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Maruyama Hedgecutter-Better known for not being known

I'd like to ask your indulgence for a couple of minutes to read the following in detail.

We will:

  • Listen to your needs before advising you on the best equipment for your task.
  • Help you pick the proper accessories.
  • Stand behind the product warranty.
  • Provide a reliable source for accessories, parts and service.
  • Match the equipment to your application.
  • Know what attributes are important to you. Light, quiet, powerful, fuel efficient, low emission, etc.
  • Insist on comfort and safety. Whether you or your employees operate the equipment, safety is paramount–comfortable, well balanced and smooth running equipment extends the productivity of your staff–and the life of your equipment investment.

Compare value: Cost should not be the only factor. Consider the features, the warranty, and the attributes that effect durability, such as chrome impregnated cylinders or full crank shafts or threaded, solid drive shafts. Consider the effects on productivity due to service related downtime and the effects on the bottom line due to “disposable” equipment.

It sounds like a wishlist from a very demanding consumer and I doubt if any readers would have guessed that it is culled from the Maruyama UK website. So what could you work out from the above? The Maruyama kit must be good – Right?

And yet a quick straw poll amongst some of my trade and DIY buddies revealed that they were not familiar with the Maruyama brand nor its reputation, so it is verging on being a “best kept secret” in the UK.

In the USA and Japan however, Maruyama is a leading quality brand commanding premium prices. Maruyama is so confident of its products it offers a 5 year guarantee on them. There is no reason to think that the UK could not benefit from another competitor in this busy market sector.

A few further chats by telephone with a wider range of professional gardeners and landscapers revealed that some do know the Maruyama brand and it is gaining respect and more users.

So with all of that intriguing background, I was keen to break open the box and give the kit a thorough testing on some hedges around me that seem to have taken note of the spell of warm weather and have started sprouting. The model sent for this review was the HT236DLSV-R and is clearly a big capacity cutter aimed at the professional market. It has a 22.5cc two-stroke motor with a hedge-busting 750mm blade length and weighs a very respectable 5.4 Kgs without fuel.

Outwardly the Maruyama looks a lot like many other professional quality hedgecutters on the market, but then I don’t suppose we are in for a revolutionary-looking hedgecutter any time soon. Maruyama engines perform at higher revs producing faster moving blades. The blades are thicker and therefore stronger. Blades are sharpened on three sides. The benefit of faster, sharper thicker blades is a cleaner, finer cut which in turn means a better looking result and stronger regrowth.

There are a few refinements that show that this machine has been thoughtfully designed for ease of use and minimal vibration for its users.

A strong, moulded plastic cradle mounted on coil springs runs along the bottom of the machine. This effectively serves as a rust proof base on which to rest the hedgecutter when starting and filling for example, and it also supports the front and rear handles too.

The motor and gearcase mechanisms, which are the source of fierce vibration when the machine is running, are efficiently isolated by this cradle so that minimal vibration is passed on to the handles and grips. When I was using the machine I found that when I was wearing gloves (always recommended for protection) the vibration levels were very well managed and I didn’t end up with tingling fingers.

Since all hedgecutters need to be used at a variety of angles for cutting hedges, the rear handle of the Maruyama can be locked into five positions. Moving the handle is easy – just pull out the yellow loop on the base of the main handle and it can be moved to left or right at 45 degrees and ninety degrees respectively. The trigger throttle mechanism cannot be operated when the handle is not locked into one of the standard positions. The large looped front handle is slightly textured and protected from the cutter by a smoked plastic guard.

Quality Japanese construction is evident all over the machine. There are no trailing wires, the mouldings and castings are all well finished and it is clear that the long blade has been polished and honed so that the cutting edges are razor sharp. Maruyama blades are manufactured by Ochiai of Japan, who are the number 1 knife, cutlery and blade machining company in Japan.

The motor has a plastic shroud over most of it so it is well protected from debris, as well as protecting the user from direct contact with hot motor parts.

On the right hand side of the rear of the motor is the substantial and captive filler cap and fuel tank. It is easy to fill the tank from a container with a spout, but a funnel is always advisable to prevent spillages and danger of fuel on hot parts.

The clear and well laid out instruction booklet makes it very obvious which oils are needed for the two-stroke engine and in what proportions they are to be mixed with petrol – giving a number of quite precise “real life” ratios that every user would understand e.g. 40ml of two-stroke oil with every litre of petrol. Very helpfully too, Maruyama provides half a dozen 40ml bottles of oil in the box to help run the machine in and therefore not invalidate the guarantee by using the wrong oil.

In use the Maruyama is a cracker – with its long blade and ample power it cuts through normal hedging of up to 5 or 6mm diameter stuff in a jiffy. You barely feel the cutters cutting. It does cut through thicker stuff as well, almost as easily and I liked this because I have let the hedge get a bit out of control, if the truth be known. It always started very easily, even from cold, and the routine maintenance and lubrication I had to do was very simple. It is only really with daily use of 5 or 6 hours or more that regular lubrication of the cutters etc is required. I was conscious of using a quality professional product that performed well, so I think that potential new users out there should definitely have a look at what the Maruyama brand has to offer.

For further details on this and their other products take a look at: www.maruyama.co.uk

Getting the Bullet – Birchwood Price Tools new Woodscrews

The days are long gone when the main choice of woodscrews was between steel or brass, countersunk or roundhead. You can still buy these types of screws, but they are for niche markets. The trades, and increasingly every screw user, are able to buy the modern types of straight-shanked, coarse threaded and pozi-headed screws that are meant to be driven by cordless drivers. I don’t miss the old days, fiddling with pilot holes and the hassle of using a screwdriver – bring on the Bullet Screws.

