November brings with it cooler temps but hotter tools, thanks to the annual STAFDA convention (Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association). It also brings some hot parties thanks to several of the major tool brands. I just returned from San Antonio, the site of this year’s festivities, and I’m happy to brief you on some emerging trends and some of the more interesting products. Per tradition from last year, there will also be some mention of the various tool company parties (only mildly censored to protect some people that wish to retain their current jobs).
If you were glued to our Twitter Feed the last couple days, then you already have a jump start on quite a few things that caught our interest. Aside from specific products, we gleaned four general themes from the show.
1) Made in the USA
Believe it or not, I found quite a few companies producing USA-made goods:
Jack Clamp, Nail Jack, Rolair (air compressors), Wilton (makers of some really sweet vises and clamps), Billy Boots, Snappy (countersink drill bits and plug cutters), and Rapid Roof Remover among many others. For a tool-scape that is dominated by overseas (made in China) manufacturing, I was surprised to see how many brands are carving out their own niches here in the US, typically with premium quality and high-end features as differentiators.
2) Brushless Motors
If there was a tech buzzword among tool companies at the 2011 STAFDA, it was brushless. No, it wasn’t because their hair was all messed up from the parties, although that happened too. Makita, Milwaukee, Bosch, Hitachi and others are actively rolling out and planning to roll out brushless motor designs in a broad range of cordless tools. Brushless motors are less maintenance, generate less heat, have lower weight and generally allow tools to perform much more efficiently. Keep your eye out for some impressive new brushless motor power tools.
3) Dust Collection
From vac’s to tool accessories, dust collection is all the rage. Sucking harmful particles into your lungs just isn’t what it used to be, and there is a veritable onslaught of dust control technologies. Numerous companies ranging from Vac manufacturers, to dust collection accessories, to containment products like ZipWall were all at STAFDA. With increasing regulation and awareness about the dangers of dust, dust collection was well-represented and not a topic to sneeze at.
4) QR Codes
In another typical shameless act of self promotion, I decided to wear a Home Fixated T-Shirt emblazoned with a huge QR code on the front and back of it. Shortly after entering the show, I had a German guy in a suit running after me to see if he could scan my shirt. He was the first of about 10 people brave / tech-savvy enough to scan me. I asked a couple people randomly if they wanted to scan me and I mostly received puzzled/frightened looks in return. It was awkward at times, but not surprising since a lot of people I talked to at STAFDA were similarly frightened by the word “Twitter.” I wasn’t the only one using QR codes though. Makita has been using QR codes for quite a while now, directing people to more detailed product info and videos (QR Codes were invented in Japan, so maybe that has something to do with it). Several other brands were actively using the codes or implementing them on upcoming product packaging as well. Get hip to QR codes, I think they’re here to stay (at least for a while).
STAFDA is always a lot of fun to visit, mainly because you just never know what interesting tool or product you’re going to stumble across at any given time. Below, you’ll find just a handfull of products that caught our attention during the two days of the show. And, last but not least, our STAFDA party review follows at the end of this mega-post.
In addition to the various tools and developments we covered after Bosch’s media event this summer, I checked out the new Bosch MX30 Oscillating Multi-Tool. It features a tool free accessory change (hallelujah!) and a whopping 3 amps of juice. This appears to be one solid tool, and ideal if you don’t like dainty OMT’s.
The last thing you want to do on the top of a roof is play accidental jump rope with your nailgun’s air hose. In fact, having a compressor and hose for roof work is not only awkward to deal with, it also presents a trip hazard. That’s where the new-ish cordless roofing nailer from Duo-Fast comes in. I fired off some test shots into the air Texas-style and was impressed with how quickly you can nail with this thing. Actually, Duo-Fast had a little roof mockup, and the cordless nailer drove those roofing nails to just the right depth every time. In terms of feel, it reminded me a lot of the Paslode CF325 framing nailer we reviewed a while back. Since you’re likely to take the roof nailer up a ladder with you, Duo-Fast thoughtfully included both a backpack and two batteries. A single fuel cell reportedly lets you fire off about 1000 nails. Being on a roof, the mild fumage from the fuel cell is also likely to dissipate quickly. More details on the Duo-Fast Cordless Roofing Nailer here.
