2018 was the year, Phoenix was the town, and the annual STAFDA show was the gig for this roving reporter. What’s STAFDA you ask? Why it’s the Specialty Tools And Fasteners Distributors Association, the host of the most powertool-filled event in the country. In fact, it seems that some of the tool manufacturers decided to forego a media event this year in favor of showing off their latest to journalists and influencers at this very trade show.
Well, mission accomplished. Here’s a good sampling of some of the most notable brands and products I saw at the STAFDA show.
One of my favorite Bosch tools is their combination impact driver / impact wrench. It has a square 1/2-inch socket drive with a 1/4-inch hex bit holder recessed into the business end, and a real advantage over impact drivers for bolt and nut driving. Using a 1/4-inch hex shank to 1/2-inch socket adapter adds a real weak link into the system which breaks readily, regardless of the brand of adapter. Originally called Socket-Ready, but newly nicknamed “The Freak”, the original brushless model is getting an update for next year, and a more affordable non-brushless model has also been made available.
In the battery pack amp-hour (Ah) arms race, Bosch is taking a leap forward with high energy density cells that make their new compact packs 4.0 Ah, and their new full size packs with a full 8.0 Ah of fuel in the tank. The 2.0 Ah pack will also stick around as a lighter, lower cost compact pack, but the 6.0 and 6.3 packs are being discontinued.
Battery chargers don’t get much attention, but the new 5-mode model from Bosch is fancy enough to warrant some words. That’s right, if you’ve been charging your batteries with just one mode, you may be missing out. The five different functions are optimized for different purposes. Mode 1.) is standard charging up to 100% charge, 2.) is power boost mode that charges a 4.0 Ah pack up to 50% in under nine minutes and an 8.0 pack in under 15. After the quick charge is achieved, the charger continues to fill the packs to 80% at the standard rate. Mode 3.) is a 50% charge designed for storing batteries, 4.) is long-life mode which tops the packs off at an optimal 80% for more lifetime charging cycles, and 5.) flight mode, is a 30% charge required for shipping batteries. Some interesting options for treating your high-tech batteries in a high-tech way, but you can only set the charger to the three specialized modes through the Bosch tool app. There are no buttons on the unit to set them manually.
To provide Table 1 compliance for OSHA’s silica dust regulations, Bosch has a new dust collection HEPA vac that is acceptable for dry cutting concrete with wheels up to 12 inches in diameter. Rated at 300 cfm, the GAS20-17AH has double the airflow of the existing Bosch job site dust collection vacs. And at 17 amps, the cord end comes with an adapter to plug the unit into standard cords and outlets. For the best dust free performance while cutting or grinding, the unit can be run with the self-cleaning feature turned off. To make the heavy concrete dust or wet slurry easier to empty from the large 20-gallon canister, the vac tilts on its rolling base for dumping its contents, and it also has a drop-down drain hose. It’s a pricey tool at $1,500, but Bosch started making their own HEPA filters they’ve priced at $99 to help reduce the lifetime operating cost.
Bosch comes out with some interesting bits and their latest model is the Nail Strike. Designed with the wood boring speed of a spade bit, and the nail crunching power of an auger bit, this hybrid accessory shares the best attributes of both. It’s sturdy feed screw pulls the bit into the hole while beefed-up cutting surfaces on the top and sides of the bit shear the wood and the occasional nail. Gone are the cutting spurs at the top which are the first thing to go when a lipped auger or spade bit encounters metal. Available in sizes from 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches.
Crescent tools, you know, the maker of the famous wrench that bears their name, has had a facelift. At least their logo did. Though it looks new, the logo was one of their vintage ones that they decided to switch back to. Why the change? Well, Crescent itself is a brand within the Apex Tool Group, as are many other well known names. To reorganize their brand hierarchy, they are grouping the other brands under the main Crescent name. So now there is Crescent, Crescent Wiss, Crescent Lufkin, Crescent Nicholson, and Crescent H.K. Porter to represent most of the group’s hand tool products.
Favorite hand tools of the show include the Crescent screwdrivers with diamond grit at their tips to bite into screw heads to reduce cam-out, and wide-jaw capacity adjustable wrenches (oh, I guess it’s okay to call it a Crescent wrench here). Some nuts are large but light duty, like those on plumbing fittings, so a short wrench can provide all the force needed and turn easier in a tight space, like under a sink inside a vanity cabinet.
