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Reviews at a glance

Honda EU22i The Case for Portable Power

like the idea of portable power, hence my fascination with battery technologies. But, battery power has its limits and there is still a strong case for having the extra oomph of a generator nearby that can provide a power plug in. This has been reinforced for me recently with a series of power cuts in the village in Sussex where I live. During the longest power cut I was right in the middle of converting some rough oak planks into more manageable square edged pieces ready for thicknessing, when the power went off. Luckily, I had the power of the Honda EU22i to turn to. It was literally only a matter of minutes before I was able to get going again - with my guide rail saw plugged into the generator I was able to finish the job. Unfortunately, the power stayed off long enough to prevent me cooking a healthy meal so I was forced to go out for fish and chips!!

It was great to have a real situation in which to try out the Honda and experience the genuine relief and convenience of having an alternative source of energy. My family in South Africa all have a generator on hand in the garage, or wherever, to take the strain during power cuts. In Europe, we are probably less reliant on emergency power sources, but judging from the number of small generators I see at food and music festivals etc, we aren’t slow to recognise their usefulness.

Appearances Do Matter

The Honda EU22i is very handsomely and neatly enclosed in its bright red and grey plastic casing with a huge carrying handle on top. This neatness emphasizes how compact and simple the machine is to operate, but also how portable and convenient it is.

There are a couple of ‘doors’ into the casing – on one side undoing a screw will release the large panel that conceals the all-important oil filler/level checker and air filter box. All the wires and connections are neat and well protected so it seems as though a little bit of damp won’t affect them.

On the other side, a smaller ‘door’ reveals the spark plug and connector. This makes changing and checking spark plugs pretty straightforward.

Controls and Operation

The business end is the most important part since it contains all the controls, warning lights and outlet plugs. It is neatly and logically laid out with the two three-pin 230v outlets dominating. They have covers over them to help with weather protection – as it is clear that this generator will be used outdoors in one of our famously wet summers.

There is an array of warning lights for oil, overload and output so the motor is easy to monitor.

There is also an AC circuit protector and a couple of parallel operation outlets and the eco throttle switch that can be used to slow the motor when the power being taken is not at full requirements.

What is clear is that the switchgear is simple and clear and easy to operate. Even someone not familiar with the generator could quickly learn the basic controls to be able to use it safely and efficiently.

On the opposite side of the casing is a grille panel that conceals the exhaust outlet. This grille protects users from the inevitable heat produced by the motor and reduces the possibility of accidental burns.

To make it as easy as possible to start the motor - and I do hate struggling to start motors – the motor pull cord, motor control switch and choke lever are all on one side of the generator.

Of course, you do need to check the oil and petrol levels before you begin – this takes a couple of minutes. I have already mentioned the oil filler, which simply needs unscrewing to check the oil level. The petrol tank cap is placed on top of the machine right next to the main handle. It uses a robust cap which is unscrewed to reveal a filter that fits closely into the neck of the tank. The filler cap has a lever on top that vents the tank. When not in use, the vent has to be sealed to help prevent fuel leakage. To start the motor, the fuel tank vent has to be opened, the motor switch set to ‘On’ and, depending on conditions, the choke lever may have to be set to ‘closed’. I found it easy to start the motor by grabbing hold of the main handle and pulling on the starter cord. Modern engines like the Honda do not have that fierce compression kickback that old motors had, and it only took half a dozen pulls on the cord to get the motor going.

Practical ‘In Use’ Experience

Although at just over 19Kgs, the Honda fits into EU weight and manual handling rules, I am happy that I didn’t have to carry it very far. The huge grab handle certainly helps to manage the carrying, and I am sure a burly builder would have no problems bringing it onto site up a few flights of stairs. The truth is that the generator is going to spend most of its life placed on a flat surface producing power, so carrying it is not its most important feature. However, in pretty well every other respect, the Honda is an ideal small generator. Its fully enclosed case provides bump and weather protection, as well as making it a neat and unobtrusive package wherever it sits.

I was really impressed with the low noise levels emanating from the motor. You do not have to raise your voice to be heard, even close up to it.

