Ledlenser iF8R Worklight: Modern, compact and bright

WITH our dull, short winter days, work lights are a necessity on most work sites. Over the years I have used a variety of corded and cordless ones so I have come to appreciate their virtues as well as their downsides, writes PETER BRETT.

Modern corded LED lights are often bright, come with an adjustable stand and run cool. They are perfect for flooding big areas with light when painting, for example. But they often have clumsy fittings for adjusting the angle of the lighting heads. I hated the now defunct (maybe not everywhere!) halogen lights that generated so much heat that you had to watch how you handled them. And they also needed cooling-off-time at the end of the working day before being packed away.

Smaller cordless lights using main brand cordless tool batteries cast a good controllable light and usually have more features, like Bluetooth, decent tripods and phone charging USBs, but more features equals a bigger price.

But the ones I have seen the most of cost £12 - £35 from the ‘sheds’ under an own brand. They usually are quite compact and will last a whole working day provided you slow charge them overnight. The light quality is good enough, but my quibble is that they are a bit bulky and sometimes hard to place for maximum effect if you don’t have a handy flat surface or joist on which to hang them because of the way that the frames are made.

My ideal light would be fully featured with Bluetooth etc, compact, powerful, easily adjustable, easy to place or hang for optimum lighting and quick charging.

Quite by coincidence I had just picked up a small job laying some flooring and building some shelves in a loft. Since the Ledlenser iF8R had just arrived I slipped it into my toolbox (still in its packaging), hoping that it would help me out, because surely the loft would have a mains light in it…? It turned out that the loft had no such thing, and I was forced to rely on the iF8R for the whole job. Fortunately, the Ledlenser didn’t let me down and I came to quickly appreciate its virtues.

It doesn’t look like a site light – and that’s good

It is hard to describe the Ledlenser iF8R – the closest I can get to it is: like a mini-briefcase, but longer rather than wider, with a briefcase-type handle. It is just over 30cm long, 14cm wide and just 4cm thick – so it can easily be described as very compact. It does weigh in at about 1.74kg, including the battery, so it feels like a quality piece of kit. The matte black case is made of a strong nylon/plastic material and there is a large finned alloy casting behind the big LED light that helps to dissipate any heat that may be generated.

Switching and controls are on the opposite face to the light and operating it is simplicity itself. A big yellow button invites the forefinger to switch the light on and it is done with a single push.

The on/off button is surrounded by four other controls. A plus and minus sign on either side can be pushed to increase or reduce the brightness of the LED in five steps from 100%, to 75%, 50%, 25% and 10%. These are indicated by small red lights. The third control selects Bluetooth mode, which enables the user to remotely control the switch via a smartphone. A small blue light tells you it is on. Finally, a control marked with a battery enables the user to check the battery levels. If all is well, the lights light up as green, but when 10% battery level is reached, a recharge is going to be necessary sooner rather than later.

The simplicity of the controls is a good feature making for quick and easy information, and even with gloved hands they are easy to use.

For charging, a simple hinged rubber flap needs to be lifted to insert the jack plug. Initially, I charged the battery overnight so I didn’t take note of how long it took to fully charge, but to ensure a steady supply of light it will be necessary to recharge whenever the 10% battery capacity light shows up. Even a fill-up charge while you eat a sandwich and have a cup of tea will give a good run time.

The specs say that at full 4500 lumens power the battery will last about 75 minutes, while selecting the lowest setting of 400 lumens, it will last up to 12 hours. My experience of the 1F8R confirms this, but to ensure a full day’s work it is a good idea to get the Bluetooth operational so that it is easy to switch on and off and adjust the lumens when necessary.

Behind the jack plug is a USB slot into which the universal onsite smartphone could be charged from the i8R’s battery pack. Weather sealing is up to IP54 standard so occasional damp and rain on site should not be a problem.

Ways to set up

Despite being slimline and compact I did manage to stand the i8R on its side and base on the floor and beams of the loft where it seemed reasonably stable. But for more stability the robust carry handle folds back to form a supportive leg that is very stable even on a not-so-flat surface. It can also be held from a nail or screw driven into a joist via the handle. Six powerful magnets in the handle enable it to be stuck on a scaffolding pole or radiator as well – versatile non?

The shape and size of this Ledlenser light are the clinchers for me. It is so compact that I was able to slip it easily into my toolbox ready to take on site – something no other sitelight (to my knowledge) is capable of at the moment. Add to this the powerful and adjustable LED light that floods the workspace and the ease of use either via the switches or Bluetooth, which makes it a pretty perfect light for many users. Registering the product soon after purchase will get you a seven-year warranty too.

Ledlenser clearly has oodles of confidence in the product and I am not really surprised. I anticipate my sample will get hours and hours more use especially as winter draws in.


New torches from Coast: Filling the niches

AS if summer doesn’t descend so quickly into autumn anyway, the recent spate of wet and windy weather has reminded us all that colder and darker days are inevitably on their way, writes PETER BRETT.

Time for all torch users - be they dog walkers, tradespeople or professionals - to make sure that they have a good torch on hand for when it will be needed! And just to make our choices that little bit more sophisticated, Coast has snuck a couple of interesting new torches into its comprehensive range.

Never a company to stand still - it is always developing new ideas - Coast has identified a couple of niches where product development and changes in the market have coincided, creating a couple of new products that really hit the spot.


Rechargeable is the New Green Dynamic for a Head Torch

The Coast FL13R comes in the familiar clam pack that is easy to hang and display in a retail environment. Potential purchasers are given comprehensive - but easy to see and understand - information on the front and back of the packaging. Of course, it also helps a purchaser that there is the ‘try me’ option to test the light output, light options and switch operation. This is enough to kill any doubts at the point of sale about how bright the beam is or how easy it is to cycle through the switch options.

