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Keeping Tools Nearby A major time-killer when working solo is hunting for tools and fasteners. Making a profit means keeping wasted time to a minimum. Here are some devices that will help.

Rolling cart.

My movable cart is one of my most time-saving devices, since it keeps my tools close at hand during installation (Figure 3).

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Figure 3. A rolling metal cart keeps supplies nearby during a kitchen installation. A Bucket Boss holds tools in a drywall bucket, while a set of round Drop-in-the-Bucket trays keeps fasteners neatly organized.

Having tools and fasteners always within reach really helps keep the job rolling. The cart serves as a central location to which all tools are returned, and can be rolled out of the way as additional cabinets are brought in. It’s especially handy when you must steady a cabinet with one hand while reaching for a tool with the other. I made my cart from a used overhead projector cart. Of course, having tools nearby is one thing; keeping them organized is another. For this task, few job-site containers are as valuable as five-gallon joint compound buckets. Here are a few of the ways I use these gems of the drywall trade:

Tool organizer.

I used to drag two good-sized toolboxes to each job, then use about 10% of the tools in them. Now I can fit most of the tools I need in my Bucket Boss (Portable Products, 58 E. Plato Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55107; 612/221-0308), and set it on top of my rolling cart where I can reach it whenever I need to. The bucket also serves as a great cradle for storing charged battery drills. I dedicate one of these buckets for cabinet installation, load it up with the tools I need, and pass it off to anyone on the crew heading out for an installation job.

Bucket screw organizer.

This is a must for cabinet installers. I use a product called Drop-in-the-Bucket (Journeyman Products, 303 Najoles Rd., Millersville, MD 21108; 800/248-8707), which consists of four round trays that stack inside a bucket, with each tray divided into four compartments. I use it to store screws, finish nails, and drill bits. I keep the trays I need on the lower shelf of my cart so the proper fasteners are always within reach. Be sure to fill it up before you head out to the job.

Finish gun belt hook.

Few things are as frustrating as struggling with a piece of trim on a ladder, getting it in the proper position, then realizing that your finish nailer is out of reach. To keep my finish gun close by, I made a belt hook using the handle from a five-gallon bucket (Figure 4).

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Figure 4. The handle from a drywall bucket makes a good belt hook for a finish nailer. Dipping the hook in a liquid plastic coating keeps it from scratching cabinet faces and other surfaces.

To protect nearby surfaces, I dipped it in Plasti-Dip (PDI, 3760 Flowerfield Rd., Circle Pines, MN 55014; 612/785-2156), a liquid coating applied to tool handles that dries to a soft, no-scratch coating.

Work Surfaces

I’ve seen lots of advertisements for fancy miter saw stands. But I’ve yet to see one that could top my quick-and-dirty homemade miter-saw table. All it requires is a pair of sawhorses, a sheet of 1/2-inch plywood, and about two hours’ labor (Figure 5).

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Figure 5. A homemade miter saw table is handy for solo trim cuts. The tabletop overhang provides a convenient surface for clamping jigs and stop blocks. It provides support for the occasional long piece of trim (important when working solo), and when turned upside down during transport can hold a lot of tools. Letting the top of the table overhang an inch or so on all sides makes it easy to clamp work pieces, jigs, and stop blocks to it. I wish I could take credit for the design, but I discovered it in the shop of a cabinetmaker I know. Another useful device is a hand truck. Every once in a while, the cabinets end up being unloaded at the wrong end of the house. A hand truck eases the potentially nightmarish task of moving them to the kitchen.

Drilling and Driving

Nearly everyone has a cordless drill. If you’re serious about solo cabinet installation, get two of them. Even with a keyless chuck, switching from drill bits to driver bits wastes time. I’ve seen interchangeable devices that let you slip a driver bit over a drill bit, but these won’t help you when you’re working one-handed. If you have one of those early cordless drills that lack gumption, take it with you anyway; it’s still useful for removing and installing hinges and pulls.

Drilling pilot holes.

I drill pilot holes with Fuller countersink bits. They’re inexpensive, use standard twist drill bits, can be quickly sharpened with a flat file after you hit that hidden staple, and are easy to adjust for length. Rather than making constant adjustments, I keep three or four countersinks on the job and set them up for individual tasks, like drilling face frames, hanging rails, and so on (Figure 6). Figure 6. The author keeps several Fuller countersinks on the job, each set at the depth needed for a specific task. Switching between bits is much faster than repeatedly resetting the pilot depth. When bouncing between tasks, I just unchuck one bit and rechuck another.

Square-drive screws.

I remember when Phillips-head drywall screws became popular on the residential construction scene. But while Phillips-head screws have many advantages over slotted-head screws, square-drive screws are even better. For one thing, the shank on a square-drive screw is thicker than the shank on a Phillips drywall screw, so you don’t have to worry about snapping it off when drawing face frames tightly together. And the square recess holds the screw firmly on the end of the driver bit. This makes a big difference when you’re steadying a cabinet with one hand and positioning the drill to drive the first screw with the other. The square drive also reduces cam-out, which is what happens when a driver bit slips out of the recess and grinds away at the screw head. With Phillips-head screws, the only way to overcome cam-out is to hold your breath and apply as much in-line force on the drill as possible. If everything goes right, you’ll drive the screw home; if things go wrong, the drill can slip off the screw and punch a nasty hole in the cabinet. Brass square drives can be lifesavers when working with soft brass screws, which are usually required on brass hinges and are notorious for cam-out. Combination screws are also available; these have the thicker shank of a square-drive screw, but allow you to use either a square-drive or Phillips-head bit.