Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The High Cost of Cheap Tools

Have you ever heard the saying “You get what you pay for”? Well, the longer I live, the more cases I find of that being true. Cheap shoes wear out quicker; cheap knives break; cheap clothing looks like it came from Goodwill after a few washings; cheap cars have more problems; and yes, cheap tools are just that, cheap tools.

I just finished changing the timing chain on one of our cars. This is always a hassle of a job, especially the first time you do it on a vehicle. Then you’re having to figure out what to remove, where the bolts are and how to get to the bolts on the thing that’s in the way of the way of the part you have to remove to get to the timing cover.

While a lot of my tools have been replaced by higher quality brands (mostly Craftsman) through the years, I still have a few el-chepos that have been around for years. Most of those were bought when I was younger and couldn’t afford good tools. Then there’s a few were bought when I was on the road and needed something quick, so I bought what was at hand. It’s actually amazing they’ve lasted this long, but then, the one’s which have lasted are ones which haven’t been used much.

In the course of this project, I had to make 5 trips to the store, just for tools. That doesn’t count the other trips for parts, and to exchange the wrong part. One of those trips was for a 24 mm socket, something that was lacking from my kit. After all, everyone uses 24 mm sockets, right? But the other four trips were to replace tools that broke. I lost 2 sockets, a screwdriver and a harmonic balancer puller on this job. That’s quite a bunch of tools for one simple… okay, fairly complex repair job.

The only one of those tools that really surprised me was the screwdriver. I’d had that one a long time, used it a lot, and thought it was better than it really was. Well, when I tried to use it to pop the timing chain cover off, the tip snapped off. So much for that one.

The real cost here isn’t the tools themselves; it’s the time it takes to go out and buy replacements. Every time I busted a tool, I had to get cleaned up and go to the store for just one thing, that tool. Even worse, because I was in a hurry, I just went to the auto parts store and bought what was on the shelf. In other words, I bought cheap tools again; maybe a little bit better than what broke, but still not all that great. Then, when I got back, I had to get myself motivated to get started all over again.

Tools are an investment in your future. The tools you buy today should last you a lifetime; at least, if you invest in good quality tools. Cutting corners on something you rarely use may make sense, but not on the stuff you use all the time. Nor does it make sense to compromise on quality for tools that will be under a lot of stress. Better to buy quality than for you to get stressed.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Teflon Coated Paint Brushes?

You wouldn’t think, after all the centuries that people have painted their buildings, that someone could make a real change to something as simple as a paint brush. It would seem that the designs we have today would serve for any need. Oh yeah, there’s the paint sprayer, which I suppose could be considered a newer form of paint brush. I guess we could call that an innovation over the paint brush, but it’s an innovation that has existed for a long time.

Styles, materials and construction have been standardized for what seems like a long time. I guess if someone invented a new material that works better, which would be an innovation, but nothing like that has happened since the invention of the nylon paintbrush. At least, nothing like that has happened until now.

Shur-Line has actually broken through this idea that the paint brush can’t be changed. They didn’t design an electronic paint brush, or one that paints by itself. Nor did they come up with a self-cleaning brush, but they’ve come up with the next best thing; something that I had thought wasn’t even possible.

This new innovation is a Teflon™ coated paintbrush. Believe it or not, they have come up with a way of Teflon coating each and every bristle of the brush; along with applying a Teflon™ coating to the handle. Well, we’re all familiar with what Teflon™ coating has done to make frying pans easier to clean, so it would seem that the same treatment would make cleaning paint off of our brushes and roller covers would make them easier to clean; and it does.

Not only does this Teflon™ coating make cleaning our paint tools easier, but Shur-Line claims that it makes the process of painting easier, saving as much as 30% of the painter’s time. As a former Manufacturing Engineer, I am always interested in innovations which make any job easier, especially innovations that save time.

