Budget drills a bargain? Getting good value for under £40

THE first review I ever wrote for TOOLKiT (then titled ToolBusiness Magazine) more years ago than I care to remember, was a roundup of cordless drills. They ranged in price from £12 to nearly £100. Lithium Ion had not been heard of and if you got 12v of power you were lucky - the norm was more like 7.2v or 9.6v. Nevertheless, it was enough to drive screws up to about 35mm (in softwood with a pilot hole) or drill holes up to about 10mm in diameter. Compared to using a pump-action screwdriver – the Yankee - using a cordless drill was positively controlled and easy.

I am not a believer in the notion that things were always better in the old days. Some things might have been better, but I wouldn’t swap my 21st century tools and fixings. They are simply better, quicker, easier, more accurate and possibly even relatively cheaper too. So it seemed like a good idea when the editor suggested that we evaluate some budget cordless drill drivers to try to get a perspective on how things have developed. Accordingly, I was given a budget of around £120 and told to scour the sources to find a representative sample of cordless drills to examine closely.

As expected, online offers are many and various but I wanted to find the tools where the delivery time was realistic, (not direct from China) and also where a non-specialist tool user might look if they needed a budget drill. I managed to find three samples from the high street stores Argos and Robert Dyas. These represented good value and the typical tools that an occasional tool user might buy. Wickes supplied the last sample.

All the drills had the now universally adopted, more powerful Lithium Ion battery packs. No more nasty, poisonous NiCads. But clearly the battery packs on the samples were at the cheap end of the market – 18v battery packs for top branded tools could easily cost £100 or more.

Great expectations

As can be seen from the specs, our expectations of these tools is high. Keyless chucks, softgrip handles, variable speed triggers and an LED are included as standard. These features make for a much better ‘feel’ from the tools and they have been expected on more expensive drills for years, so they can’t cost that much to include.

I was also struck by the fact that each drill seemed to handle well with a comfortable grip, easy-to-reach trigger mechanism and easy adjustment between modes. They certainly didn’t feel clumsy. I think this just shows how the knowledge and experience gained by designers of these tools has enabled them to shortcut the design process to come up with a good design first time. The tools certainly seem to handle and perform well, possibly even better than (if my memory isn’t too faulty) the pioneering cordless drills from the 1980s.

The tests

What I then needed was a set of standard tests based on the specifications of the drills to try each one in turn and see how each performed. With two 14.4v and two 18v drills to try, each test had to be fair to the capabilities of each tool.

First up is, of course, the drilling test. Ensure a fully charged battery is in place and then use a new drill bit (10mm is max size in each case) to drill as many holes into a test piece as you can before the battery runs out. I used quality drill bits because, although some drill bits were supplied in the kits, I wasn’t convinced that they would last well enough to conduct a fair test. Fortunately, I had enough 18mm plywood offcuts to conduct the tests easily. I could have used thicker stock for the tests but that would mean having to lift and clear the drill bit several times and that might affect the results. This probably means that the number of test holes exceeded my expectations but I did also try using the drills in 75mm thick softwood and they still

managed to drill through that without too much effort.

Biggest diameter holes test

Spade bits enable bigger holes to be drilled because they have very little friction. The downside is that the holes can be rough and inaccurate if you don’t take care. All the drills managed 15mm (copper pipe size under sinks) and I drilled sequentially bigger holes until I got to 32mm diameter – my largest spade bit.

Longest screws test

Self-explanatory really – there is little need to pull out a screwdriver these days – a good drill driver will drive most screws with ease. The best test is to try to find out what the limits are when driving increasing sizes and gauges of screws into a big wooden block. All drills managed to drive 4 gauge 70mm long screws into softwoods but things became decidedly more difficult beyond that.

 

To the outcomes……

 

Wickes Cordless Drill Driver 10.8v Lithium

Features:

Case: Plastic carry case

Chuck: Keyless chuck (2-handed) 10mm

Torque settings: 18+1

Speeds: Variable 2+forward/reverse

Battery Pack:1.5 Ah L Ion

Light: LED

Charger: 30 minutes

Battery: 3 light charge indicator

Soft grip handle

 

Specs:

Torque 18Nm

Steel 6mm

Wood 19mm

Weight 0.97kg

Cost £35

The Wickes drill driver is the most compact and light of the set, but the design is more pistol-like with the battery stored inside the handle. It needed to be used in ‘slow gear’ to ensure that the 10mm holes were drilled – it stalled in ‘fast gear’. While it drilled its 138 holes it did become quite hot but never seemed at risk of failing. Its 14.4 volts of power seemed to be more than adequate for a drill that is compact and obviously looks like a DIY tool.

It managed to drill up to a 32mm hole in softwood with a spade bit, again needing to be in low gear to avoid stalling. The Wickes drove a 70mm long woodscrew into softwood well with no grunts or groans, but it became more difficult with anything much longer. Drilling steel was a slow process and needed a sharp new drill bit to achieve the results.

 

Challenge 14.4 Impact Drill from Argos

Features:

Case:  in a card box

Chuck: Keyless chuck (2-handed) 10mm

Torque settings: 18, Screwdriving and hammer

Speeds: Variable 2 speeds+forward/reverse

Battery Pack: One 1.3 Ah L Ion

Light: LED

Charger: 3 to 5 hours

Battery: 3 light charge indicator above trigger

Soft grip handle

Comes with double ended screwdriver bit

 

Specs:

Torque 15Nm

Steel 6mm

Wood 15mm

Masonry 8mm

Weight 1.190kgs

Cost £30.00

The Challenge faced a challenge when drilling 6mm holes in wood in ‘top gear’. Up to around 4 or 5mm diameter holes were possible in this gear, but anything bigger necessitated the change to the lower and slower gear and that produced a creditable 106 holes on a full charge. The motor became quite hot but never seemed like quitting.

There was enough torque to make my wrists take note after 50 or so holes.

It too managed to drill 32mm holes with a spade bit – perhaps a bit slower than the others, but without obvious signs of strain. Driving screws up to 70mm long was achievable but after that a bit of coaxing was needed. Although the capacity in steel was stated as 6mm in the specs, I ran out of patience before the hole was completed.

As the only drill in the test with an impact mode I did try drilling a 6mm hole in a standard house brick, and it did do the job – so if you were putting up curtain poles in brick, the job wouldn’t take forever. A different story in concrete though, where the bit made very little impression after several minutes of trying.

