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Flex 18v Recip Saw – A Welcome Addition to the Flex Cordless Range

Aimed at: Pro users who need cordless flexibility to demolish and cut. 

Pros: A powerful and flexible cutting friend- just chose the right blades for success. 

Too many years ago than I care to remember, I reviewed a recip saw newly arrived from the US. After using it a bit I showed it to some tradesmen, who almost universally dismissed it. They told me it was too heavy and clumsy (no 18v Li ion cordless then!) but look around now on sites and recip saws have been wholeheartedly adopted – especially by window fitters and first and second fix carpenters. This is just because they are VERY useful tools – doing things that others can’t. And now with a variety of blades that will cut timber, steel etc etc they are assured a place in the van.

Many things have changed in the intervening years, like SDS blade fitting, lighter weight and compact versions for use in tight corners. But the real revolution in the last few years are the cordless recip saws with enough punch to do the job. Enter the Flex RS 29 18.0!

This tool is part of the new 18v range from Flex of Germany. It too, takes advantage of the advanced 18v battery system that Flex has launched a few months ago. The system is designed to prevent battery packs from overheating during use and safe from deep discharge, thus ensuring longer battery life and reliability. The diagnostic charger is unique too – the only one I have seen that uses an LED screen to count down the minutes to “fully charged” so that workers can keep track of the battery power available.

 

Flex tools are aimed at professionals and are generally sold through trade outlets, and it seems that, these days, professional power tools need to be presented in stackable boxes. Accordingly, the saw arrived in a smart black L-Boxx with discreet Flex logo. A custom insert held the tool securely in transit and included in the box were two battery packs, a smart charger and a pack of blades.

I had lined up several jobs to do with the Flex RS 29 – namely cutting up some old uPVC window frames, removing another frame and then a bit of not-so-gentle pruning of a quince tree that is slowly taking over a corner of the garden and annoying the neighbours. These jobs are perfect for a recip saw, especially a cordless one, because they demonstrate how the saw can jump from one job to another by simply changing to a suitable blade.

For some reason recip saws are always heavy. Maybe something to do with the recip mechanism hidden in the nose of the saw, and at around 3.6 Kgs with battery pack, the Flex feels quite chunky. However, because of the nature of recip cutting, you don’t really want something too light because you need the weight to keep the saw stable and in the cut.

The rear part of the saw is in familiar Flex red with a black and red battery pack (2.5 or 5Ah) slotted onto the end of the main handle. A comfortable and well-designed rear handle has enough grippy rubber to be comfortable, and the trigger and interlock are well placed for average hands. Speed is controlled via the trigger and is especially controllable at low and high speeds. (0-3100 rpm)  Of course, there is some vibration, as you would expect from a recip saw because of its cutting action. In my view, this vibration is about the same as I have experienced on other recip saws I have used. But it is not the kind of tool that I would use all day so you probably need not worry too much about vibration levels.

 At the “business end” we have very robust housing covered with a slightly rubberised black plastic coating. Some tradespeople who tried it liked the bulkiness as it gave them something to hang on to. In truth, I found it pretty much the same as any other recip saw I have used and the design allowed my left hand to guide and aim the saw accurately where I wanted it to cut.  Also on the “nose” of the saw, are the tool holder lever, the front shoe adjuster and the orbital stroke switch. I also liked the inclusion of a bright LED light right on the front end where it does a good job of illuminating the workpiece should you need it.

A good blade is worth the money on a recip saw and I started with a fairly fine-toothed metal cutting blade to cut up the couple of old uPVC window frames that needed dumping. I had set aside about twenty minutes for the job because they were large frames and I have a small car. The Flex was so efficient that I finished in fifteen minutes. Both plastic outer frames and internal steel strengtheners of the windows were cleanly cut without drama.

On another day with a bigger toothed and longer blade I tackled the quince tree – again I was very happy with the rate of progress. In the end, most of the tree was taken down to ground level simple because it was easier and I had a few encouragements from my neighbour to get rid of it completely.

I also ended up using the Flex on site to cut through the rusted screws holding the ply roof of a brick built shed and then cutting up the ply into sizes small enough to fit in my car. Demolition is truly the forte of recip saws and this tool has no reason to feel ashamed of its performance.

Some specs might help put all of the above into a real context. The retail price is around £110, so it is very competitive for a “real” trade rated tool. The RS 29 will cut 18mm thick metal, 100mm metal pipes, 200mm plastic pipes and 180mm thickness of wood – basically pretty well the sort of things that the average worksite will throw up.

In my view, the Flex RS 29 18 covers all the bases and the Flex 18v cordless system is as well thought out as most of the competition – so for a competitive price you will get a capable tool with a future. 

 

SMART Tools and Purple Series Blades - A Cutting Combination?

Aimed at: Anyone, amateur or pro who needs a well priced and oscillating Tool.

Pros: Combined with purple series blades it is a great performer on all materials. 

The market in oscillating multi tools is crammed with many good and excellent products from a majority of leading power tool brands. The result is a range of tools from good to excellent at various price points and the weak need not apply – because the market will be quickly find out the vulnerable.

SMART is not really a brand associated with power tools, and yet the oscillating tool I was sent for review showed all the signs of being a very good product – and to underline the confidence that SMART has in it, it comes with a Ten Year Warranty.

