Axinite work clothes: More competition!

THE work clothing market is a highly competitive one, so any new players have to be pretty sure that what you are bringing to the table is not only high quality, but competitively priced. And like all clothing, it projects an image, so purchasers will have favourites for a variety of reasons: look, durability, comfort, etc.

Axinite has hit the ground running with a range of clothing that feels and looks good and performs well.

The basics – trousers

For me, the fit on trousers has to be very good to ensure all-day comfort. Things like avoiding the constant need to pull at the waistband, tuck in my shirt and pull up the knees when I kneel down, are key.

My first impression of the trousers as I opened the pack is that they are well-designed for the intended purpose. Made from heavy duty polyester/cotton fabric, they have reinforced knees, tough fabric lippings on the capacious rear pockets and seven belt loops. They don’t feel lightweight and flimsy, which might be good in summer, but is definitely not what I wanted in the cold and wet we have been experiencing recently.

It was only after I had been wearing them on the jobsite for an hour or two that I started to understand that some of the details on these Axinite trousers are pretty handy. Around the waistband is a grippy strip that helps to keep your shirt tail in when you bend and stretch. I hate the cold draft on my kidneys!

The two front holster pockets are nicely designed to be optional. If you want them, simply undo the press stud and pull them out of the main pockets where they are ready to accept all the usual stuff that I put in them like pencils, knives, a tape measure and work gloves. When tucked in, they function like smaller pockets and don’t get in the way.

There are a few smaller pockets on the legs for rulers and possibly a mobile, but I think you can overdo the pockets (as some brands do) because the combined weight of all the stuff in them can cause discomfort at the waistband. Axinite doesn’t fall into that trap.

One of my design necessities is the capacity to fit kneepads on trousers because, put brutally, my knees hurt after unprotected kneeling on the jobsite. The Axinite kneepads supplied with the sample trousers are made of natural black rubber and strike a good balance – hard enough to not feel every stone under your knee, but soft enough for comfort and relief.

The kneepads are easy to fit and I am told that they can stay in place while the trousers are washed. It is quite rare that kneepads don’t have to be adjusted when you kneel down – usually pulled up a little, to engage with the knees. Mercifully with the Axinite trousers, as I knelt, the pads found their place over my kneecaps. Result!

Some readers may have noticed that we have had quite a lot of rain recently – so I am happy to report that the fabric on these trousers has a slight water resistance that keeps you dry for short exposures to wet kneeling on the floor or rain on the dash to the van. The rubber kneepads don’t act like spongers either.

Overall, I found these trousers practical and comfortable, and I am sure they will be hardwearing. They wash and dry easily making them perfectly suited to the jobsite environment.

Shirts and customisation

Axinite has a couple of shirts in the range – a polo shirt and a T-shirt. I was sent the polo shirt to try. Made of 100% high wicking polyester, it is easy to wash and dry, crease free and comfortable to wear. The side panels in contrasting grey are stretchy and help make it easy to move around and lift your arms.

Even one-man bands like a bit of branding and customisation these days, and Axinite seems to have this down pat. In order to have a logo, badge, name or brand embroidered to an item of clothing, all the user has to do is to supply a design, with colourways if needed, and Axinite will do the rest. It doesn’t matter if the design is a simple picture taken on a mobile phone, Axinite has the technology to stitch the design where you want it. Hence I am now the proud owner of a polo shirt with the new TOOLKIT logo embroidered on the sleeve – look out for it on the videos.

Padded Body Warmer – Perfect for the current weather

I like body warmers to wear on the jobsite. In my view, they are a practical garment that keeps your core warm while allowing your arms freedom of movement. The result is that I have a lot of body warmers with paint, slight tears and glue stains on them. But my Axinite body warmer will go to the pile that will only be worn on ‘clean’ jobs - for the foreseeable, anyway.

With a polyester construction and quality warm padding, it is easy to wash and dry. It is also very light, considering its warmth, so it is comfortable and moves easily while you are working. I like the zipped side pockets that are big enough for gloves, a tape measure and a few other bits besides. Inside there is also a zipped pocket that will easily take a mobile and/or a wallet.

It zips all the way to under the chin and around the back of the neck and is good at keeping draughts out. Generously, Axinite also embroidered the TOOLKIT logo on the chest and it looks good. The embroidery work does not affect the padding and lining of the garment, so users can be assured that performance won’t be compromised.

Use the net

Most people use the internet nowadays so it makes sense to access Axinite via its website where purchasers can order what they need: shoes, shirts, jackets, trousers, fleeces, etc.

For customisation, simply submit your logo or chosen design and let the Axinite people do the work.

In my view, what you get from Axinite is a range of high quality gear that is up to the demands of the jobsite – it is well worth a look.

If we have the weather, Snickers has the clothing

OVER the last few weeks, wherever we are in the UK, we have been battered by weather - from flooding rain to icy frosts. It is exactly these that make us think twice about what we need to wear to survive a day on the jobsite, without succumbing to the wet or cold.

When a parcel from Snickers arrived, I was keen to see what the latest gear could do to prevent my suffering from the usual complaints of cold hands and wet feet.

Onyx Low Work Shoes and High Heavy Wool Socks

My experience of Solid Gear footwear is very positive because the work shoes I have used have proved to be lightweight, strong and warm. The trainer-style Onyx Low work shoes I tested are metal free, with a rubber outsole. This sole has lots of grippy chevrons but the patterns are not so deep that they will pick up loads of mud and distribute it around the jobsite.

The poured PU midsole is lightweight and durable – and dare I say it – ranks amongst the most comfortable I have ever had the pleasure of plunging my feet into. These shoes fitted so well that they felt comfortable immediately, and after half an hour I couldn’t notice the difference between them and my next most comfortable pair of work shoes. 

But the best feature by far, in my opinion, is the use of the BOA system. I am told it is based on a system used in ski boots where a simple twist of the BOA button tightens the laces, and a press on the same button releases them. It is easy to see the advantages because shoe removal is so quick – and there are sometimes jobs where leaving muddy boots at the door is a diplomatic thing to do.