 

Guild 18v Lithium Ion Drill Driver from Argos

Features:

Case: Supplied in a card box

Chuck: Keyless chuck (2-handed) 10mm

Torque settings: 16+1

Speeds: Variable forward/reverse

Battery Pack:1.3 Ah L Ion

Light: LED

Charger: 3-5 hours

Battery: no charge indicator

Soft grip handle

Comes with belt hook

 

Specs:

Torque 18Nm

Steel 10mm

Wood 20mm

Weight 1.22Kg

Cost £30.00

The Guild from Argos manged to drill an amazing 212, 10mm diameter holes in hardwood ply. The motor got hot from continuous use but never missed a beat until the battery ran out. On the holes test I doubt whether many end users could complain about its capabilities – when was the last time you needed to drill 212 holes continuously? Similarly, although it has only a single gear, the torque levels saw it through the spade bit test and the screwdriving test quite well, where the slower speed but greater torque made a big difference. Screws up to 80mm long could be driven with care, but not much beyond that

 

Hilka PRO-CRAFT 18v Lithium Ion Cordless Drill from Robert Dyas

Features:

Case: Plastic carry case

Chuck: Keyless chuck (2-handed) 10mm

Torque settings: 16+1

Speeds: Variable 2 forward/reverse

Battery Pack:1.5 Ah L Ion

Light: LED

Charger: 3-5hours

Battery: X2 with 3 light charge indicator

Soft grip handle

Comes with 13 accessories (drill bits, driver, bit holder)

 

Specs:

Torque 15Nm

Steel: not given

Wood: not given

Weight 2.4 Kg

Cost £39.95

The Hilka comes with two batteries and, on the basis of the holes test, it needs them because although it managed 128, 10mm diameter holes on a full charge, this was significantly fewer than the 18v Guild drill.  A tad worrying was the smell of hot connections inside the motor housing and the heat from the battery pack. Heat is the enemy of battery packs so it is always better to let things cool down and change the battery pack if possible. The spade bit test was similar to the others with it being necessary to adopt ‘low speed’ to have enough torque to drill the hole. Driving screws up to 70mm was achievable, but not much beyond that.

What’s to like and dislike?

The truth is, there is lots to like in these four samples I have tested. They all have enough power to do small jobs around the house at a very reasonable price – much less than my weekly grocery shop or a tank of petrol for my hatchback. Such tools will often be bought to complete a fencing job, erect a shed or to hang a few curtain poles. The motors have enough power and torque to drive screws up to 70mm quite easily, and this should be adequate for most domestic jobs.

When it comes to drilling holes, again there is enough power to do several holes, and even drill quite big holes using a spade bit. Big enough to deal with plumbing pipes and cables most of the time.

The drills are all comfortable to handle, easy to use via well-placed controls and are compact enough to fit inside kitchen cabinets for example, with LED lights to illuminate the workpiece. They are not too heavy so could be used by people with smaller hands or with odd twinges of arthritis, or above the head or working on a ladder.

In short, the technology and design of these drills is pretty well sorted and occasional users could buy one with confidence knowing that they would probably get value for money.

However - and it is a big however - what is saving the cash on these drills is the battery packs. In a professional tool, a big 18v battery pack would be expected to push out anything from 5Ah to 8 or 9Ah, so it should last the whole day at work. Also, it will be expected to charge in around 30 to 60 minutes, so workers never have any downtime from their tools. But such capacity costs money. The battery packs have complicated electronic monitoring systems so they don’t deep discharge, they can be partially charged safely, and believe it or not, the high quality Lithium that is used in them is more expensive compared to that used in smaller, less demanding tools. Even while doing this testing I found myself becoming very impatient having to wait three to five hours while the batteries charged between tests. (The exception here is the Wickes drill, which charges in 30 minutes.)

What will also add cost to professional tools is a smart charger, usually a custom fitted case and perhaps a couple of accessories like a belt hook and an auxiliary handle to help manage torque loadings well past the 30Nm mark.

So would I be prepared to swap my drill drivers for cheaper ones? The short answer is no. After trying out the budget drills I reached for my 18v name brand professional drill and did some of the tests again. What you get from a professional tool is speed and power and the sort of capability that makes jobs easy – like driving screws up to 180mm long for example. And it is so effortless – there is no need to coax the tool along. A real ‘Power to the Professionals’ feeling. These days there is no need to stick to 18v tools-10.8 and 12v professional quality tools deliver the compact size and power needed for many kitchen and shopfitters without having to wait five hours for a battery to charge.

I think that users of professional quality tools have been spoilt by the power and sophistication of them. So, unlike the very first cordless drills from the 80’s, we have all the power of the mains but keyless chucks and ergonomic designs that are easy to use safely. Workplaces are made safer too with fewer electrical hazards and no trailing cables. Professional users pay a premium for their very capable cordless tools, but DIYers also benefit from the R and D that went into them by cashing in on good tools at bargain prices well suited to their needs.

There is still a huge market for cheaper tools. Not everyone needs or can afford the best, so it is good to know that there are tools out there to fulfil a range of needs at a range of prices. Win, win I’d say.


 

TRACER pens: Making their mark

WHEN it comes to everyday marking, I confess I most often make do with a carpenter’s pencil, and yes, it is sometimes stored behind my ear rather than in the neat little slip pockets provided in the holsters of my work trousers. The truth is, I am often just cutting bits of timber roughly to length ready for preparation, so I don’t need anything more sophisticated.

But I am always sure to bring along some other markers when I go on site – usually two or three different types – because you never know what materials you might come across and what level of accuracy will be required in the marking. Very often, any marker that improves accuracy is not only to be welcomed but embraced.

Introducing TRACER

Some readers will be familiar with the ACER markers reviewed in these pages some time ago. But in the tool trade, as in life, things change, so the new TRACER markers should be seen as an evolution and development of the originals.

As we can see on closer examination, the TRACER markers incorporate a lot of mini-improvements that are the result of consumer feedback and further development work by the Royd Tool Group team.

I would characterise the new TRACER markers as more grown-up and accomplished versions of the ACER markers that makes them easier to use, more efficient and more versatile.

The new TRACER designs keep all the subtle bits of design that made the ACER version easy to use. For example, you still have the pimpled finger grips on the cases and the tiny, but important, barbed hook on the pocket clips that keeps them in the pocket when the pen is pulled out for use.

Different pens for different marks

The TRACER marker that I used the most was the deep hole pencil marker. It has the virtue of being a simple pencil marker as well as having the potential to mark through a hole up to 50mm deep, and a lot deeper if you are prepared to risk the lead and extend it by pressing the button on the top of the marker. For my common usage, a marking depth of 50mm is enough for marking through the thickness of most battens that I fix to walls.

But it is the subtleties of the design that add to the user-friendly qualities of the pencil TRACER and make it a go-to.

Firstly, the case has been made just fat enough to fit snugly into the slit pockets on the front of many designs of work trousers. The snugness of fit means that when you pull the pencil out, the case doesn’t come with it and makes the possibility of losing it as you clamber around on site that much less.

But if you are wearing the pencil in a shirt pocket with a case, the subtle dot design on each side of the pocket clip means that fingers can grip the case easily as you pull the pencil out. I have already mentioned the tiny ‘barb’, common to all the markers, on the inside of the pocket clip that prevents the case from being pulled out of the slit pockets easily. Such detail in a ‘simple’ marker product – it is hard not to be impressed.

In a further refinement, showing how subtle the designers have been, It is possible to clip the pen to a shirt pocket because it too has a small clip. This of course risks getting pencil marks on the inside of your pocket, but that is up to you. I also really like the way the last few millimetres at the top of the marker flares out, making it easy to grip, even for gloved fingers.

The leads seem to be soft enough for making easy marks but hard enough to last a while without needing sharpening. TRACER designers have solved the problem of the disappearing lead sharpener by making it integral to the top of the pocket case clip. I think it’s a great idea simply because, on reflection, I have lost all the sharpeners on almost every marker pencil I have ever used, so I rely on a sharp utility knife blade to do the honours. This can lead to some crude pencil points and lots of wasted leads.