Well presented in a robust French Blue custom fitted plastic case with enough space for the tool and 3m of cord and a load of spare blades, it makes a good first impression. The presentation is neat and professional and with a SSP of £139+VAT it is very competitively priced too. For the tool and 60-piece accessory kit the price is only £30 more. A Fair price to pay for delta sander, scraper etc that put the “multi” into multitool. 

The body of the tool is, well, - sleek and very neat and it looks well made. There are no odd moulding “nibs” or other giveaway signs of a cheaply made product.  It is slim enough to get a really good one-handed grip and the panels of grippy rubber do indeed help to minimise the inevitable vibration generated by this type of tool.

A simple slider switch on the top of the body selects on/off and a six position dial at the cord end selects the speed. An alloy casing on the front contains the oscillating mechanism, metal gearbox and a bright LED worklight. On top of the casing is the blade release lever for toolless change of blades. This operates very smoothly with no “snap” for unwary fingers and the flange fitting is designed to accommodate pretty well all of the range of blades available on the market.  

The motor has the inevitable whine associated with oscillating tools and it is always better to wear ear protection when using them, but the SMART does not suffer from louder noise levels than most of the competition.

To complement the SMART 300W Multi-Tool, the company has focused on the development of its Purple Series of blades that is intended to create a simple solution for the end user - a pack of four blades with the same tooth design and capabilities but in different sizes according to the selected task. Generally speaking this translates into wider blades for bigger and softer materials and smaller blades for more concentrated tasks and harder materials. These bi-metal blades are coated in Titanium alloy to help keep the blade cool and this in turn helps that blades to cut quicker and last longer.

As oscillating tools are often used where there is a danger of hidden nails and screws, the Purple Series bi-metal blades are also designed to cut through through small metal obstructions that could be encountered.

They also have a universal fitting that is compatible with most leading brands of multi tools as well as those with the “quick release” design that simply slides out when the flange is released.

I use multi-tools a lot for my general woodwork as well as on site where they a brilliant “get out of trouble” tool that will do a job where others can’t. On a couple of small jobs where I took the SMART tool with me I found that it was very good at doing the cutting, slicing and getting into small spaces that multi-tools are made for. The range of Purple Series blades proved to be very versatile and I particularly liked the wide (70mm) blade that allowed me to trim off a rafter end flush with the brickwork. And it didn’t seem particularly bothered by the occasional brush with the brickwork either – it just carried on cutting. The semi-circular blade was also very useful cutting out odd pieces of plasterboard needed to fit around a ceiling repair.

 

Cutting through steel and galvanised nails was also quite easily achieved with these blades. In my experiments I hammered a couple of rows of nails into a strip of MDF and sliced them off level with the surface with no trouble at all. There appeared to a bit of wear on the teeth of the blades, but they continued cutting well.

Cutting the same nails that were deeply embedded in a piece of wood created a physical problem, namely that the friction of the cut creates heat, and this heat has nowhere to escape, so there is a danger of some smoke. Then the user has to take care to use the whole blade, a slightly lower speed and generally adopt a safety first approach. I must stress that this happens whatever make of blades you use, the Purple Series shortened the agony by cutting as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A much tougher challenge is cutting through modern case-hardened screws commonly used nowadays. They are designed to be very hard and cut their own path even into hardwood because they are driven effortlessly by powerful torquey drill drivers. Gone are the days of guide holes and hand screwdriving! And much softer steel screws!

I found that I could cut these screws by slowing the speed slightly and using the whole of the blade.  Again, the amount of heat produced shows just how hard the blade teeth are having to work to cut the steel. I did something I don’t normally do, and I used another brand of aftermarket cutter on the SMART tool just for a comparison of cutting speeds, and the SMART Purple Series blades edge proved to be far superior. It cut more quickly and lasted measurably longer. Certainly the teeth on both blades showed signs of wear and blunting, but the Purple Series blade would still cut wood and softer metals quite happily.

Cutting, scraping and sanding are also done very easily with a multi-tool and potential purchasers of the SMART 300W multi-Tool would be pleased to know that it performs just as well on these as we would expect. Certainly, the SMART plastic case is well-designed enough to hold a range of common accessories that might be used on a decorating job for example.

So, if you want a competent, well-priced multi-tool the SMART might be your answer. Combine it with the Purple Series blades and save yourself a lot of time and hassle too. 

 

Security from ABUS – Advanced Locks that Work

Aimed at: Anyone who needs a high quality padlock that both looks the part is very secure. 

Pros: Use of ne Titalium makes for both lightness and strength. 

 

It is a truism that security is only as good as the weakest point – and in my observations, the badly fitted hasp and staple or sliding bolt held on with nails are quite common on sheds and gates up and down the country. For these situations it would be pointless fitting one of the ABUS TITALIUM padlocks I was sent for review. With an ABUS security rating of 8/10 they are definitely not the weak point.

Handling the locks and working the keys makes one aware of just how up to date these padlocks are compared with some we commonly see on the market.

Firstly, the bodies are made from TITALIUM, an alloy developed by ABUS that consists largely of aluminium and titanium (hence the name) that is not only light but also extremely tough. The body exteriors of the locks are specially plated against corrosion, as well as being ground smooth, so that attacks with hammers and bars are more likely to bounce off than break the lock.

