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

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 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 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.

Mirka DEROS and Abranet Abrasives - Perfect Partners?

Sanding is not nearly as much of a chore since the invention of random orbital sanders and longer lasting abrasives. Chuck in a few dust control and collection regulations and some new materials to be sanded, and what the various manufacturers' R&D teams come up with can be truly amazing. I was impressed with the Mirka CEROS sander I tested a few years ago, so I looked forward to trying out the Mirka DEROS to see how far things had come.

DEROS – Direct Electric Random Orbital Sander

The Mirka DEROS 5650CV 125/150 Orbit 5.0 Case UK – its full title – arrived in a bright yellow, custom-fitted sustainer case. It all felt a bit lightweight for an industrially rated sander – but fear not, the lightness is very much a virtue, and by no means a reflection of the performance of the tool. It was also accompanied by a variety of net sanding discs so that I could compare the performance of the machine and discs in various sanding applications.

The DEROS is a well specified and thoroughly modern sander – and its price reflects this. But it is also very well made, versatile enough to fit into a large number of work scenarios, both on site and in the workshop, and it reflects most of the current developments in sanding technology. So once again it is a case that you get what you pay for.

A Brief Run Down of Specs

  • Integrated vibration sensor
  • 5mm oscillation
  • Powerful brushless motor
  • Constant speed electronics
  • Built-in motor brake
  • Soft start
  • Motor speed control lever
  • Improved dust collection backing
  • Left- or right-handed use – or two-handed use
  • Lightest machine on the market
  • General or specialised sanding
  • 125mm or 150mm sanding pad options
  • Performance comparable to a standard 500w electric ROS

Anyone who appreciates sanders will look at the above list and immediately get the point that the DEROS is a cut above. But there are a couple of features that caught my eye as significantly important to follow up on. 

For instance, the DEROS has an integrated vibration sensor that can be connected via Bluetooth and the myMirka App (downloadable via Google Play and the Apple app store) that monitors the exposure to vibration of its user. Sanding machines rely on a vibratory movement in order to work, so it is clear that users will be subject to some hand/arm vibration. Most users stop sanding when their fingers tingle – but this is not a safe indicator – so a vibration monitor that gives accurate timings is going to be a good deal safer.

The other thing that is obvious is that the DEROS is actually so compact and light that it is simply easier to handle and manipulate when sanding. The on/off switch is inset into the body and the operator simply pushes down the lever on top of the body to start sanding. This lever invites left- or right-handed use, and when it is released the sander stops very quickly due to the motor brake. It is very easy to get used to the ease and sophistication of this sander and it will make you think about how other random orbital sanders work.

The Abrasives?

Mirka is well known for its development of net-based abrasives. These have the advantage of not having to have holes pierced into the sanding discs in order to allow the collection of dust. The hook-and-loop backing is efficient enough to give a good grip on the sanding pad, as well as allowing dust to be vacuumed clear.

I was given three types of abrasives to compare – Abranet, Abranet Ace and Abranet Ace HD – but users have an excellent choice depending on what they are sanding. I have used simple Abranet discs a lot, even on my other random orbital sanders, and I have always managed to get an excellent and, more to the point, quick finish on my work. An easy task it would seem, since I mostly sand wood and manmade boards. If I have a small criticism of the discs it would be that I mess up the rims of the discs because I sand too close to edges.

Abranet Ace abrasives were developed for more demanding sanding applications. By using ceramic abrasive grains, tougher hardwoods, like oak, are easily and quickly sanded. But it can also be used fruitfully on various industrial finishes and primers. I tried it on beech, elm and oak and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I could get a decent result. If I could put a figure on it, I reckoned I could get a comparable result about 20 to 25% quicker than using my ‘standard’ abrasive discs on my ‘standard’ ROS. 

