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How the Rise of the Inverter Changed Welding -And What It Means for End Users

‘No 1 Welding provider to toolshop sector across Europe and how to recapture your customers welding business’

‘Old’ welding technology meant that welding was perceived as an esoteric skill that required lots of training and then lots of practice to perfect. It also had a frisson of danger attached – with high voltages and lots of sparks that burned tiny holes in your clothing if you did it wrong, they were enough to discourage people from having a go.

With the rise of inverter technology, the heavy, old-fashioned transformer welders are now obsolete. Using advanced electronics, GYS has designed systems that monitor welds in real time and adjust the arc and power before the operator even has time to notice. This is the reason why even I have been able to produce strong and practical welds.

Over the last couple of years, for example, I have ended several gates and a pair of volleyball posts, as well as making small lifting lugs and a couple of decorative brackets using my tiny GYS stick welder.  The GYSMI 80P that I use is a shoebox-sized stick welder that costs around £100 and is ‘ready to go’ out of the box, (welding rods and welding helmet required) and it has taken the fear factor away, so that I now have the confidence to try welding jobs even if my first efforts were workmanlike at best. It is amazing how quickly you improve with a bit of practice.

GYS Electronics and Research Are the Key

GYS is the largest manufacturer of inverter welding machines in Europe and over the last fifteen years or so, this family-owned French company has done a great deal to convince the market that welding can be a lot easier, safer and cheaper than many people think, and is therefore accessible to a much wider market that should include farmers, trades, artists, craftspeople, DIYers and homebuilders.

We all use Smart electronics every day, but the addition of Smart technology to welding has revolutionised it. With electronic monitoring of the weld, the welder is effectively assisted to get the right results.

While stick or MMA welding is largely good enough for my needs, GYS has managed to bring the cost of sophisticated MIG welding within the reach of even part time users.

On the Continent…..

On the wider Continent, and especially into Eastern Europe where it seems that having a practical bent is almost a requirement for householders to deal with repairs etc., welders are widely available in a number of outlets.

In Germany and France welders are routinely sold in massive volumes in the equivalents of B and Q. and independent tool retailers. These outlets seem to have solved the issues of welding mystique and what machines to stock, by engaging with the manufacturers and wholeheartedly taking on the opportunity to increase sales of welding kit – along with all of the consumables that are a necessity in welding.

The key is to have the support of a specialist that has the necessary market knowledge, can advise the retailer on what to stock, provide a comprehensive merchandised solution, which in fact can be a small range of machines, but also the solution to regular repeat purchases of consumables and accessories.   Now in the UK, GYS are that specialist, not only do they manufacture the product but have a full service UK distribution centre with a national sales force of 12 to provide support to the retailer.

But in the UK…..

On the other hand, in the UK we seem to be caught in a bind. Most independent tool shops and ‘The Sheds’ don’t stock welding equipment on the basis that customers don’t do welding. But if you don’t serve the market how can you tell what they want?

There still seems to be a feeling that even general welding is a ‘specialist’ skill and therefore only specialist outlets should sell welders. GYS UK is determined to break this cycle and its enlarged sales team is on the case. Guidance and training is available for retailers’ staff so that they have the confidence to sell GYS welders.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

None of the above has any credibility unless I could back it up with practical experience so GYS very kindly loaned me their testing and training facility for a while so I could use the EASYMIG 150A. With a price of around £450 this welder is a three-in-one and so is very versatile. It will do stick (MMA) welding as well as MIG with gas or without gas welding. Since I professed some competence in stick welding I was able to try the MIG options.

The EASYMIG is incredibly easy to set up with room in the side panel for either a 1kg or 5Kg wire reel and the wire feed is simple to operate through to the torch end. In the workshop a heavy gas bottle was connected, but for site or outdoor use, GYS sells small argon gas containers that are not costly, nor too heavy to carry far.

Having never done any MIG gas welding before, I was given a few tips by Neil, one of the expert sales team before being let loose on some steel. Even my first effort was passable despite failing to keep a consistent distance between torch tip and steel – the welder’s electronics simply compensated. After about ten minute’s practice I managed a reasonably straight weld joining two metal strips with the required tiny herringbone pattern on the weld.

If ever proof was needed that a good welding machine can make an amateur welder a competent, if workmanlike, welder, then this was it. Welding is a skill that improves with practice and I am pretty sure that I would become a good welder if I did it more regularly. And it’s all down to the GYS electronics that gives users the confidence to try welding in the first place.

Flex IW 18.0 EC Making an Impact

Impacts are Everywhere

Just about every trade I speak to has some use for an impact wrench and they are very frequently used – just listen for the characteristic ‘clacker-clack’ sound next time you pass a worksite. Some tradespeople even have a 12v tool for smaller tasks and an 18v for heavy duty stuff. In impact wrenches and drivers, as in other cordless tools, the adoption of Li Ion battery packs and EC or brushless motors has made these tools even more useful because they extend battery life, increase power and enhance reliability.

The launch of the new Flex Brushless IW EC 18v impact wrench puts it right into the mix of competing products in a very competitive market. So how does it stand up?

The Kit

The kit I was sent came in a stackable Flex L-Boxx with custom inserts to hold the tool, two battery packs and the Flex smart charger. Also included are a magnetic bit holder and a belt clip that can be attached (or left off) to suit the user. There is quite a bit of space left in the box for a decent selection of sockets, and other driving options that I find tend to accumulate the more you use the tool.

I like the Flex L-Boxx option because the tool and batteries are easy to store, and you don’t have to fiddle with the lid to clip it closed while doing a small wrestle with the charger cord and other bits. Definitely something I can do without at the end of a working day, with the dark closing in and the cold starting to ramp up too.

One of the first things I noticed about the tool is that it follows the current demand for ultra-compact and powerful drills and impact wrenches and drivers. Without a socket slipped onto the half inch square drive on the nose, the tool measures just over 140mm in length and it stands just under 250mm high with a 5 Ah battery pack and about 220 mm with the optional 2.5 Ah pack - well within the parameters of the competition.

