Category Archives: Tools

Environmental Impact?

This Dyson vacuum comes in 3 pounds of packaging. This includes more than a dozen separate elaborately cut-and-folded pieces of corrugated cardboard. (The cutouts mean that the amount of cardboard that was consumed in producing the packaging was even greater.)

Dyson V8 packaging: 3 pounds of cardboard

The packaging also includes the following note (on that black paper in the middle):

To reduce our environmental impact, we’ve moved your full manual online.

I weighed the full printed manuals that came with two other vacuums, and each was just half an ounce. That’s 1% of the weight of the packaging here. From the picture here, does it look like Dyson has gotten the packing cardboard to within 1% of the minimum needed to protect the product during shipment?

I’m beginning to suspect that this “environmental impact” business is a pretext for something else….

Everyday Carry Knives: Kershaw SpeedSafe

I’ve had a Kershaw Cryo G10 for two years, and during that time I’ve pretty much stopped carrying any other knife. It clips and rides more comfortably in the corner of my pocket than any other. I love the SpeedSafe assisted opening feature. I haven’t abused it, but I can at least tell that the steel will take and hold a decent edge. And since it can be replaced for under $30 I don’t feel the need to baby it.

I took advantage of a sale this week to add three more SpeedSafes to my collection. Top to bottom is a Filter, Brawler, Cryo 155Ti, and my two-year-old Cryo:

Products I’m looking for in 2014


  • Supply in the firearms industry is finally starting to converge on demand. But reloaders are still grasping for powder, and .22LR is still absurdly scarce. We’re looking for both of those shortages to end by the middle of this year.
  • Expanding subsonic rifle bullets: Looks like this is finally the year for these to hit the mainstream market. Outlaw State Bullets and Lehigh Bullets have had some expensive offerings. But this year Norma is supposed to begin importing their Plastic Points, and Remington should finally have an offering tailored for their 300BLK.
  • .38 Supercomp Sig and Glock conversions. The caliber offers the ballistics of .357 Sig in the diameter of 9mm, which translates to more magazine capacity. Also, as a straight-walled cartridge it’s easier to reload.
  • Laser Doppler Anemometers: Solid-state devices for shooters, similar to laser rangefinders, that can measure downrange winds. Winds are the last primary ballistic factor that can’t be measured outside instrumented ranges. Even the most skilled long-range marksmen in the field have limited indicators from which to read and compensate for windage. Admittedly this technology is still some years off from commercialization.
  • Chemical laser guns. Well maybe not this year, but the technology is there for it.



  • High-speed consumer video cameras: GoPro may be inching back into this niche left by Casio four years ago. Their top offerings can now sustain 240fps at 480p, but I’m still looking for thousands of frames per second in a sub-$1000 camera, which is no stretch given the state of the art.
  • Reasonably-priced HD IP security cameras: For some reason these persist at over $200 when the state of the art should have them closer to $100.
  • Digital thermal and night-vision gear: No manufacturer seems to want to lunge for the tipping point. Equipment that is currently produced at a small scale, and therefore costs 4- or 5-figures, could be profitably mass-produced and sold for 3-figures to the sport and non-military security markets.

Corner Protectors

Corner protectors aren’t just for homes with little kids running around constantly bumping into things: I have learned through painful experience that the sharp corners on melamine-coated fiberboard easily rip through fabric and skin.

I run a round-off router bit over all my exposed woodwork edges whenever possible, but with glued melamine and some finished furniture you can’t do that. A few years ago I found some soft plastic corner cushions that unobtrusively provided excellent protection against scrapes and dented foreheads.

Recently I built a bunch of new shelves with exposed corners that I wanted to soften and I spent weeks looking for the same corner protectors. It turns out that my preferred solution is also by far the cheapest of the many competing products ($3.50 for eight), and that these are available only at Babies R Us.
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Kohler BubbleMassage Bathtub Review

I just remodeled two 18-year-old bathrooms. In one I replaced a cracking fiberglass tub with an American Standard Princeton “Americast” tub. I considered cast iron, but Americast is a durable porcelain-coated composite offering much better insulation against temperature and noise — not to mention being significantly lighter than cast iron.