The Abranet Ace HD discs I was sent even looked slightly different from the above mentioned ones. The ceramic grains seemed to be a bit more prominent and attached to the disc so that the abrasive surface was more noticeable. On the back the net also looked woollier and deeper with very pronounced gaps in the net structure that would clearly allow the sanding dust to be quickly cleared through it. I tried some 40 and 60 grit discs to sand down a large area of wall that had to be prepared for painting. I have to say that the results were very impressive – to the point where I actually went up a few grades so that the sanding wouldn’t be too aggressive and destroy the plaster surface.

I tried something similar on painted wood and the job literally took a few minutes to clear the frame of a door back to the wood through several layers of old paint. Impressive – and time saving.

Perfect Partners?

The answer is of course, a definite yes. Having a lightweight and very efficient sander combined with some hard working and effective sanding discs is a winning combination. In truth, I am going to miss the DEROS a great deal when it goes back because I can genuinely say that it has saved me time and effort on the jobs I did with it. Hopefully I can hang onto it a few weeks longer...

Wera 2go Helps Us To Get Organised

Systems, Systems….

Regular users of Wera tools will know that the brand is well known for its systemisation. The tools are cunningly designed to work together to help users solve fixing and driving conundrums, as well as helping users like me maintain some semblance of organisation. Wera does this with careful tool presentation in wallets etc, and by making tool identification as easy as possible.

But most trades will identify with the following problem – even though all your tools may be organised into neat rolls and wallets in a toolbox, we don’t want to carry the whole box to the work point. So we do the next best thing – take a couple of handfuls of wallets and tool rolls and hope that there aren’t any unforeseen tool needs that come up. But wouldn’t it be good to have a quick method of carrying the tools – perhaps gathered from the workshop as well as the van – in a way that keeps them all organised, together and in an easy-to-carry (including up a ladder) format?

As ever, Wera designers have got there before us with the launch of the new 2go System, and regular Wera users will recognise on the 2go the wide use of hook and loop fixings and strong black nylon cases. I was sent several items of 2go, and even just unpacking the boxes and trying out various permutations I could start to appreciate just how clever 2go is.

Good news for retailers is that Wera has continued to develop the use of its high-quality, distinctive packaging. This sends all the right messages of quality and desirability that make for better sales and pride of ownership.

Wera 2go modular tool bags

All the pieces I was sent had the distinctive matt black packaging with slick modern logos, clear illustrations of the contents and an animation of how it could be used, so potential customers could be clear on what to buy and how to use its features to their optimum capacity.

I will start with what I think is the basic piece, the 2go 1. This looks like a little black evening bag at first glance, but it is in fact a semi-rigid piece of strong black nylon fabric folded in the middle with four faces. Inside and out it is covered with big patches of hook and loop material. Over the fold there is a loop handle sewn in, but to this can be attached an adjustable shoulder strap. The strap has a padded middle section (with the distinctive Wera logo on it) for easy carrying. In this form the 2go 1 is a blank canvas onto which many other things can be easily attached and then carried to the worksite in a convenient and organised way. Users who already have other Wera tools, like the rigid-walleted Zyklop and socket sets, will be able to attach these to the 2go 1 (on both sides) since they have the necessary hook and loop strips on them. I did try to attach as many of these wallets as I could – and it will carry a surprising amount of stuff – but the advice is don’t exceed 15kgs. Frankly, more than enough tools for one shoulder.

The most distinctive part of the 2go set in my view is the 2go 2. It consists of three pieces – the shoulder strap, the tool caddy pouch and the big rigid box - like a tool case. This case is 35cm wide, 34cm tall and 11cm deep, so is spacious enough to hold a good deal. But after a close examination I came to appreciate how versatility has been designed in. For example, in order to allow as much flexibility to attach smaller wallets, the outside – the front, back and sides – has hook and loop material attached to it. The front panel can also be folded down for easy access to the tools inside – and then the folded panel also has hook and loop attached. This increases the user’s ability to attach the wallets needed, as well as being able to work from the open case.

A similar arrangement on the lid, which can be folded right back flat, means that wallets can be attached here too.

