New 150 Lumens Torch from Active Products Lightweight and Rechargeable

The market for torches of all kinds in the UK seems to be almost limitless – with everything from budget models coming in at less than a fiver (sometimes even half that!) right through to the professional quality flashlights costing over £200. The two things that seem to be pushing this situation are the ever-increasing pace of development of LED chips and battery technologies, including Lithium Ion. 

Active Products has a knack of introducing competent, well-priced and useful torches onto the UK market, so it is not a surprise that the company has now launched an upgraded version of the “old” one million candle power rechargeable spotlight. The “new” version has much in common, and fortunately, retains the features that made the previous model a success. 

Firstly, the new model is made in bright yellow plastic so it is, what I guess in modern parlance, would be called “high vis”. The main handle, stand and front lens rim are made in black plastic that is a sharp contrast to the yellow. 

Secondly, the body shape of the new version is square and boxy. It is also noticeable that it is much lighter than the “old model – no doubt due to the fact that the new battery is a 3.7v non-replaceable lithium ion version. Lithium ion has many advantages because not only is it much lighter than the old NiCad battery technology for example, but it is more efficient and less likely to suffer from memory effect when recharged. 

The new body shape offers several advantages in terms of the versatility of the torch in use. For example, the flat base of the boxy shape means that the torch can be stood upright so that it shines like a searchlight – which could be useful in some situations. 

Along the bottom of the torch is a click-stopped stand that adjusts over about 160 degrees so that a wide range of angles can be selected. The click stopping is very positive and does not slip in use, so is able to be relied upon – a great virtue in a torch that may well be used in an emergency situation.

A new feature and one that many users will find very useful is the ability to use the main handle in two different ways. Used conventionally, the main handle is nicely shaped and contoured for the fingers. This handle configuration is comfortable and balances the lightweight of the torch for easy aiming. However, by pushing in the yellow button on the right hand side of the handle, the whole handle can be twisted round so that it becomes a pistol grip. Now the torch can be used at eye or head height more easily, so that it becomes an eye-guided searchlight. Outdoorsmen and campers would be able to make very good use of this feature and again, the flip over handle is very positive and robust so it is not simply an “add on”. 

I guess that because of the flipover handle the “standard” switch position of a button on the front lens cover no longer makes sense, so the switch is now located on the side of the torch near the front. It is now a small rocker switch with a definite “on” or “off” feel and is covered by a clear flexible plastic cover that gives some protection from water penetration. 

Active Products has also used the opportunity provided by adopting a lithium ion battery pack to provide a couple of recharging options that will reflect the intended uses of the torch. 

The standard charger is the SD 9300 that plugs straight into a mains socket. Active Products recommends that when the first charge is done it is charged until the charge indicator turns green. This first charge will take longer as it initiates the charging cycle that is important for a long battery life. 

On a full charge, the torch will give about four hours of light, and it is recommended that after every use the torch should have a top-up charge to keep the battery in good health. Also, it is recommended that the battery should be recharged every three months even if it is not used. Lithium ion technology needs such care in order to keep a healthy battery.

Another handy little feature is the provision of the 12v car charger in the package. Since this torch is likely to be used in the outdoors and as part of a car kit, it makes sense to have a non-mains charging option. 

Finally, there is a shoulder strap provided to fit over the metal loops on the front and back of the handle. A small criticism in my opinion is that the strap is too short for all users in all situations, so some people might choose not to attach it at all. However Active Products have already picked up on this and the length of the strap is now increased to a comfortable 100cm to suit all users and situations. 

With an upgraded light intensity of 150 lumens, the LED spotlight has more than enough power for general situations. It is noticeable that the beam has a very pure centre spot that is clear of spots and blemishes. This spot gives a beam distance of about 400 metres that should be enough for most users. Surrounding the middle spot is a halo of less intense light that helps the user to see things not directly in the main beam – very useful I think, and also a tribute to the continuing development of very good LED light chips. 

