National Abrasives - Mini Fill - Review

I do enough decorating jobs to know that filling and making good is the most important part of getting a good final result. Clients will often be surprised at how long careful preparation can take, especially if they think that it is simply a case of rolling on some emulsion once the wallpaper has been stripped….. 

Good preparation usually involves a lot of filling and sanding which is tedious and dusty work. Any way of making these jobs easier warrants a closer look in my view.

I also know that there is a huge range of plaster-based fillers out there, and I have used many of them. Choosing the right one for the job can be important for speed, efficiency, and getting the right sanded finish. So, when I saw the Mini Fill I was keen to find out if this all-in-one hole and crack filler would be effective and, more to the point, save me time and hassle.

Think of Sausages

The Mini Fill looks like a small wrapped salami sausage. Roughly 23cm long and 3cm in diameter, it has a sealing cap on one end with a built-in stopper and filler/spreader tool.  For the necessary long shelf-life the Mini Fill has a seal on the business end of the sausage that needs to be broken before use. This is done by simply pulling off the plastic strip and screwing in the cap to pierce the ‘sausage’.  Then just pull off the sealing cap and a gentle squeeze on the tube will get the filler flowing.

Texture and Look

Because it is gypsum based, the filler inside the Mini Fill is a greyish white when it is unset, drying to a plaster white when set. The texture is pretty well spot-on for most filling jobs – wet enough to spread easily, but with enough body not to slump when it is used to fill slightly bigger holes – say those about 15 to 20 mm wide.

It also feels as though it has had a plasticiser added because it feels a bit sticky and is easy to finish smoothly. It certainly feels a bit more like applying a well-mixed skim plaster rather than a hand mixed proprietary filler. The standard gypsum based fillers for the usual DIY or professional use can feel a bit lumpy and dry in comparison, depending on the expertise of the mixer. Either way, I found that the texture of the Mini Fill was a definite plus point and added to its ability to get a smooth finish with minimal sanding. 

The end of the sausage includes a white plastic spreader onto which the filler is ejected when the tube is squeezed. When filling small cracks and holes left by plastic plugs this spreader is perfectly adequate and indeed leaves a smooth surface that is easy to sand flush when the filler has set. I tried to stretch the parameters a bit by using the Mini Fill to fill in 6 to 10mm wide cracks left when replacing a window frame. Although application straight from the tube using the spreader was easy enough, I think the idea of a corner applicator that National are introducing in the coming months will make this job a breeze.

Usable working time was very respectable too, because it is often easier to fill bigger holes and cracks by applying the filler, and then waiting ten minutes for the filler to set a little before spreading it further and then applying the final filler coat.

Setting time can vary according to warmth and humidity, but I found that by the time I got around the room I was preparing, and back to the start point (a couple of hours) the filler was ready to sand. Sanding is easy enough, and you shouldn’t have to use anything rougher than 120 grit abrasive paper to get a smooth finish.

Cleaning up the Mini Fill is simply a matter of re-inserting the stopper to seal the tube and washing the spreader under the cold tap. I kept a half-used tube for a week to test the seal before I finished it off and the contents were still usable, so the seal is good.

Looking at the Economics

With 80ml of filler per tube, the Mini Fill, as the name indicates, is best used where the filling needs are not too drastic. The cost of the Mini Fill retailing at up to £2.98 inc Vat would be easily balanced by the ease of use, and hassle free application and preparation of the finished surface. It would also solve the problem of half a box of filler powder, slowly getting hard in the cupboard under the stairs waiting for the next decorating job to come up. The same can be said of ready mixed fillers in tubes and tubs, which generally go hard. The Mini Fill has a 5-year plus shelf life.

Like other fillers, Mini Fill can be painted, sealed, sanded, drilled and plugged, so it is a genuine replacement for the usual market offers – but I still point out that its biggest selling points are its ease of use and the good clean finish with minimal effort, the brilliant built in scraper and long shelf life.

For Retailers

The Mini Fill comes in a handy counter display box for easy display and explanation. I think customers will like that fact that they only need to buy the Mini Fill to do the job – no need for unexpected extra bits and pieces like scrapers - and then the tubes are easy to dispose of too when they are used up. It all translates into time and convenience that are on the side of Mini Fill. 

 

 

Review New 18v Cordless Grinder from Flex - Its Workhorse Good

It’s a Hard Grind

Angle grinders are tools that get used hard – sometimes they have lifespan of only a few weeks in the most demanding applications. They are also tools that many trades use because they do the jobs that only angle grinders do. So, it is actually quite important for many users that they find exactly the right one.

Choosing a grinder is not made easier by the fact that the range of prices for angle grinders is bewildering too – a mains powered 125mm grinder can be had for as little as £20, while a top quality model will cost over £100.

It is even more difficult with the advent of cordless angle grinders – do you stick with your battery platform or not, when it becomes clear that the cordless grinder in the range does not have the runtime/oomph/special features of some of the competition?

 

Why Choose the Flex?

The new Flex L125 18.0-EC, in my opinion, helps reduce these dilemmas by simply being a very good tool. In the last week, I have been using it intensively on a variety of onsite jobs, from window fitting to cutting concrete, bricks and small paving slabs. For test purposes, I was urged to try it out on marble and granite because these are very demanding materials and a real test of quality.

When I used the Flex on the window fitting jobs they were not that demanding, but they were varied. Sometimes I needed to cut hardened steel nails or screws, and at other times I needed to trim off bits of masonry and tiles. At this point you realise that you are going to change cutting discs quite frequently, so quick and easy disc changing is important. I didn’t exactly time my changes, but with the included spanner and using the easy access spindle lock button, I could do it in about 45 seconds, despite the fact that it was a tool that I had only just started using – not an old familiar. Quick change of discs is largely down to the design of the nose of the grinder – it sticks out prominently and is nearly as slim as practically possible for a small grinder. If I held the machine in my left hand with my thumb depressing the spindle lock button, I could use the spanner in my right hand to pull down on the spindle nut to loosen it and then simply spin off the nut and replace the disc.

