Roving reporter Michael Springer here with coverage of the 2019 International Builders’ Show (IBS), held in snowy Las Vegas, Nevada. The weather was unusual, but it was still warmer than where many of us were visiting from so no biggie. The 2019 IBS marks the 75th anniversary of this trade show, and this year the show featured more than 1,500 exhibitors sprawled out over 600,000 square feet. Now combined with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), every hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center was filled, and the attendee count broke the 100,000 people mark. I wandered as much of the acreage as I could (including the outdoor exhibits), and I encountered cool tools and gear, building materials and fasteners, and everything else that goes into a house.
As a bonus, included in my coverage is an informative rant on the term butcher block – the most misused material name next to wrought iron in my opinion, as well as a thoughtful discourse on the serious risks of some reclaimed wood products. They’re near the end, so be sure to keep reading.
Tool News from the 2019 Builders Show
Festool made the scene in style in their workshop-on-wheels semi truck with pop-out sides. As the centerpiece of their mobile roadshow, the truck cruises around the country to dealer events, trade schools, and other woodworking happenings to build brand awareness and share the fun of Festool. New products in the truck included a crown molding guide for the Kapex, a fabric covered dust collector hose, and portable workstation based on the MFT bench system.
Two adjustable crown molding stops fit to extensions on the Kapex miter saw to hold the wood at the proper angle for cutting simple miter joints instead of the compound angle cuts needed if the material is cut “on the flat”. A pattern also comes with the kit so you can cut out a sacrificial guide board that sits atop the miter saw’s table to support the molding tight against both sides of the cut.
I first saw the premium dust collector hose with Festool a few years back at their vac factory in Germany, and now it’s available here. The hose is gradually tapered along its length from 28mm to 32mm to optimize the balance of airflow and suction best suited to moving sawdust. And the smooth fabric sleeve keeps the ridged hose from catching on or scuffing materials as it drags over the edge of your workpieces.
Festool’s new mobile workstation is designed to be a workbench and rolling tool storage unit all in one, and it’s compatible with their other MFT tables and extensions. With a wheeled cart at its center, the workstation features slots to lock in Systainer toolboxes, a removable shelf for small parts, and a table top extension strapped to the back. One end of the extension top gets clicked into the cart top and the other end is supported by fold-down legs to provide a large work area. Other accessory drawers and shelves can be fitted to the unit, or it can just be stacked full of locking Systainer boxes to make your entire toolkit easier to move around the job.
The last time I saw Shaper’s Origin handheld CNC router was at a Festool event a few years ago. Back then, the two brands had a cooperative arrangement as Festool made the spindles (router motor) for Shaper. Two months ago, Festool purchased Shaper as the brands were obviously a good match. One, a high-tech woodworking tool brand with a “systems” approach to their tools and accessories, and the other, a start-up with a revolutionary high-tech tool based on a precision router. Just as with Festool’s acquisition of Saw Stop a few years back, the new company is left to run as its own business unit without a merging of the brand names or other apparent corporate interference.
The Origin CNC router is not really in full Gen 2 mode, but there have been rolling upgrades made to the production model since I tried out the pre-production version. Improvements include the ability to probe the edges of your material to set boundaries to measure from, and also the application of a virtual grid that can aid the placement of cut patterns without having to program them all in ahead of time.
Let’s say you want to rout hinge inlays two inches in from each end of cabinet doors. Instead of having to design them in place in a CAD drawing for every size of door, you can now define the edges, and determine the projected placement with the tool in hand for more production work and less data entry. Other enhanced features include faster Z-axis lifting travel of the spindle to let you move faster in between cuts, and helical plunge action for easier round hole boring into materials.
Not a tool company, but hey, I’ll give them space here anyway for their efforts to connect their fiber cement siding installers to the right tools needed in this post-OSHA ‘dust” ruling era. Like other products with natural mineral ingredients, fiber cement siding is subject to OSHA’s crystalline silica exposure regulations with strict prescriptive guidelines for dust collection. Since these restrictions are still news to many siding installers, James Hardie (the company, not the guy) tested out and compiled a list of tools, vacuums, and related accessories that work together to fulfill OSHA’s requirements.