Brass tacks time now, so let me deal with the rechargeable part of the spec. I live in a house in the country where there is no street lighting and relatively frequent power cuts. When the sun goes down it is DARK. Consequently, I have at least six torches in various locations in the house for emergencies, but twice this year I have been caught out on the battery front.

The simple solution is to have a recharging point with a torch nearby so that it is always recharged ready for use. The fact that the FL13R uses a USB connection for charging makes it much more flexible than standard three pin plug chargers. USB charging is an option on many power tool batteries now, as well as laptops, desktops, cars and, increasingly, on adapted mains plug sockets. Users will probably never be far away from a charging point.

Selecting the light options is done via the red switch on top of the torch body. The switch is sensitive and very positive in action so it is easy and quick to cycle through for the option wanted.

A full recharge will give a runtime of 10 hours at the low light setting of 85 lumens. In practice, most head torches are used at the low power setting because the high setting is simply too bright and reflective for the typical close-up work that head torches are used for. 10 hours amounts to a long shift at work or a long night’s angling, so running out of charge should not be an issue.

At the high setting of 270 lumens, the light is so intense that users have to be careful not to flash it into their own, or others’, eyes. Even at this intensity, users can expect a decent run time of five hours. The red light options are much less power hungry, so longer run times can be expected. Many outdoor users like campers and anglers, prefer using a red light because the eyes do not need to get accustomed to it.

The LED on this torch is wide and consequently the beam is a wide flooded light suitable for general purpose vision. Working, as a plumber might do, in a confined space, the beam on low setting provides a white flood beam that does not reflect harshly and provides enough light over the whole work area in front. It is hard to put a number on it but at about a metre distance the lit area is over a metre wide.

Other important features are the IPX4 weather rating, the included safety helmet clips, the comfortably wide and nicely elasticated (not too elasticky!) head strap and the five-year guarantee.

Good news for retailers and end users alike is that the pricing is very competitive: it will be hard (or impossible) to find a rechargeable head torch of similar quality with all of the features, for the price. All excellent reasons for stocking the FL13R.


The classic style hand torch, re-imagined

Think of the standard hand torch used by law enforcement and around the home and you can easily see the HP7XDL. It is a very popular style because it combines a compact body, light weight and a powerful beam that is adjustable for spot and flood light patterns. But this design is expensive – users have to pay for Enforcement-type specs. In some ways, it may seem foolish to fiddle about with a classic but (as ever) new technology, better LEDs and better manufacturing have created an opportunity for Coast to look again at the design and tweak it to suit a slightly different niche.

The plastic clam packaging does its usual job of protecting the product as well as making it easy to display and provide key information for potential purchasers. Not to mention the ‘Try Me’ switch, which is often the deciding factor for many purchasers.

As ever, the key specs are the lumen count and range of the beam. At high setting with 240 lumens on tap and in spot mode, the beam will reach 270 metres. A much lower lumen output of 70 still gives a beam reach of 147m but a runtime of 17 hours on fresh batteries compared to five hours on full beam.

Selecting the beam is simple via the rubber-protected button on the rear of the casing. The straightforward system of simply sliding the head of the torch forward and back between finger and thumb enables focus control from spot to flood.

What users might notice when they shine the light against a flat surface is the quality and clarity of the beam pattern that shows that the lens is a good one.

Once again the HP7XDL has a five-year warranty and an IPX4 weather rating and comes with 3 AAA batteries as standard. If you want an enforcement/emergency services style torch at a lighter weight and a competitive price-point then it’s a very good choice.


Stihl FSA 130 Brushcutter: The cordless future?

WHEN it comes to doing your bit for the environment, the use of a battery-powered brush cutter may seem like a small contribution in the grand scheme of things, writes PETER BRETT.

But if all users of such tools did it then that would make a huge difference, especially if the new tools were as efficient and powerful as their petrol-powered counterparts. Parity of performance is a key feature in my book and any tools that don’t perform, literally don’t cut it.

But there are lots of other reasons why the use of battery-powered garden tools should be encouraged. Every couple of weeks since the grass on the pavements started growing again this spring, I have had to endure about 45 minutes of the angry buzz of two stroke motors strimming as the council contractors do their jobs up and down my road. The words ‘noisy’ and ‘smelly’ apply here and if I transpose the cutting job to, say, a hospital or school grounds, where fumes and noise are definitely not indicated, then it would seem like a no-brainer to use a battery-powered brush cutter.

The Stihl FSA 130 certainly caused a minor stir amongst the couple of council workers I showed it to. They were keen to try out battery power because they would like to reduce the noise, vibration and fumes that are a regular part of their working lives. Although they had only a few minutes’ trial each on the FSA 130, their verdict was very positive – ‘powerful’ was the word used to describe the performance, and I must agree.

‘Traditional’ construction and layout

The Stihl FSA 130 follows a similar pattern to pretty well all brush trimmers – namely, a long alloy pole with a motor on one end and the cutter head on the other. These are similar in weight so tend to balance each other out. The ‘cowhorn’ or bicycle handle roughly in the middle of the pole is convoluted in that it has a number of curves in it that make it asymmetrical – the left side of the bar is further out than the right. There is some adjustment of the handlebar via the screwed locking knob in the middle. This performs the dual purpose of allowing the user to adjust the angle and length of the bar and it is a very efficient and established way of doing it. Since no tools are needed, the user can adjust the handle ‘on the go’ by simply stopping the cutter and resting it from the shoulder harness while a better angle is set.

I have found that it is important to find the optimum balance of the machine to suit the height of the user. With just the right projection of the cutter head, smooth swinging cuts from left to right can be made that just fly across the surface of the grass and leave an even surface. Too far forward and the cutters or brush dig into the grass and cause a ‘catch’ that leaves the overcut grass with a ‘circle of evidence’ of your slip up. With eight hanging points for the clip on the harness on the pole, and adjustments on the harness too, users will have ample adjustment room to find a comfortable and efficient way of avoiding those ‘dang circles’.

