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© Copyright 2006 Work-4 Projects Ltd.

By Jon Eakes

Getting a grip on things - and wearing nylons

You have probably noticed this yourself, but scientific studies have shown that it takes as much as 30 per cent more muscle power to hold on to a tool that is slippery than it does when working with a non-slip grip. A better grip translates into less fatigue as well as fewer accidents. So when it comes to tools, design changes on handles are not only marketing gimmicks but also serious efforts at reducing strain on the job. But not all designs are winners.

When it comes to hammers, many guys still prefer their old wooden handles. One design evolution that has proven very useful in most new hammers, and even in some wooden ones, is the widened curve at the tail of the hammer which cradles your little finger and keeps the hammer from slipping out of your hand without making you squeeze harder. Stanley tried to improve even more on making a "grip" handle by putting sweat grooves into the rubber moulding. Feedback I get from the sites is that it does improve the grip, but at the expense of making blisters because of the rough grooves. Generally, the shaped handle with a semi-soft non-slippery covering seems to be hitting the right balance between grip and rub.

For years the successful grip vs. rub balance in screwdrivers has been the plastic with large rounded grooves. Picquic has been very successful in taking this basic design and inserting the driver heads into the ribs. Robertson makes a superb line of ergonomic screwdrivers with moulded rubber handles that are not round but slightly oval, giving more torque with less squeeze. A line of tools for women, Tomboy Tools, has come out with the finger part of the handle loaded with very soft rubber fins for an excellent grip and a ratchet mechanism to avoid having to change the hand position while turning. Fancy designs like this effectively increase the torque we can apply while reducing stress, but they will always be limited by the tendency to break under heavy use.

If you haven't noticed the change in scrapers, it is time you went back to the store. The old standard straight wooden handle has been replaced by a raised back design with a moulded rubber grip. This is truly a day-and-night improvement. Throw out that old one and move up.

Utility Knives
Our standard utility knives are changing radically as well. Even the straight simple metal box is now receiving rubber sides to improve the grip. Irwin has changed the angle of attack after observing that most people bend their wrists up high to use the standard tool, and has shaped the body to better fit the hand. The Olfa knife itself has evolved to several models but the competition is changing faster. The amazingly comfortable segmented blade knife shown in the photo is made by, of all companies, Rubbermaid.

Sometimes design changes in tools go two steps forward and one step backward at the same time. Stanley brought out a cool combination utility knife and pocket knife. I loved the idea but quickly quit using it because the little lever used to open the large blade would dig into my fingers while using the utility knife. Their next model reduced the size of that little bump, but didn't completely get rid of the irritation.

Power Tools
Even power tools are evolving to better grips on the handles, and the non-slip rubber shown on the right certainly works better than the little plastic bumps shown on the left. Many of the power tools now have little safety buttons. The jig saw on the right has one that is a simple lock-off button that you lock on and then it is out of the way. But with the circular saw on the left, you have to push the button every time you pull the trigger. Not a big deal once or twice, but after a lot of work I discovered I kept my finger on the button and developed a blister. When checking a tool in the store, remember that any little annoyance can become a real problem under constant use.

Paint Brushes
Even paint brush handles have been improved. Rather than the non-descript wooden handle, you can now find full-hand-fitting brushes with rubber moulding and an indent for your thumb. They are very comfortable.
Rubbermaid went a step further and asked why have a long handle at all. The little palm trim brush is a dream to work with.

All of the above relates to improving the handles themselves. Actually, we often wear gloves for protection. If the gloves make things more slippery, they increase stress. If they add grip, they protect your hands while allowing the muscles to work less. Buying a range of gloves to match a range of site conditions is probably a smart move.

Start with standard protective gloves, leather in the palm and cooling canvas on the back. However, these can get slippery. You can get cotton gloves that provide minimum cool protection but have little latex dots on the gripping surface. They grip very well.

A stronger grip comes with full latex moulding on a glove, but they can get hot. You can now buy these with cotton on the backside with full moulded latex on the palm and grip side of the fingers.
Thermovil glove liners are a really special innovation for Canadian construction, used extensively by hydro workers and utility linesmen. When you flex the fibres, they actually create heat. If you don't move your fingers (like in skiing) they are just a thin cotton-like liner.

And finally, for you guys out there, how about wearing nylons on the job? These thin white nylon gloves don't transfer dirt easily - great for working with ceiling tiles and not leaving dirty finger prints. They are actually called bricklayer gloves, because the red dust just falls off of them. Impress your clients: show up in white nylons.

Montreal-based TV broadcaster, author, home renovation and tool expert Jon Eakes provides a tool feature in each edition of Home BUILDER.



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