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Hitachi DV18DBXL Combi-The Torque of the Town

Amied at: Professionals in all trades who need a drill with really serious levels of torque for BIG drilling.

Pros: Excellent ergonomics and loads of torque and a 6Ah battery too, for longer working times.

This torquey Combi drill from Hitachi is a brand new, “from the ground up” development, although it would be hard to tell that from just its external appearance. The two key developments on it are the use of a “biggest ever” 6Ah lithium ion battery pack, which is actually the same size and weight as the 5.0ah pack, and a competition-busting 136Nm of “torques”, as Jeremy Clarkson would say.

I have already had a comment from a tradesperson who sniffily told me that trades didn’t need that amount of torque, but I disagree. I seem to have had a few situations recently where I could have done with quite a lot more torque from my drill! For example, using a 75mm hole saw through a bit of 20mm thick hardwood. You may not need the torque often, but when you do, its nice to know its there. Also, with all that torque on tap, the drill seems to work more quietly and responsively – but maybe I am getting ahead of myself.

A quick run down of the Hitachi DV18DBXL proves that the innovations are largely internal – its functions and controls follow a very familiar pattern. The speed sensitive trigger is large enough for a gloved finger and the forward/reverse function is via the push through switch above it.

Behind the quality metal- bodied 13mm chuck, the large collar for changing torque settings is large and easy to grasp and therefore easier to adjust. It has 22 torque settings as well as drill and hammer modes. A slider switch on top of the ABS body casing selects slow or fast motor speeds.

But I think that what users will notice is the very ergonomic handle that the drill boasts. I think it is genuinely comfortable to hold and provides very good grip, especially at higher torques. My feeling was that the designers have made the grip a bit smaller and slightly more hand-shaped to give the level of comfort needed.

Below the handle there are several important features. Not least of these is the 6Ah battery pack, which has a flat base so the drill can be stood on it.

The rails for sliding the battery packs are robust and the battery slides easily on them. The spring-loaded buttons for releasing the battery pack operate positively as well.

On the base of the handle is a bright LED light aimed at the chuck. This switches on and off automatically, and is definitely not a gimmick or “me too” as anyone working in the semi dark or in enclosed spaces will tell you.

Just behind the light is a battery charge indicator so that users can know when to charge up.

There is the customary reversible belt hook too, probably only usable if you have a proper weight-bearing belt round your waist.

The small RFC logo on both sides of the motor housing stands for Reactive Force Control – a posh name for a sophisticated safety clutch. Basically, should the drill bit or whatever, become stuck in the material, the RFC electronics will cut in and stop the motor before the operator breaks a wrist or fingers (with 136Nm of torque on tap it is best to be wary)

The electronics will also cut in to protect the combi from heat build up, battery overloading and deep discharge, as well as maximizing the torque usage, speeds etc of the new brushless motor.

What was a big surprise for me was that this Hitachi combi comes with a 37cm long auxiliary handle. This handle screws into either left or right hand side of the alloy gearbox housing on the front of the tool. The “hand” end has an ergonomic handle with big flanges to prevent hands from coming off it.

I confess that I thought that the length of the auxiliary handle was a bit over the top when I saw it, but when I started testing the torque available from the combi, I realized that there would be times when I would need it.

Unfortunately, because of the demand for sample tools to test, I had a relatively brief window in which to try it out, but I did my best. In the past I have found that some drills I regularly use are unable to drill holes in hardwood when using the three-fluted spiral “speed” drills on the market. In fact, I have often managed to stall a drill bit into the material just past the pilot screw. No such trouble with the Hitachi DV18DBXL – it eats such stuff for breakfast. I drilled 25mm diameter hole after 25mm diameter hole, through 30mm thick, dry and hard oak with the drill not even breaking into a metaphoric sweat. It really has so many guts that you will like having the long auxiliary handle to help control the torque effect.

While it might not look like it because it retains the current Hitachi look and livery, the DV18DXBL is in fact a deliberate move into a new era of drilling by Hitachi.  Using a new and powerful brushless motor and a 6Ah battery pack, there is a focus on compact power that uses the latest electronics to deliver maximum performance for the end user while reducing energy sapping heat from both the motor and battery packs.

