Dripless Caulking Guns – Dripless and a bit more too


Caulking guns are now universally used in many trades and by most DIYers too. Ostensibly a simple tool – used to deliver accurately a steady and consistent bead of silicone, adhesive, or whatever, to the job in hand. But there are “good uns” and “bad uns”. Using an inferior one will make your job more difficult, and the most common mistake for non-professional users, in particular, is to finish the bead and put the tool down, only for it to continue to deliver the bead onto the ground, floor carpet or tiles you have been working on. Cue panic as you try, with silicone sodden wipes, to clean up before it creates even more of a problem!

There are lots of solutions on the market, but probably the easiest one is to invest in a more professional quality caulking gun – two of which, the Dripless 2000 and Dripless 3000, will help you deliver a professional result, as well as having a few other timesaving features that you will soon begin to appreciate.

Dripless Caulking Gun

Both Dripless models use a spring loaded plunger mechanism to ease the pressure on the plunger when the user stops pressing the trigger and this prevents the “trigger creep” that continues to drive the bead even after immediate trigger pressure is released. The user can actually pull back the plunger against the spring if extra reassurance is needed. On the 3000 model the dripless feature can be disengaged via a small lever on the back of the gun.

Common to both series is that they are largely made of a very strong industrial plastic composite. (The plunger mechanism is made of steel) One of the big advantages of the composite construction, as was demonstrated to me by one of the Dripless marketing team, jumping on it repeatedly, was that it will spring back into shape if deformed – something a metal gun will not do. Accidents happen on building sites, so having something that will take a lot of punishment is an advantage.

The second advantage of this composite is, almost whatever silicone, adhesive etc that has been used in the day’s work, can literally be peeled off the gun when it has dried, leaving it nearly pristine. With metal guns in particular, they either become gunged up to the point of needing replacement, or a solvent needs to be used to clean up.

Each gun also has a rotating barrel that can be moved around to suit the job or the preferences of the user, and the ergonomic trigger handles have a rubber overmould for grip.

Both guns have a built in nozzle cutter and metal nozzle cleaner spike that is safely clipped away on the side of the tool until it is needed. Since I can never find a suitable cleaner spike when I need one. I found this particularly useful.

I lent one of my Dripless samples to a tradesman friend and I am afraid that I have already lost it to him. He was delighted by the steady trigger action that delivered an accurate bead and he was also very chuffed with the easy clean-up that the composite body made possible. Since he also stores his tools in what I can only call a jumble in the back of his estate car, I think the uncrushable Dripless is also a huge advantage. My guess is that once you have tried one, you will return to it because it is simply a lot more convenient and easier to use.

Aimed at: Pro users who need to do a good job first time every time.

Pros: Strong, uncrushable and works smoothly.

For more information on Dripless, please visit www.thedecoratingstore.co.uk or phone 0845 8500 557

Hitachi CV 18DBL Cordless Multi Tool - Brushless and Li Ion

Hitachi CordlessIt seems that, suddenly, cordless multi tools are everywhere. Maybe because each manufacturer has its own Li Ion battery platform, they all have to have one so that their customers won’t miss out on tool choice. But the bar for multi tools is now so high that reputable brands simply have to have a good product in their ranges. Not only does it have to be good, it helps if it is unique in some way in order to distinguish it from the competition.

This multi tool was delivered to me in a simple cardboard box – a so-called “naked” tool. With most big manufacturers having battery compatibility across their range of tools and Ah, it is cheaper and more efficient. After all, how many chargers and battery packs does one need?

Hitachi ToolA quick word on battery compatibility – this CV 18DBL will accept all current 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4 and 5 Ah battery packs from Hitachi. The advantage of using smaller battery packs is obvious – they are lighter and make the tool easier to handle, but also there are some jobs for which the weight and bulk of a bigger 5 Ah battery pack is not required. Cutting small components and detail sanding are two jobs that spring to mind where bulky power or endurance is not required.

I have small hands so I look for slim bodies and lightness in many of the power tools that I use regularly. While it does not appear to be the slimmest on the market, the Hitachi fits my hand nicely with the black rubber overmould sparingly and efficiently placed for good grip. It has a very efficient brushless motor that has several advantages – it uses battery power better and runs more quietly. With no brushes to wear out and a sealed motor unit the inevitable dust produced while using machines will not wear out a commutator ring or clog a field coil. Brushless motors are usually slimmer and smaller too – hence the slimmer body for me to grip.

The rubber overmould extends right over the head of the machine where it might get bumped and there are also two inlaid rubber bumpers on the rear of the machine on each side of the battery housing that will protect it when it is laid on its side.

Hitachi Tool VC18DBLAlso at the rear of the machine is the milled grey oscillation speed control wheel that shows 5 speed settings and an A for automatic. If automatic is selected the motor will revert to 15,000/min when not loaded and it will be quieter with less vibration, making it easier to place the cutting edge of the mounted tool more accurately onto the work. Once the cutting tool is engaged the machine automatically picks up to 20,000/min if needed, or remains on the 15,000 setting if the electronics detect that the extra oomph isn’t required.

Migrating to the business end of the tool is the locking lever for whichever cutting blade or sanding system the user chooses. Some of these levers can catch out an unwary finger by snapping closed quickly. However, I am pleased to report that the Hitachi has a very civilized system that operates positively and the spring loading only lasts to the point where the lever is vertical to the body, so it doesn’t snap down at all. Great news for me!

