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Our compressor test has finally come to a close, and here are the results. We looked at all manner of compressor tools and tests and found what we consider to be some truths and untruths about what’s handy and what is scrap. To be honest, we didn’t find any flaming bags of poo in our test, just some compressors built for different kinds of jobs and a few we didn’t really get along with for one reason or another.

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Performance

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As you might expect, performance testing was largely a matter of looking at the numbers. The more CFM the tool required, the more challenging it was to keep up using low CFM compressors. So an 18-gauge brad nailer might go 50 brads before it needs to cut in on a 4.2 CFM compressor, where something like the CH got somewhere around 12 brads. Did both do the job? In a word, yes.

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However, there was a large difference in how fast the tank refilled and how quiet it was while doing so. Compressors like the Bosch and Makita would only kick in for a few seconds — the DeWalt and Hitachi for around 20 seconds and something like the CH would go chugging on for a full minute or so.

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There was also the matter of what you were going to be doing with the compressor. For instance, intermittent or continuous tools will make a large difference in what compressor you use and how well it works. Intermittent tools like 18 gauge nailers running at 90 psi (or even framing guns) might be fine for lower CFM rigs or compressors that have a cut out of 130 or 165. This is because you aren’t using it all at once and the motor can catch up to your use by replacing pressure when you’re lining up the next shots.

But when we hooked up an air-powered drill (continuous) with a CFM rating of around 6.5, the results were, well, not good. A few seconds of pulling the trigger and every one of the tested machines was pedaling at top speed to keep up. Eventually they all spun down into gasping out whatever the pump would push. The lesson: Don’t use continuous tools higher than the CFM rating of the compressor, or they won’t perform like they should.

So to better understand where machines that seem similar on the outside really start to differ, we put up a few baseline numbers.

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When out and about in California, we’ve noticed an almost fanatical loyalty to the Makita brand power tools. So fans of the white and black 12v max line will be happy to know there’s a 3/8” impact wrench being added to the line.

The WT01W model impacter is the Makita lithium-ion answer to Bosch, Milwaukee and DeWalt models of the same function. Not surprisingly, the specs sound very familiar: 1000 in-lbs of max torque and overall weight of 2.1 lbs. The new Makita hotness also features a variable speed 0-2,300 RPM and 0-3,000 RPM with high and low gears respectively.

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Think of a die grinder as the grown-up big brother of the rotary tool, an industrial-strength version originally designed to help tool and die pros sculpt molds. Around my dad’s shop, we always had air-powered die grinders which mostly saw use as rotary files. In hindsight this might also explain why we never had consumer-style electric rotary tools kicking around. But regardless, I have to admit that Makita’s is the first 18V cordless version I’ve seen.

It makes sense, though. One would imagine that there are bound to be some shops out there that do day-to-day production grinding/sanding/lapping/etc. yet don’t have other reasons to install an air compressor and run air to all the workstations. I suppose this might also work wonders for anyone who does machine work in remote areas.

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Shop air compressors are very much like the heater in your home: If it’s working, you really don’t pay it much attention. Only recently when we had a hiccup with our five-gallon Ridgid twin-stack did the thought even come up that this was a 5-year old unit that had put in hundreds of hours of tireless service. We decided to see how our favorite old compressor does against a field of modern competitors.

We shopped around until we found a good representative product from several manufacturers. The rules were pretty simple: Each unit had to be available at a home center or gear equivalent, needed to be in the 2-to-5 gallon range, and finally had to be able to power the shop tools we put into circulation on a regular basis such as trim guns, air blowers, and so forth. Four challengers to the Ridgid arrived in the shop for test. They are, in manufacturer’s alphabetical order: Bosch CET4-20, Campbell Hausfeld FP2602, Hitachi EC 89, and Makita MAC2400.

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If you’re a fan of the little 3-3/8″ circular saw we mentioned last month, Makita’s now offering it in a combo kit along with their 12V Max cordless driver drill, two batteries, and a charger for $200. While the kit’s driver isn’t our favorite in the field, it’ll certainly drive a few screws, which makes this kit an interesting buy for anyone doing trim and finishing work.

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I totally get the concept of the small, cordless circ saw, especially for use as a trim saw. But Makita took the concept a step further, shrinking the blade down to a tiny 3-3/8″ — and shrinking the battery as well, powering the saw with one of their little 12V li-ion units. Makita claims that even with the itty-bitty blade you’ll see a 1″ cut depth at 90 degrees, and 5/8″ at 45. Clearly this saw is intended for minute jobs like notching.

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Sure, this wouldn’t be news on most sites. But one thing about being a Toolmonger is that we love any tool news, no matter how minor. And on that note: It looks like Makita updated their palm sander a little bit.

For the most part, it’s the same as the previous model, with all the top forty hits: sealed bearings, through-the-pad dust collection, a 4,000 to 12,000 RPM variable speed control, a big front handle, and rubberized grips. But this model includes an “improved pad control system” and re-engineered pad brake to prevent the gouging that can bite you (or your project) in the ass on start-up or shut-down.

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Currently, Amazon is selling the Makita BL1830 18-Volt LXT Lithium-Ion Battery for a reasonable $67.70 with free Super Saver shipping. Makita claims that charging it at any time won’t affect the battery’s performance, and that a “built-in memory chip memorizes the usage history and communicates with the charger to to maximize battery life using 3 Active Controls (Current, Voltage & Thermal).” Sixteen contact terminals keep power fluctuations at bay in high-vibration work environments.

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Ever since we launched Toolmonger and started letting hundreds of thousands of other tool folks in on our tool-related conversations, we’ve tried to excise our habits of calling all tools by one manufacturer’s brand name. Just like people down here in the South call all soft drinks “a Coke” (No, really. We do), we used to call all circ saws Skilsaws, all portable band saws Porta-Bands, and all adjustable wrenches Crescent wrenches.

So you’ll have to forgive me when I think of every small, elongated, cordless vacuum as a Dustbuster. They’re not — especially when they’re completely different, like this model from Makita. This one’s clearly designed as a floor sweeper, kind of like the cheap-o model I have at home for sucking up stray cat litter in the utility room or peppercorns in the kitchen. But more importantly, it’s powered by Makita’s 10.8V tool batteries.

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Kevin covered Makita’s hypoid 7 1/4″ circular saw back in June, but there’s another feature in the range worth noting. That model, the 5477NB, has the same internals as the 5377MG pictured above, so you get the 15A motor, carbide-tipped blade, 2 3/8″ cut depth at 90°, and wear-resistant hypoid gears, but they’re contained in a magnesium casing. The result is a weight drop from 13.9 pounds to 13.0 pounds, and Makita claims the balance is improved as well.

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