeks ago because he did not believe that the sound he heard (some Bob Dylan if you must know) was coming from something that he didn’t recognize as a radio.

I am rather taken with the shape of the Hitachi UR 18DSDL  - it is a bit like a Hitachi Black and Green cheese wedge trapped inside a wedge shaped cage. This not only looks very modern and “designer” but clearly the outside cage provides some bump protection, an assortment of ways to carry it and a stable base on which it can be sat. Even on a dirty and dusty worksite, only the cage will be in contact with the muck. 

Modern listeners have become fussy, so it is not enough to simply have a radio – lots of other features have to be included too. This radio has to be set up like any other electronic device like a phone or tablet. Time to head for the instructions!

Probably the key thing here is fitting the backup batteries into a small compartment contained within the main 18v battery compartment at the back of the radio. It is a bit of a fiddly job, but once done should last a long time.

A standard 14.4 or 18v Hitachi battery is probably the most common power source for the radio on site. All you need to do is open the back compartment and slide it in on the rails provided.

There is also a mains adaptor provided with the kit should you run out of battery and are lucky enough to have mains power on site.

Now you can set the time, date, alarm, sleep etc etc settings using conventional computer logic. Anyone used to setting up a tablet or phone or games console would be very familiar with this process. To tell you the truth I wondered about all the settings – it is just a site radio isn’t it? But a short poll amongst a few friends soon showed me. Apparently you never know when you might need these functions, so better have them than not.

The radio can receive DAB, AM and FM bandwidths, so users should have all they need, including listening to England (hopefully) winning the cricket on Test Match Special or on Five Live.  There is a choice of manual or automatic station selection and users can then select presets so that they can go to the stations they want very quickly. The folding antenna on the back of the machine can be adjusted for the best reception.

Digital radio can be very sophisticated and a good listening experience and this Hitachi has its DRC (Dynamic Range Control) system that can make quieter sounds easier to hear when the radio is used in a noisy site environment.

Equally, bass and treble can be adjusted to suit, so there really is no need for distorted sound whichever station or method you are using to listen.

I am a happy iPod user, and I love the idea of having only my choice of listening on hand, especially when I am on my own in the workshop where my choices won’t affect anyone else. The Hitachi is capable of playing back from smartphones, MP3 and other devices. Some devices small enough (like iPods) can be fitted into the front of the radio. Simply open the front cover and adjust the ratcheted holders left or right to hold the device securely. It took me only a few minutes to set up my iPod to play via Bluetooth through the radio. Simply select Bluetooth mode on the radio and on the device, and enable them to pair before listening!

Some devices will need either an L cable or straight cable to connect with the radio; both are cheap and easily available.

Smartphones and other small devices can also be charged via a USB cable connection to the radio in every other mode except AM mode. As long as the volume isn’t past 21 level, charging should take place.

There is a lot more to like about this Hitachi apart from its practicality. The two big speakers on each end of the radio provide good quality sound in stereo, where possible.

The wedge shape is quite compact and makes it easy to place the radio in a position where it is stable and not that easy to knock over. I found that I could run the radio for several days before I needed to recharge the main 18v batteries that I used. In the workshop, with easy access to mains power, it made sense to use the AC adaptor.

Just about everyone I asked commented on the quality of the sound. It is great to have the adjustments for bass and treble so that both music and speech radio sound good and are easier to hear.  Having all the radio options, FM, AM and DAB, means that you can have the sound quality and the stations that you wanted. Some of my clients thought that was a great idea – especially the more elderly ones to whom slightly out of tune Radio 1 was not their favourite!

The control panel is logical and easy to use, providing lots of options for the way in which to use the device. All in all, I think the Hitachi UR 18DSDL is a well thought out, well-designed piece of kit that I am sure many Hitachi users will adopt wholeheartedly. Adopting a battery platform these days means that brand loyalty is a major part of deciding which bits of kit to buy, so I think it might be a shame if this radio doesn’t get more of a following. Oh well, there is always the mains adaptor option! 

 

Click here for more on Hitachi, inculding  Power Tools reviews, such as the CV 18DBL Cordless Multi ToolCS Chainsaw.

For more information on Hitachi Products within the Tool Trade, please visit www.hitachi-powertools.co.uk

Draper Hard Graft Wipes -Effective Cleaners and Antibacterial Too!

