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From the Editor

Las Vegas Hardware Show

Tool Hunt, Part Two

By Patrick Panzera, Editor – Experimenter, EAA 555743  

Pat Panzera

Part one of my report on the 2011 National Hardware Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center that took place earlier this year has already been published in EAA’s weekly e-newsletter e-Hotline. In it I wrote about some of the interesting items I discovered during the show that might be of interest to the homebuilder. If you haven’t read it yet, I would suggest that you do so before reading this article. If you have read it, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I hope you’ll enjoy part two.

As I wrote in my previous article, earlier this year I was asked by the EAA if I would like to attend and report on the National Hardware Show at the Las VegasConvention Center to search out new tool ideas for the homebuilder. I blurted out my resounding yes before the question was finished. A few months later I was on a bus that was taking me from my hotel room to the convention center. Once inside, I was all but speechless. I found the enormity of it mind blowing to say the least. In my estimation, if you took all four of the AirVenture exhibitor buildings and lumped them together, you could fit 10 of these lumps inside this building, and that’s not counting the lawn and garden portion of the show.

In the foyer between the two wings (the hardware show and the lawn and garden show), I was warmly greeted and given a map. Unfolding this nearly 3-foot wide, 2-foot tall layout of the building I was about to enter, the scale of which had about six 10 x 8 booths taking up as much space as the end of an eraser on a number two pencil, my eye was drawn to an area about the size of two postage stamps that had a gold banner across it with the words “Inventor’s Spotlight.” About ten minutes later, after a brisk walk with limited distractions, I arrived.

What I saw when I got there was heartwarming to say the least. There weren’t any over-the-top displays with glitzy showgirls handing out glossy brochures; there was just ordinary people with homespun ideas and no visible form of financial backing, who had probably mortgaged their homes to create a prototype and get themselves to this show. These were hard-working Americans who were striving to live the dream, gambling everything on this idea of theirs—some of which were great and some not so great. Although in this area of the show there weren’t as many exhibitors as I had hoped who were offering items that could be used by the homebuilder, these people are made from the same stuff that homebuilders are made from, and I felt quite at home with them all.

Part 2

Nylon Snaps
Stick-A-Stud is a self-adhesive plastic fastener designed to be used with traditional snaps like those found on jackets and pants, but specifically those for canvas covers and other upholstered items on boats. When I saw the display which was a fiberglass mock-up of a boat, I immediately thought of composite aircraft since these are very lightweight and require no drilling or anything invasive. They could also be used on metal aircraft for the same reason. They seem to be a great way to affix upholstered panels, cushions, or covers.


The peal-and-stick adhesive is made by 3M, and the disk on which it’s affixed is pre-creased for mounting to curved or angled surfaces. They seem a little pricey at $15 for eight pieces, but the kit includes an alcohol swab and a set of instructions, and they’re available in white or black. The adhesive allows use after 20 minutes, but it won’t be at its rated strength until after 72 hours. Website: www.Gofia.com.

Tite-Reach Extension Wrench
Of all the vendor booths I visited, this one was the most unusual—not from a product standpoint but from the attitude of the vendor himself. While I’m sure that in the past I’ve seen items similar to this one, the vendor was very protective of his product and wouldn’t allow me to photograph it close-up, even though his website has nice, glossy, high-resolution images all over it as well as a nice video.

Tite-Reach Extension Wrench

Although I can’t think of any specific aviation-related uses for this offset ratchet wrench extension, I’m reminded of my 1988 Corvette that had one spark plug which was impossible to remove with conventional hand tools. I had to buy a T-handled rotator ratchet to do the job, and if memory serves, it cost over $35 in the mid-1990s. This tool, with its $15 (special introductory) price tag seems better suited for the job as it takes full advantage of the leverage a ratchet normally has, as opposed to the small amount of leverage from twisting the T-handle. It’s potentially one of those tools that you’ll find uses for once you own it. Website: http://Tite-Reach.com.

Hot Wiring
Stepping away from the Inventor’s Spotlight, I came across a booth selling a line of electrical tools marketed for the hobbyist interested in miniature projects. While the vast majority of the products it offered would easily be at home in the homebuilder’s shop, what caught my eye at the Proxxon booth was a table-top mounted hot-wire cutting device called Thermocut 115/E. Its versatile design would make short work of smaller hot-wire projects, although its size wouldn’t be of much use to someone who was making foam wing cores for a Cozy Mk IV or Dragonfly.

Hot Wiring

While I’m not completely sure there’s a market for this device for the homebuilder, the technology is so similar to the Rutan method of creating foam shapes that I couldn’t help but to think there might be. Remote-controlled model enthusiasts also use hot-wiring to quickly and easily cut foam shapes for their hobby, and this might be more in line with their needs. But check out the video on their website and make that call for yourself. In addition to the 115/E, Proxxon produces a hand-held unit called the Thermocut 12/E. At 12 volts it gets considerably hotter than the 115/E’s 10-volt maximum and is designed to cut through thicker material.

