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The Makinex Easy Lift 140 from Morris Site Machinery Lifting without the “Heavy”

Aimed at: Anyone who needs to move, load and lift stuff – single handed!

Pros: Simple to operate, capable and easily manoeuvrable. 

Only yesterday I had to call on a friend to help me rearrange my workshop with the arrival of my new mortising machine. The old mortiser had to be dismantled from its base, re - crated and the new one installed in its place. With both machines weighing over 100kgs each, we had our work cut out to manoeuvre them into place. It took a couple of hours to achieve this safely and without straining our backs. Ironically, I could have achieved the same result in a quarter of the time if I had waited until this morning with my review of the Makinex Easy Lift 140

Looking like a cross between half a scissor lift and a barrow, the Makinex is a brilliant answer to the huge number of lifting operations that must take place in workplaces throughout the UK. So it is worthwhile to explore it in a bit more detail to get an idea of just how it works.

The main component is a simple chassis made of two rigid alloy extrusions that converge into the wheel structures. The wheels are large enough to run easily over rough surfaces and are placed far enough apart so that the Makinex will fit through a standard doorway. At the other end of this chassis is a pair of handlebars with a control on each side – on the left hand side is the wheel brake and on the right a simple switch for moving the lifting beam up and down. The alloy extrusion lifting arm is pivoted just in front of the handlebars and a simple Swiss-made ram powered by a standard 18v Makita battery pack, is used to lift the lifting arm. The lifting capacity is 140Kg and is therefore capable enough for a vast majority of daily lifting operations in industry and manufacturing. A pair of foldable jockey wheels hold the chassis at roughly the height of a pair of hands so that you don’t have to bend down to operate the machine.

I was fortunate to have a slick demonstration and some training and tips from Chris Cartwright from Morris Site Machinery before I was let loose on the Easy Lift 140.

In less than a couple of minutes – I timed it – Chris lifted a 86Kg machine from the road, moved it to the rear of the van, loaded the machine and then gently dropped it onto the van bed. With some very simple instruction, I was able to unload the machine again, gently lower it onto the road, unhook it and then repeat the loading process. It took me only slightly longer than Chris, which proves that even novices can soon make the Makinex work for them. And it felt safe and manageable – and you also get that slight feeling of “superpowers” as you lift a heavy machine with the press of a thumb on a small switch.

I thought I might have some difficulty locating the lifting hook onto the lifting ring on the target machine, but I managed it first time as the whole framework is so balanced on the wheels that fine and precision controlled movements are easy to perform.

There are lots of other advantages of the Makinex Easy Lift, apart from its lifting capabilities. It is really easy to maintain since moving parts are few, the whole thing folds flat and will fit easily into a standard van, and since it weighs only 40Kgs itself it is easy to handle. Chris single-handedly packed it into the van by making use of the balance of the machine and the jockey wheels so that he never had to lift the weight of it – he simply slid it into its correct position. In fact the hardest part of using the Easy Lift 140 seems to be to remember to charge the battery pack when needed. 

The height of the lift has been carefully calculated so that it will easily reach the height needed for loading the average builder’s lorry. Loading up to tailgated vehicles is easy too because the scissor design allows the arm to reach past the tailgate onto the lorry bed – something not always possible when using a forklift to load up.

The target market for the Makinex Easy Lift 140 is potentially vast. I think it is a case that once potential clients have seen the Makinex in operation, the more thoughtful of them will see the advantages more or less immediately. They will see easy and controlled lifting, a lot more Health and Safety boxes ticked and efficiency savings. This machine can be used by everyone from a Scottish fisherman to unload his catch and load it onto the market van, to an automotive factory that needs temporary (or permanent) help with lifting components onto a production line. Chris tells me that once customers have bought the Makinex, they very quickly learn to apply its talents to a much wider range of lifting and moving tasks.

But maybe there is another aspect to using the Makinex that makes a lot more sense to employers. It costs British industry thousands, if not millions, to deal with the days off ill with bad backs and other lifting injuries that employees suffer with. Not to mention the injury claims that come to court, leading to an average of around a £5,600 payout to the injured party. Judicious and controlled use of lifting machinery can and should result in far fewer injuries and the Makinex is a cost effective, simple and reliable method of lifting heavy things.

If the Makinex makes sense for a self employed Scottish fisherman, it should make even more sense in factories, builders yards and building sites – and all for a price of less than £3,000 ish! 

Draper 15Kg Breaker – Value and Efficiency

Aimed at: Professionals and competent home builders.

Pros: Affordable and competent kit that comes ready to use.

Draper Tools has a huge and enviable range of products that is constantly being revised and uprated according to the needs of the market, so it was with no surprise at all that I took delivery of the 1600W 15Kg breaker (Stock no 83352) to review. I have tried out a few smaller breakers and hammers and have got on very well with them because I have always been able to use them on jobs where a bit of concrete needed breaking or a few bricks needed chopping out. More to the point – my back has not been strained by having to lift those much lighter tools. But the Draper 15Kg breaker took me to a new place – a really powerful tool meant for serious breaking of concrete and masonry – with a serious weight to it that is needed for doing such jobs. I had to ring round my friends to see if they had a job big enough to try it out on for a start.