Flex has always been good at designing ergonomic and grippy bodies for its power tools and this is no exception. The main handle is perfect for my smallish hands, with slightly textured rubber in strategic places. There are also rubber ‘bumpers’ on the back, base and bottom to provide protection on the worksite.

Other things I like, and they can’t always be taken for granted, even on well- established brands, are that the battery packs have a battery charge indicator, they slide off and onto the tool easily on the robust slides and lock positively.

Also, the battery charger has a countdown timer on it that will tell you exactly how long you have to wait for a fully charged battery. My experience of Flex battery packs has also been that they are reliable and tough enough for trade use.

Forward/lock/reverse modes use the familiar push-through switch above the trigger and the trigger itself is speed sensitive and quite easily controllable. Every push of the trigger also switches on the bright LED light under the drive nose and it turns off automatically after 10 seconds. Releasing the trigger immediately engages the spindle brake to stop the rotation in an instant.

I could easily integrate this impact wrench into my tool kit as a powerful 18v impact wrench by simply getting a ¼ inch adaptor to fit over the ½ square drive. In this way, I could drive Pozi, hex and other screwdriving bits with all the oomph I could possibly need.

But that would be to miss the point of this tool. Scaffolders are increasingly using impact wrenches to speed up the process of tightening the large numbers of bolts they encounter every day. And when I showed the Flex to a couple of mechanics they were definitely interested, because they too have already adapted to using cordless impact wrenches in some situations where air-powered impact wrenches are too much of a hassle, a bit too big to fit or they are working where mains power is unavailable.

Other Features

To make best use of its undoubted talents, the Flex IW has some refinements for more demanding users. On the base, just above the battery slides, is a small LED display with three settings. With the drill set in forwards mode the user can press the small white button to select High (250Nm/2500rpm) Medium (180Nm/2000 rpm) or Low 150Nm/1500 rpm) modes. I don’t think anyone could argue that having 250Nm available at the squeeze of the trigger is inconsiderable, even if undoing tight wheelnuts on your car. But to have the option of other settings for less demanding applications increases its Flexibility.  (pun intended)

In reverse mode the tool has only one speed so there is no need to set it.

In Use

I tested this impact wrench in a number of situations driving shortish (50mm) screws into hardwood as well as some much longer 250mm long bolts and screws. It never ran out of steam and power but remained controllable in whatever mode I tried it in. It is compact enough to use as a small impact wrench in a regular trade toolkit, but will not be as compact as a ‘standard’ impact wrench because of the need for an adaptor which increases the hassle factor. An opening for Flex to design a smarter adaptor maybe?

I watched as a mechanic I knew tried it out removing wheelnuts from his car and his verdict was very positive. I guess this wrench will be on his ‘borrow’ list from me from now on. I also tried tightening and removing nuts of all sizes by changing the sockets. With either the belt hook in place or using a belt holster, a scaffolder could easily carry this tool aloft and it would make his job quicker and more efficient. I managed a whole day of off-and-on screwdriving on site using only ¾ of the 5Ah battery power available, so my guess is that two batteries would be easily enough to last a hardworking day.

 

So, if you want a hardworking and powerful impact wrench – the Flex IW should definitely be on your shortlist.

Aimed at: Pros and ambitious amateurs

Pros: Compact, brushless and powerful. Well made too. Lots to like.

Cold Weather Needs Better Workwear. Some Solutions from JCB Progressive Safety Clothing

I guess it’s not that much of an accident that the arrival of the cold weather coincided with the arrival of a couple of parcels stuffed with winter workwear. I was keen to unpack them because my winter kit is looking, literally, a bit thin.

Fashion and Practicality?

It can’t be just me that has noticed that the current look for cold weather coats is quilted – not the bulky quilting of previous times, but the slimmer, flatter type of padding that is not only warm, but is also far less bulky and easier to move around in. Several of the items featured this quilting, so I was intrigued to see if they were warm and practical on site.

Hat, Socks and Boots.

I shall start with top and bottom before I get to the body warm clothing – the lined beanie hat with discreet JCB logo really does make a difference to keeping warm outside. I don’t look good in any type of hat but I always wear one outside in the cold and wet, and this one was better than the majority I have used. Comfy too! As for the bottom bits – a two-pack of work socks was a great pairing with the black JCB work boots. The socks are bulky enough for you to feel the extra insulation value, but not so thick that they will make your boots feel tight. The socks have reinforced heels and toes, and a comfortable rib around your legs that keeps them up and you warm. Yes, you do really feel the difference between summer socks and these winter socks!

The 4CX/B boots were made of black Nubuck leather with high standard protections against sole piercing, static electric shock and slipping as well as protected toecaps built in. I was glad to see that they came up a bit higher past my ankles than my summer shoes, and the last four fixings on the ankles are hooks – making it easy to put them on – but more importantly easier to take them off at the end of the day. Padded ankles and inners help keep you warm and comfortable, so it didn’t take long for these to become my winter site boots for the foreseeable.

Keeping the Body Warm

We are always advised to keep ourselves warm by using different layers of clothing that can be added or subtracted according to conditions. Great advice if you have the right gear – and now I have.

Over a base layer of a simple T-shirt, the obvious thing for the weather hovering around 3 to 4 degrees Celsius is the JCB Essential black sweatshirt. Made of 80% cotton and 20% polyester with ribbed hem and cuffs to keep cold air out, it provides basic warmth, but will also absorb moisture if things get a bit hotter after moving some bricks. It is a comfy fit and long enough to partially cover your bottom too. Really practical.

Then you have to make some the choices according to work in hand and the cold. Will it be the 1945 Padded Gilet with Thinsulate lining? With three zipped external pockets (two of them for warming hands!) and an internal pocket it is lightweight enough for medium warmth, but with the freedom of not having sleeves. Ripstop nylon offers practicality since it will inevitably come into contact with building materials.

Or you could choose the Essentials Full Zip Fleece. This is made of micro fleece with a funnel collar that fights fairly tightly around the neck for extra warmth. The fleece is a skinnier fit so that you can add another layer on top without looking like the Michelin Man. It too has two side pockets for warming hands.

