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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Repairs & How To » Best New Gadgets for DIYers

Best New Gadgets for DIYers

Our editors pick the best new products to make your old-house projects easier.

    RainPerfect rain barrel pump

    Recycled Rain

    Take your rain barrel an eco-step further with the RainPerfect pump, which provides pressurized water directly from a rain barrel to a sprinkler or garden hose. Its easy top-mount installation adapts to most rain barrel styles and standard garden fixtures, and it’s powered by a rechargeable solar battery, capable of pumping up to 100 gallons on a single charge. Around $200. Visit rainperfectpump.com.

    SubTerra permeable pavers

    Runoff Reducers

    Storm water runoff can mix with a host of contaminants (like motor oil and fertilizer) to pollute rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Permeable pavers can vastly reduce runoff, keeping pollutants in check and the environment cleaner. The SubTerra pavers from Belgard Hardscapes resemble natural chiseled stone, with modular shapes that make them easy to install. They can be laid in two traditional patterns (stock bond or 90-degree herringbone, shown below) and perform well in harsh climates. From about $2 per square foot. Call (877) 235-4273, or visit belgard.biz.

    Clean Heat

    Made of compressed sawdust and wood shavings without chemical binders, wood pellets are one of the greenest heating fuels around. European company Okofen has been making pellet-heating products since the late 1990s, and its innovative Pellematic boilers are now available in the U.S. Not only is the boiler powered by a completely carbon-neutral, renewable energy source, but the resulting ash also can be used as a garden fertilizer. Prices start at $13,000. Call (207) 824-6749, or visit okofen-usa.com.

    Irwin 4-point snap blade

    It’s a Snap

    When you’re making repeated cuts with a utility knife (such as when removing old carpet or slicing through paint buildup), it’s easy to get slowed down by a dull blade. Irwin’s 4-Point Snap Blade eliminates the hassle of having to regularly swap out blades—the carbon blades are scored on each edge so the end can be snapped off when the point gets dull, doubling the blade’s lifespan. (The scoring is shallow enough not to affect the blade’s cutting stability, but deep enough to be broken off easily with a pair of pliers.) Four notches on the top of the blade allow it to be fully extended regardless of how many tips have been snapped off. Prices start at $1.29 for a five-pack of blades. Call (800) 464-7946, or visit irwin.com.

    Bosch BSH180 cordless band saw

    Compact Power

    A power saw that can squeeze into tight spaces? No, you’re not dreaming—at just 7.7 pounds, Bosch’s BSH180 cordless band saw has the light weight and slim profile needed to perform in close confines. Its 18-volt battery pack can hold a charge through 150 cuts and is mounted above the handle for a balanced, ergonomic design. The blade can cut through up to 2½” of a wide variety of materials—including metal, copper pipes, and electrical cables—in a single pass, making it a particularly handy tool for plumbing or electrical work. $399. Call (877) 267-2499, or visit bosch.com.

    DeWalt 5-in-1 hacksaw

    Quick-Change Artist

    Specialty tasks—like cutting small holes for plumbing or wiring—often require specialty saws, which can necessitate having multiple tools at hand. But with their new 5-in-1 hacksaw, DeWalt has merged five of those specialty functions into one compact, flexible package. In its primary configuration, the 5-in-1 is a standard 90-degree hacksaw that can withstand up to 330 pounds of pressure. With a quick reconfiguration of the frame and blade, however, it transforms into a 45-degree saw, a low-profile hacksaw, a long-reach saw, or a pistol-grip jab saw. The tool comes with both hacksaw and reciprocating blades; the blade not in use can be conveniently tucked away in storage compartment on the handle. $24.97. Call (800) 433-9258, or visit dewalt.com.

    Kuiken Brothers Classical Moulding Collection

    Match Points

    It can be difficult to find period moldings to match originals that have gone missing in an old house, but the recently launched Classical Moulding Collection from the Kuiken Brothers Company will make matching old moldings much easier. Featuring 66 historically accurate molding profiles in a range of architectural styles—Early American, Georgian (shown), Federal, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and Traditional Revival—these poplar moldings are in stock, double-primed, and buffed, so they’re ready to be installed, whether you need crown, casing, base, chair rail, or panel molding. Prices vary; casing starts at $2.39/foot. Call (201) 705-5375, or visit kuikenbrothers.com.