It is now also mercifully the case that blade guards have become much more easily adjustable, and the Flex design is amongst the most simple and effective. The guard can be rotated 360 degrees, in a series of click-stopped positions for the most effective disclosure of the disc to the cut, and also for the best position to deflect dust and debris away from the user.

The whole gearhead is made of cast alloy and has screw holes for the addition of an auxiliary handle. Also interesting to note is that the ventilation slots above the spindle lock button direct the cooling air from the motor out of, rather than into, the tool so dust is blown away from the delicate bearings etc. It also helps that this has a brushless motor whose working bits are sealed more effectively than brushed motors.

 

Designed for Good Grip

I also rather like the design of the body of this Flex grinder. This is largely because I have small hands, but even a couple of my work colleagues with bigger hands commented that the design suited them too. The Flex-red body has a black grippy overmould where the hand grips and this is smaller than the main body behind the gearcasing. From there it is easy to move a thumb up to the slide and lock on/off switch that actually works. I have come across so many of this type of switch that you need two hands to operate (especially when the dust gets in), that it is a pleasant surprise to find one that works so smoothly.

 

A comfortable grip on the handle is made more effective by having the battery pack on the back of the body, with its main weight pointing upwards to counterbalance the weight of the nose pointing downwards. Those familiar with Flex machines will recognise the familiar 5Ah battery pack with its four-light test button on the back. Flex has cracked the design for loading and unloading battery packs onto machines so that system works well with a simple big red press and release button on the battery. This machine is compatible with all 18v Flex batteries, so if you have a couple of lighter 2.5Ah packs they would help reduce working weight.

 

Just a quick note on charging – the Flex diagnostic charger is unique, I think, in having an LED countdown display so you know exactly how long to a full charge.

Despite being ‘only 5Ah’ in the days of up to 9 Ah, I had no issues with runtimes. Even with regular usage, I still had half capacity left at the end of a working day. And still a spare battery in the box as a backup.

 

A Case of Quality

The whole kit came in a sturdy, stackable custom case with top and front handles. I liked the fact that the case could easily hold all the extraneous bits like extra discs etc. My only niggle was that the battery pack had to be removed to store the grinder in its position.

Overall, I really liked this grinder. It has clearly been made to a quality threshold with elements of careful design. It cuts effectively in a wide range of materials, and it goes without saying that users will need to adopt all the correct safety gear with it, because the dust and debris produced is evidence that it is working well. For really effective cutting, choose quality discs with thin kerfs that will reduce friction and give longer runtimes. The acid test is that I would be very happy to add it to my toolkit because it has proved to be a valuable site companion. 

 

 

 

Head Torches from Ledlenser Review– Which is the One for You?

Peak buying season for torches is not-so-slowly creeping up on us, so while the rest of us enjoy our summer breaks, the torch suppliers are beavering away ensuring that dealers have enough stock to meet demand when the clocks go back in October.

I have become a fan of head torches after initially being quite sceptical. What converted me was having to work under a car bonnet one wet, dark and wintry evening, trying the find the catch to release the headlight housing so I could replace the bulb. I needed a beam adjustable from spot to flood, and a beam housing that could be moved downwards, so that I could hold my head at the correct angle to see what I needed to see. But end users have a variety of other needs too, so LEDCO UK sent me a couple from their new i-Series range to try out.

Top of the Range - Ledlenser iXEO 19R

Packed into its own padded black nylon case surrounded by an informative sleeve, it is clear that this 5-in-1 2000 lumen max super light (handheld torch, headlamp, helmet light, area light, emergency light) is aimed at demanding users, such as professionals in heavy industries such as tunnelling, construction and utilities as well as mountain rescue and the emergency services. Accordingly, it is IPX6 rated in terms of water protection – i.e. protected against strong water jets.

The kit itself is comprehensive, as it comes as standard with a self-adhesive helmet connecting kit, belt clip and extension cord, to give the option to hang the Li-ion rechargeable PowerBox on a belt or bag. A neoprene battery bag has a belt loop, and can be used instead of the belt clip if the battery pack needs more water protection. There is also a mains charger, and a USB lead so that the battery pack can be used to charge a mobile if needed. A nice touch is the soft cloth and brush to clean up the lenses occasionally.

It is worth a look at the battery pack to explore some of the ways it can be used. The plastic casing has a slightly matte black rubberised feel to it and has various catches and sockets. On one end, there is the inlet socket for the charger/connection lead and the USB socket. This has a rubbery cover that no doubt helps to achieve the IPX6 rating. A small lever is used to lock the battery connection lead into place so it is secure and waterproof. There is also a blue light battery charge indicator on this end.

On the opposite end is a plastic catch onto which the head of the torch can be attached making the whole thing into a handheld device. If this seems like a bit of a fiddly arrangement – it is, but after you have done it a few times it works better – it’s just a matter of getting used to the way in which the clips work. To make it easier, a short connection cable is also included so there is no need to remove the coiled cable from the elasticated headband. All the cables, apart from the short one, have lockable connections so that they are secure against movement and water ingress.

The iXEO 19R Torch Head

This torch head in sharp black, with bright yellow lens mounts and adjusting levers, looks a bit like a two-eyed monster when viewed full frontal, and the arrangement promises complexity. However, it really is quite simple to use. There is a single rubberised switch on top of the head. Press once on the top for dual half beam, press twice for dual full beam, and a third time for selecting the Optisense option that automatically controls the amount of light for the user. So on Optisense, a night worker would have near full beam when looking far ahead, but when looking at a map close up, the light would automatically dim so as not to dazzle.  A fourth press activates the dual strobe lights. However, press on the right side of the switch and the right-side light will come on in the same sequence as above. The same is true if you push the left-hand side of the switch except that the left-hand light will illuminate. An addition press in any mode of the front switch activates the maximum 2000 lumens, which literally turns night into day. More than enough light for even the darkest of environments.

