National Abrasives Introduce Sianet

National Abrasives Introduce Sianet

It may come as a surprise to end-users that there are relatively few manufacturers of abrasives in the world. What they generally produce for mass consumer markets are so-called ‘jumbo rolls’ some of which are sold to other companies who in turn convert the jumbo rolls into various forms of abrasive that can be used by consumers. So, that 5 metre roll of abrasive for decorators, flat sheets, delta shapes or various round discs with fancy hole patterns to aid dust extraction, are all made from huge rolls of abrasive that are as tall as a person and weigh much more.

National Abrasives, based in Reigate in Surrey, is a major player in the UK in converting Jumbo rolls into ‘end-usable’ formats of ‘sandpaper’ for consumers. National Abrasives has recently launched its range of mesh-backed abrasive sheets that covers pretty well all the available formats of hook-and-loop based sanding machines. Until recently, there has been little competition in the mesh-backed abrasives market for general users, but the decision of National Abrasives to source mesh-backed abrasives from one of the most famous names in ‘sandpaper’, Sia, has immediately added another dimension to the competition.

Sia Abrasives is a Swiss company with a long history. Founded in 1867 it has been making abrasives and innovating for over a hundred years and is renowned for the quality of its abrasives. The abrasive grits used on the sianet mesh-backed abrasives is blue-fired aluminium oxide that is extremely hard, and therefore long lasting, with a high resistant fabric backing.

The abrasive grains are applied using a special coating method that coats the mesh parts of the backing, but also leaves the gaps between the mesh open for easy transition of the sanding dust through it.

The sianet mesh uses a hook-and-loop fixing that, in my view, is the best way of attaching an abrasive to a sanding machine because it keeps the abrasive sheets flat and firmly fixed. The old-fashioned method of using spring-loaded clips is clumsy and very often ineffective, to say the least. Sianet’s method of attaching the abrasive grains to the mesh keeps them free of the fastening loops and this makes for a secure and long-lasting fixing to the sander platen.

National Abrasives Introduce Sianet

I was sent a huge variety of National Abrasive’s range of mesh-backed abrasive sheets to try out. These included half, quarter and third sheet formats for platen sanders, large and small delta formats, including the delta shapes that look more like the base of an ordinary steam iron. There was also a selection of discs to fit my favourite 125mm and 150mm diameter random orbit sanders. I use these regularly and they are the mainstay of my sanding operations, be it on painted walls or fine furniture.

If I am not mistaken, there will soon be mesh-backed belt sander belts available from National Abrasives as well.

There is a good range of grits available in the above formats too - typically from P80 to P400 – so there should be enough to cover everything from first coat sanding and paintwork to the fine finishing required for an oil or polished finish.

What is very noticeable when handling the abrasives is that the abrasive surfaces are so sharp that they tend to cling to your fingers – surely an indication of how the abrasive grains will perform when they finally get to work – and of course a good thing that they are!

However, there was a little surprise in each pack of abrasives – the blue Dust Director Pad. This is a millimetre thin pad that has a multitude of holes in the surface. They are not random – they are designed to fit the various dust collection holes in the myriad of makes of sanders on the market. The pad has a set of hooks on one surface and a set of loops on the other and is attached to the sandpaper by the hooks and to the sander by the loops. The Dust Director Pad is therefore an interface between the disc and the sander platen and the object of it is to create a small gap through which dust particles can travel more quickly when the sander is connected to a vacuum extractor.

National Abrasives Introduce Sianet

To be honest, all of my regularly used sanders have been chosen because of their sanding performance and their ability to collect dust well, using either a dust bag or extractor. It keeps customers happy and my lungs healthy.

I tried using the mesh-backed sianet pads on my sanders and it was clear that more dust was being extracted to the vacuum machine. The usual puff of dust occurred as you sand over an edge for example, but that seems to be unavoidable using traditional sanders. So, when I attached the Dust Director Pads I was interested to see whether they made a difference as to how much dust was collected. It is clear that the pads create just enough of a gap to increase the effective ‘pull’ from the vacuum extractor and clear the path to the various dust extraction holes for more efficient extraction. Even sanding up to the edges seemed to be an improvement, with the puff of dust as the telltale sign virtually eliminated. The result is the multi-hole Dust Director pad with the sianet without doubt collects more dust than any other product seen on the market.

Whatever format of sanding machine you use, they will give quick results and a smooth finish. In fact the sianet abrasive has out performed any other mesh abrasive I have used, with the edges of the sheets performing very well and the harder grit making for a much longer lasting product. 
With the extra dust extraction provided by the Dust Director Pads, users can feel that they are maximising the possibilities of collecting most dust safely. The dangers of exposure to dust are now becoming fully understood and it makes no sense for anyone exposed to dust to ignore the possible effects. The National Abrasive sianet abrasives, linked with the Dust Director Pads and a quality M or H class vacuum extractor should provide some confidence to users that the dangers of dust exposure are being minimised.

Aimed at: Pros and discerning amateurs who want effective and almost completely free sanding with machines.

Pros: Long lasting Sianet abrasive, dust director pads give excellent dust collection and all the formats you need for all machines.