Aimed at: pros and amateurs alike who need to clean up difficult things like grease and glues.

Pros: Easy to use, lots of them and big wipes too.

Wipes and cleaners have become very much part of the tool market as Health and Safety concerns have inevitably focused on healthy skin too. The days are gone when cleaning up was done with powerful solvents that left hands and skin stinging and dry. I confess that I always have a canister of wipes in my workshop and I use them regularly to clean away a variety of glues, paints, varnishes and oils.

The new Draper Hard Graft Wipes come in a large black and orange tub that holds 90 wipes. Opening the flip top lid seal the first time reveals a foil covering that seals the wipes for a good shelf life. Once this seal is broken you have to pull the first wipe from the centre of the roll. A simple system of grooves in the lid guides the wipe so that it can be pulled through and then separated from the next one, which is trapped in the groove ready to be pulled out for next time. The lid actually provides a decent enough seal to prevent the wipes from drying out.

Testing wipes is a good excuse for getting dirty hands, and it says on the container that Hard Graft Wipes are effective on glues, oils, sealants and paint – although this list is clearly not exhaustive.

Accordingly, my first job was to check and top up the oil in my car as this inevitably results in greasy, oily hands. I did all the other maintenance checks too, and when my hands were suitably dirty I pulled out a wipe and cleaned my hands. Results were pretty well immediate – the oil was quickly transferred from my hands to the wipe and I was left with sweet smelling, slightly slippery hands. If left for a while, the slippery feeling soon evaporates, but if you want to, a quick wash with ordinary soap returns the hands to “normal”.

Mostly I use woodglues, and even after I had allowed them to dry on my hands, the active ingredients in the wipes just lifted the residues off my fingers and left my hands clean. Superglues on the other hand, are very differently formulated. I had a little experimentation by putting a popular make of make of superglue on my fingers and letting it go off. Initially, the Hard Graft wipe didn’t appear to be shifting it, but after a while as I kept flexing my fingers the active ingredients crept under the glue and lifted it off. Result!

Both gloss and emulsion paints were shifted with the Hard Graft wipes, and as expected, the oil-based gloss took a bit more wiping and handwringing, but I was left with clean and sweet-smelling hands. 

With their capacity to shift oil and residues, the wipes are also great for cleaning tools and equipment and wiping down at the end of a working day. I used the wipes to clean dirty finger marks from a newly-painted door after I had fitted some new handles for a client, when a damp cloth had failed to do the job.

The Draper Hard Graft Wipes that remain have now been given a prominent place in my workshop ready for cleaning my hands as needed. Good Product!

Click on this link to see a video of the Draper Hard Graft Wipes: - https://youtu.be/F65OY3KMH1k

For more information on all Draper Products, please visit www.drapertools.com

 

Flex Random Orbit Sander -You’ll Wonder Where the Vibration Went!

Aimed at:- Pros in a number of trades– woodworkers, decorators, shopfitters, carpenters etc.

Pros:- Quiet with less vibration and very good dust collection system. An up to the minute product.

I am a great fan of random orbit sanders because they save me a lot of time. I do a lot of furniture making, general woodwork and decorating and the random orbit sander will cope with all of these various working conditions with the right speed settings and the right abrasive papers. Inevitably I have a few favourite sanders that I use constantly, and I have even been through a couple of them over the years. So, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed or surprised when the Flex ORE 150-5 landed on my doorstep – I thought it might be “just another random orbit sander.”

The Flex arrived in what now seems to be customary stackable Lboxx – not a criticism at all. I think the judicious use of quality kit boxes can help tradespeople be more organized and more secure, and as it happens, this particular Lboxx is one of the best. It has a custom space for the tool and accessories as well as for the long cord and all the inevitable bits and pieces, like sanding discs that collect with a tool.

Some might say I am being fussy, but another small point that I liked with this and most other Flex power tools is that the instruction books have dedicated pages to each language with all the good quality pictures and diagrams clearly marked with the language section. No need for that frustrating flip backwards and forwards between the diagrams and the instructions.

The tool itself follows the standard layout of a random orbit sander. The motor is placed vertically above the sanding platen with a nicely placed bit of black rubberized overmould where the sander can be guided right above its centre of gravity. A longer handle containing the switch trigger is at right angles and it also has a grippy bit on top. I am pleased to say that the trigger switch and lock-on button are very simple to operate because that is what is needed on a sander that is used continuously and switched on and off regularly.  

