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Posts by: Audra Heaslip

In a quest for better ergonomics, YouTube videographer pocket83 designed a simple and creative mod for the handles on his drill press by hollowing out a few golf balls. He removes the original plastic nubs on the rotating handle, drills out the rubber cores of a few Wilsons, and replaces them with threaded nuts to create larger handles with a smoother rotation.

I can’t help but wonder if there are common concerns people have with big shop tools, the way 1990s Grand Cherokees seem to usually have transmission problems, A/C failure, and a creaky driver door hinge (ours was a ’97 and I still miss it).

Are there known issues with your favorite tools, and if so, do you have simple modifications you recommend to keep them running smoothly?


Before you head out to get your lawn and landscape machinery humming again, check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent tool recalls (beginning January 1, 2013) to avoid unwanted burns, gas leaks, lacerations, and explosions.

Recall: Briggs & Stratton Ariens Compact Snow Throwers
The carburetor bowl nut on Ariens’ orange-and-black 24-inch Snow-Thro can allow gas to leak from the unit, causing a fire hazard. The model number is 920014 with serial numbers from 100,000 through 119,039. They were sold from August-September 2012 at Ariens and Home Depot locations nationwide.

Recall: Ryobi Lithium 18 V 4Ah Battery Pack
The cordless tool battery pack, model P108 and part number 130429028, can overheat and burst while on a charger, causing fire and burn hazards. They were sold at Home Depot in the U.S. and Canada from September-December 2012.

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Who ever said that play can’t change the world? The Soccket ball, developed by two Harvard alumns, is a regulation-size soccer ball containing an inductive coil mechanism that captures and stores a small electrical charge. With a tiny flip cap that reveals an 1/8″ input, after less than 30 minutes of play, the Soccket will power an LED light for 3 hours, charge a battery, or operate other small devices, including an iPhone or portable CD player.

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The Day is upon us. Toolmongers are, of course, aware that not all Black Friday “blowout specials” are actually special. Nevertheless, it’s still nice to have access to the Thanksgiving weekend/Black Friday sales on tools, home improvement, and other shop gear.

We weeded through dozens of tool retailers, from the corner big boxes to the regional chains, and gathered links for a quick path to some of the best weekend specials:

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For many, this time of year signals the yearly struggle to keep the yard clear of leaves for a few more weeks while you can still see the ground (and ominous wintry clouds plot from a distance). For Texans, it’s admittedly more pleasant, a time of year when we can step outside without the ever-present blast of nature’s convection oven. But even in Texas, deciduous trees shed everywhere — and with the shedding come the teeth-rattling noise and noxious fumes of the leaf blower.

Okay, so not everyone sees it that way. But sentiment on the acceptability of leaf blowers runs strong — a quick search online yields hundreds of articles pleading for the outright ban of these tools, citing inefficiency, negative environmental impact, hearing damage, and plain old annoyance. Those in favor of leaf blowers tend to focus on the convenience and stick with practical advice: gas or electric, alternate uses such as snow clearing and dryer duct cleaning, or ergonomics.

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This month, Sears began selling Craftsman tools through Costco club outlets, including hand tools, power tools, and tool storage units. It’s not the first time the company has sold its products through potential competitors — K-Mart picked up Craftsman products after the companies merged*, and Orchard Supply Hardware in California, Fastenal retail outlets, and AAFES all carry Craftsman. Even a number of ACE Hardware stores recently started carrying the line.

Sears is reaching out essentially to one of its own major competitors — Sears Holdings is ranked #10 on the National Retail Foundations’s Top 100 Retailers list. Competitors Home Depot (#5 on the list) and Lowe’s (#8) still don’t cross streams with Sears, but Costco’s in the top ten, too, at #6, doing almost double the retail sales in the U.S. and worldwide last year. And now, by the end of the year, all 430 Costco outlets will carry the Craftsman line.

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Today I came across this incredible photo of a Xenomorph (the famed Alien from the ass-kicking sci-fi thriller films of the same name) — sculpted entirely from old car parts and hand tools. This invention really impresses me. As a part-time Humanities instructor, I find many students roll their eyes when they learn the class involves examining sculptures and — worst of all — attending an art museum. Yet modern, unexpected uses of everyday objects transformed into Something Awesome, like this xenomorph, do capture their attention (that, and ancient weaponry). And I think that taking something considered very practical and making it into something aesthetic is a cool way of making us re-think the objects around us.

I went in search of other tool sculptures to see what other expressions people have created. Are tools rough, brute-force vehicles of power? Are they delicate, sleek instruments to shape the physical world? Seeing some of these concepts realized in art is an interesting way to explore that question.

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Handheld string trimmers have their limitations, depending on whether they’re corded, how they’re fueled, and how powerfully they slice through weeds (and how much wear they put on your back during long tasks). But what about powerful, rolling string trimmers?

The Ardisam Earthquake Model# 600050B runs on a 4-cycle, 190cc Briggs & Stratton OHV engine. It’s heavier and has a bigger engine than most trimmers, which may not really be an issue since you don’t have to carry it. The line diameter is 0.155 in., with a 22″ cutting width and large 14″ wheels for maneuverability — plus it has a drive lever for setting cutting height. Street pricing for the Earthquake starts around $349.

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Scientists have known for at least a century that the human hand has unique characteristics designed for gripping and manipulating objects, as opposed to the locomotion-designed hands of our closest ape relatives. Recently, Dr. Stephen Lycett and Alastair Key of the University of Kent, England, published an article in the Journal of Archaeological Science showing an important breakthrough: Darwin was right — about our hands, that is.

Lycett and Key’s study measured how hand size affected users’ ability to cut rope using stone-flake tools similar to those discovered in Africa and used by early humans 2.6 million years ago. To sum up, hand size did prove to be a significant factor in how well different people could manipulate different forms of stone tools. The experiments support the concept that natural selection favored cave-folk with the correct “biometric variation” (i.e. more modern and less ape-like hands) — and therefore, those better able to use tools were more likely to live on and reproduce.

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Right now, Amazon is selling the Milwaukee 6519-31 12-Amp Sawzall Reciprocating Saw Kit for $94.75 (and Prime eligible). It’s the sturdy, mid-sized, corded Sawzall that Milwaukee updated earlier this year (see TM’s March 2010 writeup) with a QUICK-LOK blade clamp for speedy, tool-free blade changes and a counterweight system to reduce vibration. The kit doesn’t include a bunch of extra blades, but it’s hard to complain with the affordable pricing.

Milwaukee 12-Amp Sawzall Kit