Power Tool Reviews

Buying screwdriver bits

Posted in Buying Guides, Power Tool Reviews on May 30th, 2012 by Julian Cassell – 2 Comments

When buying screwdriver bits for your cordless drill, you really need to think about ‘stocking’ two categories of bit, in order to cover most DIY tasks. Effectively, you need a small, but high quality selection of the most used bits, and a large, inexpensive, lower quality selection of every other bit. This guide will explain why this is the case, and what the best options are for buying screwdriver bits. read more »


Buying a sander

Posted in Buying Guides, Power Tool Reviews on February 11th, 2011 by Julian Cassell – Be the first to comment

If you are in the market for buying a sander, this guide will tell you all you need to know about the best option for DIY. Power sanders, quite simply, make all those honing and preparation jobs so much easier. There are a number of different designs on the market, but I’ll explain why I think there is one stand out performer, and why I think that there are far too many different designs and shapes that are quite frankly, not needed, and will just gather dust in your shed. So firstly, a little more on sander types.

Half and quarter sheet sanders

Makita palm sander

With a palm sander you just cut sheets to size and they clamp very securely in place on the sanding pad. Rather than buying sandpaper sheets, I always opt for the rolls – it’s much cheaper, and more about this further down the page………..

Half sheet sanders were basically the original sander design, closely followed by their smaller cousin, the quarter sheet ‘palm’ sander.

Their names come from the fact that the sanding pad is either a quarter, or half the surface area of a standard sized sanding sheet.

I prefer the quarter sheet sander as firstly it’s light, and therefore not tiring to use.

Secondly, when you use a sander, however much you try to use the entire surface area of the sanding pad, you will always find that the most work is done by the front edge of the pad, closely followed by the back edge. The area in between doesn’t get involved as much as you would hope. Therefore because the front and back edges of a quarter sheet sander are the same size as those of a half sheet sander, I tend to think that buying the larger sanders is just a waste of sandpaper and machine alike.

Thirdly, the smaller sander is much easier to get into nooks and crannies and close up to corners – it’s just much more versatile.

Random orbital (RO) sanders

Things get slightly confusing here as the orbital sander category pretty much covers most sander designs these days, as it simply refers to the action of the sanding pad. Basically, the pad makes small random rotations to reduce any directional scratches in the surface, which would otherwise look unsightly in the finish. This is a particularly important consideration, for example, if you will be applying a translucent finish such as varnish or wax.

However, ‘Random orbital'(RO) is now a common description used for a particular variety of sander, and if you walked into a shop and asked for one, you would most likely be directed towards the sanders with the round sanding pads – small and large options. They are without doubt, nice pieces of kit, but the big ones are very pricy, heavy, and too big for the majority of jobs you need a sander for, and both sanders have what I think is the wrong design, in that they have round sanding pads. Maybe it’s just me, but I always need corners on my sander…… to get into corners – surely?

Belt sanders

Belt sanders have a strong sanding ‘belt’ fitted to a motor and pair of rotating drums, creating a pretty all round, powerful smoothing tool. However, for me, belt sanders are a pro tool, or only a requirement for serious woodworkers. Unless you do a lot of wooden floor laying, or have a compulsion to sand hundreds of oak beams, I never really feel you’re going to get your money’s worth out of them.

Belt sanders are heavy, unwieldy, and designed for real heavy-duty requirements, and you have to be very careful not to score surfaces as their weight and power can often cause you to gouge out, rather than smooth. I don’t own one, have very rarely used one, and therefore it certainly doesn’t spring to mind as an essential DIY tool.

Detail sanders

Detail sander review

I know it’s cute, and this Bosch PSM80A is definitely the best detail sander on the market, but I just think that a standard palm sander is a much better, and cost effective option.

If there has ever been a very clever marketing drive for a pointless (please excuse the pun) piece of equipment, it has been the development of detail sanders.

Someone, somewhere said “I know, let’s make a cute looking power tool, and I reckon we can sell it on looks alone – oh yes and also, we can make special sized bits of sandpaper that only fit our machine…and oh yes, eventually people will get so hacked off, that they’ll stick it in a drawer, forget about it, and buy our next cute looking machine……” ….wait a couple of years….”bingo, I’ve got it boss, let’s make a cute little round sander, and we can start the whole process again!” i.e. see my comments earlier about the round RO sanders!