If these Teflon™ coated brushes actually save 30% of the painter’s time, as Shur-Line claims, this is the greatest innovation in paint brushes since the handle. I am looking forward to the opportunity to try one of these innovative brushes out for myself.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Air Nailer for All Places

Over the years, I’ve become a big fan of nail guns. My admiration for them has come out of the simple problem of not being able to nail things, especially furniture pieces and frames, the way I want to. Oh, I can drive a nail just fine; the problem is in getting the workpiece to hold still while I drive the nail. It doesn’t matter how I clamp the workpiece, it still seems to move as I’m driving my nails in. I don’t know how many times a beautiful piece of work has been ruined because the corners didn’t come together after I nailed them.

Okay, okay, I know, I’m supposed to be the expert; but you know, being an expert doesn’t make one perfect. Anyway, this is where my infatuation with nail guns came from, the desire to get the nail in, without having the pieces move. When I use an air nailer, I can be sure that my corners will stay the way they are supposed to.
I’ve always used pneumatic air nailers, because I haven’t liked the other options available. The electric air nailers I’ve tried never seem to have enough power to drive the brads all the way. On the other hand, cordless units have plenty of power, but you’ve got to buy the gas cartridges for them. I’m an old cheapskate; I don’t like having to buy something extra.

Well, somebody has finally come to my rescue and created a gas driven, cordless air nailer, that doesn’t require those expensive gas cartridges. Senco, the leader in air guns for many years has just recently come out with their “Fusion” gas driven, cordless nailer, in both 15 gauge and 18 gauge versions.

The unique thing about this nailer is that it doesn’t exhaust the gas, but reuses it. Let me explain. The gas cylinder, which is filled with non-reactive nitrogen, is a sealed unit. Just as with all other gas driven nailers, whether pneumatic or cordless, it is this compressed gas which drives the piston to drive the nail in. But, that’s where the similarity ends. Once the nail is driven, a gearmotor pushes the piston back into battery, compressing the gas once again and preparing for the next shot. The battery is a fast recharging Li-Ion battery, meaning that there is very little down time waiting for recharge. In fact, with two batteries, one should never have any downtime.

The innovation in this unit is the way that it uses the same gas over and over to drive the nails. This makes the unit truly self contained. There is no need for an air compressor or for gas cartridges. The only things that have to be provided are the nails, and battery recharges.

Great job Senco, this one looks like a real winner. I wouldn’t be looking to buy any stock in air compressors in the near future.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

When Should You Consider Buying Professional Tools?

One of the questions all of us do-it-yourselfers constantly face is: “How much can we afford to spend on our tools?” On one hand, we can easily say that all those tools are an investment, and are ultimately saving us the money we’d otherwise have to pay someone else for doing that work. On the other hand, there are other things (like bills and food) we occasionally have to pay for.

While we all would like to buy the best of everything, most of us realize that isn’t practical. Not only do we not really need the best of everything, but there can be an element of overkill. Spending $350.00 for a welder that you are going to use once isn’t a practical investment. On the other hand, if you make your own wrought iron fence, that $350.00 investment in a welder has probably more than paid for itself.

When one buys professional grade tools, they are usually paying for two things; convenience and life expectancy. The convenience part comes from options that may be built into that professional tool, which may not be available on a cheaper model. The life expectancy comes from how well the tool is built; professional tools, being better built, usually last longer.

Let’s take our welder as an example. If one buys the cheapest welder they can find, they can probably do some basic welding. But, the welder is going to be limited in the amount of power it has, which in turn is going to limit the thickness of steel that can be welded. It will also probably only have a 10% duty cycle, limiting the amount of time that the operator can actually spend welding. Finally, that welder is going to be limited in the choices of welding power, wire feed speed (if it’s a wire feed welder) and welding wire/rod sizes it can use.

On the other hand, each of those limitations is reduced as one looks at more and more expensive welders. The trick is finding the balance between just enough, and too much.

When we talk about life expectancy of a tool, we’re talking about how long we can use it, both under normal conditions and abusing it, before it breaks down and has to be repaired or replaced. A professional needs tools that aren’t going to break, or at least not for a long time. The typical professional will put more wear and tear on a tool in a month than a do-it-yourselfer may in years.

So, is there any time that a do-it-yourselfer should buy professional grade tools (besides just because he wants them)? I’d have to say yes, there really is. If you have some area of work that you do repeatedly, especially work that saves your family money; it is worth investing in quality tools for that type of work.