Another well-designed tool is a long prybar with two prongs on the business end – like a bull, and a head that tilts up and down – also like a bull. And it’s called the Bull Bar. The split head is great for prying on either side of a joist or rafter for ripping up subflooring, roof decking, deck boards, and if you follow the trends, used pallets.
Under the Lufkin sub-brand, their new Shockforce tape measures are pretty eye-catching. They’re built to be extra tough with roll bars and such, and they also feature diamond grit at the tips to stick to whatever you’re measuring better. The pivot hold at the end of the body of the tape is kinda cool for drawing circles, but the most fascinating part is the graphics on some of the models. In testing with very low and very high levels of light, a black tape with green markings provides the best combination of contrast and visibility. Who knew?
Among the Wiss products, I tried out some high-tech coated shears that grabbed and cut thick leather unbelievably well. Usually, thick and tough materials push away from a cutting edge, but the micro-serrations on these shears grabbed and held.
If you thought Ego battery-powered lawn and garden tools weren’t available through STAFDA channel distributors, you were mistaken. Ego shared some real estate in the Chervon tool group booth along with Skilsaw and Flex, where they showcased their latest Commercial Series tools and accessories along with their full line of battery powered lawnmowers and Ego snowblower. Their powerful mowers helped make cordless electric mowing the real deal a few years back, and they’re getting even bigger and stronger.
The new 58V Commercial Series consists of a 16-inch duty string trimmer, 25 1/2-inch hedge trimmer, and a 600 cfm blower—all powered by a 28 Ah backpack battery. Look for these tools next spring, followed by a bladed brush cutter some time in 2020. The backpack battery can also be used with Ego’s existing line of tools to lighten the load and provide runtimes far in excess of the 5.0 and 7.5Ah battery packs available now. Just think twice before running one of the self-driving mowers while tethered to it with the power cable from the backpack. I could foresee some kind of viral YouTube moment happening with that combination.
Since we mentioned Flex a minute ago, let’s take a closer look. It’s another Chervon-owned brand along with Skilsaw, Skil, and Ego, and it fits a more industrial niche in the tool market than I usually mingle with. The brand is from Germany, and it focuses on stone and masonry finishing and polishing tools, and some metal fabrication tools. With one big exception, their Giraffe drywall pole finishing sanders and matching HEPA vac. These tools are only found from a few makers and it will be interesting to see if this is the platform Flex will become more well known for in the US. The two HEPA vacs in the lineup also give the Skilsaw brand a ready-made dust collection solution if they venture into any dry cutting or grinding tools for concrete and masonry.
Check out my in-depth view at Diablo’s cutting solutions here. In their words, Diablo is setting their sights on “REDefining Cutting”. Of course they make blades, wheels, and discs for cutting most building materials, but their latest focus is on redefining metal cutting. More specifically, cutting metal more efficiently and cleanly with carbide or cermet teeth.
As always, we see such a deep reach into Milwaukee’s product line at the New Product Symposium every summer that it’s hard to find something at the STAFDA show that we haven’t already covered, but there was at least one new tool being premiered at the show. And it was a biggie. The 2718 is Milwaukee’s cordless 1 3/4-inch SDS Max rotary hammer. It runs on one 18-volt battery pack, but that’s a biggie too, the latest 12.0 Ah pack. The tool is rated at 8.1 ft-lbs of force, and an electromagnetic clutch inside the tool senses if the tool breaks from an operator’s grip – it then stops the tool within 45 degrees of rotation.
Some of Milwaukee’s other heavy duty cordless tools optimized for the 12.0 Ah battery were also being shown off, including the new circ saw, large angle grinder, and the 16-inch bar chain saw.
And it wouldn’t be a STAFDA report without the obligatory afta-STAFDA party pic from the Milwaukee shindig. Here two ice sculptures are fighting it out in a boxing ring. A bit more cerebral than most boxing matches, my guess is that the winner melted last. I was back at the hotel way before that even happened though so you’ll need to read the sports page to discover the victor.
