In this era of widespread hype and rhetoric, words like "groundbreaking" and "revolutionary" are so commonly overused they often turn us off rather than attract our attention. Instead of being wowed, we are often numbed and under-impressed. That's why we're happy here at Tools of the Trade to not only be able to check out the hundreds of new tools introduced each year–but to be able to do so in a way that looks past the hype to seek out the true innovations and breakthroughs. We move constantly through the industry, evaluating its trends, testing its products, and reporting to you on what we learn. We know the people, we see their work, and we follow their progress. For this reason, our annual selection of Editors' Choice Award winners holds special distinction for us, and inspires us to search all year for the best tools, features, and accessories we can find–so that we can hold them up in a special light for you to see. From a breathable work shirt and knee pads on wheels to a motorized wheelbarrow and ergonomic tools, this year's crop of award winners will get you moving–literally and figuratively–all the while keeping you comfortable, efficient, and productive.
The tool industry is committed to hooking us all on lithium-ion–and it's working. Milwaukee started the ball rolling last year, and garnered a 2005 Editors' Choice Grand Award for being the first to unleash this new power source onto the U.S. power tool market, but with the entries since by Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, Metabo, and Ridgid–and the expected introductions by several other tool companies–we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge this major trend, and all the promise it holds for professional tool users, again this year.
Though each tool line varies in its offerings, features, and benefits, lithium-ion batteries as a category offer key advantages for cordless tool users–and those users that have been restricted to corded tools only. Most notably, lithium-ion batteries pack more power into smaller cells, meaning manufacturers can provide more energy in the same size batteries available now (such as 36-volt tools with the power of corded tools but the weight of 18-volters) or put the same amount of energy into a smaller battery (such as 18-volt tools that offer the power of 18-volt nicad or NiMH products but at a lower weight). The batteries also typically offer longer runtimes, among other benefits.
Like all innovations and technical breakthroughs that seem to appear so suddenly, lithium-ion tools required years of research, adaptation, and testing before the public even caught a glimpse, with some very, very smart people investing years and careers solving problems, developing solutions, and testing theories. Even still, years of field use, servicing, and reality will provide proof of life for this exciting new category of cordless tools that is taking us one step closer to cutting the cord for good.
So we present our Grand Award not to one tool or one company, but to the people who form the research and development teams at Milwaukee, DeWalt, Bosch, Makita, Metabo, and Ridgid for bringing our construction world a big step closer to all-cordless.
Knee Blades Rolling Kneepads
The "Favorite New Product" at last fall's Remodeling Show, Knee Blades combine the comfort of a kneepad with the convenience and mobility of wheels. The Knee Blades feature a one-strap design and pads with air pockets to evenly disperse weight and lessen pressure on the knee; the pads are contoured to fit the shape of the knee for added comfort. The units' wheeled base offers users full 360-degree turning capability without lifting off from the floor. Compared to one-piece rolling options, the individual knee blades provide more balance and flexibility of movement.
Gorgonz Performance Work Shirt
Work. Sweat. Stay comfortable. Repeat. The Performance Work Shirt combines the breathable clothing technology you might find for athletes with the work shirt needs of the contractor. Compared to traditional 100 percent cotton T-shirts, the Performance Work Shirt's Evaporative Cooling Technology fabric dries four times faster, breathes four times better, and lasts four times longer, the company says, allowing contractors to stay cooler and sweat less. Additional contractor-friendly features include vented side panels; two-layer shoulders and heavy stitching; extra storage pockets on the chest and sleeve ideal for carpenter's pencils, safety glasses, and more; and built-in odor protection. Come to think of it, maybe they should get a public service award, too.
Gorgonz. Performance Work Shirt: $30. 877-725-4386. www.gorgonz.com.
Hitachi Miter Saw
Who says you can't teach an old saw new tricks? Hitachi has taken a great tool–the sliding compound miter saw–and made it even better with a new sliding mechanism and unique details. The C12LSH 12-inch miter saw's slide system operates with fixed rails: the saw head moves along the rails instead of the rails sliding back and forth, which means you can store the saw pretty much anywhere, including against a wall. Other unique features include an LCD display that allows for accurate miter and bevel readings and is top-mounted on a bendable arm for easy reading in any position; a laser marking system; and micro miter adjustment and micro bevel adjustment. The saw has a 15-amp belt-drive motor that delivers 3,800 rpm, soft-start, and dual flip fences. The saw bevels left and right 0–45 degrees, miters left 0–46 degrees, and miters right 0–57 degrees.
Hitachi. C12LSH: $649. 800-829-4752. www.hitachipowertools.com.
Subaru Robin Silent Generators
The annoying drone of jobsite generators could become a thing of the past thanks to the Silent Series, a line of generators with advanced inverter technology the company says significantly reduces running sound. Unlike traditional generators that run at full speed no matter the power use, Silent Series generators run the engine at a slower speed at low power and increase speed as more power is required. In addition, the units' advanced reverse cooling design allows them to be fully enclosed in sound-absorbing poly resin. Three gas-powered models are available: the 1,650-watt R1700i, the 3,200-watt RG3200iS, and the industry's first 4,300-watt inverter generator, the RG4300iS.