The bigger project was our master bathroom, and when it came to finding a new bathtub I had several goals. I wanted something big enough for my 5’9″ wife to stretch out in, but not so big that it would never get used. I wanted a massage feature that didn’t use waterjets because of all the cleaning and hygiene problems associated with running bathwater through an enclosed pump system.

Kohler’s BubbleMassage line sounded like a good solution: These are acrylic tubs with 120 little holes around the base perimeter through which a motor blows heated air. After the bath is drained the motor blows any residual moisture out of the system to prevent mold growth.

A 6’x3′ drop-in looked like it would be the right size so I bought and installed a Kohler Mariposa BubbleMassage tub (just over $2000 from Home Depot). At 72 gallons to the overflow I thought that would be ample capacity for a luxurious bath.

It turns out things aren’t so simple.
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Grout I Can Live With

I have been busy renovating a house I recently bought. One of my biggest challenges has been coming up with bathroom surfaces that are impermeable and impervious to water and stains. Porcelain and ceramic tiles are a good start, but traditional tile grout absorbs water. Sealers can temporarily prevent that, but eventually grout lines are going to form a breeding ground for mold and mildew. My goal with all my construction is zero maintenance, maximum durability, and minimal effort to keep things clean.

For bathroom walls acrylic solid-surfaces are a good solution. The cheapest I could find are Swanstone and U.S. Marble, but those are still at least $20/sq.ft.

I was getting ready to go with vinyl for the floors when I started hearing mention of epoxy grouts, which are truly impermeable and never need sealing. Combining that with the $.77 square-foot porcelain tiles Home Depot was selling sounded like a winning combination. It took some research but here’s what I found:

Laticrete makes a patented epoxy grout called SpectraLOCK, which consists of a two-part epoxy cement (“Parts A and B”) and a third “Part C” sanded filler. Lowes is apparently the only retailer that carries SpectraLOCK, and they only stock the smallest “Mini” containers. A Mini is good for about 25 sq.ft. of tile but costs $23. For anything bigger it is better to go online and buy “Full” A-B units, which are equal to four Minis. The epoxy is the expensive part but it’s very light. delivers Full A-B units for $50. You can then go to Lowes and get 4 Part C containers in whatever color you want for $12.

Laticrete sells “Commercial” units of SpectrLOCK which are equal to 4 Full units. delivers Commercial A-B units for $150. Lowes doesn’t usually stock the 16 Part C containers you would need in a single color, so at that point you would either have to special order or pay to ship them.

Residential Power Factor Correction (Scam)

At a recent home trade show I was intrigued by a company (KVAR) pushing a $400 capacitor that, when wired into a residential electric service panel, promises to reduce energy consumption by 6-10%. They even had a neat demonstration consisting of a large fan motor and multimeter wired through their capacitor. Sure enough, when the capacitor was enabled the amperage shown on the multimeter declined.

I was a little suspicious because I happened to own an air handler that used the exact fan motor they were demonstrating, and I know that it is always installed with a large start capacitor of its own that was conspicuously absent in their circuit.

They claim their savings are due to their capacitor increasing the “power factor” of a home’s inductive electrical load. Well I didn’t know anything about power factor, but I thought it would be unusual in the age of Energy-Star appliances for manufacturers to be omitting capacitors that could increase their energy efficiency.

Having studied up on power factor correction it seems clear that a fixed-size capacitor is not going to consistently improve the power factor of a residence. And even if it could that wouldn’t result in any savings on the electric bill.

Energy Star confirms that the promises of KVAR’s residential product (and knock-offs) are a scam. Michael Bluejay gives a more detailed explanation. My favorite explanation was found here:

Residential customers are not billed for kVA, they are billed for kWh. These devices, when they are working properly, have almost their entire impact on reducing kVA, not kWh. Some commercial customers can save on their electric bills by improving their power factor, but residential customers can’t. In residential, the devices can in theory achieve a very small savings by reducing losses in the wiring, but that impact depends on the PFC device being properly applied to the specific load, not a generic whole house device.

