The last time Carl Hagstrom went on a cool tool search, he found 10 tools priced below $100 that we thought could make your work easier. Carl?s at it again. This time, he found four gadgets that each cost $20 or less and show promise for saving time and effort.
Score and Snap Wide Boy Tape Measure
The Wide Boy caught my attention for its handy slot on the blade for cutting drywall. Slip the blade of your utility knife in the slot, pull your measurement, and start cutting. The slot keeps your blade on the line while you?re scoring sheets of drywall and makes you look like a drywall pro. This feature is cool and it works, but what I really like about this tape is the extra-long standout.
Whenever possible, I reach with my tape instead of walking to the end of a board to measure it. Reaching with the tape saves time and effort—especially on a top plate. My 25-foot tape?s 1-inch blade typically goes limp about 7 feet from my supporting hand, making my reach about 9 feet overall.
The Wide Boy?s 1-1/4-inch blade breaks about 10 feet past my hand, giving me a 12-foot reach. This longer reach is particularly helpful when I?m working alone, especially for measuring ceiling trim from a stepladder. The wider blade tends to roll over in windy conditions and I wish it had a larger hook to make it easier to extract, but the 3 extra feet of reach and the low price make the Wide Body definitely worth a try.
SNS Tape Co.; 800-896-8558; Street price: $9.
Accubend Aluminum Brake
Anyone who?s serious about working with aluminum coil stock owns a brake. In experienced hands, brakes produce some impressive shapes, and the angles are always crisp, clean, and straight. But when you?re working on scaffold or extension ladder and the brake?s on the ground, passing pieces back and forth for minor tweaks is a time-gobbling pain. And when you?re wrapping things like windows and cornice returns, these tweaks are best handled and test-fitted on the work itself.
The Accubend is a handheld mini-brake designed specifically for these situations. It?s a thin, rectangular piece of steel that comes in 7- and 11-inch lengths. Using the tool is as simple as it gets: Insert the coil stock into the 1-inch-deep slot around the tool?s perimeter, lay the piece on a flat surface, and rotate the Accubend to the desired angle. Eight measuring windows let you view the bend?s width as you insert the coil stock into the slot. Both models fit easily in your bags.
The 3-1/2-inch narrow end of the Accubend is great for bending hems on the ends of window and narrow fascia trim. The 11-inch side slides along longer pieces and can create bends more than 2 feet long. If you work with aluminum, you can?t afford not to own both sizes of this tool.
Aero Aluminum Co.; 773-581-1880; Street price: 7-inch model: $15; 11-inch model: $17.
Chalk Line Anchor
Who hasn?t had to start a nail somewhere so you could pull your chalk line? Whether you?re fishing for a hammer and nail at the top of a ladder or you?re stretching yourself across a stack of plywood, that process takes a few steps—and certainly both hands.
The Rocket Anchor attaches easily to your chalk line, removes about half of those steps, and speeds up the entire process. You just push the tool?s sharp point in where you want to start your line, unreel the string, and snap. The Anchor grabs hard and pops out easily so you?re ready for the next line. If I?m laying out a floor deck, I can nudge the Rocket Anchor loose with my foot.
The gadget easily pierces plywood, OSB, solid-sawn lumber, and drywall. It takes less than a minute to attach or remove the Rocket Anchor from your chalk line and you can easily adjust the point for the material you?re working with. With an online purchase price of $12, this tool?s a no-brainer.
Rocket Anchor; 208-642-8156; www.rocketanchor.com; Street price: $12.
My favorite tools are as indestructible as they are inexpensive, and this one?s quite rugged. This self-locking foothold quickly attaches to any open 2x4 stud, creating a quick step-up anywhere along a wall.
When I saw this tool, I knew it?d be great for pulling Romex wire through ceiling joists because I wouldn?t have to drag the stepladder every few feet. I just slip the tool over the stud, step up (grabbing the top plate for balance), pull the wire through, grab the Stud Step, and move on. Running a screw through the back of the Stud Step holds it in place, a handy option if you leave it in the same spot for a while.
With a pair of Stud Steps, I can sometimes position myself for a two-handed task like installing interior wall truss clips. At 1.1 pounds apiece, they?re light, small, and easily fit in my bag. That?s more than I can say for my stepladder.
Because the Stud Step can?t grab a stud on a sheathed wall, I was suspicious about its overall usefulness. So, I visited the company?s Web site, where I learned that the tool also works as an adjustable grip for moving framed walls, a temporary drywall support for placing upper sheets, a rod support for cable spools, and a temporary hanger for tools or buckets. This list is sure to grow as more builders discover this tool. At 20 bucks, it?s an easy gadget to add to your arsenal.
Stud Step; www.studstep.com; 877-929-7837; Street price: $20.
—Carl Hagstrom is a contractor in Montrose, Pa., and a contributing editor to Hanley-Wood?s Tools of the Trade.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE Magazine, March/April 2002