The pairing of the 6Ah battery packs and brushless motors maximizes power and run times without the expected extra weight – the new battery packs weigh the same as the “old” ones. Hitachi also assures us that there will be full compatibility with every “slide battery” from 1.5 to 6Ah, and that chargers will be similarly compatible. Charge times will of course vary from old to new, with the new battery packs expected to charge in about 35 minutes.

But even better is that Hitachi intends pricing for the new drill to be VERY competitive. We users will not know the exact pricing details until the launch of the drill in February – but I am sure it will be a pleasant surprise.

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

Warn Drill Winch from Arbil- It Works!!

Aimed at: Users who need to move heavy objects with minimal effort.

Pros: Using a drill as a power source is a convenient and versatile way of powering the winch without always relying on mains power.

I must admit that when I heard about the Warn Drill Winch I thought that it was perhaps an idea too far. Or maybe it was a gimmick with too little capacity to be of much use to anyone, let alone anyone needing to move anything substantial.

However, I was wrong on both counts. This winch will move bulky and heavy objects up to 227 Kgs using the power of a corded or cordless (18v and upwards is best) drill. Having tested a cordless drill this issue with a 136Nm torque rating, it looks like the future may well bring even greater capacity for cordless tools and by extension, tools like the Warn Winch.

I have used winches before to pull heavy objects up a ramp laid on steps, drag heavy things into place and also to pull down semi-cut branches from dreaded Leylandii trees into a very limited space accurately. I very quickly learnt what is needed on a winch, and an examination of this one reveals that it is well made, robust and has all the features needed for a useful working life.

There is a nice big grippy handle made in moulded plastic right on top of the winch. The handle makes it easy to carry as well as orienting the user to the two main working ends of the winch. The grey plastic body actually covers the whole of the winch, which of course helps keep fingers and hands well clear of winding parts. Importantly, there is a clear plastic window underneath the handle so that the cable can be monitored as it is wound or unwound. For safety, the cable needs to be wound on so that it does not concentrate on one part of the spindle winder. It is best for the cable to be spread evenly and neatly over the whole drum and the window allows this.

 

Underneath the plastic body is a pressed steel body that is integral – in other words the cable, winder and anchor end are all made in one solidly bolted together unit so that they will not part company under load. There is a rugged cast cable fairlead that serves as a guide to the cable and it will no doubt come in for a bit of friction wear from the cable.

The winding drum is also a solid casting that holds about 10 metres of 4mm diameter steel cable. On the working end of the cable a cast hook with spring closer can be attached to the load usually via a nylon strap. Handily, there is also a red nylon strap that fits onto the hook so that users can pull the cable out without having to touch it, which although very shiny and smooth when new, will soon develop barbs as it is stressed under loads.

It is worth noting that the cable ends are properly attached using steel loops, strong bolts and D Shackles that are clearly strong enough for the specified loads that this winch will pull.  

The “anchor” end of the winch also has a cast hook with spring loaded closer. The hook is designed to rotate using a castellated nut through a big D shackle. Since the “anchor” end is just as important as the “pulling” end when attaching a load, users will need to use these features to get a secure fixing.

On one side of the winch is a big red switch that locks the drum clutch into free or pull mode. This is really easy to use and well marked to minimize any user mistakes.  On the other side of the casing is the 5/16ths inch hexagonal driver shaft onto which the chuck of the chosen drill can be tightened.

One of the ways in which a cordless drill can be used on a winch to pull a substantial load is by using appropriate gearing, the lower the gearing, the greater the load that can be pulled. However, this means that the cable winds very slowly as well. This can be minimised by the way in which the user plans to work with the winch, and remember too that the further out the cable is, the more power is available at the winding drum. As the cable winds onto the drum, the gearing factor will change to be less advantageous.

I looked around for a suitable task to test the Warn winch and a good one presented itself when I had several 25mm thick MDF sheets delivered on a pallet, and I had to move them from the car park to the side of my workshop so that they could be protected from the weather.

Fortunately I have a couple of substantial trees on the edge of the space that I could use as an anchor for the winch. A suitable nylon loop from a local trade outlet was passed around the trunk and the winch was attached with the anchor hook.

I only had to free about 5 metres of cable before I was able to loop securely through the slats and base of the pallet ready for the pull.

I used an18v newish cordless drill driver and an older 650W corded drill for the pull so that I could compare results.