The Hitachi multi tool is also unique, I think, in having a collar lock on the attachment ring. This means that if the locking lever is released, the accessory blade will not fall out with the accompanying tool shaft – possibly falling onto and damaging a delicate surface or behind somewhere unreachable?

Hitachi Hand Tool

In order to release the cutting tool, the collar is just pulled down and rotated to the unlock position, where the tool shaft is released.

Although some might say it is unnecessary, I liked this system because it enabled the accessory to be located firmly and accurately.

A small square LED light on the front of the machine comes on immediately the machine is switched on and provides an area of diffused light right where cutting blades in particular might be working.

On/off is selected via a decently sized slider switch behind the lever lock. It is well recessed to avoid accidental operation and does not require any thumb athletics to make it work.

I was sent a range of cutting, sanding and slicing blades to try out. These were all of good quality, made in Europe and fitted tightly onto the attachment ring. The ring enables accessories to move at 30-degree steps for easy positioning onto difficult work angles. As I would expect from a reputable manufacturer like Hitachi, the CV 18DBL performed well on all the plunge cutting, flush cutting etc tasks I tried. With an overall length of about 312mm including battery it will fit into smallish spaces such as kitchen cabinets if necessary.

Hitachi Cordless Multi Tool

The delta sanding option also intrigued me – it is very efficient and the delta sanding head has better hook and loop than many, but it doesn’t have a dust extraction system. On some multi tools, the dust extraction can be a mixed blessing as it sometimes obscures the work area and doesn’t work very well. On the Hitachi, I wonder whether dust extraction has been sacrificed in order to have the locking collar option. When I used the Hitachi to sand some wooden window frames the dust didn’t appear to be a problem as I was outdoors and I did use a properly fitted, decent quality dust mask to do the job. Perhaps the best solution?

I am sure that many of Hitachi’s loyal users will welcome the addition of the 18v and 14v multi tools to the Hitachi range because multi tools can do jobs that others can’t – and easily and quickly too, so it makes sense to have one in the tool box. With a very healthy range of speeds from 6,000 to 20,000/min, a compact size and low weight (2 kg with 18v battery pack) and with noise and vibration well controlled the Hitachi feels up to date and robust.

Aimed at: Professional woodworkers and high end DIYers

Pros: Compact and efficient. Quiet motors and good dust extraction.

VARGUS Ceramic Deburring Tools – Safety First for Users

VARGUS founded in 1960 is a company that is well respected in the wider tool-using world, and additionally in the specialist world of deburring tools.

VARGUS Ltd supplies customers in over 100 countries with the specialist tools needed to cut and finish metals and plastics under three well known brand names: - VARDEX thread turning and milling tools, GROOVEX turning and groove milling tools and SHAVIV hand deburring tools.

A couple of months ago we looked at some deburring tools for use on harder metals, and now it is time to examine a few versions of some ceramic bladed deburring tools mostly used on plastics and softer metals like aluminium and brass.

Vargus ToolA quick word on the ceramic blades. The first thing users might notice is that they don’t have ground cutting edges like a conventional metal blade. The edges are finished square and are about a couple of mm thick so they don’t look as though they could cut anything. The good news is that they can cut an edge of a plastic moulding for example very easily, and the extra good news is that they won’t cut fingers because the ceramic blades are too blunt to cut skin, which can happen to operators who use metal blades to trim plastic components. I know this all seems a bit counter intuitive, but bear with me.

The ceramic blades I used were all white and looked like they were made of plastic. However, hold them to your lips and they feel cold, so they must be made of a very fine-grained ceramic material. This material has a very tiny amount of flexibility, so the blades should be protected from dropping and impact shocks.

I was sent three tools in all to test, and I will start with the Ceramix Set Q10. This is a heavy duty handle similar to a standard craft knife design that can be used with a couple of blade sets, but it came with a ceramic blade and also, a standard metal craft knife blade concealed in the handle.

The Ceramix handle is made of moulded red plastic with a spring-loaded catch that enables the two sides of the handle to be disengaged from each other. A slider switch on the top of the casing allows the blade to be slid forward or back to reveal or conceal it. The steel blade mounting inside the knife is an industry standard that will hold standard craft knife blades as well as the Ceramix blades.

Vargus Ceramic BladeThe ceramic blade included with the handle can be mounted two ways so that it can be used for two different tasks. The straight angled blade end is a surface cleaner and if the blade is flipped to the other end, the two stepped edges can be used for surface cleaning of sheets up to 4mm and 6mm sheets.

Since it has been known for some workers to use a standard steel craft blade for surface cleaning with the inevitable accidents, the extra safety made possible by using a ceramic blade is a very strong selling point. Just to prove this to myself, I tried both ceramic and craft blades on a small job. The fact that the ceramic blade has a completely flat edge means that it is easier to find an angle to make the deburring work easily. However, with a characteristic ground and beveled edge of a steel blade, it is much harder to maintain a consistent angle and also to prevent the edge from digging in or sliding across the surface to be cleaned.

To convert the Q10 to the Curved set Q12 all that is needed is to buy the Q11 blade. This has a nice curve and point that enables deburring of curved edges and small ridges although the flip side of the blade has exactly the same function as the Q10 blade above.

Vargus Ceramic ToolThere is no mystery in using deburring tools – you just have to find the right angle to enable the edge to be cleaned off. Removing just the right amount of material to give a clean edge to finish the component neatly does this. The Ceramix Q10 and Q11 blades work well – and despite what you might think, they are very hard and durable, so you can expect a very long service life.