Subaru Robin. Silent Series Generators: $1,029–$2,999. 800-277-6246. www.subarupower.com.
Dual Award: Theft Prevention Systems
Tool theft is on the rise, so manufacturers are stepping up efforts to provide systems and product details designed to deter thieves and keep tools safe. This year we honor two companies, Hilti and Metabo, that have incorporated theft-deterrent systems into the tools themselves–and in a familiar car-security-like format any tool user can easily adapt to.
Hilti's TPS Theft Protection System comprises a Company Card, an Activation Key (like a car system's key fob), and an electronic module inside the tool. The tool owner programs the tool by passing the Company Card over the electronic module; once programmed, the tool can only be operated if connected to a power source and unlocked with an Activation Key. If the tool is disconnected from the power supply for any reason–including theft–it automatically locks after 20 minutes and must be reactivated with the Activation Key.
Hilti. Theft Protection System: $49 (starter kit); $50 (three extra keys). 800-879-8000. www.us.hilti.com.
Metabo's Code! anti-theft system for its rotary hammers operates similar to a car security system: the tool owner uses a key fob to enable or disable the tool. If a disabled tool is stolen, it cannot be operated. Keys can be assigned for single or multiple users, and integrated LED lights indicate the tool's status.
Metabo. Code! system: included in tool; keys, $42 (street price). 800-638-2264. www.metabousa.com.
Megapro Multi-Bit Driver
The MegoPro multi-bit driver takes the idea of an all-in-one screwdriver and makes it even better with well-thought-out features. Seven of the eight MegaPro models feature 15 tools in one: 14 screwdriver tips are stored in a pull-out cartridge inside the handle while the shaft opening also serves as a 1/4-inch hex nut driver. The bit cartridge slides in and out easily; when closed, the cap fits into the palm of your hand and remains stationary as you turn the handle with your other hand, allowing for ratcheting-like action. The tool operates from the left or right side. The 2-inch double-end bits are easier to handle than 1-inch bits and are made of S2 steel for strength and durability. Available models include the Original (shown) and tools for electricians and locksmiths, outdoor environments, automotive, HVAC, and more; in addition, the Megalok 14-in-1 model accepts all 1/4-inch hex shank power groove accessories.
MegaPro: $21 (Original). 866-522-3652. www.megapro.net.
Knerr Masonry Arching Tool
These reusable arching templates allow masons to create accurate arches in record time. The tools, which come in four size ranges, allow you to set the template for a stone or brick arch in less than three minutes, saving all the trouble of creating plywood templates and forms. The tools can be used to create standard arches, ovals, ellipticals, eyebrows, and Gothics. The tools are lightweight, sturdy, and portable, the maker says.
Knerr Masonry. Bricklayers Arching Tool: $300–$350. 866-374-4228. www.bricklayersarchingtool.com.
Stabila Laser Hole Locator
Set it and forget it: With the HL100 laser hole locator, you can say goodbye to setting and resetting your laser level for each hole needed to run pipes and wires. To drill holes in a row, drill the first hole, then simply attach the unit to the hole, dial-in right and left, and dial-in level or slope. The unit will project a red laser dot through the hole and onto the adjacent stud to mark the location of the next hole; drill that hole and the laser will mark the hole in the stud after that, and so forth. The HL100 works in hole sizes from 7/8 inch to 4-3/4 inches.
Stabila. HL100: $249. 800-869-7460. www.stabila.com.
They say form follows function, but JCB's model 3CX-14FT is proof that both can work just fine together. JCB is a 60-year-old, family-owned, British-based equipment manufacturer that is giving the big companies a run for their money based on innovative, highly-functional, and sleek designs like the 3CX. Equipment operators will love the roomy cab, which offers clear visibility for improved productivity and increased safety, and the optional user-friendly joystick controls built into the armrests of the seat. And from bucket design to hydraulics to suspension, this machine maneuvers easily around the site and operates with smooth power when it's time to dig or move materials.
JCB. 3CX-14FT: Prices start at $92,000, depending on dealer. 800-522-7522. www.jcb.com.
Senco Jump Start System
Now there's no excuse for getting to the jobsite late. The PowerPlus 6-in-1 Rechargeable Jump Start System puts a variety of products you need to keep moving in one handy, portable unit. It includes a 12-volt jump starter, an air compressor, a power inverter, a high-power spotlight, a fluorescent work light, and an amber-colored warning blinker light. The jump starter features reverse polarity and short-circuit protection and 36-foot cords that store in the unit; the air compressor offers 260-psi maximum pressure and includes a 28-foot cord in a side compartment and a built-in pressure gauge; and the power inverter offers 300-watt peak output, a low-voltage alarm, and automatic overload/overheat shut-down.
Senco. PowerPlus: $90. 800-543-4596. www.senco.com.