    Milwaukee Electric Tool M18 Cordless Caulk and Adhesive Gun

    Sure Shot

    All caulk guns are not created equal. Milwaukee Electric Tool’s new M18 Cordless Caulk and Adhesive Gun is a case in point: It delivers 950 pounds of force, has a variable-speed trigger, and boasts a six-setting maximum speed dial that optimizes the tool’s flow rate (0″ to 21″ per minute). A special anti-drip mechanism stops material from oozing when you let go of the trigger, and a quick-change carriage allows for easy switches between 10-oz., quart, and sausage-style material containers. $279. Call (800) 729-3878, or visit milwaukeetool.com.

    CH Hanson 10" curved-jaw locking pliers

    Locked In

    Locking pliers can be an indispensable toolbox staple. C.H. Hanson’s redesigned automatic locking pliers generate 1,660 pounds of tip pressure with just 83 pounds of force, and can lock to any size without having to adjust the tool via a knob. A quick-release lever opens the pliers, letting them move easily from one object to another, a more ergonomic design eliminates points that can pinch your hand, and a “set and forget” feature lets you control the pressure, from slight to extreme. $20.36. Call (800) 827-3398, or visit chhanson.com.

    Bosch GTS1031 10" portable job-site table saw

    Moveable Machine

    Most portable table saws can’t be transported with just one hand. But Bosch’s new GTS1031 10″ portable job-site table saw is an exception—the soft-grip handle integrated on its steel base makes one-handed carrying a breeze. It also has a 4-hp motor and Square-Lock Rip Fence technology, which ensures that once the fence is locked into position, it self-squares to the tabletop to ensure consistent cuts. Add to that a tabletop that expands to rip up to 18″ widths and can support an 8″-diameter, ½” dado stack, and you’ve got one mean cutting machine. $399. Call (877) 267-2499, or visit bosch.com.

    Rockler sawhorse brackets

    Sag Stopper

    A work table that droops in the middle is frustrating, but it’s a common occurrence when long plywood sheets are supported on sawhorses. These clever brackets from Rockler offer an easy fix for this annoying problem: They slip over standard sawhorses to allow the insertion of 2×4 supports, creating a more stable base and a solid, level work surface. $12.99 for a pack of four. From Rockler.

    Hyde 14-in-1 putty knife

    All-in-Wonderful

    Multi-use tools pack a lot of punch into a little space. Hyde has just upped the ante with its 14-in-1 putty knife, which contains four different screwdriver bits that slide in and out of the handle in a clever storage compartment. Pick a bit and insert it on the handle’s end, and you can attach screws in a snap, in addition to the tool’s multitude of other uses (like removing and spreading putty, scraping paint, and opening cans). $12.99. Call (888) 211-8621, or visit hydestore.com.

    Skil 1827 Plunge Blade Router

    A Smooth Route

    Routers can be indispensable tools for DIY woodworkers, making intricate designs and finish edges a snap. Skil’s newly redesigned 1827 2-HP Plunge Base Router with Soft Start Technology offers easier start-ups with less kickback and a gradual increase of engine speed. A quick-clamp release lever allows for easy motor adjustments and removal, and the tool’s depth rod and adjustable turret enable repeatable plunge routing applications and variable speed. $89.99. Call (877) 754-5999, or visit skiltools.com.

    Magnogrip magnetic wristband

    Get a Grip

    Nothing’s more frustrating than working on a ladder, reaching for a screw, and hearing it hit the ground. With Magnogrip’s wristband, another one is always close at hand. The band’s clever design embeds powerful magnets within the fabric to hold nails, screws, or nuts in place and within easy reach. An adjustable Velcro closure ensures that one size fits all. $15.99. Call (888) 751-5975, or visit magnogrip.com.

    Arrow T50 RED electric staple gun

    A New Staple

    Who says you can’t make a good thing better? The folks at Arrow have just redesigned their staple gun with comfort and ease of use in mind. The T50 R.E.D. Professional Electric Staple Gun features electric firing technology that lets users set staples correctly on a variety of surfaces—from screening and roof underlayment to insulation—plus precision fastener control to resist jams. A soft, ergonomic rubber grip staves off fatigue and feels comfortable in-hand, while the bottom-loading staple reservoir makes for quick refills and accommodates six staple sizes, from ¼” to 9⁄16″. $59.99. Visit arrowfastener.com.

