It’s Crunch Time from Leatherman. The Compact Multitool

Aimed at: Discerning users who need a small range of tools.

Pros: compact size, well designed few, but effective tools.

Some multi tools can get beyond themselves in terms of size and complication and I, for one, have got to the stage where sometimes I wish for something that is simpler and perhaps quicker to use. Enter the Leatherman Crunch. It is quite small – literally compact enough to fit comfortably into a smallish hand. While it feels solid and looks very well made in the Leatherman way, it is also not too heavy, and although it has a nice leather belt pouch, it wouldn’t be too bulky to carry in a trouser pocket. 

My guess is that the “crunch” part of the name refers to the spring loaded “vice grip” type jaws that are the main feature of this tool. The jaws are unusual in that only the top jaw is held in a permanent fulcrum – the bottom jaw has to be clicked into the fulcrum provided. I know it sounds strange, but fear not, once its in place it won’t slip out. The fulcrum arrangement is to allow for the whole tool to be folded up into a package just short of three cm wide and ten cm long. This fulcrum arrangement strikes me as quite a clever solution and it really only takes a few seconds to engage the bottom jaw – no longer, in fact, than folding the handles over in the “plier” version of other Leatherman tools.

The jaws themselves are forged and then very well finished with mixture of a mirror and matte finish. At the end of the handle that contains the top jaw there is small adjusting screw that is used to adjust the jaws so that they can be used as pliers or locked into place like the handy “vice-grip” tools.

If you look carefully you can also see that there are two sets of cutting edges on the back of the jaws right next to the fulcrum – one for solid wires and one for stripping stranded cables. A thin groove parallel to the milled jaws can be used to hold pins and wires for pulling or pushing and the middle part of the jaws can be used on small nuts and bolts. My guess is that the Crunch will be largely used with these functions in mind – and because they are so clearly capable, users will be happy to use these alone.

However, there is one remaining handle that has the capacity for some fold out blades to add some extra functionality.

These extra bits are again quite limited and not too fancy – but in my view are almost more useful because of that. Five blades can be pulled out –the largest of these is a perilously sharp serrated knife blade. There is also a double-sided file blade with a large slotted screwdriver head on the end and then a couple of other slotted screwdriver heads as well – one medium, one small. The small one has a bottle opener tucked on to the bottom of it. Right in the middle is a Phillips screwdriver function and a tiny round lanyard holder for those who want to attach the tool to something to avoid losing it. A strong spring-loaded catch holds the blades in place while in use but the spring is not so strong that it is a pain to use.

Made in the USA in solid stainless steel, I came to regard the Leatherman Crunch as a very handy pocket tool – it is a case of the more you use it the better you like its compact size and clever design. 

 

Work trousers from JCB Cotton Comfort from Progressive Safety

Aimed at: Regular users, pro or otherwise who need solid workwear in cotton for a change.

Pros: Comfy and practical with pockets galore.

Workwear of various kinds is now a requirement in my life and I am lucky enough to have had a good choice of various kinds to try out.

While I can see the practicality of synthetic materials for making work clothes because of ease of washing and drying and even a measure of light water resistance, I actually like the comfort of cotton – so I was pleased when the postman delivered a couple of pairs of cotton work trousers from the latest collection by JCB Workwear.

The first pair I opened was a standard camouflage colour and I sort of wondered - Why camouflage? The answer, in part, seems to be that often agricultural workers like to wear camouflage colours in the country, but I have seen it on work sites too.

What struck me the very first time I tried them on is that the cut is comfortable but possibly a bit unfashionably baggy for younger, slimmer figures. But I was able to bend and stretch easily and they were comfortable around the waist. No danger of builder’s b*m if you had a decent belt because there are six belt loops – the back one is about 50mm wide – so they hold up very well.