Combine the above with a snug pair of the High Heavy Wool Socks and foot comfort is guaranteed for most users. They are thick and warm, with reinforced heel and toes and are long enough to keep a fair bit of your shins warm too. Again, some of the best socks I have ever used in terms of warmth and comfort, which might be down to the 84% merino wool content!

6241 Allround Work Trousers

I thought I was too old-fashioned for stretch trousers – until I tried them. They do make moving, and especially, bending down a lot easier with much less need to pull them back to waist level when you stand up again. But am I modern enough for them?

The 6251 Allround Work trousers have a classic design with pre-bent legs and a looser fit that people of my vintage might prefer. They are made from hardwearing cordura fabric that has already proved its worth on the jobsite. Of course, you get umpteen pockets (these included holster pockets) as well as a tool holder, front loops and key holder, ruler pocket and a cargo pocket with an attachment for the increasingly common ID badge holder. Let me just say that I have never managed to use all the pockets provided, without feeling that the trousers might fall down any minute.

Snickers is one of the few manufacturers that manages to get knee pad pockets in the right place on the trouser legs so that you can just kneel down without having to hitch the legs. No doubt helped by the use of stretch Cordura at the knees? For most jobs, I find the Snickers kneepads perfectly good and I would only consider extra add–on kneepads if I was on my knees for several days.

The 6241 Allround Work trousers have slimmer legs that would probably appeal to a younger and more fashion-conscious demographic. The blurb says it is for a ‘clean, technical look’, but I will let others with better physiques decide their look…

These trousers too, have a multitude of pockets (including holster pockets) for rulers, ID badge, etc. The slimmer legs may have prompted the designers to move to an Advanced Knee Guard Pro design with pleats that keep the foam knee guards in optimum position for ease of work.

1148 Allround Work Winter Jacket

The hoodie is almost a uniform item on cold winter jobsites because it is just a very practical garment. Some workers even manage to balance a hard hat on top of a hoodie-covered head.

Made from a layer of thick 60% cotton and 40% polyester mix, with a soft, fleecy inside, the new Snickers hoodies are the essence of warmth, even if they are bound to be given a hard life on the jobsite. The length is enough to provide some bottom coverage and the hoodie is big enough to protect the whole head from cold – especially if you pull the elasticated drawstring tight. This one has come to the top of my list of hoodies I reach for on a cold day. The bold Snickers logo and striking colour choices are a bit better than the usual dull grey hoodies often seen onsite.

I am conflicted about the 1148 Allround Work Winter Jacket. Never mind the jobsite, I would wear it as an everyday jacket and it is smart enough to wear when visiting clients. But would I wear it onsite and risk it getting dirty? Perhaps a hi-vis vest over it might minimise any dirt?

On the other hand- this jacket is warm! It has a water-resistant polyester outer and padded lining that keep wind and water out. The neck can be zipped all the way up past the chin and the side pockets are well placed to plunge cold hands into. There are two zipped pockets - one outside and one inside (for your phone? Pens?), as well as a big poacher’s pocket on the left inside. A strong elastic draw cord can be tightened to keep wind out at the bottom and the hook and loop straps on the wrists keep warmth in and wet out.

There are a couple of very subtle reflective strips on the arms because this jacket does not shout its virtues, but it has virtue in spades.

Weather Dry Work Gloves

I have tried hard to find the perfect cold weather work gloves, but the conflicting need for hardwearing materials and flexible dexterity conflict, so inevitably they are always a compromise. The Snickers Weather Dry work gloves are very warm, easy to don and comfortable to wear. But as with the jacket above, I would be unwilling to mess them up by handling wet materials like plaster or mortar.

They are waterproof and protective with reinforced palms and strips of padding to protect the knuckles and when I did a few timber handling jobs with them I was impressed with how good they are. I guess I am going to have to risk them a bit just to keep my hands warm.

Snickers users are always guaranteed well-designed and well-made products and I have never found one bit of Snickers clothing that I thought was inferior. The above certainly fit this mould and I am happy to recommend them.

Hellberg ear defenders: Dare to investigate your noise exposure profile

AS I sit at my desk in a quiet country village in Sussex, the loudest sounds I hear are the rooks fighting over a tidbit. Annoying maybe, but not dangerous. Contrast that to the almost incessant noise that many Londoners are routinely exposed to – for example, I hate that ear-piercing scream from the rails on the Northern Line between Euston and Mornington Crescent where even Londoners block their ears to protect themselves.

The truth is that most background noise is fairly harmless, but once we get regularly exposed to noise levels of around 85dB, we should start to take notice. A modern corded tool, like a circular saw or router, emits noise levels around this mark so it is clear that noise levels need to be considered, even for regular DIY-ers.  

Then think about the workers on construction sites and in factories where the noise levels are persistent and constant as well as occasionally ‘impulsive’ – the technical term for noise that is so loud that it hurts the ears.

Impulsive and persistent noise at levels much greater than 85dB actually cause hearing cells to break off and die making hearing loss permanent. Being ‘hard of hearing’ is now proven to be a serious cause of social isolation and is even being implicated in the onset of Alzheimer’s, due to its isolating effects. There is also an increased risk of high blood pressure, stress, depression, tinnitus and hyperacusis.  

We have known for a long time that exposure to excess noise can cause permanent hearing loss - disco divas, tank crew and artillerymen (to name a few) have all testified to the effects of loud noises on their hearing. What strikes me is that noise has been seen as an occupational hazard and employers have taken a fairly relaxed attitude to it. 

In fact, there is no need for workers to suffer excess noise levels because employers and workers have for years had a responsibility to reduce and control noise levels. Regulations from the HSE and EC say so. And the good thing about excess noise is that it is pretty easy to control it and protect workers from it. It is often as simple as choosing and using a good set of ear defenders whenever the noise levels warrant it.  

However, it turns out that choosing an appropriate set of ear protectors can be more complicated. So... here goes! 

You still want some noise 

It would be no good choosing ear protection that cuts off all noise – just so that you don’t hear the excavator that runs you over. Equally, too low a level of protection won’t stop hearing damage in the long term.  

Also, ear protectors are highly sophisticated these days -  a quick run through the Hellberg range shows a wide range of options from simple to sophisticated. Hellberg’s more sophisticated products allow workers to communicate with each other via radio when needed as well as listening to Classic FM in the in-between times.