So to sum up – this is a very practical and well-priced torch with enough power for general household and camping use. It is light, easy to carry and the pistol grip handle is a useful option in many situations. Since power cuts are now a feature of life for many of us, it is always handy to have a torch around, especially one that can stand on its own in a variety of positions. 

For more information, please visit http://www.active-products.co.uk

Leatherman Super Tool 300- A Trade Favourite?

From my observations it seems that many tradespeople now carry multi tools on their belts. This may reflect the larger numbers of higher quality multi tools available, but it could also be that tradespeople like them because they are a very useful “reach for me” tool, particularly when initially investigating a job. It is very often a multi tool that establishes just how far the rot has got into that doorframe, or unscrews the cover that conceals the problem.

Thankfully, we are now past the time where the multi tools were all “multi” and not enough genuine “tools” and the original Leatherman must take some credit for this – it was the first multi tool that included a pair of pliers that actually worked, and provided the stimulus for the competition to develop better products.   Most manufacturers now include only the tools that are genuinely useful, so it is up to end users to explore the options that will suit their needs.

The Leatherman Super Tool 300 is part of a range of other Leatherman tools including the ”Surge” and “Crunch” for example, that are all deliberately different in order to provide a sensible choice for end users. While a tradesperson usually has a box of specialist tools nearby, a multi tool like the Super Tool 300 may be the only tool available for campers, hikers and yachtsmen.

The Leatherman Super Tool 300 feels weighty and solid when you first handle it – it is clear that this tool is a serious one, and it inspires confidence.

Closed, it is just over four inches (115 mm) long and with the handles bent open to reveal the pliers it is still only about seven inches (180 mm) long – enough to give enough leverage in use, but still compact enough to carry in a belt pouch.

As we would expect from a Leatherman, the body is made from solid, folded 420HC stainless steel, with harder 154CM stainless steel used for some blades, where it holds an edge better. The rivets that hold the whole tool together are reassuringly tight, and no doubt will ease slightly with use.

Once opened, the handles lock into place so that the pliers are ready for action. The pliers are forged and ground into a slimmish compromise between needle nosed pliers and standard ones. The finely ridged gripping tips meet precisely and there is no play in the fulcrum, so indeed it is a pair of pliers that give you the confidence that they will work properly. The wider milled opening before the cutting blades serves as a good way of holding a range of smaller sized nuts and bolts.

The pliers offer a number of wire cutting options, the most obvious one being via the removable cutting blades near the fulcrum. Using a hex key, these blades can be removed and then resharpened or replaced as required. I found them very efficient and sharp, even cutting some wire coat hangers.

On the handle side of the fulcrum there are wire cutters for cutting stranded wires and also the electrical crimpers. I was pleased to find that these features worked as intended. Electricians and mechanics take note!

I was slightly intrigued by the ruler function etched into the handles – in cm on one side and inches the other. It is possible to measure up to 23 cm fairly accurately by pushing the handles together so that the flat handle ends meet. Apart from the necessary gap between 9cm and 14cm it will give a pretty accurate result when needed.

Concealed inside the handles are ten other tools. These are actually quite easy to lift into position because they are ether provided with a good-sized fingernail slot or a hook. When fully opened they are locked into place with an efficient spring-loaded bar lock that you can actually hear as it locks. Unlocking the blades is a simple matter of pushing in the spring with one thumb and pushing the blade back into the handle with the other hand.

The Super Tool 300 has two incredibly sharp blades - one serrated and the other a simple drop point. As with any knife, care needs to be taken in use. I found that by folding the handles in to create a good handle, it allows you to cut safely.

The saw has very sharp teeth and is ground to cut on both pull and push strokes and will sever branches and small timber sections quickly. It is clearly aimed at campers and hikers, not joiners, so don’t attempt dovetails with it.

There are also three sizes of flat slotted screwdrivers and a Phillips 2 screwdriver. For general use these are perfectly adequate, but specialist trades should look at other Leatherman options.

There is also a double sided file with a toothed edge that was able to file soft metals quite well – clearly enough of a function to file a key to fit for example, and with enough finesse and accuracy to be useful.