Lots of small building firms need to use breakers, and I guess for many of them, the first call would be a hire shop to get an appropriate breaker for the job. However, with a typical internet price of around £150, this Draper 15Kg breaker is very affordable and stored in its plastic carry case, it won’t take up much space in the back of a van either. If my experience is anything to go by, the machine is capable of breaking concrete paving and floors as well as hard brick and stone up to a level that is more than enough for most small users. Workers on skyscrapers and major infrastructure products may need bigger breakers, but most builders would be happy with the performance of this one.

A quick check on the specs will show you what I mean. The breaker is a standard 230v machine with a weight of over 15Kg with a chisel fitted. The impact energy is a very decent 45 Joules at an impact rate of 2000r per minute. Chisel size is 29mm and with a sound power level of 105 dB(A) it is necessary to wear hearing protection during use. A breaker works by impacting on the concrete so workers should always be careful to protect hands from over exposure to vibration by limiting time spent using the machine.

I am a fan of plastic cases with enough room to accommodate all the odd bits and pieces associated with the tool inside. The plastic case with this tool has a big strong handle and latches and will easily hold the four-metre long heavy duty cord and the two extra chisels supplied (one pointed, one chisel end) as part of the kit. Nice touches are a plastic oil bottle and a spanner to do the simple maintenance required. A spare pair of carbon brushes is also included.

Construction of the body is mostly heavy duty metal that is needed for such a tool, and is well held together with no-nonsense hex screws.  Firmly attached to the main body is the main handle that is a large robust plastic construction that slightly isolates the users’ hand from vibration. The yellow trigger is large and can be locked into “on” position via a button for continuous use. There is some grippy rubber on this handle too to aid handling.

The auxiliary handle is a robustly made square loop with a big ribbed and softish plastic handle to grip. This handle definitely reduces vibration transmitted to hands and the whole thing can be adjusted a full 360 degrees to suit users’ preferences.

Underneath the main motor housing is the oil reservoir with its transparent cap so that oil levels are easy to check. Using the spanner and oil bottle supplied with the kit, it is easy to fill the oil when needed.

Inserting the chisels is very easy too. After a light greasing of the tool shaft the locking bolt is pulled out and turned 180 degrees. The shaft of the tool can then be inserted and the locking bolt returned to its original position. The chisel will be free to run up and down the shaft as the impact mechanism does its job.

One of my mates did come up with a suitable test bed – demolishing some concrete steps and adjoining brickwork so I hotfooted over to try the breaker out. The machine uses a standard moulded 230v plug so there was no need for a transformer – a simple plug into the extension cord was all that was required for the machine to be ready. Health and Safety says gloves, boots, eye protection and ear protection are needed as a minimum and once I had started the job I knew why. The Draper breaker does what it says on the tin – it breaks concrete etc very efficiently. It helped me that the weight of the tool does the job for you as well as helping to keep the chisel where it is needed. My job was largely to keep the chisel tip in the place where it could be most efficiently employed in breaking up the concrete. By focusing on breaking up the concrete from the edges and then also exploiting cracks that developed as I worked, it took about half an hour to break most of what we needed. The brickwork was much easier because they were just ordinary clay stock bricks and didn’t stand much of a chance against the chisel end.

I am still very glad that I don’t have to use breakers very often because my aging muscles don’t like it, but I am convinced that breakers fall into the category of Very Useful Tools because they do a unique job which is probably more commonly needed than I know. Because it comes as a whole kit in a case, ready to use, and because of the price point, the Draper 15Kg Breaker is a good bit of equipment for builders to include in their tool collection. 

 

LED Lenser P7R – Rechargeable Quality

Aimed at: Pro and demanding users of torches.

Pros: Rechargeable, compact with a powerful and adjustable beam.

In the increasingly competitive market for torches, consumers have been spoiled. We can get torches from the £1.99 petrol station special up to devices costing £200 or £300 with beams like lighthouses. We have come to expect bright LEDs, focusing optics and some degree of weather and shock protection as standard. It seems as if we are all lumen hungry now, where 15 years ago we didn’t even know what a lumen was.

Pitching unashamedly into the quality end of the market is the new LED Lenser P7R – part of LED Lenser’s Professional Series of torches. If you want to shout quality these days, then the torch (or whatever) has to be presented in a well made and striking presentation box into which the product is nestled like a piece of expensive jewellery. The P7R is no exception – as the picture shows.

Printed discreetly on the lid are the key specifications of the product – 1000 lumens beam strength, a maximum beam distance of 210 metres and a battery life of up to 40 hours at Eco setting. Not bad for a torch that is 15cm long and will fit comfortably into a wax jacket pocket.

Underneath the dense foam packaging is all the stuff you need to get the torch working. There is a well made ballistic nylon belt pouch with elasticated sides to hold the torch securely. With its red stitched highlights and hook and loop fastening, the pouch looks like it has been specially made for the P7R and is not just a “generic one size fits all’. There is also a nylon wrist strap that can be attached to the base cap if needed.  And then, of course, there is the all-important charging base. There is definitely a touch of the “designer” about this base. Made out of strong black plastic it has complex curves like a shoehorn, with the USB charging lead on one end.

This base is designed to be attached vertically to a wall with the screws and plugs supplied. There is about a metre and a half of cord attached to the charging end, so it should be enough for most users to find a convenient place to put it. Although there is only the USB option to plug into the charger this may not be too limiting. Apart from being able to charge from a laptop or desktop computer, mains plug sockets with USB fittings are commonly available nowadays.

Once fitted to the wall, the torch has a strong magnetic cap that holds the torch vertically while it is being charged. This charging solution, I have to say, is neat, efficient and stylish and minimizes the clutter that usually surrounds the “charging stations” that are a feature of modern life with all our rechargeable devices.