 

Whatever trousers I wear I always manage to end up with a pile of stuff in my pockets. With ten pockets altogether there was enough space for smaller stuff like pencils and my utility knife. The main pockets are like jeans pockets and are quite deep, so will not spill stuff out if you bend over. On the left leg just underneath the main pocket is a deep (20 cm) gusseted pocket that would easily hold all manner of items and with the buttoned flap, the items are quite secure too. Also on the front pocket is a smallish zipped pocket that is big enough for the inevitable smartphone.

In the right hand pocket is a riveted small change pocket and on the back of the right leg above the knee, is a collection of three pockets – one of which would hold a rule and the others, things like a screwdriver etc.  

Placed comfortably high up on the back are a pair of seventeen cm deep patch pockets with hook and loop flap closures. I always have a wallet with me (lunch money) so I like having the security of a flapped pocket but pliers and screwdrivers tend to end up in the left hand one because they don’t stab you in the leg when you bend down.

The kneepad pockets are top loading for ease, adjustable, and with a secure hook and loop fastening so that the kneepads – your favourite ones will fit – will not fall out.

Pretty well all the seams on these trousers are double stitched for strength and durability, so should last the course

Next in the parcel was a pair of 1945 Work Jeans. Jeans are the fashion statement of the moment, so I guess it is no surprise that there is a demand from work people for denim work trousers. These trousers are in fact not 100% cotton – they are made of 85% Cordura cotton with 15% nylon. The material is also four times more abrasion resistant than comparable cotton denim so is ideal for heavy use.

The pockets and other features of these 1945 Work Jeans are exactly the same as the camouflage ones mentioned above so will suit general site workers. If anything, I found these work jeans even more comfortable than the camouflage ones!

 

Two Diamond Cutting Discs from Klingspor Making the Cut

Aimed at: depending on the grade all the way up to demanding professionals

Pros: Made in Europe OSA approved for safety and ingenious design makes for good cutting performance.

To speak to some tradespeople it would seem that the most important thing about a diamond cutting disc is the price. Not the materials it was designed for cutting, not safety, not speed of cut nor the amount of noise it made. Now I am definitely keen on getting value for money, but I am also keenly aware of my safety and my time.

However, I do get a sense of satisfaction when I get a tradesperson come up and ask about a particular piece of kit and I am able to make the point that good kit, used well, can be safer and quicker, thus saving time and money, as well as making for happier clients.

Of course there is the sharp intake of breath when I tell them, for example, that my rail saw cost £500, but the message remains that sometimes, its not all about the price you pay – sometimes the bottom line needs a bit more sophistication when being calculated. It can be a case of penny wise but pound foolish.  

Diamond cutting discs are squarely in the area of you “get what you pay for”. There are literally dozens of makes of cheap diamond discs on the market. They all vary enough in appearance and packaging for you to be vaguely able to tell the difference so that you can find them again. But my argument is that a good quality diamond disc, chosen with the job in mind, is more likely to perform well, save you time and minimise wear and tear on your disc cutting machine.

Enter the two diamond discs sent by major abrasives company, Klingspor. Established in Germany in 1893 by Johan Friedrich Klingspor to make a variety of abrasives, the company was behind the development of abrasive cut-off wheels and grinding discs in the 1950s and 60s. With manufacturing facilities in Europe, the US and Mexico, the company is one of the four largest abrasives companies in the world and produces a huge range of abrasives of many types – hence it has a lot riding on getting its products right both in terms of price and performance.

Klingspor makes a point of providing discs at three price points (good, better, best) to meet the needs of customers’ varying needs and its in-house R and D facility in Germany offers continuous review, development and improvement of its products. ALL of Klingspor’s diamond discs are Organisation for the Safety of Abrasives (oSa) accredited – the highest level of safety accreditation available.