Of course, it is always handy to have a spare lead around for replacements. Housed in a case that is very similar to the markers, users can buy a selection of leads in a couple of different colours, and these are easily dispensed via the revolving top.

I like this pencil and it has gone straight into my daily ‘must have’ tool workbox.

Deep hole marker with ink

Sometimes when deep hole marking (like onto glass or other very smooth surfaces), a pencil is no good because it will not make a mark. It is then time to reach for the deep hole ink marker, which is very effective at marking on laminates, glass, etc. As I write, my right forefinger still bears the mark of an encounter with the pen tip. A quick ‘swipe with a wipe’ will get rid of it, but the point of this marker is to provide a clear, longer lasting and visible mark, and it does this very well.

Clog-free markers – Never mind the dust, rust and dirt

The three clog-free TRACER markers I was sent to try look, at first glance, exactly like the pencil marker. But a comparison reveals that the pocket case has a shorter point to allow for a thicker pen body and the ink reservoir for the sturdy felt tip marking point. Since felt tip pens need a case to hold the ink and protect from drying out, the pocket case needs to be sturdy and effective – which these ones are.

The markers come in three colours – black, red and blue – so users can choose what colour is most likely to show up clearly on whatever material they are using. The marks on my fingers after playing around with the pens on different surfaces, show that the ink is semi-permanent, but will come off quite easily with soap and water or a multi-wipe.

I tried marking on dirty, rusted, dusty and slightly oily surfaces and the pens came up trumps – they do deserve the name ‘clog free’ because dust and other stuff simply doesn’t seem to affect their ability to make a usable mark and the marks dry quickly enough so as not to smudge too easily.

Evolution works

I have never doubted that evolution can often be better than revolution. ACER to TRACER is a case in point – a basically sound product has been thoughtfully improved, and I am sure this will make end users even more likely to choose it.


www.roydtoolgroup.com/tracer/

(K)New from Knipex – Gripping and cutting sophistication

I NEVER cease to be amazed at the ways in which what seem like ‘standard’ tools in ‘standard’ forms can be re-imagined and reshaped in ways that (usually) result in a performance improvement.

Sometimes the changes in the tools reflect the changes in fixings or the need for more exacting standards in areas like specified torque levels. More sophisticated manufacturing, better materials and greater understanding of how these materials perform, probably means that no manufacturer can sit back and become complacent.

Modern users simply don’t seem to accept that their tools can’t be better. A hundred years ago trades weren’t as spoiled as we are, maybe?

Pliers wrench

Out of the eight Knipex samples I was sent for review, it was the biggest that caught my attention first – a 300mm long Pliers Wrench.

The name indicates its functions – it can be used as pliers and as a wrench or spanner. These functions are made possible by the ingenious design of the bottom jaws that not only slide up and down to adjust to the size of the fixing, but these jaws continue to remain parallel, making it much easier to get a good grip on a hex nut or the parallel faces on a particular fixing. A friend of mine with a 35-year career in the gas industry, from shop floor to management, declared that they were the perfect tool for gas and smart meter fitters because of this feature.

I must admit that it was the sheer ease of use and cleverness of the jaw design that made this tool a favourite for me. It is as good as a spanner in many situations, much better than a traditional adjustable spanner, and, in use, the handles stay close enough to allow me to use just one hand, and not two to operate it. The bottom jaw slides on a very accurate ratchet and can be moved by pressing the spring-loaded button on the top handle.

Operation is smooth – no catching or jerky adjustment on the ratchet teeth and it can stretch to a massive 68mm wide. Laser cut marks, metric on one side of the ratchet and imperial on the other, allow the user to set a size to suit the fixing.

Plastic jaws are available that fit tightly over the steel jaws to prevent marking on more sensitive or softer surfaces.

These Plier Wrenches come in a few sizes, in black and chrome finishes and different grips. Definitely a tool that I would want to add to my toolkit.

PreciStrip 16

I am sure that there are many electricians out there who strip the ends of wires quickly and efficiently with a pair of side cutters, but the Knipex PreciStrip16 brings predictability, accuracy and versatility to the task.

Not to mention speed. As I worked the handles and watched the wire stripping process each time, I couldn’t help but admire the accuracy and ease with which the jaws worked – and it didn’t matter if it was 0.8mm wire or 16mm wire. All the user has to do to ensure that all the stripped ends are the same is to insert the wire to the set depth on the jaws – adjustable all the way to 20mm.

Apparently, the ease of cut is made possible by the parabolic blades that enclose the insulation better than circular ones as they cut. The blades can be easily replaced in one hit as they are contained in a cassette. The downside of sidecutters when they get blunt is that they have to be discarded.

It is fiddly and time consuming to change tools for different jobs, but the PreciStrip has a wire cutter on the fulcrum to ensure a neat end before starting the stripping process, so no need for another tool.

My electrician friend was predictably non-committal when I let him use them on a job, but his comments afterwards showed that they worked well and made his job easier. If you can impress the old timers, then I think Knipex has got it right. A definite thumbs up for the PreciStrip16.

Pipe cutters

I am used to cutting plastic pipes, mostly 20mm plumbing pipes, and I use the standard pipe cutters with the bypass blades that look like garden secateurs. Well forget them, what you need is a pair of the new Knipex plastic and aluminium pipe cutters.

The old expression ‘like a knife through butter’ applies here – they cut pipes from 12 to 25mm in diameter with an ease that will astonish. I was able to cut 5mm long sections off the end of a pipe with ease and the ends were perfectly straight and accurate because the blades cut so easily that the pipe did not deform when cut. I am sure that this speed and ease is almost entirely down to the super sharp hard steel blade and the design of the handles for easy cutting pressure to be applied. The blade is replaceable by simply unscrewing two screws, making it easy for this tool to be a long term and greener investment than older designs.

For cutting multi-layer and pneumatic hoses, the same ergonomic handle set is used with the addition of a different anvil/pipe support that makes it easier to ensure that the pipe is cut precisely at right angles. Again, this made cutting so easy and accurate that I think the old bypass designs will be binned quite soon. I just hope that the replaceable hardened steel blades for both tools are not overpriced.

CoBolt cutters

The CoBolt family of cutters was designed to be smaller but not less capable of cutting bolts, hard wires and braided cables. The offset fulcrum design is the key to its cutting power and users have a choice of 160, 200 or 250mm lengths to suit their trade needs.

The cutting edges are well matched and hardened so even the small 160mm version was very capable of cutting bolts, cables and screws up to about 5mm in diameter. The handles are shaped to protect fingers and also increase cutting pressure. Another feature is the gripping surface behind the fulcrum that can be used to grip and pull wires.

Another pair of cutters that became a favourite is also 160mm long and light – so an easy fit into a trouser pocket. I mostly used it for cutting cables and wires which it did with ease. The cutting edges are designed in a series of small scallop shapes that spread the cutting load, so making it easier to snip away neatly.

Like the cutters above it has shaped handles to aid grip and cutting power and the simple dipped plastic handles aid comfort and handling.

TubiX pipe cutter

There is no doubt that the new TubiX pipe cutter is a more sophisticated way of slicing pipes. It can accommodate pipes from 35 to 6mm in diameter and can cope with copper, brass and stainless steel pipes courtesy of the ball-bearing quality steel cutting wheel that is mounted in roller bearings.  