Hitachi NT1865DBSL Brushless Straight Finish Nailer

Hitachi NT1865DBSL Brushless Straight Finish Nailer

There have been quite a few projects I have worked on where the use of a good finish nailer would have been great – especially one not limited by a cord or a compressor.

Many of the finish nailers I have tried, either cordless or corded have worked well enough, but I have always had the feeling that if they drive a nail well, then the ‘wind-up’ before the nail hammer struck was too long. Or if the reaction to the trigger was quick, then the nail driving was unconvincing. It is therefore so good to use a cordless machine that drives the nail instantly, as soon as the trigger is pressed, with the ‘clunk’ of authority that tells you that the nail is well and truly driven home. This Hitachi will convince its users that it is completely up to the job, and I am sure that it will gain many satisfied users. Certainly, if reaction to this tool in the US so far is reflected in the UK, then Hitachi UK will have to work hard to keep up with demand.

Some of the effectiveness of this nailer must be due to the fact that it uses one of the latest Hitachi brushless motors. Generally more efficient, quieter, more powerful and maintenance-free due to being sealed units, brushless motors have been the other side of the Lithium Ion revolution by allowing Li-Ion battery packs to deliver more runtime, etc, because of their relative efficiency.  So look forward to up to 1500 nails per charge on the compact 3Ah battery packs supplied with the machine, as well as smooth operation and less maintenance.

Hitachi NT1865DBSL Brushless Straight Finish Nailer

Picking it up straight out of the box the Hitachi follows the design pattern of other nailers with its big top cover and driving head with a handle and nail magazine attached. With a 3 Ah battery it weighs in at 3.3 Kgs so is neither too light nor too heavy. It needs a bit of weight to minimise recoil, but also needs to be light enough to use all day without you becoming fatigued. However, even after a few minutes of handling it is clear that Hitachi has done quite a lot of homework on this design. The operating handle is well designed with good rubber gripping liberally, but sensibly, placed. The handle is small enough to get a good hold on it for either left or right handers, and there are other strategic bumpers of rubber placed over the body so that the tool can be put down safely or even sustain a few bumps without damage.

The nail magazine is largely made of rugged plastic that is both light and strong. Loading it with nails (it will take 16 Gauge straight nails from 25mm to 65mm long) is very simple – simply pull back the spring-loaded nail feeder, push down the lever to allow the nails to slip by and then release the nail feeder where it applies a delicate pressure to the nail strip to ensure a gentle feed. The nail strips have fifty nails per strip and this nailer will hold a couple of strips – easily enough to be getting on with work without too many interruptions.

Hitachi NT1865DBSL Brushless Straight Finish Nailer

The business end of the nailer – the all-important hammer pin and nose mechanism - are strongly made in cast metal and plastic. I particularly liked the optional round plastic nose on the end of the firing head. It is mounted on two sprung metal columns that have to be pushed at least 12 to 15mm down onto the work for the trigger to fire – this makes it hard to accidentally fire the nailer. Secondly, the plastic nose gives you a sort of target to aim at where the nail should go, so it was easy to be more accurate in placing your nails, and it also protected the workpiece from damage. If I used this machine regularly I would be tempted to keep this cap on permanently.  

I actually never needed to remove the nose cover for real to unblock a nail stoppage, despite using all of the nails that were sent with the test machine (firing nails effortlessly into a fencepost can be quite therapeutic as well as being called research) but when I did it, just to check how to do it, the process is simple and involves pushing the lock lever forward which unhooks the nose assembly, revealing the stuck nail.

Setting the depth for nail driving is done via a knurled wheel on the nose – it takes a bit of trial and error depending on timber hardness and nail size but is not difficult to do.

Safety with nailers is very important and the instruction booklet is comprehensive as well as very careful to point out the safety requirements when loading nails or unblocking a nail stoppage for example. You really can’t say you didn’t know.

On the back inside of the operating handle is a little display panel that informs the user of several things. First of all, in the middle is the power switch. Once a battery is installed, this is where the tool is turned on or off. Next to this is a battery indicator switch that shows via a couple of LEDs what the state of the battery is – if it blinks at you then it is time to recharge the battery.

Finally, there is a mode switch to select single or continuous firing modes. Continuous mode is great – just push the machine into the workpiece and it fires – it makes for very fast work.

An extra layer of safety is added by the addition of another on/off switch on the handle. This is deeply recessed to avoid being switched accidentally and it does mean that careful users will always show that they are ready to use the machine intentionally and it helps keep little fingers from fiddling and unintentionally firing the nail gun.

Another feature on the body is a reversible hook for hanging the machine on a handy rafter or whatever. The hook itself can be folded away so that it does not catch.

Packed with features as it is, the Hitachi NT1865DBSL cordless nailer will, in my view, be purchased for one thing only – its sheer performance. With an instant response to the trigger and proper nail-driving power it’s a gutsy tool that will deliver again and again.

Aimed at: Professional second fix carpenters, shopfitters, etc

Pros: No trigger lag, powerful enough to drive a 65mm nail, light and very effective. Try one – amazing!

STIXALL Double Sided Tape

STIXALL Double Sided Tape

This is a Stick Up!