Unusually, the rechargeable battery was not in the torch when it arrived for testing. It was packed into the nylon pouch for protection. All it takes to mount the battery is to unscrew the back cap of the torch and mount it into the removable cartridge, taking care to observe the polarity. When the rear cap is removed it is an opportunity to have a close look at the design and engineering of the product, the body is made of alloy, and there is no doubt that it is high quality. The milled grips are well done and the black finish is thorough.

The rear cap also contains the switch mechanism, and I am pleased that the designers have adopted a simple switch system that does not entail switching through all modes whenever you use the torch. A simple hard press on the bright chrome switch will turn on full beam and another firm press will switch it off. However, a quick double press will select Eco mode that is significantly less bright than the main beam.

The beam focusing system is similarly simple. To unlock the torch head simply twist it to the right and then it will slide smoothly backwards and forwards, using your thumb and forefinger. The user can choose whatever setting he wants between full beam and flood beam and then lock this position by a simple twist to the left.  

Not all LEDs are created equal, and I was pleased to see that the quality of the LED Lenser LED was good. Shining it onto a wall, at full beam, there were no black spots or rings. This shows that the focusing optics are doing their job and the intense spot needed at the end of a beam will be there. Similarly, at full flood setting, there was a good even spread of light with no spots or rings. In the full darkness of my back garden (no street lights out here in deepest Sussex) the flood beam illuminated a wide area that made it possible to work over the whole 12 metre wide garden.

The spot beam is powerful too, and shone right across the playing fields opposite with a noticeable centre to the beam.

The P7R is positioned at a very competitive centre of an already competitive torch market so is up against some stiff competition both in terms of price and quality. In my mind there is no doubt about the quality of the LED Lenser P7R – the designers have done a good job designing a torch with an LED that is super bright and then allied it to a simple patented focusing system with quality lenses that make the most of the bright beam.

The packaging and accessories reinforce the quality message, as does the elegant charging system. As usual, quality does not come cheap, so the target market is not those who would be happy with a cheap copy. Regular users might be police and emergency services etc, who need a reliable, robust torch that will deliver the light needed as well as being easy to carry and hold and then recharge at the end of a shift. 

Princeton Head Torch - A New American Rival in a Competitive Market

Aimed at: Everyone from campers to anglers to kitchen drawer domestic occasional users.

Pros: Light, compact, adjustable with red beams too

Head torches have become very popular in the last few years – every naturalist on telly has one, as does every competitor on a survival show. Anglers, campers and just about every trade uses them, especially as the evenings draw in. There is a market niche for every single one of them - from £5 Bonfire Night single use and then into the kitchen drawer, to the powerful rechargeable, adjustable lights used regularly by professionals.

Enter the Princeton Tech REMIX, a 150 lumens compact head torch that is, unusually, made in the USA. From a dealer’s perspective it is well packaged for information and security. Mounted on a card so that potential buyers can look closely at it, its five major features are clear to see – namely 150 lumens of light, a beam distance of up to 73m, four modes of light, IP4 weather resistance rating and adjustable beam settings. Its two sets of beams are contained in a small casing about 55mm long and 45mm deep. The main beam is a bright white LED beam, and the smaller lights are a cluster of three red LEDs.

On the back of the blister pack are the three Duracell AAA batteries, the head strap and a simple set of instructions explaining the four mode switch and the single twistable bracket to enable the beam to be aimed where it is needed. LEDs are very energy efficient, so users can expect a runtime on full beam of about 28 hours, while on the lowest setting (flood low) we can expect batteries to last about 150 hours.

Although the buyer has to attach the head strap and insert the batteries after purchase, these are not difficult to do. The adjustable elasticated head strap is 25mm wide, so is comfortable and easily supports the 83g weight of the torch without that feeling that it is slipping down one’s forehead.

Most compact head torches rely on a multiway switch to select different light modes and the REMIX is no different. In this case it is handy to read the instructions because the timings on the switches are critical to change modes. Get used to a lot of quick double – clicking and you will soon be able to select the mode you want without having to flick all the way through the switch cycle.

Light quality is good for such a compact head torch and the cluster of three red Ultrabright LEDs are particularly bright on full setting. I know that many hunters, anglers and naturalists like red LED lights because not only do they use less battery power, but they are also less dazzling than white lights, so eyes do not have to become accustomed to the dark again once the white lights are switched off. Animals are also not spooked by red lights either.

In a competitive market, price points are vitally important, but this little head torch is well made, efficient, has the right specs and is light and compact, so it has all the ingredients to compete. 

 

Metabo KGSV 72 Xact SYM - Mitre Saw Magic

Aimed at: Professional and demanding amateurs

Pros: New and genius design is accurate, easy to set and adjust and saves a lot of time on angles and mitres.

A quick look at Metabo’s mitre saw line up – everything from a cordless 18v to the massive saws capable of mitring 150mm thick roofing beams - will convince you that Metabo engineers understand what constitutes a good mitre saw. And now, at a stroke, the revolution has been advanced by the use of two new features on the Metabo KGSV 72 Xact SYM.

The first innovation is the motor head and guide rail set up. The rails are now fixed instead of moving and the head slides on them. The result is that the whole footprint of the machine is much reduced and there is no need to allow space at the back of the machine to accommodate the rails as the head is pushed through the workpiece. It is possible to work with the machine almost flush against a wall – handy in a workshop or on site.

