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Tool Tips

Charging Batteries:
Cordless tool technology has brought what once was a novelty item to a true professional level. Along with the advance in technology, keen competition has kept these tools at prices well within the reach of many homeowners. Top line tools have batteries that can endure a charging cycle hundreds of times before needing replacement. Knowing when to charge the battery seems to be the tricky part. Some would have you running batteries "dead" before charging, while others run to the charger before any sign of weakening. After wading through the entire debate, the best strategy seems clear. Run your cordless tool down to the point where it will not do more work. "Dead" may actually harm the battery, and charging at half empty just doesn't make sense. Most tools come with a spare battery so work can proceed with little interruption. 

 

Cordless Tools -- Is Bigger Better?:
Cordless power tools are mainstream tools found anywhere that construction, remodeling, or home repair takes place. Some have all but replaced their corded predecessors, while others still fall short. Cordless technology is rapidly advancing, with new models introduced all the time. Figuring out what is right for you can be a bit confusing when faced with all the choices. Apply the same logic to buying a cordless drill as you would to buying a new computer. Is bigger and faster what you need, or is it just bigger and faster? Cordless tools are distinguished by voltage. They range from 9.6V to 24V. Generally speaking, the higher the voltage, the more powerful the tool. Also, the higher the voltage, the heavier the tool. Run time may be a factor in the type of work you do. Higher voltage doesn't always mean longer run times. Just like with computers, as new models are introduced, the older ones get discounted. There are some great buys on 9.6V and 14.4V tools that would suit the homeowner well. 

 

Extension Cords:
Extension cords are commonly found around the house and job site. Choosing the right cord for the task at hand is important for proper tool function and safety. Power tool electrical requirements can be found on the nameplate attached to each tool. An inadequate extension cord can starve a tool of power, resulting in poor performance, shortened life and, in extreme cases, a fire hazard. The most important considerations when using an extension cord are cord length and wire size. Generally speaking, a longer cord should contain heavier-gauge wire. Here are some general guidelines: An electric drill with less than a 10-amp rating would require a 14-gauge wire up to 50 ft. long and a 12-gauge wire with a 100-ft.-long cord. For a circular saw with less than a 15-amp rating, you need 14-gauge for a 25-ft. cord, 12-gauge for a 50-ft. cord, and 10-gauge for a 100-ft. cord. When in doubt, check manufacturers' recommendations. Never use a household lamp cord with a power tool.

 

Hammers:
A high quality hammer is a well balanced, precise, high tech tool. While there is a hammer out there for any striking pass, the carpenters hammer is made with one purpose in mind-striking nails. A good carpenters hammer is made from good quality steel, is well balanced and has a slightly convex, heat treated face. It's ideal for driving nails home flush, leaving no marks. Misuse a nail hammer and it will never drive nails as good again. There are many to choose from but for general purpose, select a 16 ounce curved claw. After that, it's a personal matter. Try to borrow a carpenters best hammer and you'll get a flat "NO" for an answer. Never strike the faces of two hammers together, the tempered metal can fracture. Always heed the warning found on all hammers which is to always wear eye protection. 

 

Saw Blades:
When buying saw blades for jigsaws or reciprocating saws, you may find the choices are overwhelming. In addition to tooth configuration and size, you get to choose between high carbon steel, high-speed steel and bimetal. High-carbon steel blades are the most economical and are good for general woodcutting. High-speed steel blades cost more than twice as much but last ten times longer. In addition, they can be used to cut plastic and nonferrous metals. Bimetal blades combine the strengths of both high-carbon steel and high-speed steel. A high-carbon back is attached to the cutting edge of high-speed steel to achieve a blade that is tough, holds an edge and resists overheating. Expect to pay three times more than the least expensive alternative. But you get what you pay for. 