Since I learned how to use combined bottle and can openers on knives when I was a teenager I take great delight in demonstrating them to the uninitiated and the Leatherman version is a gem – sharp and easy to start. No need for fancy ring pull cans with the Leatherman handy.

Finally, there is an optional lanyard ring that provides an extra level of security against accidental loss. Some trade users might attach a lanyard to it when working at height for example, where it is impractical to always replace the tool in its belt holster. The holster is made from strong black nylon with a hook and loop flap to keep the tool in place.

My overall impression of the Leatherman is that it is thoughtfully designed and manufactured well using good quality materials. It is clearly aimed at a discerning audience that appreciates a tool that will really work.

Leatherman is so confident of the quality of their products that they offer a 25 year limited warranty. However as we know, quality doesn’t usually come cheap, and a typical retail price for the Leatherman Super Tool 300 is £89.95.

Aimed at:- campers, hikers, outdoorsy types and a lots of trades as a first option tool.

Pros:- Well-made with useful accessories and an excellent guarantee.

For more information please visit www.leatherman.co.uk/

 

 

New Metabo Trade-Rated Sanders Compact, Efficient and Quiet!

 

Aimed at:- Pro and keen DIYers with a decent budget.

Pros:- Quiet, vibration controlled and very effective stock removal.

Newly launched and aimed at the building trades that need hardy, compact sanders that work well and can take a few knocks, the Metabo SRE3185 and the Metabo SXE 3150 look like they might become favourites – much like the way my SXE 450 Duo has become an indispensable part of my workshop toolkit.

The SRE 3185 came in a simple cardboard box although there is a plastic case option, and first impressions were very favourable as there is a sturdily constructed and compact alloy base and platen with a rather nicely shaped ergonomic handle on top.As is the Metabo way, the controls are picked out in red – hence the two-finger trigger, the lock on button and the speed dial are easy to spot and use.

There is sparing but useful rubber overmoulding on the handle and top of the casing that aid handling and also make one-handed sanding efficient too, when it is needed.

With a motor rating of 200 W and small 1/3rd sanding sheet size, I found that there was enough power for the smaller jobs associated with a sander of this type.  Sanding orbit speeds range from 8,800 to 22,300/min and, even at the highest speeds, the motor noise is so well controlled that you won’t upset the neighbours or nearby tradesmen. The speeds are in a suitable range so that even sensitive surfaces like plaster and plastic can be sanded controllably.

The sander weighs only 1.5Kgs and while you are aware that the powerful little motor feels torquey in the hand, it is easy to push around while working. It also has enough stability to sand evenly and consistently.

My experience of Metabo sanders is that they do a very effective job of collecting dust even without vacuum extraction, and a pretty well perfect job with it. With a newly designed fabric dust collection bag attached to the rear of the base, I found that dust collection was excellent. The dust bag has several layers of material that do a good job of trapping dust, but also allowing the motor-induced draught to pass through freely. Metabo has also improved the way in which the dust bag is attached by moulding several ring collars on the alloy dust outlet that not only seals the dust in, but also make for a secure fixing into the dust bag nozzle. The dust outlet is a handy 28mm diameter that fits nicely onto the end of a standard vacuum machine nozzle.

Easily available hook and loop sanding sheets are my first choice for using with this machine as they come pre-perforated to aid the dust extraction through the perforated base. However, users have a choice of using standard 95mm width abrasive papers held in place with the strongly spring-loaded clips on front and back of the sanding platen. Since high quality hook and loop sheets have a decent service life these days, I think that only the most parsimonious will opt for the spring- attached sanding sheet option especially since you will have to make your own perforations for dust extraction.

Professional users will also value the long 4.5m length of power cable that enables a decent work radius.

Using this machine on some planer-finished brown oak, I was pleased that I managed to get a decent sanded finish quite quickly and without much effort on my part, other than simply ensuring that the sander was moved up and down in the direction of the grain of the wood to ensure a scratch free finish.

For a small sander, the rate of stock removal is rapid and it is a really nice machine to use.  