Power output was enough for me to run a couple of power tools from it simultaneously and keep up a conversation with my workmate as we both worked.

In short, the Honda EU22i is a compact and powerful bit of kit that is genuinely portable and very easy to use. It won’t annoy bystanders with excess noise and has the reputable and reliable Honda engine that starts easily and is easy to maintain. 

Lots to Like!

Draper 12v Capacitor Jump Starter Safe Starting

I like many others, am slowly learning that I can’t do without the smart electronics in my car. It enables the phone and music connections, satnav etc etc that I rely on increasingly. But these same complicated electronics are so sensitive that merely disconnecting the battery to replace a light bulb can entail an hour’s worth of work resetting all the electronics - from the clock to the automatic headlight dipping.

In simpler times, jump starting an ‘analogue’ car involved just connecting some jump leads from another car battery, making sure the polarity matched up and then hitting the ignition key. 12v was 12v and that was all that mattered.

Smart Electronics

But modern cars are all different and have different balances and systems for their electronics. Hence the need for ‘smart’ or diagnostic jump starters that ‘read’ the systems and inform the users once they are connected. The Draper 12v Capacitor Jump Starter (part number 82957) is just such a device. It is part of a bigger range of Draper Jump Starters and is aimed at emergency starting for petrol engines up to 6 litres and diesel engines up to 3 litres.

It is compact and light – weighing only 1.294 Kgs and measuring 25 cm long, 12cm wide and 5cm deep. The Draper Blue box that houses the innovative electronics is completely surrounded by protective ‘bumpers’ on all the edges and the back has a very handy summary of specs, operating instructions and an all-important warning panel.

The Differences between Capacitors and Batteries

Capacitors and batteries are similar in that they are both ways of storing electricity. Batteries use chemicals to store electricity and because of the ‘delays’ that chemistry has in taking up a charge they are slower to charge and discharge. Capacitors on the other hand, store electricity in a ‘force field’ between plates and, when called upon, can deliver a burst of power very quickly and at full voltage. Capacitors are usually smaller and lighter than their equivalent battery counterparts because they do not have to accommodate chemical cells and heavy metals.

This Draper Jump Starter works on a capacitor system that makes it compact and light – in fact small enough to store in a glove box ready for a starting emergency. It is certainly less of a hassle to have in the boot than a pair of 2 metre long jump leads I have used in the past.

Some Details

The Jump Starter comes in a cardboard box that, if it were kept in good condition, is perfect for storing the device, because it protects it from bumps and knocks as well as providing some protection against splashes and liquids.

The Starter has three switches – an off/on switch, a switch for the built-in torch and a switch for the Li Ion back-up battery. The torch has several modes that are selected by cycling through on the button. The first mode is a bright LED light that is useful on dark nights under car bonnets. The second is a quickly flashing light, and the third mode is a Morse code SOS signal. These last two modes provide some light for working by, but are also useful as warning beacons if you are stuck by the side of a road.

The clamp leads are quite short with only about 28 cm of reach. This means that, in use, the Starter has to be perched on top of the engine or side wing closest to the battery location. Unlike some jump starter cables, the clamp cables on the Draper are quite light and flexible so they are easy to handle. The copper contact parts of the clamps are largely covered by a plastic sheathing that will minimise accidental contact between them. While they are stiff enough to ensure good contacts on the poles of the battery, the clamp springs are not so tight that they are difficult to handle. They also open wide enough for easy clipping to the battery poles.

Two methods of charging the capacitor are supplied in the box. The first is a standard 12v lead for sliding into the power socket in the car, the second is a 5v USB cable that will also fit most modern cars that can accommodate an MP3 player.

Using the Jump Starter

For the first use of the device it must be charged for 24 hours, though it has been precharged during production. This ensures that the Li Ion cells are fully charged ready for the emergency. To maintain a ‘top-up’ charge after the initial charging, the USB charger will take about four hours to top up the battery, while the 12v DC lead will charge the device in around 50 minutes.

