Makita Cordless System

Cordless tools have taken over our shop. The saw, drill, grinder, driver, cutter that we reach for first is the cordless one. The key to going cordless is to settle on one make so you can use the same set of batteries for all. Several big tool brands offer a cordless system, including Milwaukee and Dewalt. We choose the  Makita 18v Lithium system because their drills and drivers were very light for how much torque they put out, are quite small for getting into tight spaces, have a nice LED light on them and can be set down on their pommel.  One quirk we have found about the Makita system is that you can run the lighter tools like drills on the small capacity lithium packs, but the larger tools only accept the large capacity 3 AH packs.  I assume Makita does this because the draw on the larger tools will heat up the smaller packs.  So we ended up always using the larger 3 AH packs as they work with all the tools and require less charging. It also simplifies your inventory. There’s a slight difference in the attachment shape of their 18v Lithium batteries vs the older 18v NiCads, but if you have some of those you can this widget for getting your old 18v tools to work with the new Lithium batteries.

-- Alexander Rose  

Makita 18-volt Cordless 7-Piece Combo Kit


Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Makita

Black and Decker Gyro

The Gyro is a cordless electric screwdriver that uses your hand motion to drive its motor either clockwise or counterclockwise. I bought mine impulsively while gathering materials to install a bathroom ceiling fan last month. It seemed like a nice high tech take on the old battery-operated screwdriver. I never thought those had enough torque, or held a battery charge long enough. Worst case? This would become a gift for my gadget-hound father.

This is a great little addition to my toolbox. It works as advertised: grip the handle to activate the sensors, and then turn the body of the screwdriver in the direction that you want the screw (or nut, or drillbit) to turn.

I used it to install two bathroom vent fans and their ductwork. I used it to drill pilot holes, loosen switchplates and old switches, to connect ductwork with self-tapping screws, and to install the new switches and switchplates. It worked great. Then I assembled a set of drawers from Ikea, and it still doesn’t need recharging.

It’s smaller than a  cordless drill, strong enough to do real work, and easy on the hands doing repetitive tightening of screws. I’m keeping mine, and sending another to my dad.

-- Mark Resch  

Black and Decker Gyro Screwdriver

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Black and Decker

Sample Excerpts:

• RPM: 180 max
• Torque: 35 inch pounds
• Voltage: 4-volt (B&D claims an 18-month charge hold…it’s too soon for me to tell)
• Dimensions: 6.25″ long x 1.75″ wide x 3.75″ high

Knipex High Leverage Cutters

This is one of my favorite tools. I own at least two of these nippers. The difference between these and every other cutter is that they are drop-forged and they’ve got some specific hardening at the tip. They cut through everything. I’ve snipped through quarter inch bolts with these. I can cut the bane of all cutters — piano wire — all day long and these will never be marred by it. I have ruined so many other tools by cutting the wrong wire or nails. There may be other brands that do this, but this is the one I’ve been using for 20 years. The Knipex are expensive — they’re about $60 a pair — but it is one of those classic examples of how you can ruin a couple of pairs of something else and you’ve paid for these. I’ve never had these fail.

-- Adam Savage  

Knipex Clippers

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Knipex

Artillery Pry Bar System


I previously reviewed the J-Bar as a method for moving super-heavy loads across flat surfaces by the miracle of leverage. As good as a J-bar is at moving things, it’s not a great prybar. When I need to pry something apart, remove nails, separate two things from each other, I fall back on a standard set of lightweight crowbars (I have a titanium crowbar which I’m particularly fond of) to do the work. Often, however, there are jobs which just can’t be handled by a normal crowbar, or which are repetitive or awkward where a crowbar just isn’t the right tool.