For most all of your clamping needs (or at least most of mine) look to Bessey clamps. Besides all of the tried and true standard clamps you expect, they also come out with some pretty clever designs to make putting the squeeze on certain things even easier. Their latest is the Gear Clamp. It’s a new style of F-clamp with the tightening handle situated over the clamp’s bar. True to its name, a line of gears encased in the bottom jaw transmit the clamping force from the handle to the lower pad. Without a handle hanging down under the jaws, it’s easier to fit into tight spots.
At the STAFDA show we saw the beginnings of the changeover from the former Hitachi brand to the brand-formerly-known-as-Hitachi…Metabo HPT. Confused? You’re probably not alone for the time being. The brand, Metabo HPT that is, is displaying point-of-purchase signs to educate and therefore keep their loyal customers. But it still looks a little weird to read the new name on their nailers and cordless tools.
One of my favorite parts of perusing the aisles of the STAFDA show is finding smaller companies with clever inventor-types at the helm. My best such encounter this show was at the ShockStrap booth. While not the inventor of the original product, the company owner has taken the concept much further by observing what the market needed – from toy-hauling on up to military uses – and making it available. What is the concept? Tie-down straps with a reverse shock-absorber rigged inline with the strap to provide constant tension under load. The inherent elasticity of polyester webbing (and even stretchier nylon) means that most tie-down straps relax and lose tension after a load is initially secured.
Bouncing down the road in a truck or trailer, straps that loosen mean that loads have to be periodically checked and re-tensioned along the journey. By loading the urethane link built into the ShockStrap like a giant rubber band, it provides sure tension throughout a trip for increased securement and therefore increased safety. What’s not to love?
Improvements to the original idea include replaceable hardware, backing up the elastic link with redundant webbing (to assuage fears of the urethane breaking), and soft webbing choker loops at the end of the straps so you’re not limited to finding anchor points the steel hooks fit into. The choker straps at each end also provide a softer connection than attaching a steel hook to vehicle handlebars or other sensitive attachment points. ShockStraps are available in a light cam-locking version and in medium and heavy-duty ratcheting models. And for those already invested in a supply of conventional tie-downs, a short extension ShockStrap, called the Stand Alone, is available to add constant tensioning performance to any strap. Overall, a really cool find at the show.
Corded and 18V cordless Multimasters are going strong for the brand, and new accessories in the collaborative Fein/Bosch Starlock system keep coming. The latest are the Curvetec blades with rounded convex faces to help reduce bumping the blade edges against the work when plunge cutting. Another interesting one is a knife-edge blade with three cutting surfaces. The front can cut out caulk and sealants with an easy melting action, and the upper edges can slice through carpet, roofing materials – basically whatever a knife could cut.
Fein has dropped their 14.4-volt cordless platform as well as some overlapping drill/driver models into their 18-volt line to simplify some of their product offerings. But at the same time, their increased focus on metal fabricating means that they now have about 30 cordless tools meant just for working metal. Like this angle grinder claimed to be the only cordless model on the market that is fully sealed against cutting debris:
Do you know what “Baker” scaffolding is? It’s the genericized name for small-scale scaffolding fabricated with square instead of round tubing. Do you know who the biggest supplier of Baker scaffolding is? Metaltech. I learned both of these fun facts in the Metaltech booth at STAFDA and I’m passing my knowledge on to you. You’re welcome.
Okay, like many small builders, remodelers, and DIY’ers, you may not have need for a scaffold very often. It’s helpful for painting, siding, and some repairs, but most of the time it will probably be taking up a lot of space being stored. With its use (and disuse) in mind, the new Scaffold Bench comes with shelves and platforms so it can serve as a workbench surface and/or voluminous storage shelving when it’s not serving its primary purpose. When in scaffold mode, this model is fully compatible with other Baker-type accessories including levelling feet for outdoor use and outrigger stabilizers for stacking two or three units high. Locking wheels let you take the Scaffold Bench out to play, such as for rolling it out of the garage onto the driveway to use as an oversized miter saw stand or allowing you to immobilize it in the shop to load it up for storage duty.
It was difficult to pick the greatest hit in the Makita booth because there were so many new tools to choose from. Starting with the most unexpected, we have the XWL01 14” metal chop saw. This saw is part of the X2 36-volt tool line which runs on two 18-volt battery packs. Fitted with a thin-kerf abrasive wheel, the saw is said to make 104 cuts in 20-ga. steel studs (with 5.0 Ah battery packs).