I found myself not being able to choose between the two in terms of warmth – so the fleece became sort of indoors and the Gilet sort of outdoors because it is water resistant.

Easily fitting on top of the fleece if you do your sizing correctly - outer garments need to be bigger to accommodate layers underneath - is the 1945 Ecomax Jacket. This has a padded Thinsulate body in ripstop nylon with softshell sleeves. The funnel neck stops draughts down your neck especially if you pull the full length zip all the way up under your chin. There are zipped pockets on each side to accommodate hands for warming and another pocket on the right-hand side that will hold a phone securely. Inside low in the lining near the waist is another hook and loop closure pocket. I liked the fact that the jacket is long enough to come past the waist for extra warmth, and the sleeves have a nifty lift-and-close elasticated cuff that keeps draughts out and will deter rain too. So far I have only been out in light rain in this coat, but I was cosy and warm inside it. And with the reflective but discreet JCB logos front and back it helps to be seen.

Finally, is the Trade lightweight padded jacket. Stylish enough, in my world, to be worn around town or visiting clients to give a quote, it is lightly padded and made of ripstop fabric. The nylon material is showerproof with an elasticated, padded hood and elasticated cuffs to keep out wet and wind – which it does quite effectively. There are the two of my favourite zipped pockets for handwarming as well as another pocket on the chest near the zip for phones, pens etc. There are also reflective JCB logos front and back and the politely termed ‘contoured back’ that keep your bottom warm as well as allowing rain to drip off into space rather than onto the back of your trousers.

Design, Design, Design and a bit more thought.

With a bit of careful thought and some trying on, potential users of this range of clothing will get the benefits of the Progressive Safety design team’s efforts. It really does work as a whole and end users can pick and choose what will suit their needs on a cold/wet/damp/windy day or all of the above on the worksite. It also helps that the look is stylish and modern as well as being practical.  

Aimed at: Pros and maybe amateur who need tough, warm clothing

Pros: Flexible, tough, stylish and practical.

 

Hitachi Cordless Framing Nailer Time to Give up the Gas?

I like using gas nailers – they have the power repeatedly to drive 90mm plus nails into rafters or studwork with the pull of a trigger and a loud bang. Free from the compressor hose or a mains cord, you have the freedom to move around the work as you please. Kept in good nick, they are reliable worksite companions with only the price of gas or nails to complain about occasionally. But wouldn’t it be great to have a battery powered nailer – no gas – just a charger and a couple of batteries to see you though the working day. Wouldn’t that be convenient – or maybe even a game changer?

In the last few years there have been several attempts by various manufacturers to make a practical battery powered nailer. Some I have tried have suffered with the dreaded lag and flywheel wind up after pulling the trigger, others have been quicker but not powerful enough, and, in truth, none of them have really been good enough to challenge framing nailers, and to be fair, they weren’t marketed as such. In my opinion, the closest anyone has got to a practical 18v cordless nailer is Hitachi with the Hitachi NT1865DBSL straight finish nailer that I tested earlier this year. It was quick – you could fire nails as fast as you could pull the trigger, and it was effective because the straight nails could be up to 65mm long – easily enough capacity for a shop or kitchen fitter.

Building on the experience of the finish nailer, It seems as though Hitachi have launched another good ‘un– the first really effective 18v first fix nailer I have used - so, welcome to Hitachi’s NR 1890DC Cordless Strip Nailer.

From first look, it is clear that this is a framing nailer because the shape, weight and basic design would be very familiar to a gas nailer user. There is the familiar slanted nail magazine, the handle with its trigger, and the large head of the tool that houses the pneumatic piston providing the power to drive the nails. The main difference is that instead of a small battery to provide a spark for the gas, the nailer uses any of the current 18v Hitachi Li ion battery packs - from 3Ah to 6Ah. Although the 3Ah battery helps save a little weight.

All it takes to get going is to load the nails, slide on the battery pack, unlock the safety switch on the handle and switch on the machine via the button on the base near the battery pack. I didn’t miss the jiggling with the gas canister compartment lid or locating the battery pack – with some gas nailers I have used, particularly ones that have had a large amount of use, the gas canister can sometimes unexpectedly pop up and the battery packs can loosen in their slides. No such problems with an 18v cordless!

I was very keen to try out this tool having seen reports about it from US websites where framing nailers of all kinds are much more widely used, because American houses use lots more timber construction than we do. Going for broke I loaded the longest nails supplied (90mm) into the slanted magazine and prepared to fire into some 100mm square softwood posts – fully expecting that I would be disappointed with the result. I pushed the safety nose into the timber and pulled the trigger and with a very bang very similar to a gas nailer, the nail was driven nearly home into the post. I wasn’t expecting that level of noise, and neither were the kids who were innocently riding their bikes in the carpark of the close where I live. Some sharp intakes of breath from them, and an apology from me, allowed me to carry on and adjust the nail depth via a knurled round nut on the nose and try again – a mere third of a turn extra depth was enough to drive the nail fully flush with the surface of the timber.

I had established that this was indeed a nailer that could easily drive 90mm long ring nails, and risking further sharp intakes of breath from the carpark, I moved the switch into bump fire mode and fired off ten more nails in half as many seconds. The result would have surprised any gas nailer user, because you can literally fire nails as fast as you can place the nailer correctly and pull the trigger.

The implications for nailer users are simple – a space has opened up for a genuine and very effective alternative power source for nailers – gas, mains, and air powered machines now have to look to 18v cordless as the competition. Kit wise this means that the first fix nailer becomes part of your Hitachi cordless kit so you have a standard battery and charger layout and no extra bits of battery or gas energy to remember to pack – or buy.

A feature that give this nailer the confidence to qualify as a fully-fledged first fix nailer is the rafter hook. This is a really effective and robust hook that does the job of hanging the tool from a rafter or folded away in an instant when not needed – it is wide enough and strong enough, and can be mounted to suit left or right-handers.