 

Screwdrivers:
One of the most used and abused tools around is the screwdriver. Screwdrivers are intended to turn screws and other fasteners. Using the screwdriver for anything else may result in poor performance or accidents or may compromise the tool. The standard screwdriver, often called a 'flathead' or 'slotted' screwdriver, is defined by tip width (in fractions of an inch), blade length (distance from the end of the tip to the bottom of the handle) and handle size (full, short or stubby). The tip of the tool should fit snugly in the slot of the fastener. The Phillips screwdriver can be recognized by its 'cross'- or 'X'-shaped tip. Common tip sizes are #1 (small), #2 (medium) and #3 (large), with #2 being the most common. The Phillips screwdriver is quickly becoming the fastening tool of choice because of its 'purchase power' or grip. The Phillips is much less likely to slip off the screw than the standard screwdriver.

 

Shop Vacs:
The wet-dry vacuum or "shop vac" is a tool that all craftspeople need and most others should have. While they come with the standard attachments, there are times when something else is needed. When drilling concrete for various types of anchors, the dust must be removed from the hole. Blowing it out is an option, but this presents an eye hazard. Try this. Construct a nozzle from a series of PVC pipe reducers to get down to a size that fits the hole. 

 

Socket Tip:
Socket wrench, that is. Sometimes when working with nuts, bolts, and sockets, the socket won't hold onto the bolt or nut. It is helpful at times to have the socket hold the nut or bolt for positioning. If you find yourself in this situation, try slipping a piece of cloth over the nut or bolt head before insertion into the socket. Sometimes a piece of paper will work as well. This method will also work at times with and end wrench and a worn nut or bolt. 

 

Talking Tape:
Did you ever take a measurement, walk over to the saw, and not have a clue what the measurement was? This is especially frustrating if you climb down the ladder to do it. Sure, you can write down the measurement -- this is why you see craftspeople walking around the job with small pieces of wood. A new tape measure might be what you need, one that has a built in voice recorder. Tell the tape the measurement, climb down the ladder, and it will tell it back to you. These tapes can be found at most home centers and are not unreasonably prices. Keep it away from the wife and kids unless you want a new "to do" list. 

 

Testing Tools:
Testing tools are used to test or check your work and make sure it is straight, level, and square. The tools are called squares, levels, and straightedges. We rely on these tools to tell us the truth, but how do we know they are accurate? Stop occasionally and test your testing tools. To check a square, draw a straight horizontal line longer than the edge of the square. Align one edge of the square with the line, and then draw a line along the vertical edge of the square. Now flip the square over, keeping the vertical edge aligned with the original line. If the vertical and horizontal edges are still aligned with the lines, the square is accurate. You are checking the tool against itself. Use a similar procedure for your level. Draw a level line with the level, flip the tool end for end and align it with the original line. If it still reads level, the tool is accurate. 

 

Tool Maintenance: 
Tools with wooden handles, particularly outdoor tools like shovels, can last a lifetime if you take care of them. It's not uncommon to leave tools out in the weather after use, but it shortens their lives. Periodically clean these tools and wipe them down with raw linseed oil. Make sure to cover the whole tool. The oil soaks into and conditions the wood and protects the metal from rust. Be sure to store or dispose of oily rags in a responsible manner -- they can be a fire hazard. 

 

Trigger Lock:
A trigger lock is a common feature on some power tools, especially drills and sanders. The trigger lock allows the tool to stay on when we remove our finger the from the power switch. This is very handy when operating a power tool for long periods of time. There is one pitfall to the trigger lock. If you have the tool locked on and the power fails, it is imperative that you remember to turn the tool off before you go off to investigate the power failure. If you fail to turn the tool off after a power failure, the tool will start running when the power comes back on -- a potentially dangerous situation. 

 

Utility Knife:
An essential item for anyone who does their own home repair is a utility knife. The razor blade knife is retractable, strong, and can be replaced if it gets damaged. You can get blades for this knife in several different shapes: straight, hooked, or one designed for cutting linoleum. Don't buy an inexpensive utility knife that doesn't have a retractable blade. The better knives aren't that expensive and give you more flexibility in choice of blades. Get a good knife with several different types of blades and you'll be able to do everything from cutting carpet to trimming wallpaper.