The addition of a foldable carry handle where the “old” rail system would have had a bearing enables this saw to be carried easily. Someone tall and strong enough would indeed be able to carry it one-handed – although I doubt this is recommended.

The SYM model of the KGSV 72 has the second innovation added to it and will be of greatest interest to second fix chippies, shop and kitchen fitters and the like. By a clever bit of turntable technology the side fences operate like a pair of geared dividers. Release the fence catches and if you pull one side of the fence towards you, the other side will move exactly the same amount. So what, you might say. But if you are a tradesman constantly having to bisect angles to fit skirting on the inevitable out-of-square walls that are found in most houses, then this saw will provide an incredibly time-saving solution. It works like this: - simply use the sliding bevel (supplied) to make an accurate reflection of the angle of the corner where the skirting is to be fitted. Offer up the sliding bevel to the adjustable side fences until they fit the angle on it and then tighten the fences. The resulting cut through the skirting will automatically bisect the angle correctly for a perfect mitre fit. Trust me, I tried it and it works. It takes a bit of care to be 100% accurate – like ensuring that the skirting is firmly held during the cut - but experienced mitre saw users will get the hang of it very quickly.

Secondly, this system also cures the problem I have when I make mirror frame mitres for example. It helps to have only one registering surface when making frames and the adjustable side fences mean that one can cut mitres without having to work (in my case) left-handed as each registering surface has to be swapped from one side of the turntable to the other. A small point maybe, but an indication that many end users will find their own shortcuts and handy tips when using the facilities offered by the SYM version’s moving side fences.

Sophisticated innovations aside, the KGSV 72 is still the classically well-made Metabo mitre saw with the kind of specs that make it very useful both onsite and in the workshop. A quick examination will convince you that it is robustly and neatly made, with compactness a priority in the design. All the systems and controls are logically laid out and the machine works smoothly, with adjustments easy to do and secure for accurate and repeatable end results.

The 1.5kW motor is belt driven and is adjustable for speed via a toothed wheel on the front of the motor housing. With the correct blade fitted and correct speed selected, wood, plastics and non-ferrous metal are all within the remit of this saw.

The soft start on the motor is a good idea and noise from it is well controlled especially at slower speeds.

The KGSV is no monster – but at at 90 degrees it will still cut 305mm x 72 mm, reduced to 215mm x 72mm at 45 degrees. The great thing about the SYM system is that while the width of the workpiece is necessarily reduced by the angled side fences, a thickness of 72mm can still be cut so the target market should be more than well catered for.

We are all used to the fact that on Metabo tools the red bits are the controls. On the KGSV SYM we have to get used to quite a few more red bits because there are more moving parts. For example, the side fences each have two locks that need to be secured before cutting safely.

What really struck me about the controls was that the Metabo engineers have excelled themselves not only in placing the controls logically, but making them all act so positively. When a lock is locked, it stays locked and you can feel it locking. This adds a lot to the feeling of safety and efficiency that is needed for a safe mitre saw operation.

For speedy working it is great to have fixed detents for angles like 45 degrees. But at the same time selecting and securing custom angles is made a lot easier by having easily readable scales and quick, lockable adjustments. The inevitable knocks of site use will eventually require the saw to be zeroed again, but this is made as quick and logical as possible too.    

It may be a function of my age but I really like the fact that the saw has two switches near the main trigger handle. The first controls the excellent LED light that illuminates the workpiece well and the second controls the double line laser that I found even more useful for accurate cutting. The double laser indicates the cutting kerf so all the user needs to do is line up the relevant line on the pencil mark and accuracy is assured.

There is so much to like about the KGSV 72 Xact SYM that I could go on for hours- but I won’t. I will simply say that this is one of the best pieces of kit I have used for a while and one that I found easy to acclimatise to and very accurate. Now I need to get back to the workshop and find some more jobs to do with it. 

Wiha BitHolder Sets - A Cure for Crowded Toolbox Syndrome?

Aimed at: Pros with crowded toolboxes

Pros: Capacity for lots of screwdrivers without the bulk of a screwdriver set.

Crowded Toolbox Syndrome afflicts many UK tradespeople. With so many useful and even “must have” tools available these days it doesn’t take long to end up with one or more heavy toolboxes that always seem to end up on the site just because “we might need them.”

This is particularly true with screwdriving tools. Not long ago we only needed a couple of Phillips, a couple of Pozis and a slotted screwdriver or two, with a nondescript “big one” used for levering, breaking and chiselling. Now, we have to have all of the aforementioned, plus Torx in various sizes, several hexes and maybe even a couple of square drives. Chuck in a VDE set and that all adds up to a lot of individual drivers – and inevitably to Crowded Toolbox Syndrome.

Various companies have come up with ingenious solutions to the problem and for that we have to be grateful because it really does help avoid a crowded toolbox.  In the past Wiha has come up with some of the best solutions for using the screwdriver handle as a method of storing the range of extra driver bits without losing its excellent ergonomic handle design in the process. And now there are a couple more designs that extend Wiha’s range that you need to consider in your quest to reduce toolbox clutter.

The Wiha 26 One has been around for a few months and as the name suggests it has one handle but 26 different driver bits in the kit. Wiha suggests that it will save 90% of the volume and 85% of the weight of carrying all of the individual screwdrivers and that is a claim that is easy to believe.