My favourite sanders tend to have a round base because they serve my needs best and the SXE3 range can be bought with 125mm or 150mm diameter bases. I also tried out the SXE3150 model and the first thing I noticed was that it is very compact for a 310W machine and when I switched it on I was amazed at how quietly it ran, especially at slower speeds.

The hook and loop base has a variety of perforation patterns to suit a number of different makes of sanding discs, and I also like the mesh backed and multi-perforated types of discs that are equally efficient.

The machine follows a fairly standard layout with the centre of gravity right above the sanding disc with the weight of the motor above. While it can be used in a single hand, I got best results using two hands, with my left hand guiding the machine via the nicely comfortable overmould on the top of the motor housing. Speeds, from 8,000 to 24,000 rpm can be set via the toothed wheel on top of the main handle (which also has a small but effective grippy overmould on it) and off/on is via the two-finger sized trigger beneath. A lock-on button is easy to push in with your thumb.

Like its sibling above, the SXE3150 has a dust extraction spout moulded as part of the cast alloy base and it too has the multi-ribbed outlet that holds either the fabric dustbag or a vacuum extraction tube firmly in place. And, it too is very effective at collecting dust. Even working indoors I noticed very little dust in the air (wear a mask please) because there is inevitably some dust that escapes as you sand over edges, but the vast bulk of the dust is safely collected. Almost perfect results can be achieved with vacuum extraction.

The SXE3150 also has a goodly length of rubberized cord (4.5m) so the work diameter is a useful one.

Users must remember that it is an orbital sander and has very good rates of stock removal, but in order to avoid “swirls” in the workpiece, the machine has to be kept steadily moving. On wood, best results are achieved by moving up and down the grain as well.

I liked this machine from the off, it is light, compact, quiet, easy to use, has good balance and is a very effective performer. I am sure it will find many friends in the market.  

In short, these two models are a valuable addition to the Metabo range of sanders, and with the keen pricing in the market, they are definitely worth a look. 

 

Delta Tru-Flex Silicone Tapes – Does Repairs and a Whole Lot More

Delta Plasma UseWe are supposed to be living in the silicone age – but I doubt if the geeks in Silicone Valley would recognize the features of the silicone used in the range of silicone tapes from Delta Adhesives, a company based in Yorkshire.

Having had a number of minor disasters when it comes to leaks and breaks and having used tapes to seal them, I am very pleased to have discovered the Delta tapes, because, used properly, they almost always work. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have a 100% success rate with Delta tapes and a couple of trade converts as well.

There are two key things to remember with these tapes:- They only stick to each other and they need to be used correctly in order to achieve the perfect result. Delta recommends that when repairing a leak for example, the wrapping of the leak should start around 7cm away so that the requisite strength and coverage can be built up to resist the leak pressure.

The tapes come in white and black on 3m long reels. Each tape is backed with a clear plastic liner to prevent it sticking to itself when you don’t want it to. Resistant to water, petrol, oil, acids, solvents, salt water and UV rays and able to withstand pressures of 700 psi when used correctly, it doesn’t take too much imagination to realize that everyone from motorists to sailors to tradespeople would be able find a use for them.

Delta Plasma being used

Tests have also revealed that the silicone tape will withstand voltages of up to 8000v as well as temperatures of -65 to +260 degrees celcius, so add polar scientists and boilermakers to the list of potential users!

I used the tape on both rigid copper pipes and flexible plastic pipes with water spouting out of them just to make my job more difficult. As I applied the tape I stretched it to almost double its original length. This has the effect of making the tape thinner so that it adjusts to any contours on the pipe as well as ensuring that the wrap is as tight as possible to obviate leaks. Most times I was able to seal the leak with a couple of layers, but for a long-lasting repair, six or seven layers of wrapped tape are recommended.

Actually, the Delta tapes are so versatile that they can be used to seal gas leaks, insulate electrical wires and even as a grippy wrap on a hammer handle for example. The uses really are only limited by the imagination of the user.

I showed the tapes to a few tradespeople I work with and they were quick to gather that the tapes could be a lifesaver in many situations. Pricewise, there is no real reason why a couple of reels couldn’t be part of a toolbox investment, especially since when you want one, you want it now! A quick trip to the trade counter might be too much time to wait.