Using the Jump Starter is simplicity itself. Connect the two cable clamps to the correct battery terminals and press the power on button the LED display will indicate the voltage and internal resistance of the battery. If your car battery had enough remaining energy to charge the capacitors then you will see the display indicating that the machine is taking on charge, if not then then press the back up battery boost button to charge the capacitors from the in-built lithium 10v batteries

After a couple of minute’s charging, the capacitor is ready to start the car as indicated by the LED “display jumpstart ready”. If all does not go to plan after ten seconds of turning the car engine over, then the device will have to be rested for about 30 seconds before trying again.

Connecting the clamps to the battery terminal can also tell you via the LED display whether the battery is chargeable or whether it needs replacing.

The recent below freezing weather has seen the Draper Jump Starter doing some sterling service for the cars in my close, with one neighbour who is too mean to buy a new car battery, having to use it every morning for a week. There is no doubt that its compact size and ease of use make it a very useful device. There is no doubt that garages and roadside emergency services would find this useful – as they could have it charged and ready in their vehicles.

Flex CS 62 Portable Circular Saw Brushless Power with Cordless Convenience

I became a fan of this saw within about ten minutes of using it. I happened to be cutting up some 75mm thick, hard American Maple when it arrived. I thought that there was no time like the present, slotted a battery pack into it and started cutting. The brand-new blade was sharp as a razor, the power delivery was spot on and although the depth of cut, at 62mm, wasn’t quite enough to cut through the 75mm thickness of the maple, there was not even a change of note from the motor as it sliced through the timber. Now that is a good first impression. And subsequent use just proved that my first impression was the correct one. This must be a first – a recommendation for a product by the end of the first paragraph of a review.

The Details

It is clear on close examination that Flex has done its homework on what is needed for a cordless circular saw. These saws are often used for smallish cutting and trimming jobs, often working at height or in awkward situations. They do need to be accurate, powerful enough, light and easy to handle, and with enough adjustment to be versatile on the worksite. Used with a straightedge, they should also be able to cut boards of all kinds like ply, OSB and MDF.  With a depth of cut of 62mm one can appreciate that smallish is not always that small.

Construction of the saw base, blade guard and adjustments is of a well finished cast alloy. And I do mean well finished – there are no bumps and glitches to spoil it and the actual base of the saw is flat and square. Another nice touch is the slight rounding over of the front of the base so that feeding it into a cut is eased.

All of the adjustments on the saw body and base are toolless via small plastic-handled cam clamps. They are very positive and easy to use and clamp tightly when set. One of my pet hates is too much free play in the depth of cut settings on portable circular saws, but there is no problem with the Flex. And the depth setting is accurate too. When it comes to blade angle settings there are a couple of nice touches too. The protractor blade settings have a clear white on black scale for easy reading. There are also three fixed settings at 50, 45 and 22.5 degrees that are selected via a small control knob so these angles can be set accurately for repeat cuts.

Features and Benefits

The body and motor housing are made of Flex Red plastic – strong and well put together and certainly able to withstand a few knocks. There is a compact EC (brushless) motor that is very quiet and torquey. It sits directly underneath the main handle so that your hands feel as though they are operating on the centre of gravity, although the handle does appear to be set higher than other equivalent saws from other makers.

Somehow Flex has managed to include a bright LED light underneath the handle where it is not quite as visible as it might be, but the overspill of light is still generally useful. Right next to the light is the spindle lock needed for changing the blade with a hex key attached nearby.

Some users might think that the handle position is a bit high but the position of the auxiliary handle allows the saw to be guided easily, and in fact keeps your view of the blade and cut line clear. The handles have a good coating of black rubberised overmould for grip. In order to start the saw, the safety button has to be depressed before the trigger can be pulled. This is suited to both left and right handers.

Another feature I liked was that the brushless motor has a brake that stops the blade within a couple of seconds after the trigger is released.