The fact that the case has a big, flat base to enable it to stand upright on an even surface is also really helpful.

It wouldn’t be out of place to carry a small cordless drill driver and spare battery in the spacious main body of the case, but the third part of the 2go 2 comes into its own here. This is a tool caddy with adjustable compartments and its own nylon handle that is perfect for carrying the myriad of different screwdrivers we need to have with us these days. Since the screwdrivers can be arranged handle-up, we can take advantage of the fact that Wera drivers can be identified easily by the engraved marks on the top of the handles and their new Tool Finder colour code system, thus saving time and hassle.

The big, padded, adjustable shoulder strap has strong nylon lock-on clips that attach it to the tool case so that it can be carried easily, or even taken up a ladder to the work point.

The last piece of the set is the 2go 3. This is simply a large rigid wallet about 32cm long, 14cm high and 8cm deep with its own small carry handle sewn in. It is a great ‘hold all’ for spanners, pliers, cutters and even a small hammer. We all need a case like this for ‘unclassified’ or loose tools that are needed but don’t have to be organised into a set. A wide strip of hook and loop on the back of the case means that it is equally at home attached to the 2go 2 or the 2go 1, or attached to a space in the van or workshop.

There will surely be the naysayers who defy organisation and the 2go concept, but increasingly I see people onsite who have embraced organisation because they see that it saves time and bother. Time spent looking for tools is wasted time and clients don’t like it. The sheer flexibility of the 2go sets will allow users to customise their tools for particular jobs as well as minimising the need to lug a huge toolbox to the work point. Wera Tool Rebels won’t need convincing – they probably helped suggest the idea in the first place!

Fein Dustex 35 MX AC Extractor

Portable M Class Extraction for Improved Dust Safety

Cleaning up on many worksites and workshops still consists of a sweep round with a broom, thus actually raising the dust levels considerably. More recently, trades have been adopting vacuum extraction for power tools and then for the final clear up of the client’s floor. Vacs are a great improvement, especially for the lungs of the end users, but even more recently, the rules and our knowledge have changed. Vacs that were considered good enough (L class machines) are now thought to be failing.

What we need are M or H class vacuum extractors if we really want to do a good job of cleaning up dust from source. According to the EC regs, an M Class machine should filter out 99.9% of all non-carcinogenic dust, while H class vacs should filter out 99.995% of health-endangering dust, including dust with germs and bacteria, and asbestos.

But the cost of the extra dust protection is high. A simple L class vacuum cleaner can cost less than £70. A typical good M class machine is more likely to be in the £4-500 price bracket, while H class machines can be over £1000 depending on capacity and function. Healthy breathing is as essential to life as eating – we have a responsibility to ourselves and others to control, capture and minimise dust wherever possible, especially the silica and wood dusts most associated with building sites.

Being mainly a woodworker I try to capture wood dust straight from the power tool concerned – some are easier than others. But it really helps if you have a vacuum extractor that is flexible enough to use in a workshop or on site, with all the fittings needed for cleaning a floor as well as extracting from a variety of machines. Enter the Fein Dustex 35MX AC – a machine that I will be loath to say goodbye to at the end of my tests. There are many things to like about it, so let’s start with a few features.

For ease of handling the Fein is up there because it has 5 metres of ‘proper’ tough 35mm diameter corrugated hose. It also has about 7 metres of heavy-duty rubberised electric cable, making the ‘working circle’ about 12 metres – enough for much site work. These also make it easy to position the vac out of the way for avoiding trip hazards.

Movement of the machine is pretty easy on its four wheels (front wheels are braked) and the 18cm diameter back wheels are big enough to run over rough stuff and be easier when going upstairs.

​Aimed at: Discerning users who want efficient dust collection from tools and floors etc  Pros: Powerful vacuum, adjustable, easy to use, power tool friendly.