It didn’t take me long to get a series of cuts going on some copper pipe because the design follows a familiar pattern to standard pipe slices. To start, you simply place the pipe into the upper jaw against the rollers and then push the spring loaded cutting wheel against the pipe where with a bit of practise you can get it quite firmly bedded first time, every time, because the rollers are big with good bearings. Then twist the whole tool over the pipe and tighten the adjuster to push the cutting wheel into the pipe. As you get good at it, it takes only about 25 or 30 seconds to cut a 20mm copper pipe. A final deburring on the inside of the pipe is done by flicking up the deburring tool on the back.

Once I got used to the TubiX I found that I was able to cut and deburr pipes very quickly and I began to wonder whether I would ever want to go back to my simple pipe slice.

Crimping pliers

For most small electrical jobs I do, ‘crimping’ usually just involves twisting the end of the wire by hand, but these days with ever smaller junctions and connections, this way may not be accurate enough.

Knipex has a range of crimping tools but the one I was sent for review worked in a way that I was unfamiliar with. It is adjustable for crimps from 0.08 to 16mm by simply lifting and twisting the adjustment button to the right size. The results of this crimping tool are very neat, tight and square-shaped wire ends that fit easily into the contacts – and all of this is achieved in seconds. My guess is that once used, electricians might even use the crimps on basic electrical tasks like socket fitting to save time.

I have always rated Knipex products and I have used various Knipex cutters, pincers etc in my work for many years. But I am also happy that things move on and this range of new tools is definitely worth a look. I think they are greener and more sophisticated and, used correctly, they will be real time savers. Definitely lots to like.


www.knipex.com

Axinite work clothes: More competition!

THE work clothing market is a highly competitive one, so any new players have to be pretty sure that what you are bringing to the table is not only high quality, but competitively priced. And like all clothing, it projects an image, so purchasers will have favourites for a variety of reasons: look, durability, comfort, etc.

Axinite has hit the ground running with a range of clothing that feels and looks good and performs well.

The basics – trousers

For me, the fit on trousers has to be very good to ensure all-day comfort. Things like avoiding the constant need to pull at the waistband, tuck in my shirt and pull up the knees when I kneel down, are key.

My first impression of the trousers as I opened the pack is that they are well-designed for the intended purpose. Made from heavy duty polyester/cotton fabric, they have reinforced knees, tough fabric lippings on the capacious rear pockets and seven belt loops. They don’t feel lightweight and flimsy, which might be good in summer, but is definitely not what I wanted in the cold and wet we have been experiencing recently.

It was only after I had been wearing them on the jobsite for an hour or two that I started to understand that some of the details on these Axinite trousers are pretty handy. Around the waistband is a grippy strip that helps to keep your shirt tail in when you bend and stretch. I hate the cold draft on my kidneys!

The two front holster pockets are nicely designed to be optional. If you want them, simply undo the press stud and pull them out of the main pockets where they are ready to accept all the usual stuff that I put in them like pencils, knives, a tape measure and work gloves. When tucked in, they function like smaller pockets and don’t get in the way.

There are a few smaller pockets on the legs for rulers and possibly a mobile, but I think you can overdo the pockets (as some brands do) because the combined weight of all the stuff in them can cause discomfort at the waistband. Axinite doesn’t fall into that trap.

One of my design necessities is the capacity to fit kneepads on trousers because, put brutally, my knees hurt after unprotected kneeling on the jobsite. The Axinite kneepads supplied with the sample trousers are made of natural black rubber and strike a good balance – hard enough to not feel every stone under your knee, but soft enough for comfort and relief.

The kneepads are easy to fit and I am told that they can stay in place while the trousers are washed. It is quite rare that kneepads don’t have to be adjusted when you kneel down – usually pulled up a little, to engage with the knees. Mercifully with the Axinite trousers, as I knelt, the pads found their place over my kneecaps. Result!

Some readers may have noticed that we have had quite a lot of rain recently – so I am happy to report that the fabric on these trousers has a slight water resistance that keeps you dry for short exposures to wet kneeling on the floor or rain on the dash to the van. The rubber kneepads don’t act like spongers either.

Overall, I found these trousers practical and comfortable, and I am sure they will be hardwearing. They wash and dry easily making them perfectly suited to the jobsite environment.

Shirts and customisation

Axinite has a couple of shirts in the range – a polo shirt and a T-shirt. I was sent the polo shirt to try. Made of 100% high wicking polyester, it is easy to wash and dry, crease free and comfortable to wear. The side panels in contrasting grey are stretchy and help make it easy to move around and lift your arms.

Even one-man bands like a bit of branding and customisation these days, and Axinite seems to have this down pat. In order to have a logo, badge, name or brand embroidered to an item of clothing, all the user has to do is to supply a design, with colourways if needed, and Axinite will do the rest. It doesn’t matter if the design is a simple picture taken on a mobile phone, Axinite has the technology to stitch the design where you want it. Hence I am now the proud owner of a polo shirt with the new TOOLKIT logo embroidered on the sleeve – look out for it on the videos.

Padded Body Warmer – Perfect for the current weather

I like body warmers to wear on the jobsite. In my view, they are a practical garment that keeps your core warm while allowing your arms freedom of movement. The result is that I have a lot of body warmers with paint, slight tears and glue stains on them. But my Axinite body warmer will go to the pile that will only be worn on ‘clean’ jobs - for the foreseeable, anyway.

With a polyester construction and quality warm padding, it is easy to wash and dry. It is also very light, considering its warmth, so it is comfortable and moves easily while you are working. I like the zipped side pockets that are big enough for gloves, a tape measure and a few other bits besides. Inside there is also a zipped pocket that will easily take a mobile and/or a wallet.

It zips all the way to under the chin and around the back of the neck and is good at keeping draughts out. Generously, Axinite also embroidered the TOOLKIT logo on the chest and it looks good. The embroidery work does not affect the padding and lining of the garment, so users can be assured that performance won’t be compromised.

Use the net

Most people use the internet nowadays so it makes sense to access Axinite via its website where purchasers can order what they need: shoes, shirts, jackets, trousers, fleeces, etc.

For customisation, simply submit your logo or chosen design and let the Axinite people do the work.

In my view, what you get from Axinite is a range of high quality gear that is up to the demands of the jobsite – it is well worth a look.


www.axinite.co.uk

If we have the weather, Snickers has the clothing

OVER the last few weeks, wherever we are in the UK, we have been battered by weather - from flooding rain to icy frosts. It is exactly these that make us think twice about what we need to wear to survive a day on the jobsite, without succumbing to the wet or cold.

When a parcel from Snickers arrived, I was keen to see what the latest gear could do to prevent my suffering from the usual complaints of cold hands and wet feet.

Onyx Low Work Shoes and High Heavy Wool Socks

My experience of Solid Gear footwear is very positive because the work shoes I have used have proved to be lightweight, strong and warm. The trainer-style Onyx Low work shoes I tested are metal free, with a rubber outsole. This sole has lots of grippy chevrons but the patterns are not so deep that they will pick up loads of mud and distribute it around the jobsite.

The poured PU midsole is lightweight and durable – and dare I say it – ranks amongst the most comfortable I have ever had the pleasure of plunging my feet into. These shoes fitted so well that they felt comfortable immediately, and after half an hour I couldn’t notice the difference between them and my next most comfortable pair of work shoes. 