Out of the box

I was lucky in that the test machine was delivered fully assembled – all I had to do was adjustments. I reckon that, had I received a new machine, I would have needed a good 20 minutes to read the instructions and a similar amount of time to assemble the parts correctly. Because it follows a similar pattern to other big trimmers, experienced users will very quickly be able to size the Stihl up.

The instruction book is clear and simple and for safe and efficient use of the cutter it ought not to be skipped. Brush trimmers can fling up stones and other lumps of material, so protective clothing is needed. Believe me, the stones flung up by the FSA 130 can hurt just as much as those flung up by a petrol-powered cutter because there is no effective power difference between the two.

Battery life?

A long lasting and powerful battery mounted on the end of a brush cutter pole would be heavy and imbalanced and Stihl designers have solved the problem by adopting the ‘battery backpack’. This can hold a long-lasting battery (in this case, the AR 1000 Lithium-Ion battery) with ease and the comfort of the user is ensured by its padded back belt and shoulder straps. Once I had a few minutes of wearing it, I honestly didn’t feel the weight of the backpack. There is also a charge indictor on the backpack, which is suitably waterproofed for working in the rain.

I managed to cut all of my test sections of grass, shrubs and woody weeds without running down the battery pack – over an hour’s work. By using the power selector on the main handle, users can choose a power level. If cutting grass, for example, power level 1 will provide ample power for a good cut. Woody shrubs might need power level 3, but the downside is that the battery pack will run out of charge sooner.

The handlebar assembly contains a small, all-weather plug into which a power lead from the battery pack is plugged. It is a simple and no-fiddle function, so connecting and disconnecting the tool is the work of seconds.

A belt-mounted battery pack is also an option.

Switching on the machine by accident is obviated by having override switches on the right-hand side trigger mechanism. Users have to make a conscious choice to press the switches correctly to get the powerfully whirring start needed to cut grass.

Cutting options

There are two options for cutter heads – a more traditional self-feeding brush trimmer head and a head with three PolyCut blades. These are mounted on a single screw so they float easily and will swing out of the way when accidentally brushed up against a fencepost, for example. You will hear the noise and adjust your attack quickly! I was very impressed with the PolyCut blades and they did not baulk at cutting 25mm thick weedy stems right through. The brush trimmer option also works smoothly and may be the better option for users mostly cutting grass. Other options include a couple of metal blades intended for sawing/cutting more brush-like material.

When it comes to power, usability, versatility and a lack of noise and fumes it seems to me that contractors, smallholders and suchlike should really go ahead and invest in this kind of battery technology. It is good to do one’s bit for green initiatives, but with a machine as good as the Stihl FSA 130 on offer, efficiency and functionality are not compromised. It is one of those machines that might make petrol-powered machines obsolete within a few years.


ACER Markers: Up to the mark?

WHEN I head out to the worksite or workshop, I usually have a pocketful of markers and pencils – just in case, I tell myself; absolutely nothing to do with having too much choice and being slightly disorganised(?), writes PETER BRETT.

The pile of markers also owes a lot to the fact that my work trousers all have holster pockets that accommodate all the markers quite easily and I like having a choice to deal with the variety of marking tasks that I encounter in a day’s work.

For simple marking, I have the traditional carpenter’s pencil – in fact, a couple with different sharpened points – for use on wood and plaster. I also have a Marxman for easy marking of things that hang, like blinds and coat hooks, and a permanent felt tip marker for plastics and such. Oh, and sometimes just an ordinary round pencil too.

But what if I could get away with having just one or two markers that had multiple uses and were genuinely so easy to use that I could dispense with the pocketful of pencils?

The ACER choices

Choice is good and in the ACER case we have two markers – a retractable pencil and a double tipped marker pen. They are available separately or as a pair and each one deserves a bit of print to explain their USPs.

The retractable pencil is about as long as a standard pencil but is slightly thicker with a 45mm-long chromed shaft that contains the lead. The lead is advanced in small steps by simply pushing down on the green button on the top of the marker. This system works very well for simple marking where the soft 2B lead can mark a point on commonly used materials. If you push down on the button and hold it down the lead can be advanced in bigger steps, taken out or replaced – just like a standard propelling pencil, but tougher. The bright green hi-vis button is also a sharpener – simply pull it off and sharpen the lead to a nice point should you want a nice thin line. Despite the fact that the pencil was subject to my trouser pockets for several weeks the sharpener is still in place. If you were to keep the marker in a shirt pocket, the possibility of losing the sharpener probably wouldn’t arise.

ACER claims that the pencil will make a mark up to 100mm in depth in a tiny 3mm hole – which is true if you extend the lead right out by pressing the button. This extension makes the lead quite vulnerable, but they are stronger than other leads I have used in the past. In a bigger hole – 6mm and up – the length of the metal shaft can be added to the lead length to give a marking depth of 145mm. In reality I rarely needed to mark these depths and often the length of the metal shaft gave me enough length and access to do the job.

But I found that it was other things about the marker pencil that appealed to me more. There is a practical clip for attaching to pockets that works well – it is easy to clip on and take off and looks like it won’t break off easily. I also liked the fact that it comes with a couple of yellow leads which are easier to use on some darker coloured materials. There is also an option of getting the site holster – in effect an outer case that clips onto pockets, trousers, etc. Simply slip the pencil into the holster to give the point excellent protection without sacrificing ease-of-access when working. My work partner and I both agreed that the site holster would be a key choice in our continued use of the pencil.