Speaking of oscillating multi-tools, we can’t forget the brand that started it all. Fein was showing off their new cordless Multi Master. Bucking the trend of slender long-ish multi tools, Fein wasn’t afraid to show off a little Junk in the Trunk with a 14.4v 3.0 Ah Lithium Ion battery pack. The battery pack is nicely integrated though, and promises to pack more punch the the typical 12v Max (aka 10.8v) battery packs seen on several other cordless oscillating multi-tools. Like the other relatively recent Fein MultiMasters, this cordless model features Fein’s easy tool-free accessory change lever. Expect to see these in your local stores very soon.
One of my favorites in the dust collection category at the show was Dewalt’s new DWH050K, a dust collector that suctions itself to most walls and catches dust from just about any drill, up to two inch diameter bits. While most of the drill-oriented dust collection seems to show up with companies adding dust collection to a specific tool, Dewalt’s DWH050K lets you use just about any hammer / drill you already own (even other non Dewalt brands, not that you’d ever let brands fraternize like that). Of course, Dewalt also had their new-ish 20vMax lineup on display.
Little Giant continues to differentiate itself from competitors with a product line far more innovative than most of their competitors. Little Giant was showing off a new fiberglass (non-conductive) version of one of our favorite ladders: the Select Step. They also had their Sumo Stance on-hand, a safety conscious out-riggered (yes I made that word up) extension ladder. Keep your eyes open for an upcoming Sumo Stance review on Home Fixated .
Not content to roll out brushless motor tech with little fanfare, Milwaukee was covertly sharing limited information about their new M18 Fuel tool line. They had a secret black-ops booth at STAFDA; they only let you in if you swore an eternal blood oath of allegiance to Milwaukee tools in front of CEO Steven Richman. Plus you had to get a Milwaukee tattoo in the booth. Milwaukee is releasing new 18v drills this Spring that incorporate a trifecta of performance enhancing features: the POWERSTATE™ brushless motor, REDLITHIUM™ battery technology, and REDLINK PLUS™ Intelligence. Milwaukee promises to provide “a new class in durability, run-time and performance for the professional tradesman.” You can stay informed of new developments by reading HomeFixated and by visiting Milwaukee’s M18 FUEL site. Milwaukee also plans to release more info on the new M18™ FUEL™ Drill/Driver and M18 FUEL™ Hammer Drill/Driver in January 2012. I’m pretty sure I didn’t break my blood oath here.
If you’ve ever broken a sledge hammer, or feared being hit in the head by one, the new Wilton B.A.S.H. looks like a dream hammer. Backed by a $1000 guarantee should you break it during normal use within the first two years, this is one Bad Ass Sledge Hammer (get it, BASH?). It’s only two months or so into the release of the BASH, but so far zero people have made a claim on the guarantee. Thanks to steel rods that run the length of the handle, the Wilton BASH is tested to over 25,000 overstrikes (wood handles topped out at around 400). Wilton also impressed me with some very high-end Made In the USA vises. You can find the Wilton BASH Sledge Hammer on Amazon in a variety of sizes and lengths.
Telesteps struck me as a little on the gimmicky side until I was given a closer look at their product line. What I found was a carefully and thoughtfully engineered product that utilizes egg-shaped elliptical tubing for strength, small indicator windows that show whether a rung is properly extended, pivoting feet, and a simple extend and collapse mechanism. With Telesteps going to law enforcement, military and commercial use, it’s clear they aren’t the novelty I once thought they might be. They have an extensive line of both extension and stepladder styles and sizes. If you ever need to navigate a ladder through tight spaces, or you’re a contractor that doesn’t want a ladder strapped to your rack, Telesteps are worth a close look. They’re also great for homeowners with limited storage space.
As a HomeFixated reader, you’re likely up to date on our sponsor Skil. Just in case, be sure to check out our Skil iLevel review, which promises to bring home improvement laser tech to the masses. Laser power to the people! They also were handing out some sweet Skil-branded playing cards which will be promptly put into service at a poker game I’m attending tonight. Keep your eyes on HomeFixated in December as well, we have an awesome Skil three product giveaway coming (spoiler alert: one of the three products is a Skil iLevel).
