The Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association staged its 36th annual trade show this past November in Orlando. Open to STAFDA members only, the bustling event makes it easy for manufacturers to show a wealth of construction (and deconstruction) tools and related hardware to distributors and retailers. As usual, JLC pounded the exhibit-hall pavement for the allotted 12 hours to see what will be available over the coming year. And as usual, we weren’t bored. Here’s a sampler of the noteworthy things we saw, including something useful for just about any builder or remodeler.

1. Dual-Voltage Cordless Tools

Panasonic introduced a 1/2-inch drill/driver, an impact driver, an impact wrench, and a recip saw that can be powered by the company’s existing 14.4-volt or 18-volt lithium-ion batteries or by its new 4.2 amp-hour ones for exceptional runtime. Like the other tools in Panasonic’s Tough IP line, the dual-voltage tools have an IP56 rating, which means dust intrusion and powerful water jets have no ill effects. The drill/driver shown retails for about $180 for the bare tool or $460 for a kit that includes two of the new 18-volt 4.2 Ah batteries.

Panasonic, 800/338-0552,

2. Comfort Level

Stabila’s new R Beam spirit levels are shaped like a handrail for an easy grip along their entire length. They have three continuous straightedges for scribing layout lines, guiding utility knives, or screeding, and the shock-absorbing end caps are removable so you can carry your layouts into corners. What’s more, the levels are supposed to be 10% stronger on edge and 120% stronger when laid on their side than Stabila’s Type 196 box-beam levels (while adding only about 10% to the weight). The levels come in lengths of 24, 48, 72, and 96 inches, with one plumb vial on the 4-footer positioned near the level vial for an extra viewing option. R Beam levels cost about 15% more than equivalent Type 196 levels, with prices ranging from about $80 to $260.

Stabila, 800/869-7460,

3. Compact Ladders

Werner’s new D6200-3 Series Type IA three-section compact fiberglass extension ladders are about 20% to 25% shorter than equivalent two-section models in the closed position. That makes them easier to store, transport, and maneuver around job sites. They come in five lengths ranging from 16 to 32 feet and cost around $220 to $600.

Werner, 888/523-3371,

4. Value-Added Tool Bags

  • Image

    Credit: Oscar Genel

CLC calls its new Tech Gear line “the next generation of tool storage,” which isn’t a stretch. For instance, the model L234 15-inch open-top tool carrier has an LED light in the handle. The light is powered by two AAA batteries and offers a choice of three lighting levels. You can aim it at your work area or into the bag. And the Tech Gear model A233 18-inch zippered wide-mouth tool bag has two integrated stereo speakers that connect to your digital music player or smartphone, which in turn rides in a clear pocket between the speakers. You can plug the system into an AC receptacle or power it with four D-cell batteries. The L234 costs $70, and the A233 costs $120.

CLC, 800/325-0455,

5. Virtual Grade Rod

Spectra Precision’s new DR400 DigiRod combines a laser receiver, a laser distance meter, and an angle sensor into a unique new tool that eliminates the need to use grade rods when checking grades with a red-beam rotary laser. Once you set up the rotary laser and follow simple steps with the DigiRod to establish the benchmark, you simply hold the DigiRod above the location you’re checking, aim the tool’s laser dot on your target, pick up the rotating laser beam anywhere on the 5-inch reception window, and read the elevation on the digital LCD display. Thanks to the angle sensor, the DigiRod can be out of plumb by up to 30 degrees without affecting the results. The tool can also be used as a hand-held distance meter or can mount to grade rods with the included bracket for use as a stand-alone laser receiver. The kit includes a soft case and costs about $700.

Spectra Precision, 888/527-3771,

6. Cordless Control Joints

BN Products claims that its new cordless Robo Joiner makes control joints in concrete slabs twice as fast as manual grooving tools and faster than a saw. Powered by a 20-volt lithium-ion battery, the variable-speed tool works by repeatedly plunging a stainless-steel blade into fresh concrete. I’m told that this up-and-down action and the accompanying vibration pushes down the aggregates and creates a nice cream fill in the bottom of the joint. You can get to work as soon as the concrete can support you, and can expect to run about 80 feet per charge. The kit costs around $700 and includes two batteries, a charger, two bottom plates and blades that create a rolled edge or mimic a saw cut, a hand trowel for finishing, and a case. Visit the website to watch a demonstration.

BN Products, 800/992-3833,

7. Tight Ratchets

Ratchet handles have either a round head or a pear head. Pear-heads generally have beefier internal components that can transmit higher torque without breaking, but round-heads typically can advance sockets with a shorter back swing, which is handy for working in tight quarters. In fact, most round-heads boast a ratcheting arc (the number of degrees between ratchet clicks) of 4 to 10 degrees, while most pear-heads range from 8 to 18 degrees. The new GearWrench 120XP low-profile pear-head ratchets, however, use two stacked pawls to engage a 60-tooth gear, yielding an extremely short 3-degree ratcheting arc while exceeding ASME torque-performance requirements. Drive sizes of 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 inch are available, with prices from about $25 to $50.

GearWrench, 800/688-8949,

8. Double Vision

Fading eyesight is a big issue for today’s aging workforce. Several manufacturers now make bifocal safety glasses with magnification diopters molded into the bottoms of the lenses so you can clearly see fine print and details without sacrificing impact protection. Lift Safety’s new Style Series Bifocals — which cost $25 — offer diopter strengths of +1.50, +2.00, +2.50, and +3.00. Two frame styles are available, including the Alias frame shown. Hopefully all the hardware stores out there will get the hint and start stocking these bifocals or their equivalents.

Lift Safety, 877/543-8444,