Following these published lists, contractors for the brand can be sure of achieving Table 1 compliance of the regs, which means their dust collection efforts automatically pass muster with OSHA. Outside of Table 1 guidelines, James Hardie (again, the company, not the guy) is also working on other methods of exposure controls that require objective data to be gathered and provided to support their effectiveness. The craziest thing they are trying is a method technically called “dispersion”. Not so technically, it means putting big fans in place to blow the hazardous dust away from the workers. It may test out as effective to the letter of the law, but speaking for everyone downwind of a siding-installation site, I hope they just keep using HEPA vacs like everyone else.
Found in one corner of the Lowe’s booth, Metabo HPT (formerly Hitachi Tools) didn’t have too much to show that I hadn’t already shared with my readers, but there was some interesting news abuzz. Their 10” cordless table saw is expected to be available this April, the crazy-expensive precision cordless miter saw should make it to the US by the end of summer, and a four-port sequential rapid charger will hit the market in June or July.
Anndd…you heard it here FIRST…Metabo HPT is developing a battery-powered nailer to drive duplex-head framing nails. Whether you’re building concrete forms, or just a timid nail driver afraid of commitment, look for the new nailer at the end of this year.
In another corner of the Lowe’s booth was a contingent from DeWalt. The news there was the unification of their Construction and Precision circular saw blade lines into the new “Woodcutting” line. Consisting of 7 1/4″ blades with 24, 40, and 60 tooth counts, and 6 1/2” and 8 1/4″ blades with 24 and 40 tooth models, the new line will be available this April with an initial launch at Lowe’s stores.
Starrett, the old-school tool maker you know and trust for quality precision measuring and layout tools also makes a variety of linear edge bits and blades. These include diamond grit and bimetal hole saws, recip saw blades, and some pretty neat jigsaw blades designed for making finish cuts without splintering out the bottom or top of the material.
The Dual Cut jigsaw blades feature a dramatic concavity in the middle which puts the top half of the blade in contact with the material only during the downward stroke and vice versa for the bottom of the blade. The rake angle of the blade’s teeth angle downward at the top of the blade, upward at the bottom, and straight ahead in the middle to always cut into and against the material instead of having the teeth pull outward against an unsupported face, which can cause splintering. Dual Cut blades are available in a thicker-belly version for straight cuts, and an skinny version for scroll cutting.
Construction Gear at the 2019 International Builders Show
The biggest name in hearing protection, literally, (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing), has a few products that make it more fun to actually wear hearing protection. 3M, the company behind the E-A-R and Peltor brands, makes three 3M-branded Worktunes headsets which are music-playing headphones integrated with over-the-ear style hearing protectors. The basic 3M Worktunes model has an AM/FM radio tuner built in and an 1/8” stereo jack to connect your MP3 player or other source, be it an old phone, Walkman, Discman, or a communication radio for listen-only sound. The next model up has the radio tuner as well as Bluetooth connectivity to link with music from your smartphone or other connected device. The latest model is the Bluetooth-enabled 3M Worktunes Connect which does away with the tuner but adds the feature of connecting to calls with the unit’s built-in microphone. The new Connect headphones have a single button with voice-assist to operate all of its functions, an integrated rechargeable battery, 24dB noise reduction rating, and yes, an 1/8” jack if you still need to plug in your old Walkman.
For the latest in breathing protection products, 3M has dust masks with an M-shaped metal nose-clamping clip designed to provide a better grip around the bridge of a user’s nose than a straight clip. And a new respirator from 3M, aptly named the Quick Latch, features a quick-release latch to clamp it on or off a user’s face quickly. This lets a wearer disengage the mask to talk or take a drink without having to take it off or loosen the adjustment straps. A quick snap up and it’s back to work.