Choice can also be complicated by the wearer too. A beard, glasses or long hair can all affect the efficiency of the protectors and for this reason Hellberg recommends that noise level protection to be aimed at is 75dB rather than 85dB. This allows conversation and communication as well as promoting awareness of other hazards like diggers and dumpers nearby.  

To the practical 

Hellberg, now part of the Hultafors Group, sent me a couple of ear protectors to try out. 

The first, the Secure 2H, are colour coded with bright yellow bands around the outside of the ear padding. Yellow coded protectors are designed to protect users from noise levels in the 95 to 110dB range. Think electric grinders, big circular saws and slightly quieter forms of motorsports. 

I often have music in the background while I am working, and after donning the Secure 2H I could still hear it - mostly the quieted lyrics and a few guitar highlights. At a distance of a couple of metres I could still hear instructions addressed to me in a slightly raised voice. Sudden loud noises were still unexpected, but my ears did not ring. Ringing is a sign that indicates possible temporary harm.  

I always expect high quality from European manufacturers and a close examination of these protectors rather proved the point.  

The all-important padding around the ears was soft and thick and therefore able to adjust to the contours of the head. It seemed to be fixed in place securely all around the aperture. This foam is often the first casualty of regular use so it needs to be able to be replaced easily – which indeed it can be. Spares are easily available.

The outer parts are made of a rigid black plastic ‘doughnut’ and they are lined on the inside with around 12mm thickness of dense foam for sound insulation.  

Also designed for a long working life are the headband and yokes holding the ‘doughnuts’ in place. The head band has a foam pad on the top for comfort and adjustment is achieved by simply pulling each side down a few clicks until you get a close fit over the ears.  

The parts exposed to wear and tear, sweat and dirt are all replaceable to ensure a long working life for the protectors.  

To test for comfort, I wore them for a few hours as I was preparing some timber for a table I am making. After a time, they warmed up nicely, even in my cold workshop, and were comfortable and effective – the kind of comfort that would make you use them regularly rather than just hang around your neck for appearances only. 

Still yellow, but more technology

The Hellberg 2H Active are rated for the same levels of noise as the basic ones above, but they incorporated speakers, batteries, a jack plug and lead so that you could plug into a mobile phone, radio or MP3 player (I’m showing my age here).

Once again, I couldn’t fault the comfort of the round-ear padding despite the necessary extra weight of the protectors. Two AA batteries are located in one of the solid plastic earpieces and the jack plug in the other. Adjustment to the head is a matter of a few clicks because there is enough cable from the jack plug to ensure snag-free movement. The speakers are of good quality and music from my iPod sounded good – but I could still hear ambient noises and have a conversation. 

This is a very short excursion into the Hellberg range of ear protection – it is worthwhile going online to see the full range and choose the solution that suits you. Your hearing may depend on it.

Senco SGT90i: Nailed it?

NAILING ain’t what it used to be. In the ‘Old Days’, competition between gas and pneumatic nailers (and the humble hammer) was all we had to choose from, but the arrival of several very effective cordless nailers has added another dimension to the competition, says PETER BRETT.

More choice for consumers can sometimes mean a return to the drawing board for some of the competition and my guess is that the Senco SGT90i is a result of a rethink and redesign so that it has all of the features it needs to stand proudly on its own merits. In my review I will try to focus on these points and see how they stand up, and I will also run it past a few builders to hear what they think.

Unpacking and first impressions

The SGT90i comes in a robust case with quick-release metal catches that looks like it will last for the working life of the tool. It is customised with a place for everything including the tool itself, two lithium ion battery packs, a charger, some safety specs and a couple of hex keys. There is space to fling in a few rows of collated nails but this temptation needs to be resisted, not least because of avoiding contact with the battery packs.

Is weight an issue?

There is no getting away from the fact that pretty well all powered nailers are bulky and heavy, but good design can mitigate handling issues by distributing weight carefully and ensuring that key dimensions are chosen carefully. With an all up weight of over 3.5 kgs, the Senco is around the sort of weight expected from a framing nailer. However, it does look and feel a bit bulkier than other designs on the market.

A key measurement of 377mm in length means that it is easy to pass through joists and studding. But, as I have found before, it is difficult to pass judgement at this point. It’s only after you have fired several magazines of nails that you can appreciate that weight may help control some recoil and that bulk is not necessarily an impediment.

Key innovations

Senco has designed this tool to ‘guarantee efficiency and a professional finish with every nail’ – something that every tradesperson would love to have. To this end the SGT90i has been given more power and a battery and gas cartridge that can power up to 8,000 nails per charge – I don’t think you could ask for more.

Another key design feature is the nose piece. It is shaped to ensure that there is no slipping when firing. This is a big safety feature; you simply don’t want to have nails flying at awkward angles because the nose has slipped. For delicate surfaces, there is a simple no-mar pad that can be slipped on when needed.

With two battery packs (which amounts to 16,000 nails) there would seem to be enough power to ensure several days’ worth of power nailing. But we all know that charging battery packs is an easy enough thing to do so I really like the quick charge function. And it really is quick – by charging a battery for two minutes another 200 nails can be powered. That is probably enough to finish the job in hand, especially when it’s near the end of the day. The truth is users should have consulted the LED power gauge on the battery housing before it ran out…

Another feature that should be on any user’s tick list is that the nailer has been designed to operate in temperatures from -7 to +49oC. Although I wouldn’t want to be nailing studs or trusses at minus temperatures, it is useful to know that the tool would work.

The nail magazine is an all-metal affair for extra durability that should outlast plastic designs. Finally, the metal thumb wheel on the nose is used to set the depth of drive without having to reach for any tools – frankly, a feature that I think is a necessity and the fact that it works so easily is much in its favour.

Prepare to fire

Not having handled a SENCO nailer for a while, I approached the final set up methodically. Each nailer I have used follows a similar pattern but can often be different in key areas. There is scope for doing things in the wrong order so it pays to take care.