My verdict – definitely recommended, it worked every time for me.

Aimed at: Pro and knowledgeable DIY users who need quick and easy solutions.

Pros: So versatile that it should be part of any professional toolbox.

Delta Plasma

 

Dripless Caulking Guns – Dripless and a bit more too

 

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

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

Dripless Caulking Gun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros: Strong, uncrushable and works smoothly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hitachi Hand Tool

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

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

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

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

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

Hitachi Cordless Multi Tool

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

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

Aimed at: Professional woodworkers and high end DIYers

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

VARGUS Ceramic Deburring Tools – Safety First for Users

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aimed at: Professional metal and plastic finishers

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

Metabo Dry Wall Screwdrivers -Three machines to Cover All Applications

Aimed at:- Professional drywallers and HVAC engineers, suspended ceilings, etc.

Pros:- Compact and powerful with many battery pack options for more runtime if needed. Easy to use too.

Drywall screwdrivers are like Marmite – if you need one nothing else will do, but if you don’t, you might wonder what all the fuss is about, and stick to your normal cordless just to fix a few plasterboard screws.

Watching a skilled drywaller with a drywall screwdriver is great fun – one can’t help but admire the speed and skills on display. But such speed and skill does often come down to the choice of kit. A drywall screwdriver needs an excellent screw feed system, these days it must have tool-less mode changing, preferably be cordless and with battery packs fit for a good day’s work.

Metabo’s latest answer is not one, but three 18v cordless drivers, each with an “E” denoting Electronic controls on speed and torque, but each one is pitched at a different niche of this particular market.

The key differences between the models are the torque available and the no load speeds. The SE 18 LTX 2500 for example has 9Nm of torque and a speed of 2500 so is aimed at applications where boards need to be applied to wood, ply, steel or alloy substructures where a good deal of torque is required to drive the screws home.

At the other end of the range is the SE 18 LTX 6000, which has 5Nm of torque but a 6000 rpm no load speed for the fastest working rate in softer gypsum boards.

I was sent the SE 18 LTX 4000 for this test and it is a bit of a “jack of all trades” as it can be used on lighter metal substructures as well as boards and fibreboards. But more of this later.

Each of the drivers comes with an 18v 2Ah lithium ion battery pack for lightness. The Metabo range is one of the lightest currently available and since these tools are used for long periods of time, they need to be as light as possible. However, with a tested capability of over 1000 screws per charge in most applications and only a 40-minute charging time, power on the job would seem to be the least of your worries.

But, in an emergency, all current Metabo Li Ion 4 and 5.2 Ah battery packs will fit the drivers so no need to worry too much about downtime.

While I was only sent the SE 18 LTX 4000 to test, the rest of the range uses the same body casing, so the following applies to the range.

The LTX 4000 immediately felt right the moment I picked it up because it has been carefully designed to place the force of the operator’s hand directly behind the axis of drive. There is a beautifully shaped groove with black rubber moulding on it to maximize grip and the two middle fingers are used to operate the trigger. It sounds a bit strange, but it actually works very well.

The trigger is large and the small forward/lock/reverse switch is placed above it and there is a lock-on switch for the motor in the middle of the handle.

Most operators I have seen tend to keep the motor going all the time rather than press the trigger each time they need to drive, as this is the quickest method of working.

I am a fan of worklights on machines and a bright LED light on the base of the handle is automatically switched on when the trigger is pressed. It is bright enough to provide a general illumination around the working area.

The flat-bottomed battery pack is very light and easy to release and fix on its rails. With the auto feed nozzle fixed the driver will not stand on the battery pack, however, there is a nice belt hook supplied that will fit on either the left or right of the handle base, and this tends to be the method that workers prefer to park their machines, especially if they are working at height.

There is no excuse for indifferent autofeed screw magazines these days – the competition simply wouldn’t allow it – and the Metabo has an excellent one. The hard working parts are made in alloy or other metals and the rest in tough plastics. Screw sizes are selected by simply pressing in a tiny-chromed button on the right side of the magazine and moving it forward or back until the correct size is selected. It is marked in imperial and metric units to cater for all tastes...