The two Cera-Burr tools are slightly different from the above in that they are meant for more detailed work. You can tell this from their shape. The ceramic blades are mounted in slightly chubby ballpoint pen-like holders with a nice bit of rubber to aid the grip and handling, and even a pocket clip too.

Like the Ceramix Q10 and Q12 there are two different blades that seem to be much-reduced versions of the bigger ones above. The first of these has a fine point and a smooth curve, easily used on small and detailed components, as I found out.

Vargus Ceramic Blade ImageThe straight-bladed version works equally well and I found that the handle gave me a lot of extra reach and leverage when trying to access some out of the way places. Since the handle is rigid and the blade is fixed it seems a bit easier to find the correct angle to work at.

Because the blades have a very long service life it really doesn’t matter that the pen handle and blade are fixed to each other – it won’t cost a fortune to buy a new one when it finally wears out.

I don’t often have the occasion to use deburring tools, but when I do I always think that another tool wouldn’t do the same job as easily and efficiently as the SHAVIV deburrers I have used. With ease of use built in, a very long service life and obvious safety advantages, the ceramic blades are worth looking into. It won’t cost a fortune, and even occasional users will find that the ability to deburr quickly and easily are features that might save time and money.

Aimed at: Professional metal and plastic finishers

Pros: Safety first no-cut blades, long service life and easy to use

Nitto Kohki Atra Ace Cordless Magdrill - A Solution you may Need

A Solution you may Need

Aimed at: Professional steel workers and construction engineers.

Pros: Portable and cordless will do jobs other magdrills can’t reach.

Nitto Kohki might not be the name that trips off the tongue of people in the metal fabrication trades but the name may soon become more well known –especially if they were to try out the new ATRA ACE cordless portable magdrill. My contention is that this little tool is so good that if users were to seek it out and try it, they would definitely put it onto their shortlist, if not actually leave with one or two on order.

Nitto Kohki make no exaggerated claims for this drill – it is marketed as a portable solution to emergencies and for use on existing structures that might be far from power sources or difficult to get to. But again, it is so versatile that, I am sure that some users will choose it above their “normal” magdrill in some circumstances. Sometimes, size does matter after all!

I have to say that when I first took the ATRA ACE CLA-2720 out of its easily portable carry case I was amazed at how compact and light it is –about 7 Kgs. Of course the next thought that follows is “So how can this little tool drill through thick metal plate?” But the following specs should reassure you. With the right broaches it can drill holes up to 27mm in diameter in steel up to 20mm thick. For many jobs in construction these capacities are more than adequate.

Before I even looked at any of the other parts of the drill I was immediately taken by the size of the motor. Even for a cordless motor it is compact. But it has a strong plastic motor housing cover on the top and an alloy casting holding the bearings and drive.

The motor is attached to the commonly used system of adjustable dovetailed strips for moving the drilling head. It again becomes clear that this machine is intended for serious accurate use on precision components, it is not just “a get out of trouble” one-off” In common with many much bigger magdrills the feed handle can be used on right or left hand side of the machine and is changed using a very neat quick-release system.

Of course, all this compactness is bound to be very useful in situations where an existing structure has to be added to or in hard to reach places. Seriously – think half the size, at least, of an ordinary portable mains magdrill.

The all-important magnet at the base of the drill forms a solid footprint on which the tool can be attached to the metal it is being used on. Again, its versatility is increased by the addition of an adjustable base. This allows an adjustment of up to 10mm left to right and front to back and is a good solution where holes need to be lined up or indeed the situation is so tight that some leeway is needed for drilling to take place.

The machine comes supplied with a charger and two 18v Lithium ion battery packs that also fit into the carry case very neatly. A 95% charge can be achieved in 45 minutes, but a full charge will take about 90 minutes. However, the two battery packs should ensure that an organised end user need never be without power.

The battery pack slots neatly into the space behind the carrying handle and a blue cover needs to be slid right up to the top of the battery in order to prevent swarf and cutting lubricant from getting in.

The light-blue coloured body of the machine holds the very important electronics, switches and 18v lithium ion battery pack. With a cordless machine, saving battery power for the important tasks of magnetic holding and drilling is vital for efficient performance. Modern electronics make this all possible and the ATRA ACE comes fully equipped to inform the user at all times about the power being consumed and the safe operation of the tool.

As the battery charge is used up the battery indicator light will change from green to yellow and finally to a red blinking light that indicates that it is time to change the battery pack.
Similarly the motor load indication light will show green and then yellow at efficient loads but will turn to red and then a blinking red to warn of overload, before the motor cuts off automatically and shows a white light.

Should the magnet slip a little during operation a blue light will flash and the motor will stop. Clearly an important safety feature. In order to prevent waste of power, should the motor be under “no-Load” for 7 seconds, a green light will flash and three seconds later it will cut off automatically.

Having seen some of the shortcomings of the type of guarding that all magdrills suffer with, the simple solution that the ATRA ACE has is a curved metal guard that is simply held in place by a spring effect and the magnet. But there is a small chip breaker that is attached to the magnetic base that can be adjusted to cut off the swarf, as it appears so that it does not gather in long ribbons that can sometimes interfere with the drilling of a hole.

Mounting the broaches is simple, using a quick release system that literally takes seconds.

My biggest surprise about this machine came when I finally got the chance to drill some holes into a 12mm thick steel plate. I was expecting a tortoise-like rate of cut and a lot of noisy effort from the motor – after all it’s only cordless right?

