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Eye of the Experimenter

Las Vegas Hardware Show Tool Hunt

By Patrick Panzera, Editor – Experimenter, EAA 555743

Grease guns
The clear grease gun allows any operator to see the product whether it’s in a cardboard tube, or its been bulk filled.

December 8, 2011 – Earlier this year I was asked by EAA if I would like to attend and report on the National Hardware Show at the Las Vegas Convention 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 10 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.

Tough Horse
A perfect example of the type of mom and pop (brother and sister, too!) business found in the Inventor’s Spotlight is Tough Horse, a uniquely simple and robust folding sawhorse. Unfortunately the website is still “under construction,” but personnel can be reached at 970-729-0999. What makes it truly unique and original is the way the tubular steel legs rotate 90 degrees to fold flat. They can also be rotated to any degree, which also changes the length of the legs so that they can sit flat on an uneven surface.

Tough Horse

The website shows a photo of two of the sawhorses supporting two units of 2 x 4 lumber precariously balanced on a truck loading scale, with a digital readout in the background showing 5,300 pounds. This would probably be in excess of the needs of any homebuilder, and it’s certainly good to know that they can support your fuselage with the engine installed, if the need ever arises.

The Wash Caddie Plus
A great multitasker, one that can be used in the hangar, at home, or potentially even on the job, is the simple and elegant Wash Caddie Plus. Made from powder-coated tubular steel, it’s designed to hold a 5-gallon bucket of just about any configuration and has strategically located hooks for hanging a hose nozzle or winding an electrical cord. Check out the video at www.TheWashCaddie.com and you’ll see how versatile it could be to have in the hangar. For the $40 asking price, the most frugal among us might be able to cobble one together, but for the rest of us, it would be money well spent.

An Impressive All-in-One
Power8 Workshop by C Enterprise is an all-in-one portable cordless power tool shop that includes a drill press and table saw in addition to the usual powered hand tools, all of which fits neatly into a small suitcase-sized carrying case.

I was impressed by the versatility of this kit, even though I’m not usually a fan of all-in-one systems. But considering the first-time homebuilder who doesn’t already own each of these tools but needs to start collecting them for his build, this one is easy on the budget and an easy sell to the significant other as they will have multiple uses around the home.

Power8 Workshop

We’ve all seen cordless tool kits where there’s a drill, circular saw, and potentially a saber saw of sorts, all backed into a neat carrying case that includes a battery charger and maybe an extra battery. But this kit takes it to the next level. The carrying case doubles as a table in which the circular saw can be quickly mounted to become a table saw—the kit even includes a rip-fence and a cross-cut gauge. Within a few seconds, it can be reconfigured into a drill press, or a jig saw, or even a simple lighted workbench.

One of the key features with this system that aids in its versatility, while keeping the cost down, is the way the 18-volt lithium-ion battery pack mounts to each tool. While most systems have the removable battery pack mounted to the base of the handle or grip, the Power8 Workshop’s battery pack is integral with the handle itself.

To swap out tools, the handle is removed from the motor drive unit and is snapped into another. This not only saves the cost of having each tool with its own handle and switch (that sits idle when not in use), but makes the motor drive more compact and easy to mount into the workstation which drives its stationary alternative. When the motor drive is installed into the workstation, the battery pack is also attached to the workstation, energizing it for all the alternative duties.

For under $300, the allure of the usefulness of this tool set is very tempting. The construction seems on par with what one would expect for that price, but it will never be a substantial, full-time replacement for the real deal. If you’re planning to build an all-wood aircraft, you should buy a full-size, cast-iron-topped table saw. But this tool would certainly be a nice addition to any shop and would definitely get someone started who didn’t have any tools to begin with.

Tidy Trax Hands-Free Shoe Covers
How many of us, after spending hours in the garage either making little tiny shards of aluminum, mountains of sawdust, or droplets and puddles of epoxy goo, ended up tracking this mess into the house? And after all those hours of standing, did you find your feet in need of some TLC? When I saw this product, I found an answer to both concerns.

Tidy Trax

These reusable shoe covers are meant to live in the garage and are quick and simple to put on and take off without the use of your hands. Simply step onto them as you enter the garage, and with the extended heel tab, they pop off as easily as they went on—while at the same time are designed to stay on for the duration of your shop time. Made from molded EVA foam (ethylene-vinyl acetate) they add some additional cushion to your step while being wear resistant.

For $40 they seem like a bargain, but you might want to talk with the supplier before you purchase as they may not be as chemical resistant as one would hope. And they may do too good of a job with collecting and retaining those sharp aluminum chips.

Clear Grease Guns
While this product might not be for the casual homebuilder, it certainly might be useful for the aircraft mechanic who needs to keep on hand several different grease guns containing different products that could be devastating if mixed up. For the cost of a standard grease gun, you can now get the clear grease gun direct from the manufacturer or an authorized distributor. The clear grease gun allows any operator to see the product whether it’s in a cardboard tube, or its been bulk filled. Seeing the grease means visual identification for the operator, but that isn’t the end to the story.

The clear tube is made of high-impact polycarbonate; drop it and it bounces. In addition, the end caps are made out of T-6061 aircraft aluminum that has been anodized any number of colors for additional identification. The polycarbonate tubes were specifically designed to withstand the day-to-day abuse standard grease guns are subjected to in the industrial market.

Look for Part Two
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 about. But I did discover a lot new and unusual tools and will tell you more about some of them in the December issue of EAA’s Experimenter e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

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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