I expected the cordless drill to struggle a bit with the load but the winch gearing is such that it more or less keeps up a constant speed of wind that doesn’t seem to stress the drill motor at all. There is no need to use low speed on the drill either.

I also expected some backlash on the drill handle, but there was none. Clearly the clutch mechanism on the winch works well. With the corded drill of course, there is no danger of running out of battery power, but it was very effective and never felt strained.I was happy with the results because I managed to move about 100 Kgs of MDF sheets single handedly and safely across smooth tarmac. My back was happy too! 

The pull was a bit slower than some winches I have used, but to be honest, I expected that because it is probably the only way to use the power of a cordless drill on a winch. The compact Warn winch is effective, and would be useful for users who need to move or pull heavy things. The freedom of using a cordless drill as a power source will be a major plus point for these users. It is definitely not a toy or a gimmick and is robustly made – so try one!

For more information please visit www.arbil.co.uk

The New Induction Heater Plus From Sykes Pickavant - Leave No Bolt Unstuck!

Amied at: Professionals and keen amatuer engineers and car buffs.

Pros: Easy to use and effective solution to locked on nuts and bolts.

In the past, when I have had to struggle with loosening bolts and nuts that had corroded fast I had only a very few strategies. The usual ones were first to try a longer spanner, then the application of a hammer on the end of the spanner, then a patient sit down while hopefully the WD40 or similar worked, and finally perhaps, using a gas blowtorch to heat the nut to see if the differential expansion would loosen it.

The last option was rarely used because most often I was working on a car and I was scared of starting a fire or causing further damage. The solution in many cases involved a broken bolt, skinned knuckles and a lot of bad language. The Sykes Pickavant Induction Heater is the professionals’ solution to a locked-on bolt where incidental damage to a client’s vehicle is not an option.

The Induction Heater Plus is apparently the redesign, upgrade and replacement for the Sykes Pickavant Miniductor II that will make it more efficient and easier to use.   

If, like me, you had never used an induction heater before, it is time for a bit of science. Although the ultimate effect of using the induction heater is an intense and focused heat, the heat itself is flameless, an important safety factor in motor and engineering trades.

What actually creates the very focused heat is the use of high frequency magnetic fields created by passing a strong electric current through a conductor. Remember making your first electromagnet in Year 8 Science? Remember how it used to get hot if you kept it on too long – well I guess it is the same principle.

What is different about the Induction Heater Plus is that the magnetic fields created around the nut or bolt heats them up in seconds, thus minimizing danger and localizing the heat to where it is most needed.

Hopefully, the first application of heat will be enough to expand the ferrous metal bolt and therefore release it enough for it to be unscrewed using a spanner. 

Most readers are probably wondering what an Induction Heater Plus might actually look like. Imagine a black plastic hexagonal tube about 38cm long. About half of the hexagonal tube is slim enough for an average sized hand to hold it securely. There is a black push button switch in the middle of the tube that has ridges around it to prevent accidental switching. There is no need for a “lock on” switch because the induction heater is so efficient that a few seconds of current is often enough to do the job required. 

The other half of the tube is a couple of centimetres thicker. At the “thick” end there are two plastic ended wingnuts and a grille-like heat shield. The wing nuts are used to secure the ends of the choice of coils that are fed through two holes in the grid so that the electric current can pass through them.

The Induction Heater Plus that was sent for review had about three metres of cable and a standard 110v site plug, although a 230v version is also available.

It is clear that Sykes Pickavant has decided to make this device as versatile and useful as possible and accordingly has provided three heating coils with the basic machine.

The coils each have two strong and rigid uninsulated ends that are pushed through the heat grill into the holes that will provide the current. In the comprehensive instructions it is made clear that the ends of the coils need to be firmly fixed in place with the wingnuts so that good electrical contact can be made and maintained during use.

In the instructions there are also a few pictures of what happens if the coils are used incorrectly or overheated, so there is no real excuse to get it wrong.

The rest of the coils are covered in a silver coloured, finely braided material that clearly has a great resistance to heat.

The first coil I picked out is coiled into a circular shape rather like those “travelling kettle” heating elements you can buy to make tea in hostel rooms!

When in position on the heater, this sticks out ready to be placed over a nut or bolt head up to about 20mm in size. The instructions recommend only a few seconds of heating before using a spanner to release the nut. Further similar applications of heat can be done if it doesn’t release the first time. I hadn’t noticed it before, but a nice bright LED worklight on the end of the tool shines straight onto the working area – no doubt very handy wherever you are working.