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Using a TCT broach and guide pin I found that the quickest rate of cut was achieved with the very lightest of touch on the feed handle. You can actually feel it cutting smoothly and efficiently without any need to force it. Not one of the holes I drilled took longer than about 45 seconds or so, despite the fact that the steel was a bit case- hardened and the last bit was noticeably harder than the middle bit.

I was impressed, and If I were one of the unlucky people who had a to drag a mains-powered magdrill to a steel frame when I could be using this little beauty, I would be fed up. OK it costs more, but it don’t half work well!

Draper Abrasive Cut-Off Saw- A Real Workhorse!


Aimed at: pro metal and masonry workers

Pros: big and powerful, quick and easy to use, with extraction too.

There are some tools that are indispensable – like cordless drills and circular saws for carpenters. The Draper Abrasive Cut-Off Saw (stock no 76211) is in this category for metal, stone and masonry workers. Used on site or in the workshop, its considerable cutting power would be invaluable. The clean edges left from the abrasive wheel would need minimal preparation for welding (in metal) and competent users can get accurate straight and angled cuts every time. The more I looked at and used this machine, the more I realized that is very well specified and well designed for the tasks it is intended for.

It is a big, heavy machine (20Kgs) as is appropriate for its uses – but it has a total footprint of only 47 by 27 cms so can easily fit onto a fixed or portable bench. The big rubberized carry handle placed right in the middle, above the weight of the motor, is well placed for relatively easy carrying – I certainly wouldn’t want to lug it too far – but hulkier users than me would find it much easier. A robust lock pin locks the head down for easier transportation.

Pretty well all that the user has to do to get the machine useable out of the box, is to attach the four rubber feet and mount the appropriate cutting disc for its intended use. Some observant users might notice that one of the rubber feet has a metal shield around it to protect it from the danger of fire from sparks generated when cutting some materials.
Clearly metal cutting discs are different for those intended to cut bricks or stone. Attaching the disc is easy and takes only a few minutes. A robust screw needs to be released so that the cover plate can be rotated backwards to reveal the spindle bolt. Using the spindle-locking pin, this bolt can be unscrewed and the disc mounted. Then the bolt is simply tightened to a suitable torque with the spanner supplied. It is held captive by a spring at the back of the base.

The all-metal cutter guard intrigued me in that it has two parts that open automatically as the handle is used to push the disc into the workpiece. It looks a bit like the opening and closing mouth of a “pacman” figure in those now ancient computer games, but it works very efficiently and minimizes the exposure of the disc to the operator. This clearly also limits the amount of dust and sparks that are directed to the side of the machine where the operator might be more exposed to them. Operators should be wearing full PPE gear anyway, but it always good to have extra safeguards.
There is also a handy plate behind the disc, on the moveable arm of the saw, that directs sparks and dust downwards away from the operator.

Another little extra is the extraction port on the side of the machine that does a good job of removing swarf and dust. The port needs a standard adaptor to fit an industrial vacuum cleaner and users need to ensure that the vacuum is appropriate – for example not all vacuums are designed to vacuum up steel swarf and further hot steel swarf can be a fire risk!

The extraction port is yet another example of how much you get for your money with this saw.

Work holding for these type of saws is another key feature. Sometimes users need to cut angles and odd shapes, and the work holders need to be flexible and robust enough to make the cutting operations safe.

With robust pressed steel components the work holding vice on this machine is very tough, and yet very quick to use too. There is an efficient quick release system on the vice screw that enables very nifty adjustments to be made and the handwheel ensures secure tightening onto the workpiece in a few seconds.

The rear fence can be fitted into one of two positions. As standard from the factory, the fence is adjusted so that the workpiece is directly under the cutting disc. But there is another position, closer to the hinged arm that can be used to suit different work pieces.

In factory setting position, there is a clear 150mm width in which material can be securely clamped so enough capacity for professional users I think.

Adjusting the angle of cuts needs the use of the spanner again on two bolts, and although there is a rough angle guide on the adjusting quadrant, users will need to use their own protractor for more accurate results.

The large horizontal trigger switch is housed inside an even larger loop handle. The handle and switches could easily accommodate a gloved hand and the spring on the swing arm is powerful enough for an easy lift, but not too strong to hold down comfortably when cutting.

Motor noise is quite controlled considering that it is a powerful 2000W brush motor. Even when cutting hard sections of steel I found no lack of power from the motor, although forcing the disc is actually counterproductive for an accurate and quick cut.

Other important safety features are the adjustable depth stop and the overload cutout that will protect motor and user from over-heavy use.

Users should also be aware that the abrasive discs used on this type of machine are intended to wear away as they cut the material. It is the way in which the periphery of the edge is kept sharp. However, as the blade wears the peripheral speed of the disc is reduced, so discs should be replaced when they have worn to within 25% of their original size.

With a typical internet price of around £175 – £180 it seems to me that users get an awful lot for their money. The saw is robustly made and intended for heavy site and workshop use and has got a few extras that make it not only easy to use, but safer than many similar saws

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

Metabo MT 18 LTX - Pick and Mix the Metabo Way

18v Cordless Multi-tool

Aimed at: pros and high end DIYers with specific jobs in mind.

Pros: Metabo cordless battery system, slimline body and quick tool change.

Multi-tools are now everywhere, ranging in price from around £50 to £200 and over – a niche and price for every DIYer and tradesman. Increasingly, cordless makes sense too, with smart electronics for charging and controlling batteries and enough power to rival corded machines.

