Is it time to reconsider power tools

Most people don’t want to talk about it. Since Home Depot teamed up with Emerson ProfessionalTools late last year to launch a new line of power tools, wholesalers and manufacturers have gotten tight lipped about how they see the power tool market changing.

Without a doubt, however, this introduction of more than 30 pro-grade Ridgid power tools has shaken up the category, and analysts are suggesting that Home Depot’s move will accelerate brand consolidation.

But is this good news or bad news for your store?

While no one knows for sure what the impact may be, industry executives suggest there are two probable impacts. Few insiders, however, are even willing to share which of the two foreseeable scenarios they think is most likely.

The first theory is accelerated brand consolidation will lead to power tool price wars that will make it even more difficult for independents to compete. The other hypothesis is manufacturers with strong national names looking to find shelf space will start courting the independent hardware store, home center and lumberyard.

Paul McNally, merchandise manager at Distribution America, was one industry executive willing to discuss his opinions on the record. And his advice is for independent retailers to make a commitment to the department now.

McNally, who thinks there is a chance for “theory two” to prevail, notes there is little downside in the long run if “theory one” wins out and competition heats up even more. The benefits of getting into the power tool business now far outweigh the risks.

McNally thinks manufacturers will look to independent retailers because he says there is no way Ridgid is going to expand the market, and Home Depot will focus on selling its captured labels over other national brands. More than 80 percent of the power tools advertised in a recent Home Depot flier were either Ridgid or Ryobi, the retailer’s house brand that is targeted to do-it-yourselfers.

The only other brands in the circular were Skil, Black & Decker, DeWalt and Porter Cable. A recent Lowe’s ad promoted nine different national brands.

McNally says he already sees certain power tool manufacturers looking for ways to strengthen the two-step market. As an example, he points to a new “Project Center” introduced by Delta/Porter Cable. The vendor worked with McNally to develop a program to help retailers with limited floor space and inventory dollars target the growing woodworking market.

Doug Bieberich, power tool and accessories product manager at Do it Best, is also encouraging retailers to increase their commitment to the department. “Manufacturers are trying to take costs out of distribution,” Bieberich says.

Recently, Do it Best has been able to restructure its program with Black & Decker. As a result, retailers can compete much more effectively with Black & Decker and DeWalt tools. “Retailers have misconceptions that the only way to cost-effectively buy tools is directly from the manufacturer,” Bieberich says. That strategy forces retailers to place larger orders and carry more inventory than might make sense.

“We are challenging power tool companies to keep independent retailers in the business,” Bieberich says. “We have been able to strike these types of deals with some manufacturers and we think we have the right formula.”

This is the same message coming from other wholesalers, including TruServ, which is reporting similar success. Retailers are finding it increasingly easy to buy power tools on the regular weekly order and still price their products competitively. It allows them to stock less inventory and have a broader range of products and brands.

“Surprisingly we have had some of our large members take a serious look at buying their power tools through the warehouse,” Bieberich says. And it does not have to be one way or another, he says. Retailers might still buy tools on drop ship for promotional needs.

Jade Liechty, who manages one of the largest and most successful power tool departments in the country, confirms Bieberich’s statements. Hartville Hardware in Hartville, Ohio, offers 11,000 SKUs in its 20,000 square-foot department.

“I can now buy DeWalt power tools through the warehouse as cheaply as I can buy them drop shipped,” Liechty says. “And our store does enough volume to essentially get the same drop-ship prices as the big boxes.”

While Liechty says he is unsure if “theory two” will prevail, he is optimistic. “I already see more and more manufacturer reps going out of their way to help us compete,” he says. We recommend to read miter saw reviews 