Double tipped marker pen

Graphite markers are not always the best ways of making marks on plastics and some metals, and an ink tip is the answer here. The ACER Double Tipped Marker Pen is a similar shape to the pencil and will give a marking depth of up to 30mm in a 2mm diameter hole and around 45mm in a 5mm diameter hole. Selecting the thin or wide marking tip is simply a case of pulling out the pen tip and reversing it.

The marks left by the pen dry quickly and are long lasting, but can be cleared off with an industrial wipe if needed. My guess is that this pen might also be used as a general marker on site and on plans, for example. I used it quite a lot for making marks on the fence of my mitre saw when making repeat cuts – quicker than a stop when pinpoint accuracy is not needed for the cuts.

I would argue that the site holster is a requirement for users of this pen in order to avoid ink marks in pockets, but that is no hardship.

Keep it simple

The motto ‘Keep it Simple’ very often applies on the jobsite, so any new piece of kit needs to find its niche if it is going to be widely adopted. Since I am always trying out new things there is often a sifting process that takes place. There is a lot to like about these markers – they both proved to be up to the rigours of regular site use. If I organised my pockets and they were easily to hand I found that I used them a lot because they were easy to use and efficient. The site holsters were very helpful in ensuring that they were in the right place all the time and were replaced again.

The fact that the pencils come singly or as a kit with box and spare leads means that users can have options to suit their preferences.

I really liked the narrow shafts that enabled deep marking into holes as it saves an enormous amount of hassle when hanging things or screwing battens to walls, for example.

Looking at my holster pockets I find that I have ditched a couple of pencils and the thick felt tip marker. The ACER markers have taken up residence in their place.


Nilfisk Attix 33: Mobile M-Class vacuum performance

NO review of a Nilfisk vacuum should fail to point out that the company has been making vacuums (and other cleaning machines) for over a hundred years and therefore has a LOT of expertise and experience to draw on. Therefore, in my view, you can buy a Nilfisk machine with confidence, and my own experience of them has always been very positive, writes PETER BRETT.

Since dust has come to the forefront as a major safety hazard on jobsites, trades have been forced to get to grips with the necessities of protecting themselves and their clients from its dangers. An M-Class vac is now considered a minimum requirement since it should collect 99.9% of fine dust when used correctly.

Having now got used to this collection standard, I find that the jobsite experience is a more comfortable and cleaner one and I, for one, wouldn’t go back to the old standards.

M-Class machines are, by definition, more complicated than a simple vac that collects dust into a bag (or not) and the key difference between M-Class machines, in my view, is how well they manage all the parameters. Everything from how the hose and cable are managed and how easy it is to clean and unblock (it does happen) becomes important on a jobsite where time and efficiency are important.

Attix 33 – handling and mobility

The Attix 33 looks very similar to all of the others in the Attix 33 and 44 ranges, so users need to ensure that they choose the right one for their needs. The addition of a ‘pram handle’ on the mobile version for example does help to move the machine around easily but may be an issue when packing it in the back of a crowded van, for example.

Mobility and handling are definitely two parameters that are important for me. The Attix 33 I tested scores well for ease of movement, even over rougher surfaces, because of its large rear wheels and castored and braked front wheels. Perhaps I shouldn’t do it, but I do end up pulling it along by the hose – a bit like a small elephant pulled along by its trunk – but it works and it is very easy to steer.

With a weight of nearly 15Kgs and a fair amount of necessary bulk (all that collected dust has to go somewhere) it is handy to move the Attix on its wheels whenever you can. But inevitably there will be stairs and other obstacles on jobsites where the well-centred lifting handle is needed. Having had to manoeuvre the test machine down a very steep and narrow cellar staircase this week, I think it does the best in the circumstances.

With any vac there is the ‘what to do with the hose and cable’ scenario. The anti-static hose on the Attix is over 5m long and Nilfisk offers several solutions for end users on how to store it. A single hose hook can be screwed to the top right hand side of the motor housing. It has three hollows in it that grip the hose tightly as it is wound around the body and I found it worked well enough for me as it held the hose quite securely. Alternatively, Nilfisk shows some other ways in which the bungee (supplied) can be used to attach the hose to the body during transit.

With over 6m of heavy duty cable to take account of as well, I found the easiest solution for me was to store it by using the hooks and attached bungee on the rear of the machine. It certainly helps to speed up the process of clearing up at the end of the day.

The hose and cable combined give a working radius of around 12m which is a generous amount, even on a big jobsite.

Because the top of the motor housing has a flat surface, Nilfisk designers have allowed the possibility for users to attach tool cases there. Again, using the supplied bungee and the built-in loops it is easy to secure a tool case for transport to the jobsite.

The flat HEPA filter is stored at the back of the motor housing and is easy to get to by simply unlocking a plastic latch. It is a doddle to lift it out for either cleaning or replacing and doesn’t take up any valuable space in the base that is needed for dust collection.

Although it is possible to use the machine without a dust collection bag, I always prefer to use a bag wherever possible as it helps keep the filter clean and also makes it easy to dispose of collected dust with minimal danger to the user.

The all-important controls

The switches and controls are mounted on the front of the motor casing and are more complicated for being an M-Class machine. A rotary switch is used to select the hose diameter being used. Some power tools only need smaller diameter extraction hoses so it is important to match extraction speed to the suction power available.

There is also a single power take-off plug socket for use with extraction from a power tool. When using it, the user needs to select the correct position on the switch as well as the speed of the suction needed. Too much suction on a sander, for example, tends to pull the sander too hard to the sanded surface and impede, rather than aid, sanding progress.

And so…

There is no doubt in my mind that this Attix machine is a high quality professional product with an enormous amount of suction volume. It literally whistles from the nozzle in full extraction mode!

By using it with the supplied floor and crevice tools, I was able to do a very efficient job of cleaning up on the worksite as well as collecting dust from power tools. The dust collection nozzle for attaching to power tools deserves special mention for being very well designed, since it provides flexible and secure attachment to the tools as well as being easy to attach and remove from the hose end.