But, we come to Metabo with great expectations since the company has staked a claim on the cordless worksite of the future.The new MT 18 LTX Multi-Tool is part of the “Pick and Mix” range of over 40 different Metabo 18v tools that can use all current Metabo18v battery packs. Buyers can choose what they want – whether it is the naked tool, or with a battery, a charger, in a box or with other variations like different chucks etc. In other words a totally flexible set of options that can save a lot of money and be as comprehensive as you need. Lots to like here in my view.

My sample arrived in a sturdy cardboard box, inside which was a custom fitted tray that would slot into one of the new range of Metabo plastic cases now available. For the MT 18 LTX, the MC05 carrying case or the MetaLoc II stacking case are the ones to go for. The tray has custom spaces for the tool (with battery) a charger, an extra battery, dust extraction tubes and a lidded compartment for a limited range of accessories.

Immediately I picked up the MT 18 I was struck by just how slim the main body is and therefore how easy it is to handle, especially for my small hands. Some readers will know how much development Metabo has done on developing smaller, slimmer and more powerful electric motors, and clearly the work is paying off here too. There is a small amount of grippy rubber around the switch and body to aid grip and provide some bump protection. The balance of the tool is right with the oscillating head balanced by the battery pack at the rear. With a 5.2Ah battery pack on board, the tool weighs only 2Kgs and has electronically controlled no-load oscillation speeds of between 7,000 to 18,000 /min with an oscillating angle of 3.2 degrees left to right. The speeds are selected steplessly via a red-toothed wheel on the base of the tool.

We have come to expect all manner of tweaks and sophistication from our cordless tools these days and the MT 18 LTX Multi-Tool delivers in all categories. The quick accessory tool change system means that changing cutters etc is a simple matter of lifting the lever above the oscillating head and removing the tool holder and cutter. The tool holder is designed so that pretty well all makes of multi-tool accessories will fit, so users can choose what they need at the price point they want.

I was very taken with the two bright LED worklights inset into the front of the tool. This may be a comment on my aging eyesight, but I do always find these lights useful and I seem to be working inside a cabinet or in darker places more often these days.

One of the jobs for which a multi-tool is ideal is for detail sanding. I found that fitting the sanding delta pad and dust extraction was about as simple as it could be. The choice is to have the extraction tube locked on the left hand side where it is out of the way of the sanding head, or it can be mounted so that it can move freely round. Connected to an extractor via the standard 28mm Metabo vacuum adaptor the results were brilliant, with pretty well all dust collected that could be. Delta sanding, in particular, depends on the quality and grade of the sanding sheets and Metabo has a very good range covering most materials.

One of the tests I always do on multi-tools is to cut a slot out of the centre of a board. This is their USP – no other tools can do this. I used a piece of 35mm thick brown oak and was very happy with the results. The cutter even had a row of mm markings down one side so I could check how far I had cut – but I did need my glasses to be able to read them.

Another thing that pleased me was that the noise and vibration from the cordless motor was very well controlled. Multi-tools, because of their nature, have a sort of scream that can be tiresome, so less noise and vibration is very welcome.Another of my tests is removing grouting using the carbide half round cutter – this is a job that is made simple, efficient and quick with a multi-tool, and for me, a good enough reason to buy one. Again, the Metabo worked very well, and was very controllable too since I could choose the most efficient oscillating speed on the machine.

The rough carbide delta sander is perfect for sanding external surfaces where speed is important – I find that flaking paint simply disappears and also doesn’t clog the sander.

I mostly used the 2.0Ah battery supplied with the tool and it lasted well enough. However, when I tried a 5.2 Ah battery the machine seemed to run forever, and with the new battery chargers, downtime is minimal.

I confess that up until a few years ago I thought that some classes of tools like routers, circular saws and multi-tools would never transform well into cordless operation. But I am happy to say that I have been proved wrong and the Metabo MT 18 LTX Multi-Tool is a welcome addition to the competition. It is worth a look at purely on its own merits as a multi-tool, before you even consider the fact that it may fit into your existing Metabo cordless tool set at a price that will save you a lot of cash. With a typical body-only price of around £150 it could be the tool that adds a lot more versatility to your tool chest.

Steinel 2020 Hot Air Tool - Not Just for Removing Paint

Aimed at: Pro users in many trades who need a powerful and controllable heat gun.

Pros: Easy to use, good balance, extra versatility and controllability with the HL Scan attachment.

In short, it seems as though we in the UK need to do a bit of catching up on just how many ways in which the Steinel hot air tool can be used.

Steinel as a company had humble beginnings – in a garage in Germany in 1959. However, it now has worldwide sales, a number of very big partners in business and a range of professional and DIY products that embraces everything from glue guns, hot air tools and modern lighting solutions.

The company prides itself on having an entirely European manufacturing operation with quality and innovation at the forefront.

The 2020E is part of a range of Steinel professionally rated heat guns and at top of the range, is particularly well specified. For example it has 2200 W of output which means that it can put out an incredible heat of 630 degrees C at full stretch. Using the adjustment switch on the rear of the casing the user can select the relevant temperature in 10 degree C steps. The decent-sized LCD screen on the rear of the gun shows the temperature as it climbs and falls according to the user’s choice.

There is a four-step slider switch on the rear of the main handle that is used to select the off position and three steps of fan speed.