But the best feature by far, in my opinion, is the use of the BOA system. I am told it is based on a system used in ski boots where a simple twist of the BOA button tightens the laces, and a press on the same button releases them. It is easy to see the advantages because shoe removal is so quick – and there are sometimes jobs where leaving muddy boots at the door is a diplomatic thing to do.

Combine the above with a snug pair of the High Heavy Wool Socks and foot comfort is guaranteed for most users. They are thick and warm, with reinforced heel and toes and are long enough to keep a fair bit of your shins warm too. Again, some of the best socks I have ever used in terms of warmth and comfort, which might be down to the 84% merino wool content!

6241 Allround Work Trousers

I thought I was too old-fashioned for stretch trousers – until I tried them. They do make moving, and especially, bending down a lot easier with much less need to pull them back to waist level when you stand up again. But am I modern enough for them?

The 6251 Allround Work trousers have a classic design with pre-bent legs and a looser fit that people of my vintage might prefer. They are made from hardwearing cordura fabric that has already proved its worth on the jobsite. Of course, you get umpteen pockets (these included holster pockets) as well as a tool holder, front loops and key holder, ruler pocket and a cargo pocket with an attachment for the increasingly common ID badge holder. Let me just say that I have never managed to use all the pockets provided, without feeling that the trousers might fall down any minute.

Snickers is one of the few manufacturers that manages to get knee pad pockets in the right place on the trouser legs so that you can just kneel down without having to hitch the legs. No doubt helped by the use of stretch Cordura at the knees? For most jobs, I find the Snickers kneepads perfectly good and I would only consider extra add–on kneepads if I was on my knees for several days.

The 6241 Allround Work trousers have slimmer legs that would probably appeal to a younger and more fashion-conscious demographic. The blurb says it is for a ‘clean, technical look’, but I will let others with better physiques decide their look…

These trousers too, have a multitude of pockets (including holster pockets) for rulers, ID badge, etc. The slimmer legs may have prompted the designers to move to an Advanced Knee Guard Pro design with pleats that keep the foam knee guards in optimum position for ease of work.

1148 Allround Work Winter Jacket

The hoodie is almost a uniform item on cold winter jobsites because it is just a very practical garment. Some workers even manage to balance a hard hat on top of a hoodie-covered head.

Made from a layer of thick 60% cotton and 40% polyester mix, with a soft, fleecy inside, the new Snickers hoodies are the essence of warmth, even if they are bound to be given a hard life on the jobsite. The length is enough to provide some bottom coverage and the hoodie is big enough to protect the whole head from cold – especially if you pull the elasticated drawstring tight. This one has come to the top of my list of hoodies I reach for on a cold day. The bold Snickers logo and striking colour choices are a bit better than the usual dull grey hoodies often seen onsite.

I am conflicted about the 1148 Allround Work Winter Jacket. Never mind the jobsite, I would wear it as an everyday jacket and it is smart enough to wear when visiting clients. But would I wear it onsite and risk it getting dirty? Perhaps a hi-vis vest over it might minimise any dirt?

On the other hand- this jacket is warm! It has a water-resistant polyester outer and padded lining that keep wind and water out. The neck can be zipped all the way up past the chin and the side pockets are well placed to plunge cold hands into. There are two zipped pockets - one outside and one inside (for your phone? Pens?), as well as a big poacher’s pocket on the left inside. A strong elastic draw cord can be tightened to keep wind out at the bottom and the hook and loop straps on the wrists keep warmth in and wet out.

There are a couple of very subtle reflective strips on the arms because this jacket does not shout its virtues, but it has virtue in spades.

Weather Dry Work Gloves

I have tried hard to find the perfect cold weather work gloves, but the conflicting need for hardwearing materials and flexible dexterity conflict, so inevitably they are always a compromise. The Snickers Weather Dry work gloves are very warm, easy to don and comfortable to wear. But as with the jacket above, I would be unwilling to mess them up by handling wet materials like plaster or mortar.

They are waterproof and protective with reinforced palms and strips of padding to protect the knuckles and when I did a few timber handling jobs with them I was impressed with how good they are. I guess I am going to have to risk them a bit just to keep my hands warm.

Snickers users are always guaranteed well-designed and well-made products and I have never found one bit of Snickers clothing that I thought was inferior. The above certainly fit this mould and I am happy to recommend them.


www.snickersworkwear.com

Hellberg ear defenders: Dare to investigate your noise exposure profile

AS I sit at my desk in a quiet country village in Sussex, the loudest sounds I hear are the rooks fighting over a tidbit. Annoying maybe, but not dangerous. Contrast that to the almost incessant noise that many Londoners are routinely exposed to – for example, I hate that ear-piercing scream from the rails on the Northern Line between Euston and Mornington Crescent where even Londoners block their ears to protect themselves.

The truth is that most background noise is fairly harmless, but once we get regularly exposed to noise levels of around 85dB, we should start to take notice. A modern corded tool, like a circular saw or router, emits noise levels around this mark so it is clear that noise levels need to be considered, even for regular DIY-ers.  

Then think about the workers on construction sites and in factories where the noise levels are persistent and constant as well as occasionally ‘impulsive’ – the technical term for noise that is so loud that it hurts the ears.

Impulsive and persistent noise at levels much greater than 85dB actually cause hearing cells to break off and die making hearing loss permanent. Being ‘hard of hearing’ is now proven to be a serious cause of social isolation and is even being implicated in the onset of Alzheimer’s, due to its isolating effects. There is also an increased risk of high blood pressure, stress, depression, tinnitus and hyperacusis.  

We have known for a long time that exposure to excess noise can cause permanent hearing loss - disco divas, tank crew and artillerymen (to name a few) have all testified to the effects of loud noises on their hearing. What strikes me is that noise has been seen as an occupational hazard and employers have taken a fairly relaxed attitude to it. 

In fact, there is no need for workers to suffer excess noise levels because employers and workers have for years had a responsibility to reduce and control noise levels. Regulations from the HSE and EC say so. And the good thing about excess noise is that it is pretty easy to control it and protect workers from it. It is often as simple as choosing and using a good set of ear defenders whenever the noise levels warrant it.  

However, it turns out that choosing an appropriate set of ear protectors can be more complicated. So... here goes! 

You still want some noise 

It would be no good choosing ear protection that cuts off all noise – just so that you don’t hear the excavator that runs you over. Equally, too low a level of protection won’t stop hearing damage in the long term.  

Also, ear protectors are highly sophisticated these days -  a quick run through the Hellberg range shows a wide range of options from simple to sophisticated. Hellberg’s more sophisticated products allow workers to communicate with each other via radio when needed as well as listening to Classic FM in the in-between times.

Choice can also be complicated by the wearer too. A beard, glasses or long hair can all affect the efficiency of the protectors and for this reason Hellberg recommends that noise level protection to be aimed at is 75dB rather than 85dB. This allows conversation and communication as well as promoting awareness of other hazards like diggers and dumpers nearby.  

To the practical 

Hellberg, now part of the Hultafors Group, sent me a couple of ear protectors to try out. 

The first, the Secure 2H, are colour coded with bright yellow bands around the outside of the ear padding. Yellow coded protectors are designed to protect users from noise levels in the 95 to 110dB range. Think electric grinders, big circular saws and slightly quieter forms of motorsports. 