There are also a couple of options when it comes to collecting dust. On a cordless saw where users might not yet have sorted out the option of dust collection via a cordless vacuum, the small dust bag does a remarkably good job of collecting the fairly large amounts of dust thrown out by the blade. The bag is robustly made with a nylon mesh outer and clips into place, so it does not simply fall off as a push fit bag might. It is fair to say that it keeps clients happy when working indoors as the dust that escapes is minimal, but you will need to keep an eye on when the bag needs emptying. A task that is easy to do because the bag simply unclips. The dust does not need to be emptied through a small nozzle.

Another option is to fit the dust spout. This too is clipped into place and is a standard 35mm fitting for most small dust extractor vac nozzles.

Finally, there is a small pressed steel fence that can be attached in slots either in front of or behind the blade. I rarely use them, preferring to rely on a straightedge instead. But still no searching in the box for the fixing screws for it – they are a simple cam clamp fixing.

Presentation

The Flex CS 62 comes in a handsome fitted L-Boxx with two batteries and a charger. Although nominally rated at 5 Ah I find that the battery packs perform well and charge efficiently. I especially like the fact that Flex chargers have a minutes countdown on them so you know exactly how long you have to wait for your battery to be fully charged.

There is a lot of value and performance built into this saw and current Flex users should find it a no-brainer to acquire should they need a circular saw. Its features should also appeal to others looking for a good quality, well specified cordless circular saw. I like it very much.

Aimed at: Pro and demanding amateurs who need a quality tool

Pros: Efficient, easy to use and adjust, robustly made with a good depth of cut.

Triton Sanders Mobile and Stationary Options for a Good Job Easily Done

Sanding has never been my favourite task, but became tolerable with the invention of longer-lasting abrasives and much better sanding machines. The picture has now been complicated by the research into the dangers of dust inhalation. The knowledge has led to legislation, so even ‘one-man-bands’ now have to use M level dust collection on site. But dust collection in home workshops shouldn’t be ignored either. Time to invest in masks and vac extraction?

The two Triton sanders that were sent for review solidly reflect the innovations in sanding that have taken place, and they also feature good dust extraction and other safety features that make modern sanding much less of a chore.

Oscillating Versatility

The Triton 350W Oscillating and Tilting Table Spindle Sander would find a very valuable place in many small workshops. It comes under the heading of a Very Useful Machine. Making, shaping and sanding small curved components can be very challenging and slow if the only tools you have are small drum sanders in a drill, or a bit of abrasive wrapped around a curved shape or dowel.

Preparation

It took just over 25 minutes from opening the box and reading the instructions to getting a sample bit of timber sanded. This shows that the machine is simple to use and adjust and users will be able to swap sanding spindles and adjust the table etc without tools.

5 sizes of sanding sleeve are provided and the compression washers for each of these. There are also three round table inserts and three inserts with elongated holes for when the spindle is used tilted.

To ensure that all of these small components are readily available when needed, two storage units are attached to each side of the sander to contain them.

Changing the spindles is very easy by simply undoing the wingnut (left hand thread) and lifting out the spindle. Ensuring that the hole in the table insert matches the size of the spindle makes sure that the work is well supported and the maximum amount of dust is extracted. The elongated ‘circles’ are used when the table is set at an angle so that angled edges can be sanded. Adjusting the table is also simple – just loosen the two knobs under the cast alloy table and set the angle on the protractor.

Dust Extraction

Dust collection is via the extraction port under the table. When connected to a vac extractor most of the dust is collected but it is still wise to wear a dust mask to avoid the inevitable airborne particles.

In the Workshop

Because it stands up quite straight and has a small footprint, this sander can fit into a corner of a workshop quite well. Ideally, I would mount it on a small, wheeled base (holes are provided in the base for secure attachment) so that it could be moved around. Occasionally you might need to sand some bigger workpieces so it is handy to be able to move it.

I used the sander for quite a lot of shaping tasks from table legs to trays and I found that it performed well. It feels straightforward and safe to use with the NVR switch right on the front of the machine for easy access. The oscillating motion is steady and helps to clear dust quickly from the work as well as avoiding burns and scratches on the timber.

Because it is easy to use and adjust there is no excuse for not changing the spindles to the correct sizes needed for each job.