Just looking at the engineering of the bodies, it is clear that each has been milled from a single solid block of TITALIUM, so there are no seams or joints for a potential thief to exploit.

Secondly, as far as I could tell, the lock mechanisms are inserted tightly, right into the body of the locks – again obviating any exploitable gaps or weak points. The complex double-sided key is slid into the mechanisms and can be inserted any way up, thus saving time and hassle. A complex key and matching lock mechanism also makes picking the lock quickly highly unlikely. 

The all important shackles are another potential weak point, and no padlock I have used so far in my career has been proof against a cordless angle grinder, thin cutting disc and enough time. Thieves might not always have the time to use this noisy option, so it is a limited threat, but I have actually given up on the bolt cutter option when it became clear that I was more in danger of pulling a muscle than cutting the shackle. Those locks you see on the movies being cut with a flick of the bolt cutters must be specially made….

So just for devilment, I got out my bolt cutters to try to cut either of the two shackles. The Extra Classe 96 has a NANOPROTECT shackle that is designed to minimise access to it, so it is hard to get a bolt cutter near enough to engage the jaws. I did try very hard and managed to dent the shackle a bit, but there was no way I was going to be able to cut it.

On the Monobloc TI 98 the special alloy shackle is again difficult to access, and again I only made a dent on it with the bolt cutters.

One of the other security confidence builders is looking the part – and these two locks certainly do. With solid bodies and smooth exteriors they provide a deterrence factor by simply looking strong enough to repel all attacks.

These locks from ABUS may be an “old” security solution, but it is clear that the application of modern materials and design has made them still applicable in the 21st Century. 

Leatherman Surge – A Thoroughly Modern Multi-Tool

Aimed at: Those who need a high quality multi-tool for work or play.

Pros: Usable pliers and it doesn't bust your nails trying to get the blades out.

While some people rabbit on about Health and Safety as though they are bad – I take a different view. Changing rules on Health and Safety often allow us to take a fresh look, and the consequent redesign is usually much better – especially in the area of tools.

The first multi tool I coveted, years ago, was a crude device compared to the slick stainless steel Leatherman Surge that arrived on my desk a few days ago.

In its folded form, the Leatherman Surge is a weighty bit of kit that fits neatly into the palm of the hand. Made almost entirely from different grades of stainless steel, it is very well screwed together and there are no sharp bits sticking out. It feels like it will do the job!

The more I explored the features of the Surge, the more I came to appreciate just how much safer and more useful it is compared to my first multi tool.

Safety-wise it is simply great. All the blades are lockable so will not suddenly release to trap or cut an unwary finger. The big sharp knife blades will not open unless the handles are in the closed position – so basically they are available only when you need them.

Opening up all the tools is now not a job for steel fingernails – they are mostly released via a spring catch and a generous finger niche is provided to help them open out. On the other hand, both the serrated and standard knife blades can be opened with the flick of a thumb – something that I have come to appreciate when I have been been working on site.

There is also a bit of future proofing built in because key things that get blunt, like the wire cutters and reversible screwdriver bit, can be replaced very easily.

What set the original Leatherman apart from others was the inclusion of a pair of pliers that actually worked. The Surge carries on this tradition, but with bells on. The narrownose pliers are revealed by simply opening out the handles. Milled jaws provide a good grip on wire as well as small nuts and bolts and the wire cutters are VERY effective on both electrical wires and small gauge steel wire. Behind the fulcrum are an electrical wire cutter and crimper that work very well too.

Some multi tools claim to have legions of blades, but in my experience, they often don’t all work. This is not true of the Surge – all twenty blades are completely functional and some are ingenious. The scissors, for example, have a brilliant spring mechanism that means they actually work properly - I cut paper, card and hard plastic quite easily.

I was also pleased to see that this Surge came in a leather belt pouch with elasticated nylon sides that not only held the knife securely, but also had some space to accommodate a couple of spares like the diamond and metal file blades.

So, the Leatherman Surge is a really practical, modern and safe multi that would be perfect for campers, travellers and emergency trade use. I like it!

GYSMi 80P Welder - As Compact as You Dare?

Aimed at: General users who occasionally Weld.

Pros: A portable and capable little welder that can be brought anywhere. 

Remember when welders were so bulky you had to use them in a workshop or not at all? Sometimes they even had wheels to help you out a tiny bit. It wasn’t that long ago. But, in what seems like an almost single-handed quest to help welding reach the masses, the GYS Company in France has been using modern electronics to reduce the size and increase the capability and controllability of welders to the point where I have been reviewing and using a tiny welder that would literally fit into a child’s shoebox.

 

Measuring just 215mm long, 99mm wide and 143mm high and weighing in at around 2.5Kgs the GYSMi 80P has enough capability in its tiny casing to weld ferrous metals up to 5mm thick using welding rods from 1.6 to 2.5mm. With the right rods, steel, stainless steel and and cast iron can be welded. With its perfect portability it makes sense that this is a “go anywhere” welder for small tasks such as mending farm gates and steel frame buildings, so it is also great to know that it can be used in conjunction with a portable generator as low as 3kW capacity.

The GYSMi 80P is the smallest of a small series of welders that increase in size and capability in steps up to a very capable 200 amps and 5mm welding rods, so users can choose the machine to suit the tasks envisaged. They all have some very advanced technology built in, clearly the bigger they are, the more the technology that can be included.