‘Normal’ double-sided tape does a job, but it does have a few problems in use. It is usually made as thin as a standard sticky tape, and that can create some problems in handling. Sticking the first bit down is easy because it comes off the roll sticky-side ready – but then getting the backing off to reveal the second sticky side is where having long fingernails and a knack with double-sided tape is very handy. Also, once stuck, the ‘stick’ on some double-sided tapes is not particularly strong, so to be safe, standard double-sided tapes should not be used for hanging objects more than a couple of hundred grams in weight.

This leaves the market open for a double-sided tape with real bonding strength that is also invisible and will stick on most smooth-ish substrates. It is not fashionable to reveal fixing points these days so it is great to have a solution like STIXALL double-sided tape.

STIXALL Tape comes in a 19mm wide by 2.5m long roll and the blurb says it will bond on virtually all substrates and it will be “durable and long lasting.”

I think the first time you realise that you are dealing with a very strong adhesive is when you try to pull the clear protective display film from the roll – it doesn’t come off too easily. The lesson is perhaps that if you don’t use all of the roll, store it in a plastic bag so it doesn’t pick up dust and debris from your tool box.

The tape itself feels and looks like a 2mm-thick layer of silicone. It feels sticky, but is not so sticky that it can’t be handled easily – for example it won’t stick to your skin and it is easier to manage because of its thickness. That common problem of tapes that stick to themselves and then can’t be separated is minimised on the STIXALL tape. Without the backing in place the tape is stretchy – but should not be stretched when being applied to a substrate. 

Applying the tape is simplicity itself – simply lay it down where you want it and press gently on the backing tape to get the initial tack. It is possible to lift the tape again gently if you go wrong – something not really possible on standard double-sided tape. Once you are satisfied with the position of the ‘first fix’ simply pull the blue backing off – you won’t need to twist it or use a fingernail or blade to do this – it comes off really easily.

STIXALL Double Sided Tape

Then the next bit is critical – clearly you need to ensure that the other substrate is clean and correctly positioned before it is pushed up against the sticky tape and then it needs to have some pressure applied to it for a few minutes to ensure a good bond.

I tried the STIXALL on ceramic tiles, Perspex and on smooth birch plywood. On really smooth surfaces like Perspex, once stuck, it is almost impossible to remove it without using force – usually enough to crack the plastic rather than break the tape.

Even on the plywood the bond was very good and showed that you could use the STIXALL to hang small pictures etc quite safely.

Aimed at: Discerning users who need STRONG double sided tape.

Pros: So good you can make it stick on almost anything and the bond is strong too – try it to hang pictures, even!

Reisser Screws – Look Sharp!

I am very familiar with Reisser screws – having been tempted to buy a ‘Handy Pack’ of Cutter screws in common sizes to fit into my site workbox. The inevitable happened – namely that only some sizes were used up completely and the cardboard box didn’t last the distance without judicious applications of gaffer tape, but at least I can replenish both box and case with the generous samples I was sent for this review!

In my experience the Reisser Cutter screws are high quality performance woodscrews with enough features to appeal to a wide audience.

Easy starting when driving screws is a big deal for me. I don’t like having to hold a screw to the timber between thumb and finger and then for it to shred my skin when I trigger the driver. The sooner the sharp end bites and the thread does its job the happier my fingers are. The Cutter screw has a sharp needle point that is easy to push into the timber for easy starting (the straighter the better for a good job) and the two patented cutting slots cut the way through the timber as the screw is driven. For most timbers this means that no pilot hole is needed and driving is pretty effortless.

A closer examination of the wide and deep thread on the Cutter screw also helps to explain why this screw is easy and quick to drive. On the 100mm M6 screw for example the threads are fully 3mm apart so each turn of the screw will drive 3mm deep – even at slow driver speeds this is a good rate of progress! By keeping the shank as slim as possible and with a deep thread, the Cutter screw can do what it says on the tin – it cuts rather than forces its way into the timber. As a result, the Cutter screw will create fewer splits, even near to edges of planks.

Reisser Screws

The screws also have a yellow tropicalized finish which is generally regarded, in testing literature I have seen, as being superior to a simple zinc plated finish because it acts as a lubricant when driving as well as a rust resistant coating in situ. Having used some of these Reisser screws several years ago for making a log store and a shed, I have had a long time to appreciate that they have not rusted, nor have the slots become clogged. I didn’t try it for obvious reasons, but I am sure that a simple application of the cordless driver would simply unscrew them to reveal a nearly new screw thread.

With torque and power now available on impact and drill drivers at the press of a trigger, it is not unheard of for the heads of screws to snap off when they are driven into unforgiving substrates. The design of a screwhead must be a compromise between easy driving (no extra bulk needed) and strength. The Cutter screw has a reinforced collar that amounts to a slight thickening of the shank as it gently turns into the screwhead. This head also has a combination of ribs and tucks in it that gently create a countersink so that the head self-countersinks into the timber. The power of modern drivers is such that users I have seen can be tempted to drive screwheads below the surface – even without this feature. But this is self-defeating I think, especially if you might need to remove the screws later.