The first thing that struck me when I looked at the sample screws I was sent was the relative coarseness of the threads. On the 5×40 screw for example, there is at least a 3mm gap between the threads. The advantage of a straight shank and coarse thread is that you get a very rapid driving speed with a cordless driver as friction is reduced. The straight shank maintains a constant speed unlike the old elongated cone-shaped woodscrews that actually got more difficult to drive the deeper they got into the material. If you do need a pilot hole with the Bullet screw, it only needs to be as wide as the main screw shank minus the width of the threads.

The point of the Bullet screws is very sharp indeed and has a corkscrew type design that means it is very easy to start. Many screwdriver chucks these days have a magnet in them to hold the screw for starting, but the extra sharp point of the Bullet screw means that a sharp push into the material will hold the screw in place too.

A little way up from the tip a flute has been ground at right angles to the thread. This disperses heat, reduces splitting and allows easier driving into resistant materials.

The countersunk head of the Bullet screw is another minor engineering feat and perhaps helps to explain why woodscrews cost pence each rather than pence per ten these days. There is a crown-ribbed design on the head which means that the screws are self-countersinking as well as being extremely strong. It is not unknown for a screw head to shear off when driven by a cordless driver, but this crown head seemed to be very strong and also countersunk well when I drove some repeatedly into a hard weathered oak gatepost.

In common with many other modern screws the Bullet screws are coated at the factory with zinc and are also given a coat of special wax that makes them easier to drive. The zinc coating makes the screws corrosion resistant and they should be able to be removed more easily as well, even if they have been in place for a while outside. An added advantage is that timber, even notoriously tannin acid oak, should not show corrosion marks where the screws have been inserted.

I drove a lot of Bullet screws into a variety of materials for this test and I can safely say that they are pretty impressive. I tried hard to break some by deliberately being brutal and overdriving them into hard materials. I had no breakages, but instead felt that my 14.4 v driver was actually the victim of the abuse rather than the screws.

The Bullet screws are clearly well made screws and do everything that is claimed for them, and clearly they are welcome competition in the market. We consumers love to have choice and competition. But launching a new screw on an already competitive market is a tough thing to pull off, so a bit more is needed…..

One of the best ideas for marketing screws recently is the plastic case of commonly used screws at a very competitive price. The trouble is I find that however hard I try I always end up with some sizes that I don’t use very much.

Birchwood Price Tools Bullet screws have a better idea. The “Buy ‘n’ Build” system means that you choose the screw sizes you want and contain them in the AMMO case (£29.95 ex VAT) The AMMO case is purpose-built to contain screw boxes separately and safely so that you will never be short of the screws you need. You might just need to remember that the maximum number of screws that fit into the AMMO case is 19,200 and it could weigh up to 15Kgs.

I also like the pricing structure –clear and simple as it is. There are only three price points for three different sized boxes £5, £7 and £15 (RRP ex VAT). Purchasers know what they are getting for the price paid.

We all know that impact drivers are very commonly used to drive screws especially on building sites. ToolBusiness has reviewed some of these specialist drivers and bits and they are pretty impressive.

The latest thinking into impact driving is ensuring that the driving bits are up to the job of absorbing the stresses of impact drivers and larger screw sizes. Each box of Bullet screws has a 50mm long, high performance Red Bullet bit included. The bits come with a standard hex shank, but the Phillips PSD head recess gives a very tight fit into the screwhead. This is claimed to give a better output to screwdriving than conventional bits. Without the technical kit I would need to test this claim I can’t really comment, other than to say that when you attach a screw to the bit the fit is so tight that you can dangle the screw from the bit and shake it and the screw won’t fall off.

Finally, retailers are an important part of any new launch. They will benefit from a nationwide PR campaign by Birchwood Price Tools with events and advertising, direct mail and email to consumers as well as a range of Point of Sale materials and merchandising solutions.

In my experience, poor products can have as much PR thrown at them as you like, but if they don’t work well people won’t buy them. From my tests, these Bullet screws are very good and are definitely worth a look if you are a trade user.3

Advent Tape Measures-There’s One for Almost Everyone

I am quite picky about the measuring tapes that I use pretty well every day because over the years I have collected quite a few from reviews and samples. In truth, the ones that don’t cut it for me are usually passed onto other less discerning (Meow) users, but the ones I like are carefully guarded so that I don’t lose them, which is easy to do on site or even occasionally in my crowded workshop.On the other hand, when I have asked a rough sample of tradespeople about tapes I have had every reaction on the scale of “I just got it because it was in a bargain box on the counter” down to “ Yeah, I really had to look around to get the make I wanted because it is the best.”

Of course we should expect all tapes to be as accurate as possible, have a reasonably balanced spring return, a case that will stand a few knocks and a standout of more than a few paltry centimetres. What I hate are tapes that are overly bulky. Are they less easy to lose or just a pain to carry in your pocket or on your belt? Other pet hates include plastic cases plated to look like metal, sheer prejudice I know, and spring returns that whizz back so fast that your fingers are in danger.

I am happy to report that none of the four tapes sent by Advent for review got my hackles up for any of the above reasons. They all come into the category of “keepers” for me, and I suspect that one or two of my occasional workmates might try to make off with them too.  

I will start with the Advent tape called the 2in1gaptape. This seems to me to be the most innovative. Certainly, I have never seen another tape with its features and that works so intuitively.

From the outside it is quite impressive with its complete rubberized protective jacket and metal belt hook. There is a substantial half moon shape cut out of the rear of the case that I didn’t appreciate at first until I started using the tape for it designed purpose – more of that later.