However, the GYSMi 80P is no slouch. Electronic technologies have a great part to play in welding because they can be used to monitor the human input as well as the heat, current etc taking place at the welding point. Using all this data, the welder can optimise the weld so that even inexperienced welders can end up with an acceptable result. And with overheating etc overrides built in the user has the reassurance that he will not damage the machine by using it inexpertly.

This outcome is something that our Continental friends have been able to access for many years because welding is very much part of their DIY and light trade culture. I can only guess that in the past in the UK we have either been too scared of welding as it is seen as “dangerous” or “too specialised” or even too expensive to invest in for occasional use.

To give some examples of how the GYSMi 80P helps make better welders of its users, the electronics helps with some of the following: - The so called Hot Start increases the current at the start of the weld so that the user can get the weld going. This avoids the stop/start of the welding rod that many new to welding experience that usually results in a series of blobs on the welding line. In my short experience of using the machine the Hot Start feature was the feature that helped me get a weld going smoothly so that I could judge the feed rate of the welding rod.

The next feature is Arc Force – this increases the current when the electrode enters into melted metal created by the weld and then tends to stick. Again, this allows the user to remove the electrode and move on as smoothly as possible into the weld.

The Anti Sticking feature is the one that also helped me in my experience of welding. I tend to get a lot of “sticks” because I don’t feed the electrode smoothly and evenly enough to get that desired “ribbed” look of a successful weld.

Since becoming known as having a welder in my workshop I have had a number of requests to weld a few things. One of these was a set of weighted volleyball net holders whose legs had broken off from being bent over too far. In the end, it was a simple matter of realigning and then reattaching the legs by a couple of straight (ish?) welds. They are still in daily use weeks later, so my weld must have been good enough.

Other uses have been a couple of short welds for a friend who fancies himself as a sculptor. He is already talking about borrowing my GYSMi, but with a price of around the £100 for a ready to go kit, I am sure he could afford his own.

From the dealer point of view, welders like the GYSMi 80P are now not really any more specialised than some woodworking machines or power tools that they might stock. There could be many advantages in taking on a new line. Some dealers I have spoken to in rural areas have seen increases in business by stocking welding gear.

Like many other products, the welding machines are very competitively priced, but welding accessories are an absolute requirement for continued use, and these can help dealers develop healthy sales in electrodes, gloves, masks and other small tools.

It only takes one member of a sales force to have a bit of training and experience in welding for him/her to become a bit of an expert. At its HQ in Rugby, GYS UK is able to give the necessary training and product knowledge required to successfully stock and sell welders.

There is lots to like about the GYSMi 80P – not least of which is the fact that it is ready to go – all you really need to add are some suitable electrodes and basic safety kit like mask and gloves etc. And I have to say there is something very satisfying about being able to make a simple and quick, and hopefully long lasting repair, to something using a suitable weld. I have done the vain attempts to bind a pair of metal pieces together with wire, only to see the repair fail as the whole thing moves or falls apart because the strength of the repair is simply not good enough. And with a machine that helps you to be a better welder via its electronics – I will take that any day. 

Snickers All Round Work Trousers-Comfortable, Hardwearing and Above All, Stylish

The days of workmen and women turning out in jeans and a scrappy T-shirt are pretty well over.

We have all been blessed with a highly competitive market in work wear that ensures that pretty well 100% of work people have access to practical and hard wearing work wear.

But not all work wear is equal, as I have found to my cost, especially when I have impulse-bought cheaper trousers. My most common complaint is with the depth and placement of the pockets and of course the all important bending and kneeling test that can reveal just how much material has been saved in certain areas???

On the other hand, the Snickers All Round Work Trousers I have been wearing on site for the last week and a half have been incredibly comfortable and I am already considering the need for a second pair, despite the fact that they are not the cheapest trousers on the market.

It is only with extended wear that I have become aware of just how thoughtfully they have been designed and almost each day I have been surprised by one or other feature.

So, some facts: - they are made in Grey Cordura Nylon which is hardwearing, easy to wash and dries quite quickly too – especially over a radiator – so next day wear is on the cards if a spare pair is not available. Sizing couldn’t have been easier – although it was a bit of a shock to discover my growing waistline, the tape measure reading was spot on. To help you remember your size for easy next purchase, an orange tab on the leg reminds you and everyone else what your size is.

Belt loops are strong and frequent, including a double length loop at the back, so there is no gapping.

My first thought on all the pockets (I counted 15 of them) was that I surely wouldn’t need as many, but in the course of wearing the trousers I used them all, including the zipped holster pocket which held my phone and protected it from dust etc. The front holster pockets are simply great for holding screws, small tools etc and there are enough of them to allow me separate different sizes of screws, nails and bits. The standard front pockets are deep enough to hold car keys and change without any danger of them falling out if you have to kneel or bend. On the rear of the hips are a couple of tool loops as well as a screwdriver/plier loop on the right leg. One of the spacious rear pockets has a flap for safe holding of a wallet or even documents, while the other is a great place for a handful of sizeable nails or screws.

Custom kneepads are slotted into pockets on the knees – again so convenient to use and they didn’t end up halfway down my shins.