I often have music in the background while I am working, and after donning the Secure 2H I could still hear it - mostly the quieted lyrics and a few guitar highlights. At a distance of a couple of metres I could still hear instructions addressed to me in a slightly raised voice. Sudden loud noises were still unexpected, but my ears did not ring. Ringing is a sign that indicates possible temporary harm.  

I always expect high quality from European manufacturers and a close examination of these protectors rather proved the point.  

The all-important padding around the ears was soft and thick and therefore able to adjust to the contours of the head. It seemed to be fixed in place securely all around the aperture. This foam is often the first casualty of regular use so it needs to be able to be replaced easily – which indeed it can be. Spares are easily available.

The outer parts are made of a rigid black plastic ‘doughnut’ and they are lined on the inside with around 12mm thickness of dense foam for sound insulation.  

Also designed for a long working life are the headband and yokes holding the ‘doughnuts’ in place. The head band has a foam pad on the top for comfort and adjustment is achieved by simply pulling each side down a few clicks until you get a close fit over the ears.  

The parts exposed to wear and tear, sweat and dirt are all replaceable to ensure a long working life for the protectors.  

To test for comfort, I wore them for a few hours as I was preparing some timber for a table I am making. After a time, they warmed up nicely, even in my cold workshop, and were comfortable and effective – the kind of comfort that would make you use them regularly rather than just hang around your neck for appearances only. 

Still yellow, but more technology

The Hellberg 2H Active are rated for the same levels of noise as the basic ones above, but they incorporated speakers, batteries, a jack plug and lead so that you could plug into a mobile phone, radio or MP3 player (I’m showing my age here).

Once again, I couldn’t fault the comfort of the round-ear padding despite the necessary extra weight of the protectors. Two AA batteries are located in one of the solid plastic earpieces and the jack plug in the other. Adjustment to the head is a matter of a few clicks because there is enough cable from the jack plug to ensure snag-free movement. The speakers are of good quality and music from my iPod sounded good – but I could still hear ambient noises and have a conversation. 

This is a very short excursion into the Hellberg range of ear protection – it is worthwhile going online to see the full range and choose the solution that suits you. Your hearing may depend on it.


www.hellbergsafety.com

Senco SGT90i: Nailed it?

NAILING ain’t what it used to be. In the ‘Old Days’, competition between gas and pneumatic nailers (and the humble hammer) was all we had to choose from, but the arrival of several very effective cordless nailers has added another dimension to the competition, says PETER BRETT.

More choice for consumers can sometimes mean a return to the drawing board for some of the competition and my guess is that the Senco SGT90i is a result of a rethink and redesign so that it has all of the features it needs to stand proudly on its own merits. In my review I will try to focus on these points and see how they stand up, and I will also run it past a few builders to hear what they think.

Unpacking and first impressions

The SGT90i comes in a robust case with quick-release metal catches that looks like it will last for the working life of the tool. It is customised with a place for everything including the tool itself, two lithium ion battery packs, a charger, some safety specs and a couple of hex keys. There is space to fling in a few rows of collated nails but this temptation needs to be resisted, not least because of avoiding contact with the battery packs.

Is weight an issue?

There is no getting away from the fact that pretty well all powered nailers are bulky and heavy, but good design can mitigate handling issues by distributing weight carefully and ensuring that key dimensions are chosen carefully. With an all up weight of over 3.5 kgs, the Senco is around the sort of weight expected from a framing nailer. However, it does look and feel a bit bulkier than other designs on the market.

A key measurement of 377mm in length means that it is easy to pass through joists and studding. But, as I have found before, it is difficult to pass judgement at this point. It’s only after you have fired several magazines of nails that you can appreciate that weight may help control some recoil and that bulk is not necessarily an impediment.

Key innovations

Senco has designed this tool to ‘guarantee efficiency and a professional finish with every nail’ – something that every tradesperson would love to have. To this end the SGT90i has been given more power and a battery and gas cartridge that can power up to 8,000 nails per charge – I don’t think you could ask for more.

Another key design feature is the nose piece. It is shaped to ensure that there is no slipping when firing. This is a big safety feature; you simply don’t want to have nails flying at awkward angles because the nose has slipped. For delicate surfaces, there is a simple no-mar pad that can be slipped on when needed.

With two battery packs (which amounts to 16,000 nails) there would seem to be enough power to ensure several days’ worth of power nailing. But we all know that charging battery packs is an easy enough thing to do so I really like the quick charge function. And it really is quick – by charging a battery for two minutes another 200 nails can be powered. That is probably enough to finish the job in hand, especially when it’s near the end of the day. The truth is users should have consulted the LED power gauge on the battery housing before it ran out…

Another feature that should be on any user’s tick list is that the nailer has been designed to operate in temperatures from -7 to +49oC. Although I wouldn’t want to be nailing studs or trusses at minus temperatures, it is useful to know that the tool would work.

The nail magazine is an all-metal affair for extra durability that should outlast plastic designs. Finally, the metal thumb wheel on the nose is used to set the depth of drive without having to reach for any tools – frankly, a feature that I think is a necessity and the fact that it works so easily is much in its favour.

Prepare to fire

Not having handled a SENCO nailer for a while, I approached the final set up methodically. Each nailer I have used follows a similar pattern but can often be different in key areas. There is scope for doing things in the wrong order so it pays to take care.

The fully charged battery pack (it takes roughly one-and-a-half hours for a first charge) is easy to insert in the slot at the end of the main handle. Three green lights give the user a quick snapshot of the state of charge. Looking at the lights is easier than counting up to 8,000 while you are working!

Before inserting the gas cartridge into the nailer the user has to seat the nozzle onto the cartridge and this does need a bit more care and has a certain knack to do. First time round, I made the mistake of not seating the nozzle completely and ended up with cold gas frozen fingers. Hence it is good to follow the safety advice to do this job well clear of any potential sources of heat or ignition. Funnily enough I didn’t have the same issues with the second gas cartridge! And thank goodness for clear, step-by-step instructions in the manual.

When the cartridge is properly seated, the cover will simply snap closed when pushed in and down.

Adding collated strips of nails is about as easy as with any other nailer I have used and there is a positive spring action that keeps the nails firmly fed into the head.

Once all the set-up is done, all the user needs to do to fire nails is push the safety nose into the workpiece, wait a second or two for the gas to flow and then pull the trigger. All the shots I fired went home with a satisfying bang, into softwood or hardwood.

A couple of things I noticed was that the noise levels are well controlled, so while ear defenders are necessary, an odd shot or two will not deafen you. Also, the weight of the SGT90i is such that the user gets very little recoil through the hand and arm so it feels comfortable and easy to use.

Another thing I found useful was that the nailer will sit on its back, handle up, on a flat surface where it is easy to pick up. The rafter hook is good too – wide enough for the thickest rafter, and yet it folds away nicely.

I fired what was effectively a boxful of nails along with a couple of builders who helped me out with their opinions. What impressed them was the nailing muscle it had and number of shots it could deliver on a single charge. Because of that, they didn’t experience the quick charge function, but in principle they liked the idea.


www.senco.com

Octogrip work gloves: Protecting your assets

Some site managers make them compulsory, some tradespeople use them routinely without needing to be told and some workers almost always go without. I am talking about work gloves, of course, says Peter Brett.