Next up was a U-shaped loop that can be custom formed to fit nuts larger than 20mm. Sykes Pickavant recommend that the coil should be formed around the socket size needed for the nut concerned and also reminds us that more coils means more heat – just like putting more windings on your school electromagnet – you get a more powerful magnet, but a lot more heat too!

Lastly in this kit, there is a “free form” coil that can be shaped by the user to a sort of “P” and this can be used to “pop” soft dents in metal. It needs careful handling because the heat can very quickly burn paintwork. I am very glad I tried this function out on a scrap piece of mild steel into which I had hammered a couple of dents. Let’s say I need a bit more experience in using this method before I try it on a real car!

Readers might also like to know that there is an optional heated “mat” that can be used to remove decals, bonded parts and graphics etc. Similar safety and effectiveness rules apply.

Clearly aimed at professionals and enthusiasts, the Sykes Pickavant Induction Heater Plus comes with a Year’s Warranty. It is packed into a custom plastic case with enough room for cable and coils to be packed safely away. It worked very well for me on a set of rusted wheelbarrow nuts and no doubt will be even more useful for professionals where safety and efficiency are crucial. 

For information about Sykes Pickavant, please visit www.sykes-pickavant.com

Fein Cordless Multi Master + Video Review - All the Capability of Mains with the Portability of Cordless

 

Aimed at:- Pros and Canny Amateurs who need the cordless convience of a good multitool.

Pros:- The Cordless verision does what the corded one does alongside a good control of vibration and noise. 

I know that there is a lot of brand loyalty out there when it comes to power tools, and manufacturers now have a big advantage because the major brands of cordless tools mostly have a battery platform that fits all the other cordless tools in their ranges.  But, in my chats to people in the trade, there seems to be common consent that Fein still has the advantage when it comes to making oscillating Multi Tools. There is still something in the “Original and Best” slogan that apparently makes sense to end-users.

With Fein’s launch of a new version of the corded MultiMaster a while ago, that had noticeably much less noise and vibration, the goalposts moved significantly. And now that the cordless AFMM18 is on the market Fein MultiMaster users have a significant choice. Perhaps a difficult choice to make?? Corded or Cordless?

Left to myself I would have both versions, but then I am greedy and could be accused of being fussy too. In truth, there is a fraction of difference in the weight, handling and size of the corded and cordless models – the Fein Engineers have done a great job ensuring that the balance and ergonomics of both tools suit their power sources. In my view, either tool is a good choice, but if you have any other cordless Fein tool, then perhaps the cordless AFMM18 would be a good choice to take advantage of the battery platform.

The “working” end of the AFMM18 is almost identical to the corded Multi Master and therefore includes Fein’s rather good system of isolating the oscillating movement, and its accompanying vibration, from the body and the hand of the operator. My own experience of the vibration and noise levels from this tool are very positive. I have no official measures, but I did feel comfortable doing several hours worth of sanding of exterior window frames. The stop/start nature of the work means that your hands don’t ever really feel uncomfortable.

I am always a little chary of the “Quick-in” lever on the top of the machine. The “Quick-in” idea is a good one, because the old system of hex keys was very slow, but some users have complained to me that it can trap an unwary finger as you snap it down to hold the working cutter in place. This is no longer the case. Although it still sounds very snappy, in fact the composite lever has lost its spring loading as it reaches towards being at right angles to the body, so fingers are not really in danger as the system snaps firmly onto the cutter.

On the body, the black rubber overmould that provides good grip and some protection from vibration is sparing but well placed so that the palm of the hand is where the grip is. There is a simple thumb operated slider switch for off/on that is perfect to use, and a few centimetres behind that is the 6-position knurled wheel switch for selecting oscillating speeds. Again, simple and efficient. With an oscillating speed range of 11,000 to 18,500 /min there is enough of a range to sand and cut effectively, as well as work carefully at low speeds on sensitive operations. I would say that in my experience of the tool, this speed control was one of the key features of the tool that added to its usefulness.