I was sent two mid-range discs for review, a DT600U and a DT612AB. The DT600U is so designated because it is a mid-priced universal blade meant to be used on pretty well all construction materials from natural stone, to reinforced concrete and all stations in between. This blade has proved to be very successful in the market – not only because of its pricing but also because of its design – a design that makes for rapid cutting as well as a long disc life. Now normally, these two features would work against each other. Long disc life usually means having a slightly thicker blade and deeper segmentation of the blade. On the other hand, a thinner blade usually means a quicker cut because there is not so much dust to remove from the thinner kerf, but the thinner blade then wears more quickly. You can also make a blade last longer by making deeper segments, but that brings other issues into play like the safety of the weld of the segments onto the disc.

What Klingspor has managed to do with this blade is to strike the correct compromise between thickness and wear and the secret of this is in the design of the segments. This 300mm diameter disc has 32 segments squeezed onto its rim. Each individual segment is 10mm deep and it has 25mm deep gullets that are wider at the bottom, that slim down a bit before ending in a precisely drilled hole for reducing noise. The wider slot at the bottom allows dust to be shifted quickly from the cut. A look through a magnifier reveals a fairly close, but random, distribution of diamonds on the segments, but if you think that more diamonds always equals faster cutting, then you are wrong. You may not get optimum cutting if too many diamonds produce too much dust to shift from the cut and then cause clogging.  But the key design feature is the number of segments on the rim – 32 segments with regular slots to disperse the waste quickly has proved to make a blade that not only cuts quickly, but lasts well too. By the end of my tests on steel, concrete, marble and bricks, I could barely see any sign of wear on the rim at all, promising a longer life – I still expect to be using this blade in a few month’s time.

The DT612AB disc is a more specialised design for use largely on concrete and asphalt and has been a hit with utilities, road repair contractors and general construction firms.

The one thing that is very obvious when looking at the segments of this blade is that the diamond distribution is much closer than the DT600U. The diamonds are also coated in titanium powder for maximum adhesion as asphalt and concrete are very aggressive and tend to tear away diamonds that are not tightly bonded. With eighteen larger segments and much larger open–ended gullets cut into the rim, it is clear that dust removal is one of the main aims of this design. Nothing for it but to mount it on the machine and try it out on some concrete and asphalt. Fortunately, I have a small asphalted area where I park my car, and I was struck by just how “clingy” asphalt can be when cutting, as the heat melts the tar and sort of gums it up. But the big gullets do their job and cutting is quite quick – if you are not careful you can go too deep quite quickly. Concrete is a doddle with this disc, no wonder road repair firms are buying it – it is perfect for cutting kerbstones.  I know I had a relatively short time of testing, but the wear on the disc at the end was very small, meaning that I can use the disc on other jobs….

In the end, quality always wins out for me – I have proved to myself again and again that you get what you pay for. These Klingspor diamond discs, tick lots of boxes and I will certainly keep an eye out for them when I have worn these ones out.   

 

Hitachi C9U3 – The Site Workhorse Reshod and Ready

Aimed at: demanding pro site carpenters who need a capable and hardworking saw.

Pros: big powerful, more sophisticated with a facility to collect more dust if needed.

 

Hitachi portable circular saws are renowned as the workhorses of the site. Tough, robustly made and expected to cut to the limits of spec when required - i.e. often. I have lost count of the numbers of battered Hitachi saws I have seen on various sites, but their owners always swear by them. The last one I observed was being used by roofers to cut fibre cement soffits and it was being worked very hard – but I was too polite to ask if they had fitted the correct blade!

The Hitachi C9U3 is a replacement for the C 9U2 and is definitely a sleeker and more modern take on the old one, and just a little bit heavier too. No doubt the extra weight is accounted for in a few extra features on the C9U3. So the changes are not just cosmetic – Hitachi has uprated the saw to make the genuine improvements needed for a newer model.

My first impression of the saw is that it is a bit of a monster – it weighs 7.2 Kgs all up. But it does handle well and with good balance, so the weight does not feel onerous. It is now common, thank goodness, to have a cast alloy base on saws like this and the Hitachi version is strong and rigid and with a big flat ground base that sits nicely on the work. It is finished in a dull grey alloy colour, like the upper and lower blade guards and it is genuinely smart looking and has the promise that it will be hardwearing too. A rigid base is easier to work with since it does not flex and makes cutting and saw adjustments more accurate.