I find big nailers heavy to use after a while and this Hitachi was no different – but I am sure that other users less troubled with arthritic thumbs will find no difficulty with it. After all, nailing is only part of the job in first fixing. Handling, on the other hand, is very good. It is helped by the design of the handle with its grippy rubber and good thumb position. The tip of the nailer has two sharp gripping points so that angle nailing is easy and confident. Safety is enhanced by electronic programming that automatically switches the nailer off after a certain time. In bump fire mode, if you wait longer than two seconds between nails, the tool won’t fire. Something similar happens in sequential mode.

Having used nearly all the nails I was given to try out, from 50mm to 90mm, I remained as impressed with the performance of the Hitachi as with my first shot. I had no stoppages and even the 5Ah battery pack light showed around half power left after around 350 to 400 nails used. When I used this Hitachi on site for a small fencing job I began to like it even more – it really is a practical and proper nailer independent of gas canisters, compressor lines or mains cords. Try and get a demo soon. 

Aimed at: Pros who want freedom from compressors and gas cartridges.

Pros: Excellent performance and adjustability – you will want one especially if you have Hitachi 18v tools already.

 

Einhell Power X-Change Brushless Combi. Weekend Treat? Or Something More?

Competition in the market is mostly a VERY GOOD THING for consumers because it tends to give us what we want at the prices we can afford. Only ten or fifteen years ago the kind of cordless combi drill deemed suitable for the needs of disparagingly named  ‘weekend warriors’ would have been entirely unsuitable for a professional user. The Einhell Expert Plus Combi is proof that the lines between the two markets have become blurred. The Einhell TE-CD 18 LI-I BL brushless combi has solid build quality, genuine ergonomic design and capability at a price (around £129 – £139) that is realistic for non-professionals, and will also appeal to trades where it could serve as a back-up tool or used for less demanding tasks. I still regularly hear from trades that kit, particularly expensive kit, is stolen on site. Cheaper kit is obviously cheaper to replace, and it’s a bonus if it is also up to the demands of site work.

What You Get for Your Hard Earned Cash

The Einhell brushless combi follows the general design of most cordless drills these days, with the battery placed on the bottom of the main handle to counterbalance the gearbox and motor above. When you pick it up the tool feels solid and correctly weighted and the main handle has been shaped for a comfortable and positive grip. Textured overmoulded rubber grips are well placed to give the ‘feel’ you need in a tool that is going to be regularly used.

The rubber bumpers theme is extended to other parts of the tool – on the sides and back of the body for example – so that the casing is protected if the tool is laid on its sides.

The battery is also protected with rubber protective bumpers on all exposed sides.

The Battery Pack and Related Parts

Staying at the battery end, it is mounted to the tool on a pair of sturdy rails that allow it to slide off and on easily. The release clip is simple and effective with a big red button that can be depressed with two fingers. Just behind the release button is a battery power indicator – three red lights indicates fully charged while only one means that it’s time to visit the charger again.

This particular kit is supplied with a 4Ah li-ion battery pack, but smaller and larger Ah battery packs are compatible if you need more power or want to save weight.

After a couple of charges, the 4Ah battery pack took roughly 100 minutes to fully charge, but is ready to use at roughly 85% charge after 80 minutes.

There is also a bright LED light built into the base of the handle that is aimed at the chuck, where it illuminates the work area effectively. For me, an LED light is a must- have on a drill these days. Dark winter evenings and enclosed spaces all underline the need for them - apart from my ageing eyesight.

Another nice touch is the decent-sized belt hook that can be attached to either left or right hand side of the drill handle.

The trigger is large enough for a meaty forefinger and is easy to control so that increasing pressure leads to a steady increase in rpm. This control is important in screwdriving. Reverse/forward is selected via the push-through switch behind the trigger. Just above the trigger is a threaded hole for mounting the auxiliary handle. It can be screwed on from either left or right to suit left or right handed users. My gripe is that the handle takes a while to screw on because the thread is over 25mm long, and that it can’t be adjusted around the chuck to aid different drilling angles, but the positives are that the handle stays firmly put, and the handle itself has a grippy textured rubber that will absorb vibration and provide positive hand grip.

Motor, Speeds and Torque

Brushless motors are where it’s at currently, and the Einhell has a smooth one with a built-in spindle brake. The two speeds are easily selected via a sliding switch on the top of the casing and should cover the needs for screwdriving (0 -500 rpm) and for drilling (0 – 1800 rpm). The gearbox is enclosed in an alloy casing and in front of that are two collars – the first black one to select drilling, screwdriving or hammer mode and the larger second one to select one of 19 torque settings. Right in front of them is the keyless 13mm capacity chuck. This proved to be very good in use – it held onto drills etc tightly and was easy to tighten and loosen. 

In Use

I used the Einhell for about ten days on site doing a variety of drilling and driving tasks. I found that it worked effectively and felt up to general site work. The typical battery life was about a day to a day and a half.

Ideally I would have liked a quicker battery charger and two battery packs for guaranteed seamless working, but you can buy extra battery packs.

In a world where the majority of power tools come in custom cases, I was quite pleased to find that the kit came with a semi-hard-bottomed nylon bag that is big enough to hold the drill and accessories, including charger – plus a lot more. The bag has a shoulder strap as well as grab handles and some neat little side pockets for driver bits etc.

And a Bit Extra…..

If you want to improve the effectiveness of drilling and save battery power I would also recommend that you have a close look at the KWB Energy Saving range of accessories marketed by Einhell which provide up to 35% longer battery life  – particularly the Japanese-made auger bits. Just looking at them closely will tell you that they are precision made with sharp cutting edges and spur guide points. I compared these auger bits with a couple of the other commonly available bits and the words chalk and cheese spring to mind. The holes from the KWB bits are sharply defined, easy to guide and don’t suffer with anything like the amount of breakout of others. Designed for use with cordless power tools, they certainly use less effort, and it is noticeable that the drill doesn’t use nearly as much torque (and therefore battery power) in drilling larger holes. My sample KWB bits are going straight into my site tool kit – ‘ nuf said. 