The fully charged battery pack (it takes roughly one-and-a-half hours for a first charge) is easy to insert in the slot at the end of the main handle. Three green lights give the user a quick snapshot of the state of charge. Looking at the lights is easier than counting up to 8,000 while you are working!

Before inserting the gas cartridge into the nailer the user has to seat the nozzle onto the cartridge and this does need a bit more care and has a certain knack to do. First time round, I made the mistake of not seating the nozzle completely and ended up with cold gas frozen fingers. Hence it is good to follow the safety advice to do this job well clear of any potential sources of heat or ignition. Funnily enough I didn’t have the same issues with the second gas cartridge! And thank goodness for clear, step-by-step instructions in the manual.

When the cartridge is properly seated, the cover will simply snap closed when pushed in and down.

Adding collated strips of nails is about as easy as with any other nailer I have used and there is a positive spring action that keeps the nails firmly fed into the head.

Once all the set-up is done, all the user needs to do to fire nails is push the safety nose into the workpiece, wait a second or two for the gas to flow and then pull the trigger. All the shots I fired went home with a satisfying bang, into softwood or hardwood.

A couple of things I noticed was that the noise levels are well controlled, so while ear defenders are necessary, an odd shot or two will not deafen you. Also, the weight of the SGT90i is such that the user gets very little recoil through the hand and arm so it feels comfortable and easy to use.

Another thing I found useful was that the nailer will sit on its back, handle up, on a flat surface where it is easy to pick up. The rafter hook is good too – wide enough for the thickest rafter, and yet it folds away nicely.

I fired what was effectively a boxful of nails along with a couple of builders who helped me out with their opinions. What impressed them was the nailing muscle it had and number of shots it could deliver on a single charge. Because of that, they didn’t experience the quick charge function, but in principle they liked the idea.

Octogrip work gloves: Protecting your assets

Some site managers make them compulsory, some tradespeople use them routinely without needing to be told and some workers almost always go without. I am talking about work gloves, of course, says Peter Brett.

Cheap work gloves are freely available, often costing around a pound but, in my experience, they aren’t designed to last very long. I have managed to wear holes in a pair before lunchtime on a jobsite where I was handling abrasive materials.

The upside of the increased use of work gloves is that the market responds, bringing more choice and keener prices – and trades are the winners because, in my view, work gloves are a necessity in modern workplaces. To add to this mix, BBB Investments Ltd (think Coast torches and batteries) has brought the Octogrip Glove Range to market and retailers should keep an eye out for it.

As it says in the brochure, Octogrip gloves are ‘Born in America’ and the company has been established for over 30 years, so it knows a thing or two about work gloves. The Octogrip range of gloves is ‘engineered for tactile grip and superior efficiency’ and anyone who routinely uses gloves knows that grip and efficiency need to be built into any gloves, otherwise they simply don’t work and will be discarded.

These two features became the two focus points of my review, and it inevitably involved some informal comparisons with gloves that I have bought for my own use to see how well they stood up in, what is now, a very competitive market.

Some of the range

I was sent five representative pairs of gloves from the range of nine. They cover Heavy Duty, High Performance, Cut Safety and Cold Weather applications. Retailers will notice that each pair is carefully ‘stitched’ to an informative card hanger that gives details of the product described in key words. Customers only need to read the key words to make their choices.

They will also be pleased to see that the left-hand glove is attached to the card in such a way that potential buyers can try it on without destroying the hanging card. A win-win for buyers and sellers, I think.

Heavy Duty OG200 - Superior grip, comfort and fit, dexterity

The shell of these gloves is woven from 15 Gauge thread into a one-piece whole. A high, elasticated wrist ensures that they fit snugly and users will notice the comfort, flexibility and grip immediately upon they put them on. A key feature in this is the carefully applied latex on the dimpled palm and digits that simply looks and feels better than on any cheap glove. I used my ‘palm crinkle test’ to check fit and flexibility and the Octogrip passes easily.   

Using these gloves for general jobs like loading timber, handling bricks and garden waste (non-prickly) I found that they were very good. And easy to get on and off too.

Octogrip OG330 Heavy Duty gloves feature a heavier 13Gauge shell and a more heavily ribbed and elasticated wrist design. I found that they fitted even more snugly than the OG200s – so grip and dexterity were not compromised. The latex coating on the palm and digits is also carefully applied and in many ways; I thought that I had found the perfect compromise between heavy duty performance, dexterity and grip doing a range of jobs that include mixing up buckets of mortar and plaster.

Palmwick technology – Keep cool

It can be uncomfortable to wear work gloves in hot weather – but protection trumps all in most jobs. The pair of Octogrip Palmwick PW874 gloves I tried solves the problem of hot hands by using the palm coating to wick away sweat and moisture leaving hands cooler, but without compromising grip, dexterity, protection or durability.

My ‘crinkly palm’ test showed that the fit is nicely snug - almost a second skin - and the elasticated wrist design is very good, going back past wristwatch level so they stay on well. They are also easy to get on and off because of the highly elasticated shell.

These Palmwick gloves quickly became my ‘go to’ gloves when doing some fencing/fitting in the recent hot weather because I had the protection from splinters that I needed when handling unplaned timbers, but also the dexterity I needed for using cordless power tools. They ended up my favourite gloves – probably because I used them the most and appreciated the cool hands.

Cutting it

I am lucky in that I don’t often have to handle sharp materials like glass or sheet metals, but regulations now make provisions for a cut resistance rating on gloves. Octogrip’s Cut Safety Pro Gloves are rated EN388 (2016) Cut Level E – the highest rating. They also use the Palmwick technology combined with a 13 gauge HPPE engineered knitted shell for a robust and cut resistant glove.

Part of the safety factor when handling sharp materials is to be able to grip and handle them dextrously and the nitrile palm and finger coating provides ample grip and protection. The gloves feel a bit more substantial but they still fit well with a high elasticated wrist. Extra protection is afforded by the reinforced thumb saddle. I did try these out myself but sought the opinion of a welder friend who gave them the thumbs up for handling pieces of metal.

I have ended up with only one of these gloves because I had to do the “craft knife’ test on a Cut Safety Pro and a cheap work glove. The results confirmed to me that cheap gloves are easy to slice, while the Cut Safety Pro provides genuine protection from sharp edges and slashing cuts.