The metric/Imperial tape itself is 25mm wide with a clearly marked scale on a lemony yellow/green high vis background. I managed to get an excess of three metres of standout quite easily and the lock-on slider switch has two natural positions of hold and lock that are easy to release without any finger gymnastics.

What sets this tape apart is that it makes measuring internal gaps really easy and accurate. With most tapes you have to measure internal gaps by bending the tape inside the gap and making an estimate that could be as much as 5 or 6 mm out. With the 2in1gaptape the back of the tape itself is marked to take exact account of the width of the body, but unlike other tapes where you have to add the measurement of the body to the reading on the tape, the reading is taken directly from where the tape emerges from the body as the markings have already been compensated for at the hook end of the tape.  As for the half moon shape cut out on the body – it allows enough room for your fingers to hold the tape body right up against the edge of the window frame or whatever, so that you get an accurate measurement.

This tape shows that innovation is possible even on an everyday item like a tape measure. And I suspect that this is the tape that is going to be “borrowed” from me if I am not careful.

Next up is the Advent viceVersa tape. Like the above tape it is a standard 5m long tape with another impressive standout and substantial double-sided metal hook. It too has the high vis colouring and accurate and distinct markings in black, but this time only in metric measurements. Every ten cm is marked with a bright red lozenge shape counting right the way to 500cm. The viceVersa bit is easy to get because the tape can be read in four directions  – up and down and left to right. The ten centimeter markings make it easy for the user to get the orientation of the easiest scale to use whatever the orientation of the tape. The viceVersa too has a fully rubberized and compact body with metal belt hook. There is a full sliding tape lock as well as a quick release stop underneath the body. I found this tape very easy to use and I quickly grew to like the 10cm measurement lozenges. It didn’t weigh my pocket down either.

The Advent Master Precision tape is guaranteed to be Class 1 accurate and you can really see how the tape itself is marked with thin and precise markings and lots of extra information. First of all it is marked in metric and Imperial. Every 10cm is marked in red cumulatively up to 500cm. Inch and metric measurements line up down a line that runs down the middle of the tape so it pretty easy to read equivalent measurements. The imperial scale is marked in inches, with every foot marked with a black square and arrow. After 1 foot, every inch is marked as 1foot 1 inch, 1foot two inches and so on so you don’t have to convert in your head. Thirty five inches is marked as 2 foot 11 inches for example.  For site chippies standard 16 inch gaps for stud partitioning are also marked with an outlined black square. With an easy to grip rounded and rubbercoated body, a quick release catch and a tape lock I very quickly got to like the easy way of working with this tape. As Brucie says, it was my favourite!

Finally I looked at the Superior Tape. Well why is this superior, since the others are clearly good? Well first of all it has a nylon coated blade which offers greater protection and therefore a longer working life for the tape. The blade itself is also of a slightly thicker gauge. Combine this with the slightly redesigned curve on the blade it is possible to achieve a standout of over 2.7m. With a bit of care I was able to routinely get a standout of over 3m which is great when you are working alone. The case itself is quite compact, but well protected with a rubber coating around the circumference. There is also a good metal belt hook, a wrist strap and a blade lock.

These Advent tapes are good. They are easy to handle, light and relatively compact bearing in mind that they are all a standard 5m long. They are definitely worth a look, but you probably won’t find them in a jumble on a trade counter!

Leica DISTO™ D510

Even from a Distance – the Leica DISTO™ D510 is a Good Measure

Now and then I take out my example of the Original DISTO™ I tested way back then in 2001 (?) and just sit back and think how exponentially the development of electronics has taken place. What was then a cutting-edge but quite large device, that took up all of one hand and took accurate, but limited straight-line measurements has become a sylph-like creation that has not only been on diet to reduce its weight and size, but is now capable of measuring modes you only dreamt of and has “connectivity” as well.

In short, the new DISTO™ 510 is just astonishing and at first, I didn’t really know where to start on exploring the kinds of tasks that this new DISTO™ is capable of.

What I do know is that Leica Geosystems’ product development teams have been working on various incarnations of the DISTO™ Range for some years now and each time a new DISTO™ has emerged onto the market it has been smaller, smarter and better specified than the previous one. This has meant that Leica Geosystems has remained ahead of the competition by some distance (pun intended) and has effectively been the market leader for quality laser measuring devices.

The new DISTO™ D510 has a smart red and black livery that is as sharp as a new City Boy’s suit. All the main edges are protected by a black rubberized overmould and the keyboard has just 12 buttons to input all the functions.

The battery housing is underneath and a lockable lid opens to reveal the space for two standard AA batteries. Also underneath is the standard tripod socket screw and a fold-down multi-purpose bracket to enable the DISTO™ to be base-lined against a flat surface, among other things, for more accurate measurements.

While more complicated functions of the DISTO™ might take a little while to learn, the basic distance, square and cubed measurements that are most used by builders and surveyors are very easy to select. Once the “On” button is pushed and the icons appear on the colour screen, you can use the arrow keys to select the icon you need and start measuring. Very accurate measurements are only really limited by the operator’s own skill since the DISTO™ has an accuracy rating of +- 1mm. The greatest problem I have in making measurements is holding the DISTO™ still, which is why a tripod is often the best way forward. (also, investigate maximum/minimum measuring mode as this will help to get better results)

To start using the more complicated measurement functions you will need to load the CD-Rom that comes in the box onto your computer and read the further instructions. Frankly, I like the idea of the CD-Rom because I can choose exactly what language I need and proceed without having the usual diagram at the front of the booklet and the inevitable shuttle backwards and forwards between the diagram and the 27 languages in the manual. The instructions are clear and to the point, with clear step-by-step diagrams to illustrate the various measuring modes. With some care and time to experiment, there is no reason why any user couldn’t make full use of all the capability of the DISTO™ D510. It really is all there at your fingertips.