The bits supplied are 2 slots, 4 Phillips, 2 Pozi,4 Torx, 10 hex drives (metric and imperial) and 2 square drives. Clearly some of the hex drives are aimed at the American market so I would have extras of some tips – frankly, I always like to have a couple of spares of Phillips and Pozi.

The real ingenuity of the 26 One is the way in which the Wiha engineers have shoehorned the 26 bits into the handle without making it too bulky and without making it too fiddly to find the bits. In fact, they only had to find space for 12 bits because the tips are double ended. They are all clearly laser etched and logically arranged – for example both square drives are on the same tip, as are 2 Phillips, 2 Pozis etc.

The bits are sprung out of the handle by pushing in the red release clips on the top of the handle. They are then revealed with their ends at a handy angle for easy access. The bit holders are made of a flexible red plastic so that bits are easy to take out and replace and the holders are also open top and bottom for easy identification.

The whole “carousel” of bits can rotate easily so aiding quick identification.

Simply push down on the red top of the carousel to close it down into the handle.

The trouble with some of the handled bit sets is that when it comes to everyday use they become impractical because the tips can easily fall out of the hex bit holder on the end of the driver shank. To cure this the Wiha engineers have introduced a spring loaded collar that locks the bits into place. The collar can rotate too, so is handy for the one hand to hold when guiding screws into place while the other hand rotates the handle. The clever packaging is not only eco-friendly and fully recyclable but the transparent sleeve also provides potential buyers with a very good look at the way in which the tool works as well as details of the bits.

The market is a good test and so far the 26 One is selling very well as trades make an effort to unclutter their toolboxes.

The LiftUp Electric is a VDE version of the 26 One seems to have the same size handle and bit storage mechanism, but with VDE safety levels. However, pushing in the release clips reveals only one set of six bit holders, each with a different version of the Wiha Slim VDE bits in it. The bits are: - three slotted, a PH1, a PH 2 and a SL/PZ2 – some of the most commonly used driver bits in VDE circles. Each bit is fully insulated nearly to the tip and certified to highest VDE standards, as is the handle, so the choice of this tool is not a second best. The insulation is flush with the blade and gives full access at any time.

The flexible bit holders in the handle carousel again make it easy to take out and replace the screwdriver tips and the spring mechanism is so slick that it works smoothly every time with no danger of the tips getting caught in it.

Unlike the 26 One, the VDE screwdriver bits are simply pushed into place and held there by friction and a small detent. The hold seems to me to be quite secure and the tips never felt in danger of falling out. There is also a rotating collar on the screwdriver shank and in electrical work this is quite important because the screws can often be small and need the guidance from both hands to locate successfully.

To be honest, when working with the VDE BitHolder I often didn’t bother with a toolbox – I just took the BitHolder, and a pair of VDE pliers and shoved them into my back pocket. The ultimate revenge on Crowded Toolbox Syndrome.

Finally, in tool reviews as in life, I have kept the smallest to last. The Stubby BitHolder is a short and chubby screwdriver with magnetic hex bit holder and 6 bits stored in the short handle. There is no room for springs so the cap that holds the bits is kept in place by a friction ridge and is easy to lever off with a fingernail. There are three slot bits and three PZ bits, but it would be easy to customise for your needs. I know that some trades can’t live without stubby drivers because they reach to places longer drivers just can’t, and it is really handy to be able to change bits to suit rather than carry a number of “Stubbies”.

So, by now you should have had some clues on how to solve the problem of crowded toolboxes. The Wiha drivers are excellent solutions with the necessary quality and strength for professional users.  

 

SENCO GT 40FS Cordless Fencing Stapler: Big, Bold and Brash – and Very Effective

Aimed at: Fencing Professionals and Heavy Duty agricultural users.

Pros: Gas gives freedom from cords and enough power for heavy work. 

Up to now my experience of corded and cordless fencing nailers has been limited to ones with enough capacity to hold smallish mesh on big chicken runs and odd stretches of fencing. So the arrival of the SENCO GT 40FS, which is essentially a contract fencers’ version of a gas powered nailer, was a bit of a surprise. This clearly is a machine aimed at users who have to erect BIG fences and screens, where stapling is currently done using loose staples and a hammer. Think large-scale agricultural stock fencing and so on, often in low temperatures and in challenging conditions where this SENCO is quite at home.

Like builders’ gas nailers, it is a bulky machine because it is necessary to accommodate the piston and firing mechanisms as well as providing some weight to counteract the inevitable recoil when it shoots the heavy duty galvanised staples into wooden posts and rails. However, intended users will not have mains electricity or air powerso the portability and convenience of gas power is the only way to go.

The whole machine is in the familiar black livery with the big red and silver SENCO logo on each side of the body. Despite the necessary bulk of the head, the handle underneath is well-designed for easy grip with a rubberised and ridged overmould. A compact, 1.6Ah Nimh foursquare battery pack slots onto the base of the handle where it is protected from accidental knocks by the reversible belt hook. Any user who needs to hang this tool on a belt will need the American style rig with over the shoulder braces to support the bulk and and its 3.7 Kg weight. And bearing in mind that this tool will be used outdoors in rough conditions, putting it down on muddy and unstable ground might not only be unsafe, it would also be inconvenient to have to bend over and pick it up after every use. The weight doesn’t prevent this tool from being a one-handed operation, something loose stapling on fencing certainly isn’t.