The all-important driver slot on the Cutter screw is deep and well defined and certainly a lot better than some of the screws I have used. It also helps that Reisser includes a generous pack of 20 high quality torsion driver bits in the Cutter Trade Pack that fit the slots very well – could be made for them in fact!



The MudGun from National Abrasives - No-Fuss Drywall Taping and Repairs

Watching competent building professionals doing their jobs can belie how skilful they need to be. A good professional makes it look easy, whereas in real life it may not be. But there is always the pressure of cost and time and I think this leads to a constant search to find simpler ways of doing things with new tools, techniques and materials. I think that you could make an argument that the process of some tool developments, particularly of power tools, allows even the relatively unskilled to do a good job – and that is not a bad thing when we currently have a shortage of skills, housing and cash.

National Abrasives has joined the fray by taking on the agency of the MudGun from Canada. There is some clarification needed – in North America, filling plaster is referred to as “Mud” – easy to see why, and of course it is used in great quantities in modern American construction. We have followed the trend in our building methods and it is fair to say that we now need the MudGun in the UK to help us fill the skills gaps as well as the gaps in our drylining.

Although there are two versions of the MudGun – the Easy Load and the Professional, the basis of both kits is the gun itself. We are all used to the idea of silicone sealer and grout guns so imagine a 39cm long alloy tube with a nozzle at one end and a trigger mechanism at the other. This is the basic “mud delivery system”.  Both kits come with two nozzles - one for flat joints and the other for inside corners. There is also a 7 inch finishing head, a T-adaptor, an inside corner smoothing tool and a cleaning brush. These are all needed for the basic operations of the tool and are well made in solid black plastic.

The MudGun Pro differs slightly with two extra additions – a loading ring and a MudPak adaptor. Delivering the Mud and getting it to stick on the surface requires it to be of a specific consistency – ask any plasterer. In North America, most MudGun users buy the sausage-shaped MudPaks or a straight sided bulk bucket of mud to ensure that the mud is always of the right consistency for use in the MudGun.

While it is possible to mix filling plaster to the right consistency and use it in the MudGun, it is often wasteful – particularly for small repairs. With a ready mixed bucket of Mud or MudPaks, users will always have the necessary at hand.

The loading ring is included in the Pro version so that professional users who tend to buy mud in bulk in tubs, can load the mud into their gun without exposing the mud to the air, where it will set quite quickly.  The loading ring is a plastic disc that fits onto the top of a bucket of mud and seals it around the edges. In the middle of the disc is a round hole into which the end of the MudGun is inserted and it is the filled by simply pulling the plunger rod upwards.  A screw cap is used to seal the remaining mud in the bucket so that it doesn’t go off.

It is good to point out here that the MudGun comes with a set of very comprehensive instructions. These explain quite clearly what to do and what some of the potential glitches might be. Also included is a list of some extras you need – like a bucket or two of water, a drywall taping knife and a cloth or sponge.

I used the MudGun only with the MudPaks and I have to say the they are simplicity itself to use. I was impressed with the robustness and size of the trigger and handle mechanism. It is solidly made in metal and clearly would be able to resist the inevitable ravages of drying plaster and plaster dust. Prepare the gun by releasing the brake lever and pulling the plunger rod out by its T-shaped handle. Then remove the plastic endcap on the delivery end of the gun and insert a MudPak. The mud is released by cutting the end of the MudPak with a knife and then you need to screw the end back on quickly with the nozzle required attached.

The nozzles, both flat and corner, are easy to attach by simply screwing them on, and can be easily adjusted to the correct angle by just backing off the collar a bit.

The MudGun can be used for doing simple repairs of holes and cracks in plasterboard, and the instructions provide clear advice on how to proceed. There is still an element of handwork with the drywall knife/scraper to ensure that the mud is spread evenly and covers holes etc, but it is what you would expect.

Where professionals, in particular, would save time is using the MudGun to tape and finish the joints between sections of drywalling. Using the T adaptor and the finishing head, layers of mud can be quickly applied to the edges of joints to even them out and also to fill in any slight gaps that might not have been covered first time round.

The MudGun from National Abrasives

The finishing head can be adjusting via a sliding switch to vary the depth of the mud that is applied. At setting 0 the head is flat so will deliver a flat layer of mud, while at setting 5 a thicker bead of plaster can be used to fill the butt joints between boards. The whole head and adjustment mechanism is made of plastic and the switch can be popped out for easy cleaning – because nothing sticks like dried plaster.

I haven’t had as much fun in ages playing with the MudGun. I wouldn’t say I became an expert after half an hour of using it, but I will say that I had improved enough to be able to do a good enough job that would not be visible after decoration. With more use I am definitely going to get better and the MudGun is a valuable addition to the relevant trade toolkit. Keen DIYers and DIY property developers should be keen to take a look at it too.

Several Builders Merchants & DIY stores have placed orders at the recent trade shows as well as Belmore Tools, a specialist Drywall tool distributor.

