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Toolbox, continued CONTENTS:

Work Lights That Work

Finish Carpentry Tools

Tool Organizers

Work Lights That Work

Cool Light.

Cheap halogen work lights found at the home center generate a good amount of light, but they also have some pretty significant drawbacks. Heat generated by a 500-watt quartz bulb can burn your fingers, ignite adjacent combustibles, and make a small space uncomfortably hot in a short time. If you're ready to upgrade, McGill's 175-watt Wide-Beam Floodlight uses a 175-watt metal-halide lamp that provides as much illumination as a typical 500-watt quartz halogen bulb. The smaller bulb results in lower energy consumption and cooler operation. A rugged stand, a cast-aluminum housing, and a 15-foot cord make it a pleasure to use compared with low-quality, home center work lights. It costs about $200 to $225.

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McGill, 888/832-0660, www.mcgillelectrical.com.

Hands-Free Lighting.

Years ago, I bought a Petzl headlamp for camping and backpacking. When I used it recently to run a wire through a dark crawlspace, I discovered that the high-quality lamp is perfect for hands-free lighting of construction tasks as well. The lightweight waterproof lights are comfortable to wear, direct the light where you want it, and cost about the same as a good flashlight. One of the newer offerings, the Tikka Plus, designed primarily for close-up work, will burn for up to 150 hours on three AAA batteries. It costs about $35 (batteries included), and it's worth every penny.

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Petzl, 801/926-1500, www.petzl.com.

Pack Light.

Adjustable on-board work lights on Makita's eLuminate series of 12-, 14.4-, and 18-volt battery packs make drilling and driving tasks easier. The LED bulbs generate a surprising amount of light and save you from the time-consuming hassle of setting up work lights for small projects. The new packs are especially useful in spaces without convenient outlets, like closets, attics, and crawlspaces. The bulbs are said to last more than 10,000 hours and are virtually indestructible. According to the manufacturer, they use so little additional energy that run times are unaffected. The 12-volt pack has a street price of about $90.

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Makita, 800/462-5482, www.makitatools.com.

Shine On.

Every well-equipped work rig needs one of these. Maglite, long known for its bullet-proof flashlights, offers an equally sturdy rechargeable version that's popular with police and rescue units. The NiCad RX1019 includes both cigarette lighter adapter and 110-volt AC converter. The kit also includes two mounting brackets, so you can take the flashlight into the garage or the house at the end of the day. The maker claims that it will burn for 1 1/2 hours on a full charge. Like other Maglites, the RX1019 has an aluminum housing sealed with O-rings and a spare bulb in the tailpiece. You can find it on the web for about $90.

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Mag Instrument, 909/947-1006, www.maglite.com.


Finish Carpentry Tools

Precision Router Guide.

If you think router guides are all the same, you probably haven't seen the Micro Fence. The heart of the system is a micrometer adjustable edge guide that brings a new level of precision (.001 inch) to your hand-held router. Generally speaking, you can use the tool for just about any mortise or dado you're likely to come across. Optional accessories increase the tool's versatility; for example, circle and oval cutting jigs are available for round casings and curved inlay work. Optional vacuum bases hold the guides stationary without tacks, making them ideal for furniture and solid-surfacing. According to the maker, the Micro Fence is compatible with more than 50 routers and laminate trimmers. Prices start at $160 for the basic guide with no accessories. The circle jig also costs $160, while ellipse jigs start at $200.

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Micro Fence, 800/480-6427, www.microfence.com.

A Cut Above.

Some cuts you simply can't afford to mess up; stair treads are among them. But you can practically guarantee accurate cuts and a tight fit with the Stairtool, a well-made aluminum template with the single purpose of fitting treads on a finished staircase. The standard model works with treads from 34 to 50 inches, and the maker claims that it's appropriate for more than 99% of installations. An optional shorter set of tracks with a 27- to 42-inch capacity is also available. Large plastic knobs with steel inserts make the tool easy to adjust. You can order it from the manufacturer for $93 (shipping included).

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Stairtool, 800/883-9818, www.stairtool.com.

Little Huffer.

Dragging around an 80-pound hand-carry compressor to run a single brad nailer or finish gun is probably overkill. If you're looking for something a little more manageable, the PC1010 might be just what you're after. At only 20 pounds, this little compressor is a breeze to carry, especially up steps, and the tiny motor is surprisingly quiet. Although it looks like a toy, it's built with easy-to-service pro-grade components. For less than $200, you can buy it packaged with a Senco FP18 brad nailer and a 25-foot coiled hose. That makes it about $200 cheaper than the industry's favorite cordless brad nailer.

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Senco, 800/543-4596, www.senco.com.

Fight Boredom.

If you want the best and most complete lock-boring jig made, the Bore Master from Templaco should definitely be in the running. It adjusts for both 2 3/8- and 2 3/4-inch backsets and for door thicknesses from 1 inch to 2 7/8 inches. High-speed steel spur bits in 1-, 1 1/2-, and 2 1/8-inch sizes are also included. Unlike most door boring kits, the Bore Master includes router templates for common latches and strikes, as well as a spring-loaded corner chisel for squaring up your hinge and lock mortises. It sells for $365.

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Templaco Tools, 800/578-9677, www.templaco.com.


Tool Organizers

Great Crate.

Milk crates are about as common on construction sites as port-a-johns and power tools, but using them for any purpose other than transporting milk from the dairy can lead to a hefty fine. When the penalties for stealing the handy stackables were increased tenfold, every discount store on the planet began selling cheap knock-offs. While the imitations might work fine for furnishing your kid's dorm room, they aren't up to the demands of construction work. Now Duluth Trading offers a Black Plastic Crate that's the same size as and as sturdy as a milk crate. It's perfect for carrying tools and other job-site essentials. The crates are about 12 inches square by 11 inches deep and cost about $12 each.

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Duluth Trading, 800/505-8888, www.duluthtrading.com.

A Bit of Good Design.

Storing and managing driver bits for your cordless drill or impact driver is often a bigger pain than it should be. Most of the cases included with a set of bits have cheap latches that won't stay shut and hinges that bend and break. Even more frustrating is opening a case only to have it spill all your bits into a can of fasteners or on the floor of the truck. DeWalt's ABS Tough Case has a sturdy hinge with a steel pin and a latch that stays closed. Interior lids prevent spills, and adjustable dividers allow you to organize it the way you want. But the best feature is an intelligent design that won't allow you to close it before the interior lids are latched tight. That way, you won't dump everything the next time you open it. The Tough Case costs about $8.

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DeWalt, 800/433-9258, www.dewalt.com.

Tool-Hauling Vest.

If you're having trouble organizing stuff in your toolbelt, you might try a Skillers Tool Vest. The lightweight cotton canvas vest has plenty of pockets for tools and fasteners, and the design spreads the load over your upper body for greater comfort. According to the maker, the 10-ounce canvas is better for warm climates, while the vest made with 12-ounce duck fabric might be more appropriate for cooler climes. You can have your company name embroidered on either one. The Tool Vest sells for about $60.

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Skillers Workwear, 800/325-8707, www.skillers.com.

Plenty of Pockets.

A tote with pockets is much easier to organize than a toolbox. Plus, if you can develop a system of always putting tools

in their proper pocket, you will notice when something is missing, and hopefully you can track it down before you need it. Irwin's new Soft-Sided Tool Organizer is made of heavy-duty polyester and features lots of deep pockets with wide openings. Rubber-covered handles and a shoulder strap make it easier to carry than a bucket organizer, and a large footprint prevents spills. The bag is available in several sizes and sells for $20 to $40.

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Irwin, 800/464-7946, www.irwin.com.