Two of the best aids to comfort is the stretch material used in the crotch and the ventilated knee sections.

Perhaps the best thing was that my clients both commented on how stylish and smart the trousers looked when I wore them. A small thing perhaps, but looks do count, and I can’t find any fault with the design either. These trousers definitely fall into my “Highly Recommended” category and I will continue proudly to wear them.

I also had the good fortune to try out the Solid Gear work shoes. These are in a “Tough Trainer” style with a Vibram sole and padded, moisture wicking inside. Key for me was the Boa Closure System on the shoes that allow almost instant tightening and releasing of the “laces”. On the particular job I was working on it was a great hit with me and the clients as I could quickly change shoes every time I went from indoors to outdoors without having to trail mud on the carpets and floors. I can foresee a time when all work shoes will be made like this…. 

For more information on Snickers Workwear and the Hultafors Brand, please visit www.hultaforsgroup.co.uk

Seventec stepladder from Zarges – Safe Working at Height

Aimed at: Professional fitters. 

Pros: Rigid safe and in all weather conditions with lumniscent Hi-Vi Strips.

Zarges is a company to look at when it comes to innovative solutions to new working at height products that conform to latest Health and Safety rulings. But the company is also not beyond innovating just because innovation to reflect new materials and markets is a good thing per se.

As it happens, I have been doing several jobs recently that have involved the extensive use of “hop-ups” and small ladders. As I have got older I have increasingly become less of a fan of ladders higher than three metres or so, but the arrival of the Zarges Seventec series is right within my comfort zone and also suits my main purposes very well.

 

The Seventec Series consists of three work platforms with double sided access, extra wide treads and working heights ranging from 2.49m to 2.99m.

The taller work platform with single sided access also has three versions with working heights from 2.66m to 3.08m and these are followed by the Seventec stepladder range, all optimised for safer working outdoors.

The three models have working heights ranging from 2.7m to 3.1m and I was sent the latter to try out.

I must admit that when I saw the ladder in its transit packaging lying in the ToolBusiness office I was concerned that it might be too big to fit into my hatchback, but with the packaging removed it was a good fit, with the top section fitting snugly over the passenger headrest so that it wouldn’t move around in transit. Of course this also means that it would fit nicely onto a roof rack or inside an average sized van with no trouble at all, and with a weight of only 8.1 Kgs it is easy to carry and shift about.

The stability test is a good “first impression” test that I always try when I have to use a ladder. This usually tells me whether the ladder feels too light or flexible to feel safe under my feet as I climb.

The Zarges Seventec is easy to open via the integrated platform hinge that does not have any play in it at all, so the two sections of the ladder very stably bonded together. The two side locking arms are made from substantial alloy strips and lock positively when pushed down. So, first impressions on opening the ladder and setting it up on a reasonably flat surface were that it felt very stable and solid, with very little “play” other than the necessary flexibility required for easy movement of the parts relative to each other.

The other thing that I think offers that “extra-stable” feeling is that the uprights on the ladder seem to have an upward taper on them that is much less than “normal ladders.” As a result, the ladder feels wider than many I have used and the wide treads offer more than enough space for working–boot clad feet.

I wondered a bit about how the Zarges team had managed to achieve such rigid upright pieces, but a close examination gives the answer: - on each side of each upright there are two deep U-shaped folds that would prevent distortion of the extrusions anyway, but then, since each tread is riveted into these folds, (four rivets per tread) the rigidity is increased still further.

Actually, the more I used the ladder, the more I came to appreciate its stable and “safe” feel and became quite comfortable working at maximum height on the few occasions that I needed it when doing particularly high ceilings.

I used the ladder largely indoors, but in many ways, its real forte is as an outdoor ladder. The large safety platform of roughly 380mmby 260mm is substantial and provides easily enough space for big boots.

However, it is the 85mm deep treads that are one of the real contributions to outdoor safety, even in wet, snowy or muddy conditions. Without making the treads feel flimsy, a series of holes have been punched into the stepping area of each. The holes alternate between being punched either upwards or downwards. The upwards punched holes tend to provide grip for snowy or muddy feet, and their slight roughness gives grip on the rubber soles of work shoes.  The downward punched holes allow water and slushy or melted snow to drain through them and then away – so no dangerous small puddles of wet collect to be a hazard.

Added to these are twelve longitudinal ribs that are part of the extrusion. They are sharp enough to add to the grippy feel that is transmitted to the sole of workboots, so the overall feel of the ladder underfoot is that your feet are secure and unlikely to slip.

On each ladder upright, near the bottom is a substantial strip of reflective and luminescent tape that tells passers by that a ladder (possibly with someone on it) is there. And then there is the issue of the all-important ladder feet to consider. Some ladders seem to have an afterthought of a plastic moulding stuck on the bottom of each upright, but this Zarges Seventec has almost what could be called “shoes” on each foot. They extend several cm up the legs and fit snugly so they will not move. A big rivet on the inside of each leg means that they are not going to drop out or fall off.

Underneath each “shoe” is a series of deep ribs that provide good grip on smooth and rough surfaces and will prove to be long lasting too, in my opinion.

One of the things that really helped my feeling of confidence when using this ladder is that the tread side uprights have been extended upwards beyond the platform and then topped with a retainer that provides a solid reminder of where you are so that you don’t overreach or overstep. This is also used as a tray for small tools and parts. At the top of each upright is a strong plastic fitting that provides a hook for adding a workshelf for tools etc. So much easier than having to replace stuff into trouser pockets.