TIMco C2 Multi-Purpose Screws Twin Cut Speed

A bit of history first. The company, TIMco, (T I Midwood and Co Ltd) was established in 1970 and was in the business of importing and wholesaling screws, fastenings, fixings and power tool accessories. By 2016 it had a workforce of approximately 110 and a multi-million-pound turnover. The company also owns the Addax brand of specialist power tools, and in 2010 acquired FirmaHold, a leading brand in collated nails and fuel cells. Based at Nantwich in Cheshire, with offices in Ireland and Taiwan, the company trades throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe. From its HQ in Nantwich the company aims to deliver within the UK in 24 hours, or to Europe within 48 hours.

The point of all the above is to show that TIMco is a well-established supplier with deep connections in the fastenings and fixings business, and, having sold literally billions of screws, it deserves to be taken very seriously.

I was sent a few boxes of the TIMco C2 Multi-Purpose screw to try out for this review. It is a development of the popular TIMco Classic that has sold over 4.5 billion items during its shelf life.

Things never stay the same, in screws as well as most other areas of life, so the C2 was evolved to meet current standards and preferences, reflecting some of the changes and developments in driving technology, regulation and end-user demands.

The first thing to notice about the C2 Multi-Purpose screw is that it uses a patented twin-cut technology that in tests has achieved a 43% quicker screw time, using half the torque from the drill driver. This means that cordless driver batteries last longer and users expend less time driving screws.

A very close look at the tip of the C2 will show you what the twin cuts are all about. Right at the very sharp tip, a slot has been cut into the thread pattern. This slots acts like a cutting edge when the screw is driven, effectively drilling its own pilot hole. Then, just a little further up the thread, a similar slot is cut. This slot not only cuts but also clears, allowing the screw to speedily make its way through the material. The slots are not randomly placed on the thread, they are positioned exactly relative to each other in the same places on every screw for consistent results and performance in a wide range of materials like wood, plastics and even sheet metal.

I like having a sharp point on the end of a screw to enable quicker starting. The C2’s point is so sharp that it can be pushed into the timber (especially softwood) even when mounted on the end of a driver bit so that all that it takes to start the screw is to push the trigger on the driver.

Without all the official measuring equipment need to confirm the speedy starts and reduced torque needed to drive the TIMco screws, I just drove several score of them into a variety of materials like softwood, plywood, MDF and some plastics. They do perform well and are very easy to start. To drive the screw straight into the wood it helps if you utilise the sharp point to get it at as near as possible to right angles to the material before activating the driver. The drive from the thread and point is so quick that if you are not careful they go in so fast that they defy correction to right angles.

A close look at the thread will confirm that it is quite widely spaced but very sharp-edged. The thread is also well defined so that it will cut into the substrate material and hold firmly. It reaches almost all the way up the straight shank of the screw, leaving just a few millimetres clear between thread and head.

The design of the head of the screws has been developed with several “ribs” underneath that allow the screw to seat properly in a countersunk hole and effectively make the screw self-countersinking. The “ribs” also help to reinforce the head for strength – needed with modern, powerfully-torqued impact and drill drivers.

Finally, we come to another key element of the C2 design, the driver recess. I have actually junked part-used boxes of screws with driver recesses that will not co-operate with me. They waste my time and I hate the noise of a bit camming out of a badly designed slot - to my mind, the sound of failure. Some will say I need to replace my driver bits more regularly – I do, and they are good quality bits, so there!

The C2’s recess are deep and accurately machined and will hold onto a decent driver bit by friction alone – helpful sometimes in offering up a screw to the workpiece.

Also included in my package of C2 Screws was a box of C2 Exterior screws with a silver ruspert plating. This is said to offer superior corrosion resistance and is designed to be used on everything from decking and fencing to fixing external latches and hinges. Maybe I will get the chance to tell you how I got on with those in a year or so!

All in all, the C2 Multi-Purpose advanced screws are a quality piece of kit that has all the features needed for general purpose users, whether for internal or external applications. Pity I used so many for testing, they could have been more useful on an actual job!

For retailers TIMco makes the packaging and display options easy too. There is the option of the C2 Trade case – a metal case with over 1,800 screws in it – ranging in sizes from 3.5 x 16mm up to 5x100mm. Easy to stock for retailers and easy to carry for end users.

Standard cardboard boxes of TIMco C2 screws are marked for identification for size and gauge in easy-to-read black letters on a white background – my aging eyes are grateful for such clarity.


CAMPINGAZ Garden Torches –Fiery Weed Control!

To say that I suffer weeds badly is an understatement. I hate the wretched things, but here in the rural south-east they make a permanent onslaught on my garden, even in winter. It doesn’t help that I am the world’s worst gardener, and what I always look for is a quick and easy solution to problems, since I don’t have the patience to undertake a long-term weed killing strategy.

Having tried chemical weed killers that offer what seems to me a thorough solution to regrowth, I think my weeds are much tougher or I am not doing it right – because they always grow back.

So, when I received the CAMPINGAZ garden torches I was encouraged that at last I had a solution to my weeds. One that wouldn’t poison the local cats (although I still have a vendetta with the nasty black one that kills birds and messes in my garden) and one that would also be quick and easy to do, even if it needs repeating during growing season.

I was sent two gas-powered garden torches – the CAMPINGAZ GT 3000 PZ and the CAMPINGAZ GT 2000 PZ. For easy display in shops the torches are blister packed so that purchasers can examine the business end where the burner is but the gas cartridges are safely inside the packaging. Both torches use the CG3500 GA gas cartridge which is clearly labelled as Garden Gas and is a butane/propane gas mixture.