Placed carefully for balance on the rear of the machine, is the battery pack. The kit I was sent for review had two 2.5 Ah packs with it, and frankly I found that they lasted long enough for me not to hanker after a bigger 5Ah battery that would last longer, but also be heavier. Fein has one of the simplest and most robust battery pack mounting systems on the market which I like a lot, as I hate fiddling with buttons that you have to squeeze in on each side to release the battery. The new battery packs are very slick looking with a black base colour and Fein Orange stripe, but more importantly the right side of the battery pack houses a system of four lights that indicate the state of battery charge. Also important in avoiding deep discharge, the enemy of Lithium Ion, a continuous red light will show when the battery needs a charge urgently and a flashing red light says “charge me NOW! although the electronics will not allow the tool to operate on a dangerously uncharged battery.

The charger is compact and the series of lights indicate very clearly the state of the battery. A fan will cool the pack if it is too hot to charge and it usually takes about 40 minutes or so for a full charge.

As is recognized by oscillating tool users, they can do jobs that other tools can’t, and although I do use the delta sanders sometimes, the things I have found that they are best at is blind cuts through surfaces, slicing the bottoms of door frames when fitting flooring, cutting out old grout from between tiles and scraping off old adhesives. This cordless Multi master does not disgrace itself performing any of these functions. For some reason, maybe because I am developing a steadier hand, I found the tool easier to control especially when plunge cutting.  The correct choice of cutters is vital and there is now a huge range of accessories available. Included in the kit is a scraper, a delta sander and sanding sheets, a semi-circular wood blade, a straight wood blade and a straight wood and metal blade, but in my view the carbide coated cutters are also a must for me.  

A quick word about the box – like all Fein boxes they are well laid out, have ample space for bits and pieces and the moulded polystyrene inner will hold the tool safely and firmly while in transit – easy to pack too and carry too.  

When I compared noise and vibration levels between mains and cordless they were so similar that I am sure that a blindfold test would not be able to tell which is which. Suffice to say, working up a ladder for example or on mains-free worksites, the AFMM18 is a perfect solution.

For more information on the Fein Multimaster, please visit www.fein-uk.co.uk

Wera Technicians’ Kits – All the Necessary?

Aimed at: Pro specialist technicians,  electricians and fitters.

Pros: Well- chosen key tools in a handy to use kit. Easy to take on site for diagnostics and repairs. 

I recently overheard a comment at a tool show by someone who was clearly a tradesman, to his mate about his Wera tools. The comment was along the lines of how “joined up” all his Wera tools were, because they were “designed that way”.

Clearly an appreciative and perceptive end-user, and I am sure that Wera should collectively pat itself on the back. As an end user it is comforting to think that a system that you might have bought into years ago is still expanding (sensibly and quite rightly driven by design, innovation and end user requirements) and is therefore still useful, compatible and up to date.

The two kits Wera have sent for review illustrate the above very nicely. Aimed at plumbing and heating engineers and maintenance technicians respectively, they are a kind of “first call” toolkit that is easy to carry to site and, in many cases, will be all the tools that are needed to fix a problem.

The first kit I opened was the Kraftform Kompakt SH1 PlumbKit. Handsomely presented in a black nylon folding wallet, the set consists of 25 assorted tools, essentially divided into two parts on each side of the wallet. All the pieces are familiar as they are part of the wider Wera range, but as a combination they are pretty comprehensive.

Firstly there are two VDE screwdrivers and a voltage tester for the electrical element of a plumbers’ job. The small screwdriver is a Kraftform Plus VDE Extra Slim with integrated insulation, which is useful for sunken and spring elements, while the bigger one is the Kraftform Plus VDE Lasertip. The tip of this screwdriver is roughly laser engraved with lines that bite into screwheads, preventing slips.

Next in line is one of the most useful tools that Wera produces in my view – the Kraftform Plus Chiseldriver. With its hex section blade it can of course simply tackle large slotted screws, but can also be hammered directly onto, thanks to the integrated impact cap on top of the handle and twisted with a 10mm spanner via the hex holster under the handle  - ideal for those really tight screws!!! It is also great for chasing out in plaster walls, and stays useable as a screwdriver after even long chisel use.

Two large handled Kraftform Plus HQ Nutdrivers in 10mm and 13mm complete that side of the wallet. These two socket sizes are the most commonly used in electrical and plumbing apparatus.