Tips for Rethinking Your Power Tool Assortment

  1. Good Relationships–Jade Liechty, power tool manager at Hartville Hardware in Hartville, Ohio, says the number one key to success in this department is developing working relationships with the manufacturers’ sales reps. It is critical to make connections during wholesaler shows.
  2. Broad Approach–Doug Bieberich, power tool and accessories product manager at Do it Best, suggests that retailers broaden their tool lines rather than deepen them. By buying tools through the warehouse, retailers can develop assortments that take advantage of the best-selling tools and prices in each manufacturer’s line. A carefully crafted assortment is another way of offering customers a service.
  3. Look Offshore–You can’t ignore inexpensive, import tools, which are continuing to capture an increasing share of the market. These products can offer a price point for cost-conscious consumers, and their quality has improved. Whether you choose to use these tools strictly as promotional items or find a permanent spot for them in your tool department, they should be carefully considered.
  4. Price Shop Constantly–The power tool department is one area of your store where you are forced to compete with on-line retailers. Fortunately, with the help of the Internet, it is easy to price shop these competitors as well as the big boxes from the comfort of your office. At a minimum you should be checking prices weekly.
  5. Make Good Use of Space–Even with manufacturer support, retailers should look to drive profits with inventory turns and good space management. As a result, it is critical that these products be merchandised in as little space as necessary. Use waterfall racking that allows you to display the tools outside of their boxes so customers can handle the tools.
  6. Service Centers–Liechty from Hartville Hardware says that it is much easier than you might expect to become an authorized service center, which drives department sales and creates another profit center. He suggests using help wanted advertising to locate a small-tool mechanic. If you locate a good person to fill this position, then you can easily move forward with this strategy.
  7. Be Realistic–Liechty says it is now much easier for retailers to earn a profit. Even with growing manufacturer support, he says retailers should not look to earn much more than 10 percent gross margins on power tools. However, he says these sales can add money to a retailer’s bottom line, and by stocking more power tools a store will create a better full-service reputation.

Having made my living working with wood

Having made my living working with wood, I am fully convinced that if old-time carpenters had nail guns, power tools, and plywood, they would have used them.

I don’t believe any of these modern tools would diminish these carpenters’ intimate knowledge of their craft–but if you time-traveled with a 12″ compound miter saw to an 1890s jobsite, you’d have a captivated audience waiting for you (even if you didn’t have power to plug it in).

  • However, this amazing power tool won’t solve every trim and woodworking problem they–or we–face. Notably, the smaller the piece, the worse the power saw can be at cutting it.
  • When it comes to little pieces like returns in shoe molding, base caps, or small crown moldings–essential details for any trim project–I plug into the past and use a hand-powered miter box.
  • I’m not talking about the open-topped plastic box that comes packaged with a saw you’ll find in the trim aisle of your local home center, but rather a miter box that might have been on the job site of many an old-house trim carpenter–one with an adjustable table, a high-quality blade, and other sensible features.

What to Look For

When I buy a miter box, I look for one that has a detented deck with all the angles stamped on it–just like the deck on a power best miter saw. This gives me the ability to flip the tool quickly and accurately to left or right 45-degree angles to match the piece I’m cutting. I also want to be able to cut a variety of other angles for working my way around non45-degree spaces like bay windows and angled vestibules.

I’ve found that the perfect length for the accompanying saw (called a backsaw on a miter box) is around 16″. This length enables me to take both long strokes to cut solid molding for door and window capitals, as well as shorter strokes for tiny stuff like shoe molding, base cap, and cove stock. I also look for a saw that enables easy blade replacement, since blades can get dull, rusty, or even bent.

How to Use It

When I set the blade on my miter box, I set it with the teeth pointing toward me. This means I’m cutting on the pull stroke. While you can cut on the push stroke, I feel that cutting on the pull is gentler on the wood, is easier to get started, and delivers a cleaner cut. And no matter which way you cut, make use of another old-timer trick I’ve learned: point your index finger toward the end of the saw as you draw it through the material. This will stabilize the saw blade so that it cuts much more smoothly.

The Bottom Line

Not only is a miter box cheaper than a power saw (the one I have costs about $50), but it also saves time, increases accuracy, and decreases frustration when cutting small pieces. Plus, it’s about as safe a tool as you can think of. The miter box is one piece of the past that still works like a charm.

Carpenter Mark Clement is working on his century-old American Foursquare in Ambler, Pennsylvania, and is the author of The Carpenter’s Notebook.


Is your garage a storehouse for hazards

About a year ago, a TV network showed a program titled “Doors of Death.” Can you guess to what they were referring? The answer is garage doors and the possibility of children becoming trapped and killed by automatic garage doors. When children are allowed to play with garage door controls or are able to reach the switch, they or their playmates can be injured trying to “beat the door.” This is especially true if the door does not have an operating automatic reverse that causes it to stop when it comes in contact with an object.

Garage doors are only one hazard found in a garage, and children are not the only victims of garage accidents. Before you read any further, go into your garage and look around. Try to list as many potential hazards as you can, and then compare your list with the one that follows. When you’re looking for hazards, it might help if you get down on your knees and view the garage from the level of a toddler. Then, stand to look for adult hazards.