You might have previously seen GRK Fasteners marketed as ÜberGrade. In case you don’t speak German, “über” means “ass-kicking”. Now that I think about it, it’s actually closer to “superior.” I got a tour of their product line and was impressed with what they had to offer. Every fastener they make, from huge lag-bolt sized screws to the tiniest specialized screws, all have a Torx head, providing six points of contact. Translation – less likely to cam-out. They typically require no pre-drilling, and GRK has also put a lot of energy into making their products approved across a broad range of code compliance requirements. If you like your screws
long and hard strong and high performing, definitely check out GRK Fasteners directly.
Another member of the brushless motor trend, Hitachi was showing off their latest in 18v Drill tech. The drill had a nice solid feel to it, and a metal chuck. Hitachi also acquired the Tanaka brand of outdoor power equipment, mostly geared toward professional use. They even left Tanaka stuff orange, but have rolled out a more consumer-oriented line of power equipment in their signature green. We got a sneak peek at their 18v cordless grass trimmer which felt very well balanced and was unbelievably quiet. I predict a hit with that model when it’s released. The Hitachi handheld gas blower is also very popular. Speaking of which: Buy a Hitachi Blower and Receive a $30 Visa prepaid card @ www.tylertool.com with our sponsor Tyler Tool.
This year, Irwin appears to have the level market squarely in its sights. Irwin sent us a sneak peek of one of their new levels, in this case their 250 series heavy duty magnetic torpedo levels. By the way, model numbers that end in “50” designate that they are magnetic. We liked it’s solid metal construction along with a couple unusual features.
Several of Irwin’s new levels feature a Plumb Site window. Thanks to a small cut-out in the frame and a mirror placed at 45 degrees to the window, you can effectively check for plumb from three sides of the level. The model we used also has a 1.5 degree slope button, handy for gauging slope for a drain line. There’s also a square B Tank Key built in, just in case you’re the welding type.
We have a little secret to share about Johnson Level: they also make laser stuff. They have a couple laser distance measurers (great for measuring out rooms, long distances, etc). If you’re hip, you’ll need to call them “LDM’s.” They also make a line of construction lasers, both stationary and rotary. Oh yeah, and they sell about a million different levels too. We’ll be getting our hands on a bamboo model soon (that’s bamboo level, not a bamboo laser), and will report back to you on it.
There are always a fair number of knee pads floating around tool trade shows, but the standout for me this year was the Ultra Flex III from KP Insdustries. A clever articulating design pivots with your natural motion. The president of KP says you can even run with them on and they’ll stay in place and won’t restrict your motion. You can find the Knee Pro Ultra Flex III Knee Pads for about $25 on Amazon.
Showing off a couple Popular Mechanics tool awards, General Tools had a plethora of gizmos ranging from engravers to hand-held gas detectors (no, it’s wasn’t a bottle of soapy watter). I also liked one of their moisture meters that can detect moisture levels to within about 3% accuracy without prongs. A sensor actually detects the moisture level up to 3/4 of an inch into the surface. They also had their Digital Sliding T-Bevel, the first of its kind and apparently a hot seller. You can find the General Tools 828 Digital Sliding T-Bevel Gauge for around $35 on Amazon.
No, not the Cujo Doberman variety. These Guard-Dogs are actually “aggressive eyewear.” By aggressive, we mean aggressive with the work you do, not in your interpersonal communications. Guard-Dogs has a broad range of safety glasses that bridge the gap between normal safety glasses and full-on goggles. Several models have a removable foam surround that you can pop on and off depending on how dusty/hazardous your current task is. More info on the Guard-Dogs website.