The two yellow levers on each side of the switch work independently and move the focus of each light from spot to flood – thus making it possible to have full flood or spot in either lights, or a mixture of one flood and one spot in whichever side you need. The levers work smoothly, as does the switch – you won’t find the torch moving on your head if the headband is adjusted properly and the helmet mount is very secure. It is possible to click stop the head of the torch from horizontal to nearly 45 degrees for close up viewing, and behind the lights themselves is a ventilation system that cools the LEDs, apparently making them brighter. A new bit of information to me.

Finally, by pressing the switch and holding for 5 seconds, the battery is locked so that it cannot be accidentally activated when it is packed in a rucksack, for instance - a useful feature.

This is obviously a choice bit of kit that is designed and made to the high standards of Ledlenser, and has the price tag to match. I don’t think it will disappoint the target users because it is genuinely powerful and capable – but take a good look at the instructions to get the best out of it, because it is sophisticated.

iSEO 5R

In the mid-range of i-Series head torches, the iSEO 5R is a lot more compact and cheaper than the above. Nevertheless, it is still part of the industrial series of head torches because of its IPX6 weatherproofiing and glare free red LED light option. It sports a180 lumen light output with a range of 120m at full spot. At full beam a completely recharged battery will last 10 hours, but with low power beam selected, this goes up potentially to a very useful 50 hours. Or, if you want, you can use three AAA batteries instead.

Charging is done via a short USB lead that can be plugged into a computer/laptop, or one of those new USB enabled mains sockets.

The switch is a simple button switch on top of the battery housing. One press selects full beam, another press selects low power, a third starts the strobe light, and a fourth switches the beam off. To select the red light just hold down the main switch for a few seconds longer, and another press will engage the red strobe light.

There is also the battery lock option to prevent accidentally switching the torch on – simply hold the switch down for 5 seconds.

Beam focusing is simply done by a twist of the outer lens bezel, and the light can be angled by a full 60 degrees by a stopped ratchet.

Although this torch is very light, weighing just 105g, it is supplied with the option of a self-adhesive hardhat mount with extra helmet clips for industrial users.

Ledlenser is proud of its quality control and manufacturing and this small torch does not escape the process. Such a light, compact and effective torch will surely gain fans. 

Stahlwille Quality Torque Wrenches Review - Torqueing it Easy!

The Background Bit…

I confess that I only knew of Stahlwille products peripherally because I rarely go into the world of spanners. More recently however, spanners and socketry have become more prominent in my work – it all depends on what jobs come your way I guess.

I had admired the huge Stahlwille presence at the Cologne Hardware Show last year, and was interested to hear about the products they were developing, but I don’t think I was fully aware of just what the company’s values and traditions are. But a chance to test one of its torque wrenches gave me the opportunity to look a bit more closely.

The company was founded in1862 by Eduard Wille and remains a family based concern. At the outset, the company focused on quality, but was also forward thinking enough to realise that quality has several components, including innovative ideas, a team of good workers and investment. It has tried to maintain this outlook and has survived and prospered for over 150 years, so it must have done something right.

The company has also insisted on maintaining production in Germany and has three production plants there. It was one of the first manufacturers to be certified with DIN EN ISO 9002 and later DIN EN ISO 9001 – fine indicators of quality.

But one final statistic might set you thinking – of all the 3.5 billion airline passengers who flew on aeroplanes worldwide in 2015, the airlines that carried them all relied on Stahlwille tools for daily and other maintenance.

Torqueing the Talk

The first torque wrench I ever used belonged to my uncle and it was a complicated beast whose setting alone was a trial. It needed to be checked and recalibrated quite quickly, and required quite a knack to get accurate results.

Roll on a few years, and the problem is that many applications now are torque sensitive – from electrical installations to automotive and onwards. So, what is needed are reliable torque instruments that are easy to use, recalibrate and are reliable – and in some cases even recordable so they can be checked on for warranty purposes. The Stahlwille Manoskop 730 Quick range consists of ten torque tools that vary in size and capacity. For example, the smallest in the range will deliver on ranges between 6 to 50 Nm while the largest and longest can deliver a range of 130 to 650 Nm. What they all have in common is that they are easy to use, easy to set and reset, and do not require a manual reset to zero.

Start with the Setting…

Perhaps the most crucial part of this tool, the setting, is indeed easy. It took me all of a few seconds to grasp, and therefore a trained mechanic could very easily use several settings on a single job without taking very much time. It certainly saves on the scenarios I have seen, where several torque wrenches have been used to apply different torque settings to a variety of bolts on the same job.

On the long length of the side of the wrench is a plastic-outlined window with a green sliding button and a plastic magnifying lens. Clearly marked are two scales in Nm and lb./ft. The torque indicator mark has a definite V-shaped mark in it that will line up with one of the clear vertical lines indicating the torque settings. I managed to read the scales very well with my glasses on – and the silver background and black scale marks are very visible.

To set the torque simply put your thumb into the handle end of the wrench shaft and you will find a small flat lever. Push this all the way down (if you don’t push it far enough the scale will not move freely) and use the green milled adjuster button to the setting you want. Release the thumb lever and the setting is set – it won’t move. 

Although the lever is on the open end of the wrench shaft, it is recessed enough so that it can’t be accidentally pressed or too easily become a victim of the ever-present greasy muck associated with workshops.

There is a rubbery plastic handle sited right on the end of the shaft for easy grip and maximum leverage. I wondered if some users might find it a bit small since my small hands had no trouble covering it.