Cheap work gloves are freely available, often costing around a pound but, in my experience, they aren’t designed to last very long. I have managed to wear holes in a pair before lunchtime on a jobsite where I was handling abrasive materials.

The upside of the increased use of work gloves is that the market responds, bringing more choice and keener prices – and trades are the winners because, in my view, work gloves are a necessity in modern workplaces. To add to this mix, BBB Investments Ltd (think Coast torches and batteries) has brought the Octogrip Glove Range to market and retailers should keep an eye out for it.

As it says in the brochure, Octogrip gloves are ‘Born in America’ and the company has been established for over 30 years, so it knows a thing or two about work gloves. The Octogrip range of gloves is ‘engineered for tactile grip and superior efficiency’ and anyone who routinely uses gloves knows that grip and efficiency need to be built into any gloves, otherwise they simply don’t work and will be discarded.

These two features became the two focus points of my review, and it inevitably involved some informal comparisons with gloves that I have bought for my own use to see how well they stood up in, what is now, a very competitive market.

Some of the range

I was sent five representative pairs of gloves from the range of nine. They cover Heavy Duty, High Performance, Cut Safety and Cold Weather applications. Retailers will notice that each pair is carefully ‘stitched’ to an informative card hanger that gives details of the product described in key words. Customers only need to read the key words to make their choices.

They will also be pleased to see that the left-hand glove is attached to the card in such a way that potential buyers can try it on without destroying the hanging card. A win-win for buyers and sellers, I think.

Heavy Duty OG200 - Superior grip, comfort and fit, dexterity

The shell of these gloves is woven from 15 Gauge thread into a one-piece whole. A high, elasticated wrist ensures that they fit snugly and users will notice the comfort, flexibility and grip immediately upon they put them on. A key feature in this is the carefully applied latex on the dimpled palm and digits that simply looks and feels better than on any cheap glove. I used my ‘palm crinkle test’ to check fit and flexibility and the Octogrip passes easily.   

Using these gloves for general jobs like loading timber, handling bricks and garden waste (non-prickly) I found that they were very good. And easy to get on and off too.

Octogrip OG330 Heavy Duty gloves feature a heavier 13Gauge shell and a more heavily ribbed and elasticated wrist design. I found that they fitted even more snugly than the OG200s – so grip and dexterity were not compromised. The latex coating on the palm and digits is also carefully applied and in many ways; I thought that I had found the perfect compromise between heavy duty performance, dexterity and grip doing a range of jobs that include mixing up buckets of mortar and plaster.

Palmwick technology – Keep cool

It can be uncomfortable to wear work gloves in hot weather – but protection trumps all in most jobs. The pair of Octogrip Palmwick PW874 gloves I tried solves the problem of hot hands by using the palm coating to wick away sweat and moisture leaving hands cooler, but without compromising grip, dexterity, protection or durability.

My ‘crinkly palm’ test showed that the fit is nicely snug - almost a second skin - and the elasticated wrist design is very good, going back past wristwatch level so they stay on well. They are also easy to get on and off because of the highly elasticated shell.

These Palmwick gloves quickly became my ‘go to’ gloves when doing some fencing/fitting in the recent hot weather because I had the protection from splinters that I needed when handling unplaned timbers, but also the dexterity I needed for using cordless power tools. They ended up my favourite gloves – probably because I used them the most and appreciated the cool hands.

Cutting it

I am lucky in that I don’t often have to handle sharp materials like glass or sheet metals, but regulations now make provisions for a cut resistance rating on gloves. Octogrip’s Cut Safety Pro Gloves are rated EN388 (2016) Cut Level E – the highest rating. They also use the Palmwick technology combined with a 13 gauge HPPE engineered knitted shell for a robust and cut resistant glove.

Part of the safety factor when handling sharp materials is to be able to grip and handle them dextrously and the nitrile palm and finger coating provides ample grip and protection. The gloves feel a bit more substantial but they still fit well with a high elasticated wrist. Extra protection is afforded by the reinforced thumb saddle. I did try these out myself but sought the opinion of a welder friend who gave them the thumbs up for handling pieces of metal.

I have ended up with only one of these gloves because I had to do the “craft knife’ test on a Cut Safety Pro and a cheap work glove. The results confirmed to me that cheap gloves are easy to slice, while the Cut Safety Pro provides genuine protection from sharp edges and slashing cuts.

Winter and ‘the Beast’

It is just officially autumn but the tabloids are already telling us that the ‘Beast from the East’ will strike again. Fortunately, I will have the Octogrip OG450 winter glove to wear indoors.

Featuring a foam latex palm for grip and insulation, it feels thick, warm and substantial, like a proper warm glove should be. In order to aid grip, the palms and fingers are covered with a ‘nibby’ coating while the shell is made from a 10gauge polyester knit that is thick and comfortingly warm.

What is noticeable in comparison with other winter weight gloves that I have worn is that they are soft and flexible – and warm. I await ‘the Beast’ with equanimity.


www.octogripgloves.com

Flex DW45 18.0-EC: Collated screwdriving, cordless style

THIS new collated screwdriver from Flex is part of its move to EC or brushless motors on most of its new cordless tools. The benefits of EC motors have already been explained, so let us skip lightly over to evaluate the driver itself, explains PETER BRETT.

On those house-beautiful programmes on the telly, I have seen skilled workers bashing up plasterboard in minutes with a collated screw driver.  They make it look so easy with barely a pause between screws as the plasterboard is fixed into place. However, when I tried it myself for the first time a few years ago, I was somewhat chastened as to how many factors on the tool had to be taken into account, so my first efforts were clumsy to say the least. Fortunately, it was a practice piece and my reputation didn’t depend on it.

It helps to have a good quality driver

Since my first efforts at butchering plasterboard I have used several collated screwdrivers of varying quality and cost, and it is true to say that there is a correlation between cost, quality and ease of use. Usually, the more expensive, the better they are to use.

What I have against some of the less efficient drivers is that they usually have a fiddly quality to making adjustments for screws and driver. It is so much easier if these are tool-free, easy to locate and easy to adjust, because setting up a driver properly can involve a bit of trial and error depending on the hardness of the material you are driving into and the depth to which you need the screw heads to be countersunk. If I were in the market for a collated screw driver, I would reject outright any driver that was complicated to set up and required tools! So there!

What does the Flex DW45 have?

None of my no-no’s feature in the arrangements on the DW45. It follows a very well-established shape for collated drivers that is a bit more pistol-like – more like old-fashioned corded drills. The reason for this is that the forward effort to drive the screws is needed directly behind the line of the screws so that they can be driven straight and the driver point will not cam-out of the screw heads. The hand arrangement then is that the thumb and forefinger fit into the grooves above the main handle, while the last three fingers can operate the elongated trigger.

Slick and skilled users will bypass pressing the trigger for each screw – they will simply push in the trigger and lock the drill in ‘on’ position by pushing in the lock button that is located high on the handle. In this way, they can keep up a continuous run of screws – something I have done a few times but not nearly as often as I would wish. Perhaps if I was regularly fixing whole sheets of plasterboard on jobs instead of mainly doing fill-in repairs?