Controls on the 35 MX are easy to understand and operate. The auxiliary power take off takes a standard plug and when a power tool is plugged in there is a decent run-on time after switching off the tool to collect any dust remaining in the hose. There is also a dial for adjusting the hose diameter if needed - up to 50mm diameter down to 15mm for use on small hoses needed for smaller power tools. The suction rate can be adjusted too – some things don’t need full power to extract properly.

There is also a switch for auto cleaning. Once engaged this allows the machine to unclog the filters while in use and this is when you will hear a sort of ‘boomp boomp’ sound as it clears.

I really liked the short tubular metal push handle that makes moving the Dustex easy. If you don’t need it, it can be unscrewed via two knobs on the base.

Much provision is made for storing the various accessories that come with the machine. The cable can be wound around the handle and the hose around the body so that it is fairly compact to move. Rubber bungees are provided to help hold things in place in transit.

Another little touch is that the top of the filter housing is shaped flat to hold a typical Fein toolcase so that tools and extraction can travel together.

Inside the large, 35l body the pleated box filter is tucked away so as not to interfere with space for collecting dust. This is easy to replace, provided you protect yourself from the inevitable dust on the filter. Simply lift the back part of the top of the casing and the filter is pulled out with two fingers.

Accessories are generous and suitable for workshop or site use. The two-part tubular pole can have a floor cleaner, nozzle or brush fitting on it and all the press fits are safe and secure, and dust free. The base can be lined with a plastic bag or paper dust bag for safer emptying and disposal of waste, and of course you can collect water with it straight into the base.

What impressed me with the Fein Dustex was the power of its suction. It really is an efficient machine with lots of airflow to keep the work area clean – whether it is from a circular saw or a static machine like a router table. It is also remarkably well behaved and easy to use because it has been well designed and thought out in the first place. It is the sort of machine that will be used because it is not a hassle to get it connected, or change from one function to another.

I used it both on site and in my workshop. In the workshop it kept the router table surface clean and dust free despite having to be connected via an adaptor. The noise levels are not bad and cleaning floors at the end of the day was a doddle. On site the client asked to have a go with it because her domestic cleaner was making no impression on the dust left by the decorators and their rather pathetic vacuum cleaner. Even the decorators asked about it once they noticed how efficient the clean-up was and it gave me an opportunity to tell them a bit more about adequate dust protection. A paper mask won’t always cut it!

There are lots of things to like about this machine and in my view it should definitely be on a shortlist of M class vacuums - now that we should all be doing something about workplace dust.

The DC Tromb 400 - Feel the Power of Dustcontrol!

Controlling dust is a circumstantial business – there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The dust extractor used by a one-man trade operation is bound to be different from that used by an industrial user. Step forward the DC Tromb 400 from Dustcontrol UK. Compared to the normal portable vacuums I use on site, it is a monster, weighing in at about 50Kgs all up. It stands over 1.5 m tall on its huge back puncture-proof wheels, and the rear handle is definitely needed to trundle it around. That being said, it is quite a controllable monster. I made a point of wheeling it about to photograph it, and when I was using it to clean up some ready-prepared detritus. One person can move it and control it easily, and the braked front wheels allow it to be held stationary when needed. Even moving up and down stairs, the DC Tromb 400 is easily a one-person job, and it will fit comfortably through a standard-sized doorframe.

The DC Tromb 400 - Feel the Power of Dustcontrol

The intended end users for this machine are definitely at the more dangerous silica-dust-based top-end of the market – think floor grinders and concrete grinders – where near perfect dust extraction is not only desirable, but necessary. The DC Tromb 400 will cope with the dust from a floor grinder, with a working width of 500mm or a large electric cut-off saw.

To cope with these dangerous dusts the machine has to be enormously powerful, with suction enough to whip away the dust particles, as well as having the ancillary features to protect users from leakage etc. The joints in hoses, dust gates and so on need to be perfect. The 115-volt DC Tromb 400 I was loaned has a 2680W motor that is remarkably quiet in operation – a mere 70dB(A) – quieter than some small portable machines I have used.