The Working End

It would be pointless to have a quick setting torque wrench and not have a similar level of convenience when it comes to changing sockets etc. The Manoskop 730 Quick has a simple oblong socket into which spanner heads and square drives can be slotted. They are easy to release by simply pushing the green plastic button on the end of the shaft. I did have a small query about this arrangement because if the square drive is inserted ‘upside down’ the button release doesn’t work. Fortunately Stahlwille has provided a little hole where you can insert a pen/file/whatever to push down the release button.  I admit that this might not happen often because the orientation of the wrench is almost always the ‘correct’ way, but mistakes happen. 

What you can be sure of though, is that the QuickRelease Safety lock, while it is quick, will not release until you do it – it is safely held while working.

Accessories

There are several accessories that will fit either to the square drives, or straight into the end of the wrench. I tried the wheelnut socket and the spark plug socket on my car. A mechanic friend who gave the wrench a once over could really see the benefits of the ‘Quick’ aspects of the system, in terms of saving time and hassle for a busy mechanic working to deadlines.

He also liked the fact that there was no need for a manual reset to zero on this wrench made possible by STAHLWILLE’s unique triggering cam mechanism. This means the mechanism is not under any load unless a force is applied, even when it is left set, therefore you do not need to release the tension from the spring, as with conventional torque wrenches.

Once it has clicked as the torque is reached, the job is done and the wrench can be moved straight on to the next bolt.

Compared to the other old style torque wrenches I have used, the Stahlwille Manoskop 730 Quick is a more sophisticated wrench, that did the torque to the required spec with no hassle at all. 

New Range of Socketry from Draper

Socketry? Me?

If anyone asked me a few weeks ago whether I regularly used socketry I would have probably replied with a resounding ‘No’. But just to prove me wrong I have used socketry of various kinds on the last three jobs I have done – so it was really quite handy to have several samples of the latest Draper Socketry range to try out.

But a bit of background first.

Draper has been a supplier of good quality socketry for as long as I can remember – in fact I have an old imperial set in a metal case tucked away in the loft ‘just in case’ I ever have the urge to get myself a vintage car to restore. But things move on, and as Draper has become more involved with supplying larger items like workshop lifts and tyre changing kit for the automotive trades, it seems appropriate that a new range of socketry would fit nicely into the range and continue to be one of the cornerstones of Draper’s business.

Time to Try

Draper generously allowed me to choose a few sets to use at my leisure for a couple of weeks. I was more interested in smaller sets that would be used as part of my larger toolkit, and needed for maintenance and disassembly.

The first set I used on site was a Draper Expert 75-piece socket set that I chose because of its versatility – you can always guarantee that the worksite will throw up some little problem that is easy to deal with if you have the right tools, but is a right pain if you haven’t.

I was drawn to this set because of the choice of sockets – it has sixteen long ‘Go Through’ sockets in metric and Imperial and a further twenty-one shorter sockets – also in metric and Imperial

The sockets are all of the 6 point HI-TORQ type.

Alongside the sockets there is a collection of twenty-seven screwdriving bits in various formats like Hex, Torx, Phillips and Pozi. Using the adaptor, these bits can be driven using the screwdriver handle, the quick release ratchet, the flexible handle or the sliding T-bar. Sometimes, there is more chance of solving problems if you have a greater choice of weapons at your disposal.

Also included are three socket extensions with built-in ‘wobble’ for extra flexibility, a universal joint and a flexible extension bar.

The plastic case opens out flat revealing all of the tools at once. Only the long sockets in the lid are held so that they don’t fall out. Mercifully, all the other sockets fit loosely into place and don’t require a case-upsetting pull to get them out. Metal latches are indeed robust and the carry handle is comfortable with a rubberised overmould.

This set managed to solve me a problem the first time I used it – when I had to remove, recondition and replace the cables on an ‘up and over’ garage door. Specifically the long, slim Go Through sockets enabled the easy removal and replacement of the rails and the ‘wobbly’ extension bar provided enough offset that was needed in a tight corner.

What was also noticeable was that the quality of the kit was excellent. All the components felt well-made and professional with a modern design that felt good in the hand.

Kit No 2

This kit was chosen as a small ‘emergency kit’ – easy to carry, but with enough capability to be able to diagnose the problem – and possibly even fix it. It consists of 47 pieces of which 21 are metric sockets covering a range of 4mm to 14mm. There are 8 long slim Go Through sockets that are sometimes a problem solver.

There is also the range of 19 driver bits and an adaptor to fit the screwdriver handle and the quick release ratchet. Packed into a compact case that is just 25 cm long,18cm wide and 5cm deep, it can be tucked into a carry case or under an arm. For a few weeks I carried it around packed into a tool case where it was consulted a few times on various small jobs. A very useful addition to a general toolkit, and one that is small and lightweight, but very versatile.

And the VDE…

I work with an electrician sometimes so I chose this 18 Piece Draper Expert VDE kit for him to use and evaluate. His initial comments were that that, “quality looked great” and I think that even though I rarely use VDE stuff, just playing with the set and trying out the fit between the various components, I could appreciate that it is well made.

The kit comes in a bright VDE Red plastic case with plastic latches, and consists of 13 sockets ranging from 4mm to 14mm. Each socket is completely encased in insulating plastic, with the only metal bit to see being the socket end. A long sleeve that fits right into the ratchet handle means that there is no gap between socket and ratchet, and it safely covers the ¼ inch square drive on the ratchet.  On the end of the150mm long ratchet handle is a corrugated black button, used to lock and release the sockets by simply pressing down on it. Turning it left or right will change the direction of drive, and there is clearly no way that a user’s hand might touch an exposed bit of metal on the tool itself.

Also included are 4 extension bars – a 6 inch, a 4 inch, a 3 inch and a 2 inch.

All components are safely held in the case by a custom fitted layer of closed cell foam that protects them in transit, as well as helping ensure that the user will quickly see if any part of the kit is missing. My electrician friend endorsed his first impression of the quality of the kit after using it for a few days, and he also liked the compact case a lot because it kept all the kit together and well organised, as well as being light and easy to carry.

