Tools that are Cool

Steven Ferry

August 2005

A new angle for Contractor Review is to check in with the folks selling construction tools to find out what they are seeing moving through the stores, and what brands or models they might recommend. This month, we focused on four common tools: lasers, miter saws, screw guns and power fasteners. While several manufacturers were mentioned, there was one winner in most categories when it came to number of recommendations. It should be stressed very thoroughly and clearly, however, that this is not a scientific survey: statistics were not analyzed and far too few people were canvassed. But the results do have anecdotal value.

Note that names and locations of those interviewed are not given as the interviews were done "undercover” so as to obtain unbiased feedback. The interviewer told them he was building an extension and wanted information o9n the best equipment for the job, based on what the pros say, the best-selling items in the store, and the salesperson’s own recommendations.

Looking at Lasers
When it came to lasers, DeWalt was the preferred manufacturer, as follows: "We have three different levels, all the way up to self-leveling lasers by DeWalt. The top of the line costs about $999. The next one down is one of the most popular sellers at about $429, and the next one down is $239, which is a laser that you can use for everything inside. For outside work, you need a digital, because they can’t pick up that beam outdoors, you know. But the $239 one will work up to 200 feet indoors, 600 feet outdoors with a detector that prices at $239.”

"It depends on the purpose, really. When you go to exterior, you’re really looking at a more commercial line, depending on what you’re going to be doing with it. For a house extension, let’s say, you might be able to get away with a torpedo-level for around $40 or $50 that’ll handle a 50-foot range. Otherwise, you’re looking at a rotary-type unit, and at that point, 100 feet or more, you’re looking at $200 or better: DeWalt and David White—you can buy one of theirs for $239. For longer range, you would have to buy a detector, the same two brands, which adds $150 and up on average to the price. Personally, I would recommend buying the least expensive, because there’s no real difference in the quality. Some of them are a little different in quality, but these here are all basically commercial that I’m telling you about. You’re looking at the design, personal preference, it’s really something you would have to look at and I can explain it to you. If there’s something you think you need a detector for, there’re another way you can go that I think is reasonable, and that one has a price of (about) $429, but that DeWalt unit comes with a DeWalt battery, charger and a detector, so instead of having to buy batteries all the time, you can recharge them.”

"DeWalt and Milwaukee are probably the top sellers. Bosch is another brand that is up there at the higher end. I personally recommend the DeWalt plumb, self-leveling laser at $229.”

"You want the truth? Don’t waste your money! If you spend $100 or more on a good one like the DeWalt or David White Mark IV, which goes for $219, you’re okay. Anything below $100, like the $88 Black & Decker, don’t waste your money.”

Either the last salesperson was unfairly biased against the lower-end lasers, or a lot of people are wasting their money, because another salesperson reported that "We have several lasers; the best-selling one is the Black & Decker Bullseye.”

What Is Miter than the Saw?
The ideas the sales folks have about it. The message from the floor about miter saws, it seems, is "don’t bother with the laser, just cut.” Apart from that, DeWalts again seemed to edge out the competition.

"Most Hitachi miter saws as well as many DeWalts come with a laser. People think a laser is necessary on a miter saw and like to ask for one, but I’ve been a woodworker hobbyist for 30 years, and I don’t use a laser because I can cut the line without one. It’s just a matter of preference, really. Hitachi has a 12-inch compound model for $369 with a laser. We also have 12-inch Delta Machinery, one that comes with a laser for $299, and another that comes in a compound and sells for $499, so it just depends on which one you like.”

"It’s all a matter of preference, but if you wanted a laser I’d tell you to look at what we have to offer—but it would just be for show. Basically size is what is important: when you’re working with the 10-inch, you can cut a 2-by-6. Anything larger you’d want to use a 12-inch saw, which will take 5¼ height and 6.5 of width. So which is best depends on what you are doing. I can go from a 10-inch saw and depending on what I am doing, light-duty or heavy-duty, I can spend $70-$79 and up, whereas the 12-inch saw starts at about $200.

"As for the laser, some people like it and some could not care less; personally for a miter saw, I could not care less. I don’t see a need for it, but some people have trouble seeing, for one, some people have trouble sighting a straight line and for those persons it’s an advantage. And if they were using a saw like that a lot, it could be helpful to them. All I can do is explain the difference and point out that if they’re having trouble seeing, or they are not comfortable with the miter saw, then a laser can be an advantage, a little bit of help to them. Adding a laser increases the price $25 to $50.”

"The DeWalt is still the best one even though Hitachi is a pretty good brand and carries a good 10-inch miter saw for $199. The 12-inch compound miter saw with the laser on it sells for $369.”

"They have some good deals on miter saws, a Tradesman that’s very reasonable, another is the Delta. For higher end, go for the DeWalt or Hitachi. I haven’t used them, to be honest, but from what I see move, it’s the DeWalt DW706.”

A Screw Gun Is a Screwgun
"We have multiple DeWalts, starting at around $69, all good quality. If you’re looking for something a little better than average, you’re talking about $89 for a DeWalt, Milwaukee or Hitachi, all good commercial brands used by professionals every day. A $99 DeWalt provides better speed and power, good if you have a lot of work to do.”

"We sell various screw guns between $79 and $99: one Hitachi, three DeWalts and a Milwaukee. We probably sell more variations of the DeWalt than the others. I haven’t bought one in quite a while, but I personally use a Makita 6825. Basically, screw guns have all come a long way, so you’re making a good investment in any screw gun. I’d recommend buying one you can adjust the screws and clutch on, and that’s probably $89—that would be one of the better ones, the DeWalt DW257.”

So DeWalt comes out on top again in screw guns, but not so with pneumatic nailers.

The Power of Power Fasteners
"On power fasteners for framing, we have a Senco, Hitachi and DeWalt that all go for between $249 and $309. I have Bostitch myself; they make their own nails so you don’t have to worry about some other provider’s nails not fitting the gun. It can shoot in nails from 3.5 down to 2 inches, and I recommend it at its $249 price tag.”

"We carry four models of powder activated power fasteners from $200 on up, one you activate like a hammer, one with a trigger and ones that are semi-automatic. If I were using one all the time, I’d want a semi-automatic. Personally, I use the one with the hammer, because if I’m just putting up a couple of walls in the basement, that’s all I’d ever need. If you’re doing a little more of it, maybe you want one with a trigger but not semi-automatic. You’re looking at a price range of $200 to $299, with the semi automatics at the top.”

"The pneumatic Senco for $149 loads up quickly. I’d recommend the pneumatic Senco framing nailer at $379 that shoots 2- 3.5-inch Senco nails.”

While these dozen or so salespeople had their own opinions and observations, the truth is that there are many brands and models on the market, some of which they may not even have heard of, and most of which do a very good job.

We’d like to hear about your experiences with lasers, miter saws, screw guns and power fasteners, good and bad, and which you’d recommend. As the folks using them day in, day out, your observations are going to have weight. Please e-mail your comments to info@words-images.com.

About the Author
Steven Ferry is a free-lance writer based in Clearwater, Fla.