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Galt 04-19-2015 09:09 AM

Favorite Tools and Recommendations
It's one of those things that separates us from the lower apes, and allows us to mold our environs to suit us. I love to build stuff and create things with my hands, and have always loved the sense of leaving something behind where there was nothing before (in a good way that is, not in a persistent polluting way of course).

Of the many different things that I've done in my life I think that is why I loved construction the best. At the end of each day's work you could stand back and look at something that didn't exist just that morning, and now it was going to hopefully be there for your kids and grand kids to see and enjoy. Never got much done in an office or classroom that necessarily provided the same satisfaction.

That said, I've also come to rely on and develop some rather special attachments to some very special tools over the years, so I thought it might be cool to share some of them. I am an admitted tool junkie in that I admire and appreciate most tools, but I've also tried over the years to limit my expenditures to only those things that would stand the test of time. Luckily there are lots of others that went before who had already sorted out a lot of the wheat from the chaff and all I had to do most times was just look and listen. :)

So, without further adieu, some of my favorite and most indispensable tools of all time.

Hand Held Power Tools:

Hands down Festool is now my nigga. They are expensive as shit, and I mean like scary expensive if you're used to buying your power tools at the box stores, but they are worth every penny, and I've never regretted a single purchase. I only wish that I could say that of many of the DeWalt and Porter Cable tools that I purchased before.

I still have some Bosch, Fein, Makita, Metabo, and older Porter Cable, but I have pretty much weened myself completely off of the box store brands, and its not just about the colors. Festool designs are extremely functional, their motors superb, and their bearings above and beyond anything that the lesser brands bother to bring to the table any longer. There was a time when DeWalt and Porter Cable in particular used to make extremely high quality tools, and I still value many of them among my favorites (my old P.C. A3 and even better yet 503 belt sanders for example), but once they started building tools to hit price points prescribed by Home Depot and Lowes, it all went to shit in a hurry.

Porter Cable 503 Belt Sander | eBay
(This is still the absolute best sander ever made for flattening a table top or a door in a hurry, ya just can't look away while using it or it'll eat a hole right through your work. We used to race these back in the union... but that's the kind of shit that we would rather do than actually work) ;)
I did however just order a new Festool belt sander that they are afraid to release to the U.S. for price reasons I guess (English carpenters are rolling in dough I guess?). I a can't wait!

DeWalt bought a Euro manufacturer named Elu, the inventors of the sliding crosscut miter saw I believe. Elu made the absolute sweetest little 1-1/4 h.p. plunge router that's ever been made, and they are priceless IMO if you ever come across one. DeWalt re-branded it as their own in Black and Gold, and without modification... at first. It was the only double post plunge router made that you could smoothly plunge with just one hand, and still is. Shortly after DeWalt began calling it their own they changed to a cheaper bearing and completely screwed the pooch. Same holds true for most of the old vs, new Porter Cable sanders and routers. Their old industrial trim routers were bullet proof, heavy duty, all day use tools that could be easily field serviced and lasted forever. The low center of gravity on the trim routers in particular provided fantastic control, while their heft kept high speed chatter away even when working extremely fast. Their newest crap is top heavy, throw away junk with junk bearings and bushings where there used to be quality needle bearings, and the finish that they provide doesn't even compare. Since the older quality tools are being hoarded by auction scroungers like me, they are almost impossible to any longer find, so Festool is also now what I would consider the next best thing, although in most cases they are actually superior, hence the price.

The only tools that they make that I don't own and use at present are those that have been introduced in the last two years, but all of their sanders, saws, driver drills, dust extractors, storage solutions and jigs I own and use regularly. I was lucky enough to stumble across one of their retailers who was closing out and I was the first one there, so I bought their entire inventory quite cheap, sold the duplicates, and kept as much as I could possibly afford, and I'm glad as hell that I did 'cuz they are worth every penny... but I already said that didn't I. ;)


My first REAL carpenter's tool was an old Plumb brand 16 oz., curved claw, fiberglass shaft, finish carpenter's model that I bought when I was about 13. I have since replaced it numerous times (over strikes while acquiring proper muscle memory, and later inappropriate uses such as bashing out concrete blocks for beam pockets, are very unkind to the shaft over time), but it's still a tried and true old friend around the shop and at my assembly bench.