And So…

It is clear that Draper has put together a range of socketry that will fit the need of any number of end users. Not only is the quality excellent, but the choice of kits and the way they are encased provides a huge choice for them. Add to that Draper’s Lifetime Guarantee and a choice of finishes and they are definitely in the mix for users looking for high quality and versatile tools. It looks like Draper’s ‘Strength in Quality’ strapline points the way.

DART PCD Blades – Tough & Long Lasting!

Why PCD?

PCD is a polycrystalline diamond, manufactured by sintering together carefully selected diamond particles at a very high temperature and pressure in the presence of a solvent/catalyst metal. The result is an extremely tough inter grown mass of randomly orientated diamond crystals bonded to a tungsten carbide substrate. PCD, therefore can be regarded as a composite material which combines the hardness, abrasion resistance and high thermal conductivity of diamond with the toughness of tungsten carbide.

Polycrystalline is ultimately an extremely hard material – harder than tungsten and carbide, so will outperform a TCT blade by up to 50 times life wise.

Another advantage of the DART PCD blade is that it creates very little dust unlike the abrasive discs often used, as it produces a shaving rather than a powdery dust, even in cement board.

 

When is PCD used?

Correctly applied, PCD tooling replaces existing tool materials such as HSS or tungsten carbide. With the rise in use of wood substitutes (such as wood composites and plastic woods) for future house building in the construction industry – the traditional TCT Blade struggles to cut many of these new materials – leaving an untidy, unattractive cut and the need to replace the blade frequently. This is where the PCD Blade can be seen as a must in any building or timber merchants, as it offers the user an effortless, clean cut in a huge variety of ultra-hard materials. Just to name a few - it will cut through cement fibre board products, such as Marley Eternit, HardiePlank, ‘No More Ply’,  MDF and Corian, as well as laminated and melamine surfaces, GRP, softwoods and hardwoods, plywood and chipboard.

How do they compare cost-wise?

The cost of a PCD Blade can be up to 10 times more expensive than a TCT Blade – but there are extra considerations to take into account. When cutting through certain materials, the user often needs to change a carbide blade daily, while the polycrystalline can last up to 50 times longer – so there is little doubt that the initial cost factor is far outweighed by the extended tool life. In addition, this doesn’t take into consideration the cost of having machine downtime and the time-savings associated with using a PCD blade.

DART Tool Group is a trusted and reliable supplier of PCD blades. With a range of sizes starting at 160 mm and going up to 300mm, with 4 to 8 teeth and an extra-large gullet design, which minimises dust and improves removal of material – you can be guaranteed a smoother, cleaner and more accurate cutting– if you haven’t considered PCD yet, then now is the time!

DART…The Serious Alternative.

Visit https://www.darttoolgroup.com/circular-saw-blades/diamond-pcd-blades for more information.

Peter Brett’s view

I tried the DART PCD 250mm diameter saw blade on12mm thick cement board. The resulting cuts were very accurate and clean – almost planed clean, making the job of joining them accurately easier. My experience of it is that it cuts the board like a knife through butter with very little effort or noise.

The blade sent for the test had just six teeth, spaced about 130mm apart on the periphery of the blade. Each of the teeth has a peppering of PCD particles on it that you can see through a magnifier but not really with the naked eye. There is a large depth-limiting chunk of blade directly in front of each tooth followed by a series of three smaller rounded bumps that serve to clear out the dust as quickly as possible. In comparison to a normal TCT blade, the dust and swarf is incredibly little – due to the lower number of teeth.

There are also six noise reducing slots cut into the blade that dispel heat and therefore reduce or eliminate heat distortion. The blade is a mere 2mm thick and does not cut a thick kerf – reducing drag and friction. I guess some of the smaller diameter blades in this same DART series would be usable in cordless saws as a result. 

Diaquip 350mm Electric Disc Cutter - The Competition Gets Tougher

Petrol vs Electric Power

While it is great to have the independence of a petrol-powered disc cutter in some places, there is no doubt that the use of electrically powered machines has grown because they are quieter and just as efficient. Noise is definitely an issue when these petrol cutters are being used in public places and it may be a limiting factor when used near hospitals and schools for example. I also find them easier to work with too – but that is probably a personal experience – noise can add to the ‘scariness factor’ sometimes.

The other technical challenge that has been overcome is the use of water-based dust suppression on electric machines. We have always been warned that electricity and water don’t mix, but apparently with a bit of care and the right parameters, they can safely be kept apart.

All new disc cutters have to have ways of suppressing dust because of current health and safety legislation, and probably not before time, because they are often used on hard building materials like concrete. Cutting concrete produces a lot of the very fine silica dust that is one of the worst dusts for our lungs.

 

Diaquip’s Concrete Saw

The Diaquip machine is instantly recognisable as professionally rated – just looking at it you realise that it is solidly built, straightforward and no-nonsense. The U-shaped side handle, for instance, is a solid steel-plated tube, bolted into place and covered with an insulating and grippy ribbed-rubber compound. This handle is strong and rigid and shaped so that the user can grip from the top as well as the side when the cutter is used in different orientations.

An elongated main handle is placed directly behind the blade, and it gives users a good view of the cut, as well as allowing them to have enough leverage on the blade to be able to guide it accurately. The oval-shaped aperture of the handle also allows users some movement options for the trigger hand. The trigger is big enough for easy use by gloved hands, and it comes with a lockout button, of course.  Right on the top of the trigger handle is the load-warning lamp so that it is very easy to see if an overload occurs.

Easy to Set up?

All the adjustments that should be on a machine like this are there - they are simple to operate and are strongly made. For example, the lever that locks the blade guard into various positions is a simple L-shaped steel piece that locks into a series of holes on the guard. It doesn’t need any more complication, but it does need to work easily when the machine is covered in sludge after a hard day on site.

There is also a simple arbor lock for easy blade changing.