Ford, Microsoft, Stargate Mobile Office
The FordLink mobile office is offered jointly by Ford, Microsoft, and Stargate Mobile and is available in Ford Super Duty pickups. The system includes a small, lightweight touch-screen computer loaded with practically everything you need to run your business from the road, including the Microsoft Windows XP Professional operating system; Microsoft Office with Outlook, Word Excel, and PowerPoint; wireless broadband for full access to the Internet and office networks; GPS navigation with voice and visual turn-by-turn directions; Microsoft Streets & Trips 2006 for optimizing driving routes; a digital camera; a printer; and a credit card scanner. The tough computer can be docked in the vehicle or carried around the jobsite.
Ford/Microsoft/Stargate Mobile. FordLink: $3,000. 800-392-3673. www.ford.com.
Allspeeds Lightweight Jack
If you're tired of lugging that boat-anchor-of-a-jack around for those occasional "adjustments" that need a little extra help and persuasion, Easy Jacks will ease the pain. Made with lightweight alloys, Easy Jacks are lighter and more compact than comparable models, making them easier to position, and with their two-speed pumps, they make the heavy lifting go that much faster and smoother. Easy Jacks are available in capacities from 20 to 100 tons.
Allspeeds. Easy Jacks: Price unavailable. 416-234-8671. www.allspeeds.co.uk.
Positec USA Power Tools
Among a proliferation of new tool brands launched last year, the Worx Revolver line was a real standout, boasting features and benefits that prove Positec's designers are paying attention to the way we use tools. All four tools in the Revolver line–a 3/8-inch rotary drill, a 1/2-inch hammerdrill, a 7-1/4-inch circ saw, and a recip saw–feature the company's ErgoSum design technology, in which engineers have codified the angles, geometries, sizes, and shapes of the tools for the most efficient, comfortable, and functional interface with the hands and body. Part of this technology is the Revolver rotating handle system. The handles on the drills and recip saw offer 65 degrees of rotation, allowing the user to select the optimal position for the application, reducing strain and fatigue; the circ saw features Fluid Motion rotation, which rotates the handle as the user cuts to ensure the hand and arms are at a neutral position along the entire length of the cut without adjustments.
Positec USA. Worx Revolver power tools: $159–$179. 888-599-3711. www.worxpowertools.com.
Bostitch Metal Connector Nailer
Carpenter's helpers rejoice, nailing off joist hangers just got easier. At less than 10-1/2 inches tall, the compact MCN150 metal connector nailer fits between 12-inch-o.c. framing, and its in-line magazine fits into 90-degree-angle corners. The tool weighs only 4.8 pounds. The nailer features a precision tip for easy placement of nails in hardware holes, an overmolded grip for comfort and reduced slippage, steel wear guards and rubber skid pads, and a tool-free 360-degree adjustable exhaust. The tool accepts 1-1/2-inch 32- to 35-degree paper tape collated nails from .131 to .148 inch in diameter.
Bostitch. MCN150: $219. 800-556-6696. www.bostitch.com.
Werner Leveling Ladder
The Equalizer ladder makes setup on uneven terrain easier and safer. The ladder's leveler leg features dual channel holes for leg adjustment in 3/8-inch increments up to 8-1/4 inches for more accurate positioning; a durable, zinc-plated-steel locking pin with detent ball secures the leg at the desired height. The bottom rung of the ladder includes a bright blue, textured surface for easier recognition as the user steps down and has a built-in, recessed bubble level. The ladder's feet feature slip-resistant gripping pads and can swivel 90 degrees. Two aluminum models–Type II with a 225-pound load capacity and Type I with a 250-pound load capacity–are available in four heights.
Werner. Equalizer Ladder: $179–$249. 888-229-7727. www.wernerladder.com.
United States Motor Motorized Wheelbarrow
"If you can fill it...the Joe Built can haul it," says the manufacturer of the Joe Built HD-500 motorized wheelbarrow, so load up this bad boy with up to 1,200 pounds (about four regular barrow loads) of sand, rocks, concrete, or whatever. The wheelbarrow features a three-speed transmission with reverse, along with disc brakes that stop the unit instantly when you release the throttle. You can maneuver it up or down grades as steep as 30 degrees, on or off road, the firm says. Features include a 6.5-hp engine, a polyethylene tub with a non-stick surface, a tough welded frame, and protected compartments for engine and drive components. Several tire options are available; rear commercial-grade casters stabilize the load to create a low center of gravity for easy loading, steering, and dumping.
United States Motor Power. Joe Built HD-500: $3,200. 262-642-7969. www.joebuiltwheelbarrow.com.
Max USA Joist Hanger Nailer
Max's revolutionary high-pressure technology lands on our list again in 2006, this time with the new PowerLite HN65J joist hanger nailer. The 400-psi tool is 40 percent more compact than conventional tools, the company says, and weighs only 4.4 pounds. The tool features a durable locator for finding hanger holes, a slim nose for getting into tight spots, a 100-nail magazine,
dial adjustable depth control, a contact-trip trigger, a trigger lockout switch, a tangle-free swivel fitting, a reduced exhaust air system with built-in silencer, and a maintenance-free end cap filter. The nailer shoots flat plastic sheet collated nails from 1-1/2-inches by .131 inch to 2-1/2 inches by .162 inch.
Max USA. HN65J: Price unavailable. 800-223-4293. www.maxusacorp.com.