The staple magazine and feeder mechanisms work in a familiar way so regular users of nailers will do it as second nature. The stapler rail is a light alloy that is firmly fixed both front and back, no doubt to withstand the odd knocks it is likely to receive in jobsite use. Behind it is a moulded plastic cover that covers the back side of the staple strips. To load the staple strips, the release button is pushed so that the spring loaded feeder shoe can be pulled back and locked into “open” position, ready to load a couple of strips. Once these are inserted over the rail, the feeder shoe is released so that the staples are firmly held and can be spring fed into the machine as the staples are fired.

I have used numbers of galvanised wire staples in smaller machines but one of the things that made me realise that GT 40FS is a heavy-duty tool was the size of the staples it will fire. With a capacity for 12.2mm crowned hot-dip galvanised staples between 25 and 40mm long it needs all its power and size to fire them. The staples come in weatherproof plastic containers containing either 2,100 40mm staples or 2,700 33mm staples, and have divergent points which mean the staple legs splay out on driving so giving extra hold in the timber. The other great advantage of collated staples over loose is that you’re guaranteed to use every fastener you buy – no more dropped and lost staples.

Preparing the tool for use is a simple process. A fully charged battery takes about two hours on the simple charger supplied, but there is no danger of downtime since the battery power is used very slowly and will easily last a long time –SENCO estimates around 5200 staples per charge. Plus there are two batteries supplied in the kit – enough power even for demanding users.

The 40g gas fuel cell needed to fire the piston mechanism is expected to last around 1200 shots, so again users can expect to have a relatively uninterrupted working day.

Preparing the gas fuel cell is easy too. For safety during transit the valve is separated from the canister, so the user has to press the front and then the back of the valve into the rim of the canister so that the seal is pierced and the gas can flow. The prepared fuel cell is then inserted into position by lifting the lid of the cell housing and inserting it so that the valve mechanism is aligned with the small gas feeder hole leading to the piston mechanism. Simply close the lid to seal the fuel cell off.

Once you are satisfied that the machine is ready to use, the staples have been inserted, and the requisite safety gear has been donned it is time to get to work.

There are a lot of skills associated with using gas staplers safely – and a key one of these is to ensure that you locate the position of the staple safely into the workpiece. Fortunately the GT40FS has a locating groove on the nosepiece to ensure easy location on every drive. Avoid stapling at an angle, never staple near an edge where it could split the material and go right through and avoid areas where there might be embedded metal etc, that could cause a staple to ricochet.

To begin work simply press the safety nose into the work and you will feel it give a little. This prepares the gas and piston, and then a pull on the trigger will fire the piston, which in turn will fire the staple. There is a pop, the fan disperses the exhaust fumes from the top of the tool, and within a few seconds you are ready to fire the next staple. It really is a case that the machine can work as fast as you can or need to. I calculated that around 30 staples a minute is the capacity of this machine, but I doubt that many or indeed any, users would be able to work accurately and safely at this rate.

It may take a bit of trial and error to ensure that staples are not over or under driven – but the depth is easy to adjust using the milled thumbwheel on the front of the tool, and depth of drive is particularly important for stapling wire on fence post which subsequently needs to be strained tight.

I always have a few seconds of trepidation when using gas powered tools – it reminds me of using a gun and I guess the comparison is apt. But when the staple is driven safely home with minimum effort from you, and the tool is quickly ready to drive another one, the trepidation turns to power and the realisation that you can work quickly and cost-effectively to get the job done.

Just as a quick aside – using the machine, I never needed to clear a staple jam because it worked faultlessly for me in the clean and undemanding conditions of an English summer. But it is incredibly quick to unjam staples with the hex key supplied. 

 

SMAARTWIPES - Get the Ones You Need

Aimed At: Professional and home users who need efficient wiping power.

Pros: They do what they say they will do, saving time and looking after hands too.

Confession time. I never thought that I would become a fan of wipes, that is until I was given a tub to try out some years ago. I was surprised to find out how good they were for wiping hands and surfaces and not daunted by oils, paints, adhesives or even expanding foam. So I was hooked, and what’s more, whenever I take them on site I find that I am particularly popular at the end of the day at cleaning up time. I have gained quite a few converts to wipes this way and sometimes even the clients ask where they can get them – having seen how effective they are in cleaning up.

While the original tub of wipes that I used were quite generalist, it has only taken a couple of years for manufacturers to launch more specialist ranges aimed at different trades like technicians, decorators and builders.

We really can say goodbye to the skin-damaging rinse of the hands with white spirit or meths and then the inevitable struggle with whatever soap or washing-up liquid we can find.

The range of SMAARTWIPES is comprehensive and I was sent four different kinds to test in various scenarios.

The Universal Tough Wipes come in a flat plastic waterproof pack similar to the kind in which baby wipes are packaged. The pack of 30 wipes is accessed by simply lifting up the resealing strip and pulling up the wipe underneath.

These wipes really are for general trade or household use, and would not be out of place in a garden shed or home workshop. I tried them on a range of paints and adhesives, oil, silicone and grease and found that they cleaned up very well.

The wipes themselves are large enough to do a “two-handed” clean up of hands and the pleasantly scented lemon solvent cleaner lasted all the way to the last wipe. The perforations in the wipe surface give a texture to them that helps to shift ingrained dirt and makes them very effective especially on grease and oil.

I found that they were a great to leave on the shelf in my workshop or as a last minute addition to one of my toolboxes before loading the car because the flat pack is easy to stow and doesn’t require much space.

The next test was not one that I scheduled. While inspecting the crop on my plum tree in my front garden I stepped on a rather unpleasant “gift” from one of my neighbour’s cats and I didn’t realise it until I got to my front door and porch.