Plumb 11402N 16-Ounce Premium Fiberglass Curved Claw Hammer - -

Later in life I got involved in a lot of demolition and renovation work and then discovered the mother of all thumb smashers, the Estwing 32 oz., milled face, straight claw, steel shaft, carpal tunnel machine (or framing hammer as Estwing calls it). It's longer shaft, large milled face, and forged straight claw, made it ideal for speed framing and rough carpentry, while its solid steel one piece design eliminated any need to worry about damage from errant over strikes or bashing whole cement block walls down. It also unfortunately does a better job than anything imaginable of transferring every last bit of impact shock from every strike, directly back and through the user's forearm and elbow (Estwing's description of their vinyl grip as shock absorbing is meant as a joke). This little fucker nearly ended my carpentry career. Still my go to demolition tool, but after only a few swings I am immediately reminded of why I no longer regularly use it. Still a great value for someone on a budget who wants a tool that will last. Just remember that it will outlive your radial nerves and connective tissues. :)
Still available, although nowadays the largest is only 30 oz., but I'm sure it's lost little of its crippling potential. :re:

Estwing E3-30SM 30oz Nylon-Vinyl Grip Framing Hammer Milled Face 16" Length - Claw Hammers -

And that brings me to my Stiletto TiBone Titanium bitch. This is simply the best fucking hammer I have ever swung, bar none. The only caveat is that the top of the grip needs to be sealed to the shaft better to keep it from peeling when used in a traditional steel wire tool belt hammer sling. I use a piece of Gorilla tape, but even that gets rolled and fucked up... but I don't care. The other fucked up part is that it will disappear the instant you set it down, so don't. I keep a milled face on mine, but I also carry and use the smooth face now for trim and finish work 'cuz, well nothing else swings as easy and hits as hard. Besides... how cool is it that you can switch out the face on your hammer? The shock absorbing properties alone make this an absolute must have if you swing a hammer for a living. It will add years of pain free service to your career.

The titanium is amazing stuff, but it's not as tough in some respects as the claw on the Estwing, so repeated attacks of block walls with the straight claw will wear it down, but I've abused mine for about a decade now I believe, and it'll still outlive me. The head molded side nail puller is slick as snot, although deadly if you don't pay attention since the nails come flying out like sprung springs. It also has a magnetic nail setting head that's kind of trick and handy for one handed getting that last nail up into that last bit of bridging or blocking overhead. Overall I've never used anything like it, and I had previously tried all of the ax handled monster framers and various bent shaft shit, but this is the absolute shit, and again, worth every penny. Plus it's just straight up cool that you can sink rusty old 16d commons with one swing of this 15 oz. beauty. Won enough lunch time bets with it that it nearly paid for itself. :cheers:

Their nail pullers are the shit as well, if for no reason other than they are light as hell, and a fully equipped speed framing belt can be a work day in itself just carrying the fucker around. I use the cat's paw and the trim tool and will murder the fucker that tries to grab one. Smooth titanium hammer face is best for striking these beauties as the hardened Estwing milled face for example will leave a mark and wear it out faster.

Stiletto TICLW12 ClawBar Titanium Nail Puller - Stilletto Nail Puller -

Stiletto TrimBar5 TrimBar 5 oz. Titanium Trim Puller - Nail Pullers -

Chalk Box & Layout Tools:

A simple but indispensable framing tool that is also ubiquitous among roofers, drywallers, finish carpenters, metal stud and acoustical ceiling mechanics, form setters, you name it. For many years there was nothing special about them and but a few basic but serviceable versions. The last decade or so has seen a lot of Japanese influence, as well as improvements to the domestic varieties (Chinese made of course), but my favorite(s) for a while now have been those from Tajima, and to be honest I'm not sure how many I now own... maybe six or seven including two ink liners, 'cuz I like to keep a light and dark color box, plus.