    Ryobi TEK4 battery-powered screwdriver

    Easy Driving

    For screwing jobs that can tax the arms (like installing a series of cabinet hinges and pulls), Ryobi’s TEK4 4-volt screwdriver is a battery-powered dynamo. The lightweight tool is great for a variety of screwing and driving jobs, and its handy LED light illuminates dark spaces. The tool’s ¼” Speedload+ quick-connect chuck makes for fast and convenient bit changes (and fits all Speedload+ accessories), while a 24-position clutch lets users adjust the torque to suit their needs. The TEK4 comes with a six-piece bit set and tool bag. $29.97. Visit ryobi.com.

    Metabo 5-inch angle grinder

    Great Grinder

    If your restoration projects involve cuts through concrete or metal (perhaps to remove a non-original handrail), an angle grinder can help. Metabo’s new 5″ version is loaded with helpful features, from a tool-less wheel change system and 26.9 inch-pounds of torque to a no-load speed of 10,000 rpms. It also includes improved safety features like a safety-slip clutch to protect against kickback during snags, a seven-position burst-proof guard, and a “dead man” function that immediately stops the grinder if the tool is dropped. Pricing starts at $189. (800) 638-2264; metabo.com.

    Lee Valley Veritas Magnetic Sweep

    Metal Cleanup

    For quick and easy cleanup of nails, screws, bolts, and other metal items around the shop or in the yard—like after a roofing repair project—the Magnetic Sweep from Veritas can be your best friend. The strong 9½”-wide magnet easily attracts up to 2 pounds of metal per sweep. Its low profile and flexible neck help it fit easily under cars, bushes, or shelves, and it also boasts an extendable handle that adjusts from 21″ to 47″. $21.50. (800) 871-8158; leevalley.com.

    Joby Gorillatorch Blade flashlight

    Hands-Free Flashlight

    Anyone who’s struggled to hold a flashlight while working in a crawlspace will appreciate the new Gorillatorch Blade, which stands on articulating ball-and-socket tripod legs that bend to wrap around just about anything—and what they can’t wrap around, they usually can stick to thanks to strong magnets in their feet. With 130 lumens and features like an adjustable wide- to spot-beam, the Blade makes getting targeted lighting where you need it a snap. Its lithium-ion battery also easily recharges through either an AC adapter or the USB port on your computer. $59.95. (888) 569-5629; joby.com.

    Bostitch Twin Blade utility knife

    Two Knives in One

    Switching between utility knives mid-project—to access a different type of blade, or a sharper one—can result in juggling acts, uneven cuts, or worse. The new Twin Blade utility knife from Bostitch makes the old blade switcheroo a snap. Change easily between two blades contained in the nose by sliding the appropriate shifter forward; an interlocking feature ensures that only one blade can be extended at a time. Blade replacement is easy, too; simply push a button to remove the extended blade, and then insert a new one. A clever storage system inside the ergonomic-grip rubber handle hides up to nine fresh blades, so a sharp cut is always easily within reach. $10.99; bostitch.com.

    EZ Twist paint stick

    A Better Way to Paint

    If you worry about stepping on a tray full of paint as you’re coating your walls, the EZ Twist paint stick can ease your mind; by combining a roller with an in-handle paint reservoir, EZ Twist eliminates the need for extraneous trays. The paint reservoir is replenished via an independent fill tube that connects on one side to a snap-on paint can cover, and on the other to an opening in the roller handle. A simple twist of the handle creates suction that fills the reservoir with up to 18 ounces of paint, enough to cover 8 square feet of wall. Surplus paint can be returned to the can by reversing the motion, and parts clean up by flushing with water. EZ Twist comes with a roller cover (3⁄8″ nap), splatter shield, fill tube, and paint can cover. $49.99; homeright.com.

    Zip Pole dust containment

    Dust Containment Solution

    Containing dust and debris during old-house restoration work is always a concern; Zipwall’s new low-cost 10′ ZipPole provides a solution. As with the company’s award-winning original version, the budget-friendly steel model secures plastic sheeting up to 8 mils thick against the ceiling using spring-loaded poles, letting homeowners set up a dust barrier and containment area in minutes without the need for tape, staples, or glue that can harm historic house parts. ZipPole is available in two- or four-packs that can stretch to 10’3″ tall. The system meets EPA mandates for lead dust containment. A ZipPole two-pack costs $79.95, a four-pack is $169.96; sheeting is not included. (800) 718-2255; zipwall.com.