Enter the Artillery Pry Bar System. I know, I know – adding the word “system” after anything so simple (“The Dixie Cup System”) makes it seem like some sort of marketing terminology, but in this case the suffix is deserved. This is an erector set for people who want to rip things apart. Various parts thread together or re-configure to take on almost any prying task, from the short to the four-feet-of-leverage end of things. Crowbars will quickly become tools for sissies after you get one of these. I’m reminded of the Far Side cartoon where a Viking is examining his mace and talking with another Viking as a third Viking blowing a bubble is walking into the frame. The text is something like “You know, Lars, there’s nothing like the good solid feel of a mace in your hand to make you want to smash something.” If you have one of these prybars, you’ll find yourself looking for loose boards on the side of the house, hoping to rip one out, or maybe eyeing that abandoned building down the street to see if you can get it to fall down in under an hour.


I don’t even know what half of these blades DO, but there clearly are parts in there for removing nails, prying up sheetrock, roofing, or whatever. I’d have to say that the simple prybar ends are the ones that are my favorites, but the range of different destructive capabilities is impressive even if you don’t use a few of the more exotic ends.

The length of the bar is adjustable, and there are two different extensions that can be used. There are three different fulcrum options, and even a set of fulcrum extenders for one of them that can be attached for really getting leverage. There are configurations to be used on decking, so you can stand on the deck but rip the deck up from the “open” side. It’s all pretty lightweight stuff; aluminum, mostly, but tool steel where it counts. Lifting this up and prying against walls or even overhead would be possible with no difficulty.

artillery open.jpeg

I just used it for prying up a floor plate in one of my shipping containers, which would have been a much more difficult (and “up close”) episode without the Artillery tool. Unlike crow bars, you can use your foot to assist in planting the blade into whatever it is that you’re prying. Combining your arms and a foot, you can quickly get a purchase under nearly anything that needs to be moved with pretty good accuracy.

This is a PERFECT tool if you live in earthquake country, or for first-responder firefighting or rescue folks. I imagine that with a sledge hammer, gloves, and this tool you could tear apart a whole woodframe house in a matter of hours. Everything you need is in the box, including the big Phillips-head screwdriver and adjustable wrench you might need for switching configurations around.

artillery 2.jpeg

The one downside is that it’s expensive compared to a cheap crowbar. But I imagine if you’re a contractor, this would pay for itself quite quickly, especially if you wake up in the morning with a sore back from demolition work where you’re on your hands and knees doing crowbar huffing-and-puffing. There are three different set configurations, ranging in street price roughly from $200 to $330 and they vary by what blades and accessories they include.

-- John Todd  

Artillery Pry Bar System
Different kits are available

Manufactured by and available from Artillery Pry Bar

Transfer Punches


These simple punches are incredibly useful when laying out things, yet nobody outside of machinists seems to know about them (some woodworkers know about the special ones for dowel holes). You can get them from most industrial tool distributors (like MSC), but they are also one of the early tasks for apprentices to make on a metal lathe.

Essentially, they are just a set of rods, in standard drill diameters, with a center punch tip in one end. When trying to drill pilot holes for things (say a shelf bracket) clamp it in place, and use them to mark the bolt holes. You wind up with marks dead center in the pattern, no more ovaling out holes so you can get the bolts through.

Similarly, there exist punches for transferring threaded holes – screw them in, and tap the sheet you want to transfer to.

-- Jeff Del Papa  

Central Tools Transfer Punch Set

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Central Tools

Hakko 936 Soldering Station


For someone looking for a high quality soldering station at a reasonable price the Hakko 936 is hard to beat. I’ve had mine for a few years and use it mostly for electronics and instrument cable work. I think I paid around $80 new for it, and the price included a separate cast metal pencil rest with an integral sponge tip wiping pad.

The power supply is a transformer type, controlled by a rheostat mounted on the front panel graduated in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. The only other control is the on-off switch mounted on the right side. There is a red LED pilot lamp on the front which illuminates only when regulated power is actually being applied to the pencil. The pencil’s cable plugs in to a 5-conductor receptacle and locks in via a threaded collar. The extra wires going to the tip are for a thermocouple near the tip for precise and stable temperature regulation.

The pencil itself is very lightweight and is attached to a lightweight, flexible silicone rubber-insulated cable.

The tip heats up very rapidly upon turning the unit on and setting the temperature on the dial. The user is informed when the desired temp has been reached when the LED goes out. During a soldering session, the LED will be observed turning on and off as the selected temperature is being accurately maintained.