The other side holds a more mixed selection. The 10mm and 13mm Joker combination ratchet wrenches are some of the best I have ever used, simply because they solve a whole lot of problems in one tool. The reversible fine ratchet is strong and has a tiny 30 degree throw for confined spaces, while the open-ended spanner not only grips the nuts well, it will hold a bolt head or nut so that it can be brought to the corresponding part without the user having to hold it in place. They can be used in confined spaces and are also VERY strong when it comes to applying torque to them.

In my view the key piece on this side of the wallet is the small Zyklop Speed ratchet. This is incredibly easy to use, the angle of the head can be changed, sockets ejected etc etc. It is a great piece of engineering and I have heard so many positive comments from end users about it that it has truly become a classic. The Zyklop can be used as a screwdriver by attaching the Rapidaptor bit holder adaptor and using one of the twelve driving bits in the kit. A bronze-coloured set of 6 Torx driver bits (TX sizes 10 to 40) have a “holding function” that hold Torx screws tightly so that they can be presented to their positions before they are tightened.

The set of three sockets (7mm, 10mm and 13mm) fit the Zyklop and the last set of longer shank driver bits are a mixture of four hex and two Pozi bits.

All the pieces are laser marked with sizes and designations so that they are easy to identify and of course, for users who need to customize their kits, all the components are available from the Wera range individually.

The Wera W1 Maintenance Kit comes in the new style of textile box with rigid sections. These sections make for a container that is very robust and durable, and can even be stood up on its end for easy shelf storage. It also means that if any individual pieces somehow come loose, they would find it very hard to escape once the large hook and loop closure is pressed shut.

This 35-piece set has quite a VDE presence with twelve interchangeable Kompakt VDE screwdriver blades in Pozi, Phillips and Torx configurations and a detachable Kraftform Kompakt VDE handle. Despite this handy detachable blade format this, like all Wera VDE kit, is guaranteed for safe working up to 1,000V (as per EN60900:2012).

Another nice touch is the red plastic Screwgripper that is used on the end of a screwdriver blade to hold screws firmly when needed. Think of having to place a tiny screw at the back of a casing that would be a pain to find if you dropped it while trying to screw it in.

There is also a small voltage tester screwdriver – still one of those safety essentials for maintenance operators.

Gathered round the essential Zyklop Speed ratchet is a set of eight sockets. These range in size from 5.5mm to 13mm – an essential range for maintenance. To make life easier there is also a small extension bar (also with a plastic rotating collar for speedy work – the attention to detail is amazing, and totally Wera) and a Rapidaptor adaptor to hold the selection of seven driver bits. These cover four sizes of hex, one Torx and two sizes of Pozi. There is also a slimline standard hex magnetic bit holder that would fit an appropriate Kraftform handle or cordless driver.

Finally there is a double-open jaw Joker wrench with popular 10mm and 13mm ends. This has the holding function and limit stop so that the user can’t push the bolt or nut past the spanner jaws. With its smart jaw design the Joker has a small return angle – ideal for use in confined spaces.

I expected the trades to which I showed the kits to be either sceptical or to tell me that the kits were too similar. In fact, I got neither of these reactions. The favourite seemed to be the maintenance kit, but that was maybe due to the preponderance of electricians in my sample audience!! For these end users, quality and design is now so firmly established as a Wera selling point that it becomes purely a question of how much it costs and whether they need it now or next month.

Read more Wera Reviews, such as the Kraftform Kompact VDE and the Wera Joker

For more information on Wera Products, please visit www.wera-tools.co.uk

JCB Workwear – It’s the Season for Warmth

Aimed at:- pro and amateur workers who need tough clothing that washes well and is totally practical.

Pros: Coordinated colours, toughly made, lots of pockets. The hoodie is warm and the bomber jacket is well waterproofed.

The workwear for this review was perfectly timed in its arrival – from the twenty degree temperatures of late October to the wet, and later, frosty weeks of November. The weather proved to be a very good test of the capabilities of the workwear, and I was able to appreciate even more the old axiom that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

I’ll start with the “easy” stuff – when a work day on site felt like winter was never going to come and the clocks hadn’t yet gone back -when the day did really feel like a whole working day rather than the slow descent into murk that is currently the case. This really was “T-shirt weather” and it is amazing how warm you get when you are lifting, cutting and joining. The JCB T-shirts I wore are part of the JCB Heritage Range. Made of 65/35 Polyester cotton, they come in four colours – Olive, Graphite Grey and Sand. Each has a trendy Union  Jack Flag and JCB logo printed on the front. In truth I didn’t much like the colours, but they are practical and of course they blend with the ranges of JCB trousers and shorts. JCB workwear users can look smart and coordinated because the JCB designers have done the work for them.