Winter and ‘the Beast’

It is just officially autumn but the tabloids are already telling us that the ‘Beast from the East’ will strike again. Fortunately, I will have the Octogrip OG450 winter glove to wear indoors.

Featuring a foam latex palm for grip and insulation, it feels thick, warm and substantial, like a proper warm glove should be. In order to aid grip, the palms and fingers are covered with a ‘nibby’ coating while the shell is made from a 10gauge polyester knit that is thick and comfortingly warm.

What is noticeable in comparison with other winter weight gloves that I have worn is that they are soft and flexible – and warm. I await ‘the Beast’ with equanimity.

Flex DW45 18.0-EC: Collated screwdriving, cordless style

THIS new collated screwdriver from Flex is part of its move to EC or brushless motors on most of its new cordless tools. The benefits of EC motors have already been explained, so let us skip lightly over to evaluate the driver itself, explains PETER BRETT.

On those house-beautiful programmes on the telly, I have seen skilled workers bashing up plasterboard in minutes with a collated screw driver.  They make it look so easy with barely a pause between screws as the plasterboard is fixed into place. However, when I tried it myself for the first time a few years ago, I was somewhat chastened as to how many factors on the tool had to be taken into account, so my first efforts were clumsy to say the least. Fortunately, it was a practice piece and my reputation didn’t depend on it.

It helps to have a good quality driver

Since my first efforts at butchering plasterboard I have used several collated screwdrivers of varying quality and cost, and it is true to say that there is a correlation between cost, quality and ease of use. Usually, the more expensive, the better they are to use.

What I have against some of the less efficient drivers is that they usually have a fiddly quality to making adjustments for screws and driver. It is so much easier if these are tool-free, easy to locate and easy to adjust, because setting up a driver properly can involve a bit of trial and error depending on the hardness of the material you are driving into and the depth to which you need the screw heads to be countersunk. If I were in the market for a collated screw driver, I would reject outright any driver that was complicated to set up and required tools! So there!

What does the Flex DW45 have?

None of my no-no’s feature in the arrangements on the DW45. It follows a very well-established shape for collated drivers that is a bit more pistol-like – more like old-fashioned corded drills. The reason for this is that the forward effort to drive the screws is needed directly behind the line of the screws so that they can be driven straight and the driver point will not cam-out of the screw heads. The hand arrangement then is that the thumb and forefinger fit into the grooves above the main handle, while the last three fingers can operate the elongated trigger.

Slick and skilled users will bypass pressing the trigger for each screw – they will simply push in the trigger and lock the drill in ‘on’ position by pushing in the lock button that is located high on the handle. In this way, they can keep up a continuous run of screws – something I have done a few times but not nearly as often as I would wish. Perhaps if I was regularly fixing whole sheets of plasterboard on jobs instead of mainly doing fill-in repairs?

Forward, lock and reverse settings are done via a small lever switch rather than a push-through switch found on drill drivers and such. This is because the second finger doesn’t have an opposing thumb on the other side to push the switch back when needed.

Flex engineers have done a good job in making the handle grippy and ergonomic, with enough black rubber moulding to provide comfort and efficiency. There is a ‘bumper’ around the base of the handle where it connects with the battery slider, but otherwise overmould is kept to a minimum. A decent-sized belt hook and bit holder can be screwed to either the left- or right-hand side of the handle base, with provision for a wrist strap too (strap not supplied).

Basic mode

In basic mode, without the screw magazine fitted, a simple cone-shaped stop sleeve fits over the hex clutch drive into which a driver is fitted. The depth of drive can be adjusted by screwing the cone to clockwise or anti-clockwise. It is easy to do and clearly marked so I was actually ready to work in a minute or so and I had a 99.9% success rate in driving the screws, singly, to the depth I wanted.

There was ample power, the driver feels progressive and since it is easy to control drive speed through the trigger, results into hard or sift materials are easy to control. To be honest, in this mode I could achieve good results on any small job with confidence.

Fitting the screw magazine

For screwing industrial quantities of screws, the magazine needs to be in place. This simply clicks into place on the nose of the driver – without the cone of course.

Screw depth adjustment is via a big ridged dial near the back of the magazine. It will require a bit of trial and error to get the results you need.

The sliding steel nose arrangement is adjusted back and forward for the size of the screws needed. On the right-hand side is metric, while the left has imperial measures. A simple press of the red knob on top of the releases the lock on the nose so users can choose the size of screw needed.

Feeding a strip of collated screws is easy – just follow the arrows. I always use the best quality of screws that I can as cheap ones will cause jams and hiccups. I must credit the DW45 with making me a far more proficient user of collated screw guns. For one, it is light and compact, so it feels light enough (at 1.4kgs with a 2.5 Ah battery) to handle easily so that I could get the all-important lining up of the screw and driver head that makes for trouble-free screwdriving. I started slowly, and increased speed as my confidence grew. Even though I was using a practice piece of timber to drive into, so it was harder and more difficult to start into than a piece of plasterboard, I soon had a rhythm going and even felt capable of setting the motor to continuous mode after I had had more practice.

There is a nice LED light – it comes on when the trigger is pulled. A motor brake helps keep control of driving too – I need such refinements.

Once again, the basic kit comes in a custom fitted L-Boxx with charger, batteries and bits, and there is room for the magazine inside the box too.

The DW45 is new, interesting and capable and definitely worth a look and a demo.

Optimaxx Woodscrews: Modern design and maximum performance?

I HESITATE to say this again because it makes me sound positively ancient, but in the world of screws (as in tools generally) we have never had it so good, writes PETER BRETT.

I can still remember the days in my youth when putting in a simple woodscrew involved using a hand-powered drill to drill a pilot hole – sometimes two – for the shank and the thread, then drilling a countersink for the head and then screwing in the screw with a wooden-handled screwdriver that really tested how much torque you could apply with your hands. Some old timers even recommended putting a dab of fat onto the screw thread to ease its passage into the wood. It was also said that, when using brass screws, that a steel screw should be inserted and then removed to make a track for brass screw because of the potential danger of breaking a brittle brass screw.