Steinel GluePRO 400 LCD: Making it stick

THE difference between ‘consumer’ and pro-quality glue guns is vast. When I was teaching Design and Technology, I used to feel for the frustration of my students, forced to use low melt glue guns for good old ‘health and safety’ reasons, as they watched their carefully glued pieces of work literally coming apart in their hands. The glue guns simply didn’t reach a high enough temperature for the adhesive to make a good enough bond, writes PETER BRETT.

On the other hand, a high-quality professional glue gun can be a very useful tool – providing almost instant adhesion, thin glue lines and typically a comprehensive array of stick adhesives to suit almost every gluing issue.

Enter the Steinel GluePRO 400 LCD – an up-to-date electronically controlled glue gun that will suit many trades with its versatile and highly controllable options for dispensing glue.

The glue joint - it’s all to do with electronics

Modern electronics is at the heart of the Steinel glue gun. With it, the tool is not just a heating element and a trigger to dispense the glue – it becomes possible to set the desired temperature of the glue to be applied so that it spreads evenly and does not cool so quickly that it merely forms a sticky lump in the middle of your gluing job. Steinel says that the temperature will be within 1 degree celsius of the user’s setting on the LCD screen – which is more than accurate enough.

The addition of a bit of electronics has not made the glue gun any more difficult to use. On the GluePRO 400 just where the cord enters the body there is a small LCD screen with switches on each side of it. One of the switches on the right side of the panel is the on/off switch with a temperature set button underneath it. Press the set button and use the up and down arrows on the left side to move to the required temperature that is shown on the LCD screen.

From the time of pressing the ‘on’ button Steinel says that the glue gun will be ready to use in less than two minutes. I timed it several times and the result was always within the time limit.

Other design features

The thing about a glue gun is that it is hot in use, so the designers have to find a way for it to stand independently without dripping hot glue anywhere unwanted. The GluePRO 400 has a lightweight and open built-in stand that will support it very stably when not in use. In the absence of a flat space it can be laid down on its side as well so site workers still have a gun resting option.

The stand can be removed by undoing a single screw leaving the nozzle about 100mm long so that it can be reached into small and confined spaces. When I used this feature I found it a very useful one, but do remember where you put the screw so you can replace the stand!

The trigger is another key design feature that finds favour with me. It is big and contoured to the shape of all four fingers so that the whole hand can supply the squeeze and sensitivity of feel needed to deliver a consistent bead of adhesive.

The large and grippy rubber overmoulded handle is also contoured for a comfortable and controlled grip. Even a ‘banana fingers’ will be able to use this handle comfortably.

The speed of adhesive delivery can be adjusted by moving the small lever switch on the top of the glue gun. Sometimes for speed, so that the glue does not cool too quickly, the feed rate needs to be very fast so the components can be quickly joined.  For more delicate tasks, where a blob of glue in the wrong place would be a problem, the feed rate needs to be more delicate. Again, I found this feature to be useful, even though I mostly used the glue gun for sticking larger components together where speed of operation is essential.

To show off its professional credentials the GluePRO 400 comes with 4m of quality cable that gives pro workers enough radius on a jobsite or workshop to work.

The aluminium nozzle can be changed to suit the users’ preferences – but the glue that is in the gun needs to be warmed a little before attempting to do this – wearing a pair of gloves will prevent singed fingers.

Finally, there is a small hanging loop on top of the body. This is handy if the glue gun needs to hung out of the way to cool off after use but I would probably fabricate and attach a bigger hook to it to make it easier.

Don’t forget the adhesives

Often, the key to the successful use of a glue gun is a careful choice of adhesive. Their properties need to be matched to the job in hand. I was sent five boxes of 11mm diameter adhesive sticks: Fast, Flex, Universal, Low Melt and Acrylate. There is a comprehensive list on the back of each glue carton to help the user decide which one to choose for each task. On the ‘Fast’ carton, for example, the recommendations include wood, paper, card and textiles, as well as a list of plastics like Perspex and polypropylene. The instructions say that there is a strong bond after 30 seconds with just eight seconds of ‘open time’ to play with to position the pieces accurately. That seems about right in my experience of use.

Lower down the scale according to temperature is the Low Melt adhesive. With a relatively low temperature of 130 °C, this glue is really suited for fairly easily bonded materials like paper, card and textiles, but is not suited to more demanding gluing on plastics and ceramic for example.

I ran a few examples of every kind of glue stick supplied with the glue gun and I was able to enjoy the flexibility of operation that a professional glue gun can give. From one extreme where I was literally applying very hot glue as fast as I could pull the trigger (a whole glue stick can be applied in seconds so have another one ready!) or delicately applying small targeted spots of glue in small spaces, the feel of the gun is of total professional competence. There is no doubt that it will be used again on the jobsite as it has become part of my toolkit.


Festool CTM MIDI dust extractor: Top of the M class?

RETAILING at over £600, (though prices do vary) end users would be justified in expecting the Festool CTM MIDI 1 dust extractor to be packed full of class-leading features as well as efficient and safe dust extraction – and to cut a long story short it is exactly that, writes PETER BRETT.

In the few weeks I have used this machine, I have come to appreciate its many virtues, but I am finding it hard to make the all-important value for money judgement.

Of course, for Festool Fans the answer is a no-brainer. I own and have used enough Festool tools to appreciate the Festool System that enables the various tools and accessories to work together, and the benefits that this brings. But I also have a value-for-money hat on which asks what a buyer is getting for the price.

I am sure that I am not the only end user that faces this dilemma, but hopefully a closer look at the features will help me solve the costs / benefits conundrum.