Tajima CR201W-P White Chalk-Rite II Extra Bold Snap Line with Triple Speed Rewind and Black Dye - Tajima Tools -

The ink liners are IMO best suited to layout work on concrete. Metal stud framing, basement builds, and concrete saw cutting for example. Although it's also handy for marking layouts on wood decks that may sit for a while and see some foot traffic before they actually see a wall built to them. For example when we would frame interior walls I would usually layout the entire floor at once and then hit it with a quick coat of clear lacquer spray paint. With the ink marks it was more of a stain, so we rarely lost a mark even without the overcoat.

The lines and chalk are superb for all work, but I would probably recommend the Auto-rewind for most speed framers since their thinner lines don't hold much chalk. Also they have a larger version out now with their Dura model, but I was also happy using a Keson for deck layout and roofing work.

Keson G140FL Little Giant Chalk Box 140' Fine Line

Actually, I haven't found a tool of theirs that I wouldn't recommend looking back. I have several of their caulk guns, their Plumb-Rite plumb bob is awesome handy, and since I'm old school and use a saw and knife instead of a router for cutting drywall boxes, their drywall saw is the best I've ever used. I also just bought one of their 30' G Series tape measures that I'm growing fond of, which says a lot because that is one tool that I have grown to detest over the years since its introduction.

I have had more fucked up, frustrating cuss sessions with recalcitrant tapes, bad measures from bent end hooks, cuts from cracked tape whipping back against either too loose or too tightly wound return springs, and I am forever cursing their blade locks. Truly the Devil's own spawn, and I have fallen for and bought every fucked up new bullshit bunch of lies and crap that the tool makers have come up with. Fat Max is one that comes to mind as being especially egregious. The tape cracked almost immediately, and then the 'roided out return spring would snap the tape back so fast that it would literally knock it out of you hand if you weren't paying attention to it, and the tape return needs to be something you can do in your sleep as you move to your saw or whatever. That fucker was a straight up mean finger eatin' piece of over priced shit. But how can you resist them when they're such an integral part of everything that a carpenter does? At one point I went back to carrying my grandfathers old wind up Lufkin steel 50' and 100' reels, along with my old stand by folding stick rules (still the shit for plumbing IMO, and again with the puns) as a form of protest against their junk, but I still keep looking.

Lufkin X48N 8' x 5/8" Wood Rule Red End with 6" Slide Rule Extension - Construction Rulers -

I have a buddy that uses a Bosch laser measure a lot, but it's like the laser level for me in that for the money, I'll take a piece of clear hose and a nail any day of the week. Plus with the electronic measuring devices, I never trust them and end up checking them with my tape or rule anyway. Digital calipers... pishaw, I'll stick with my Luddite vernier. Got a fancy ass digital gauge on my table saw, but I still check everything with my old Starrett. Which brings me to yet another maker of fabulous hand tools... and they're even American... still. :)

Starrett Precision Measuring Tools and Saw Blades Since 1880

Starrett is generally better known amongst the machinist crowd, but as a cabinet maker as well I have always found their combination squares and rules to be without equal. In the metal shop I use their measuring tools, gauges, and set up gear almost exclusively, but I still keep an eye out at the auctions for old Sharpe and Great Lakes combination and Try squares that were made about the same as Starrett. Carpenters typically work in 16ths and 8ths (or at least they used to, today it's a challenge finding one that can figure whole inches), whereas cabinet makers and finer wood workers tend toward 32nds and 64ths, and machinists go even finer yet. The first Starrett combination square and protractor head that I bought as an apprentice a hundred years ago is one of my most cherished and long lived tool investments, and just as clear and easy to read today as the day that I bought it. The plastic triangles are fine for building picnic tables I suppose, but it's hard to top the utility of a good combination square... if you bother to learn how to use it. :)

I would add that the old Starrett is a better steel than the new, especially the iron parts. The new shit must not be stress relieved the same or something, but I've seen new ones dropped once and destroyed, whereas some of mine are older than my grown kids and I've done everything short of pull nails with them to no ill effect. Also their tape rules also suck like the others.

Well... I think that's more than enough for now. Like to hear what others have found to their liking. If there's anything that someone might be curious about, I build and have built everything from industrial plants to boats to musical instruments and furniture, and I still have the tools to do it, so ask away.

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