Every spring at the Tools of the Trade, we reflect back on all the cool tools, equipment, and technology we have seen at trade shows and media events. This year, as in previous years, many products stood out, but we could select only a limited number of them for the Editors' Choice Awards.
Our winners made the cut for several different reasons. Some are the only tools of their kind or are the first to incorporate a particular technology. Others are more refined than the competition or have an especially nice feature set. In every case, though, the tools on these pages were chosen because they make it possible for tradespeople to do their jobs better, faster, or more easily.
Bosch's D-tect 150 is a hand-held detection device that uses ultra-wide-band radar to pinpoint the location, depth, and diameter of components in floors and walls. And it can determine — within limits — what those components are, allowing contractors to cut or drill into walls and floors without having to worry that they'll hit something they shouldn't.
You operate the device by rolling it across the surface and reading the scan results on an LCD screen. Separate modes scan cured concrete, green concrete, floors containing hydronic heating, and surfaces covered with drywall. The tool can detect metal studs and live AC wiring, and distinguish between ferrous metal (such as rebar), nonferrous metal (such as copper pipe), and nonmetal objects like studs and plastic pipe. In deep-concrete mode it can scan up to 6 inches beneath the surface; other modes don't go as deep. Price: $750. 877-267-2499. www.boschtools.com.
Festool's RO 90 DX is the newest addition to the Rotex line of sanders. Like its predecessors, it has an aggressive gear-driven mode for stripping and smoothing and a random orbital mode for fine sanding. But it also has something no other rotary model has: a third mode that allows the tool to be used as a detail sander. Sanding action is controlled by a knob on the top of the housing and is completely different for every mode. The tool ships with a 3-1/2-inch round pad for rotary sanding and a delta pad for detail sanding. The pads can be swapped out in a matter of seconds without the use of tools — just set the switch to delta, twist off one pad, then twist on the other one.
The tool has variable speed control and the highly effective dust collection Festool products are known for. The kit includes the sander, a round pad, a delta pad, assorted hook-and-loop paper, a guard to prevent the edge of the paper from damaging adjoining surfaces, and a Systainer case. Price: $385. 888-337-8600. www.festoolusa.com.
Metal fabricators and steelworkers use magnetic drill presses — which have a magnet in their base that holds them to the work — to make and tap holes in pipe and structural steel. Mag drills have been around forever, but Metabo's MAG 28 LTX 32 is the first cordless model. Why go cordless? Well, contractors have always had problems drilling in high or remote locations where it's difficult to run cords or bring generators, and the technology finally exists to power a drill press effectively with a battery.
The two-speed tool takes a 25.2-volt lithium-ion battery and has a maximum drilling diameter of 1-1/4 inch with annular cutters and 1/2 inch with spiral bits. Maximum drilling depth is 2 inches. The permanent magnetic base operates independently from the battery and has 2,500 pounds of holding force. It can drill on vertical, horizontal, and sloped surfaces and has a groove in the bottom so it can be attached to pipe.
Corded models will continue to do the bulk of drilling work — but for those times you need to make a limited number of holes in a remote location, this tool could be a real problem-solver. The kit includes a charger, two 3.0-Ah lithium-ion batteries, a chuck, a tool holder, and various accessories. Price: $2,500. 800-638-2264. www.metabo.us.
Routers have traditionally been small, medium, or large — but that changed when DeWalt introduced the DWP611, a "tween" size model that is larger than a trim router but smaller than a standard (medium) router. With its 7-amp motor and 1/4-inch collet, this tool is small enough for comfortable one-hand use yet powerful enough for the day-to-day routing tasks performed by carpenters and woodworkers.
It has a rocker-style switch on the front of the housing with a speed-adjustment dial above it. The motor operates between 16,000 and 27,000 rpm and contains soft-start circuitry designed to maintain constant speed under load. One of the tool's better features is a pair of LED lights that shine down from the motor to illuminate the work.
The router is available as a fixed-base unit or in a fixed/plunge-base combo kit that comes in a soft storage bag. The plunge base accepts universal template guides and is particularly handy for mortising hinges and shallow hardware. Price: $125 (standard base); $180 (kit). 800-433-9258. www.dewalt.com.
A number of things set the Makita LXDT01 apart from other 18-volt impact drivers: It is extremely short front-to-back, is one of the lightest models with a full-size (3.0 Ah) battery, and is part of a select group of tools with brushless motors and variable-power output. We tested it for an article in the Fall 2011 ToTT and it performed near the top in our runtime and timed driving tests.
Details include a belt hook, a one-handed chuck, and an LED light with a 10-second delay. Although the tool doesn't have a battery gauge, it does have a warning light that comes on when the battery is low. And it has a nice charger — fan-cooled and with indicators that show the level of charge: below 80 percent, 80 to 100 percent, and 100 percent.
The kit includes two lithium-ion batteries, a charger, a belt clip, and a plastic tool case. Web price: $340. 800-462-5482. www.makitausa.com.
It's easy to scoff when manufacturers announce new hand tools, because the designs are so simple and have been around so long it's hard to imagine anyone coming up with something that hasn't been done before. And yet Milwaukee has managed to do something new with the trade-specific pliers, cutters, and snips it introduced last fall. These premium tools are designed primarily for the electrical, plumbing, and hvac trades; a few can perform tasks that used to require multiple tools.
Take the new 6-in-1 Combination Pliers. These spring-opened needle-nose pliers can strip wire, cut bolts, and ream small conduit. The 6-in-1 Linesman's Pliers can cut wire and small bolts, ream conduit, and pull fish tapes. And the Quick Adjust Reaming Pliers — also designed with electricians in mind — can function as both reamer and pliers. The plastic stops short of the end of the handles so the tool can be used to ream small conduit; the head can be used to ream large conduit.
In addition, there are tongue-and-groove pump pliers and PEX tubing cutters for plumbers, and a series of aviation snips for sheet-metal mechanics. 800-729-3838. www.milwaukeetool.com.