Sophisticated and mobile

One of the things I really like about this vac is that the hose and cable are well stowed so that moving it and lifting it are really simple and there are no cables to catch on things around the worksite. The cable and hose are also easy to stow so at packing up time you don’t waste time dealing with twisted cables and hose. I have to say that this is a real efficiency gain, so maybe that is a tick to put into the credit column of the value chart.

The Festool designers have not only managed to neatly stow the cable and hoses, but also left a flat lid which contains the lifting handle and can also be used as a flat base on which to clip a Systainer box (or two). The Systainer boxes also have top handles so potentially the dust extractor can still be lifted, but if more Systainers are added, then the whole unit and Systainers can be pushed along on the well-designed fixed back and castored front wheels.

With an empty collection bag, the weight of the MIDI is 11.3kg so it is well within the manual lifting recommendations. Another tick in the credit column?

Combining the length of the 7.5m power cable and the 3.5m hose, users can get a good 11m working radius which is pretty good for most indoor cleaning and dust extraction applications.

Both hose and cable are heavy duty – the braided nylon exterior of the extraction hose does not catch on things in the way that ribbed hoses often do, and the rubber outer insulation of the power cable should be proof against the sorts of rough surfaces and snags sometimes found on the worksite. Another tick?


Some users might never use it, nor indeed even discover it, but I like the brake on the front of the machine. It is very handy when you want it to stay in one place - perhaps where you have already cleaned – so that it doesn’t roll on to the area that hasn’t. A marginal touch and perhaps only worth half a tick?

But something that I think brings a whole range of benefits to the dust extractor is the placement of the flat filter cartridge directly into the body of the vac like a small drawer. This compact filter can be replaced in seconds and it takes up no room in the dust collection container - the filter bag does not have to be fitted around it. The result is that the dust container/filter bag have a collection capacity of 15 and 12.5 l respectively. And as anyone who has had to replace a filthy filter on a dust extractor will confirm, the ability to simply slide out the old filter and slide in a new one keeps dust exposure to a minimum and is definitely worth a couple of ticks in the credit column.

Similarly, the dust collection bag is easily accessed by unclipping the catches on each side of the casing. It can be sealed off with a sliding strip and lifted out for disposal. Due to the ‘dedusting’ feature, the dust bag can literally be filled until it is almost solidly packed with dust. “Dedusting’ is initiated by selecting manual full power suction, blocking off the end of the dust hose with your hand and then pushing down a switch above the filter tray three times at intervals. I think this is another tick because it aids efficiency and saves money.

Another refinement is the Bluetooth automatic switching system. Using a new type of Festool Bluetooth battery in a cordless tool connected for dust extraction, all the user has to do is switch on the tool and the machine (connected to the mains, of course) will switch on automatically and switch off again when the tool is stopped.

Should the user need to use a smaller diameter dust collection hose on a small sander for example, the electronics will automatically adjust the suction levels.

These considerable efficiency gains must get another tick in my view.

The switching on the front panel of the casing is simple and pretty self-explanatory. Users can select five levels of suction power, Bluetooth mode and manual mode. The switches are all dust protected, as is the auxiliary power socket – you never know, you might still want to plug in your old mains circular saw.

In use, there is now doubt that this CLEANTEC dust extractor is a star performer. It is easy to operate, easy to move around and it removes dusts of all kinds very efficiently whether from a tool or simply cleaning up a dusty floor.

There is an old adage that you get what you pay for and in the tool world this is largely true. The more I used the dust extractor the more I realised that it adds to your experience of jobs because it aids efficiency and safety and is intuitive to handle. So, the more you use it the more you appreciate that quality doesn’t come cheap.

Users who want one will have to bite the price bullet, but my guess is that they won’t be disappointed.


V-Tuf Mini Plus: Bigger and better but still within the budget

WHAT constitutes harmful dust on site (and in general) can still be a matter of opinion for some. Although a careful read of the relevant documents from the HSE should make it clear that most dusts should be treated with due care, fine wood and silica dusts – the ones most common on building sites, are considered very dangerous, writes PETER BRETT.

At the very least, workers should be protecting themselves and their clients by wearing appropriate dust masks and cleaning up and collecting dust at source (eg, from power tools) using at least an M-Class extractor.

I know from experience that it is easy to overlook dust collection, and have only relatively recently invested in good enough extraction for my workshop and site needs. But I have spent a small fortune on dust masks!

The V-Tuf Mini Plus is recently launched and is a considerable upgrade on the original V-Tuf Mini, which was a great entry level machine and very compact. Not to mention it was well within budget at around £80 - £100; not bad for an M-Class rated machine.

The Mini-Plus ups the budget to about £270, but the extra capacity and refinement are, to my mind, worth the extra money. It is bigger, has a 20-litre tank capacity and has more refined features - which explains the extra cost - but it is also a genuine M-Class extractor that has all the features needed to collect the 99.9% of dangerous dusts that characterise the M-Class rating.

Value adding features

When looking at the new machine straight out of the box, it is clear that the machine has benefited from having a set of four wheels that enable it to sit stably on rough surfaces. The rear 130mm diameter wheels are fixed on an axle while the smaller front wheels are casters, making it easy to tow the vacuum around by its hose when it needs moving.

The bright yellow features like the quick-release cable cleats, the three metres of anti-static hose and the five-metre-long cable really stand out as hi-vis, which enables users to easily avoid them. Of course, all the hose and cable also mean that the work radius is effectively around nine metres which is enough to clean up quite a large area without having to change mains plugs or rely on an extension cord.

I was quite taken with the cable cleat because it is well placed at the top of the machine where it is very easy to wind the cable around the cleated ends. By simply pulling the cleats upwards and moving them sideways, the cable is quickly released with less danger of it being coiled and tangled.