Now, if you’re saying to yourself……but surely the pointy sander has got the pointy bit that can get into corners better? Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but a sander with a square sanding pad, such as quarter sheet palm sander, has four pointy corners! Also the design of a quarter sheet palm sander means that where the sandpaper curves around the end of the pad to be clamped in place, provides a perfect shape for running along the edge of a moulding, such as in a skirting board or along an architrave. Now I know detail sanders work, some better than others (!), but I just think why bother getting one when a quarter sheet sander will do the same job, and more, and in terms of running costs, below are a couple of calculations that should also be eye openers.

Sanding sheets

Before getting to my final choice, one further issue worth considering is the sanding sheets that you need for a sander, and the cost implications.

Large round RO sanders – use a Velcro hook and loop system to attach disc shaped sanding sheets. Pack of 10 for £5ish = 50p a go
Small detail sanders also use a Velcro hook and loop system, for pointy shaped sheets. Pack of 10 for £7ish = 70p go
Quarter sheet sanders – may use Velcro but you also have the option of clamping sheets in place. 10m roll of aluminium oxide paper is £8ish. You then cut sheets to length – approx 15cm – 6 sheets per metre say = 60 sheets  = 14p a go

It’s just SO much cheaper to use a quarter sheet palm sander. As a side note,  it’s also much better/economical to buy sandpaper in rolls, rather than sheets.

Best sander

Therefore, without a doubt, the most multipurpose, hardwearing, and effective sander you can buy is a quarter sheet palm sander. The only decision is what make? I’ve always used the Makita quarter sheet palm sanders, they’re strong, light, and most importantly……they do the job. Mine, sits in my toolbox, always at the ready.

There’s more than one Makita palm sander model, and so you’ll find slight variations in weight and specification. All are fine and fit for purpose, but my favoured option is the BO4555 which can be found on Amazon along with other outlets such as Screwfix, Tooled-Up and Wickes.

Finally, if you require, the Makita UK website will provide you with some further detail and technical specifications for their palm sanders.


Buying a jigsaw

Posted in Buying Guides, Power Tool Reviews on February 9th, 2011 by Julian Cassell – Be the first to comment

A jigsaw is likely to be be your first purchase if you decide you’re in the market for a power saw. Why? Simply because it’s the most multipurpose of the electric saw family, and has the other attraction of being the cheapest. Jigsaws can cut a variety of materials using a range of different blades, but they are most commonly used for wood, and wood based boards. At the bottom of this guide, I’ve detailed what I believe to be the best jigsaw for DIY. However, before your final decision on buying a jigsaw, this guide provides a few  further details on jigsaw terminology, and the different types of jigsaw available.

Orbital or pendulum jigsaws?

Some of the buzz words with jigsaws these days include terms like ‘pendulum’ and ‘orbital’ action. These simply refer to the way in which the blade moves, other than the straightforward up and down motion. The terms are in fact rather more dramatic than they are in practice, so don’t expect a pendulum jigsaw to have the blade moving about like the pendulum in a grandfather clock, but this very slight extra movement of the blade does generally improve the cut, and in fact make blades last longer. However, of at least equal importance for me, is whether a jigsaw has the following two features:-

1. A variable speed trigger 

Buying a jigsaw

The quick blade release on a jigsaw is essential in my opinion. A simple shift of the release button ejects the blade, and another can be simply slotted into the socket.

Having a jigsaw with a variable speed trigger means that you have a lot more control when cutting, making it much easier to develop a good technique, and far easier to use when doing intricate cuts. With single speed options you just don’t get this flexibility.

2. Quick blade release 

There’s nothing more annoying than getting an Allen key out or some other tightening tool when changing over blades. The quick release options, sometimes referred to as SDS are much more user friendly, and you know that when the blade is locked in place, it’s locked in place correctly.

Corded or cordless jigsaws?

Well, yes you can get cordless jigsaws, but is it vital to be cable free? No, not in my opinion. With a cordless drill you’re continually on the move – up here, down there, next room etc etc. and so being cordless is essential as constantly plugging and unplugging would, quite simply, drive you mad. With a jigsaw, this sort of flexibility is not necessary – you have your little workstation set up, and you bring bits of wood to it. Don’t get me wrong, a cordless jigsaw is a really nice (and pricey!) option, but certainly not essential.