For this unpleasant job I used the tub of SMAARTWIPES designated for Carpets and Upholstery. There are 40 wipes in the tub and the label indicates that tea and coffee stains, pet stains, footprints and hand marks are all within the remit for removal using them.

Fortunately, the floors near my front door consist of coir mat and oak, so the contamination was able to be quickly dealt with by the judicious use of half a dozen or so wipes. The lemon scent helped to disguise the whiff of the mess and the strength of the 18x20 cm textured wipes was such that I felt confident that I didn’t have to touch the dirt.

I did also try the wipes on a couple of existing marks on the carpet that were a bit more “innocent,” like tea and coffee stains. These stains required a couple of minute’s effort and application to remove, but I found that they did indeed lift out and the evidence was clear to see on the wipe as well as a much cleaner carpet. My leather sofa also benefited from a clean over on some of the more obvious marks too.

These particular wipes are presented in a 23cm tall tub with a foil seal that has to be removed before the wipes can be accessed. As usual, it is very tempting to simply pull the wipes from the top quite quickly, so it is easy to get more than you need at one go, nevertheless, in my view, they are a very good addition to the dirt-fighting armoury of a well run household.

Also having a rather specialist use was the tub of 40 Stainless Steel Tough Polishing Wipes. At first I thought that they might be too specific for my purposes, but the recommended uses include removing smears, residue stains and oil and grease, so I had the ideal task to try them on – my cooker hood. Now, even the famous Muscular brand of cleaner has difficulty removing the grease from the top of my cooker hood so I was worried that the wipes would be ineffective. But a couple of the textured wipes wrapped together and the application of a bit of elbow grease removed coated grease and oil very effectively and left a clean surface with no feeling of slight oiliness that I get with some cleaners. The wipes gathered grease so quickly that I ended up using about 8 of them to end up with a shiny, grease free cooker hood. Again, the evidence was on the wipes to show how effective they had been and since the wipes are completely non-abrasive, they do not scratch or damage the stainless steel surface.

Lastly, I was given a big tub of 100 Trade Cleaning Wipes – of the type that I normally buy when I work on site. They are very generalist in application – removing everything from paint to oil, silicone and expanding foam. They are indeed as billed on the tub – Simple but Effective.

The non-woven wipes have a very effective cleaning formula that effectively lifts dirt off surfaces and my tests using my usual range of dirt –oil, grease glues, paint and expanding foam - proved that the wipes really do work. The addition of Aloe Vera also helps to protect skin from the damage and drying out usually associated with using solvents to clean up. They are now a regular part of my kit both in the workshop and on site.

For me, wipes are now a necessity, and the range of SMAARTWIPES is a welcome addition to the competition because they work very well and are very competitively priced. Smaartwipes are exclusively available from Toolstream.

Tite-Fix Ltd – Award Winning Fixings and Expert Knowledge

Aimed at: All discerning screw users, especially professionals.

Pros: Choose the exact screw you need from the huge TiteFix range to do the perfect job.

One of the reasons why I started to explore the different kinds of screws on the market was because of an interesting tool show discussion I had a couple of years back with Michael Wilkinson, MD of Tite-Fix Ltd. It soon became clear to me that not only did he have excellent practical and theoretical knowledge of how screws work, he could also demonstrate the various screw-based problems and then give you a solution by choosing a product from Tite-Fix’s huge range.

Tite-Fix was generous enough to send me a box of screws that encompassed 24 different types of screws in various sizes, finishes and drive combinations. The range convinced me that choosing the correct screws can be a simple job as long as you have a few facts at your command. Take these bits of pithy advice from Michael himself, and I am sure you will agree that they make absolute sense: -

“As for the types of drive, Pozi is good as long as the bits fit the recess correctly. We use the drive that suits the screw. Tongue-Tite® has a lost countersunk head and a Torx works best here”.

“Deck-Tite® Plus is A4 stainless steel and is often driven in with an impact driver so we use a No.2 Square drive”.

“Timber-Tite® is a heavy duty screw where Torx suits”.

“On our premium brand multi-purpose Screw-Tite® we use Pozi because in our experience the end-user prefers this, and it is still by far the most widely used recess”.

“I prefer a good Pozi drive. Torx is poor on start-up but works well once the screw has started”.

Tite-Fix has based its range of screws on the “Tri-Lock” threadform and judging by the number of national and international awards the company has won, it has been a great success.

I had a particular problem to solve recently when replacing a series of internal doors so I chose some Hinge-Tite screws. The plain coated brass countersunk screws were easy to centre and start, and were driven into the hinge countersinks, leaving a flush surface between screw and hinge.  I hate the fact that so many standard screws do not seat well because of the self countersinking ribs underneath the head. Another issue is that the heads are often too big to fit the hinges – often caused by the fact that the heads have been designed for power driving and are therefore a bit meatier.

For a more sophisticated finish on window fittings and high quality hardware, the chromed, slightly domed Hinge-Tite screws are perfect. Again, the choice is yours to make the job easy and the clients happy.  

From specialist to generalist now. The award winning Screw-Tite screws are excellent all-rounders available from 12 to 150mm long in various gauges. The Tri-Lock shank means that it is easy to start with less damage to the timber surface.  There is also less likelihood of splitting the edge if you start close to it with these screws.