The garage is often a store-house hazardous chemicals. Consider this list: gasoline, oil, paint, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, windshield cleaner, floor cleaners, rust removers, car wax, metal polish, driveway blacktop sealer, and on and on.

Where are these items stored in your garage? Chances are, many of them, especially gasoline, are within a child’s reach. Gasoline can be poisonous when swallowed or when the fumes are inhaled. In addition to being a poison, it is also highly flammable as are some of the other chemicals found in a garage. All these products should be clearly marked. Some should be stored in safety cans that bear the label of a recognized testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). They should be stored away from any source of heat. If your garage door is left open allowing children to enter, these products could be reached, consumed, and cause death.


It is really easy to let a garage get cluttered. Tools are used and set down near by. This means they can be picked up by children, stepped on, or tripped over. Your garage should have a rack for tools that is out of reach of a child, and sturdy enough to prevent the tools from falling on someone. Be especially careful of tools with points and sharp edges.

When using tools, be sure you are not wearing any jewelry that could be caught by either the tools or moving parts of lawn mowers, snow blowers, and other machinery. Be aware of the need for safety goggles, too. These should be used when working with tools that present a threat to the eyes. Rakes and hoes are notorious for causing head and eye injuries when they are left with the blade or prongs upward, then stepped on.

Tools also should not be on the floor near stairs where they could cause someone to trip.

Remember, there is another sharp object in the garage: the lawn mower. The blades and sometimes the shoot that distributes the cut grass can be very sharp. When using the mower, wear long pants and sturdy shoes – no sandals or sneakers.


Most garages have outlets for power tools and cords. These should be three-hole grounded outlets, and special caution should be used when there is moisture on the floor and you need to plug in a tool. All cords used should be UL-approved and waterproof. Outdoor extension cords should be heavy-duty (never use an ordinary indoor cord).

Carbon Monoxide

The most obvious danger in a garage is carbon monoxide. This gas is produced whenever something is burned. That is why it is not wise to use a charcoal grill or to run your car in the garage.

Few people realize that opening the garage door DOES NOT make it safe to run your car in the garage. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can collect in the garage even though you see the exhaust (mostly water vapor) going out the door. Even a slight breeze can blow the carbon monoxide back into the garage where the concentration continues to rise until finally symptoms of poisoning can occur. These might include dizziness, headache, weakness, and sleepiness. By the time people realize what is happening, their brains are so oxygen-deprived they cannot act fast enough to get out of the garage. Develop the habit of backing the car out of the garage immediately after starting it. If you wish to let it “warm up” a bit or you are going to work on the engine, do so outside the garage.




Ladders are frequently used in garages to reach those seldom-used tools or boxes. Ladders will be implicated in more than 100,000 home (and garage!) accidents this year. Here are a few rules for using ladders safely.

1. For every 4 feet up, plant a ladder’s feet 1 foot out from the supporting wall. This is the most stable angle. 2. Always allow 3 feet of overlap at the top so the ladder can extend above the point of contact and support. 3. When using a folding stepladder, never stand on the top two rungs. This makes you very unstable and top-heavy. 4. Have someone hold the bottom of the ladder and brace his or her feet where the ladder contacts the floor. Be sure you are on a solid surface – not on a throw rug that can slip or a wet floor.

Now that you are aware of the safety hazards, you may want to spend a little time reorganizing your garage and making other members of your family aware of the hazards. You may not spend much time in the garage, but an accident can occur in just seconds.

Power cordconnector critical to redesign router’s detachable power cord is result of tri-collaboration

When engineers at DeWalt in Towson, Md., began the design process for their new line of routers, they gave much attention to the power cord.

In the past, power cords could be cumbersome when using a router, particularly when switching between router bases or when the power cord is accidentally damaged. The new router incorporates a detachable power cord set that was a collaboration of DeWalt engineers, cable subcontractor Volex Power Cord Products, Indianapolis, Ind., and connector manufacturer, Tyco Electronics of Harrisburg, Pa.

The DeWalt team wanted the power cord design to accommodate their modular concept and interchange between all the new models. Additionally, since routers generally require more cord replacements over their useful life than do other power tools, DeWalt needed a robust, but manageable connection to the router. For convenience and ergonomics, designers wanted to offer several cord lengths so that the router could be easily switched between standard, plunge, and D handle bases. With the new interconnect system, craftsmen no longer need to bundle up excess cord when using a D-handle base since an appropriately sized pigtail interconnect is integral to the D-handle.