One other standout in the 3M booth was the new Post-it Extreme notes. If you haven’t heard of them yet, they’re made to be a tougher version of Post-it notes with waterproof paper and a stronger adhesive. The paper is crinkly like masking tape and the adhesive strip is about as tacky as blue masking tape, so they seem to be made of the same material as the popular tape. The bright colors are much easier to see writing on however. I tried out the notes with permanent marker as well as a regular ball point pen and both worked fine. These should be just the thing for sticking labels to cardboard boxes, plastic bins and tool cases, and shelf units in the shop.
Super Anchor Safety
Most workers at height attach their harness to a lifeline rope with a mechanical rope grab made of steel. The rope grab can be moved up or down the lifeline manually as the worker moves around, but locks onto the rope in the event of a fall. Standard mechanical grabs have a few shortcomings though; they’re heavy and they can scuff up a surface when dragged around. You certainly wouldn’t want to drag one over roof skylights or finished metal roofing materials.
The alternative? An old-fashioned rope prusik like those first used in mountaineering and rock climbing, and still in common use in arborist climbing work. A prusik is a loop of rope that is wound around a support rope to create a friction hitch, but unlike a mechanical grab, it locks in both directions. Pushing up or down on the prusik knot lets it slide along a rope easily, but when its trailing end is pulled, it locks onto the rope securely.
The SuperGrab from Super Anchor Safety is the first prusik I’ve run across for construction fall protection use, and they even have a patent on it. To enforce safe use, the plastic loop attachment end is designed to crack open if it’s ever fully loaded in a fall, so the user knows that it must be replaced. The manufacturer also offers the similar ValueGrab prusik with a snap hook attachment point in place of the plastic loop.
As an exclusive licensed distributor of DeWalt industrial storage solutions (and DeWalt welding gloves), JS Products is one of the makers of countless DeWalt-branded products that are not DeWalt products. Sometimes it’s surprising to see sunglasses, footwear, etc. with the DeWalt logo that are not in the company’s catalog, but Stanley Black & Decker is very good at licensing its properties with the goal of propagating people’s connection to their brands. JS Products makes the rack shelving systems, and swivel-top and pneumatic-action stools (and welding gloves) under the DeWalt brand. The brilliant yellow units make a bright statement in any workspace or storage area.
To help plan the layout of such spaces, the products can be visualized with augmented reality software for Mac hardware running iOS 12, (the company was not sure about Android applications though). The augmented reality program lets you select the storage racks and accessories from the product library (not sure if the welding gloves are in there) and place them in your space as you view it through your device’s camera. You can change your angle of view and move around the virtual items before snapping a photo to store the image. Much easier than erecting the real racks and sliding them around to figure out your layout.
Building Materials Featured at the Builders’ Show
When I think of framing hangers, brackets, and hold-down hardware, Simpson Strong-Tie is the first company that comes to mind. But they also manufacture lots of specialty anchors and fasteners for structural and even finish applications.
Their SDWS Framing screws are a great example of the right tool for the job when building with screws. Typical drywall screws/driver screws or deck screws are not rated for structural connections. Their hardened steel bodies cannot withstand flexing as they snap instead of deform under shear forces and therefore are not an allowable substitute for nails in construction. The SDWS Framing screws are made of ductile steel and are code approved to replace 10d to 16d nails in structural applications. Specialized for wood-to-wood connections, the screws feature self-drilling tips, coarse threads, a large flat head for extra pull-out resistance, and a special coating to withstand both the weather and wood preservatives alike.
For attaching deck boards with no visible fasteners, Simpson’s Eb-Ty system uses plastic “biscuits” that fit into grooves milled into the edges of some composite or wood decking materials. Or you can custom mill slots into other deck boards with a biscuit joiner to fit the plastic fasteners. To hold the decking down, you drive a screw through a stainless steel reinforcing plate in the center of the biscuit and diagonally through one edge of the deck board. To make it easier to drive the screw in hardwoods or brittle material without splitting a chunk of the edge off, the new Eb-Ty Premium system includes an angled drill bit guide for boring precise pilot holes.