While the main body and motor housing is made of Flex Red plastic, the orbit housing is a solid alloy casting followed by a robust plastic skirt that holds the fan and dust extraction mechanism and port. The machine looks slimline and sleek and weighs about 1.8 Kgs – just enough to make it comfortable to use on walls and ceilings without too much hassle, but heavy enough so that you don’t have to push down on any horizontal surface being sanded.

Finally, the hook and loop covered sanding plate is of as good quality as I have seen anywhere, but has the added advantage of having a number of perforation patterns all over the base. This means that the Flex can be used with just about any brand of sanding disc as well as the multi-holed and mesh based discs on the market. A time and money saver for me – I like the flexibility of having a wide range of discs to choose from because I sand a wide range of surfaces.

Flex make two different versions of this sander – the 150-3 has a 3mm orbit and the 150-5 has a 5mm orbit and you can spot the difference because on the top of the handle there is a 3 or a 5 included in the overmould. The bigger orbit version will speed up sanding and I find that I don’t really need the 3mm orbit version for what I do – I simply adjust via the speed wheel and the grit of the sanding discs I use.

The milled wheel switch at the back of the top handle controls the orbit speed – a very useful range of 11,600 to 20,000 no load oscillations per minute, so you can be sure that work proceeds quickly.

Compared to yesteryear, dust collection on sanders is so much better now. Obviously, manufacturers have worked on this because we have discovered just how dangerous dust inhalation is. Flex’s solution is to use a clear plastic box holding a pleated microfilter that fits onto the nicely ribbed dust port underneath the main handle. This is as at least as efficient as any other good random orbit sander I have used, and is better than many. For most jobs this system will be good enough so that only the minimum of dust escapes. Of course users should always use a good dust mask when sanding, whether indoors or out.

However, connect the sander dust port to a vacuum extractor and the results for escaping dust are really excellent. Just remember to set the extractor so that the vacuum created doesn’t pull the platen too hard down onto the sanded surface.

Efficient sanding, good dust collection and easy handling are two boxes I would expect to check on any good quality sander I might use, but what makes a sander go from being one of the crowd to one that sort of becomes the one you choose to use every day – a sort of “go-to” tool?

We are now in the area of personal preference, but the one thing that stood out for me is that the Flex 150-5 is very well mannered. The motor noise is well controlled. I could easily use it in my back garden without annoying my neighbours over the hedge, about 20m away.

Secondly, the vibration transmitted to the hand is minimal so that I found that I could comfortably use it for longer. Now, there has to be some vibration because it is a random orbit sander – but lower noise and vibration levels make for a machine that feels modern and efficient – becoming a “go-to” tool?

Overall, there is a great deal to like about the Flex 150-5. It is unashamedly a professionally rated machine with a price tag that reflects this. There are no cut corners – it feels like a pro machine when you use it. From the 4m long power cord to the efficient dust collection options, it feels like a machine that will stand hard work every day. In my view a very welcome addition to the echelons of high quality random orbit sanding machines.

Aimed at:- Pros in a number of trades– woodworkers, decorators, shopfitters, carpenters etc.

Pros:- Quiet with less vibration and very good dust collection system. An up to the minute product.

For more information, please visit https://www.flex-tools.com

New Panasonic Brushless - Ultra Compact and Very Good

It’s not a coincidence that Panasonic cordless tools have a very dedicated group of followers. In my experience, Panasonic tools are not only advanced, they are also very good with a number of features that set them outside the ordinary – like the TOUGH TOOL IP system that protects tools and batteries both mechanically and electronically. Having seen a few very well used examples on worksites, I think they are up to the job.

However, life and cordless tools move on, and the launch of two new compact brushless drills from Panasonic now catches my attention. Having got just about everything else, it seems that end users are demanding compact size as well, and the new Cordless Impact Driver EY75A7 and Cordless Drill Driver EY74A2 are about as compact as currently possible. I can almost see the Panasonic fans queuing up to get a look at them at the next trade show!

I started with the impact driver – and first impressions really do underline just how compact it is - just 120 mm from rubberized rear end to compact hex chuck and a shade over 240 mm tall, standing on the new 18v 5Ah battery pack. With the optional 18v 3Ah pack it is only 230mm tall and also correspondingly lighter. An option that will definitely appeal to kitchen fitters. 