A small milled screw head on the same side of the magazine is used to select how deep you want to drive the screws, and all it takes is a few trial and error screwfeeds to select the correct setting because it will vary according to the materials, substrate and length of screw being used.

Loading the strips of screws takes all of a few seconds and you are ready to go. Removing them is just as quick.

The magazine can be removed by simply pulling it off. This reveals the driver bit and bitholder. Again, these are easy to change by pushing down the red collar and pulling the bit and holder out. A spring-loaded adjustable nose for single screw usage can be clicked over the bit and holder if needed.

Having handled this machine for a while I was keen to try it on some real fixing to see if I could make myself look like an expert. Frankly, I couldn’t fault its performance – First time out I was able to drive home a whole strip of 35mm long screws into a wooden post without a single failure. The machine simply made it easy for me in terms of handling and the ability to apply the force right behind the screws. I think that the lightness and compactness of it also helped me to apply the screws exactly where I wanted them.

In my view, this Metabo range of drywall drivers is comprehensive, efficient and well designed. I am sure they will make many end users happy with their choice. What more could you ask?

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

A Solution you may Need

Aimed at: Professional steel workers and construction engineers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JCB Work Shorts Are In

It Must be Summer

Aimed at: Pro site workers and some weekend warriors might also find them useful.

Pros: – Keenly priced and practical

Builders in work shorts is a certain indicator that summer is here – a few brief hours of sunshine, even if followed by days of wind and rain, is usually enough to convince site workers that shorts are required.

Now, work trousers are a huge improvement on ill-fitting and stained jeans, and indeed, work shorts are much better than the usual motley collection of old football shorts and last year’s baggy beach shorts. And the new pairs of JCB Work Shorts that I was sent to try out are, in my view, a cut above, since even I, with my skinny white legs was able to appreciate their practicality. But unlike most builders, I will keep them only for the hottest days…!

I was sent two pairs of the Keele style of shorts from JCB in two different colourways to match existing JCB ranges of trousers, shirts and jackets. They are, respectively, Sand and Black and Black and Grey. The Sand and Black pair has black holster pockets and black pocket flaps on the back pockets while the Black and Grey pair has grey holster pockets and black flaps on the back pockets.

The Keele shorts are made in black polyester/cotton mix fabric that washes and wears incredibly well, as well as being comfortable to wear on hot days due to the cotton content. The triple stitched seams are in a contrasting grey thread on the black shorts, but the brown shorts are sewn with brown thread. Either way, this ensures that the shorts match up to other parts of the range.

On first trying the shorts on I thought that they might be too long – I am only 5 foot 8 – but they reached comfortably to my knees and for that I was grateful. The waistband is lightly elasticated at each side – vital in work shorts and trousers, because it makes them a lot more comfortable to move and bend in without revealing the asset that British builders are (in)famous for. A couple of friends who tried them confirmed that they are easy to bend down in and don’t trap any vital parts. Five 25mm wide belt loops ensure that there are no gaps where the belt might part company from the waistband.

The hip pockets are deep, and like all the pockets are double stitched for strength. There is also a “hook and loop” sealed pocket on the left thigh/knee into which there seems to be a space for a phone, pencils and a couple of other bits. The two back pockets have a single gusset on the outside edge to make sure that they have enough holding capacity.

But the biggest pockets are two, double-layered grey-coloured holster pockets on the front that hang from the waistband. They are made from a hardwearing Oxford weave fabric and seem to be lined with rubberized material that feels water resistant. General tradespeople I spoke to seemed to like these holster pockets best because it is easy to access them and they can hold a lot of small items – from screwdrivers to paintbrushes and pencils. Even a10.8v cordless drill at a push.

My small team of “triers on” agreed with me that the shorts were comfortable, practical and easy to care for. With a typical street price of around £20 to £25 they are not the cheapest, but the quality is definitely there to feel and see.

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