The ergonomics of heat guns is important because they are often used for long stretches and they need to be able to put down safely without setting fire to anything. The Steinel 2020 has been designed with the centre of gravity of a handgun – just about where the trigger should be, and as such it sits comfortably with a good balance in the hand. With a weight of just 800 grams it is really light enough to be used continuously by competent professionals and skilled DIYers.

It is also possible to stand it on its back on three rubberized feet so that it can be used stationary – with the materials brought to the heat rather than vice versa. Laid on its side the slightly bulbous body and nozzle protector mean that no superheated parts will come into contact with the floor or whatever, so obviating the danger of fire. (As long as you take obvious precautions like not having odd bits and pieces of flammable stuff lying around!)

Other very practical features are the plastic hook on the top of the body, placed so that the heat gun hangs horizontally, and the residual heat warning light nearby that blinks redly at you until the heat has dissipated enough for the tool to be stowed or handled safely. There is also an optional fine dust filter that can be clicked over the air inlets on the rear of tool. A valuable addition, I think, for dusty environments, where dust drawn in through the heating element could easily combust.

When it comes to safety the Steinel again aims high. There is both a thermostat and a thermal cut out so that maximum temperatures are not exceeded. Steinel has also included a simple system where the power cord can be replaced very easily without dismantling the heat gun. Anyone who has ever seen what continuous heat does to an ordinary domestic iron cord as it enters the body of the iron will appreciate the value of this feature. Simply put, continuous heat can damage insulation over a period of time, so it makes sense to have a system of making replacement very easy.

I tried the Steinel heat gun out on a number of tasks that would be standard – including paint stripping. I was very soon able to set the optimum temperature for stripping off gloss paint from wood without too much danger of burning it. The best distance from the material seemed to be about 15 cm and in truth, I would have done well to invest in some of the specialist nozzles that Steinel make for specific tasks.

If you were shrinking sleeves onto cables, for example, it would be handy to have the nozzle that directs some heat all the way round the sleeve so that it shrinks evenly.

I couldn’t resist the starting barbecue fire test, so I cranked up the heat to maximum and it worked brilliantly. I smugly thought I could show my South African relatives a thing or two without struggling with firelighters next time they are over!

But that is not all that Steinel have added to heat gun technology. I was also sent a small device called an HL Scan. This is powered by a 9v battery and can be clipped onto the top of the heat gun using the hanging clip. In short, if you are a very demanding user who wants nearly instant feedback of the temperature from the surface you are heating with the heat gun, then you need one of these. Clearly with plastic welding and heat shrinking where temperature is critical for a perfect result the addition is obvious. Even when the heatgun wasn’t heated up I could aim the red beam at my hand and get a temperature reading and then aim it a piece of wood and the temperature LCD would indicate the change. The temperature is set via the mode button and selecting the required heat level. An optional beep will sound when the temperature is within range.

There is also an emissivity setting for heat readings from different materials and a choice of F or C temperature readings. The result of all this is the user can work much more accurately and safely on even combustible materials with confidence.

This all brings me round to the point I made at the beginning of the review – the Steinel 2020 is a very sophisticated tool that would be a very handy addition to some toolboxes – Maybe it is just too good to be used for mere paint stripping?

Abracs “Hybrid” Grinder Discs- Safe, Multi-use Solutions

Aimed at:- pro users who need the flexibility of application and high performance.

Pros: Versatile discs that can cut and grind many materials.

I often think about the phrase “jack of all trades master of none” in the context of tools because it is true that many so-called multi solutions tools are often less easy to use and less effective than having the right tool for the job. But for grinder discs? Could there be such a thing as a grinder disc that works well on both metals and brick?

Abracs have recently launched the Hybrid range of discs that is capable of being used on a number of different materials thus saving the time of constantly having to change discs for different materials and expense of buying different discs for different applications. When you think of how much time is taken changing discs the cost savings become significant.

I was sent three different Hybrid discs to try out and I tried the 5 in 1 MULTI Disc first. This is designed for cutting ferrous metals, alloys, stainless steel uPVC and brick – so a wide range of general cutting is possible. The disc is noticeably thinner than normal cutting discs but it feels quite strong and rigid. I found it really effective on steel – it sent a huge stream of sparks away and cut quite quickly. Predictably, on hard face bricks the cutting rate was a bit slower and a lot more dusty (always wear appropriate safety gear) but the results were good and the wear on the disc was noticeably less than on other cutting discs I have used.

The 3 in 1 Maxi Disc was up next. This is a combined cutting and grinding disc. Because grinding and cutting apply two separate forces to discs the two types are usually made differently. Ingeniously, the 3 in 1 seems to have a layer of grinding material around the periphery without the slight “dishing” that grinding discs normally have, and an extra layer of reinforcing to ensure that the edge does not break up while cutting. Without the “dishing” the edge of the disc is straight leaving an edge that is also safe to use for cutting. The disc is a little bit thinner than a standard grinding disc so has a bit of flex required for grinding. Intended for use on ferrous metals and stainless steel, I was able to cut very efficiently and soon had a stream of sparks flying away from my test sample. For grinding, Abracs recommends a 30 degree angle to the material and it is then very efficient at getting a clean surface

Finally, I used the Plus 20 Flap Disc. This was my favourite disc as it proved to work really well in polishing up a piece of steel from rust to a smooth gleaming shine in a very short time. What makes this disc special is the double row of abrasive cloth, 60g on the bottom and then 40g on the top. Abracs claim that this arrangement has increased the life of such discs by up to 20%. All I can say is that it worked well for me and I would definitely keep this disc on my angle grinder.

