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Home . About Us . Subscribe . Advertise . Editorial Outline . Contact Us . Current Issue . Back Issues . Jon Eakes

© Copyright 2007 Work-4 Projects Ltd.

By Jon Eakes

Sometimes they're more important than your tools!

A lot of tool accessories never get noticed but the little sleepers can be as important as the tool itself.
One of the most dangerous tools on a construction or renovation site is the soldering torch. How many fires have been started by general renovators or even licensed plumbers as they soldered copper pipes?
Renovation fires are probably more common than in new construction because the working space is more cramped and the wood surrounding the pipes is dryer and, more often than not, the user of the torch is not a trained plumber.
For many years I carried asbestos sheets in my tool box to protect houses from my occasional plumbing tasks, but I see few renovators today with fire shields in their toolbox… and a lot of scorched joists and cabinet backs.
BernzOmatic has brought out a spray bottle of gel called Cold Coat that is not only an aid to soldering copper pipe, but your best fire insurance policy. When you heat the gel, it slowly boils off, leaving a crystallized surface that stops all heat transfer beyond the gel, at least until you have boiled it all off. That means you can actually touch the pipe a foot away from the joint you are soldering. Touching a pipe is not very useful, but the fact that rubber washers a foot from your torch will not melt is useful. It also means that water in the pipe on the other side of the gel application cannot draw off the heat of the torch, allowing you to solder the joint while there is still water not far down the line!
Just as important is that if you spray the wood around your work, you can put the torch right on the gel and the wood will not burn until the gel is boiled off, giving you enough safe work time to get the job done. Cold Coat is non-toxic, non-staining, not affected by freezing, and can be left to evaporate. If that neglected spray bottle is sleeping on your renovation centre shelf, move it to your tool box.

No-name vs. brand name
Recently I was rebuilding my fence with my neighbour. He was so proud of his under-$100 mitre saw that he challenged me: "Why did you pay $500 for your mitre saw? Is there really a difference between the no-name and the brand name tools and is that difference worth the price?" With the growing range of Chinese tools available, his was a legitimate question.
After carefully studying more than 20 different saws for a DVD project that I am finishing up (Stationary Saws with Jon Eakes, to be available soon), I offer the following recommendations.
If you need precision, repeatability and absence of vibration, stick with name brands. If you need durability like good motor windings, bearings and switches, stick with name brands.
No-name saws are copies of brand name saws, occasionally even in flagrant violation of various patents. They are always copies of older tools so the brand name tools are always evolving ahead of the copycats. Cost cutting is usually in the quality of the metal, the accuracy of the stops and sliding parts, the exclusion of some of the extra features and, most importantly, in the quality of the motor and switches.
If you are in a high theft district and you always lose tools before you wear them out, no-name can be a good choice. If you don't need precision and consider tools expendable because of a rough environment, no-name can be a good choice. In both cases, put on a quality blade to lessen the load on the motor. The cutting end of a tool is always the most important.
Speaking of blades, no matter what you are cutting, a vibrating blade is the biggest cause of splintering or chipping, especially on hard materials like tiles. That vibration often comes from motor shaft imprecision or the blades themselves that may start out flat but warp with heat build-up. Even a good saw with a cheap blade doesn't always give good or consistent results.

Felker has a reputation for stability and balance in its blades, like the TM-10 diamond blade that produces true cuts on difficult tiles, little waste and a quality tile job. You just can't avoid chips, bows or arcs with a $30 bargain blade. But getting a speciality blade is often important as well. TRASK BERGERSON moderates a very useful Web forum on tiling at www.JohnBridge.com and makes this point: "If you cut granite with a marble blade, it cuts really well for a while and then it's just gone; it begins to cut very poorly. It will clog up and glaze over. Vice versa if you cut marble with a granite blade."

Each blade is designed to clear material and wear according to the material it is attacking. Done right, that keeps cutting straight and clean. Still getting some chipping on very brittle material like glass tiles? Try putting them on a bed of insulation foam to dampen the vibration as you run them through the saw.
Back to my strong point of wood-working, I always loved to say that a combination blade for wood was defined as a blade that cut equally poorly in both directions. Well, Freud made me quit saying that when it brought out the Fusion Blade, a combination blade for general woodworking. Amazingly, it cuts very cleanly in both cross cut and rip, and it doesn't clog up or burn while ripping.
This is an ideal blade for site work where the job is constantly changing: It works better than any combination blade I have ever tried before. You do, of course, have to keep it sharp so if you don't really need the ability to frequently change tasks and are constantly cutting Melamine, use a specific Melamine blade and it will stay sharp longer. The same goes for the speciality laminate floor blades that are a necessity to hold up to the metallic finishes on those laminate floors, or a negative angle blade for cutting piping and extrusions in a mitre saw safely and without burrs. Even with the existence of a good combination blade like the Fusion blade, there is still the need for speciality blades for specific tasks. HB

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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