Another mighty X2 tool is the XAD03 right-angle “plumber’s drill”. It’s made to handle the largest self-feeding bits (4 5/8”), and the largest hole saws (6 1/4”) for boring through joists and studs. The drill has two speed ranges, up to 350 and up to 1,400 rpm, so you get the job done faster when using smaller diameter self-feeding and auger bits.
The XDT16 is Makita’s new premium, high-tech impact driver with a ton of control features. In fact there are so many drive modes that it has a switch above the trigger that you can use to toggle between your two most frequently used settings so you can find them easily. In addition to multiple maximum speed settings, there are two Tek screw modes for self-tapping metal screws, “Assist” mode which starts long screws slowly and then ramps up the speed, and a novel “auto-reverse stop” that stops rotation a second or so after a nut gives way and stops providing resistance. The goal with this is to leave the nut at the end of the bolt instead of sucking it up into the socket where it may be dropped or even worse, have to be fished out.
Cordless circ saws in attendance at the show included the XSH05 subcompact 18-volt saw, a unique model with black trade dress instead of teal, and also because of its blade-right design which is unusual for a 6 1/2-inch blade saw. The latest saw design, the XSH06 / XSH07 is the upgraded version of Makita’s first X2 circ saw which has been out for years. Updates include a brushless motor, tool lanyard attachment, a dust hose port, and the 07 model has the AWS wireless vacuum-triggering system built in.
Speaking of vacs, there were four new models at the Makita booth including a stick vac, a mini-portable the size of a toaster, the XCV11 hand-carry portable the size of an…oh I don’t know, maybe an average raccoon, but let’s say toolbox. And the largest of the bunch was the new X2 backpack model with 64 cfm of airflow and the suction power of 44 inches of water lift. The vac’s built-in AWS wireless trigger is activated by cordless tools equipped with the communication modules. But pretty soon, a retrofittable sending unit will be available for triggering the vac with tools not originally equipped with AWS.
There were also a few specialized cordless tools including a rebar tier and and threaded rod cutter. Interesting stuff, and great applications for the freedom and portability afforded by cordless tools.
Who else can set you up to climb a wooden “telephone” pole at the STAFDA show? No one but Klein. Most tool users may know them for their linesman pliers, but they actually have a diverse product line made much more specifically for actual linesman than the pliers ever were. Climbing spurs for poles (as well as ones made for tree climbers), good old-fashioned canvas aerial tool buckets made out of canvas and leather, and masculine leather tool bags no one can afford to get just put tools in. Heck, even the vinyl bags look crazy cool.
The latest products in Klein’s booth this year were mostly hand tools, but it’s always nice to recognize where a brand comes from and how they still serve their industrial customers with products most consumer-market tool buyers never get to see. Among the new 7-in-1 socket driver, new hybrid stripping pliers, folding jab saw and more. My favorite new release is the model 56034 rechargeable LED headlamp. Why? Rechargeables trump disposable batteries any day, its grippy silicone rubber strap cinches onto a hardhat or forestry or climbing helmet alike, and the light clips off its mount on the strap easily for quick use as a flashlight. In center spotlight mode, the LED lamp is said to put out 200 lumens with a 12 hour battery life. And in floodlight mode, the specs for the smaller side lamps claim 100 lumens for 22 hours. But the neatest single feature is a photo sensor on top that shuts the light off three minutes after you move into a bright area so you don’t have to worry about running your battery down all day without realizing it.
DeWalt skipped their annual media event this year, so they too had a ton of new tools out. The most interesting probably depends on the work you do, but I think without a doubt, the most novel was a battery-powered stapler for attaching non-metallic cable to wood framing. Besides and old manual model that shot thin wire staples and required 2 staples at each attachment point, I’ve never run into a powered tool for this common job. Replacing a manual task with a cordless solution was DeWalt’s goal and I’d say they nailed it, er, stapled it! The cordless cable stapler drives DeWalt’s special collated staples, which have padding below the crown to protect the cable sheath, and the tool fitted with a compact 2.0 Ah 20V Max battery pack is said to be ready to drive 1,800 staples before a recharge is needed.