 

Other Options

The big and strong cast alloy blade guard incorporates two methods of dust suppression. The most obvious of these is the water-based version, since it involves a tube for the water feed attached to the heavy-duty main power cable that leads down to front of the guard. There are two nozzles – one on each side of the blade - that spray water onto it. With the right amount of water at the right pressure, there should be precious little dust escaping into the environment. For ease of use there is a water feed valve at the entrance of the water tube, and a standard hose lock water coupling is provided for instant snap on/off hose connection.

Right at the bottom of the guard is a standard sized dust port that will connect to a vacuum dust extractor should the user choose. The amount of dust produced at full speed is quite considerable, so a small L-Class vac is probably not going to do a good enough of job of protecting the user, and those nearby, from the inevitable dust that does escape. A really powerful H-Class extractor will do a much better job – but users will still need appropriately rated facemasks and other PPE. It is also good to note that the dust port has a little cover on it so that when vac extraction is not being used, the sludge doesn’t come straight back at the operator.

Or if you prefer you can use the dust ski. Held in place by a simple pin this fits underneath the blade so that the weight of the machine rests on the stainless steel base of the ski. With the support this gives, again accuracy of cut is improved, but more to the point, the ski provides a shroud to the blade that concentrates dangerous dusts right to the back of the ski where it is collected much more efficiently by the (correct) class of vacuum extractor. Since the ski adds so much to the overall dust safety of the cutter it is indeed a very useful addition to the whole saw kit, eradicating all dust when cutting.  Regs still say that good PPE (masks, goggles, gloves, hearing protection) is needed in the battle against dust intake that leads to silicosis – so be wise and comply.

 

Other Bits I Liked

Having used them on a few cuts when I was slicing through some delicate 40mm thick marble, I am a great fan of the guide rollers assembly that comes with this machine. They are simply fitted using a butterfly bolt right under the balance point of the main motor housing. They allow the user to rest the weight of the machine onto a hard surface and use this extra stability to guide the cutter for greater accuracy.

Although it is only a simple addition, the splash guard that can be fitted at the back end of the blade guard is another nice touch. Simple to fit, it also provides some protection for the user from water and sludge splash.

Plantworx

I first saw the Diaquip being put through its paces at a rain soaked and windswept Plantworx Show. I thought at the time that these conditions might be a more typical usage framework than some of the sunnier weather we have had recently. During the demonstration, I was impressed by its obvious power and cutting ability in a variety of materials such as reinforced concrete and paving materials. Water dust suppression was being used, just to add to the already damp atmosphere, and it clearly worked well.

Back home in my workspace, the weather was drier but I still ended up thinking that this was a Very Useful and Capable Machine. It is clearly quieter using an electric motor, but didn’t seem less powerful or less capable. I found myself using the water dust suppression system nearly all the time, because it works very well and is simple to attach and set up from either a garden hose or a pressurised container. Accurate cuts are easy to achieve as you become more expert in the use of the machine – much helped by the judicious use of the guide rollers of course.

It would definitely be a machine I would look at if I were a construction worker – powerful, easy to use with good dust suppression – lots to like.

 

Aimed at: Construction workers, heavy-duty users

Pros: Powerful, easy to use and excellent dust suppression 

CAT Portable Generator – Electric Results

 

Portable? What Is Portable?

Before I did this review, I had a picture of a portable generator as roughly the size of a small suitcase, and suitable for powering the till and lights for an exhibitor at a craft show. But having tried the CAT RP 4400 Low Power Generator Set, I have a more flexible interpretation of portable. The CAT weighs 80 Kgs, and therefore it takes two to lift it from its delivery carton and then to add the wheels and stand. However, once the wheels are added, the CAT does indeed become portable. One person, even me with a slightly bad back, can easily wheel it about and get it up a few steps and through a standard doorway. Clearly this is enough portability for its intended use on worksites, and where back-up power is needed. The wide treaded never-flat wheels are big enough to allow it to be manoeuvred over even softer surfaces like grass and unmade paths.

Also useful is that it will fit into the back of a medium-sized hatchback (with the back seats down) but, again, it will take two to lift.

What Goes into the RP4400?

The RP4400 is the most powerful genset in a small series of three machines that are intended to cover a range of demands from small users for serious power in workplaces, on smallholdings and back-up power for the home.

With its maximum output of 4400W the CAT will power anything from TVs to power tools, so it is really flexible. We in the UK are blessed with a pretty reliable power supply, but I have relatives in Africa and friends who live in the further reaches of Scotland, who all have a back-up generator as standard equipment for the house. For them it is a necessity of life.

Powered by a modern and reliable 300cc four stroke engine that will produce the required power at a pretty unstrained noise and 3000 RPM rev level, it is also quiet enough that it won’t deafen you even when you are quite close to it.

Having had my share of getting various petrol powered machines going straight out of the box, I know that some motors can be a bit capricious. But having filled the 30-litre petrol tank and added the required amount of oil, I followed the clear instructions for starting. To my absolute surprise the motor started on the first pull of the recoil starter cord, and then settled to a steady muffled roar that was by no means a pain in the ears.

The genset produces AC voltage of 115 or 230v at 50Hz frequency, and it has AVR or Automatic Voltage Regulation that is needed for the safe use of modern electrical equipment.

According to the specs, a full tank of fuel should last up to 18.5 hours – enough to get you through a full dark night in Scotland in midwinter. Filling the tank is easy since the fuel cap and tank are located on the top of the machine. Removing the metal cap reveals a fuel filter – an absolute necessity when filling from fuel containers that can be more easily contaminated with sediment etc. The fuel gauge, also on top of the tank, gives an adequate reading of the fuel available.

Handily, all the controls and power outlets are located on one end of the generator. This is a genuine ’user friendly’ move because having bits and bobs everywhere would be difficult to manage if you were having to get the generator going, and perhaps connect ancillary machines to it on a cold wet night after a power cut.
 