The hose can be stored by winding it round the body, but it is true to say that most extraction vacs haven’t yet sorted out a good way to store the hose when not in use. At the back of the body are a series of lugs where the collection of supplied tools can be stored. The tools cover a useful range to include a very effective smooth floor and carpet head and brush, a small round brush, a crevice tool and a power tool adaptor.

These tools all work well (especially the floor cleaner head that I used on some shaving and sawdust in my workshop) leaving a clean and dust-free surface.

Other specs

The 1200W motor is powerful enough and reasonably quiet – certainly not loud enough to upset a client at clean-up time - and is available in 240 and 110 voltages.

The all-important suction lift power is 2400mm or 18KPa and has an M-Class H13 HEPA filter. The supplied filter bags have a capacity of 18 litres and are really easy to install and dispose of without spilling out dangerous dusts.

The plastic tank is rugged enough for site use and is also corrosion free, so it is possible to use the vac to pick up liquids as well. I liked the touch of the drainage stopper on the base of the tank to make emptying less difficult than having to up-turn the machine to tip a large quantity of weighty water down a drain.

To use the vac in ‘wet’ mode, the user needs to remove the filter bag and filter. Two yellow clips, one on each side of the body, are simply released to allow the filter/motor head to be removed. The washable filter is held in with a quick-release system that takes just half a turn to enable it to be lifted out.


A protected on/off switch on the front of the vac is big and easy to use even with gloves. Underneath the cable cleats are the filter cleaner and the all-important extraction velocity warning light which shows when things are getting too clogged for efficient extraction. There is also a small external outlet filter that can be quickly removed and cleaned to prevent collected dust from being blown back out.

Using it in a variety of cleaning scenarios like cleaning up shavings from under my wood lathe, general workshop cleaning and then picking up the leftovers at the base of a wall that had been recently repointed, the V-Tuf did a very good job. Like any vac, when it is clogged or overloaded, efficiency tails off, but kept within the working parameters it kept up with the competition. I was actually amazed that it picked up lumps of discarded pointing mortar up to 3cm long and sucked them right through into the filter bag.


My overriding impression of the V-Tuf Mini Plus is that is an extremely practical no-nonsense machine that has a lot of appeal, not only because of its very competitive price but also because it just works in a simple and straightforward way to pick up and contain dangerous dust. It is quiet, powerful and easy to operate with simple controls. I guess some users might like to have a power take off socket to connect corded power tools to automatic extraction, but at the last count my corded tools are outnumbered by my cordless tools by about 4 to 1.


JCB Brushless Combi Drill and Impact Driver : Serious and surprising?

PART of my job is to keep up with tool news from far and wide, and recently I have noticed a trend – particularly from the USA – where ‘own brands’ sold in places like Lowes and Home Depot, have featured ever more strongly in tests and reviews, writes PETER BRETT.

Most often they score very well in the ‘value for money’ category, which can be perceived as a backhanded compliment, but increasingly, the features and performance of the tools have measured up with international brands. I have read several tests in which the ‘own brands’ have outscored the others. And just like our tradespeople, the Americans don’t like paying more without a very good reason.

I guess the above is a result of fierce competition in the power tool market, the increasing sophistication of Far East manufacturing, and a much wider knowledge of battery technologies driven by mobile phone and electric car development.

Hence, it was with quite a lot of interest that I took delivery of a load of cordless tools from JCB. The strapline on the box read ‘Serious Tools. Surprising Prices.’ And since the JCB branding stands for a lot, I clearly needed to take this strapline seriously.

What’s on offer?

What is obvious is that the new JCB range of tools is not a half-hearted attempt to launch a few tools and then ‘see how it goes’. The range of tools is fully formed and comprehensive, with a selection of JCB-branded power tool accessories to go with it.

The tools themselves are very well ‘specced’ to compare to the competition and include 5Ah lithium ion battery packs, brushless motors and a confidence-inspiring five-year guarantee for tools registered within 30 days after purchase.

I might come back to look at some of the other cordless JCB tools that were included in the very nice roller bag (recip saw, an SDS drill, 12v cordless combi, circular saw, angle grinder and portable site light) but for the moment I will focus on the handsomely L-Boxxed kit of an old staple for many trades – the combi drill and impact driver set.

The package

Tool cases are an essential part of tool organisation these days and the L-Boxx system is robust and spacious. I hate tool cases where there isn’t enough room for the inevitable accessories and the fight to stow the charger cord takes up five minutes of your packing-up time because it has to be done ‘just so’. The two handles, top and front, provide good alternative positions for carrying.

The tools themselves have a custom fitted space, as do the charger and spare battery pack, and there is plenty of room around the edges for drill and driver bits.

I started by picking up the combi drill. It is chunky and weighs in at around 1.35kg without a battery pack. It looks and feels robustly built and all the controls work as intended with no stickiness. I tried the feel of it compared to some of my other 18v combis and there doesn’t seem to be that much difference in weight and all-important ‘feel’.

Like many combis these days, users can choose a 3 or 4 Ah battery pack from the JCB range to save weight in certain working conditions.

In pretty much every respect, the combi follows the well-established layout of current drills. With push-through forward/reverse switch above the trigger, slider switch on top of the casing and torque/mode selection via collars, it literally takes seconds to feel at home with this tool. There are also all the handy extras that are needed. For me, the LED light on the base is essential but the optional left or right-handed belt clips I don’t normally use as I don’t want to risk a trouser falling down incident. There is also space for a wrist strap if needed.

When looking at the specs, users will see that they are not being short-changed. With a max torque of 65Nm, a max drilling capacity of 35mm in wood, 13mm in steel and 10mm in masonry it matches up with the competition. I tried the combi in all of these scenarios and it performed as expected.

Impact assessment

The impact driver is another robust-looking tool and has the familiar layout of such tools. The ergonomics and balance are good and there is, as above, the option to use a smaller 3 or 4 Ah battery pack to save weight.