One of the things I love about STAFDA are the unique tools you find from brands you may not have even heard of (no offense to PacTool). Enter the Gecko Gauge. By chopping the sticky feet off live geckos, they’ve managed to make a tool that enables you install siding solo, and without having to mark pencil lines. I can feel the PETA hate mail coming already. Actually, they assured me no Geckos were harmed during the design and manufacturing of their Gecko Gauge tools. This pair of griptastic tools promises about a 50% time savings, and from the looks of their demo video, we don’t doubt it. It’s a fantastic looking tool. More details on the Gecko Gauge at PacTool.
Rapid Roof Remover
I loved this tool. Plus the inventor’s daughter gave me a totally random LED-lit hula hoop dance (video coming soon, it’s not as dirty as it sounds). The Rapid Roof Remover promises to make short work of not only removing roofing (and nails), but also flooring. We saw some video of this beast in action, and it absolutely powered through roofing and flooring, removing most of the roofing nails with each pneumatic lift of it’s evil-looking pry bar. The bar easily lifted up the inventor, giving a hint of it’s strength. If it wasn’t moved around by a human, this would seriously be something you might see in Robot Wars. These tools are hand-made right here in the US. More at RapidRoofRemover.com
A Swedish brand now under the Snap-On umbrella, Bahco had a cool little work station called the Gravity Clamp. It’s like a JawHorse got together with a Swedish supermodel. The Gravity Clamp can hold pipe or a 2×4 in it’s mouth, but it’s grip is nowhere close to that of the JawHorse. It relies on downward pressure which you’d most likely apply with your foot pressing down on one of it’s step-ladder style rungs. It’s an interesting tool, but we still have to defer to the JawHorse with it’s powerful grip and much lower pricing.
Not of interest to most homeowners, but of definite interest to contractors and builders was the new Knaack Storage Field Station. It’s like your jobsite storage box suddenly got corporate aspirations and wanted a desk job. For tradespeople on a jobsite this can be a welcome centralized base of operations for more than just tools. More on Knaack’s Field stations and their legendary tan at Knaack.com.
Not exactly a household name, Metabo impressed us with a lineup of grinders and metalworking tools. They also have the only cordless magnetic drill on the market right now. If you have a DIY concrete grinding project, or if you’re serious about working with metal, Metabo has some solid, precision engineered tools well worth checking into. For a few of their tools in action check out this video:
It’s the time of year that working around the house or on a jobsite can be seriously messy work. If you find yourself wading through mud, slush and grime, Billy Boots impressed me with incredible light weight, and a composite safety toe that meets the usual safety criteria. They also are chemical resistant, provide some insulation, and are made from PVC free EVA. These boots are so light I’m guessing they feel like you’re going barefoot, minus the frost bite and dirty feet of course. More at BillyBootsUSA.com.
Rolair is known for making premium “Made in the USA” compressors. Watching the video above is a pretty vivid demonstration of some of their sound level advantages. I have a personal pet peeve for loud tools, and since compressors are notorious for their noisy mayhem, Rolair definitely caught my ear. If you’re exploring compressors and are looking to buy product made here in the states, check them out.
Another brand unknown to me was Xena. If you’re serious about using a lock to secure anything from a tool box to a trailer, you should check out Xena. These aren’t the padlocks you used in high school. With security features to thwart everything from grinding, bumping and drilling, only the most motivated thief is likely to mess with a Xena lock. Even then, an impressively loud siren will sound repeatedly until your would-be thief wisely decides to move on to an easier target. They’re not cheap, but then neither is replacing your tools. More details on Xena locks here.
The Parties of STAFDA
My thanks to the men of HomeFixated sponsor Ohio Power Tool, Dana Severson from the Woodworkers Journal and Joey Krys from ToolUp for accompanying me on various phases of my journalistically-obligated party-hopping. No one got tazed or even arrested and everyone eventually made it back to their respective hotel rooms (although some had limited memories of what actually transpired the night and morning before). Once again, several tool companies outdid themselves with epic parties. Here are a few notables:
HomeFixated Party Award –
Most Photogenic Company Representatives
Makita’s party was hard to miss. Dueling pianos, an RC car race track, raised stages for
drinking and debauchery conducting serious tool deals, and of course, certain company representatives. Naturally, I’m referring to the product managers. The best part of the party was when I was savagely attacked by Miss Makita and Señorita Makita. Luckily, someone happened to snap a totally candid photo of the incident seen here:
I was largely uninjured. Thanks to some Makita signature drinks and sushi, I eventually recovered and was able to continue my journalistic duties at the next party. Makita definitely throws an awesome party. It was so good, I actually “had” to make two separate visits to it. The two visits had nothing to do with the fact that Miss Makita and Señorita Makita were not there the first time.