    Dremel 8200 cordless rotary tool

    Dremel Goes Cordless

    Restoration professionals swear by the Dremel, a rotary tool with interchangeable heads that help it get into corners, around curves, and even under tight spaces to cut, sand, grind, carve, rout, polish, and more. The new Dremel 8200 offers all of this functionality, without a power cord to get in the way. Powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the cordless multi-tool is compatible with all Dremel accessories and attachments, has a 360-degree grip zone, and boasts a variable speed range of 5,000 to 30,000 rotations per minute. Prices range from $99 to $139. (800) 437-3635; dremel.com.

    UTR Decorating Hang & Level

    Picture-Hanging Help

    Ever wished you could take the guesswork out of hanging paintings (and eliminate the excess nail holes that result from hanging a picture too high or too low)? Now you can, thanks to the new Hang & Level, which makes installing pretty-as-a-picture artwork groupings easy. Simply hang your painting on the device’s hooks and hold it to the wall until you find the right position, then remove the picture and push the buttons to mark the spot where nails or hooks should get hammered. Once the nail’s in place and your picture is up, two built-in spirit levels make it simple to get your masterpiece perfectly straight. $20. (866) 428-HANG; utrdecorating.com.

    SBC Cedar Shingles Easy Nailing System

    Shingles Made Simple

    A great old house—be it Queen Anne Victorian or classic Cape Cod cottage—outfitted in cedar shingles is a thing of beauty. If you’ve ever tackled re-shingling yourself, however, you know how hard it can be to get individual shingles precisely aligned—and proper nail placement is key to a long-lasting installation. The Easy Nailing System by SBC Cedar Shingle Manufacturer aims to help. Each shingle comes embossed with an easy-to-read nail line marking the standard 5″ exposure (4″ or 6″ exposures can be easily accommodated, too, by measuring up or down from the markings. The feature is now standard on SBC’s entire line of shingles, from Green Naturals to special-order, prefinished Custom Colors. Prices start at $130/square for Grade “B” Green Naturals. (418) 594-6201; visitsbccedar.com.

    Dow Safe Touch insulation

    New Age Insulation

    Thanks to new fiberglass-free Safe Touch from Dow, there’s no need to suit up before handling the product—or wear protective gloves or goggles, or worry about particulates in the air. That’s because this insulation is made from the same polyester fibers as clothing and bedding, and doesn’t contain the borates or acrylic or formaldehyde binders found in traditional insulation materials. SafeTouch is flexible and can usually be held in place by friction (you also can staple or nail it), and the batts can be easily ripped to size by hand. Available in R-13 and R-19 sizes, for $49.83 per bag. (866) 583-2583; dowsafetouch.com.

    SpacePak ThermaPak direct-vent gas boiler

    Double-Duty Boiler

    The idea of running hydronic heat and domestic hot water off of one appliance might have once seemed far-fetched, but not anymore. The new ThermaPak from SpacePak combines a wall-hung, direct-vent gas boiler with an integrated supply for on-demand domestic hot water. The unit’s tri-parallel flow heat exchanger (below, left) provides optimal combustion for up to 93 percent operating efficiency. It produces more than 4 gallons of domestic hot water per minute—enough to take a shower and run the dishwasher at the same time, while keeping the house toasty warm. Prices start at $4,000. From SpacePak.

    Heatizon ZMesh radiant heating retrofit

    Easy Radiant Heating

    Love the feel of radiant heat, but stumped on how the get it into your historic house? Enter Heatizon’s ZMesh retrofit system. The flexible mesh heating element (resembling a window screen) installs beneath floorboards; it’s able to twist and turn around joists and into corners, and can be nailed or stapled into place. A layer of insulation applied beneath the mesh ensures that heat flows up into the room. The low-voltage system plugs into cold leads, which run to a transformer mounted in a basement, attic, or crawl space. Using only about 25 amps of electricity, the system heats floors to a constant temperature via a programmable thermostat. ZMesh can be installed as a DIY project, with material costs ranging between $8 and $14 per square foot, and it comes with a 25-year warranty. From Heatizon Systems.

    Published in: Old-House Journal

    { 3 comments }

    Catherine Brooks, Eco-Strip July 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Low infrared Speedheater Paint Remover at $499 for the Kit with steel scrapers can transform the slow, dangerous job of stripping lead-based paint into a safe and efficient labor of love while protecting the irreplaceable old wood.

    Gadget Rooms October 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    That’s a great list and shows that you can still renovate your old property but make things a lot quicker and easier by brining in the some 21st Century thinking and tools.

    Tom Mennella January 12, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    I saw on a show little squares of tape placed over shelf holes that are then placed up against a wall where they stick on the wall to give the exact spot for the screws do you have the name of the product?



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