Triton 650W Portable Oscillating Spindle Sander

This tool looks like no other sander I have used so I needed to have a thorough read-through of the instructions with a step-by-step look at switches, controls etc. It occurred to me that Triton have gone out on a limb with this machine because it is innovative and yet niche.

It consists of a plastic body that contains the motor and oscillating gear in a sort of bulky H-shape with a spindle emerging from one of the legs of the H.  My first thought was that it offered no obvious place to grip it easily for portable sanding jobs – but after using it a bit more I learned its logic and all became clear.

Used in stationery mode – very useful on site or where space might be tight – the machine can be clamped to a workbench, a workmate or even a bit of sheet material on a couple of trestles. In this inverted mode, the oscillating spindle is upright and is surrounded by a small area that serves as a support ‘table’ for the workpiece. This is good for edge sanding of small workpieces. To help the machine to grip onto the substrate when clamped, a shaped rubber mat is supplied and this really helps to prevent movement in use.

Versatile and Easy

But there is more versatility to be had. Used with the sanding spindle facing downwards, the machine can be moved across edges rather than the edges being moved along the spindle. This is a very useful when sanding edges of worktops in situ for example. With the edge guide that screws into the base it is possible to get a very controlled sanded edge with no ‘dig-ins’ along it. Something that I used to great effect with an oak bench top I was preparing for a client.

The motor is quite buzzy but powerful, and has 6 adjustable speeds that would be necessary for controlled and speedy sanding. On/off is a simple rocker switch above the speed selection dial.  With a selection of three spindles and sanding sleeves supplied, users can select the right one for the job.

Dust extraction is pretty simple in benchtop mode – an extraction nozzle is clipped into the end of the machine and the vac is plugged into that. In mobile mode, I found that dust extraction was best served by using a lightweight hose that moved easily as I moved the machine along the edges I was sanding.  A niche machine it may be, but getting used to it proved to me that it has some unique solutions to some difficult sanding conundrums.

 

Aimed at: Small Pro and amateur workers who need to shape edges safely

Pros: Efficient, safe and effective edge sanding with no burns or marks – if you follow the instructions.

Draper 20V Impact Wrench – More Power to Your Trigger Finger

Why Impact Wrenches?

Impact wrenches are a coming thing because there is every reason to use advances in battery technology to free yourself from trailing compressor airlines without loss of capability. Equally, scaffolders can use cordless impact wrenches to cope with the hundreds of nuts they have to tighten and loosen each day, because the tools are small and light enough to fit into a pouch as well as needing only one hand to operate compared to a normal scaffolder’s wrench.

When I had a puncture mended a couple of weeks ago, the female operative used a cordless impact wrench to save having to move the car right onto the workshop floor to remove the offending wheel. It gave her the freedom to save time and hassle.  So, the uses are many and will become more widespread as end users find out more and more applications in which to use them.

Storm Force 20V

Stepping into the impact wrench arena is the new Draper Storm Force 20v machine.

First impressions are that it is a solid and heavy machine – it weighs 1.89 Kgs without its 20v 3Ah battery pack. The handling is helped by a good balance between the meaty all-metal gearbox and housing and the big battery pack on the other end. However, most users will be impressed with the ergonomics – due to the well-designed main handle with ample rubberised grippiness and shaping for a good and comfortable grip.

The trigger sits perfectly onto the forefinger and is speed sensitive. Reverse/forward and lock are selected via the commonly used slide-through body switch and this works well as it is well placed for thumb and forefinger. I found the trigger pretty easy when controlling the speed I wanted, especially when tightening bolts, and with a maximum rpm of 2200 rpm there is more than enough speed available.

There is a sharp spindle brake that stops the rotation immediately the trigger is released. With an impact rate of 2,900 impacts per minute the user needs to pay attention to the grip they have on the tool and the orientation of their wrists – this is a powerful machine and can bite the unwary if they do not pay attention to the needs of the job. Sometimes it really pays off to use both hands to support the tool and operate it when its high torque and impact loads come into play. This is generic advice for impact wrenches so is not a reflection on the Storm Force

When it comes to rubberised padding and bumpers, the Storm Force follows the modern pattern of targeted protection of areas that are likely to be bumped in use, and much fuller protection of sensitive areas like the gearbox casing and on the corners and edges of the battery packs. The protection works, and even though the tool was often put down on rough ground during use, it sustained no serious knocks or scratches.