If such devices worked as advertised, then energy efficiency research and advocacy groups would be promoting them throughout the country and many electric utilities would be giving rebates for their purchase.

Primer Pocket Cleaners: Lee vs RCBS

Cleaning primer pockets of fired cases is part of the ritual of preparing accurate, reliable reloads.

RCBS sells a $15 Primer Pocket Brush Combo (Part #9574) for this purpose, consisting of a threaded handle and two threaded stainless steel wire brushes for each primer pocket size.  It is the first tool in the following photo:

The second tool shown is Lee’s $2 Primer Pocket Cleaner (Part #90101).  It is just a small blued steel cylinder with a squared-off blade on one side for small primer pockets and on the other side for large ones.

The following picture shows eight large-primer cases.  The left two have not been cleaned, showing the importance of this step of brass preparation.  The top three were cleaned with two twists of the RCBS tool, and the bottom three with two twists of the Lee tool.  I thought the RCBS would be more comfortable and easy to use, but after prepping a batch of brass I became much more concerned about what it was doing to my primer pockets:  As you can see the steel brushes leave noticeable gouges in the brass.  In contrast, the Lee tool keeps the pocket face square and relatively unscathed.

I can’t see any good coming of marring primer pockets to this degree.  Especially over repeated uses the RCBS brush is removing measurable amounts of brass, and if you didn’t need it the first time it will almost certainly be needed on subsequent cleanings since the primer pocket floor is no longer flat enough for a tool like Lee’s to make full contact.  Therefore I recommend against the RCBS tool. Lee’s much cheaper tool is a perfectly functional solution to primer pocket cleaning.

Ryobi AIRgrip ProCross Laser Level

Home Depot now has these for $50. Given my past experience with cheaper laser levels I picked one up half expecting to return it. But this is a really cool device! It really does grab onto walls. Its bright lines really are self-leveling. It’s easy to micro-adjust to exactly the point you want it.

It made it so easy for me to hang shelf tracks and nail up chair molding that I decided it belongs on my tool shelf (in its neat soft-sided storage case).

ToolSnob has an early review.

Rotary Hammer: Hitachi DH24PF3

Hammer drills are fine for making small holes in masonry for 1/4″ anchors and screws.  But they are not up to the task of anything more serious.  They use a friction plate to generate the impact force.  I literally burned out two hammer drills trying to move a 1″ masonry bit through cinderblock before learning the limits of that technology.

For serious drilling or chiseling into stone, masonry, or concrete, you need a rotary hammer.  I bought the bargain-priced Hitachi DH24PF3 a few years ago (available for under $170 from many online resellers) based on a comparative test published by Tools of the Trade, where it won their 2005 Editors’ Choice Awards.  Their summary:

Hitachi’s powerhouse DH24PC2 rotary hammer wins for being unstoppable. In our January/February 2005 issue, our tool tester reported there was little he could do to slow this rotary hammer down drilling and chipping in 3,000-psi concrete. From recommended pressure through extreme force, the unit relentlessly and quickly sank 1/2-inch-diameter holes and blasted a bull-point chisel 3 inches deep. Add to that good comfort, low reaction torque, and a competitive price and the result is a tool that can tough it out in the roughest conditions. The DH24PC2 weighs 5.5 pounds, delivers 2.1 foot-pounds of impact energy, and has three modes of operation [(drilling only, hammering only, and drilling plus hammering)].

I subsequently used this rotary hammer for hours straight to bore through a concrete slab, footer, and compressed shale beneath as I was installing a sub-slab suction system for radon control.  It also easily blew through 10″ block walls to make a 4″ opening for the PVC vent.

The tool uses standard SDS-Plus bits.  An excellent source for bits is Bullet Industries.