In a market where price, habit and availability are key factors it can sometimes be hard to get end users to change their habits, but I think that these new Abracs disc are unique, so they would be worth going out of your way for. The decision could save you a lot of time and money.

Flex Laser Tools - Getting the measure

Aimed at:- Pros who need the speed and accuracy of laser marking out and measuring.

Pros: Keenly priced, up to date and very accurate.
No reason not to have one.

Flex tools aren’t available outside specialist tool dealers for the very good reason that only specialist dealers are in a position to give professional advice on the best use and purposes of Flex tools. Of course, this limits the scope of the market, but loyalty to the trades has been a Flex motto in the market.

Flex is probably most well known for their Giraffe wall sanders so it was with some surprise that I took delivery of a range of Flex laser products a while ago. Initial impressions were favourable – they seemed to have all the build quality and capability associated with other Flex products, and there is nothing like a bit of competition in the market to raise everyone’s game.

I started with the ADM60-T Touchscreen laser range finder. I am a great fan of this type of tool – how did we ever manage without them, dragging tape measures around site and having to climb ladders to measure roof heights for example. All done in seconds now with a laser measure, with all the extra calculations too. The ADM 60-T has a Flex Red casing with black rubber “bumpers” on most of the edges. Powered by 4 AAA batteries it comes in a nylon case and a standard tripod screw fixing in the bottom for static (and more accurate) use.

Weighing only 180g and with a length of 115mm the measure will easily fit into a trouser pocket. What makes this measure different from many is the touch screen. The on/off switch is on the right hand side and once this is pushed the blue-based display is easy to read even in daylight. Energy saving kicks in quite quickly to reduce the display and then turns off the device automatically after a minute or two.

There are only seven icons on the screen and they all follow “computer logic”. For example it is simple to scroll through the units needed – from metres to miilimetres, feet and inches, inches only or feet only. The device will also automatically calculate cubic volume, area and triangulated heights by simply selecting the appropriate icon on the screen.

I am still slightly in awe of how quickly simple surveying, estimating and measuring can be done with laser devices like this, and the Flex ADM60-T is so easy to understand and use that it is a no-brainer for even independent tradespeople to have one for doing quotes. It will pay for itself in time saved incredibly quickly.

Next on the list was the ALC 2/1 Basic Self-levelling Crossline Laser in its custom carrying case. The description pretty well tells you all that it does, but what it can’t convey is that the quality of this device is excellent. Although there is an interior red plastic casing to hold the laser projector and lenses, most of the exterior is covered with a rubberized material that offers excellent shock and dust protection.

The device can stand on a flattish surface or can be held on a tripod or one of the other bases that Flex supplies as accessories. If the placement surface is not flat enough to sustain a level reading, the laser will turn off and on intermittently and a warning light will show red on the top display. The display is simple to use and understand. There is a choice of interior and exterior use. The latter simply makes the laser crosslines slightly brighter so they are easier to see. There are three modes selected by an advance button – single vertical line, single horizontal line and combined vertical and horizontal lines. Ideal for brickwork, tiling, laying out kitchens and even hanging pictures. I have used similar devices for real and when I tried this Flex ALC 2/1 it is better than many and up there with the best. With a working range of 20m (probably a bit more indoors) it is another one of those time saving devices that you wonder how you managed without.

The Flex ALC 3/1 Basic Self-levelling Crossline Laser is bigger than the device above and comes in its own carrying case with the addition of a special magnetic wall holder so that it can be stuck to ferrous metal surfaces as well as being able to be used from a standard tripod mount.

It follows a similar pattern to its smaller sibling with generous rubberized shock and dirt proofing but it has the addition of a side laser beam used for plumb measurements. Switching on the switch on the side frees the floating laser projectors and it will self-level in a few seconds. Again, simply scrolling through the menus will allow the user to select the correct mode, i.e. horizontal, vertical, combined vertical and horizontal and then plumb mode with an additional vertical line that projects onto a surface at angles to the first two lines. There is again an interior and exterior mode and the range is given in the specs as 20m and 5m in plumb mode. Measurements are specced to be within 0.3mm/m, which is certainly good enough for most purposes. No doubt it costs a bit more than the Basic ALC 2/1, but if there is a chance you would use the plumb function a lot it would make sense to buy the bigger one – it too will soon repay its investment costs.

Some people might query why you might need a digital spirit level – after all many trades use ordinary spirit levels every day with no problems. But the truth is the addition of the laser bits improves the flexibility and functionality of a basic spirit level so that it becomes something a lot more. I was sent two examples of the spirit levels – namely the ADL30 and the ADL 60. They both function in a similar way with identical displays, and they both have magnets inset into the bases making them ideal for use by scaffolders and HVAC engineers. The ADL 30’s top surface is not milled so it has only one registered flat surface, whereas the ADL 60 at 60cm long has two registered surfaces, top and bottom, so can be used accurately from either. Both levels include a standard tripod mount and a vertical and horizontal spirit bubble. They can therefore both be used as ordinary spirit levels.

But the magic really begins when the central display is switched on. Immediately the bright green display shows a measurement in degrees above and below vertical or horizontal. If you want different units e.g. inches per foot or percentage, just change it using the “unit” button. A “beep” can be selected as an audio signal to indicate horizontal or vertical.