Jigsaw cutting depths and bevels

Most manufacturers will bang on about huge cutting depth specifications and bevel cut options, but quite frankly the vast majority of jobs you’ll use a jigsaw for, do not require substantial capabilities with either of these features. Jigsaws are great for cutting things like laminate floor boards, sheets of ply, shelving – all of which are generally a centimetre or two thick.

Even if you’re cutting your wooden kitchen worktop, 4cm is going to be the maximum requirement, so jigsaws that can cut 12cm depths or more just won’t get a chance to fulfil their potential. Most have a cutting depth of around 8cm – that’s plenty. Also, if you’ve ever tried cutting exceptionally thick sections of timber with a jigsaw, you’ll know that making a ‘square’ cut is nigh on impossible as the flexibility in the blade lends itself to ‘wandering’, and so you may be accurate along your cutting line and directly below it, but the deeper you go, the more chance of you entering wavy line territory. For me, jigsaws really aren’t designed for deep (accurate!) cuts.

Also being able to tilt the sole plate of the saw to make bevelled cuts is a pretty rare requirement, so I’d again say that it’s a non-essential feature for DIY, but to be honest, most jigsaws now have this capability anyway.

Which is the best jigsaw make?

As with all power tools, I am normally drawn towards the quality of the well known brands, but I find this bias to be most acute with the more viscious tools, and jigsaws certainly fall into this category. With a fast moving saw blade, close to slower moving fingers, I want a brand with a track record. So in many ways it’s not surprising that Makita and De Walt are certainly options in this area, but without doubt my stand out winners for jigsaws are Bosch.

Bosch have the largest range, specific Pro (blue) and DIY (green) ranges, are the biggest sellers, and if you walk into most shops, you’ll see that Bosch control the market with replacement blades. Bosch simply equals best with jigsaws. They always make chunky, robust tools, and that’s exactly what you want with a jigsaw – the lightweight, flimsier options just dance around all over the place making it impossible to make an accurate cut. The pros will of course go for the ‘blue’ range, but these can get pricey, and are in no way vital for even a high use DIYer. Therefore I’ve got absolutely no hesitancy in recommending from the ‘green’ range.

Which Bosch jigsaw?

The best option from the Bosch green DIY range is the Bosch PST 800 PEL 530 Watt Compact Jigsaw.

I choose the 800 as I don’t think the 900 model offers a great deal more for your money – the only extras in comparison to the 800 model are a little more power, speed preselection (whoopee), and a little light (not exactly vital). The 700/600 series perhaps lack a bit of power and weight, but they would certainly still be fine for light to medium DIY use.

For the best prices on the Bosch range, try Amazon first, and for some price comparisons you can take a look at Tooled-Up and John Lewis.

Finally, if you still need a little more information to make up your mind on which model, visit the official Bosch site for more detailed specifications on their DIY jigsaw range.


Buying a cordless drill

Posted in Buying Guides, Featured, Power Tool Reviews on January 31st, 2011 by Julian Cassell – 4 Comments

Buying a cordless drill can be a daunting task, because there are so many options on the market, but ownership of one is a must if you do any sort of constructional DIY around the home. Even if the most you do is hang a few pictures, a cordless drill just makes life so much easier, in fact the only difficult thing about these tools is choosing which cordless drill to buy. At the bottom of this guide you’ll find my recommendations for the best cordless drill on the market, as well as a cheaper, budget option, which is still a great tool for more occasional DIY use. read more »


Buying a mitre saw

Posted in Buying Guides, Power Tool Reviews on January 18th, 2011 by Julian Cassell – 2 Comments

Buying a mitre saw is a big decision in DIY terms, not only because of the price tag, but also whether you can justify that it will indeed be used enough to pay back that investment. The thing is, the name ‘mitre saw’ sort of suggests you only really need it to form perfect mitred, generally 45 degree, cuts. Yes, of course that is its major selling point, but just in terms of cutting lengths of timber quickly, ‘squarely’, and therefore accurately, a mitre saw is simply an invaluable piece of kit for DIY. read more »