One of the modes that fascinates me is the ability of the DISTO™ to find the height of buildings or trees. Clearly, this is a valuable mode, since it obviates the need to physically climb a scaffolding and measure with a tape. A real Health and Safety hurrah.

It works on other things too. Despite the fact that a tree is a non-reflective surface, by aiming at the base of the tree to take the first reading and then the angle/height tracking mode takes over as you point the laser towards the top of the tree. The DISTO™ will then display the height of the tree on the screen as you go. This is made possible by the Pointfinder Function – basically the colour viewscreen on the DISTO™. This displays a picture of the target and has up to a 4x zoom function so that the target is actually seen on the crosshairs on the screen and therefore does not rely on the laser’s reflection for accurate measurement.

Builders and trades who lay out industrial buildings may also like the stakeout function that enables users to lay out repeated intervals to a set pattern. The DISTO™ will manage two different distances as required and all the user has to do is move the DISTO™ along the stakeout line until the device beeps at the required points.

Bearing in mind that the laser can measure up to 200 metres distance, the long range mode needs to be dialed in to measure longer distances in ambient light conditions that may affect the reflectivity of the laser. Again, this shows that the Leica engineers have basically thought of just about everything that surveyors and builders need and included it into the DISTO™ D510.

There are at least ten more functions that I haven’t mentioned that I don’t have space to include. But I do need to include the fact that the DISTO™ D510 is specified to IP65 weather and dust protection. This means that it would cope easily with dusty conditions on a building site and also with jetted water.

In the connected age we have come to expect that our electronic devices will speak to each other. The DISTO™ D510 is no exception. By activating the Bluetooth function, collected data can be sent to a smartphone, tablet or laptop. From there it is but a short step to entering the data into a database, sorting it into a meaningful format and transmitting it to a client or back to the office. This is genuinely smart working practice that has many implications for productivity for all the trades and professions from builders to estate agents and surveyors. So, although the DISTO™ D510 costs about £400 plus the VAT, when you take into account the cost of car journeys, trips into the office and dragging a tape measure around and just the sheer amount of time saved in taking the measurements in the first place, it is clear that the Disto will pay for itself in a jiffy. And it is just great fun to use too…

EverBuild's Geo-Fix All Weather -The All Weather Solution for Patios

 

Years ago, I returned some good quality shoes I had bought because they leaked profusely the first time I wore them out in the rain. The shop assistant looked shocked and seemed to be quite put out when I suggested that a pair of shoes in our climate ought to have some water resistant properties.

Judging from our increasingly wet weather we will have to start making the products we use more capable of dealing with the sorts of weather conditions we have on our Soggy Little Island.

EVERBUILD is a British based company and has taken up the British weather challenge with its new All Weather Geo-Fix jointing compound for patios and paving.

I have to say that to me this makes utter sense – to have to wait for dryish weather before applying a jointing compound outdoors in our climate is completely absurd. You might find yourself restricted to very few days in a year. More to the point, over the course of a small job, the contractor may find that no working day is dry enough to apply the jointing compound and may have to return to the job later – at his own expense of course.

Geo-Fix is already the market leading jointing compound available in the UK, and the introduction of the Geo-Fix All Weather compound is likely to extend the practicality of the product even further.

When I tried it out, I found that Geo-Fix is very easy to use. The joints between the paving stones should be at least 6mm wide and 25mm deep. This means that the compound can get enough strength, when set, to seal the gaps between the paving stones and retain some strength too.

Once all the joint gaps have been established and cleaned of all excess mud, moss and other stuff likely to interfere with a good joint, a simple wetting with a hosepipe or watering can will ensure that the whole area is wet enough for the compound to work, but all standing pools of excess water should be swept away.

It is only now that the vacuum-sealed bag should be opened and the contents spread over the area to be jointed. Once the bag is opened the curing process begins, so there is a limited window of about 45 minutes of curing time at normal temperatures. In hot weather the curing time is reduced to about twenty minutes so it might be a case of “all hands on deck” to get the work done in time.

Using a soft outdoor broom or brush, the compound needs to be swept into the joints. It helps if it is swept at a 45 degree angle because this helps the compound “catch” in the joints.

Now comes the intense bit. The compound needs to be compacted into the joints with a pointing tool. It may be necessary to top up the compound in the joints as it is compacted so that the joints are full and have the best appearance.

The joints should then be given a hard smooth finish with the pointing tool as it is the compacting process that is key to a good result.

Once the whole area is done the excess compound needs to be brushed away and collected before it starts setting hard. On a big area, it may be necessary to do the sweeping up section by section.

Geo-Fix all weather comes in three different finishes – Natural Stone, Slate Grey and Anthracite and is cleverly designed to be water permeable so that surface water on the paving can seep away between the joints. The hard-set surface will also resist the growth of weeds between the paving.

I followed all the instructions carefully when I tried out Geo-Fix All Weather on a small area of what I laughably call my patio. It really is as easy to use as the above instructions say, and I was very pleased with my efforts. In truth, the only thing that would completely improve my patio would be to dig it up and lay it again – but I do have to thank EVERBUILD for at least giving me a steer for future improvements.

The advantages of Geo-Fix All Weather should be obvious to all users, but EVERBUILD has also realized that retailers should gain significant benefits too. Effectively, the “patio season” has been extended to throughout the year (except maybe Christmas and New Year?) by the All Weather product.

It seems that decking is on the wane and hard surfaces are becoming increasingly popular, perhaps because they are easier to maintain, so the extended season and increased uptake of paving means that there are even more opportunities for retailers to stock and sell paving products.

Accordingly, EVERBUILD is now offering a range of incentives to help retailers take advantage of the extended season.