Overall, using this ladder, I had a strong impression that a lot of thought had gone into making a piece of equipment that is really fit for purpose, stable, strong and safe to use. I felt confident using it, and that, for me, is a huge plus. 

For more inforamation on Zarges, please visit www.zarges.com

Take it Easy with Wera Tool Sets

Aimed at: Proffesional fitters and mechanics. 

Pros: Easy to locate and identify the tools in their wallets or in a crowded toolbox. Pro spec means they are tough and help achieve a good job.

Wera users are familiar with the incremental approach to development that their new products have. Sometimes not so revolutionary but evolutionary, these tools develop and change, but never leave their past behind. So my ten-year-old Rapidaptor still fits the most modern Wera hex bit set, even though it may have lost some of its original purpose due to the increased use of impact drivers and the specialist bits needed for impact work.

On review this month are two of the smaller sets from Wera that really reflect how the tools are developed in order to improve the end user experience and make their lives “simpler, safer and full of joy”, the essence of the Wera mission statement.

I will start with the smaller of the two – the Kraftform Kompakt Zyklop Mini 2. It is packed into the dramatic black Wera packaging that says “quality and high value” to anyone who looks at it or handles it. Inside the box is the rigid-sided nylon wallet with a hook and loop closure to keep the contents secure. Underneath the wallet closure are two small ratchets moulded in plastic that can be used to identify the set by sight or by touch if the set is in the bottom of a toolbox for example. A subtle detail, but an interesting example of where the Wera mission statement is really applied – no detail is too small to be included.

Inside are 27 pieces all neatly attached into rows where they can easily be seen and accessed.

On the “lid” of the wallet is a row of 15 hex shanked drivers. The line starts with a square socket drive that will fit into the driving tools and it has a ballbearing socket retainer so that the sockets can be held securely. It is followed by a Pozi 1 and 2 bit, Phillips 1 and 2 bits, six Torx bits from size 40 to 10, and four hex bits from 6 to 3. Each is identified by its laser markings and is easy to replace in the flexible rubber loops. If you are a careful worker, they all get replaced correctly each time in their allotted spots, which will save you time searching. I am only as organised as that sometimes….

On the “side “of the wallet is a row of nine mini-sockets with popular sizes from 13mm to 4mm. They are mini-sockets since they are just 18mm deep and are designed that way to be as slim and as compact as possible. Intended users are fitters who often operate on small apparatus in limited spaces – think computer fitting technicians, specialist electronics etc. The sockets are firmly held in place on square plastic pegs and will not move in transit, and the laser etched identification marks are also echoed in the white stitching of the sizes on the wallet itself – no real excuse to be disorganised with the sockets.

On the other “side” of the wallet is a small Kraftform Kompakt driver handle. Obviously not intended for applying higher torque, it is small enough to be used in fingertips for delicate operations. The highly magnet hex socket will hold all standard size 6mm hex bits and with the ¼ inch square driver bit in the set, the sockets can be used as well. 

Finally we come to the mini-Zyklop ratchets – Zyklop Mini 1 and Zyklop Mini 2. I can always understand how people might want to fidget with these ratchets because they are so smoothly finished and well made that they are just very tactile. But that is to miss the point somewhat because they are also fully functioning ratchet tools with a fine tooth ratchet giving 6 degrees of turn for use in tiny spaces. The extra slim heads on the ratchets mean that they will fit almost anywhere and be able to function as intended.

Zyklop Mini 1 is just 85mm long and the ratchet head itself is just 12mm thick. Even with a driver bit in, it is only 28mm thick.

The more meaty Zyklop Mini 2 is 105mm long with an 11mm hex drive socket on the end. The sockets fit snugly into this and are retained securely by a sprung ring, so no need to worry that they are going to fall into the machinery and cause havoc.

Moving to the less romantically named 8740 c HF 1 we find a similar story in the packaging and presentation, but this time there is a hex drive socket on the front of the wallet for identification.

Inside are just nine tools – hex drivers intended for use in heavy duty mechanical engineering and automotive industries. You can really see and feel the difference between the delicate sockets in the Zyklop Mini set and these ones. They would be perfectly at home even on the extended version of the big Zyklop ratchet reviewed last month.

But even here amongst the toughies, Wera has managed to introduce a bit of sophistication to make users’ lives easier. The ½ inch drive sockets all have a deep ring around them into which are baked different colours that serve to identify them visually by colour. They are also laser etched in large letters (I didn’t need my glasses) on the drivers and to aid replacement in the wallet, white nylon stitching marks their positions as well. It could be as simple as telling the assistant to “pass me a red”  (the 6mm driver).

Because these are heavy duty tools, Wera has not simply relied on a friction fit to keep the tools secure in their wallet. The new release and retaining system uses a quick half twist on the anchors to release or retain them.

Another little bit of sophistication and usefulness is that the hex driver ends have been tweaked to serve as a holder function for the fastenings that they will be used to drive. This involves a spring – loaded ball bearing right on the tip of the driver where it will fit into the socket of the hex bolt and this will hold the bolt well enough so that it can be fitted into place before it is tightened.