Details like the battery charge status lights on the battery packs and robust battery sliders that work smoothly and click-on positively reinforce the professional feel of the tools. Like the combi above, there is the choice of a left or right-handed belt hook and space for a wrist strap. The LED shines right onto the nose of the tool where it is most effective.

Some tradespeople use impact drivers as default screwdrivers, even when they are clearly overpowered for the job. I hate the clatter noise, so I usually keep impact drivers for driving hard–to-drive long screws. With 180Nm on tap and an impact rate of 0-3300 bpm this driver performed very well on driving 70mm long screws into some dense oak. The hex chuck has pronounced ridges on it for easy mounting and releasing of driver bits, and it helps to keep the overall length of the tool to around 153mm – compact enough for fitting work.  

Most users will probably choose the super-fast charger that takes about 60 minutes to charge a 5Ah battery pack and will therefore ensure that there is no tool downtime due to uncharged batteries.

Surprising prices

With a body-only internet price of around £75 for the combi and £65 for the impact driver, it is clear that prices are very competitive and, indeed, tempting for end users. Since the JCB tools are part of a whole system with interchangeable 3, 4 and 5 Ah battery platforms and options like tool cases and USB charger adaptors, it means that buyers can be confident that the tools are not just ‘one-offs’. When you throw in a comprehensive guarantee and a good range of accessories, it is clear that JCB has done its homework and we can welcome another competitor into the market.


Draper Tools 165mm Plunge Saw: Keeping on track

TRACK saws have seen a quiet revolution. Initially, users had to contend with high prices for saw and track, but clearly the advantages outweighed the cost and they were widely adopted, writes PETER BRETT.

I, for one, cannot do without both my corded and cordless tracksaws, and they are regularly used – both onsite and in the workshop.

But, as often happens, when a market is established, other manufacturers look to take advantage of it and launch their own models. To the advantage of the consumers, these models are often very competitively priced and sophisticated enough not to disappoint.

Boxing clever

Draper must surely be in with a shout for the 2019 Ingenious Packaging Award that I have just invented. It would seem easy and obvious to package the guide tracks and saw separately, but Draper has designed a clever packaging that includes both saw and track in one to reinforce the idea that, unlike other saws, it is an inclusive package at a very competitive price.

Two 700mm long tracks are supplied in the package, along with a joiner bar kept in the gap under the guide slot. It takes but a few minutes to join the rails with the hex key supplied. At 700mm, the rails are just about long enough to skim a millimetre or two off the top or bottom of a door, but an investment in some rail clamps and maybe a longer rail would be advantageous. It is also handy that the rails have a similar profile to several other manufacturers, so borrowing could happen!

Draper has not skimped on the all-important rubber strips under the rail that provide enough friction to keep the rail in place on the workpiece (along with clamps – for safety reasons). These strips are about 20mm wide and quite robust, so should last a while. A sacrificial strip along the blade edge is slightly overwidth. The user will need to run the saw down this strip to give an accurate indication of where to place the blade when lining up on a real workpiece.


We have always associated Draper tools with competitive prices and sound quality and this saw really does deliver in this respect. For a retail price of around £120, this plunge saw is not lacking in the features seen on many, more expensive brands.

The build quality is good and all the controls work smoothly. For example, the base is a neat alloy casting that is rigid and strong. The bevel adjustment scales are clearly marked and made in solid black plastic/nylon material that inspires confidence of long-lasting performance.

Two nylon adjusters on the base allow users to take up any free play in the rail so that the saw can move down the cut without any sideways movement that might cause inaccuracy.

On the front of the base for freehand use, there are two marks showing the blade path for 90 and 45 degree cuts. 

The Draper Blue plastic body is also strongly made with enough grippy rubber on front and back handles for comfort and safety. By having hands firmly on these handles when using the saw, it ensures that they are well out of the way of the whirling blade. A key feature is the plunge scale. This has two markers on it – one to indicate depth when used with a rail and one for without a rail. The accuracy of these is very important because users need to be able to set depth of cut exactly when plunging into floors, for example.

Another key feature is the design of the blade guard that allows the use of the saw right up against walls. The blade is then only about 15mm away from the wall and is therefore about as flush a cut as can be achieved with this type of saw.

Safety is also built-in with the trigger start. The user needs to push up the black switch on the back of the main handle before the trigger can be pulled to start the motor. This switch also frees the plunge action ready to plunge into the workpiece. It is noticeable that the plunge mechanism spring is well calibrated. It has enough strength to lift the blade quickly, but is not so strong that plunge cuts cannot be achieved smoothly.

An electronic brake stops the motor within a few seconds when the trigger is released. For blade changing, a ribbed lever on the main handle is raised and the saw can be plunged to the point where it locks, revealing the blade clamping screw (hex key located in the front handle). A spindle lock next to the main handle is then engaged so that the blade can be unscrewed and replaced.

The all-important performance test

In any tool category there will be some users who demand a lot and some who only need enough accuracy/power etc to do the job. Happily, I can report that the Draper saw outperformed my expectations because it was easy to use and set up. I used it on timber, plywood, MDF and chipboard – the usual run of materials that it would face in a working day - and the GP blade coped well.

The controls feel smooth, instinctive and in the right place for safety and easy handling. As I have learnt the hard way, the output from a plunge saw is only as good as the input. Making accurate measurements in the first place and taking care to line up the cut lines will ensure a spot-on result - as will ensuring that the rails are not twisted (don’t drop them!) and firmly clamped in place in use.

The 1200w motor has enough power to cut solid timber worktops, but keep an eye on the TCT blade, because another thing I have learnt is that they work hard and need replacing more often than you think for consistently good results.

So, this Draper plunge saw delivers on both performance and price; you can’t argue with that formula.



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