Aimed at: Light pro and DIY users who need a good basic combi drill.

Pros: Good performance, good carry bag and good ergonomics make for a handy tool to use. 

V-Tuf M – M Class Dust Collection But with the Budget in Mind

Information and Misinformation

Unfortunately, since the introduction of more stringent dust control regulations, there has been a lot of information and misinformation bandied about. Some of the questions I have been asked include ‘would I be compliant if I simply put an M Class filter into my L class vacuum?’ The answer to that one is a comprehensive ‘No’ but it can all become a bit clearer for trades if we take a look at some of the important rules and facts.

Why M-Class?

The HSE recently introduced the M-Class rating as a minimum legal requirement for construction vacs. M-Class vacs should have filters and airflow systems that allow them to reliably collect respirable dust up to 10 microns in size. This respirable dust is the most dangerous because it is so small that it can be breathed in directly to contact with the lungs, and can also float for up to 8 hours in the atmosphere. Trades of all kinds create dust, some of it less dangerous than others – but if you are cutting, sanding, drilling or even sweeping regularly as part of your trade then you need to have, as a minimum, an M-Class vacuum to accompany you on site.

However, if you take a look at the range of vacs on the market, they are not cheap – £600 - £700 is not uncommon. So, the cost of compliance can be high – and this is where the V-Tuf M can be a lifesaver. This little machine is lightweight and compact and costs around £160 inc VAT.

Although it is compact and therefore, by definition, cannot collect as much dust as the more expensive and bigger ones, the V-Tuf M is a fully certified M-Class machine that has been developed in conjunction with HSE managers, the HSE, Occupational Hygiene specialists, and trades. After using it for several days on site and in my workshop I found there were lots of things to like about it. I had several tradespeople looking at it quizzically, but some were left contemplating after I told them the price and also about their responsibilities for dust collection.

I hate to hark on about the price, but it is competitive enough for trades to buy one for compliance sake, but having then used it, they will become familiar with higher levels of dust collection and workplace safety.

But it is time for a closer look at the machine so that we can begin to appreciate its abilities. Although it stands around 42cm high on its four wheels, (two rear fixed and two castoring front wheels), it comes with 3 metres of 32mm diameter bright yellow flexible dust collection hose and 5 metres of equally yellow cord, so it has enough reach for most trade users. There is a big carry handle on top of the motor housing around which to wind the cord in transit, and I found that I tended to wind the flexible hose around the vac body and stick the nozzle into one of the accessory slots for easy fitting into my boot.

Both domestic and trade users will be happy to note that you get a floor cleaning set with carpet and floor heads, and there is also a crevice and brush tool and a stepped nozzle adaptor for connection to power tools.

What Goes on Under the Bonnet?

Looking inside the collection body of the vac by releasing the three spring clips, there is the all-important HEPA 13 filter attached to the motor housing. This filter is attached with a wingnut making it easy to remove for replacement or cleaning. This is clearly a very important stage in the M-Class rating of the V-Tuf M, as is the fine paper collection bag attached to the vacuum inlet nozzle. This bag has a flexible rubber seal on it for trapping fine particles, while the HEPA filter prevents the fine dust up to 10 microns from escaping into the air where the user might breathe it in.

Other requirements for fine dust collection are the monitoring systems that allow the user to ensure that he/she is complying with the M-Class ratings. These include an extraction velocity monitor on top of the motor that shows red if the extraction velocity drops below the M-Class standard of above 20 litres per second. Then it is time to clean the filter by using the filter shaker switch. Or it may be time to remove and wash the filter to extend its filtering life.

In Use

Being quite low and squat in shape and with its four wheels the V-Tuf M is easy to move about and with a weight of around 7Kg (empty) it is easy to lift into a van or boot. I was also impressed by how quiet it is even compared with my well-known brand domestic vacuum cleaner. It does not have that little scream that some electric motors have that put your teeth on edge. I used the machine for cleaning up cement and sand dust on my worksite as well as for extraction on my cordless circular saws. I have to say that using it with power tools was a revelation – it collected a lot more dust than I am used to with my old L-Class vac and virtually eliminated clearing up around them at the end of the day.  I suppose that part of the penalty paid for a very competitive M-Class price is that there is no auxiliary plug for connecting corded power tools like sanders – but there is light on the horizon. During November the V-TUF ‘flick’ we will be launched. This is like an extension cable with the automatic switching brains in the socket head. This intelligent controller will switch your V-TUF M on and off automatically - as you use your power tool. It will retail for less than £100 including vat and will enable you to introduce automatic switching to any of your tools, not just the V-TUF.

In the very comprehensive instruction and dust control booklet included with the machine is a helpline number. From this initial contact V-Tuf is happy to take on customers’ challenges and ideas and work with them to develop solutions.

Why have one?

The V-Tuf M managed to find a place in my boot for some of the site work I have been doing recently for several reasons: - It is compact and light, it collects well and is easy to handle as well as providing the reassurance of M-Class particulate collection. And the price for using one won’t make the credit card creak.

Aimed at: Pros and amateurs who need reliable M-Class dust extraction.

Pros: Affordable and compact entry into M-Class extraction.

 

BiTorsion and BitBoxes Long Live the Evolution at Wera

Continuous Product Development…

It doesn’t keep me awake at night, but I do sometimes wonder how far Wera can go in its run of continuous product development that I have witnessed for at least 20 years.  Cynics might suggest that it is development for development’s sake, but when you examine the details it is clear that there is always a sound reason behind any development – and most importantly, the Wera Tool-Rebels, the loyal band of followers, seem to agree.

As part of the new product launches for 2017, Wera has taken another close look at the use of driving bits and the requirements of the increased use of impact bits in many trade sectors. There have been reports of some impact bits splintering under impact loads and the splinters flying up into users’ faces.  Just the sort of problem that Wera loves to understand and solve.