 

For those lucky enough to have a workbench or mobile trolley to hold their tools Wera has also included a strong strip of self-adhesive hook and loop material that can be fixed to a smooth surface.  This enables workers to have a favoured kit on hand nearby.

These kits are aimed at different ends of the technicians’ market and yet still have the common thread of innovation and developmental improvement that Wera lavishes on its products. I think that is the reason why Wera continues to enjoy a loyal following of tool users and dare I say, “Tool Rebels.” 

Hitachi C18DBAL Cordless Circular Saw - 6Ah and Saw = Magic Performance

Aimed at: pro users or anyone that needs a really good cordless circ saw. 

Pros: powerful, accurate, and easy to adjust- with all the modern electronics to guarantee effiency. 

Hitachi power tools have always had a reputation for rugged build and solid performance and I think, have been unjustly overlooked in some quarters. Possibly this might have been because of their quirky detailing and “individual” presentation, but every Hitachi owner I have ever spoken to will refer to the solid reliability and long working life of their Hitachi tools.

With the launch of the Hitachi 6Ah battery pack earlier in the year, a number of cordless tools that can take advantage of them were launched simultaneously. I tried the 136Nm DV18DBXL Combi Drill and risked broken wrists trying to get the most out of it – but it sure underlined the power on tap from the new brushless motors and 6Ah battery packs. And no-one could complain about the sophisticated restyling and ergonomic handling of it either.

So the chance to get my hands on the C18DBAL cordless circular saw just as I was about to start my annual spring activity of cutting hardwood planks into more manageable sizes for furniture making, was well timed.

Although available in what is becoming the “compulsory” plastic stacking boxes, I was happy to get the saw in its “naked” form – without batteries and charger, for the review. For end users this is a great way of saving money and space – there are only so many batteries and chargers that we can accumulate before we have enough.

Just by picking it up users will realise that a lot of work has gone into the design of the tool to make it robust, easy to handle and very functional. For example, the main handle is covered in black grippy rubber overmould with the bottom part of the handle dimpled for extra grip. There is a handy black knob handle for the left hand to grip onto for providing a steady guiding influence on the cut.

Another good feature is the rubber “bumpers” provided on the left hand side of the motor and battery housing. These allow the saw to be safely sat on its side rather than on the blade cover, which may risk blade damage.  

Just underneath the handle right on the centre of gravity, is the surprisingly compact motor and just behind that, the robust slides for the battery pack. This system of battery mounting works well, as well as concentrating the weight at the bottom of the saw. I largely used the 6Ah battery pack for my review, but the Hitachi mounting has full compatibility with all Hitachi slide-type battery packs – and these go back some years.

One of the main reasons why Lithium Ion has finally been “tamed’ as a reliable power source, is that engineers have managed to build in sophisticated electronic controls on motors, chargers and battery packs to prevent overheating and deep discharge, as well as allowing optimum times for battery charging. The Hitachi system is completely up to date and uses some of the most reliable battery packs available today, so it delivers punchy power for every charge, as well as ensuring that battery packs last as long as possible.

There are a couple of nice additions to this saw that users can either ignore or use, depending on their tastes. Directly under the main handle is a small panel of indicator lights. Press the battery icon and it will show the state of the battery charge. Press the middle switch and the user has the option to select a bright LED worklight that illuminates the cut line when needed. This turns on automatically when the motor trigger is pulled and goes off after a short time when the motor stops.

There is also a “silent” mode that can be selected. This allows the motor to run at reduced revs and more quietly when it is not under load, but as soon as the blade engages with the workpiece, full power kicks in.

I used the saw mostly for cutting 45 and 50mm thick oak and beech and I soon came to appreciate the solid cast alloy base and guarding of the blade, as well as the spring-loaded bottom blade cover.

The base is very rigid with straight sides so it is easy to use with a guide rail if needed.

Other controls are simple and effective too. A clearly marked depth of cut quadrant is easy to set via a cammed lever that make adjustment quick, easy and secure. With a depth of cut of 66mm at 90 degrees and 45mm at 45 degrees the saw has enough capacity to deal with “second-fix” carpentry needs, and could probably take on some “first fix” applications where portability is a requirement.

Setting angles for angled cuts is again very easy as the two angle quadrants are part of the robust cast base and all that is needed is to unscrew the fixings (no tools needed) and set the angle. As is the case with all portable saws, if you want perfect angles, make sure you have an angle finder with you for the settings, because the markings on the quadrants are only guides. But what is good, is that there is an adjustable grub screw that can be used to set perfect right angles from base to blade should that become necessary.

Safety-wise this Hitachi is advanced. It has an electronic motor brake that stops the blade within seconds once the trigger is released. It also has an electronic kick back prevention system that monitors blade speed in use and will stop the motor if it feels like the blade is binding in the cut. I really needed that a couple of times when I was cutting up some very twisty elm that seemed to move with every cut I made.

There is an optional dust collection nozzle that can be attached to the top of the main blade guard and both main and sliding blade guards are strongly made and operate effectively.

After using this saw for several days cutting a variety of timber and boards I came to like it – a lot. And I found that my site mate reached for it very often too. The combination of cordless motor, 6Ah battery pack and advanced electronics coupled with a really solidly made body meant that it was a safe and versatile workhorse of a machine that embodies the tough and reliable image of Hitachi.