HomeFixated Party Award –
Most Western and Highest Security
Despite press credentials, my fellow party co-conspirator Dana was just on the verge of getting tazed as we tried to get into the Dewalt party. Unfortunately Dana was gracious and patient, which means I didn’t get the video footage of him yelling “Don’t Taze me Bro!” I hoped for. Luckily a couple Dewalt guys came to our rescue and we stepped into a sea of white-shirt clad Dewalt team members and party-goers.
Tons of food (including table’s full of brats that would have made a vegetarian cry), a free-flowing bar and various western activities including a mechanized lasso contest were on-scene. Joe Theismann also gave a speech and was on-hand for photos and autographs. I had a great time swapping stories with some of the Dewalt crew and guests. Next up, Bosch.
HomeFixated Party Award –
Best Raffle Prize
Most of the parties employed a must-be-present-to-win-don’t-even-think-about-leaving-our-party raffle system. Bosch was no exception, and their final prize was a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Since I was journalistically obligated to party-hop, I missed their final raffle and am haunted that they may have called my raffle number in my absence. This just goes to show you the sacrifices I’m willing to make to provide “fair and unbalanced” party coverage for HomeFixated readers.
I had a blast chatting up some of the Bosch crew and also had a photo op with Mike Metzger “the Godfather of Freestyle Motocross.” He was more tatted-up than Miss and Senorita Makita and apparently has had lots of practice not being boring during photo shoots! As you can see, Mike was visibly shaken by my complete lack of (visible) tattoos. You can check out one of Mike’s records in this jump outside Caesar’s Palace in Vegas.
I caught a little friendly flak from some of the Bosch crew earlier this year, after they felt my party coverage of their party at last year’s STAFDA was a little unenthusiastic. Bosch stepped things up a couple notches this year with some brand-oriented games outside, great live entertainment (they had dueling pianos too, go figure), and a fun venue. A very positive party experience with one minor exception. I’m not one to publicly call out tool companies on tool-blogger outreach/party etiquette issues, so all I’m going to say here is: my bracelet was pink. Not yellow. Pink. More detail next year if I’m stuck with another pink bracelet. I have my eye on you Bosch! ; )
HomeFixated Party Award –
Best Tool Company Party Culture
I bumped into Milwaukee’s CEO Steven Richman on the show floor and told him I already made plans to save the Milwaukee party for my last stop. He suggested I drop-in at least by 11:30 pm, around the time most of the other parties were scheduled to wind down. I really wasn’t worried about things ending early at Milwaukee. Don’t misunderstand, the Milwaukee crew is a seriously hard-working, but they also know how to party in a big way. Multiple levels, rockin’ live music, expansive bars, cigar roller, Foosball tables, and even a poker game all set the scene. Oh, and red. Did I ever mention Milwaukee has a thing for red? Case in point:
I also received confirmation of the rumor I started that all Milwaukee staff are required to wear red underwear. Since there is a slight chance my wife might read this, by “confirmation”, I mean verbal (not visual confirmation). Wife Disclaimer: “I saw no red underwear, and especially, no red lingerie.” Everything was bathed in red, including the iconic and aptly named “Fuel” bar seen un-doctored above. Rock on Milwaukee.
Are you really still reading this? Wow! Congrats on skimming one of HomeFixated’s longest posts to date! Unfortunately we weren’t able to cover everyone and everything of interest at the 2011 STAFDA, however we’ll have some hands-on reviews and video content related to STAFDA coming in the not too distant future. We also couldn’t feature all the pics of STAFDA here, but you can find bonus photos on the HomeFixated Facebook page. Please “like us” while you’re there, unless of course you hate us. Actually, like us even if you hate us. . .