Some years later (1980s/1990s?) saw the widespread use of the cordless drill driver in the trades. In retrospect, their peculiar banana shapes and 1.3Ah battery packs don’t seem so great, but it was the start of an explosion of innovations that came with the extra torque available at the press of a trigger.

Soon the slotted screwdriver head became old-fashioned and even Phillips head screws were outdone by the invention of the Pozi. More recently the Torx, hex and square drives have hit the market, giving end users a wide range to choose from.    

Making the old conically shaped woodscrews was difficult, even for machines – in England, woodscrews were still being made by hand in the early 1900s! Modern screws are all machine-made in their millions with straight shanks, sharp points, parallel threads, etc, and are so easy to use that modern trades think nothing of using several hundred screws a day on a job. Progress? I would say so.

The Optimaxx design

Unsurprisingly, not all the screws we buy are the same. Although they may look superficially similar in shape there are many subtle variations and I have found that I do choose certain brands of screws for certain circumstances. For example, some manufacturers use slimmer designs with sharp teeth on the threads that work better to prevent splitting when used near the edges of boards.

The Optimaxx screws I was sent follow a strong general purpose design that can be used on timber, man-made boards and other materials like plastic and insulation. My use tests found them to be very strong screws – I tried often to break the heads off by overdriving into the timber but I didn’t succeed once. More often, they would just drive through the timber – especially if it was softwood. I think they must be case hardened because I tried cutting off a screwhead with a multi-tool but it was hard job because even the TCT blade struggled to make inroads into the steel.

The strength and driveability of these screws are clearly plus points so time for a closer look at the basics to see why.

The first thing that I noticed is that there are some differences between the screws of different lengths. For example, the 50mm long screws have a thread that goes pretty well all the way to the countersunk head. The longer screws at around 80-100mm long have the thread finishing about two thirds of the way up the shank. This makes sense because the sharp thread has done its work after the first third or so of the job and having a thread all the way to the top would just increase friction, heat generation and the torque needed to drive the screw. It also helps to reduce ‘jacking’ – where timbers being screwed together tend to separate as the screw is being driven through rather than being pulled together.

To appreciate the subtle thread designs of modern screws it is actually necessary to examine them with a magnifying glass.

Under magnification it is clear that the points of Optimaxx screws are VERY sharp. The points are as low an angle as 20 degrees; your fingers may have noticed this when getting them out of the box…

The sharp point helps the user to push the point into the timber to get a good straight start, and the second feature of a cut-out on the point acts a razor edge for speed of cutting and clearing of material.

With the magnifying glass, it is clear that the next section of thread has what seems like mini saw teeth cut into it. It is self-explanatory that these cut into the timber making for a speedy drive of the screws. The thread finishes with a simple deep and wide formation that is quick to drive and also has a lubricant added as part of the coating. It is clear when using the screws that the design actually does what it says it should do – the screws are easy to start and drive quickly, sometimes too quickly if you are being ham-fisted and overdoing the torque setting on the drill driver.

Countersunk heads

I am a fan of the next bit of the design – the built-in countersink ridges that make possible a good, neat setting of the screw just flush or slightly below the surface of the substrate. (I can never understand why some people drive the screws deeper into the timber leaving a hole – unless you are going to fill them.) The deep countersink also makes possible a deeper - and therefore more secure - Pozi drive slot and a stronger head that will resist snapping off.

The marketing bits

Optimaxx screws have the benefit of being highly visible with the blue, black and white boxes that stand out in a retail environment. The Optomaxx logo is clear as are the sizings - they are big enough for me to read without my glasses, so job done.

In the retail environment, despite the clarity of the sizing on the box, unfortunately, customers still open the boxes to check them against the screw they brought in to match. Under these conditions strong boxes are an advantage since they will be tough enough to withstand the treatment. On site too, strong boxes that are easy to seal up again and do not split or come undone are a necessity for me. Optimaxx boxes are actually good in these respects but I have noticed that the screw companies are looking more closely at packaging to solve some of the issues. So maybe we can look forward to a redesign in the future?

Ledlenser iF8R Worklight: Modern, compact and bright

WITH our dull, short winter days, work lights are a necessity on most work sites. Over the years I have used a variety of corded and cordless ones so I have come to appreciate their virtues as well as their downsides, writes PETER BRETT.

Modern corded LED lights are often bright, come with an adjustable stand and run cool. They are perfect for flooding big areas with light when painting, for example. But they often have clumsy fittings for adjusting the angle of the lighting heads. I hated the now defunct (maybe not everywhere!) halogen lights that generated so much heat that you had to watch how you handled them. And they also needed cooling-off-time at the end of the working day before being packed away.

Smaller cordless lights using main brand cordless tool batteries cast a good controllable light and usually have more features, like Bluetooth, decent tripods and phone charging USBs, but more features equals a bigger price.

But the ones I have seen the most of cost £12 - £35 from the ‘sheds’ under an own brand. They usually are quite compact and will last a whole working day provided you slow charge them overnight. The light quality is good enough, but my quibble is that they are a bit bulky and sometimes hard to place for maximum effect if you don’t have a handy flat surface or joist on which to hang them because of the way that the frames are made.

My ideal light would be fully featured with Bluetooth etc, compact, powerful, easily adjustable, easy to place or hang for optimum lighting and quick charging.

Quite by coincidence I had just picked up a small job laying some flooring and building some shelves in a loft. Since the Ledlenser iF8R had just arrived I slipped it into my toolbox (still in its packaging), hoping that it would help me out, because surely the loft would have a mains light in it…? It turned out that the loft had no such thing, and I was forced to rely on the iF8R for the whole job. Fortunately, the Ledlenser didn’t let me down and I came to quickly appreciate its virtues.

It doesn’t look like a site light – and that’s good

It is hard to describe the Ledlenser iF8R – the closest I can get to it is: like a mini-briefcase, but longer rather than wider, with a briefcase-type handle. It is just over 30cm long, 14cm wide and just 4cm thick – so it can easily be described as very compact. It does weigh in at about 1.74kg, including the battery, so it feels like a quality piece of kit. The matte black case is made of a strong nylon/plastic material and there is a large finned alloy casting behind the big LED light that helps to dissipate any heat that may be generated.

