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One of my favorite things to do is rebuild or fix broken tools. There’s something about making an item useful again that appeals to me. When the crap-tastic handle on my cheapo hatchet broke a few weeks ago, in Toolmonger style I found some extra wood around the shop, designed a pattern, and fashioned a replacement from mesquite I had lying about.

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As Sean pointed out yesterday, it’s that time of year again — the time where we start to see tools packaged and targeted at the gift-buying crowd. We ran across the above “set” in a big box the other day, and it strikes us as a great example of the genre. Let’s take a look at it specifically, but more importantly, let’s look at how this particular package exposes some of the tactics you’re likely to see in the marketing deluge that we call “the holiday season” — and what you can do to get the most bang for your gift bucks.

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What you see above is Black & Decker’s latest entry into the cordless screwdriver market: the Gyro, named such because you control it by simply turning it. When you pick up the Gyro — which you hold pretty much the same way you would a palm nailer — your palm pushes a switch on the back, turning the Gyro “on.” Rotate the screwdriver to the right, and its accelerometers detect the turn and begin rotating the powered driver clockwise. Turn it back to center and it stops. Rotate it to the left and the screwdriver head turns counter-clockwise. The farther you rotate the unit, the faster the head spins.

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In case you haven’t noticed already: Fiskars makes a number of pretty slick-designed tools beyond scissors. From what we can tell, their MO is to update classic cutting tools with a liberal dose of modern design and materials. Consider their X7 hatchet, pictured above. On the surface it looks like a MOMA interpretation of the one that’s probably kicking around your shop right now. But peel away some of the fiberglass, and it’s pretty clear that (in classic modern design style) its appearance is totally driven by its functionality.

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The axe you see pictured above has been getting a lot of press lately. As far as I can tell, the whole story started when the fun-stuff site ThinkGeek featured the axe as the M48 Range Hawk Axe, which they suggest is designed specifically for “quiet zombie killing.” Then numerous other sites picked it up, partly because of ThinkGeek’s catchy sales pitch and partly because it’s just a pretty cool-looking axe. I have zero problem with a little zombie geekery, but I couldn’t help but think: who actually makes this thing, and what’s it really designed to do?

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We came across this interesting project posted over on Instructables by user Vitizop. It’s a cool idea: take a key that you need to carry anyway, and shape it a bit to make it more useful — in this case, a lot more useful. As you can see above, this key can do quite a bit, even if you discount a few of the more far-fetched applications, like #7. Hell, #3 alone would be worth taking your housekey into the shop.

If you follow through some of the additional frames, Vitizop continued the creative streak past 10 uses, adding in a 2.5 cm ruler and even a freakin’ light from a Lego toy.

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MAC Tools announced five new automotive specialty tools recently, including the hammer you see pictured above, which they claim is designed specifically for coaxing auto interiors into place. At first glance, it looks pretty much like the rubber mallet Sean and I have used for years for the same purpose. And honestly, that’s pretty much what it is… with two slight differences. First, the handle is a little longer and more grippy than most of the mallets I keep around the shop, and second, MAC added a third rubber tip on the end of the handle.

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Imagine yourself as a marketing pro confronted with selling a new hand tool — like the aviation snips pictured above. You have to convey to people walking by in the big box aisle what makes your snips different from everyone else’s. But here’s the problem: snips look like, well, snips. Look at the picture above! They’re snips.

Of course, the designers would disagree. Whether you agree or disagree with their decisions, it’s clear from the press release that Wiss’ engineers put some thought into them. For example, let’s start with the cutter blades. Wiss added CNC-machined wave-pattern serrations on both blades to “provide more aggressive shearing action, higher resistance to tooth breakage, and longer blade life.” They also use an investment casting process — a relatively old process known for its increased accuracy over sand casting.

The feature list continues: a “free-floating pivot bolt design” reportedly spreads side loads more evenly across the bolt, increasing life over threaded-bolt designs. Wiss also makes the snips out of valve-grade steel.

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Remember those cool screwdrivers Lowe’s released last year? You know, the ones that always turned the screwdriver the same way no matter which way you turned the handle? It looks like they’re out in the open now, and True Value has created a competing set that you’ll see in stores in the next few months. TV calls it the “SwiftDriver.”

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Creating tools for specialty applications isn’t something tool companies started a year ago. Hell, most modern tool conglomerates started out looking to solve just one problem. Milwaukee originally founded to provide a 1/4″ power drill light enough for Ford’s assembly line, for example. That’s why I used to love rolling ’round the flea market tool tables with my Dad when I was a kid. Sometimes we’d find a usable wrench or socket to add to the collection, but the real joy came from picking up some weird-looking tool and asking “What it it?” Or, maybe even more importantly: “What is it for?

What you see above is called a “spud wrench.”

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