As tools they are both very simple. They are V-shaped with the burner end of the V, elongated enough for the burner to reach comfortably to the ground while held by an average height user. In the middle of the V there is a plastic handle that provides grip and comfort as well as protection from any heat. On the other end of the handle is the gas valve onto which the gas cartridge is screwed. This valve has a built-in O-ring that provides a safe seal when the cartridge is in place and the cartridge itself has a valve so that it can be safely removed for separate storage when not in use.

Also on the long end of the V is a small piezo button that, when pushed, provides a spark to ignite the gas. This worked pretty well first time, every time I used the torches, even after a long interval between “burns”.

The V shape also allows the user to balance the tools in the hand so that they can swing easily forward and back and from side to side to provide maximum coverage when killing weeds.

It is important to read the instructions contained in the pack, not only for safe use of the burners, but also to understand how to use them most efficiently.

These gas burners work by scorching the leaves of the plants. This causes them to die back and become unable to absorb the light and nutrients necessary to survive. It should not be necessary to reduce the plants to ashes – merely to scorch them. In fact, if the burning is too intense, there is a danger of fire that could spread to plants and other things nearby. Care is definitely needed to target the unwanted plants and avoid peripheral damage.

I mostly used the GT 2000 PZ gas burner because I was tackling the weeds growing up between the slabs in my patio and on my front path. This burner is about 100mm long and 15mm wide and hidden underneath is a series of small holes that cause the flames to jet out of the burner quite intensely. This helps the flames to wilt bigger leaves quickly and also enables you to get close to edges and borders. Don’t try using these garden torches in wet weather because the wet leaves wont wilt away as easily.

The GT3000 PZ with its 50mm diameter burner claims that it is up to four times faster at killing weeds than the standard 22mm diameter burner nozzle. I used it on some stubborn grass growing on my path and patio. The flames are fierce, as evidenced by the pressurised gas “bubbling” noise that you get from the burner. And they are also efficient. The burner also contains the flames from going too far so that you can direct them pretty accurately to where you want them. Definitely good for the stubborn individual dandelions growing on the grass.

I was able to use these garden torches over a period of several weeks and I found them easy to use. Getting them out of the shed and attaching the gas cartridge (stored separately for safety) takes only a matter of minutes. Covering areas and individual weeds is effortless and can be done without bending down. Accuracy is good too – it is fairly easy to avoid burning plants that you don’t want to target.

In my experience of using these garden torches, they are a very useful way of controlling weeds since they provide one more weapon in the armoury. There are still certain places (like near the oil line leading from my oil tank to the boiler) where clearly it would not be advised to use the torches. Also, chemical weed killers may be needed for some other situations where the flames may not be the right solution. I found that I had to “reburn” every couple of weeks or so to keep the weeds permanently down, simply because some weeds are very tough and need repeat treatment.  Also, new weeds germinate and grow in between treatments and can get quite big surprisingly quickly.

I don’t think that the CAMPINGAZ torches turned me into a better gardener, but they certainly made weed control a quicker and more efficient process and one that can be used when the weather is dry. Chemical weed killers have a lot more stipulations as to how and when they can be used as well as being less environmentally friendly.

Sanding Innovations from National Abrasives

Walls, Floors, Ceilings and Corners Get the Treatment

Most of the time I hate sanding – especially when faced with a large wall (or sometimes more than one) that needs to be pristinely smooth before rolling on the paint. It is the dust, the effort, the reaching up and the odd angles your arms have to get into that makes sanding a chore.

On the other hand, sanding pieces of furniture I have made, usually involves a random orbit sander and vacuum extractor. This is quicker, less dusty and it makes for a much more pleasant experience. So, anything that helps to minimise effort, time and mess when sanding big areas is worth a look as far as I am concerned, and the box of goodies that I got from National Abrasives looked very interesting in that regard.

The first set I looked at was the Multi-Purpose Sander Quick Change System. It consists of a pole, a large 220mm diameter sanding disc, a handle and a pole adaptor. Each of the pieces is able to be used in a variety of combinations according to need and circumstance. I started by attaching the pole via the strong acme screw thread to the pole adaptor. This in turn is clicked onto the back of the circular disc and with a 220mm diameter sanding sheet attached it will tackle quite large areas. It is actually amazing how quickly the disc will sand down quite large areas of rough paintwork or plaster. If you need a softer backing for more sensitive areas of plaster, and a must for Drywall, a 15mm thick foam disc can be hook and looped to the backing disc and the abrasive attached on top of that.

A quick word about the pole – it is made of a quality glassfibre and is very strong and rigid. Apparently, the aluminium pole on the prototype split because of the amount of effort that could be applied to the target sanding area! The pole means that even a short mortal like myself can reach up to a standard height ceiling without strain. Because of its flexible universal joint, the adaptor allows the user to sand in every direction and follow junctions like skirtings and covings with ease.

Should you then need to reach other areas maybe lower down, simply remove the pole adaptor and attach the handle – complete with comfy rubber overmould – to have a big area of sanding literally at your fingertips.