For example, if you always seem to have older cars, and do all your own mechanic work, you would be well advised to have some good quality mechanics tools, especially a good ratchet and sockets set. While investing in new Snap-On tools may still be a little bit extravagant, you can get some good deals on used Snap-On stuff on eBay.

Or, if you are about to do a major remodeling project on your house; adding a couple of rooms, you might be well advised to buy a worm-drive circular saw. If you are going to build cabinets, definitely invest in a quality table saw.

Basically, I guess what I’m saying is that the decision to buy professional grade tools should be based upon how much money those tools are going to save you, and how often you will use them. That’s the only true justification that works. Otherwise, all you are doing is feeding your hobby.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What to do with a Rounded-off Bolt Head

One of the most troubling problems when working on an engine is when one either inadvertently rounds off a bolt head, or encounters one that has been rounded off. A couple of times, I’ve felt like boiling in oil would be too good for the unnamed so-called mechanic who put that rounded off bolt back in. His problem might have been solved, but he solved it by doubling mine.

The standard method of dealing with this problem is to use a pair of Vice Grip ™locking pliers. Unfortunately, I’ve found that all too often, there isn’t enough space to attach the Vice Grips ™ to the bolt head and still be able to turn them enough to loosen the bolt.

Well, Irwin, the manufacturer of Vice Grips ™ has come up with a new way of dealing with this problem. Their Bolt-Grip ™ sockets are the greatest thing since sliced bread for taking out bolts with rounded off heads. Let me tell you how I encountered them.

I was removing the head of a small car I own, which appeared to have a blown head gasket. When it came time to remove the head bolts, I grabbed my favorite 24” breaker bar, and put the right size socket on it to remove those stubborn bolts. As I worked my way through the bolts, being sure to work from end to end, as to not warp my head, I reached a bolt that wouldn’t budge; in fact, it snapped my socket. Well, I did what anyone else would have done; I went to my local auto parts store and bought another socket. Unfortunately, all they had were 12 point sockets. So, I put my new 14mm 12 point socket on my breaker bar, gave it a little shove, and promptly rounded the bolt head. Now I was in trouble.

Since the 12 point socket obviously wasn’t going to remove that bolt, I had to find something better, like a 6 point socket. So I jumped back in my car, went to another auto parts store, and found a 6 point socket. Arriving back at my workshop, I put it on my breaker bar, expecting to get my head bolt loose, and… you guessed it; all I succeeded in doing was to round the head off more. Now I was really in trouble.

I was contemplating a life of drilling and grinding to get that bolt head off, because there was no other way I could get on it. Vice Grips ™ wouldn’t help at all; there wasn’t any way to get them in where the bolt head was. I really wasn’t thrilled about the idea of drilling and grinding; not only because it was a hardened bolt, and it would have taken me forever. But, even worse than that, all those metal filings would have been inside of my engine. Looked to me like goodbye engine.

After fretting and fuming for a while, I decided to go back to the auto parts store and take a look at impact wrenches. I really didn’t have much confidence that I could get that bolt out any better with an impact wrench, but I was flat out of ideas. That’s when I found the Bolt-Grip ™ sockets.

It looked like a good bet, so I bit the bullet, bought a set and brought them home. I’ll have to say, that that stubborn head bolt didn’t have a chance. I picked the right size Bolt-Grip ™ socket, put it on my 24” breaker bar, and went at it. Ten seconds later, that head bolt was loosened and on its way out.

So, what’s the secret of these wonderful sockets? The unique design alternates large semi-circular cutouts for the corners with angled blades to dig in and grip the flats of the bolt. Because of that, the harder you apply torque to the socket, the better it grabs the bolt head, literally cutting into the metal and firmly gripping it. The only way that bolt won’t come out, is if something breaks before it comes loose.

I am highly impressed by this innovative design. The only problem I can see with it is that it does tent do damage the bolt head; requiring changing of the bolt. Then again, since it’s designed for use on rusted, painted over or rounded bolts; they already need to be changed. I would highly recommend adding a set of Bolt-Grip ™ to your tool box.

To see my rating of this product on, click here.