Two other features of the base are the adjustable cutting line guides and the blade perpendicularity adjustment. The first of these is easy enough to use – it is just in the front of the base and is adjusted to the cutting line by unscrewing it and then resetting. At this point I should also mention that the side fence is attached to the front of the saw here. The side fence is made from pressed steel, but is more robust than some I have seen, so it will perform under pressure. It has milled slots on the back of the bar for extra grip as well as metric and imperial measurements on the top of the bar, so some accuracy must be expected from it.

More important on a site saw is that the blade should be perpendicular and that it should return to right angles when the users sets it back after an angled cut. Under the base, a grub screw can be adjusted to set the blade at right angles using an engineers’ square. Inaccuracies can creep in on site saws like this, so it is handy to be able to zero it occasionally.

The motor housing and handles are made in the familiar green Hitachi ABS plastic and both handles have generous black rubberised overmoulds to provide grip and some protection from vibration. Included in the kit, is an extra black plastic front handle that can be located underneath the main front handle with a single screw. This provides the user with a grip a little further away from the blade guards, but also lower in centre of gravity terms. This will help in difficult cuts where it is necessary to give a bit more push to the saw.

Both upper and lower blade guards are made from a well finished grey alloy and they are substantial and rigid to provide good protection from the 235mm diameter 20 tooth TCT blade. There is a substantial black riving knife to help prevent binding in the cut and the lower blade guard has a nicely gauged spring loading that is easy to use at the start of the cut as it is pushed into the work, but provides enough snap to get the blade covered asap after the cut is finished.

The upper blade guard also doubles as a dust collector and dust blower. A smallish vent at the back of it spews out a lot of dust when the saw is at full throttle. As we would now expect, there is a dust collection option. A strong black plastic spout can be attached (one screw) over the dust vent. This spout is ribbed so that a standard dust collection hose can be fitted over it. More importantly, with a decent vacuum dust collector attached, the amount of dust collected is very good – not much is left lying around. But you will still have to clean up later because there is no such thing as 100% dust collection on this type of portable saw.

If you do decide to use the dust collection spout you also have to change the little handle that lifts the lower blade guard. The original handle is large and keeps your fingers well away from the blade, but the dust spout handle is a lot smaller so you need to take a bit more care to keep fingers safe.

Just on the front of the upper guard a small plastic hump directs air from the motor fan directly over the cut line so that it remains dust free and easy to see – I do like this feature very much, perhaps I am getting spoilt?

Height and angle adjustments of the blade are really easy to do and the mechanisms for each adjustment are strong. I particularly liked the blade height adjustment arrangement because the substantial knob handle that sticks out under the main handle is easy to reach and grips strongly when tightened so that there is no danger that the saw will suddenly plunge down deeper into the cut. Another nice little touch is the cord holder function under the handle – this allows the user to loop a bit of the cord around the holder so that it can be kept out of the way when cutting.

But was the C9U3 a workhorse? Well I ran it repeatedly through some damp 100x75mm tanalised timber without it so much as a change in motor note. I moved on to some very dense beech and then some old and very twisty elm. Again no problems. In my view, this new version will build a reputation of its own as a robust and accurate site saw that will keep Hitachi aficionados happy and will also gain lots of new fans too. 

 

 

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

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

Pros: Simple to operate, capable and easily manoeuvrable. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draper 15Kg Breaker – Value and Efficiency

Aimed at: Professionals and competent home builders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LED Lenser P7R – Rechargeable Quality

Aimed at: Pro and demanding users of torches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros: Light, compact, adjustable with red beams too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Metabo KGSV 72 Xact SYM - Mitre Saw Magic

Aimed at: Professional and demanding amateurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiha BitHolder Sets - A Cure for Crowded Toolbox Syndrome?

Aimed at: Pros with crowded toolboxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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