The controls are simple and self-explanatory, and a handy quick guide is mounted on the fuel tank for easy reference and is also supplied with the comprehensive instruction booklet. I guess it would be a good idea to keep it in its plastic bag and keep it near the generator at all times. (All manuals are also available as PDF download from www.cat.com/homeandoutdoor)

On the other side of the machine is a foldable, two-position tubular steel handle. This can be locked into its positions with a pin. The handle and the wheels are the keys in making the RP4400 portable. Acting like wheelbarrow handles, the weight of the machine is largely over the wheels, so it is easier to move.

Examining the frame revealed that it is a simple, but very strong space frame, made from steel tubing welded together. It provides a solid base on which to attach the motor and generator, as well as providing good protection for the vital bits when it encounters the inevitable bumps and bangs of the work site.

 

What I Got Up to…

Occasionally serendipity happens and this month I have had a diamond disc cutter to review and a large outdoor swimming pool to refurbish.

The swimming pool predictably enough was at least 75m from an electrical power source, so it was really handy to have the CAT to wheel down to the pool enclosure (fortunately dry weather meant that the usual Sussex clay was firm enough to wheel the machine easily)

With the switchable 115/230v option on the CAT, I was able to power the disc cutter a few times when I needed it on bits of pool masonry that needed replacing, but I was also able to connect up my 230v jet washer, by simply changing the plug on it so that it could fit into the site-style plugs on the CAT.

The jet washer had a lot of hard use and of course so did the CAT. It remained easy to start up when needed and simple to move around when the limits of the pressure hose on the jet were reached. In this situation, I was much better able to appreciate how a machine like this would be used and also to appreciate its power and convenience.

I guess you could still use this generator as a portable power source at a craft fair – but it would be at home powering several stalls and even more lights. And in winter maybe even powering a heater or two for stallholders.

 

Aimed at: more demanding domestic users, smallholders and professionals needing site power.

Pros: Powerful with big power outputs, 115 and 230v, and portable using big wheelbarrow handles.

 

Finding the Level with Draper

 

Levels – is it a Choice between Good value or Accuracy?

Just about every tool supplier has a level or two on its stocksheets, and predictably they can be cheap and nasty or more expensive and good. In my experience buying as good a level as you can afford does pay off. The one I bought from a well-known builders’ superstore was so bad that, years on, it still raises my hackles despite the fact that it was dumped soon after purchase.  

 

The Conundrum

Having done masses of end user research for a major tool company on spirit levels a few years ago, I found out that end users generally want rugged, accurate, easy to read and easy to maintain tools. But making these tools to a demandingly high specification and at a market-beating price is pretty well impossible. Hence the dominance of the bright yellow German brand of levels, despite the high price tag attached. They have reached the level of trust in quality and accuracy where the brand reputation alone is enough to ensure sales. But as ever, there is always room for competition, and since end users are as various as fish in the sea, good quality, value and accuracy can always be judged in different ways for different needs.

 

Some of the Draper Line-up

Exclusive to Draper Tools and available in increments up to 2000mm, Draper’s Expert range of OPTIVISION™ spirit levels is not only well priced, but ticks all of the main consumer demands mentioned above.

 

Just a quick examination of the alloy extrusion and finish will tell you that they are well made and protected against the rigours of the worksite by a baked-on highly visible white finish. Opinions seemed to vary on the colour – the chippies liked it better than the brickies!

Unlike some levels, it has a wide levelling surface that is 35mm wide and milled to a fine, easily cleanable finish. On the magnetic version 600mm and 900mm levels, there are two sets of magnets set into the levelling surface so that it can be attached to metal scaffolding poles, RSJs etc or stored within a van. Some might argue that the magnet settings might be a cleaning problem, but again, users make their choice – which is handier for you?

The rounded top side of the level houses the shockproof OPTIVISION™ vial that comes with a lifetime warranty. The highly visible red vial is UV resistant and accurate to within 0.5mm per metre. Each vial also has a red surround that makes the bubble definition stand out and easy to read. Another interesting feature, and one that divided opinions when I showed it to various trades, was the multiple lines in the centre vial so that users can read the gradient of 1 and 2% depending on need. Again – you pays your money and you makes your choice. I personally thought that it would be a feature that I might use occasionally and would therefore want included.

 

The vertical vial is also shock resistant that can be read from the front and side of the level or indeed from the curved topside via the side view vial feature. I could see that there are some situations where this arrangement would be very useful, but most of the time the front view would be fine.

What I particularly like are the large ergonomic handles that are lined with ridged grippy rubber that makes this solidly made level easier to handle, and even to hang on the end of a handy batten or nail.

Finally, the end caps are thick, solidly made and very shock absorbing; they provide sound protection against accidental knocks and drops. The end caps also include four rubber bumpers that protrude through the body, ideal for gripping on smooth surfaces.
 

Draper Expert Optivision™ Boat Level

Boat levels have an even tougher life than site levels so need to be strongly built and this level is milled from a solid piece of cast alloy. It has three Optivision red vials that all have a lifetime guarantee. The middle dial has three lines on each side of the level indicators so users can gauge gradients. The right-side vial is a plain red with just two lines so that its main trade users, namely scaffolders, will find it easy to read and quick. Interestingly the left-side dial has an angle finder function on it. This is easy to use and very useful – think scaffolders determining the angles of angled cross poles that are necessary for the stability of a whole scaffolding set up.

Big rubber bumpers on each end protect against dropping, and two powerful magnets mounted in a groove on the levelling surface are used to hold the level in place as the poles are levelled. My end users all thought that the quality was self-evident and robustness built –in. This is definitely a level that will find a space in many toolboxes.

 

Prolaser 5-Dot Self Levelling Laser Pointer

This is a simple and compact piece of laser technology that we wonder how we did without - it makes layouts so much simpler, since all dimensions can be done at the same time relative to each other.