Finally, by pushing a switch on the right hand end of the levels, a pinpoint laser is projected from the end that can be used as a marker for lining up the level selected.

Like “ordinary” spirit levels they have protective rubber cap ends and the ADL 60 has two rubber-lined handles for easier handling.

No doubt these levels have a specialist clientele in mind rather than simply bricklayer duties, but the quality is not in doubt and they are very easy to use and understand. Years ago I never thought I would be so enthusiastic about things digital and laser, but I have changed my mind because the benefits of these new devices in making measuring, marking and laying out are so obvious. Never mind the cost – feel the ease of use and the accuracy.

There is further information on products from Flex, including the Flex Random Orbit Sander and The Flex Giraffe II


New Panasonic EY37A2 B Site Radio - Good Sounds, Sounds Good

Aimed at: Tradespeople, camping boating and outdoor types.
Pros: Super High quality sound, tough build and cordless freedom if needed.

Now transfer the above into the power tools business, where admittedly Panasonic is not one of the “giants”, but it is a very significant player with loyal users who will return again and again to buy Panasonic products. It is acknowledged worldwide as a company whose battery and charging technology is cutting edge.

In my view the 35th anniversary was merely a serendipitous bit of timing to launch a site radio. From what I hear, loyal Panasonic users had long been asking for a site radio at trade fairs and tool shows, but sometimes quality comes slowly.

Designing from scratch and launching a site radio is not an easy process. There are so many things that end users want that seem to cancel each other out. Which is the best – good sound quality from delicate speakers or tough site build quality with less pure sound?

But for Panasonic it was the expectations of their end users – to satisfy them a Panasonic site radio would not only have to have excellent sound quality, but would need to be tough, practical, and as work-site proof as could be made, with several other mod-cons built in as well.

Having now used the Panasonic Site Radio for several days –indoors as my main radio, as well as on site and in the workshop – I think that the Panasonic engineers have done a magnificent job. In my view, loyal Panasonic users will have no qualms about investing in this radio and adding to their haul of Panasonic kit.

It appears that the R and D team started with a clear sheet and also a clear understanding of what was required for a site radio.

For me, and clearly for the designers too, an absolute requirement for a site radio would be toughness and weather and dust sealing. No matter how much care is taken, tools used on site get a hard life. They take unexpected knocks, get rained on and are exposed to all manner of fine dusts and are then chucked into the back of a van at the end of the day if they are lucky.

Panasonic is very familiar with the challenges of protecting power tools via their TOUGH TOOL IP strategy, so it was not too much of a stretch to apply the same sorts of protections to the radio. As a result, the radio has IP64 levels of weather, shock and dust protection.

Like many other site radios the Panasonic is surrounded by a slightly flexible protective “cage” that allows it to be isolated from pools of water and dust, but which also protects it from falls and knocks. The radio should “officially” be proof against a drop of 1.2m onto a hard surface, but from the way I have seen it treated at demos, it will withstand more than that!

To give some idea of the trouble to which Panasonic went to ensure a long-lasting product, the speakers underwent a complete design programme of their own. Where “normal” speaker cones are made of coated bamboo or fabric, this radio has aluminium cones that will not absorb moisture and therefore will not slowly disintegrate. The cones were also mounted in rubber for shock and weather protection.

The speakers are mounted on each side of the radio front for optimum sound quality.

We have become used to good sound quality even from a tiny electronic device that fits into the top pocket, so the Panasonic has a range of adjustments for optimum bass, treble and spoken voice sounds. The simple dual-purpose knob on the right front of the radio is used for tone selection as well as volume control. I assure you that you will be very happy with the sound quality – it is clear and big-hearted.

The left side knob is also dual-purpose and used for tuning and selecting up to 6 each of FM and AM radio programmes. The Panasonic system works well and is a good deal simpler than tuning my car radio for example.

The blue digital display is big, clear and readable – even for me without glasses. It includes a clock that still reads clearly even if the radio is turned off.

Another fantastic feature in my view was the Bluetooth system for connecting phones/iPods etc so that users can stream their own music to the radio. This works at a distance of up to ten metres away from the radio, but the distance is greater if there are no obstacles between the radio and the device.

Having had mixed success with Bluetooth on some of my devices (iPad for example) I was amazed at the clarity and adjustability of the streamed sound on the radio.

Other “usefuls” include a USB phone charging port and three other auxiliary ports located two on each side of the radio.

With a keen eye on other sectors of the radio market, Panasonic has also included a bright LED light into the front of the radio. I am sure that camping and leisure sectors like boating and fishing will also take the EY37A2 B to their bosoms because it has so many of the features they would value.

The radio is powered by a the new standard Panasonic 14.4v or 18v cordless battery pack that should last up to about 24 hours of continuous play depending on volume etc. The battery is slid into a protectively covered compartment at the rear of the casing with a proper locking catch. Or it can be run on mains current via a mains cord supplied as part of the kit.

I think Panasonic can be very proud that it has made a site radio that its regular fans would be happy to invest in – it has all the Panasonic virtues of TOUGH TOOL IP, good design, superb sound quality, up-to-date features and it’s easy to use too.

Having recently celebrated 35 years of making power tools and nearly 100 years making electronic goods, Panasonic has a lot to be proud of and its a huge portfolio of tried, tested and trusted products is enviable. From TVs to cameras, domestic appliances and power tools, Panasonic is considered a leading brand, and is justly well known for the sophistication of its electronic know how. Indeed their Technics brand has recently launched one of the most advanced audio products ever.


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