After several outings I began to appreciate the T-shirts for a lot of other things. They are strong – even snagging them on weldmesh didn’t seem to cause much damage. They are comfortable too and maintain their shape due to the triple stitching on the main seams and half moon yoke – that is, the reinforced semi-circle of stitching on the back under the neck stitching.

The shirts hang easily and absorb a decent amount of sweat and heat so that you feel comfortable. They are long enough to tuck in to trousers or to leave untucked, but the best bit was how easy they are to wash and care for. Since I only had three shirts to test, regular washing was necessary and I found that the formula of one being worn, one in the wash and one drying, worked well for me.

As the weather got colder, I found myself “layering up” starting with a T-shirt, then a work shirt and finally a hoodie or rain jacket, depending on the conditions. The t-shirts proved to be just as good as undershirts as they had been as outerwear.

My favourite bit of kit in this test was the Hixon Hoodie – especially when the weather got very frosty and working outside was a bit of an issue for me – I like my creature comforts! Made from 65/35 % polyester cotton of 300grams per square meter weight fabric, it felt substantial and warm, and more to the point – able to withstand the rigours of sitework. The inside of the hood and body of the garment is completely lined with a soft, thick (fake) fur lining that is reassuringly warm and comfortable. The colours of the hoodie are much more to my taste – a practical black with patches of grey stitched under the arms to enable free movement. There is a printed JCB logo on the front that manages to be subtle and understated. There are a couple of hand pockets on the front, big enough, as I discovered, for my large tape measure in one and my 10.8v compact driver in the other. As seems to be the fashion these days, the knitted cuffs have thumb grips sewn into them. This can be useful in preventing the sleeves from riding up and making you cold.

I was pleasantly surprised by the way the hood part was designed. The zip goes right up to the neck so that it holds the hood tightly to the head, keeping cold draughts out and warmth in. I really appreciated this on a couple of cold evenings because the elastic drawstrings complete the job of making a nice warm seal around the face. This is one piece of kit that will definitely find its way into my winter site wardrobe especially since it seems to be very well made and properly stitched together for a tough working life.

In my mind it is a toss up whether the cold is worse than the wet, and I am still undecided on this matter, despite the best efforts of the JCB Clayton Bomber Jacket. It is a very practical garment and it only took a few minutes to feel completely at home in it in terms of comfort and user friendliness. For example, the cuffs are adjustable - being both elasticated and using hook and loop fixings. It is such a great thing to be able to close the cuffs tight enough so that you don’t get that cold trickle of water down your arms when you are lifting or working above shoulder height. The two-way zip is strong and easy to use and the zip itself is covered by a substantial flap that is a good waterproofer – preventing rain from seeping through. The jacket is designed to be long enough to sit just on the hips with an elasticated hem to ensure a good fit. This length makes for easy working, but if you are working out in steady rain, it is essential to have a pair of waterproof trousers to ensure that your bottom half doesn’t get wet.

I also liked the fleece-lined collar and quilted lining that provides a good level of warmth, especially if you are being quite physical. I found that when I teamed it with the hoodie in the cold and wet, I was really quite snug.

I had a couple of days of constant heavy rain to test the weatherproof qualities of this bomber jacket – and on both days the rain finally won during the last half hour of the working day. Nothing drastic, it was just that the prospect of a hot shower became very inviting as we packed up our tools.

Working in the dark I did notice the usefulness of the reflective tabs on the pockets and flash on the back.  There are four large patch pockets on the front of the jacket and they also include two lined hand-warmer pockets. My overall impression that this comfortable jacket just lets you get on with the job without feeling as though it is constraining your movement.

Now that winter seems to be here for the foreseeable, I will be using these garments, singly or in combination, to keep me warm and comfortable while I am working, and they are definitely worth a look for value and practicality. 

For more from the JCB Workwear line, click here.

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

Inova T3R USB Rechargeable Torch-A Solid Performer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leica Utilifinder – Not Quite Magic, But Nearly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pacific Laser Systems PLS480 – Pinpoint Laying out Laser Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vargus Deburring Solutions- Plumbers and Electricians Take Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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