On the stronger side of cordless, DeWalt is following up their existing 60V Max Flexvolt cordless stud and joist drill with an even mightier model. This new right-angle “plumber’s” drill has a more inline design than the previous version, and I guess will be bumping the old one down to being the electrician’s model. (“Hey nothing against electricians, plumbers usually drill bigger holes is all.”)
Here’s one for the electricians to enjoy while they’re working in the dark, a new jobsite-tough cordless work light. It has a large hanging hook for suspending it overhead, and it’s Tool Connect enabled, so it can be turned on through DeWalt’s app on your phone, no matter how high off the floor it’s hung.
And here’s another cordless connected tool, with a twist. Instead of being app-driven, DeWalt’s new hand-carry portable dust collection vac can be switched on with a simple remote control utilizing good old fashioned radio waves with a 30-foot range. Vac triggering modules will be built into certain DeWalt cordless tools in the future, but for now you can carry or attach the remote switch to your wrist. The Flexvolt vac itself is compact, but has a 125 cfm rating and a filter cleaning feature so it can be used for OSHA Table 1 concrete dust collection when cutting with grinders with up to 5 inch wheels.
DeWalt already has a battery-powered concrete pinner that shoots pins up to 2 1/4-inches long for attaching 2-bys to concrete, but it’s too big for some uses. For workers (like drywallers) that only need to drive 3/4- and 1-inch long pins, DeWalt has developed the new “drywall” concrete nailer.
And in the woodworking realm, some new cordless tools appeared at the this show including a 5-inch random orbit sander, a one-handed trim router, as well as top-handle and barrel grip jig saws.
And in a category all its own, a little cordless heat gun was shown, said to run up to 20 minutes on its high heat setting.
The hammer and prybar folks at Vaughan and Bushnell Manufacturing Co. (super famous for their SuperBar) bought out the punch and chisel folks at Dasco Pro Tools. While consolidating both of their “Made in the USA” product lines, Vaughan has discontinued their own punches and chisels. No word yet if they’ll bring back the framing carpenter’s favorite all-steel wood chisels from Dasco, but I’ll keep you posted.
Since Chervon bought Skilsaw a few years back, there has been a notable rehabbing, no, revitalization, no, envigorization – yeah, of the brand and its product line. Sticking with the strength and durability of their worm drive motor as the basis of new developments, Skilsaw keeps upping their game in all sorts of heavy duty cutting. Table saws, concrete saws, rugged worm drive saws in common sizes, then the 10 1/4″ Sawsquatch, then the 16 5/16” Super Sawsquatch out earlier this year. Where will it go from here?… We’ll get to that in a minute…
New in the booth is the first miter saw from the Skilsaw brand, and coincidentally, the first miter saw powered by a worm drive motor. The SPT88-01 dual-bevel sliding miter saw has a 12-inch blade, a bevel angle range up to 48 degrees right and left, and a miter cutting range from 50 degrees left to 50 right. The saw also features a shadow line marking light and an all-important electric brake.
…So where will Skilsaw go from here we were asking? How can you cut more with a worm drive saw? Well I’m pleased to announce that my coveted “Coolest Thing at the Show Award” goes to the SPT55-11, Skilsaw 16-inch Worm Drive Carpentry Chainsaw!
With its 14 1/2-inch cut capacity, this is the deepest reaching Skilsaw yet. Beams, timbers, I-joists, and angled rafter tails over one foot thick can be cut with the stability of a saw resting on a shoe for more accurate cutting than a chain saw wielded freehand. Like a typical chain saw, this saw has a proper oiling system to lubricate the bar and chain as well as standard replaceable bar and drive sprocket from Oregon. But unlike a typical chain saw, Oregon and Skilsaw developed a new full-house chain for this saw, with a cutting tooth on every link versus on every other link for smoother cutting. The Carpentry Chainsaw can bevel cut laid all the way over to 60 degrees for gang cutting rafter tails or for cutting the tops of wall panels to fit roof angles for SIP panel fabrication. There are tools that look similar out there, but the other few real-deal ones are expensive and uncommon to find. Like with the other Sawsquatch saws before it, Skilsaw found a good gap in the market to go after with this one.