The press campaign has already begun in key trade journals aimed at the building and landscaping trades so that the trades are fully aware of the new Geo-Fix products. Experience has shown that once the trades know about a new product they like their stockist to have it on the shelves.

EVERBUILD has designed and distributed a whole new range of point-of-sale materials too. These include banners, posters, applied colour sample cards and leaflets so that customers will be made fully aware of the new Geo-Fix All Weather product and its advantages.

There are also some excellent introductory offers for retailers to consider. For example a half pallet of 24 tubs of Geo-Fix will earn the retailer one free tub of Natural Stone colour and four free heavy duty builders’ ponchos to give away.

A whole pallet of 48 tubs will get three extra tubs free and eight builders’ ponchos. Those ponchos will help those builders get patio laying in all weathers…!

Kapro PRO-LASER VISICROSS

Laser levels are a no-brainer these days. They are even easier to use, very versatile and accurate and sure beat a piece of string and a plumb bob because they don’t move around when there is the slightest air movement. They are also coming down in cost too, so what once cost over £200 is now available for less than half that.

There are a few things to watch out for. Not all laser lines are made equal – laser lines that are too broad when projected will lead to obvious built-in errors, and some lasers occasionally need to be recalibrated, so the laser device needs to have that facility, otherwise it would just have to be discarded once it has taken a knock or two.

The Kapro brand from tool-giant Draper Tools has established itself in the UK market as a good, solid, no-nonsense and very good value for money range of devices. So it was on the basis of these that I took a closer look at the Kapro Pro-Laser Visicross.

The impression of quality is immediately evident when you get the device out of its box. It comes neatly packed into a nearly-cubic black nylon case that is a superb protection for the laser liner. The packing foam surrounding the device is soft enough to absorb shocks but hard enough to retain its shape and therefore make it easy to remove and replace the laser. My guess is that the case would withstand a lot of banging about in the back of the van, although of course I would always recommend that you try to take better care of your tools!

Also inside the case is a mirrored reflector target and a comprehensive set of instructions that includes a recalibration test. Admirably, the instructions are written in clear English and do not appear to have been translated from a variety of languages and then into English.

The Pro-laser Visicross is quite compact, fitting neatly into one hand. The basic body is made of red plastic, but all the corners, top and bottom and some spaces in between, are covered in a strong rubberised overmould that provides very good protection against accidental knocks as well as providing good gripping surfaces too.

The battery compartment at the back has a strong catch and it is easy to load the three AA batteries needed to get the laser started.On the top of the device there are only three switches, the Pulse mode switch and the horizontal and vertical laser selector switches. The Pulse mode is used in conjunction with the laser detector.

On the side is the all important laser self-leveling device lock and on/off switch. The lock has to be engaged whenever the laser is moved or transported because the sensitive self-leveling mechanism relies on gravity to function, and also the laser lines will not switch on without the lever being moved to the “on” position. There is a loud “beep” if the laser is outside of the +- 4degrees level needed for operation.

On the base there is a choice of two tripod threads. The smaller thread is also used to hold the L-shaped magnetic bracket that is included in the kit. This bracket has two powerful magnets attached so that it can be plonked onto a handy scaffold pole or other magnetic surface for ready use. There are also two keyhole-shaped apertures that will allow the use of the customary rusty nail or screw hastily hammered into a plank to hang the laser. (Been on a building site recently?)

Using the Pro-laser Visicross is simplicity itself. To my mind it is a great deal easier than using a plumb bob or lines drawn with the aid of a spirit level. The advantage of having a projected level line on a surface that finds its way around bumps and protrusions is considerable and allows a whole room to be quickly set up for level. Great for hanging kitchen cabinets, tiles etc etc.

If you decide to purchase the laser detector with the kit, it makes the Pro-laser Visicross even more useful since it extends the working range of the laser beam to a very generous 40m even in sunlight.

The laser detector is another device you have to learn to use efficiently to get the best out of it. In practice, I found it more difficult to use than the laser itself, but as I persevered, its value soon became clear.The laser detector needs to have a 9V battery inserted to power the detector plate and the flashing lights. Once that is done the on/off switch is activated and then you choose the “near” or “far” options with the middle button. A green light indicates “near” or less than 15m and the red light indicates “far”.

It requires a steady hand and clever use of the horizontal and vertical spirit bubbles to detect either a horizontal or vertical projected laser line. You know you are getting close when the beeps start speeding up. The indicator lights will show whether you need to move the device up or down and when a green light shows and the beeps are rapid then you are spot on.

In order to allow the detector to be used in a variety of ways it comes with an adjustable clamp. This is used to attach the detector to a tripod, plank, fence post or whatever so that it can be held securely and accurately when detecting a laser line.

Combined, the Pro-Laser Visicross and the laser detector make for very practical pieces of kit that can be used indoors and out. In my view it would be a must-have for jobbing tradespeople. A plumber, shopfitter, tiler or builder would get good use out of it and the savings in time would soon pay for the kit itself.

LED Lenser F1

When did torches become sexy? The market seems to be crammed with beautifully made precision instruments that are well specified and cover every niche of the market. Now don’t think I am complaining. These torches are, almost without exception, pretty good, and very well priced too. As consumers of torches we have probably never had it so good.

So, I was not at all surprised to take delivery of the LEDLENSER F1 in its very smart presentation box (try to deny it – but first impressions count!) and find that it, too, is a welcome addition to the range of torches available to us.