Switching and controls are on the opposite face to the light and operating it is simplicity itself. A big yellow button invites the forefinger to switch the light on and it is done with a single push.

The on/off button is surrounded by four other controls. A plus and minus sign on either side can be pushed to increase or reduce the brightness of the LED in five steps from 100%, to 75%, 50%, 25% and 10%. These are indicated by small red lights. The third control selects Bluetooth mode, which enables the user to remotely control the switch via a smartphone. A small blue light tells you it is on. Finally, a control marked with a battery enables the user to check the battery levels. If all is well, the lights light up as green, but when 10% battery level is reached, a recharge is going to be necessary sooner rather than later.

The simplicity of the controls is a good feature making for quick and easy information, and even with gloved hands they are easy to use.

For charging, a simple hinged rubber flap needs to be lifted to insert the jack plug. Initially, I charged the battery overnight so I didn’t take note of how long it took to fully charge, but to ensure a steady supply of light it will be necessary to recharge whenever the 10% battery capacity light shows up. Even a fill-up charge while you eat a sandwich and have a cup of tea will give a good run time.

The specs say that at full 4500 lumens power the battery will last about 75 minutes, while selecting the lowest setting of 400 lumens, it will last up to 12 hours. My experience of the 1F8R confirms this, but to ensure a full day’s work it is a good idea to get the Bluetooth operational so that it is easy to switch on and off and adjust the lumens when necessary.

Behind the jack plug is a USB slot into which the universal onsite smartphone could be charged from the i8R’s battery pack. Weather sealing is up to IP54 standard so occasional damp and rain on site should not be a problem.

Ways to set up

Despite being slimline and compact I did manage to stand the i8R on its side and base on the floor and beams of the loft where it seemed reasonably stable. But for more stability the robust carry handle folds back to form a supportive leg that is very stable even on a not-so-flat surface. It can also be held from a nail or screw driven into a joist via the handle. Six powerful magnets in the handle enable it to be stuck on a scaffolding pole or radiator as well – versatile non?

The shape and size of this Ledlenser light are the clinchers for me. It is so compact that I was able to slip it easily into my toolbox ready to take on site – something no other sitelight (to my knowledge) is capable of at the moment. Add to this the powerful and adjustable LED light that floods the workspace and the ease of use either via the switches or Bluetooth, which makes it a pretty perfect light for many users. Registering the product soon after purchase will get you a seven-year warranty too.

Ledlenser clearly has oodles of confidence in the product and I am not really surprised. I anticipate my sample will get hours and hours more use especially as winter draws in.

New torches from Coast: Filling the niches

AS if summer doesn’t descend so quickly into autumn anyway, the recent spate of wet and windy weather has reminded us all that colder and darker days are inevitably on their way, writes PETER BRETT.

Time for all torch users - be they dog walkers, tradespeople or professionals - to make sure that they have a good torch on hand for when it will be needed! And just to make our choices that little bit more sophisticated, Coast has snuck a couple of interesting new torches into its comprehensive range.

Never a company to stand still - it is always developing new ideas - Coast has identified a couple of niches where product development and changes in the market have coincided, creating a couple of new products that really hit the spot.


Rechargeable is the New Green Dynamic for a Head Torch

The Coast FL13R comes in the familiar clam pack that is easy to hang and display in a retail environment. Potential purchasers are given comprehensive - but easy to see and understand - information on the front and back of the packaging. Of course, it also helps a purchaser that there is the ‘try me’ option to test the light output, light options and switch operation. This is enough to kill any doubts at the point of sale about how bright the beam is or how easy it is to cycle through the switch options.

Brass tacks time now, so let me deal with the rechargeable part of the spec. I live in a house in the country where there is no street lighting and relatively frequent power cuts. When the sun goes down it is DARK. Consequently, I have at least six torches in various locations in the house for emergencies, but twice this year I have been caught out on the battery front.

The simple solution is to have a recharging point with a torch nearby so that it is always recharged ready for use. The fact that the FL13R uses a USB connection for charging makes it much more flexible than standard three pin plug chargers. USB charging is an option on many power tool batteries now, as well as laptops, desktops, cars and, increasingly, on adapted mains plug sockets. Users will probably never be far away from a charging point.

Selecting the light options is done via the red switch on top of the torch body. The switch is sensitive and very positive in action so it is easy and quick to cycle through for the option wanted.

A full recharge will give a runtime of 10 hours at the low light setting of 85 lumens. In practice, most head torches are used at the low power setting because the high setting is simply too bright and reflective for the typical close-up work that head torches are used for. 10 hours amounts to a long shift at work or a long night’s angling, so running out of charge should not be an issue.

At the high setting of 270 lumens, the light is so intense that users have to be careful not to flash it into their own, or others’, eyes. Even at this intensity, users can expect a decent run time of five hours. The red light options are much less power hungry, so longer run times can be expected. Many outdoor users like campers and anglers, prefer using a red light because the eyes do not need to get accustomed to it.

The LED on this torch is wide and consequently the beam is a wide flooded light suitable for general purpose vision. Working, as a plumber might do, in a confined space, the beam on low setting provides a white flood beam that does not reflect harshly and provides enough light over the whole work area in front. It is hard to put a number on it but at about a metre distance the lit area is over a metre wide.

Other important features are the IPX4 weather rating, the included safety helmet clips, the comfortably wide and nicely elasticated (not too elasticky!) head strap and the five-year guarantee.

Good news for retailers and end users alike is that the pricing is very competitive: it will be hard (or impossible) to find a rechargeable head torch of similar quality with all of the features, for the price. All excellent reasons for stocking the FL13R.


The classic style hand torch, re-imagined

Think of the standard hand torch used by law enforcement and around the home and you can easily see the HP7XDL. It is a very popular style because it combines a compact body, light weight and a powerful beam that is adjustable for spot and flood light patterns. But this design is expensive – users have to pay for Enforcement-type specs. In some ways, it may seem foolish to fiddle about with a classic but (as ever) new technology, better LEDs and better manufacturing have created an opportunity for Coast to look again at the design and tweak it to suit a slightly different niche.