I don’t think that this Draper machine was designed for compact size because it stands 25cm high on its battery pack and extends 22cm from nose to tail without an impact socket fitted. To me, the design, weight and 20v battery pack spell out power and capability and the prospect of a hard-working service life. This is underlined by the fact that the maximum torque at full power is a massive 400Nm – enough power to break the heads off bolts if users don’t take care.

The Storm Force colours of bright fluorescent green or blue and black help it to be seen on the worksite, and when I examined the body it was very well screwed together. Unusually, the gearbox housing is held together with four robust hex drive bolts for strength.

Battery Chat

This tool comes in a cardboard box rather than a plastic case, - this is not a problem because it is most likely to be used in a workshop or chucked into a bag of scaffolder’s tools at the end of a working day.

The battery pack has a flat base so the tool can be stood up if wanted, and as I have already mentioned the edges of the base are protected with bumper strips. The battery pack is easy to fit and remove from the tool because of the strong ‘rails’ that locate it firmly. It helps that there is a simple spring catch to release the battery pack rather than fiddly buttons.

On the back of the battery pack is a simple system for checking the state of battery charge. Four green triangles light up when the check button is pressed to indicate a full battery charge. One triangle probably means that it is charging time soon.

A one-hour charger is included in the kit and has two lights for simplicity – red showing means ‘charging’ and green means ‘charged’.

General Use

When I used the Storm Force for a few jobs on site and around the workshop, I found that it could be as docile as could be unwinding a few 10mm head set screws to replace a decking rail, or powerful enough to remove a rusted/cemented over nut from a wheelbarrow frame. There is easily enough power to remove car wheelnuts – in fact I would suggest using the impact wrench equivalent of ‘finger tight’ before a final tightening to the correct torque with a torque wrench. 

After a time, I found that the solid weight of the tool could be quite helpful, as it helps to contain some of the massive torque forces that are unleashed at full power.

Overall, I think that this tool will function well in professional and semi-professional workshops where the freedom to move from job to job without the hassle of moving air hoses around is needed.

A nice little added extra touch is the inclusion of four impact rated sockets that fit well onto the ½ inch square drive. Having broken several of my own sockets on previous impact wrench testing, it made me appreciate the need to use the correctly rated accessories on a powerful 400Nm tool like this.

Aimed at: Pros and demanding amateurs.

Pros: Heavy duty performance, well built, impact sockets included, and one hour charger too

Wera Tool - More Innovation

Wera Tool Belts

The Tool Belt is an interesting idea – a set of tools attached to a short (22cm) belt or strap. The belt is rigid enough to support the outstretched weight of the tools and yet flexible enough to bend into a circle if needed. If you need to hang the belt from your trousers, then a handy mini-clip is supplied. The tools would then be fully visible for easy access and instant storage. It doesn’t take too much imagination to work out that this is a great solution when working up a ladder – the tools you need are available, organised and easily recognisable – not a jumble in the pouch pocket in your trousers.

Or you could use the hook and loop on the back of the belt to attach it to the 2Go storage/transit case, a rolling trolley or a workbench.

I was sent three tool belts to review. The first was a set of 9, ¼ inch drive sockets – covering the range of popular sizes from 4mm to 13mm.  The Take it Easy system ensures that they are recognisable not only by bold white numbers on a black background, but also by a coloured band around the base of the socket just below the knurling that makes for easier finger tightening. I like the fact that the numbers are big enough for me to read without my glasses.

The sockets are held in place on the belt with a simple twist and lock system, so they will not fall off. If you look carefully inside the sockets you will see a couple of ball bearings and an ever so slight bulge inwards. These hold a nut firmly so they don’t fall into the depths of your work, or if you need to introduce a nut to an inaccessible bolt. Wera is already ahead of you – a flexible rubber nut ejector is provided too. 