In order to get it working you have to do a bit of assembly that takes all of two minutes, basically by removing the end cap and inserting the battery (make sure it is the correct way round or there could be consequences) At the same time the pocket clip is attached by slipping it over the end of the body before tightening the end cap back on. The F1 is now ready to use and its amazingly bright 400 lumens of light power is incredible in such a small (88 mm long) package. I did my usual power comparison test of beaming it to the bottom of my garden and I was quite astonished at the clarity and whiteness of the light as well as the more than adequate spread of light without any dark patches. I could well imagine someone up to no good being illuminated by a policeman’s beam and having no place to hide! The optics have obviously been very well designed for maximum effect at common distance usage.

The F1 however has a few other tricks up its black anodized alloy body. The switch is placed right in the end of the end cap with a waterproof rubberized cover. In normal use, a single press on the end will switch on and off. But, press twice within a second on the switch and you will get a beam that is reduced in brightness to about 15% of normal brightness. I found that this level of light was enough for me to be able to check around under the bonnet of my car or find my way round a completely dark house with ease. However, at full power, the lithium battery has a specified life of only 120 minutes, so any way of reducing brightness to increase battery life is welcome.

Press three times within a second on the switch and the torch is transformed into a powerful strobe light. This could be very useful for motorists, police or emergency services in a road accident for example, and I guess someone might even try to liven up their teenage daughter’s birthday party with it….?

The F1 is quite a little lighthouse, but it is actually necessary to have some quite sophisticated specification in place to make the whole package work reliably. As I have already mentioned, the body is made from black anodized alloy and with it’s rubber O-rings is waterproofed to military standards, namely to IPX8 – waterproof to 2.5 metres. Electrical connections are also gold –plated for maximum efficiency.

In the box, there is also a black alloy “tactical-ring” that can be used in place of the standard stainless steel torch rim. The “tactical-ring” is attached by simply unscrewing the front of the torch lamp housing, removing the stainless steel ring and replacing it with the stronger alloy version. This “tactical-ring” is strong enough to be used on edge to break glass and is clearly aimed at police and emergency service needs for this feature. Again, other users may find it useful too, and the stronger protection ring around the lightbulb assembly is also a good idea in ordinary use.

Another useful feature is the clip. This is strong and of a useful size, so it will hold the torch in place wherever it is clipped. But it is possible to reverse the clip by unscrewing the front bulb assembly and attaching the clip so that the end faces the back of the torch. This means that the torch can be attached to a cap or stiff hat rim and be used “hands-free”, following the user’s eyes as he moves his head.

For normal use, there is a nylon lanyard that is attached through a slot in the end cap and the 69grams of F1 will hang almost unnoticed from a wrist.

One of the things that bugs me a lot whenever I have to use a torch in an emergency, is that it is difficult to put it down so that it can shine a light exactly where you want it without rolling over. The F1 has been designed with a hex shape on the end cap with large flats on it. Therefore the torch can be placed on any one of these and it will stay in place. In fact, if you coordinate the clip and one of the flats on the hex, you can get a stability on the torch that is difficult to upset even on a smooth surface.

The torch can also be stood on its end cap so that the light glows straight up.

At first glance when I opened the LEDLENSER F1 package I wondered why the bulb end had a ribbed casing. Further reading enlightened me to the fact that some light energy is heat, and since the F1 is so bright it can generate quite a lot of heat. The internal heat sink and the ribbed casing allow the heat to be dissipated so that our fingers don’t get troubled.

As well as the “tactical-ring”, also included in the presentation box is a cleaning cloth and brush, a replacement O-ring, a mini catalogue and an instruction sheet.

One of the questions I asked myself when I had examined and tested the LEDLENSER F1 thoroughly, was whether I would like to get one as a present. The answer, in my view, is a no-brainer – simply a big YES. It is a fantastic little instrument that is clearly well made and tough. Despite not being a policeman or fireman, I would be more than happy to keep this little treasure on standby for emergencies.

Pacific Laser Systems Level - What A Range!

What did we do before lasers? Perhaps the lack of them explains some of the slightly dodgy angles I come across when I am around doing various jobs? We just don’t have the excuse any longer for sloping doorways, windows not quite at right angles or rows of tiles that don’t line up.

But there always seems to be room for another item in the very competitive market for laser products hence the new range of products distributed by Topcon GB, which is based in Berkshire.

As the name implies, the Pacific Laser Systems lasers are based in the USA, and the products are designed and assembled there, so should pass the quality threshold in the minds of doubters. What is perhaps more relevant is that Pacific Laser Systems grew out of a company of professional contractors who decided that they needed to use their fifty plus years of experience to design a series of laser tools for interior and exterior use by builders, framers, tillers and plumbers.

To get a complete overview of PLS product range visit www.plslaser.co.uk

There are literally dozens of tools in the PLS range, but I was sent a PLS4 System, a fully self-leveling vertical and horizontal laser that is a generalist tool, suitable for use by many trades on the building site.

PLS prides itself that the tools they designed themselves will be compact, tough enough to survive on a building site and very practical. Not a bad set of criteria!

The PLS4 System comes in a custom fitted plastic case that is certainly strong enough to withstand the back of a white van. The loop handle of the case could be lockable with a padlock for security if necessary.

The laser itself has a bright yellow casing and looks like a bigger box on top of a smaller box. But angular looks aside, the case is very well made and put together.

Three AA batteries are inserted into a lidded compartment on the side.

The two laser projectors are housed behind a strong and clear glass lens cover. These are well recessed for protection from dust and impact, but it is also possible to clean them if that (it will at some time) becomes necessary.

Looking at the laser projectors (not when they are on!!!) they have been mounted on a gimbaled self-leveling mechanism that is very sensitive, and will ensure that the correct level is found quickly.

On the underside of the casing is a brass inset for the necessary tripod screw.