The plastic clam packaging does its usual job of protecting the product as well as making it easy to display and provide key information for potential purchasers. Not to mention the ‘Try Me’ switch, which is often the deciding factor for many purchasers.

As ever, the key specs are the lumen count and range of the beam. At high setting with 240 lumens on tap and in spot mode, the beam will reach 270 metres. A much lower lumen output of 70 still gives a beam reach of 147m but a runtime of 17 hours on fresh batteries compared to five hours on full beam.

Selecting the beam is simple via the rubber-protected button on the rear of the casing. The straightforward system of simply sliding the head of the torch forward and back between finger and thumb enables focus control from spot to flood.

What users might notice when they shine the light against a flat surface is the quality and clarity of the beam pattern that shows that the lens is a good one.

Once again the HP7XDL has a five-year warranty and an IPX4 weather rating and comes with 3 AAA batteries as standard. If you want an enforcement/emergency services style torch at a lighter weight and a competitive price-point then it’s a very good choice.

Stihl FSA 130 Brushcutter: The cordless future?

WHEN it comes to doing your bit for the environment, the use of a battery-powered brush cutter may seem like a small contribution in the grand scheme of things, writes PETER BRETT.

But if all users of such tools did it then that would make a huge difference, especially if the new tools were as efficient and powerful as their petrol-powered counterparts. Parity of performance is a key feature in my book and any tools that don’t perform, literally don’t cut it.

But there are lots of other reasons why the use of battery-powered garden tools should be encouraged. Every couple of weeks since the grass on the pavements started growing again this spring, I have had to endure about 45 minutes of the angry buzz of two stroke motors strimming as the council contractors do their jobs up and down my road. The words ‘noisy’ and ‘smelly’ apply here and if I transpose the cutting job to, say, a hospital or school grounds, where fumes and noise are definitely not indicated, then it would seem like a no-brainer to use a battery-powered brush cutter.

The Stihl FSA 130 certainly caused a minor stir amongst the couple of council workers I showed it to. They were keen to try out battery power because they would like to reduce the noise, vibration and fumes that are a regular part of their working lives. Although they had only a few minutes’ trial each on the FSA 130, their verdict was very positive – ‘powerful’ was the word used to describe the performance, and I must agree.

‘Traditional’ construction and layout

The Stihl FSA 130 follows a similar pattern to pretty well all brush trimmers – namely, a long alloy pole with a motor on one end and the cutter head on the other. These are similar in weight so tend to balance each other out. The ‘cowhorn’ or bicycle handle roughly in the middle of the pole is convoluted in that it has a number of curves in it that make it asymmetrical – the left side of the bar is further out than the right. There is some adjustment of the handlebar via the screwed locking knob in the middle. This performs the dual purpose of allowing the user to adjust the angle and length of the bar and it is a very efficient and established way of doing it. Since no tools are needed, the user can adjust the handle ‘on the go’ by simply stopping the cutter and resting it from the shoulder harness while a better angle is set.

I have found that it is important to find the optimum balance of the machine to suit the height of the user. With just the right projection of the cutter head, smooth swinging cuts from left to right can be made that just fly across the surface of the grass and leave an even surface. Too far forward and the cutters or brush dig into the grass and cause a ‘catch’ that leaves the overcut grass with a ‘circle of evidence’ of your slip up. With eight hanging points for the clip on the harness on the pole, and adjustments on the harness too, users will have ample adjustment room to find a comfortable and efficient way of avoiding those ‘dang circles’.

Out of the box

I was lucky in that the test machine was delivered fully assembled – all I had to do was adjustments. I reckon that, had I received a new machine, I would have needed a good 20 minutes to read the instructions and a similar amount of time to assemble the parts correctly. Because it follows a similar pattern to other big trimmers, experienced users will very quickly be able to size the Stihl up.

The instruction book is clear and simple and for safe and efficient use of the cutter it ought not to be skipped. Brush trimmers can fling up stones and other lumps of material, so protective clothing is needed. Believe me, the stones flung up by the FSA 130 can hurt just as much as those flung up by a petrol-powered cutter because there is no effective power difference between the two.

Battery life?

A long lasting and powerful battery mounted on the end of a brush cutter pole would be heavy and imbalanced and Stihl designers have solved the problem by adopting the ‘battery backpack’. This can hold a long-lasting battery (in this case, the AR 1000 Lithium-Ion battery) with ease and the comfort of the user is ensured by its padded back belt and shoulder straps. Once I had a few minutes of wearing it, I honestly didn’t feel the weight of the backpack. There is also a charge indictor on the backpack, which is suitably waterproofed for working in the rain.

I managed to cut all of my test sections of grass, shrubs and woody weeds without running down the battery pack – over an hour’s work. By using the power selector on the main handle, users can choose a power level. If cutting grass, for example, power level 1 will provide ample power for a good cut. Woody shrubs might need power level 3, but the downside is that the battery pack will run out of charge sooner.

The handlebar assembly contains a small, all-weather plug into which a power lead from the battery pack is plugged. It is a simple and no-fiddle function, so connecting and disconnecting the tool is the work of seconds.

A belt-mounted battery pack is also an option.

Switching on the machine by accident is obviated by having override switches on the right-hand side trigger mechanism. Users have to make a conscious choice to press the switches correctly to get the powerfully whirring start needed to cut grass.

Cutting options

There are two options for cutter heads – a more traditional self-feeding brush trimmer head and a head with three PolyCut blades. These are mounted on a single screw so they float easily and will swing out of the way when accidentally brushed up against a fencepost, for example. You will hear the noise and adjust your attack quickly! I was very impressed with the PolyCut blades and they did not baulk at cutting 25mm thick weedy stems right through. The brush trimmer option also works smoothly and may be the better option for users mostly cutting grass. Other options include a couple of metal blades intended for sawing/cutting more brush-like material.

When it comes to power, usability, versatility and a lack of noise and fumes it seems to me that contractors, smallholders and suchlike should really go ahead and invest in this kind of battery technology. It is good to do one’s bit for green initiatives, but with a machine as good as the Stihl FSA 130 on offer, efficiency and functionality are not compromised. It is one of those machines that might make petrol-powered machines obsolete within a few years.


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