The flow rate of air through the 75mm diameter inlet is 330m3/hr - that's enough to give you a bit of pause for thought if you hold your hand over the end! How to explain a big love bite on your hand?

The next big item to consider is the corrugated anti-static hose that is sometimes overlooked in terms of importance, but is, in fact, key to the overall performance of the machine. With an outside diameter of 60mm it is wide enough to pull in the quite large pieces of debris that might be generated when cleaning up around concrete cutting or grinding sites, or most likely when cleaning up on a general building site. The machine end of the hose has a generous rubber fitting that can be pushed far onto the inlet spout so that the dust and air seal is perfect. At the other end is a ribbed spout that will not only fit the cleaning head supplied, but a range of other accessories too. The hose is quite heavy because it is heavy duty and resists kinking and even the odd clumsy foot that stands on it. But it is very flexible and stretchy to reach into quite small gaps.

DC Tromb 400

We are quite used to the common use of plastic to make the body of many small dust extraction machines, but the DC Tromb 400 is solidly made from welded sheet steel with a tubular steel frame to support it. It looks as though the whole machine would be able to take a few knocks and still be able to function, and since this could be a hire machine, it needs to be solidly built to be ‘hire-proof’.

Ease of use is a big factor in making effective use of dust extraction. It is no use collecting all the dust and then raising even more dust as you attempt to empty the machine. The variant of the Tromb 400 I used has a simple and effective system of emptying the dust bag. Debris and dust is collected into what looks like a clear plastic shopping bag with handles. To remove the bag, a tight strap around the base of the machine needs to be loosened and the bag released and tied-off for safety. The new bag can be eased on and the handles hung over the small hooks on each side of the base. The strap is then pulled tight against a rubber sealing ring on the body to ensure a dust-free seal.

Dustcontrol Tromb 400 Vacuum

For collecting wood dust and shavings and concrete dust, Dustcontrol recommends a pre-separator that not only allows much larger amounts of dust and chippings to be collected, but also protects the filters from clogging with fine dust, thus extending their service life.

There are other variants that can be used to optimise the dust collection and ease of use of the Dustcontrol range of machines, so potential clients need to ask which ones are available.

Accessing the filters is easy - simply unclip the top of the main body and the round hepa filter can be removed, revealing the conical main filter underneath. Such is the quality of filter protection on the Tromb, the hepa filter looked clean despite being a well-used demo machine. One of the factors in maintaining a dust extractor is how often the expensive filters need to be replaced, and it is a fact that Dustcontrol can save you money – for example, the average life of one of its hepa filters is around 12 months. Filter cleaning is also helped by the semi-automatic cleaning system provided – simple to use and very quick – and it means that there is no messy and potentially unsafe filter cleaning required onsite.

The thing that most first time users will notice is that the DC Tromb 400 has amazing suction power. I am willing to bet that if you attached the heavy-duty floor cleaning attachment and ran it down the average garden path you would collect a lot more than you bargained for – even down to pebbles and stones upwards of 25mm in size. I managed to create a dust-free concrete floor in my workshop with a couple of passes of the rugged cast alloy head cleaning tool, and it would be the same when cleaning up the floor on a building site. The cyclone-based suction and filtration provided by its class H extraction rating puts it into the top range of safe dust collection, and end users should consider this when purchasing – better to go to the top than to end up having to repurchase as needs change. The cyclone system also means that suction power remains consistent for longer. All portable Dustcontrol UK machines are H class rated – it might make choice easier?

So, I still think that the DC Tromb 400 is a monster compared to some of the machines I have used, but it is a well-mannered monster that is easy to move around, has phenomenal suction performance, and, with its H class rating, will remove dangerous silica dust from the worksite. For your own lung safety it should be on your shortlist.

Aimed at: Professionals who need excellent dust control and collection.

Pros: H Class as standard, and robust construction for a long working life.


Bosch Builds-in Connectivity

The Future for Tools Too?