Forward, lock and reverse settings are done via a small lever switch rather than a push-through switch found on drill drivers and such. This is because the second finger doesn’t have an opposing thumb on the other side to push the switch back when needed.

Flex engineers have done a good job in making the handle grippy and ergonomic, with enough black rubber moulding to provide comfort and efficiency. There is a ‘bumper’ around the base of the handle where it connects with the battery slider, but otherwise overmould is kept to a minimum. A decent-sized belt hook and bit holder can be screwed to either the left- or right-hand side of the handle base, with provision for a wrist strap too (strap not supplied).

Basic mode

In basic mode, without the screw magazine fitted, a simple cone-shaped stop sleeve fits over the hex clutch drive into which a driver is fitted. The depth of drive can be adjusted by screwing the cone to clockwise or anti-clockwise. It is easy to do and clearly marked so I was actually ready to work in a minute or so and I had a 99.9% success rate in driving the screws, singly, to the depth I wanted.

There was ample power, the driver feels progressive and since it is easy to control drive speed through the trigger, results into hard or sift materials are easy to control. To be honest, in this mode I could achieve good results on any small job with confidence.

Fitting the screw magazine

For screwing industrial quantities of screws, the magazine needs to be in place. This simply clicks into place on the nose of the driver – without the cone of course.

Screw depth adjustment is via a big ridged dial near the back of the magazine. It will require a bit of trial and error to get the results you need.

The sliding steel nose arrangement is adjusted back and forward for the size of the screws needed. On the right-hand side is metric, while the left has imperial measures. A simple press of the red knob on top of the releases the lock on the nose so users can choose the size of screw needed.

Feeding a strip of collated screws is easy – just follow the arrows. I always use the best quality of screws that I can as cheap ones will cause jams and hiccups. I must credit the DW45 with making me a far more proficient user of collated screw guns. For one, it is light and compact, so it feels light enough (at 1.4kgs with a 2.5 Ah battery) to handle easily so that I could get the all-important lining up of the screw and driver head that makes for trouble-free screwdriving. I started slowly, and increased speed as my confidence grew. Even though I was using a practice piece of timber to drive into, so it was harder and more difficult to start into than a piece of plasterboard, I soon had a rhythm going and even felt capable of setting the motor to continuous mode after I had had more practice.

There is a nice LED light – it comes on when the trigger is pulled. A motor brake helps keep control of driving too – I need such refinements.

Once again, the basic kit comes in a custom fitted L-Boxx with charger, batteries and bits, and there is room for the magazine inside the box too.

The DW45 is new, interesting and capable and definitely worth a look and a demo.


www.flex-tools.com

Optimaxx Woodscrews: Modern design and maximum performance?

I HESITATE to say this again because it makes me sound positively ancient, but in the world of screws (as in tools generally) we have never had it so good, writes PETER BRETT.

I can still remember the days in my youth when putting in a simple woodscrew involved using a hand-powered drill to drill a pilot hole – sometimes two – for the shank and the thread, then drilling a countersink for the head and then screwing in the screw with a wooden-handled screwdriver that really tested how much torque you could apply with your hands. Some old timers even recommended putting a dab of fat onto the screw thread to ease its passage into the wood. It was also said that, when using brass screws, that a steel screw should be inserted and then removed to make a track for brass screw because of the potential danger of breaking a brittle brass screw.

Some years later (1980s/1990s?) saw the widespread use of the cordless drill driver in the trades. In retrospect, their peculiar banana shapes and 1.3Ah battery packs don’t seem so great, but it was the start of an explosion of innovations that came with the extra torque available at the press of a trigger.

Soon the slotted screwdriver head became old-fashioned and even Phillips head screws were outdone by the invention of the Pozi. More recently the Torx, hex and square drives have hit the market, giving end users a wide range to choose from.    

Making the old conically shaped woodscrews was difficult, even for machines – in England, woodscrews were still being made by hand in the early 1900s! Modern screws are all machine-made in their millions with straight shanks, sharp points, parallel threads, etc, and are so easy to use that modern trades think nothing of using several hundred screws a day on a job. Progress? I would say so.

The Optimaxx design

Unsurprisingly, not all the screws we buy are the same. Although they may look superficially similar in shape there are many subtle variations and I have found that I do choose certain brands of screws for certain circumstances. For example, some manufacturers use slimmer designs with sharp teeth on the threads that work better to prevent splitting when used near the edges of boards.

The Optimaxx screws I was sent follow a strong general purpose design that can be used on timber, man-made boards and other materials like plastic and insulation. My use tests found them to be very strong screws – I tried often to break the heads off by overdriving into the timber but I didn’t succeed once. More often, they would just drive through the timber – especially if it was softwood. I think they must be case hardened because I tried cutting off a screwhead with a multi-tool but it was hard job because even the TCT blade struggled to make inroads into the steel.

The strength and driveability of these screws are clearly plus points so time for a closer look at the basics to see why.

The first thing that I noticed is that there are some differences between the screws of different lengths. For example, the 50mm long screws have a thread that goes pretty well all the way to the countersunk head. The longer screws at around 80-100mm long have the thread finishing about two thirds of the way up the shank. This makes sense because the sharp thread has done its work after the first third or so of the job and having a thread all the way to the top would just increase friction, heat generation and the torque needed to drive the screw. It also helps to reduce ‘jacking’ – where timbers being screwed together tend to separate as the screw is being driven through rather than being pulled together.

To appreciate the subtle thread designs of modern screws it is actually necessary to examine them with a magnifying glass.

Under magnification it is clear that the points of Optimaxx screws are VERY sharp. The points are as low an angle as 20 degrees; your fingers may have noticed this when getting them out of the box…

The sharp point helps the user to push the point into the timber to get a good straight start, and the second feature of a cut-out on the point acts a razor edge for speed of cutting and clearing of material.

With the magnifying glass, it is clear that the next section of thread has what seems like mini saw teeth cut into it. It is self-explanatory that these cut into the timber making for a speedy drive of the screws. The thread finishes with a simple deep and wide formation that is quick to drive and also has a lubricant added as part of the coating. It is clear when using the screws that the design actually does what it says it should do – the screws are easy to start and drive quickly, sometimes too quickly if you are being ham-fisted and overdoing the torque setting on the drill driver.

Countersunk heads

I am a fan of the next bit of the design – the built-in countersink ridges that make possible a good, neat setting of the screw just flush or slightly below the surface of the substrate. (I can never understand why some people drive the screws deeper into the timber leaving a hole – unless you are going to fill them.) The deep countersink also makes possible a deeper - and therefore more secure - Pozi drive slot and a stronger head that will resist snapping off.

The marketing bits

Optimaxx screws have the benefit of being highly visible with the blue, black and white boxes that stand out in a retail environment. The Optomaxx logo is clear as are the sizings - they are big enough for me to read without my glasses, so job done.

In the retail environment, despite the clarity of the sizing on the box, unfortunately, customers still open the boxes to check them against the screw they brought in to match. Under these conditions strong boxes are an advantage since they will be tough enough to withstand the treatment. On site too, strong boxes that are easy to seal up again and do not split or come undone are a necessity for me. Optimaxx boxes are actually good in these respects but I have noticed that the screw companies are looking more closely at packaging to solve some of the issues. So maybe we can look forward to a redesign in the future?


www.optimaxx-uk.com

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