In the black nylon case there is the laser, a laser target, a magnetic auxiliary mount and two AA batteries so it is ready to go on unpacking. The device is quite compact at only 95mm long,80mm high and 50mm wide. It has only one switch with indicators for power and laser on and a locking switch on the front releases the self-levelling mechanism. Underneath there is the all-important screw thread for a tripod that would be needed for setting the dots at the correct level needed.

With a range of up to 30m, using the laser target and a self-levelling accuracy of+- 4mm in 10 metres this little device is accurate enough for most layout tasks, and at a price tag that will soon see it pay for itself.

 

The Draper Range

This review looked at only three of the many levelling and marking products in the Draper range just to give a taste of what is available. Draper Expert products are aimed at trade and professional users, but keen amateurs would be wise to aim at this higher price point. Occasional users could look to cheaper Draper ranges that match their demands and skills, but truly, we have a range of kit that will do a good job – any blame for sloping brickwork will only attach to the user!

 

Aimed at: Pros and demanding DIYers who can appreciate the extra accuracy and quality needed for a good job.

Pros: well priced but well made with some unique features and good dial visibility.

 

 

Buckler Boots – KEZ and EAZY Hit the Road

Safety Footwear is a No-Brainer

I routinely wear safety footwear every working day just because it makes a huge amount of sense. But I am still surprised by how many tradespeople don’t. Before getting safety shoes, I had suffered from sore toes because of stuff that got dropped on them, and once I had a really nasty 4-inch nail through the bottom of a cleated rubber sole that narrowly avoided being serious.

Truth is, nowadays, there really isn’t a good reason not to invest in a pair of safety shoes, simply because there is a huge range of very good ones available at very good prices, in all sizes and many styles to suit just about anyone. I am actually spoilt since I have acquired a small range of shoes and boots that pretty well cover all my needs – indoors and out, wet and dry.

I was pleased to welcome the KEZ trainer and EAZY boot from Buckler Boots to my boot rack. They are a new addition to the wide range of Buckler Boots that includes not only safety footwear, but also non-safety footwear for walkers, farming and leisure related activities. A look at the Buckler Boots catalogue is very informative – in my view it has pretty well something for everyone.

The KEZ and EAZY styles have been launched only this summer, and are designed for the lighter use end of the market – light trades, driving, indoor maintenance and factory floor wear. This end of the market has different needs from the real heavy duty applications – the shoes and boots need to be lighter, and more in line with fashion trends. They also need to be supremely comfortable, since they are going to be worn for long stretches at a time, but could also afford to be less water protected than others intended for major outdoor use.

 

The KEZ

The first shoes I tried on for review were the KEZ and what made that decision for me was the weather – it has been blazing hot here in Sussex and I wanted a lighter style of shoe to wear to a job refurbishing and repairing an outdoor swimming pool. It was not only the heat factor that came into play here - a lot of the job involved working on my knees, so you need flexible footwear that allows your feet to bend easily when you are on your knees.

First impressions were great – they came fully laced and simply by loosening the laces a bit they could be slid onto my feet. The padded inside “soccerball” linings of the KEZ makes for instant comfort, and even my wide feet had enough room despite the fact that the shoes looked a lot like ordinary trainers.

They also feel quite light – not at all ”clompy” – you can actually walk quietly and lightly around indoors and they feel like trainers.

On my first day of wearing them I took a spare pair of workshoes with me in case the comfort factor ‘wore off’ during the day. I find it hard to work when I have sore feet! But, in fact, I went the whole day and the rest of the week wearing the KEZ without really noticing I had them on my feet – the sign of true comfort I think.
 

As you might have gathered, comfort is the number one priority for me, and that test was passed with flying colours, so I really ought to say something about the construction of the shoe to reassure readers that it is a safety shoe as well.

The upper is black KPU with a composite toecap and the Buckstop anti-static, anti-penetration, non-metallic midsole. It is heat (300 degree C) and oil resistant and is 100% non-metallic with a certified rubber slip resistant, non-marking sole and anti- scuff toecap. Not a bad package in a shoe that takes its design cues from sports and active wear designs. The all-important EN S1HRO SRC certification has been met in full, so users can take comfort that they are indeed ‘proper’ safety shoes despite the fashionable looks of them.

 

The EAZY BK

The EAZY boot style has the same design origins as the KEZ, in the sense that it is designed to look a bit less workboot and a lot more ‘fashionable’. The uppers are largely made of leather, and I am quite a sucker for the use of leather in footwear because I tend to find it more comfortable and ‘breathable’ than completely man made materials.  (I must admit the EAZY is changing my mind on this – a longer term wearing of both EAZY and KEZ might give me more info)

EAZY is also aimed at a similar audience – basically lighter trades that often work indoors where the non-marking sole is quite important. Delivery drivers shouldn’t leave black marks on the new laminate or tiled floors of offices.

The soles of both EAZY and KEZ are works of art in themselves because they have several areas designed to do different things. For example, the front and back sections of the sole have angular sipes that give extra grip on toes and heels for those occasions when the shoes are being worn outdoors. And it also has a large section in the middle, with deep ribs that provide easy grip on flat surfaces with a slightly raised heel for comfort.

Of course, the sole is also heat, oil, water and slip resistant, anti-static and meets the EN S3 HRO SRC certified requirements.

With a steel toecap there is a bit more of an obvious swell on the toe area of the boot, but I found that the cushion comfort insole made my feet feel safe and secure.

It does take a little more effort to get the boots on first thing since the laces come up higher on the ankle, but it is easy to find the comfort level. Like the KEZ trainers, within a short time of putting them on, I found that I hardly noticed them – my feet just felt comfortable. No doubt when the weather gets colder they will get a bit more of a run out – and I am certain that they will do the job well.

Buckler Boots are new to me, but my experience of them tells me that they are comfortable and well specified – they do the job well.  The list of testimonials from other users is a long one too, so Buckler Boots are definitely worth a look.

Aimed at: Professional wearers largely for regular indoor use

Pros: New sole design gives good grip, meets all the specs and very comfortable.

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