But it does not feel like a tiny tool – Panasonic has made the handling exemplary with a good balance and a textured grippy rubber overmoulding that covers the main handle and the base. Elsewhere on the tools, subtle patches of the new black “carbon fibre look” make it look ultra professional and modern, and with a few rubber “bumpers” on key parts of the housing, the whole should be able to take a few knocks.

The compact size is largely made possible by the all-new brushless motor developed by Pansonic. It is clearly powerful and smooth and raises the bar for other machines.

Panasonic likes to keep users informed about the state of the battery charge and to provide info there is a panel at the bottom of the main handle that indicates charge levels as well as impact speeds, a switch for the bright LED light under the chuck, and finally, a temperature warning for battery and electronics. 

Some changes are under the skin, so to speak, and Panasonic has improved the hammer, bearings, switches and anvil in order to ensure that the driver is up to heavy and sustained use. I can’t test the long term, but I had no difficulty driving the longest and thickest screws in my toolbox (85 mm) into dense Indonesian hardwood like it was butter using the EY75A7.

A new “self-drilling screw mode” automatically switches the rotation speed from high to low when smaller screws are used (15mm or less) so that they do not get overdriven or broken by the sheer power available from this motor.

Rather belatedly it seems to me, some end users have come round to the notion that bigger Ah battery packs aren’t always better. On smaller jobs, having a lighter and more compact battery pack makes sense because the tool can fit into smaller spaces and the effort of lifting the extra weight of a bigger battery saves muscle power and helps prevent fatigue.

Not only will this and most other Panasonic cordless tools take the new 3 Ah lithium ion battery pack, but they are also dual voltage - 18v and 14.4v. Clearly, there is no excuse for older battery packs to be abandoned and at a stroke Panasonic has ensured that users get the best use out of their battery packs – old and new. However, the advantages of the newer battery packs are considerable, with a working life of up to 250% more than the original Li Ion ones.

I feel as though I can almost guarantee a positive response from end users after they have tried this little machine. I liked it a lot and it would easily become one of my favourite tools – one of the ones that you reach for first.

Cordless drill drivers are expected to be workhorses on site and in the workshop and I do see them being stretched beyond their capacity sometimes…..???  Hence the importance of Panasonic’s IP system for the users with less sensitive hands and ears. With smart electronics and other tweaks, Panasonic has enabled the motor in the EY 74A2 Drill Driver to deliver more consistent and higher power (more than 70% up compared with previous similar Panasonic models) and I definitely noticed the difference - up to 50Nm of torque can be noticed at the wrists! 

Like the impact driver above, the new compact body has been redesigned for ergonomic handling and it also boasts the carefully designed rubber overmoulding and modern-looking carbon fibre patches on the body. At just short of 190mm long from motor end to chuck and 240mm tall with the 18v 5Ah battery pack it is very compact but feels impressive in the hand- it weighs a not inconsiderable 2Kgs with the battery.

Again, some of the new features are internal or would go unnoticed, but they nevertheless count as improvements. I particularly liked the new Hybrid Switch that has been designed to give increased switch durability as well as a more sensitive touch for users. Starting screws and drilling small holes need a sure but slow speed from the motor and this new trigger design allows users to select with ease by a simple progressive squeeze on the trigger.

The new electronic speed selection allows users to choose speeds when drilling sensitive materials like plastics and metals to prevent melting and scorching. Most will, I am sure, simply use the highest speed most of the time because it matches the jobs that need doing, but occasionally it is handy to have speed options.

Like the impact driver, users will be able to use older and newer 14.4v and 18v Li ion battery packs as well as the more compact 3Ah ones.

It is also comforting to note that features like the belt hook (L and R options), LED worklight and quality chucks are also used on these newer models. So you get the feeling that the new machines still retain a connection with the older ones, but are nevertheless more advanced. Users will be happy to note that these dual voltage machines are compatible with li ion battery packs dating back to 2007. Great that there is no built-in redundancy. I liked this pair of Panasonic machines a lot, and even if you aren’t a Panasonic groupie, they would definitely be worth consideration. 

Aimed at:- Pro users who need compact and powerful (and very well designed) tools with a varients of battery options available. 

Pros:- Little gems, will do the job nicely! 

For more information, please visit https://panasonic-powertools.eu/

 

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