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© Copyright 2006 Work-4 Projects Ltd.

By Jon Eakes

The challenge of air-powered tools
For years, pneumatic tools have dominated our worksites and, to a large extent, they still do. However, the cumbersome hoses and heavy compressors have provided a driving force for alternatives.
Today we know Paslode, with its internal combustion motor and gas cartridges, as the primary cordless contender to pneumatic tools. Actually, it is interesting that Paslode was originally a company making PAcking, Shipping, and LOading DEvices (PASLODE), with their first stapling hammer produced in 1940. Twelve years later brought on the first popular pneumatic nailer and, in 1986, Paslode became synonymous with cordless gas cartridges.
The world is not yet perfect, though, as I get lots of complaints from construction sites about the cost of those cartridges and problems with the nailers. It is time for someone else to try and find a cordless alternative.
Several years ago, Bostitch brought out the first battery-operated roofing nailer, which our Canadian tool testers weren't excited about primarily because of weight and the fact that it was designed to not slip off the roof. We then discovered that our Canadian roofs are generally steeper than American roofs and you had to keep that heavy tool on your belt. Cordless, powerful, cool - but cumbersome.

DeWalt cordless nailer test
Apparently, the only way you can get batteries to spit out the power needed to drive a nail is to have it spin a motor and have the momentum of the motor drive that nail. So now DeWalt has brought its expertise to the idea of getting rid of those pneumatic hoses with two new cordless battery-operated finishing nailers; one with straight nails and one with angled nails: 16-gauge, 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 inches long. Six of our readers have had the time to test these machines on their construction sites and here is what they think.

They all agreed that their 18-volt tools (DeWalt also makes a 14-volt version that we did not test) had all the power they needed, right up there with pneumatic tools. One noted that he was able to do 600 feet of baseboards with one battery charge. The depth controls worked flawlessly. They also liked the headlights that light up when you contact the work. One guy liked the rapid-fire option while the others had no use for this feature.
Four out of the six testers had chosen to test the angled nailer in an effort to get into tight spaces. It certainly did the job but, as one said: "Now we need a different nail, so we need to carry two kinds." That angled nail is, in fact, a bit of a problem as DeWalt has chosen a non-standard 20-degree angle, not always available in your local renovation centre.
Unanimously, the guys liked the cordless and gasless features but found the trade-off bulky and heavy. They all recommended it as a good, well-built tool and even found the $599 list price reasonable, but they all suggested that DeWalt work to make it smaller and lighter. Maybe that 14-volt version is what they are looking for.

They all agreed that their 18-volt tools had all the power they needed, right up there with pneumatic tools.

Batteries, batteries, batteries
Of course, all this cordless stuff is about batteries. Batteries do wear out and need replacing so simply comparing the cost of fuel cells against nothing is not really fair. A true comparison would be to judge changing fuel cells against changing batteries - perhaps power costs per nail driven. But, of course, that information is not available.

Ryobi builds around 18-volts
What I can tell you is that the competition is heating up on bringing the cost of batteries down. Ryobi is bringing a high-end DIY line (maybe we can read that as a semi-disposable professional line) of 22 tools to market, all built around an affordable 18-volt battery. It is not the convenient quick-charge system, but at these prices you could afford to buy some extras and wait for that one-hour charge. The batteries will list price in Canada for $34.97 each, or $59.97 for two, and the charger is only $24.97. Ryobi claims that the work-per-charge has not diminished with the lower prices. This is a price breakthrough found at Home Depot that will put the pressure on all the other manufacturers, since battery loyalty is the key to selling tools these days.

To me, the most interesting of that new Ryobi line-up is a compact cordless cartridge gun with full flow control for caulking or adhesives. In Canada, at $69.97, first reports from the field are that it is holding up to continuous use. With all the standard 18-volt drills and saws in the line-up, some of the extras make buying into Ryobi 18-volt tools very interesting, like their little laminate trimmer.

Handy innovations
As companies merge, sometimes it means that quality goes down, and sometimes it means that it goes up. When Irwin, Rubbermaid and Vise-Grip all became one, I wasn't sure, but it looks like quality is going up.

Rubbermaid, of all unlikely companies, has brought out the best-fitting segmented knife handle. It has moulded rubber that actually fits the hand and increases the grip while using standard blades.

Irwin / Vise-Grip has suddenly made a breakthrough in monkey wrenches, of all things. Rather than the slow and tiring collar nut to adjust the opening, they have put in a quality notched rack that allows simple sliding up and down with your thumb to hug the pipe. My only complaint is that the throat opening doesn't match the jaw opening. The throat is big enough for their advertised 1-1/2 inch pipe, and even works for me on two-inch pipe, yet the jaws open big enough for 2-5/8 inch pipe. If you try to grab that larger pipe, however, you can't get a bite. Similar sized traditional pipe wrenches have another half inch on the throat that makes a big difference. Irwin says they do this to give room to manoeuvre. It seems to me that you should match the two. But up to those 1-1/2 inch pipes, it is a gem of a tool.

Irwin has also innovated with the old chalk line. A much stronger casing with a geared crank to pull the string in much faster - very nice. Now I just wish someone would make one that holds more chalk.
Speaking of chalk, let me pass on some information about the different chalks, which was a revelation the first time I heard it. Did you know that the red and fluorescent colours are permanent markers that might even show through paint? Blue is permanent on porous surfaces. The only really "erasable" chalk line is white.

Our tool testing has become very popular and everybody wants in. The manufacturers are lining up to offer us tools, but I would like to hear from you as to what you would like us to test. Drop me a line (Ask the expert) and explain why you would like to see a particular type of tool field tested by our readers.

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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