The second belt is a handy array of 8 hexagon drivers from 2 to 8mm. With all the features of Take it Easy, knurling and laser etched sizing and coloured band recognition, Wera has also managed to introduce the Holding Function on these via a spring loaded ball bearing system and the Hex-Plus Geometry of the bits themselves. In short the hex socket screws bolts don’t fall off even if you hold them pointing downwards.

Hex-Plus Geometry of the bits themselves. In short the hex socket screws don’t fall off even if you hold them pointing downwards.

The last of the belts is a set of 9 Torx bits – colour coded, laser marked and with Wera’s clever Holding Function made possible by a subtle tweak of the spline geometry.

L-Keys

I use L-Keys regularly – just enough to know that I need to upgrade the 15 year-old ones in my toolbox. When faced with a small selection of the Wera L-Keys, I realised just how much things have moved on. The biggest set in the review was a set of 9 keys ranging in size from 10mm to 1.5mm. For easy recognition they are all colour coded on the sleeve as well as marked in black numbers. The colour coding by size matches the same sized corresponding item in the In-Hex sockets mentioned above.


The set is presented in a foldable rubber holder with a slide catch. The long end of the L has a ball shaped end to allow some flexibility of angle to the hex socket. I find this a very handy feature. When it comes to the tool holding function, the 6 bigger ball ends use a similar ball bearing retention system as mentioned earlier. The Hex-Plus geometry on the short ends of the keys produce a flat driving surface to spread the torque loading (they don’t drive off the points as standard keys) The result is more torque capability and greatly reduced rounding.

Tool Belts? – For me a perfect way of organising bits. By using a belt, they stay organised, are easily accessible and you can take what you want to the work site via your 2Go case.

Socket to Me

The last bits of kit in this review are used constantly in many trades, and as I know from experience, having good kit saves time and money and is often safer too.

I really liked the set of 10 holding function sockets. In a semi-rigid case they cover popular sizes from 10 to 19mm. They are held in place using the ‘twist to unlock’ system, each is colour coded using the Take it easy colours and each is marked in bold letters with its size. No more rummaging in a bag of sockets for me. Each socket has a knurling for easy hand tightening and uses the double ball bearing system for tool holding. These ½ inch drive sockets are robust and are a perfect match for the Wera Zyklop drive.

Of course, the case has hook and loop fixing on the back so it can be attached or removed from wherever you need it including the 2Go carry system.

 

A small set of 5 extended hex keys with ¼ inch drive sockets may not be the most commonly used sets, but this too comes with Take it Easy tool recognition and the screw holding function. The system has been implemented very comprehensively so that compatibility down to the smallest items is complete. So that’s why there are Tool Rebels – are they the ones who look organised and efficient?

When it comes to updating your Tool Rebel Kit, Wera makes it easy by having individual pieces, sockets, drives etc available to buy separately so there may be no need to buy a complete set.

Wera Tool Rebels aside, with all the detailed work and specialised fastening and fixing required these days in plumbing and electrical trades especially, it makes a lot of sense to look into acquiring a systematised set of tools that helps keep them organised and able to be used most efficiently. They need to be on hand when you want them with all the correct sizes in place.

Aimed at: Pros and Wera Tool Rebels everywhere

Pros: Sophisticated further development of a range of fastening tools to make them easier to find and use.

Flex IW 18.0 EC Making an Impact

Impacts are Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Features

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

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

In Use

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

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

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

Aimed at: Pros and ambitious amateurs

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

JCB Clothing - Cold Weather Needs Better Workwear Some Solutions

Fashion and Practicality?

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

Hat, Socks and Boots.

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

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

Keeping the Body Warm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros: Flexible, tough, stylish and practical.

Hitachi Cordless Framing Nailer Time to Give up the Gas?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Get for Your Hard Earned Cash

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

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

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

The Battery Pack and Related Parts

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

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

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

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

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

Motor, Speeds and Torque

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

In Use

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

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

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

And a Bit Extra…..

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

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