For more information on Hitachi Power Tools, please visit www.hitachi-powertools.co.uk

 

The DC 2900c from Dustcontrol UK - Best Selling Dust Collection

Aimed at: "small" pro users who need efficient and easy dust control. 

Pros: lots of them, including easy to move, easy to change bags and filters and very verstaile on or in workshop.

Dust control of all kinds at work sites is very high on the Health and Safety agenda at the moment. We have known about the dangers of dust for over 100 years – historically, the coal mining industry was particularly callous in the way that it treated employees with dust damaged lungs. And yet, when I look about me on building sites and public places, I still see many examples of poor practice. One of the worst examples I have seen was a crew of contract workers laying kerb stones along the Thames Embankment. One worker was using a disc cutter to cut a concrete kerb stone. He had no ear, face or dust protection and the disc cutter had no dust damping or vacuum collection attached. I watched as he and members of the public were engulfed in a cloud of dust as he finished the job.

Hopefully, now, councils and employers are more up to speed, and such sights have become rarer, but I still think that knowledge about dust control is patchy and the advice to people is not as informed as it might be. Anyone who works where dust is created should really take a close look at the latest advice – and I mean anyone from the bloke in a shed to a worker in a huge factory. A very good starting point would be to consult a company like Dustcontrol UK. Its incredibly knowledgeable representatives will not only provide very good advice, but will be able to supply a wide range of machines, devices and accessories to help solve the problems of dust.

And so to the review – most of the dust I produce is via woodworking machines, both static and portable, or on small building and decorating jobs where a wall sander is used before final finishing. After a chat with Phil, the Dustcontrol man, I worked out that the vacuum machine I had been using was not quite up to the job for a variety of reasons, mostly the filters and hose functioning. And of course emptying the thing was a H and S nightmare. Phil introduced me to the DC 2900, one of Dustcontrol’s best selling machines and ideal for use by “small” tradespeople. It is affordable, highly portable, very versatile and will fit into the back of an estate or van quite easily.  

The DC 2900 stands over a metre tall, but is quite slim, with a handy set of wheels mounted on the rigid steel chassis, so it is very easy to move, even up stairs and over rougher surfaces. At around 14Kg all up, it is not too difficult to lift either, and lifting is made easier by the addition of an auxiliary handle on the front filter housing. Getting through doorways for example, is actually a lot easier than some of the wider and squatter vacuums commonly used on sites. The result of pulling some of the “squatter” vacuums along by the suction hose is that the machine is pulled over since the wheels tend to be quite small. Dustcontrol have actually built in a solution to the problem by building in a suction hose retainer belt that prevents kinks in the hose and lowers the centre of gravity of the machine so that it can be pulled along quite easily. Working reach is impressive since the machine has a 5m long hose and about 6m of electric cable. Both of these are easy to tidy away – the electric cable is wound around the push handle and the suction hose around the top of the filter housing – thus making movement and storage pretty easy.

Most of the “works” of the DC 2900 is taken up by the all-important filter system. Inside there are two filters. One is the fine filter that is the first line of protection. Inside this filter sits a conical HEPA H13 filter that is incredibly easy to change as it simply lifts out, and this makes regular maintenance about as easy as it could be.

The motor is powerful but very quiet, with typical noise levels of only 68dB(A) and I can vouch for the fact that customers like a vac machine to be as quiet as possible, especially if vacuuming goes on for more than five minutes at a time. The all-important vacuum flow is a very impressive 190 cubic metres per hour via the antistatic, kink free, 38mm diameter suction hose. Anti-clogging is done via a cheeky little rubber flap on the side of the filter housing – a very simple but effective solution.

With the confidence gained from knowing that you are using a top class machine it becomes a lot easier to work safely and to minimise exposure to dust. Phil pointed out that even the traditional sweeping up at the end of the day, usually done by the apprentices, is unsafe because it simply makes dust particles airborne again. Far better to use the robust and carefully designed floor cleaning kit supplied. This has adjustable wheels on the vacuum head so that anything from fine dust to fairly sizeable lumps of plaster can be swiftly vacuumed up.

Emptying a vacuum can be as much of a hazard as working in a dust laden atmosphere, but the DC 2900 makes it as safe and easy as possible. Simply loosen the retaining strap around the filter housing and unloop the handles and the bag slides off. The handles are then tied together to make a package of dust that can be safely disposed of. Some users might be disconcerted that the dust bag is sucked flat by the vacuum during use, but then when the motor is switched off, all the dust that has been collected via the cyclone falls into the bag as the vacuum is lost.

Dustcontrol also makes a good range of accessories for its machines and I was able to see the pointing device demonstrated as well as trying out the core drilling accessory myself. Both collected dust very efficiently and having used the vacuum core drilling device for real, I see no reason why mess or dust should ever trouble your clients’ floors or your lungs again.  

Now that I am better informed about dust and dust control I certainly feel empowered to work more safely around dust. Of course it is key that dust control requires a good vacuum machine and the DC2900 is certainly that. It is well designed for safety and ease of use with a huge range of accessories too. The DC 2900 is a very good way to start the proper ongoing protection of your lungs as well as meeting statutory rules and regulations.

For more information, please visit Dustcontrol at www.dustcontroluk.co.uk

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