It seems as though we need ‘Smart’ everything nowadays. Smartphones, Smartmeters and Smart apps are needed to control everything, from our diaries to our heating systems, so it is only a small step to investigate how connectivity can improve our tools and the way we use them. In this regard, Bosch has taken the lead by introducing a small range of six connected tools for what Bosch has amusingly called the ‘Millennitool Generation.’ Bosch has started simply with the small range of ‘connected’ tools but has cleverly future-proofed the designs by allowing the tools to be upgraded via the changeable tool modules and the free downloadable App that accompanies the packages.

Bosch is definitely on to something, because I will bet that there isn’t a building or worksite in the land that does not have its workers constantly consulting their smartphones for everything, from finding lunch locally to online ordering of some new tool or fixture needed.

The basis of the tool connectivity is the well-established Bluetooth model for sending or receiving data. While Bluetooth doesn’t have a long range (about 30m with no obstacles in the way) it is nevertheless a very handy way of connecting.

There is no better way of finding out the wrinkles than trying it yourself, and fortunately Bosch had sent me a sample of the GSB 18V-60 C Professional brushless cordless combi on which to try it out. On the main handle of the drill, just below the trigger, is a small screw cap that conceals the battery and connectivity module. To activate it simply remove the cap and the insulating strip from the battery top and retighten the cap.

Loading the Bosch Toolbox App is as simple as finding it in the Appstore and clicking to download it. This took only a few minutes and I found the app commendably simple to use, even without my glasses, and on a small smartphone screen! By simply pressing the drill’s trigger, thereby alerting Bluetooth that the tool was in the vicinity, I was very soon informed of the exact model of drill on my screen and that the battery needed charging! So, I did what I was told and recharged the battery and had another try. By clicking on the image of the drill I was informed of its factory status in terms of the LED light and the kickback settings, the battery charge and the precision clutch. A whole lot more information from run times to kickback activations is available on the menu so that you can get a really detailed picture of how the drill has been used. The perfect way to check up on the people who borrow your tools or indeed, valuable info for a service department.

In Europe, apparently, it is common for companies to provide their workers with tools, and this connectivity system is an ideal way for these companies to identify, find, service and maintain their tools. In the UK it is much more common for trades to have responsibility for their own tools, so on the face of it, it would seem that the connectivity is not needed as much. Since the connectivity module is an option, users can choose to buy into it or not. However, I offer this observation: having had the opportunity to observe at an electronic level the performance and capability of the drill after a couple of weeks, I became fascinated with the ability to change and control it, look at usage patterns and generally keep an eye on it. So, almost in spite of myself, I started to buy into the system. I am also keen to find out how the system might be developed in the future, since both the app and the module can be easily updated at very little cost. Increasingly, this might become the way in which service intervals and safety concerns can be highlighted. Should Bluetooth change or another tracking system be developed, theft could be combatted or longer range remote location could be developed.  My guess is that once the system has bedded in, users will start making suggestions for uses and developments, and like a lot of things these days, the system will only be limited by the imagination and ingenuity of Bosch and its end users. Not to mention that both Bosch and end users will benefit from accurate information about uses, service information, purchase dates and guarantees.

It is clear that Bosch has put some thought into choosing the other tools that are part of the ‘connected’ range. Recently I have been using laser cross-levels quite a lot for everything from tiling to locating and levelling handrails on stairs. The new range of GCL 2-50 C and CG Professional Line lasers, available since the beginning of April, have a few features that would make my life easier. For example, with the laser in locked position and fixed to a firm base, it would be possible to move the laser beam by using a smartphone as a control – even if you are perched on a ladder on the other side of the room tracking the laser beam’s position. A lot easier than trying to ease it into place guided by a couple of tiny pencil marks on a wall and your mate’s instructions. I definitely want to try one of those!

Bosch Builds-in Connectivity

Some of the other ‘connected tools’ are the GSB 18V-85 Professional Combi drill and drill drivers, and the GWS 18V-125 Professional angle grinder. These have state-of-the-art EC brushless motors and electronic control systems to prevent kickback and overheating. Some other tools, like inspection cameras and damp and humidity meters, are ideal candidates for the modular treatment, since they can be remotely connected to report back to clients on the findings of the instruments.

