Every November, the companies that make and sell tools meet to cut deals at the STAFDA (Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distribution Association) convention. This year they met in Atlanta, and Chris Ermides and I were there to see new tools that are about to come out. As usual, we were not disappointed.
In the coming months we’ll be covering and testing some of the tools that we saw. For now, though, I’d like to point out seven of the more interesting and unusual tools I saw at the show.
Estwing AL-Pro Hammer
Best known for its single-piece steel hammers Estwing is about to introduce the AL-Pro, a multi-piece hammer with a steel claw and striking face attached to a single-piece aluminum head and handle. The head is hollow and contains shot to dampen vibration and provide a dead blow. The hammer has a magnetic nail starter and like most other Estwings, a thick nylon-rubber grip to eliminate shock.
In the past, framers used 22-28-ounce hammers and paid the price with arm and shoulder problems. The current thinking is that lighter is better and what light hammers lack in driving force can be made up for by using a faster swing—which is why AL-Pro framing hammers weigh only 14 ounces. Stiletto popularized this idea with its titanium hammers. Estwing went with aluminum because it’s lighter and easier to work with, and not subject to the patents Stiletto holds on titanium.
The AL-Pro is intended to compete with premium hammers such as those from Stiletto. Available with a smooth or milled face, it will sell for about $130 and is expected to hit store shelves by the end of the year.
An interesting side note: the AL-Pro is produced at the Estwing factory in Rockford, Illinois using aluminum castings supplied by an American company that makes receivers for AR 15s. Demand for those rifles has been high so Estwing had a tough time getting the necessary castings.
The only thing worse than wearing a face shield is not wearing one and getting hit by a chunk of debris or splashed with something toxic or nasty. Brass Knuckle’s Vader Combo is a pair of goggles attached to a face shield. Smaller and lighter than traditional face shields, its close fit makes it hard for debris to come in from the sides or bottom. The goggles are vented and have an anti-fog coating to prevent condensation from obscuring your view.
I saw these things at the STAFDA show and had to try them on because they made the mannequin that was wearing them look like Darth Vader. They were more comfortable than the goggles and face shields I’ve worn in the past. They’re said to fit over eye glasses but mine wouldn’t fit because they have thick plastic temples—wire rims might have worked better.
The Vader Combo has been out for a few months and sells for $13-14. A version with smoked lenses, for use in bright sunlight, will come out early next year.
The Rapidrill is an accessory that allows a corded or cordless drill to be used in place of a magnetic drill. It’s an adjustable frame that resembles a large f-clamp. The drill of your choice can be attached to one end while the other is used to back the beam, pipe, or angle being drilled. A lever and gears provide pressure while drilling—pushing the bit into the work with far less effort than drilling by hand. If you’ve ever drilled metal overhead or made multiple holes in thick metal with a hand-held drill you’ll know why I think this is a cool product.
There are two versions of the device. The $1,200 industrial model (Rapidrill Pro) is not any cheaper than a cordless mag drill, though I am told by the manufacturer it will fit places a mag drill will not, and work on material that won’t hold a heavy machine. The commercial model (Rapidrill Slim) is smaller and less capable than the industrial version, but at $399, a far more affordable option.
You wouldn’t know by looking around in an American tool store, but Picard is one of the world’s best-known brands of pro-grade hammers. Made in Germany, the brand offers multiple models for carpenters, cabinet makers, sheet metal workers, masons, and many other trades. Few in this country have heard of Picard because its tools are not sold in North America. But that may be changing. Picard had a big booth at the STAFDA show and is trying to connect with U.S. distributors.
The hammers above are made by Picard and show how hammers differ from country to country. On the left is an American pattern hammer, which can be distinguished by the tapered neck between the striking face and head. Next is an English pattern hammer, which except for the lack of a taper is the same as an American hammer. On the right is a German Latthammer, which has a square face for nailing into corners and an elongated claw on one side—which is used for chipping and occasionally for punching slate. I understand why German framers use Latthammers; German homes are usually masonry and most framing is on roofs, where one might encounter slate. The difference between American and English hammers (or the difference between any hammer and the ones used in Japan) is harder to explain. I suspect that at some level it’s simply a matter of style and tradition.
I’m not usually impressed by tools from Worx (too DIY) but this one is kind of cool. The HydroShot is a 20-volt max tool that functions as a hand-held pressure washer. It has adjustable power and can spray water at 100-320 psi. That less than you’ll get from most pressure washer but then the average pressure washer is nowhere as portable as this 3.7-pound tool. It can be connected to a garden hose or used with a supplied plastic hose that will pull from a fresh water source such as a bucket, pond, or pool.
The manufacturer's sell sheet shows it being used to wash boats, cars, and outdoor furniture—which is probably what most people will use it for. But I could see using one where a water line was not available to clean shovels, wheelbarrows, or the back of a truck or trailer after a trip to the dump. The existence of this tool makes me wonder what would happen if one of the big companies that make cordless OPE—DeWalt, Makita, or Milwaukee—came out with a similar tool capable of producing much higher spray pressure.
The HydroShot has an adjustable nozzle and comes with a suction hose, charger, and one 2.0 Ah battery. It is scheduled for release early next year and is expected to sell for about $120.
Tool Keepers Foam Inserts
You may have seen tool boxes outfitted with foam “shadow boards”, where there’s a cutout to fit each and every item that stores in the box. You can make them yourself or hire a company like Tool Keepers to do it for you. Tool Keepers uses a high pressure water jet to make foam inserts for customers such as Fedex, Lockheed, Amtrak, and the U.S. Military. The option exists to print the name/size of the tool in each recess and to laser etch a label onto each tool.
Companies typically send the box and tools to the Tool Keepers’ plant in Iowa, where a layout is created and approved prior to the foam being cut out. The finished box and tools are then sent back to the customer. I asked the guys at the Tool Keeper’s booth what it cost to have this done and was told it would be 10-15% of the cost of the tools themselves.
I can see how and why a big company might choose to do this but can’t picture a tradesman being willing or able to ship his tools and toolbox across the country. For those who would like to have this level of organization the more affordable option is to do the work yourself—by purchasing Kaizen Foam sheets or Kaizen Foam Inserts, which arrive cut to fit particular brands/models of tool boxes. Either way it’s to you to decide where tools go and to make the cutouts.
Ekso Zero G Arm
This unusual tool support began as an accessory for an exoskeleton (think Alien or Iron Man) developed by Ekso Bionics, a company originally formed to produce exoskeletons for the military under a DARPA contract. I’ve been to their development lab in Richmond, California and tried on an industrial exoskeleton with an attached work support that allowed me to effortlessly support and manipulate a 12- to 15-pound angel grinder.
Like that accessory, the Zero G Arm uses adjustable springs to offset the weight of the tool being handled. Capable of supporting up to a 36-pound tool, it’s designed to connect to staging, a man lift, or the bucket of a cherry picker. Ekso pictures it being used to support large tools that are fatiguing to operate horizontally and overhead: grinders, demo hammers, rivet busters, and the like.
I asked the guys who were demonstrating the arm what happened to the exoskeleton it was originally designed to work with and was told the company was backing off on that product for now. They decided it was a bridge too far to convince people to buy both an arm and an exoskeleton. The arm takes less getting used to and was thought to be an easier sell.
Before you rush out to buy a Zero G Arm you should be aware that they may not yet be available for purchase and that it’s expected to sell for about $11,000. At that price the likely buyer is an industrial user or a rental company such as United Rentals, whose logo appeared on the sell sheets they were handing out at the show..