Want Compressed Air in Your Shop?
RapidAir by Engineered Specialties LLC of Arpin, Wisconsin, produces a kit that includes everything you might need to install the inlet, piping, and two outlets for quick-connecting your compressor and air hose. If you’ve ever thought of installing the necessary plumbing and thought that polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping might be the way to go, you might want to read this OSHA safety bulletin. Although I myself am guilty of installing a PVC system, not only is the RapidAir system easier to install, the cost isn’t that much more once you consider all that’s included in the kit.


For $140 you get everything you might need to install the system, including the tubing cutter but excluding the hose couplers and the fasteners to affix the air line to your walls and ceiling. Although a PVC system will cost less than the RapidAir system, the installation time for the RapidAir will be measurably quicker, and the safety factor will be off the scale.

In addition to the ½-inch system quoted above, RapidAir has larger systems and can even help you design a custom system to meet your specific needs, including the compressor.

Storage Accessories
The Flip Clip is a quick and easy way to make an unobtrusive attachment to wood studs or ceiling joists (truss bottom chords) or virtually any exposed 2x framing member found in most any wood-framed garage or hangar. With the Flip Clip, any number of accessories can be attached and no tools are required. What I saw when I came to the booth was a way to hoist completed wing panels into the rafters for storage, while the fuselage is being completed.

Flip Clip

Rated at 75 pounds per clip, the required (minimum) of four clips needed to hoist a wing into the rafters could easily support the weight of most homebuilt wings. And if you have finished walls, Flip Clip supplies plates to be screwed to the members behind the wall finish that can still take advantage of the supporting fixtures and accessories. Although the website doesn’t have an embedded video, it has a downloadable version that you can watch to get a better idea on how the system works.

The chainfall apparatus you see in the photograph of the canoe is a new product, the Linear Lift, marketed by Inspire Industries LLC. It’s rated at 150 pounds with a drive ratio of 4.2:1 and is designed for hoisting heavier objects into the rafters by one person. At this writing, it doesn’t appear to be listed on the website, but if you call or e-mail, I’m sure personnel can tell you more about it.

Adjustable Ratchet
One of my favorite tools was found in the most unusual areas of the conference center. On the map it was referred to as the “International Sourcing” area and was at the very far end of the building. Although the entire show was a mix of domestic and foreign suppliers, this area—which easily had the same net area as all four exhibit buildings at AirVenture and maybe even more—was completely filled with identically appointed 10 x 10 booths which had the same overhead sign that simply read “China.”

International Sourcing
Larger view

As far as the eye could see, tiny booths adorned with white pegboard and either blue plastic or bare aluminum chairs flooded the area, each becoming the three-day home for one or two charming, non-English-speaking, well-dressed young people who seemed eager to please. The only way to distinguish one booth from the next was by way of the product that sparsely populated the display.

In one particular booth, a young man tried his best to break the language barrier and explain to me his product, a ratcheting adjustable wrench. Although I had seen several others during my visit to the hardware show, most were poorly crafted and quite Rube Goldberg in function. This one was exquisitely crafted and elegantly simple in function. The product brochure says that the company name is Pearl Way, and it seems to be the force behind Wasp Craft Hand Tools, which is probably the brand it will be marketed under, when it’s ready to come to market.

Pearl Way

One of the features I like about this wrench is that it’s reversible without removing the jaws from the bolt. Many others like this require that you flip the wrench over to change the ratcheting direction, but with a flip of the conveniently located switch on this one, it can be reversed.

Too Many to List
Of course with so many vendors to look at, I found way too many to list all of them, so I’ll be brief with these next few.

We’ve all seen magnetized screwdriver bits, many of which could barely hold the screw. This isn’t the case with the True Drive Magbit by Ray Innovations Inc. It’s designed like every other screwdriver bit, except that it has a magnetic collar that not only magnetizes the bit, but is large enough to come in contact with the screw head. Check out the video.


Next on our list is a friction-reducing spray, used to coat your table saw (and blade) to make cutting wood easier. It of course can be used on any surface where reduced friction is desired. I took home a sample spray can and love the stuff. I’ve used it on my table saw, band saw, and routers. The product is called Bostik GlideCote. Check out the video.

And lastly, a product that’s equally at home in the garage or garden or at the airport. It’s simply a ladder, of which there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of various designs that have been in use since the beginning of time. So what makes this one special? Can it articulate from a scaffold to an A-frame to any number of shapes in seconds? Is it made from space-age polymers?


Can it take the impact of a .45-caliber bullet at point blank? No. It’s just cool. Made from welded extruded aluminum, its tripod design with broad base makes for a very sturdy and elegant ladder. To me, it looks like a work of art more than a tool. The tripod platform ladder made by Nawaki might be the last ladder one would ever need. Check out the video.

Although there were potentially thousands of items on display that would be of use to anyone building an experimental aircraft, or even maintaining a certified plane, the vast majority are those you would most likely already know, so there’s no sense in reporting on them.

I hope you enjoyed my presentation and don’t feel like you just sat through a 2200-word advertisement.  It’s certainly not my mission to sell you anything, and please believe me when I say that neither EAA nor I have anything to gain by showing these products to you, other than to potentially help you finish your project a little quicker and maybe a little safer.

The 2012 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas is slated for May 1 to 3 of next year, and if you’re a tool geek like me, I would encourage you to consider attending, or at least adding it to your bucket list.  


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