Of course, the job is not done until all the dust is wiped off the prepared surfaces, and users have the option to attach wipe down sponges or microfibre cloths to the disc (with pole or handle) for the final step.

But it doesn’t end there, by using either the gold aluminium oxide optional disc, you can sand fillers, wood, paint and metal quite aggressively. I tried it on a wood floor around an edge where the big belt sander doesn’t reach and it worked amazingly well because the disc allows you to get right up against the skirting.

By attaching the tungsten carbide disc, concrete and masonry can be smoothed – not a job I fancy – but the small trial piece I did worked well. I think doing a large masonry area by hand might be very tiring!

All of the pieces of the kit can be replaced, including interface pads, thus making for a kit that can be added to as well as renewed as necessary.

The Multi Use Corner Sander is a similar concept and development of the disc sander and they complement each other very well.

The main part of the kit is the right-angled ABS plastic corner sander. Sanding sheets can be attached to either or both of the arms of the right-angled legs so you can have the choice of what bits you need to sand. When sanding right up to the edge of a floor for example, you can leave the abrasive off the angle facing the skirting so that it is not sanded.

For a softer touch on the sanding, again a must for Drywall, there are additional foam pads with hook and loop surfaces that can be easily stuck on.

Of course, there is also the ingenious option to attach either the handle or the pole adaptor. Using the handle I found it really easy to sand right up to doorframes for example since the abrasive reaches right up to the corner and maintains its right- angled shape. Using the pole allows easy reaching into coving, corners or ceiling/wall junctions. Again, I was surprised by how much sanding action I was able to apply where I needed it and how quickly the sanding proceeded.

Just like the sanding disc set, there are some excellent accessories that are worth considering. A set of wipe down sponges makes it easy to get the dust out of corners and attaching a made-to-measure microfibre cloth gives a good final wipedown in preparation for painting etc. Obviously, these will wear out with use, but these too are available as “spares” to keep the system in good-as-new nick.

Having used powered wall sanders with built-in dust collection I was fully prepared to find that these two sanding kits would be a lot like hard work, but I found them a lot easier to use than I thought. The pole sanding options were actually much more efficient and easier to control than I thought because the backing discs are rigid and the hook and loop fixings are secure. The universal joint on the adaptor allows really flexible movement of the pad and discs, without losing control or accuracy.

Also, it really helps to have several thicknesses of disc backing to enable you to get the right finish on various materials. Highly innovative and great multi purpose tools.

If I was a professional plasterer/decorator I could easily find a place for these two kits in my tool collection – in addition to a powered wall sander. The powered sander would still be needed for very large jobs, but it could actually be quicker, simpler and cheaper to sand and prepare smaller areas by hand using the National Abrasives disc and corner sanders. Keen DIYers would also be able to get full value from them as well as improving the quality of the job. A Good Idea indeed!

Draper 160L 230V Cement Mixer

For a long while I think it was assumed that a certain orange-coloured cement mixer had cornered the market. But as you know, I am very much in favour of competition, since it most often leads to lower consumer prices and better tools.

This new mixer from Draper was the result of many requests from Draper dealers about adding a Draper-branded product to the competition. As experts on sourcing, Draper went about finding a suitable machine, and the 160-litre mixer is the result – also an orange colour, I might add.

There is a special logic to this mixer that sets it apart from others – the 160 litre capacity means that it can use one 25kg bag of cement per mix – making it much easier for users to get a consistent mix, as there is no need to split a bag of cement and then have to estimate how much has been used for the next mix. A full load of sand/aggregate mixture, cement and water is roughly 90 litres, so with an actual mixing capacity of 110 litres, there is more than enough space in the drum for adequate mixing without spilling out or overloading it. By being able to use a full bag this saves time in mixing, whereas many of the similar sized competitors' machines are unable to take the full bag.  

I must admit when I saw the cardboard box that it arrived in I thought that there was no way that a whole cement mixer was inside. However, I was wrong – it contained all the bits for a very satisfyingly well-built machine – all I needed was to put them all together. Self-assembly is the price we pay for value for money items, whether in IKEA or in a tool shop.

I know that some people just ignore instruction booklets, and I have been guilty of this myself, but in this case it would be very good advice to familiarise yourself with the parts and the sequence of assembly – ten minutes on that will save a lot of pointless mistakes later on. Not least because there are certain lengths of bolts that can only be used in certain places.

The other thing is, that although single-handed building of the mixer is possible, it really helps to have a second person to lift the heavy bits and occasionally hold a spanner in some of the awkward places.

 The drum – a key part of the mixer, is strongly made from pressed steel and comes in two parts that have to be bolted together. This is actually easier than it first looks because the rubber gasket has small rubber “pins” on it to help locate it on the drum. These are then sacrificed when the bolts are pushed through and tightened up.

Assembling the tubular steel tall stand is also a case of putting the right bolts in the right place, but it results in a sturdy stand that has no trouble in supporting a fully loaded machine.

The frame that supports the motor and drum assembly is also made from sturdy steel tubing and it has wheels that are big enough to cope with rough ground on sites. Finally, the tilt bracket is a solidly welded construction that is used to tilt the whole machine when used on the tall stand. On my machine it took a tiny bit of customising with a hammer to fit the slots, but the pin hinges and safety pin fitted perfectly.