For flooring – whether it be decking, tongue and groove, chipboard or composites – there is a fantastic choice from the Tite-Fix range. The Tongue –Tite for example has a tiny head that is easily lost into the tongue of a floorboard for a concealed fixing into which the groove can be slotted. Outside? – simple. Just choose the stainless steel variant and you get a free driver bit in the box too.

The above examples are a fraction of Tite-Fix range. While I didn’t get to use all of my Tite-Fix samples, you can bet that I will, eventually, in the course of various jobs. It is simply very satisfying to have the work go well because you chose the best screw for the job – whether it be finish, head size or driving head.  

So, I come back to my point that not all screws are equal -  a shrewd choice of screws for your fixing jobs will not only be more effective, it will also save you time, money and hassle as well.

 

Flex Tools: Try One - Surprises in Your Pocket and in Performance

Aimed at: Professional users, with a bit of an eye on the budget without giving up on performance.

Pros: Impact driver has 180Nm of torque and the combi drill is compact, able and comes with an excellent metal chuck.

In a crowded power tool market it is great to have a niche in which you can dominate. Flex has done this with their famous range of Giraffe wall sanders, chasers, grinders and polishers. So, it is only natural that the company would want to join the competition in the cut throat cordless market too.

This it has done by developing its own lithium ion battery system, complete with sophisticated chargers, heat monitoring and electronic control for tools and chargers. Users would say that these are a minimum for professional quality tools these days, and they would be right. But as I have discovered, the Flex tools I have used match up to current standards and are not a poor relation.

However, in a very brand driven market it is sometimes hard to get the message across, and it is also quite difficult to get end users to think more carefully about their tool choices. On site, I rarely need to top up a battery if I have remembered to charge it up overnight, since my power needs are mostly confined to impact driving and drilling. My observations are that many other trades are in the same boat. But still the view persists that bigger is better. Whereas in fact, I often end up using optional 2.5 Ah battery packs because they are smaller and lighter than 5Ah ones. Surely here is a chance for end users to find ways to get the job done without necessarily paying top prices that premium brands can charge?

The two Flex drivers I was sent for review came well presented in stackable Sortimo L-Boxxes with custom fitted inserts to hold tool, spare battery, chargers and accessories tightly in transit. I like these boxes because they have top and front handles, are very easy to stack and lock together and are as compact as they need to be to contain the tools, so they don’t take up lots of extra space.

First up for review was the PD2G 18.0 Drill driver and hammer. Early impressions are very favourable because the build quality is up there with the best. Clearly this is no budget model and it feels solid and weighty in the hand. The ergonomics of the handling has clearly been thought through with a good rubberised grip on the well-proportioned main handle and a good balance in the hand. There are other strategically placed rubber bumpers on the rear and bottom of the handle so the tool can be stood up or lain down on surfaces without damaging it.

There is a quality, solid metal keyless 12mm chuck which works very well without slipping and is also easy to loosen and tighten. Behind the chuck are two plastic collars, the first to choose the 24 torque positions and the second to select drilling, screwdriving or hammer modes. Both of the collars are robust, move easily without sticking and have sensible grips on them to make adjusting them easy. On top of the drill is a slider switch for selecting high or low gear making speeds from 0- 1650 and 0-380rpm possible. In low speed torque is a very reasonable 70Nm which is enough for most purposes. Trigger arrangement follows the common layout of a push through switch for selecting forward/reverse and a speed sensitive trigger. All works smoothly and the spindle brake works very well too.

The PD 2G has a very good auxiliary handle that is firmly screwed, via tightening clips, onto the front of the alloy gear housing. This can suit left or right handers, but is not adjustable around a collar like some other drills. I also liked the belt hook – as I now sometimes have to use it to hold a tool when I am up on a ladder for example. There is also a handy bit holder that is screwed in opposite the belt hook. Again it can be useful - making it easier to find a driver bit rather than the usual scrabble in a pocket crammed with a whole lot of other bits and pieces.

I liked the smaller 2.5Ah battery at height and in confined spaces, and I found that charging was quick and easy using the diagnostic charger – usually taking about 45 minutes.

While the above drill/driver is good, I wasn’t prepared for the performance of the ID ¼ inch 18.0. It is simply amazing and I worked out why when I looked at the specs – it has an astonishing 180Nm of torque. I have never had it so easy driving concrete screws into dense concrete. It was the Torx driver bits that felt the pressure!

Similarly into wood, even the longest screws I used (150mm) were driven without effort or drama. It really is very good and I liked using it very much.

Like the drill/driver above, the Flex impact driver is very well made, and surprisingly compact in the way that modern impact drivers are. It has a similar pattern of rubberised grip on the handles, motor end and bottom of the handle. So handling and bump protection taken care of. The other controls follow a familiar layout and are thus easy to work with – ergonomics is a strong point on both of these tools.

I used the tools for several weeks on site and I also lent them to a couple of others to garner their opinions. One of the users is a welder who rarely uses cordless tools in his day job, but he was full of praise for their easy handling and they had enough power for him to drill and drive very happily (he used 60mm screws maximum)

The other user had a more demanding project and needed a pair of drivers to get him over a hump because his impact drill had broken and was in the repair shop. He was full of praise for the Flex tools, especially liking the handling and balance and their ability to drive 120mm woodscrews with ease. To say that he was impressed with the impact driver is understating it – I nearly had to wrestle it back off him and I think it is safe to say that he thought it was much better than the (branded) one that was returned from the repair shop.

So, definitely worth a look – my guess is that you will be pleasantly surprised.

 

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