The switchgear is as straightforward as it could possibly be. On the top of the level is a sealed panel with a three concealed switches. No need to worry about dust getting in. The on/off switch selects the vertical points lasers and the “LINES” switch pressed once will start the horizontal laser, another press will switch on the vertical laser and a third press will turn them both on. A fourth press will turn them both off.

As this is a self-leveling laser, a red light indicates that the level is not properly achieved, while a green light indicates that the level is within tolerance. If the level goes beyond more than six degrees out, the lasers are automatically turned off. The tiny third switch when pushed, causes the lines to pulse should the user need this mode.

So far, so simple. This laser level is clearly easy to use and doesn’t take a lot of setting up.

But the PLS4 System kit has a couple of very useful extras. A strong U-shaped alloy extrusion with captive screw is used as a floor or flat-surface stand for the laser. This increases the footprint of the laser so that it can sit stably on a flattish surface. The U-shape means it can be held on the edge of a scaffolding plank for example.

Perhaps more useful for many users like plumbers or carpenters, is the L-shaped magnetic bracket. This attaches to the bottom of the level and the strong inset circular magnets offer a secure fixing to scaffolding poles, radiators etc. Two small holes also mean a quick tack to a plank with a couple of small nails is also possible.

Working indoors with lasers is usually quite straightforward, since the laser lines are easy to see. However, outdoors in bright sunshine, users need another solution. The PLS4 kit comes with quite a sophisticated laser detector. This has a clamp system that will hold it in either a horizontal or vertical mode to detect the laser lines and an audible signal will inform the user. The laser detector means that the effective distance the level can be used is a very respectable 60 metres (200ft)

The accuracy specs of the PLS 4 are pretty good too. The cross line accuracy is +/- 3mm at 10 metres and point to point accuracy is +/- 2mm at 10 metres.

The main laser device has a padded black nylon wallet into which it can be packed for protection. It certainly means that you can leave the whole case in the van if all you need to use is the main laser.

We all expect from laser devices these days to be simple to operate, with decent instructions and able to take a few knocks in the course of the work on site. It seems to me that the PLS4 kit is all of the above. It is clear that the people who designed it knew a bit about the business they were in and designed a practical device that is versatile enough to suit a number of trades.

But there is also the fact that the PLS4 System is a product from a company that has a huge experience of using and designing lasers. There is sometimes safety in big numbers!

Kapro Laser Tools from Draper

Straight Down the Line

Remember when lasers were the coming thing in the trade? Some predicted that they wouldn’t be up to the job, but so many great devices have appeared on the market in the last five or so years that it is a no-brainer not to expect to use them. Increasingly, they are incredibly well priced as we follow the usual pattern that the more that they are adopted, the cheaper they get.

Draper has been quick to adopt a range of laser tools into their range and, with usual Draper thoroughness, there is quite a range of tools to choose from, depending on what trade or function you need them for.

One of my favourite laser tools is the laser distance measure. Named the Kaprometer K3 (Stock No. 22124), it is made by Kapro and sold in the UK by Draper Tools. The Kaprometer is a “proper” laser distance measure, not a sonic distance measure that has a laser pointer. Used properly, the Kaprometer has an accuracy of 2mm in 50m – which is pretty impressive, bearing in mind you would probably get more inaccuracy using a tape measure.

Long gone are the days when a laser measure would only measure a simple distance from A to B in a straight line. The technology and software now exists in the Kaprometer that enables the user to measure distance, area, volume and height without having to climb a ladder or stretch a tape.

Clearly, the amount of time that a surveyor, builder etc can save is so great that the cost of the laser measure is soon covered.

All this technology is housed in a small plastic body that is only 10cm long, 5cm wide and 3.5cm deep. It is easy to handle because of its lightness and the grooved rubber overmould on the sides.

The 9volt battery is easy to fit in the compartment underneath, where there is also a standard thread to attach the measure to a tripod. For really accurate measurement, the laser measure needs to be held in a tripod and used at 90 degrees to the distant surface being measured. Used freehand, it is very easy to hold the measure at an angle and thus the measurement will be inaccurate.

A small spirit level near the dial is used to ensure that the user’s aim is true.

The new generations of laser tools are designed for easy use – you don’t have to be a qualified mathematician to use them. Thus, the Kaprometer has only ten operating buttons. Each one has a self-explanatory symbol on it so it is quite possible to be competent using the Kaprometer within ten minutes of getting it out of the box.

One of the most common measures a plumber might have to do is to calculate the volume of a room to find out how many and what size radiators to fit. To do this takes only a couple of minutes.

Switch on the device, select the volume and area button. The device then tells you to take a measurement. A flashing line on the cube model in the display will remind you of what to do. Once the three measurements are taken, simply press the = sign and the Kaprometer will calculate the volume for you. And it doesn’t matter whether you are metric or imperial – a press of the “U” button will convert to your preferred system.

The whole kit is pretty comprehensive too. The instruction sheet with very clear explanations of all the functions can be tucked into the flap at the back of the black nylon protective carrying case, so it is ready for instant reference if needed. The case comes with a carrying strap and, also included, is a clear silicon rubber protective sleeve. This provides a good measure of protection from wind, weather and shocks. There are apertures for the necessary functions to be accessed, e.g. the spirit level and tripod adaptor

What really strikes me is just how easy this little device is to use, how light and easy to handle it is, and if you need to do any distance measuring at all, then you should treat yourself to one. You will probably never use a tape measure again, except maybe if you are cutting planks.

I am not the world’s best at laying tiles by traditional methods – i.e. using a plumb line and square, but since using a laser square I feel a lot more confident, and the results are a lot neater too. The Kapro Laser Square (Stock No. 22119) is a simple and well-made device that looks as though it could do a few rounds in a builder’s bucket. It does a very simple job – it projects two powerful laser lines at right angles to each other. In bright light, the lines are visible at about ten metres, but with a laser target (supplied in the carry case) the accurate distance can be increased to about thirty metres.

