Archive for Monday, December 10, 2001

vanishing act leads to investigation of innovative gadgets

December 10, 2001


I know it's around somewhere that cool cordless drill/driver I got about five years ago, with the cross-hairs and bubble level.

But after 20 minutes of searching, I gave up looking.

I wanted to get the blinds hung in Bonnie's new bedroom before "Survivor" came on.

So I went low-tech.

I rushed out to the garage for my trusty set of Phillips screwdrivers. Out of the set of five, there was only one left in the rack. Fortunately, it was the right size.

As I was drilling some pilot holes with my old-fashioned electric drill, I realized I have a problem.

I'm finding my cool tools are disappearing into that murky Bermuda triangle that stretches from the garage to my basement to that great black hole known as my son's new apartment.

I used to know exactly where to find each and every one of my screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches and power tools. Everything had a place in the tool box, on the peg board or on shelves.

Then slowly but surely, my four children started becoming self-sufficient. Or they got tired of waiting for me to fix something.

Now, when I don't really need them, I see my tools in odd places.

For example, I just noticed my good hammer on Katy's nightstand. And yesterday my metric wrench set and voltage tester were next to a purple bottle of mousse in the closet.

Last weekend, I found what used to be my good wire stripper out in the back yard. It was full of teeth marks even my dog doesn't know to put the tools back.

Feeling a little light in the tool belt, I decided to see what's new in 21st-century consumer power tool technology.

Laser guidance

I typed into my Web browser and found there were several new innovative tools, including one with a laser.

Lasers used in cutting tools have come a long way since the 1960s, when they were used to slice through solid steel.

Remember the scene from "Goldfinger" when James Bond gets a little nervous as the industrial cutting laser starts moving in a little too close for comfort between his legs?

"Do you expect me to talk?" he asks.

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to DIE," Goldfinger answers.

Since then, lasers have taken on a little more sophistication and are used for much more than splitting English spies.

We've seen them used in printers, in CD players, on engineer's transits and even on pointer tools.

And that's how Craftsman is using the laser on its new Laser Trac 10-inch compound miter saw.

I tried it out in a Sears store.

When you squeeze the ergonomic hand grip, the 15-amp motor comes on and the 10-inch blade starts spinning up to 5,000 rpm.

As you lower the blade, a thin red-orange laser light shines on the board, showing you exactly where the blade will cut so there are no mistakes.

And a showroom clerk immediately appears to ask if he can help you.

"Do you expect me to talk?" I think silently.

"No, Mr. Toplikar, I expect you to BUY," I could almost hear him saying.

Multiuse tools

I checked to see what Black & Decker ( has to offer this year in consumer power tools. I was drawn to the bright red, laser-gun look of the new "FireStorm" line of cordless drills.

One of the cool features was an electronic level.

A little bulb lights up when you're holding the drill level. The drill/drivers also have a "quick connect" bit-change system that lets you convert easily from drilling a hole to driving a screw.

One of the most innovative in Black & Decker's lineup is its "Navigator" power handsaw-jigsaw combination.

It easily converts from being a jigsaw to a power handsaw. The power handsaw cuts through wood, plastic and metal like a reciprocating saw.

And then there was the new FireStorm Multi-Tool, which seems to be the Swiss Army knife of cordless power tools.

What you get is a cordless power threesome a jigsaw, a sander and a drill/driver.

It has three attachments that you pop on and off to sand, cut and drill, or drive screws.

The only problem I could see with it is if I misplaced it, I'd have to buy three tools instead of one.

If you're looking for a quick place to size up power tools before you buy, you might check out the Home Improvement Power Tool Guide at

It features a grid that compares features of various consumer and professional power tools.

A 10-cent solution

A couple of days ago, I was in a hurry to put my new license plate on my car. And when I went out to the garage to get a flat screwdriver you guessed it. Nothing.

So I checked underneath the front car seat.

The Gobstoppers I had no use for.

But I found that you can make a quick screwdriver out of a dime and a pair of pliers.

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