Like most finish carpenters, I've had my share of countersink bits. In the last 10 years or so, I've grown very fond of one brand of two-piece tapered countersink bits because they cut just the right size and shape of hole for drywall screws. But controlling the exact depth of the countersink so that the screw heads end up at precisely the same depth relative to the surface has always been frustrating. Plus, when the pilot bits break, it's not always easy to get replacements, and they're expensive. Besides, after heavy use, the countersink cutters dull, too, so why buy new parts?
Recently, I started using SmartBits for drilling countersunk holes. They are available in three countersink sizes, two for trim-head and one for flat-head screws, and all drill 1-1/8 inch deep. The one-piece design means that parts aren't replaceable–break one and throw the whole thing away. This way I don't have to keep a stock of replacement pilot bits and countersinks. At $15, they're a little more money than a tapered countersink, but they have their advantages: No adjustments ever need to be made–all screws end up set at exactly the same depth, without the possibility of burying the heads and without fiddling with little set screws. Also, the drill bits aren't tapered, which is good because I've switched over from drywall screws to square drives for all woodwork. What's more, the stop collar on the Smart Bit free-spins, so I never see burn marks anymore around screw holes.
Starborn Industries Smart Bit: $15. 1-800-596-7747. www.smart-bit.com.
Edge Banding Router Bit
The Collins Ply Prep bit eliminates the aggravation of applying solid edge banding. I've always had to sand edge banding, not to get it flush–I use a flush-cutting template or laminate cutter for that–but to fill the fingernail-thickness?sized gap between the banding and the plywood. That gap shows up in most edge banding jobs because the wet glue causes the plywood grain to swell just a little at the center of the material.
The Ply Prep bit cuts a very shallow cove, removing only a hair off the center of the edge of a board. To do this, Collins recommends using a stepped router fence, like a planing fence. I made my own fence by passing a piece of 3/4-by-3-inch MDF halfway through my table saw, taking off just a whisker, less than 1/32 inch. If you set your router fence up correctly, using this bit guarantees your solid edge banding will fit snug and clean every time.
Collins Tool Co. Ply Prep Router Bit: $20. 888-838-8988. www.collinstool.com.
No matter how much I rely on nailers, there are still times when I have to manually drive a nail. For those times when I'm nailing over my head or under a toekick or in any other awkward or hard-to-reach position, the ThumbSaver really comes in handy.
The ThumbSaver comes in a package with two tools, one for small nails, like I use mostly, and one for framers. Despite appearances, these are not toys. The ThumbSaver has a super-strong magnetic nail-holding slot that allows you to hold the nail without having your fingers in harm's way. And because you're holding the handle of the ThumbSaver instead of the nail itself, it also gives you a few more inches of reach.
Imagine being able to install wiring staples, large or small, anywhere without smashing your fingers or getting those joist hanger nails into a skewed hanger, or into a hanger butted up close to another joist. There are more uses than I can count for the ThumbSaver, and most of them aren't even related to saving thumbs–just starting nails and screws in hard-to-reach places.
FW Tools ThumbSaver: $13. 888-257-9198. www.fwtoolsinc.com.
The word "gadget" troubles me because it has the ring of something cheap, something you might not use very often or that is of limited utility. Let's get something straight: The Kreg Bench Klamp isn't "cheap," and if you install one of these versatile hold-down clamps onto your workbench or outfeed table, you'll find yourself using it every time you need to hold anything.
I mortised two Klamp plates into my table saw outfeed table–one closer to the edge used when routing with beading bits on narrow stock and one farther in that's used when assembling pocket-hole joints. I use this clamp to secure anything I cut with my jigsaw and any board I sand so it won't slide around on me, and whenever I do tricky layouts on two pieces of material such as for cabinet stiles or bookcase ends. This clamp is probably one of the most frequently used tools in my shop or on the job.
Kreg Tool Co. Bench Klamp: $35. 800-447-8638. www.kregtool.com.
–Gary Katz is a finish carpentry specialist, writer, and speaker in Reseda, Calif., and is a member of Hanley Wood's JLC Live construction demonstration team.