I am sure that many users, including myself, have used ‘standard’ Pozi and Torx drive bits available in bulk boxes at your local trade outlet, for many common tasks. We use them, they last as long as they last, and then you replace them and that is probably as much thought that most give to the problem. However, I have long been aware that some driver bits are better than others – ever since I lent a set of Wera bits to two tradesmen I shall call ‘Bodgit and Leggit’, who had a reputation for breaking almost any tool they ever used. Not only did I get the bit set back, but they had only used one bit each. The secret lay in the special diamond coating on the bit flanges that not even they managed to break.  Some of the new bits I was sent for review use the same idea – so time for a close examination.

The Products

I shall start with the bit boxes. All of these have been redesigned for handy use, security and easy display at the point of sale. The boxes can be stood in a display box or hung on a hook on a display stand, and are clearly marked with a description, a graphic to show the bit point design, and a size – e.g. a big 2 if the bit concerned is a Pozi 2. All of them have a semi-transparent back so that you can see how many bits you have left. The boxes are sealed with a little red plastic clip that holds the sliding access lid closed until it is sold. The clips are not easy to spring open without a knife or screwdriver point, so should be secure in a retail display.

The box of ‘standard’ Pozi 2 bits are the ones that most trades would use in non-demanding screwdriving tasks and this is reflected in the price. However, the genuine Pozidriv profile and manufacturing techniques ensure much better than usual bit life.

Within the selection and going up a grade or two in the Pozi series are the Pozi 2 gold extra hard bits (BTH). The Bitbox notes the size clearly but also adds that these bits are extra hard (through hardened) and use the Take it Easy tool finder system for easy identification (black/Pozi; red/Phillips; green/Torx, yellow/slotted and blue/hex). Accordingly, each Pozi bit has a black band around the shank with a couple of white ‘2s’ on, so even without my glasses I could identify them easily. But the story doesn’t end here. Each bit has the Bitorsion feature on it. This means that the bits will respond to sharp inputs of torque by slightly flexing in the middle, and thus help to reduce breaking strains on the flanges. Since the bit is made to a harder Rockwell measure it is also better suited to the stresses put on it through typical timber applications using drill/drivers providing longer life.

It is a similar story on some of the other bits I looked at. For example, the box of size 25 Torx bits are marked with a green band bearing 25 around the shank. The box also tells me that they use the diamond gripping solution I mentioned before. If you run a fingernail through one of the Torx slots, you will feel the slight abrasion provided by the diamond coating that ensures long lasting grip on the fixing by eliminating cam-out. The bits are also labelled ‘impact proof’ – so users know exactly what they are to be used for.

The Bitholders are Important too

Included in the samples were four bit holders designed to work with the range of Wera bits for maximum performance, safety and longevity.

The first is a basic Rapidaptor bitholder. About 50mm long, that is perfectly suited to less demanding driving tasks. Its USP is its complete ease of use – simply push a standard hex bit into the chuck and it clamps it tight. With a single push upwards of the rotatable collar it ejects them just as easily. In my experience, a much better solution than straight bit holders.

More sophisticated is the longer Rapidaptor bitholder, with the Bitorsion feature built into the holder underneath the outer sleeve of the holder. Once again, this absorbs the extra torsion shocks of some of the powerful drill/drivers used nowadays. Some drivers boast torque ratings of over 135Nm – so you can understand the need for Bitorsion technology. Used with a Bitorsion bit there are a couple of extra layers of torsion safety.

The Ultimates

What every regular user of impact drivers should consider are either the Wera Impaktor, or Impaktor with Ringmagnet bitholders. These are labelled as impact proof and just looking at the build quality might convince you of that. They both use Bitorsion technology and have magnets to hold the bits into place. The Ringmagnet version has a magnetic collar as well and is a great way to hold screws ready for driving, as the magnet is genuinely powerful enough to hold a 75mm screw securely as you lift it to the workpiece.

What you don’t see

Of course, what most users will never see is the trouble and effort made by Wera, at manufacturing level, to create bits and bitholders that have the right properties for the jobs they are designed to do. Bits that need to be harder than ‘standard’ are made of different compounds of metals and hardened separately to a different Rockwell value. It is in the detail that Wera delivers the range of bits, each subtly different for the jobs they do. The lesson for consumers? Choose your Wera bits and bitholders carefully – if you do you will most likely do a better job, with bits that last longer and perform better. 

 

 

Festool CTM 36 E AC HD Vacuum Extractor All You Need for Dust Safety On Site and Workshop?

Systems, Systems

One of the best aspects of buying Festool is that you are buying into a system that links together wherever possible. So, saws and sanders and benches and vacuums etc, can all be coordinated to create a team of tools that will hopefully enable the highest quality work. This does mean that the user has to be up to the job too, but the Festool System provides a great starting point.

The other thing about the Festool system is that you can be confident that an Research and Development team, better qualified than you or I, has done all of the thinking during the development of the product, so all the user has to do is take advantage of the opportunities provided. This is definitely the feeling I was left with having used the CTM 36 E AC HD vacuum extractor for two weeks on site. I shall endeavour to explain how I came to this conclusion and why it is a comforting one.

The Dust Regulations

As most trades should know by now, the minimum requirement for a dust collector/extractor on sites is at least an M-Class machine capable of filtering out 99.9% of 10 micron size respirable dust from a number of sources.  Most L-Class machines collected heavier dust quite well, but passed the highly dangerous respirable dust through the filter into the atmosphere where the dust particles are so tiny that they can float in the air for up to eight hours.

Confidence and Ease of Use

The first thing that buyers of this Festool vac will know is that it comes with the required HEPA filter and Airflow necessary to extract dangerous dusts up to M-Class requirements.  Along with this is a built-in electronic monitoring system for filters and airflow. If the airflow ever falls below 20m/s a warning beep will sound to alert the user. All the control switches are grouped together and all are marked in green - Festool’s long-established way of marking parts that users need to know are controls.

Up to 5 diameters of extraction hose can be selected, from 16mm to 50mm, and the electronics will take care of power required from the motor to ensure the best possible extraction rate. The guesswork is taken out for the user – simply choose from the options and you can be confident of the correct performance.