To conceal any screws in the first course of deck boards against the house, or for anywhere else you are using visible fasteners through the top of the decking, Simpson offers PVC plugs to match major brands’ composite deck colors and textures. The DCU Screw Plug works with the company’s Deck-Drive system, and the correct driver bit is needed to countersink the screw to the right depth for gluing the plugs down flush.
Engineered wood products are made to replace dimensional lumber for every material you need to stick frame a house. Manufactured joists and beams have long been the choice of builders, but studs and other structural framing members are gaining in popularity. Unlike sawn lumber, engineered wood is guaranteed to be straight, square-sided, and uniform in strength and performance. And studs are available up to 60 feet long for builds that require balloon framing instead of platform framing. Many specialty engineered wood products are available for more precise framing with fewer pieces. For example, instead of layering studs together side by side to build columns, Boise Cascade offers a line of Versa-Lam columns ranging from 3 1/2” square up to 7” square in lengths up to 24 feet.
Another major player in engineered wood products, Weyerhaeuser makes well-known product lines such as Trus Joist (TJI) joists, TimberStrand engineered framing lumber, and Microllam and Parallam headers and beams. Among their newest products are Diamond OSB premium subflooring, and specially treated Parallam beams. A shared enhancement of these products is the focus on preserving the materials before and during the building process, when they may be exposed to the elements. The worst of which being the uncontrollable human element. Better water-resistant treatments in particular help keep these materials from degrading on site so they can still provide their specified performance even if the delivery driver tipped the beams off the truck into a giant puddle. Or if the subfloors stood exposed without being dried in while the builder spent untold days trying to find workers to hire.
Rockwell makes one-piece window wells with built-in egress steps that look way nicer than the typical galvanized steel units. Their structural fiberglass construction means that the reinforced back side will stand up to backfill pressure, and the front side is permanently colored gray or tan and textured to look like natural stone. An optional polycarbonate lid can be added to keep the rain and critters out, but it lifts off easily with a loose hinge connection if you have to bug out of the basement in a hurry. The Elite Series window wells are 66” wide and are available in heights (depths) from two feet all the way up to eight feet. Expect to pay about $100 per vertical foot for these one-piece beauties.
If you’re like me and have a phobia of fiberglass, mineral wool insulation always seemed like a more pleasant alternative to install. Besides personal comfort and easier handling and installation due to the stiffness of the batts, other benefits over fiberglass are said to include slightly better thermal insulation value, and better fire resistance and moisture repellent qualities.
One major benefit of mineral wool that often goes unsung, is its superior sound-dampening qualities. For acoustical insulation, Rockwool recommends one or two layers of their 3” Safe’n’Sound batts placed against the drywall side, with any air gap facing the “noisy” side. In ceilings, this means placing the batts at the bottom of the joist bay, but wherever there are ducts, try to wrap or surround them in insulation. Figure on paying 60 to 80 cents per square foot for the 3’ thick material – much less than higher-tech sound insulation materials.
Ox Engineered Products
Continuous insulation reduces the thermal bridging of studs and other structural members between interior and exterior temperatures; it’s a smart building practice that’s on the rise. SI-Strong structural insulated sheathing by OX Engineered Products can serve as all three elements of a continuous insulation wall exterior. It’s made of an 1/8” thick Thermoply backing, a 1/2” or 1” polyisocyanurate foam layer, and a water resistant facing that takes the place of house wrap when properly seam-taped. The sheets are rated at R-3 and R-6 respectively, and both are much lighter than just a sheet of 7/16” OSB alone.
For those not familiar with Thermoply sheathing (with me being one of them until this show), it’s essentially an 1/8” thick, high-density paperboard material that can be used in place of OSB or plywood as structural sheathing. Standard size sheets can be butted and taped to let the face coating act in place of house wrap, or slightly oversized sheets can be overlapped with no seam tape required.