Bosch clearly wants its users to embrace the ‘Millennitools’ and their connectivity and avoid being stuck in ‘Neandertool’ times. I like innovation, not always for its own sake, and I can see that Bosch’s connectivity system, because it is so flexible and future-proofed, will be widely adopted.

 Bosch Builds-in Connectivity

ZIPP Mini Air Sander from Master Abrasives

Dinky Sanding With Fine Control

Most of us will use an abrasive at some point in our lives and most will not give a second thought about where the abrasive came from or what brand it was.  But we would notice if it was ineffective in use – and maybe even complain about it!

However, there is also a large group of professionals who depend on using abrasives every working day, and they generally do care - passionately - about the quality and cost of the abrasives they use, because they need speed, accuracy, consistency and efficiency in their abrasives to do a good job.

Master Abrasives, based in Daventry, Northamptonshire, has been supplying abrasives in the UK for nearly fifty years, and over that time has built a reputation for providing high quality products and professional service under the MASTER brand.

With four distinctive business units - MASTER Precision Abrasives, MASTER Surface Finishing, MASTER Tool Services and MASTER Grinding Machines, the company aims to cover the specialist needs in UK industries for abrasives, machinery and grinding. Working to ISO standard 9001, the company has set a benchmark for others in the UK to follow.

I was sent an intriguing little set to try out – a new product – the ZIPP Mini Air Sander. It comes in a self-contained custom case with all the discs and pads needed to prepare a panel for finishing and painting, for example. This is what you get in the case: -

  • 3" Mini Sander (ZP386A) 1pc
  • Medium Density Holder Pad 1pc
  • 60 Grit MASTER Zirconium Quick Change Sanding Disc 10 pcs
  • 80 Grit MASTER Zirconium Quick Change Sanding Disc 10 pcs
  • 120 Grit MASTER Zirconium Quick Change Sanding Disc 10 pcs
  • Coarse Surface Conditioning Quick Change Disc 1pc
  • Medium Surface Conditioning Quick Change Disc 1pc
  • Fine Surface Conditioning Quick Change Disc 1pc

It was of course the little  ZIPP Mini Sander that really caught my eye – it is indeed mini – just big enough to fit into one hand. It feels heavy and robust – but air tools need to be constructed to withstand a bit of air pressure so that is to be expected. The ZIPP Mini sander has a good quality rubberised grip, a black trigger just big enough for one finger, and a speed control button on the back above the handle. Turn the button to the left for a slower speed and to the right for high speed. In high speed mode, you can hear the revs going by the hint of the air tool whine. Exhaust air is ejected downwards from the bottom of the handle, above the inlet adaptor, where it shouldn’t cause any problems with the dust caused by the sanding.

In operation, the ZIPP Mini sander has such good bearings that there is no vibration and very little noise apart from the air escaping. I also found that it was easy to control and move to reach patches where you needed to work. The choice of speeds also adds to the controllability, because at high speeds the amount of material that can be removed is considerable considering that the discs are only 75mm in diameter.

Attaching the various discs and surface conditioning disc is very easy. On the back of each disc is a metal nipple with a simple single thread on it. The nipple is fitted to the recess on the Mini sander rubber platen and turned clockwise to lock it into place. I was worried that the discs might not sit flat on the platen or might come loose. However, in use, I found that this system was perfectly secure as the action of the sander tends to tighten the disc onto the tool. Because the rubber platen is slightly flexible it is possible to shape it to curves and bumps on the workpiece, within reason, without the edges of the abrasive cutting in. Experience with the tool will improve your skills in this area!

I did try a sample of every grade of the abrasive discs as well as the three surface conditioning discs.

