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Contractor Review: Cool Tools

While most of the two-dozen contractors canvassed couldn ’t think of and had never invented any tool (one said he was too
busy to fantasize about new tools),some folks have had some pretty good ideas that
they were willing to share.

Some might expect a Californian to say this,but one contractor from the Golden State admitted,”I dream of a tool that allows me to work while on the beach.”
He did go on to say, “But seriously,the
kind of tools I’d like to see invented are
lighter and more durable versions of current tools on the market that are also
faster to use.A gas-powered screw gun that I can keep in my pouch,for instance.
We have cordless tools that do pretty well, except they don ’t last long enough and don’t have enough zap to them. Their power needs to last longer, too.”

Hold on to your hard hat, because no amount of wild horsepower could hold
back this Nevadan once he got onto the subject of tools that do not go the
distance. “If you look over the tools we have now compared with 25 years ago,there NO WAY TO have been many innovative tools made MAKE IT BETTER?
available, such as lasers. Probably the most innovative tool I have seen hit the
drywall trade during that time is the router.We have also seen all these self-
feeding screw guns and other wacky tools filling toolboxes around the country, but these are not the things that will change the face of what we are doing dramatically. What we really need is tools that will stand up to the everyday stresses of the job site. That’s the biggest issue. Let’s get better versions of the tools that are out there already. Let’s make it so a laser isn’t so fragile,so that a router bit or a screw gun lasts longer.

“If they could take 30 percent of the
weight out of a sheet of drywall, now that
would be very useful. There are a lot of
wild ideas as companies try to come out
with the cat’s meow in innovative design
that will make everything so much easier—such as drywall with the screw
points marked—but it really all comes
back to the old problem: drywall is heavy.
It’s a young mans trade and there is a lot
of exposure to injuries. If you are going
to ask a guy to hang 40 sheets of drywall
a day and each weighs in at 80 pounds,
he will be tired by the end of the day.
Take 30 percent of the weight out of each
sheet and guess what, that guy will be
able to hang more and feel better at the
end of the day.

“It is off-the-wall when people design
stuff to save us all this money on pro-
ductivity etc., when the tools don’t work.
These guys must be smoking crack. I
don’t want to take any actual achievements away from them,but some of the
stuff just leaves me wondering who would invest in something like the automatic screw gun.


“Nobody has left it alone in all these
years,so they are still trying to perfect
something that cannot be perfected, because the screw gun has problems right
out of the gate.Namely,that drywall and
stud hardness vary so much. You have to
line up the gun and material so perfectly to knock that screw in properly. Yet
many of the times we are trying to screw
drywall onto framing that is cockeyed.
So if you don’t get the screw set on the
first one, you have to reload another
screw. You cannot revisit that screw and
get it set.Either you are taking a cordless out,or you are taking a screwdriver
out of your pouch to screw that screw in.
So why not use the screwdriver in the
first place!

“If you have a wall that is 300 feet long
with no corners or anything else, the screw gun works great.But it’s wild the amount of money manufacturers invest trying to perfect something that never
can be. The screw gun is good in isolated conditions. We are a union company
in a union industry and these guys are professionals and know how to use a

“Yet manufacturers are trying to be innovative with screw guns when the screws
cost twice as much a regular screw, and once they have been fired, they can’t be
revisited. It’s the same problem with the powder-, air-, and gas-actuated devices used to drive a pin for attaching sheeting or plywood to metal studs. The stud thickness and hardness are not consistent so one can’t achieve a uniform drive, when dealing with a fragile surface such as drywall paper. Sometimes the nail is NO WAY TO set, sometimes it isn’t.So it is inconsistent, and the pins cost 10 times the
amount of a screw.

“So how can I save money by putting so
many more pins on than regular screws
in any given time period when the result
is not consistent? Screws cost 3 cents a
piece and a pin is 15 cents—you have
to save a lot on labor to make up for that
12-cent difference. Screw guns are not
helping us, yet manufacturers continually try to achieve consistency or perfect a design that is flawed because the substrate
being attached to it is not consistent. It
is not an achievable target. So how about
focusing on tools that can work?”


Another Colorado contractor echoed the
Nevadans idea about lighter-weight gypsum board. “There were rumblings three
years ago about a lightweight gyp board that was supposed to come out. It was
real hush-hush and was meant to be in testing for a UL rating to make sure it
would meet all the fire requirements.
And I never heard any more about it. I
can’t think of a better way to make gypsum board easier to handle and cut down
on injuries. So what happened to that board? If we had it, we wouldn’t need to
find a tool that could help us put gyp in place. We would also cut down on
transportation costs, which I hear will help drive up the price of gypsum at the
end of the year in the same way that steel prices have been rising recently.”

Until a lightweight board does come on the market, it may not be common knowledge that the British have come up with what they call a “helping hand, a product called Boardmate.
This low tech and inexpensive but seemingly effective tool allows one person to attach full
sized gyp board to ceilings, walls or sloping surfaces.

Another handy little low-tech tool from across the Pond for anyone who has tried
in vain to stop the flow out of a caulking gun, is Durgun, which provides a reverse-action trigger that sucks it all back up, preventing mess or waste. It’s called a Durgun because people who make such messes have been known to say “Dur!” whenever they make their frequent mistakes with caulking guns and other tools.


But what about tools that are not yet on
the market? An Illinois contractor is very
happy that “Some of the advances in estimating software have been tremendous.
It would be great to see some type of software system or handheld device that we
could give to our people in the field that would allow them to take real-time data
from the job site and download it directly into the office, instead of having to
rely on unreliable and clumsy telephone and fax communications.”

Such a networked system would certainly speed communications and projects
and avoid misunderstandings. An Arkansan offers another equally good idea
“Id like to see a double-clamp for metal-stud framing. We have many people who
are good and quick at framing, but they don’t like to use clamps, even though they
do keep the framing straighter and positioned properly. They would rather grab
it with their hands and shoot in the track with the hand, even if it is off a fraction.

“If there were some kind of double C- clamp that would clamp on, holding
both sides of the stud tight so they could screw both sides at the same time, it
would only require them to fasten one clamp instead of two. They would only
need to go ‘click, screw, screw’ and they’d be done, especially if the clamp had a
lever to fasten the clamps in place, instead of a screw to tighten them.”

By the way, Robert Ward of Managed Subcontractors International in Rogers,
Ark., would like to hear from any manufacturers who want to explore this idea,
so he can explain the concept and talk about how he, too, can become filthy
rich from this idea!

An Iowan says he’d “like to see taping finishing tools that can finish corners.
Other than that, we really need to master many of the tools that are out there already.
There are products on the market that could be more cost effective, but
I don’t know if they ever will be. By this I am referring to things like stud-cutting machines for lighter-gauge steel. On large jobs, you can justify the cost of themachine based on extensive usage, but how does one justify the cost in a smaller market area such as ours?”


A Kentucky contractor came up with a bright idea for a tool that, on reflection,
didn’t seem so bright: “It sure would be good to feed drawings into a machine that could then read off all the materials needed ….But, I guess that would lay us open to the interpretations of whoever drew the plans, and the vague plans that we so often see these days. Whatever
was built using those materials would probably end up looking like a pancake
instead of a building.”

A couple of cool-tool ideas, some venting about tools being foisted off on the
market, and a request for lighter gyp board. Maybe manufacturers will take

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

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