Other controls are equally simple. Auto Clean is selected with a switch and this acates an electronic control that forces air under pressure through the filter and it is this that removes the dust from the filter and provides an opportunity for the extractor to take a breath every 10 seconds. To see this in action go to this link: -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeh5QWMGf6M

By simply plugging a corded power tool into the auxiliary socket and connecting it to the extraction hose, and selecting ‘automatic’ on the switch, the vacuum will come on when the tool is started and turn off when the tool is switched off. I was able to work at sanding a series of six rather woodworm eaten doors outside with no visible dust, and the noise levels from the vac were less than the sander’s. Selecting the suction needed to ensure good extraction as well as efficient sanding is again very easy – just move the relevant switch.

Other Reassuring Things

For those tired of squashed and easily tangled extraction hoses, the 4 metre-long green and black Festool hose resists kinking and is antistatic. No clingy dust when you clear it up at the end of the day. The machine end of the hose has a rubber adaptor that fits tightly into the front of the machine, as well as into the closing slide that comes with this vacuum. Using the closing slide ensures that the user can close off the hose aperture when the hose is removed, making dust leaks impossible. Or you can use the sealing plug provided. The other end of the hose has a standard rubber adaptor that can be teamed with a Festool stepped adaptor to fit the tool in hand. Storing the hose in transit is done via the foldable hose holder on top of the casing.

To allow for a generous working radius the Festool has 7.5 metres of rubberised mains cord and typically, Festool has thought about where to store it by providing a tool and cable storage holder that is attached to the back by two screws.

By attaching an optional Systainer retainer, other tools in boxes may be attached for easy transport.

Filter and Bag Maintenance

There is little point in providing M-Class extraction only to expose users to concentrated dusts when the dust bag needs emptying or the filter needs changing. Of course, the right grade of face mask is needed, but both of these tasks can be done quickly and easily by the user. Replacements are simply slotted into place with a minimum of exposure time to dust.

The vac can also be used to collect water spills but precautions need to be taken and then it needs to be allowed to dry out thoroughly before reinstalling a dust bag.

In Daily Use

I used this vacuum intensively for two weeks on a barn restoration, where it was used connected to circular saws and sanders, as well as collecting cement and sand dust and clearing up at the end of the day. It has a big 36 litre capacity and took up a large space in my boot. Weighing 14.5 Kgs it is not that easy to lift into my hatchback, but the big wheels make moving it, even on roughish surfaces, quite easy. The truth is, regular site users need a machine with some capacity because of the workloads. By the end of the two weeks I had grown so used to the Festool that it was part of my work routine. Efficient, easy to use and reliable.

Some will always bring up the common complaint about the price – this vac costs over £600. But we need to take into account Festool’s extended warranty, service and insurance offer and 10 year parts guarantee in our calculations. I rather like the ease and confidence that such a machine provides and I am also worried enough about my lung health to think that users need to look at the bigger picture.

Festool Fans, on the other hand, will have none of these concerns – they have already established that being part of the Festool system has lots of advantages.  

 

Flex DD 2G 10.8-LD Drill Driver Big in its Own Way

Size Isn’t……

Most, if not all, trades have already worked out that 18 or 24volt drill/drivers are not always needed on every job. When it comes to the need for sheer power - then 18v or more, is the answer. But what I have found out from experience, is that there is quite a range of lighter duty jobs that are more than adequately catered for with a 10.8 or 12v tool.

With the smaller and lighter drill/drivers, I find they can be slipped into the front flap pocket of work trousers, or even into a side pocket. So, finding somewhere to put them while working on a ladder is solved. Their significantly smaller size also means that they can be used inside cabinets and in tighter spaces where bigger tools simply can’t fit.

Because of the type of usage they are put to, even the smaller Ah (say 2.5 or 4Ah) battery packs often last a day or more, even for a busy kitchen or shop fitter. The new Flex DD 2G 10.8-LD fits nicely into the above category – it is light and compact and fulfils all my criteria for a smaller and lighter drill/driver without compromise. It looks like a smaller version of an 18v drill driver, but it has the advantage of feeling lighter without lacking all the ergonomic rubber grippy stuff of bigger drills. In other words, this is no poor relation to a more powerful 18v model.

On top of that it is very well priced – roughly £110 ex VAT. Good enough to tempt non-professionals into buying a professional quality tool.

Specs……

With a top torque of 34Nm I had no trouble driving 50 or 60mm long screws into softwood or some less dense hardwoods. Certainly, the most commonly used materials like chipboard and MDF are not really a challenge for the screwdriving ability of this drill driver.

The drill driver benefits from having a 10mm keyless chuck that clicks tightly onto drill shanks with the twist of a wrist, and stays put under working pressure. The machine can drill up to 25mm diameter in wood and up to 10mm in steel, and has two speeds – 0 to 350 rpm in slow gear and 0 to 1300 rpm in fast. The speeds are selected via a slider switch on top of the drill body.

With a 2.5Ah battery pack on board, the drill weighs just over the one kilo and the same pack will take approximately 40 minutes for a full charge via the diagnostic charger supplied. Battery packs have a charge indicator so you can see how much juice you have left.

Supplied as standard are a belt clip and a bit holder. These can be screwed onto the base of the handle with the hex screws provided and can fit either on the left or right hand side of the handle to suit the user. The belt clip is one that you will use because it is strong and rigid, so it does actually catch on your belt when you want it to. A trouser pocket may not be the only holding solution for ladder related work.

A few years ago I would have dismissed the idea of a light on a drill, but nowadays I find them very useful indeed, and the big bright LED just above the front of the trigger is placed well to illuminate the work area in front of you.

There are 17 torque settings and a driver setting selected via the usual collar behind the chuck. The settings are easy to select and most users will probably not use them very often, but for delicate work - inside kitchen cabinets for example, attaching drawer slides – it is actually very important not to overtighten screws into chipboard carcases. When I tested them, all it took was a minute or two of trial and error with the screws concerned to decide on the correct torque setting.

The trigger and forward/reverse arrangement is one commonly used on most drill drivers. The trigger is easily big enough for a forefinger, and the forward reverse switch above it is easily selectable without having to move your hand from the handle.