The abrasive used on the discs is Zirconium, which is a high quality, long lasting and efficient abrasive often used on metals. The discs themselves are cloth backed and slightly flexible, and the nipple appears to be glued on with a strong enough glue to resist the inevitable heat and pressure of sanding. For a really quick removal of rust, coatings, paint etc the 60 grit discs make short work of the job. There is quite a force on the tool so you need to be careful to position it correctly to ensure that you get a good job without the tool twisting. But with the small discs you can reach into smaller crevices and joints that might not be possible with a bigger machine.

I largely used the ZIPP Mini sander to help me clean up some light steel shelves and components before repainting them and putting them back into use. With my trusty small 8 BAR compressor (all air tools should run at 7 bar maximum, otherwise will shorten the life of the tool), I found that I had easily enough air pressure for continuous work, even at the higher speed.

As I have mentioned before, preparation of the tool for working is simple and quick, as is selecting the appropriate discs - I found that the 60 grit was just too rough on the paint removal job, so I stuck to the 80 and 120 grits. I did find myself leaving a few semi-circular score marks, but that is due to my lack of practice rather than the tool. Once the paint was cleaned, I applied the medium and fine surface conditioning discs and ended up with a surface that was nearly mirror-like. More than I needed for a simple paint job on top, but it was worth a try to see how perfect it could be.

I can see that this tool set would have many uses for several reasons. The kit of discs and air tool come in a small case so are easy to store and carry. The simple addition of a small compressor makes it ready to use, so trades working out of the back of vans doing small repainting jobs and repairs would find it useful – as long as they remembered to replenish the discs when they were worn!



Multi-Purpose Rectangular Sanding Plates from National Abrasives

Take Your Pick for a Job Well Done!

Piece by piece in the last few months, we at ToolBUSINESS+HIRE Magazine have been revealing the sanding system developed in partnership with and marketed by National Abrasives. Starting with the round and rectangular pole sanders, each new component has added to the versatility of the system. So, this month we have the rectangular sanders to look at.

I was sent four samples and a variety of sanding sheets so that I could explore just how versatile the extra components added to the system are. 

As I have come to expect, the quality of the sanding plates is very high. Made from yellow nylon plastic they are rigid and will not distort even under the pressure of pole sanding. As is common with the round and corner sanders we looked at earlier, the handles are interchangeable. It takes just a few seconds to swap from the nicely grippy D handle to a universal joint into which the professional (and excellently rigid) glass fibre pole can be screwed.

There is also currently a choice between methods of holding the abrasive to the plates – hook-and-loop or clips. I am not such a fan of clips, and hook-and-loop has come on so well that it seems like a no-brainer to me. However, when I was working with some decorators last week they said they preferred clips. I guess choice is the name of the game.

On the clip versions of the sanding plates there is a thin sheet of padded, hard foam rubber on the base of the plate, to provide a bit of ‘give’ needed in some sanding situations where the sanded surface is a bit more sensitive. The clips are also a much better design than the tedious spring clips I am used to on some sanders. The plate has a series of six small spikes that pierce the sanding sheet as it is pulled over – and then, before your fingers get spiked, the clip is brought down until it engages. My experience was that these clips didn’t fail and the sanding sheet stayed firmly in place however hard you pressed them to the sanding surface.

The other option on the sole plate was a simple sheet of hook-and-loop straight onto the rigid base of the sander. Again, the handle/universal joints were interchangeable in seconds, but this rigid base is good for sanding stubborn lumps of filler into submission when trying to get a flat surface to the wall. Or indeed, it is equally at home sanding a flat sheet of timber/ply or whatever.

Having used some of the other accessories on the round wall sander, I am pleased to see that the washable sponge and cloths have been catered for with these sanding plates. I am converted to the use of the hook-and-loop-backed sponge for wiping down after initial sanding, and the microfibre cloth is a must for every serious decorator and builder. The sponge is also used for tiling and grout removal, making this a great multi-purpose tool.

These rectangular plates all add up to valuable additions to the Multi-Purpose Sander System. The good thing is it won’t cost a fortune to add these to a set – and all the bits are compatible!


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