Tile contractors spend a lot of time standing over a 5-gallon bucket mixing various setting materials, and most just use a 1/2-inch drill for the job. That's not an ideal approach, because the tool isn't purpose-built for the application. Always on the lookout for something better, we found the right tools for the job in the new Diablo DM800E and DM1602E hand-held mixers. There's a big difference between using these machines and a standard drill, because they have features designed specifically for mixing needs. Both come with a 1/2-inch chuck for any hexagonal-shank paddles and an M14 threaded metric adapter to fit European-style paddles.
Unlike a drill's pistol-grip handle, the mixers' steering-wheel-style handle provides a really strong grip and lets the operator hold on tight with both hands. Distributing the load and control equally to both arms makes the mixer less tiring to use than a drill; our own tile-setting veteran says the tool reduced the tendonitis pain he's developed during 20 years of setting tile. This benefit won't apply to everyone, but the enhanced control and comfort will.
Thinset mortar, floor leveler, and grout aren't too difficult to mix, but concrete and especially dry-pack sand and cement mix can strain a drill's motor. The smaller 7-amp Diablo DM800E had more than enough power and a good speed range (150 to 570 rpm) for everything we mixed in a 5-gallon bucket, so it became our tool of choice for everyday mixing. The variable-speed dial is a great feature; we could turn it way down for gently starting a mix or to keep soupy materials from splashing out of the bucket, or crank it up as needed.
Universal motors (the kind found in most handheld power tools) generate the most power at their highest rpm. So whenever a drill's variable-speed trigger is pulled only a little in an attempt to mix slowly, it puts excessive strain on the motor. The Diablo mixers' electronic speed control gives them great power even at low speeds because the electronic control circuit adds juice when the tool is under load to keep the rpm constant at any given setting.
Since the smaller tool proved capable of doing everything we asked of it, we decided to give the bigger 13-amp, two speed-range DM1602E mixer a bit more of a challenge. Stirring up 50 pounds of stiff sand mix in a bucket was easy, and so was mixing 100 pounds in a bigger bucket. We could strain the motor by starting the mixer with the paddle buried at the bottom of the bucket, but it would power out as soon as the tool's soft-start feature shut off.
The bigger challenge was holding against the force of the mixer and keeping the entire bucket from spinning. We went all the way up to mixing 300 pounds of concrete in a barrel in high and low gear with ease.
The only time we got the electronic overload circuit to shut off briefly was when we ran the tool under heavy load at a low-speed setting in high gear. Use low gear (105 to 420 rpm) whenever you can, to take advantage of the better power and motor-cooling characteristics of high motor-rpm use. The high-gear range (250 to 860 rpm) has less torque and should be used only for products that require high-speed mixing at more than 420 rpm.
Diablo's mixers offer solid ergonomics, great control, and powerful performance at a range of mixing speeds. Quite simply, when compared with the 1/2-inch drill we used previously, these mixers are far superior for the work.
Kevin Gardner of TileLooks contributed to this article.
Price: DM800E, $249;