I liked the idea of keeping the motor completely enshrouded in its own plastic and, I guess, largely waterproof, housing. It is simply lined up with the drive shaft and bolted into place onto the frame with no electrics to connect other than a standard UK plug. When running, the motor is amazingly quiet and there wasn’t much noise from the drive gear on the drum either. I guess that might change when the inevitable dust gets onto it, but there is a protective shield over it and it can be cleaned easily.

As I have mentioned before, the wheels are a full 230mm in diameter and 50mm wide, and make the mixer easy to move. With solid rubber tyres there is no danger of a puncture.

Getting the mixer onto the tall stand can be done by one person if it is empty and also if the ground surface is not too slippery. The instructions provide an illustration of how to do it safely and the height off the ground is good even for loading some of the bigger barrows we see on sites nowadays.

The freezing weather has not been conducive to mixing and laying concrete so I had to choose my time carefully. I am in what seems to be an interminable process of building myself a shed, so I decided to dig and fill a few of the inevitable foundation piles I am going to need for it. When the warmer weather comes, I will finish the rest, since my clay soil is either sodden or frozen at the moment. However, whatever I learn from doing these few piles can be applied at a later date.

The instructions say that you should put half the required water into the drum first, followed by the aggregate, the cement, the remaining water and then the sand. Since I only needed small quantities, I bought bags of ready mixed concrete and added these to the drum that had some water in it. This was then followed by the rest of the water, and after a few minutes I had a perfectly smooth mixture of concrete ready to pour. This I did by simply using the wheels to manoeuvre the mixer to the hole and then tipping the required amount into it. Really, not difficult as the fulcrum seems to have been well calculated for relatively easy tipping.

My biggest bugbear with mixers is cleaning them afterwards. Try as you might, there always seems to be a small amount of cement mixture trapped behind the paddles that gets bigger after each use - hence the rather battered drums that you see on some mixing machines – the lump hammer solution to drum cleaning. Therefore I prefer plastic drums – they stick less and don’t respond so badly to lump hammer-cleaning methods.

However, the Draper with its relatively new paintwork and smooth drum interior was fairly easy to clean with a jet nozzle on an ordinary hose – but it does use a lot of water to do a thorough clean, as any jobbing builder will confirm, whatever machine you use.

I am hoping that I can hold onto this mixer until early spring because it made the job of mixing concrete VERY easy. I found that it handled well and was very quiet in use. The drum is big enough to do a solid lot of concrete so that even a concrete base for a decent-sized shed could be done in a day. Certainly a useful addition to the Draper catalogue. 


JCB Cagelow Safety Trainers

The Comfort of Trainers with safety Built-in

“Fussy about footwear” describes me perfectly and I have a cupboard full of failed purchases to prove it. My feet have to feel comfortable very quickly in a new pair of shoes or boots because they get very sore if they don’t.

No problem with the JCB Cagelow B safety trainers from Progressive Safety because I felt completely at home in them after about half an hour, and by the end of the day I wouldn’t have been able to tell that they were new shoes. This is largely because the fit is wide and the toes rounded – but without looking like clumsy clown shoes. I found myself adopting them for everyday use even when I wasn’t in the workshop or on site, because they looked fine with their black uppers and flexible grey mesh covering that provides comfort and ventilation. Perhaps it also had something to do with the dual density heels and soles that cushion the feet and helped them to feel as good at the end of the day as at the beginning.

The strong nylon laces fit through large eyelets, thus making the trainers easy to put on and take off, and the padded tongue and ankle pieces ensure that feet feel comfortable and secure. A loop on the heel can be used to pull the trainers on to avoid muddy hands in the case of dirty shoes.

Big-cleated soles are great in muddy conditions, but since my work is mainly indoors or in my workshop I prefer the flat soles whose ridged patterns don’t collect as much mud as cleats and are easier to wipe off on a mat. There is certainly a grippy pattern of ridges and bumps on the bottom of these trainers, so they do provide a secure feeling when walking, but you won’t leave a trail of gunk behind you.

The soles of work shoes are also important for other safety reasons – these ones are antistatic rated for reducing, removing or preventing static build up, which is important for shoes worn in environments where there is a danger from combustive materials. They are also tested to the highest levels of slip resistance, namely EN ISO13287 (2011) so should give you a firm footing. But another thing that I liked on these trainers was that the soles were so flexible that when I was kneeling down and my feet were bent, the soles were able to accommodate the movement and not squeeze my toes. 

Another key element of safety footwear is resistance to penetration through the sole – and the Cagelow Trainer’s non-metallic sole offers protection from penetration from a force up to 1100 Newtons. Without giving you a 'lumpy-toe' look, the toe protection will withstand up to 200 Joules, and the shoes have an energy absorbing heel, too.

Since safety shoes and other safety gear is a requirement on most worksites these days, it does mean that workers have to choose carefully when purchasing - it might be hard to return a mud encrusted pair of work shoes and demand your money back! I found that the comfort and protection offered by these JCB Cagelow Trainers suited me very well and I am happy to recommend them.


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