The device is run on two AA batteries that fit into a compartment behind the laser projectors. There is a small bubble level to ensure that the level can be placed accurately when necessary and the two laser projectors sit in two well-protected mini-towers, one of which has a spirit level in it as well.

Again, laser technology has made the job of laying out floor or wall tiles easy. The user can assume that the laser lines are at right angles, so all he or she needs to do is to decide how the tiles/flooring or whatever, are going to run, and then set up the laser square to project the laser along these lines.

The laser lines are quite bright close to, and will project over obstacles in the way of the line so that it would be possible to continue the line up a couple of steps for example.

There are a couple of triangular apertures on each arm of the triangle of the device and these can be used to hang it should you want to use it vertically when tiling walls.

What strikes me most about both of these devices is just how easy to use they are. There is simply no excuse for duff measuring or untidy rows of tiles anymore. A half-decent tradesman would almost certainly use these sorts of devices routinely, and to be honest, they are well within the reach of DIYers too. I urge you to have a closer look at these two Kapro devices from Draper Tools.

DEWALT Laser Level-Toeing the Lines

I guess we all managed quite well before the arrival of laser levels. A plumb bob and spirit level are capable of giving good results in the hands of people that know what to do. For myself, laser levels have been nothing short of minor miracles. They are quick to set up, usually accurate (unless you have a habit of mistreating them) and reliable. And so versatile too – anything from levels for courses of bricks, setting out tiles on floor and walls and hanging up kitchen cabinets, to name but a few possibilities.

A few years on too, the prices of laser tools have also plunged as they have been adopted for use by all manner of trades and professions. I am tempted to paraphrase an old Prime Minister from the 1960′s, Harold McMillan, who declared that “we have never had it so good.”

The DEWALT DW089 is a recently launched multi line laser level, that I am sure will become a favourite with building professionals of all kinds on the basis of my tests.

First impressions are very positive since the whole package looks very robust and compact. For example, the laser level and lens projectors are well protected by a cast alloy screen that looks as though it would withstand a frenzied attack with a club hammer. Behind this screen is a clear plastic box that contains the lasers and self-leveling mechanism. From what I could see this plastic box would be effectively dust proof and moisture proof (within reason).

The rest of the laser housing and other bits is in the classic DEWALT yellow and black livery. It is covered with a slightly grippy plastic/rubber compound that promises to not only absorb small shocks but also to be reasonably dust proof too.

Attached to the top of the level itself is a magnetic bracket that is another piece of well thought out design. The bracket is fixed to the level by one screw that enables the laser level to be pivoted nearly 180 degrees from left to right, so it should be possible to get the laser pretty well targeted on wherever you want the laser to project. This single screw also enables the vertical laser line (and by extension the other two lines) to be micro adjusted to exactly where the user wants the laser to project – for example on the edge of a wall or line of cabinets.

For those users lucky enough to have a sturdy tripod, there is a standard tripod screw thread under the level close to the battery housing.

The magnetic bracket can also be attached (the magnets are very strong – I nearly pinched my fingers) to any magnetic vertical surface or to another bracket supplied as part of the DW089 kit. This is another well-designed piece that is again very strongly made in black plastic. It can be attached to slim projections like a metal stud via a spring-loaded clip. Or there are holes, top and bottom, where it can be screwed to a stud wall or hung from a nail or screw.

I know from other laser levels I have used that many of them have similar sorts of devices to enable the easy and accurate use of laser leveling, but what impresses about the DEWALT is the robustness of the parts and the clarity and precision of the design. Clearly, whoever designed these had a very good idea of what users need.

Getting started with the DW089 was straightforward- the four AA batteries are loaded into the battery compartment under the level – and then it is ready for use.

Like most other laser levels the DW089 has a built-in failsafe for users. The level will self level as long as it is not on a tilt of more than four degrees. If there is more tilt, the laser will flash, so the user knows to find a more level spot (or use a tripod, bracket etc) on which to place the level.

There are three switches down one side of the laser casing. The first of these activates the vertical laser, the second the horizontal laser and the third operates the second vertical laser that is at 90 degrees to the first vertical laser. This is a very handy system in that each laser is individually controlled. Some other levels have a three-way switch that switches each laser on in sequence, so there is always a small hassle to switch it off. With individual switches you save battery power (however minimal that might be) and also have the convenience and efficiency of choosing which laser and switch you want to each time.

When I had set the laser up I used it to measure how accurately the cabinets in my kitchen had been hung. I was pleased to see that they were pretty well all vertical where necessary, with light fittings and radiators similarly all horizontal – but then I did buy the house from a plumber who had done all the improvements.

The laser projection is another critical feature, and since the DW089 is a Class 2 laser it has sufficient power to project quite large distances. In the dark, it projected easily down my garden to the back wall 25 metres away, so my guess is that indoors on a building site it would be more than adequate.

Over a distance of 5 metres the line projects at a smidgeon over 2 mm thick, so is easy to work to. Of course in all three modes, the laser line projects top and bottom, so the vertical line for example will project along the floor, wall and ceiling of a room, enabling all vertical elements of a room to be laid to.

The DW089 comes in a strong custom moulded carry case that provides genuine protection in building site and back-of-white-van conditions. But as befits a professional quality device, the instructions have detailed notes on how to recalibrate the laser should it lose accuracy from being dropped, for example.

My only regret with this review is that I didn’t have a real building job on which I could have used the DW089. From my tests, I think it would a first class device to use on a building site, and would save huge amounts of time and hassle for almost any trade.

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