Okay, is it just me or does it drive you nuts when furniture stores and practically everyone else out there refers to any glued-together wood surface as “butcher block”? If you’ve ever seen an actual butcher’s block, you know it is a thick, heavy chopping block made with the wood oriented vertically, that is, with the end grain of the wood as the working surface. That’s even how block planes got their name, with their low-angle irons optimized for cutting end grain.
Wood Welded makes both types of laminated wood products so I figured they were the folks to ask about this. Quite logically, vertically laminated butcher blocks replaced earlier stumps or log sections (also end grain up), and it was really the demands of bakers looking for large wooden work surfaces that started the wide-scale production of horizontally laminated worktops for commercial kitchens. But I guess the term “baker block” never took off.
Wood Welded specializes in making wooden countertops and worktops in a variety of dimensions out of several types of wood, mostly North American hardwood species like maple, oak, walnut, and cherry. They construct tops that are horizontally laminated, as well as vertically laminated – which are called what, class? That’s right, butcher block. The company even makes big ‘ol actual butcher blocks about two feet square and over a foot deep that stand on their own four legs.
For the smoothest and strongest orientation, the horizontally laminated boards are always aligned with the edge grain up – never the face grain—and the end-to-end seams have hidden finger joints, not just butt joints. Besides the demand for real wood surfaces in both residential and commercial kitchens, about 1/3 of Wood Welded’s business is feeding the craze for heavy woodworking benches constructed with solid wood tops. Now you know where to source a top when you build your dream workbench.
The look of barn boards and other weathered or rustic wood couldn’t be hotter in home and commercial décor now and there are two basic sources for it. Reclaimed wood which is reused from old buildings and barns being torn down, and new wood manufactured to look old. Reclaimed wood has the charm of its backstory, but some folks are concerned that buildings with historic value are being razed for the current salvage value of their materials and may be missed later. That’s a good point, but more important to the installer and end user are the undesirable elements reclaimed wood may contain, especially one element in particular.
Sure, embedded barnyard dirt and microbial stowaways are bad enough to bring into your house, and a hidden nail may ruin a table saw’s or planer’s day in a hurry, but the real hazard lies in the potential for poisonous lead. Just as the EPA strictly regulates how all contractors have to deal with painted surfaces of houses built before 1978 because of the possibility of releasing lead, so too should you be concerned with bringing any old material into your house that may contain lead. If lead is a recognized health hazard that may exist deep in the old paint layers on your walls or trim, it’s most certainly hazardous to install old wood with chipped, crazed, cracked, or any other charming rustic texture of paint containing lead. Even if the paint has been stripped from old wood, the element may have leached into the wood itself. Now, not all paint contained lead, and you can buy test kits for lead, but you’d need to check most every old board you bring in to be sure.
Which brings us to the appeal of using rusticated new boards instead of old. Forever Barnwood sells kiln-dried white pine cut in northern Wisconsin that they mill and process to create their signature rustic looks. Many of their decorative boards come with a rough-cut pattern on one side featuring the unmistakable swirls of a circular sawmill blade, and a striated texture on the other which mimics the 3D effects of weathering on a board’s early wood and late wood exposed to the elements for decades. This way, the customer can decide which look they like and install the preferred face out.
The brand’s decorative boards come finished in six available colors, all of which are certified food-safe for safe installation anywhere in a home, business, or restaurant. Forever Barnwood is available in full-thickness 1” and 2” boards up to 12 inches wide, shiplap and tongue-and-groove siding/paneling, flooring, box beams, stair parts, countertops and more. And for added charm, many of the products can be customized with an eased edge detail known as “cow rub”, harkening back to years of some imaginary Bossie leaning against a timber while filling one of her imaginary stomachs. Aww…
Lots of territory covered so far, but there’s more to see. I’ll conclude the IBS coverage with some briefer mentions.