And then there is the Build Quality

To me this drill feels like a pro product in the hand, and I could find no signs of shoddy manufacturing on it. The body mouldings are precise and fit together well, and do not flex under drilling loads. Rubber overmoulding is carefully placed for a comfortable grip on the main handle. The rear of the motor casing has a rubberised cap for protection and there are rubber ‘bumpers’ on the sides of the body and handle above the battery pack, so that the casing will be protected when it is laid down on its side. You can’t always find a flat spot to stand the drill upright on its battery pack in some workplaces.

The battery packs are rigid and solidly encased and the slides are precise too, making loading and releasing a battery pack very easy via the single press lock on the front of it.

The Bottom Line

I have been using this drill on a range of lighter jobs like removing fittings prior to decorating, some woodwork involving drilling and screwing, and some cabinet fitting. It is a simple and straightforward tool that does what is asked of it. I was constantly surprised at how long the battery lasted – my record was a day and a half.

It is compact and comfortable to use, and was particularly useful when putting up guttering where it was small enough to put in pocket, and light enough to clip to my belt without making my trousers lopsided.

It is packed into a spacious rigid nylon case with the charger and two batteries. There is enough room in the case for a few spare bit boxes, drill bits etc. Frankly, with this drill I prefer having the nylon case rather than a larger rigid plastic one, because it is easier to find a spot for it in my crowded boot. Sometimes small is just as good as big, when it comes to drills anyway.

 

Trend T5E V2 – The Latest Version of a Classic

The Importance of the Original Design

Thirty years ago, I bought an early version of the Trend T5.  My original T5 was pretty bombproof and lasted for years, but the basic design was good enough to be able to support a fairly steady list of refinements over the years. After some ownership and name changes the T5 is still around and is a ‘go to’ router for amateurs and professionals alike. The developments have provided us with a quieter, more refined and user-friendly machine that retains its reliability and accuracy, but it still deserves the ‘work horse’ label.

Noise and Vibration

First of all, noise. Because of their high-speed motors, routers have usually been associated with a high-pitched scream, especially when cutting at high speed with a large cutter. At idle speeds, even with a cutter attached, the 1000W T5E is so quiet that you can barely hear it. Lay your hands on the plunge handles and you can barely feel any vibration either. Clearly some work has been put in on noise and vibration control - and it works. Even when fitted with a cutter (max 40mm diameter) this router feels civilised, controllable and relatively noise and vibration free. Great news for those who use these tools regularly. Of course, it’s a no-brainer that you should wear ear and eye protection anyway, but somehow the T5E just feels more controllable and better to use because of the reduced vibration and noise.

Controls – I need Simple and Safe

Secondly, routers can be fiddly to use when the controls are not well thought out and easy to manage. The plunge action on the T5E is firm and positive. With 50mm depth of plunge, there is enough to tackle large range cutters and most jobs. A good test of accuracy is whether there is any play between base and router body – the T5 I tested showed no play at all. There is a three stop adjustable turret to set depths of cut and a depth setting stop that is robust and easy to set. It is nice to have a fine height adjuster, and some trades and craftspeople (guitar makers for example) can buy one as an accessory but I manage without one, as this router is perfectly accurate enough for my needs.

Changing cutters can be another area of potential fiddliness – but the T5E scores here too. The big red spindle lock button is easy to access and keeps your fingers well out of the way of the collet spanner, so changing cutters is as easy as it can be.

In the UK, users still seem to prefer having a positive on/off switch rather than the ‘dead man’s handle’ switch that you have to hold down during use. At first I thought that having to push the switch upwards to start the motor seemed odd, but actually it is simpler to simply push the switch down to stop, which makes a lot of sense. It is in these sorts of well thought out details that users get to like one tool rather than another, and it shows that Trend has really thought about what is important in its continuing development of this tool over the years.

Fences, Dust Extraction and More

I hate pressed steel router fences. They do not inspire confidence in their rigidity and therefore accuracy, in use. The Trend T5E has a lovely cast alloy fence that is completely rigid with suitably strong trammel bars on which it slides. The fence is fitted with a micro adjuster that can easily be set in 0.5mm increments. The ease of set is what makes me want to use this adjuster, because some router fences I have used can be so fiddly and stiff that you end up setting up by eye anyway.

Included is a pair of rigid plastic fence cheeks that slide onto the straight edge of the fence. Held on by pan head screws, these cheeks are fully adjustable for smaller or larger cutters – and yes, since they are so easy to adjust, you will end up using them because it is stupid not to.

Other nice touches are that all the screw bolts for trammel bars and fence have springs fitted so that they don’t work loose and fall off. This means that you always have the required screws when you need them, and don’t need to find the elusive accessories box when you want to use the router fence.

A simple dust extraction spout is easy to attach to the base of the router because it clicks into place with three lugs into three matching slots. Extraction is pretty good and visibility of the cutter and cut inspires the confidence that you can work accurately. It helps to use a lightweight extraction hose that does not pull on the router base.

Also included are a template guide bush that uses two screws to attach it to the base and a beam trammel attachment that fits onto a fence rod so that users can rout circles and curves.

For the users who want to go beyond general routing, the T5E can be used with an 8mm collet, available as an accessory. It can also be mounted on a router table or used with other accessories via the two tapped holes in the router base. Trend really are expert in routing so a close look at the catalogue, (online or in print), or a call to the technical helpline will result in a solution for the end user.

And So….

After only a couple of hours of sustained use this router became a real favourite of mine to use for general routing and hinge and lock fitting. I absolutely loved the new feeling of control engendered by the lack of vibration and noise, and it just seems so much less fiddly to adjust and change cutters etc than previous versions.  Clients really like the lack of noise and easy dust collection when you have to work indoors, and, combined with some of the Trend jigs I have acquired over the years, some jobs become so quick and easy that you wonder how you managed to do these jobs without them. A definite thumbs up from me – and more to the point, there are some cracking deals available at the moment that make getting a Trend T5E an even better prospect.

 

 

 

 

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