There is nothing fancy about it such as a digital temp readout; just a solid, no nonsense, precise and stable soldering tool. Before acquiring this unit, I thought of soldering as something of a chore. With the Hakko I can do precise, quality soldering with minimal effort. The manufacturer has recently discontinued the 936 but they still seem to be widely available on eBay.

-- David Zarn  

[The Hakko 936 has been replaced by the newer FX-888, but can still be found new and used online.-- OH]

Hakko FX-888 Solder Station

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Hakko USA

Hyde 9-1/2-inch Pry Bar Scraper


I’ve used this fantastic multi-use Hyde Pry Bar for 30 years. If my house were burning down I would grab it, along with my computer backup and photo albums.

With it we have scraped paint, removed nails without having to run to get another tool, pried things apart, scraped gum off the floor. It doesn’t stay bent out of shape like other more cheaply built products, but instead springs back into position. It’s also sharpenable. My son wants to inherit it.

-- Carol  

Hyde 9-1/2″ Pry Bar Scraper

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Hyde Tools

Kodiak Roofer’s Blade


This is designed for and sold as a roofing shingle removal shovel, but what it actually is is a shovel with teeth and a fulcrum. I bought it twelve years ago to strip my roof. It did the job then, and ever since I’ve used it for everything but stripping shingles. The teeth are good for cutting through and breaking up a variety of materials. The fulcrum maximizes prying leverage (and also reinforces the blade tip so as to not fold while prying).

What this is really great for is removing thick layers of ice or hard packed snow from pavement. The teeth do a great job of digging under and breaking up the layers, and the fulcrum often lets me pop large sections of a layer up in one piece.

-- Gary Puckett  

Kodiak Wood Spade

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Ames

Bench Cookies

I discovered Bench Cookies at the Rockler woodworking store more than a year ago. Billed as “work grippers,” they have smooth plastic sides and textured rubber surfaces on top and bottom. You just place them under objects you’re sanding, sawing or painting to hold the object in place. There’s no clamping or screwing involved. They’re amazing. Wood chips and dust have no effect – they do exactly what they’re supposed to. So instead of rummaging for scraps of wood or an old book or two to prop up a project, I reach for bench cookies.

I took them to the print shop where I do intaglio printing. Inking and wiping a large copper or zinc plate on a glass table used to be a nightmare – bench cookies make it a breeze. They hold the plate in place and I can pick it up and turn it as I work, and since it’s off the table I can wipe the edges, too. I don’t think Rockler had any idea how useful they’d be in an art studio.

Their great function and inexpensive price make them a perfect present for anyone that does any kind of project. Turns out Rockler’s even made some nice black ones now for uses outside the workshop, like holding up your turntable, keeping it stable and providing vibration reduction.

-- Jeff Woodbury  

Bench Cookies

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Rockler

Diamond Core Saw


If you happen to live in a brick house as I do, you are painfully aware of how difficult it is to change the layout of any feature that is part of the external wall. However, if you need to move your clothes dryer exhaust (or other round pipe), renting a diamond core saw makes for quick and easy work. Diamond saws are often horribly expensive (for obvious reasons) — but renting one for only an hour would be enough time to make a wall into Swiss cheese. A typical hole takes a couple minutes at best, and is perfectly round and smooth — not at all like the result one often gets with a hammer drill, masonry bits, and chisel — it is well worth the trip to the rental office and fees. (And if you have neighbors with brick houses, be sure to ask them if they need any neat holes in exchange for a few dollars/beers!)

I rented from a small local shop (which is sadly now defunct) in my neighborhood of Seattle, and paid $50 for 4 hours’ use of a drill and bit. I just called “Pacific Rim Equipment Rental” where they unfortunately don’t have half-day rates: it is $65 for the drill, and $35 for the bit. I would guess that many Home Depots that do tool rental would carry the drill and bit.

-- Phil Evans  

Diamond Core Saw
Rental costs vary
May be available at Home Depot rental locations