The joint design effort required close coordination between DeWalt, Volex and Tyco Electronics in order for design objectives, including manufacturability, to be met.

Early in the design definition phase, Tyco Electronics’ development engineers began the process by looking at potential connector contacts. The initial evaluation of the application requirements received from DeWalt engineering indicated that the contacts had to be robust and suitable for use over the life of the power tool. With literally thousands of existing contact designs at their disposal as well as the option to design one from scratch, Tyco engineers selected AMP .140 MATE-N-LOK[R] contacts (by Tyco). The contacts are a cost-effective interconnect solution that meets the current-carrying and performance req cuirements required for DeWalt’s new router application. Manufacturability was also addressed with the MATE-N-LOK contacts, as they are available in reel form, which allows theontacts to be applied using a wide range of high-speed, semiautomatic and automatic termination equipment.

Once they had a contact to work around, Tyco engineers designed a housing to package the contacts. To keep the connection simple, it was proposed that a connector design be based upon a quarter-turn locking mechanism. To connect the cord, users simply plug it into the router and twist a locking ring 90 degrees to securely lock it into place. The cord-side locking ring was designed to snap around the con tact housing and also to provide a firm gripping surface that was easy to handle and lock into the router. An overmolded strain relief that keys into the contact housing adds to the connector housing, providing additional cord protection and support.

When the contact and housing were developed, Volex, Tyco Electronics and DeWalt electronically exchanged design models to check the connector fit into DeWalt’s router model and aid in the design of the overmold tooling required for the cordset. The first try was close, but some minor design changes were required to provide additional component clearance within time router.

After a few iterations and file exchanges, the design was firm enough that stereolithography models could be generated. Tyco Electronics created the models of time connector housings and shipped them off to DeWalt. These parts enabled DeWalt engineers to review the aesthetics and fit of their router prototypes. It was discovered during the assembly of the model that the contact housing inserted into the router housing would need additional keying to avert problems on the assembly line.

Shortly thereafter, the design was finalized and within 12 weeks, molds began producing production components.


In an industry where many manufacturers have closed North American facilities or ceased operations entirely, Lakewood, Ohio-based Electric Cord Sets, Inc., is increasing sales and staying strong, due in large part to its “dual-manufacturing” strategy, according to Mike Smalley, vice president and sales manager.

The strategy calls for having both Asian ISO approved, and domestic manufacturing capabilities. This dual manufacturing arrangement provides customers with the flexibility of placing small or large orders at competitive Asian pricing, and the security of domestic production should Asian deliveries be compromised, as was the case in the fall of 2002 when the West Coast dock workers went on strike.

ECS presently imports two 40-foot containers a week into its Mississippi warehouse with lead times of eight weeks or less, and offers domestic production at four weeks or less. ECS also offers JIT deliveries through customized stocking programs.


Line of block filters includes 1-phase filters up to 30 Amps at 250 Volts. They are generally designed to perform in the low pass frequency range of up to 300 MHz, and are effective at reducing differential (or symmetrical) noise attenuation in switch-mode power supplies. Standard and medical versions are available.


Smart Block is a universal platform for connectors used in minimally invasive surgical and diagnostic devices. Two product lines complement Smart Block: Smart Limiter mechanical device limits handpiece use to a predetermined number of connections, and can be incorporated into existing products without redesign. Smart Cable connectors incorporate an engineered friction fit that replaces latching systems.


State-of-the-art electronics detect cord damage by sensing leakage currents in the special braided monitoring shield and disconnect power. The circuitry commands a set of contacts to open within .025 of a second after detecting a problem.


Crimp contacts are available in both chain form and loose pieces, and offer high-quality stamped metal contacts that are temperature- and corrosion-resistant in most environments. Chains for crimp contacts are available in tab, receptacle, ring terminal, end splice, circular pin and socket, custom connector and PC board connectors.


QikPwr connectors are two-pole applications in the telecom and OEM/ Industrial markets. The connectors are available for 50-, 175- and 350-amp applications, and are suitable for use in continuous AC or DC operations. Applications include UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supplies) systems. To ensure high conductivity, each contact is silver plated, featuring a flat blade that allows for a self-swiping action, which keeps the contact areas clean during mating and unmating.



HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) connectors and cable assemblies are designed to help enable an uncompressed all digital interface between consumer electronics equipment such as DVD players or set top boxes and audio/video monitors such as digital TVs. The HDMI connector system carries up to 5 gigabits/second of combined video and multichannel audio in a single cable.


Line of molded cordsets for sensors and limit switches includes mini, micro AC and DC, and Nano styles in straight or right-angle versions. Nano and Micro DC styles are also available with LEDs. Dual and multiport junction blocks and extension cables round out the product line. All cordsets feature antivibration coupling nuts to ensure tight and safe connections.

Linley collects vintage cars and watches

After 20 years of crafting luxury furniture, David Linley still can’t keep his hands still. The 44-year-old son of the late Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden is a born designer. When he’s not building the perfect object or machine, you can bet he’s riding it — or wearing it.

“Controlling the design of an everyday object is very satisfying,” Linley said over a cup of tea at his new store on Albemarle Street, which he opened last month to mark his 20th anniversary in the business.

“I must have made 20 different bicycles in my life; bicycle parts are like works of art in miniature. My latest creation was `a motorbike for the city.’ I made an urban-looking bicycle that could stand up to potholes. Of course, it was stolen instantly — proof of the genius of its design,” he adds dryly.

He now rides to work on a fold-up bicycle, which is so compact he can drop it at a coat check.

Linley collects vintage cars and watches (today he’s wearing a Seventies Montine), and is designing a Triumph motorbike, with the help of a mechanic friend, right down to the fuel tank and the number plate. In his spare time, he makes model airplanes with his six-year-old son, Charles.

When Linley’s not working with his hands, he’s pushing his business, known simply as Linley, in new directions. Indeed, after two decades, he feels his company has only just begun to hit its stride.

“We have no plans to fritter this moment away. We want to widen our appeal, make the designs more accessible and give customers value for money,” said Linley, whose signature is wooden furniture with marquetry, the 17th-century decorative technique featuring thin layers of different-colored woods.

His furniture and objects have a classical feel. One of his latest designs is a detailed reproduction of the last chair Lord Admiral Nelson ever sat in. He made the chair in cooperation with England’s National Maritime Museum, and on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in October.

He’s also famous for his quirky touches. Linley’s writing desks all boast secret compartments and his jewelry boxes feature inlaid leopard and zebra prints. Thanks to a cheeky sense of humor, he crafted wooden dice for rearview mirrors, made of Makassar ebony, with white leather spots. His wooden doorstops are shaped like wedges of Swiss cheese and his key chains boast built-in compasses.

His previous corporate clients have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, London’s Savoy hotel and Credit Suisse First Boston and Burberry. For Burberry’s Barcelona store, he created an oak table, the top of which is inlaid with a Gaudi-inspired marquetry design. He’s also made furniture for Elton John, Mick Jagger, Peter Marino and Carolina Herrera. About 80 percent of his clients have homes in London, while the remaining 20 percent are from places including the U.S., Russia, Japan and Turkey. Today, he supplies clients not only with furniture and home accessories, but also with interior design services for homes, yachts and cars (he’s currently fitting a humidor into one of his client’s cars), and even an upholstery collection.

“When I started, people were scared of design and generally not confident about their own taste. That’s all gone now. In the past, I was envious of my antique dealer friends, because it was easy for them to make a sale. Now they tell me I’m the lucky one.”

He isn’t ashamed to say his own house has bits and pieces from Ikea, a company that he credits with helping make people aware of design. He offers up the following tip: “The key to flat-pack furniture is the person who actually puts it together.”

Linley, who grew up in Kensington Palace, fell in love with woodworking as a child. His father is best known for his photography, but he also had a passion for invention, and one of Linley’s earliest memories is making a wooden toy boat with Lord Snowden. Unexpectedly, Linley’s childhood home was not a jumble of priceless antiques and oil paintings. “My father restored the apartment, and put in modern interiors, Sixties Danish furniture and big hi-fi speakers. Yes, it was a palace, but it didn’t feel like one.”

He studied at Bedales School, a prestigious, alternative high school in Hampshire where he learned the basics of woodworking and developed a love of handmade objects — and the slow process of design. In the early Eighties, Linley studied at Parnham House School for Craftsmen in Wood, and later opened his own workshop.

Linley’s maternal grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, supported him throughout his career, and until her death in 2002. She bought him one of his first band saws, and it is thanks to her that he’s now able to take part in London’s prestigious Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair. “She commissioned me to do a pedestal for her bust, and that piece got me through the door,” he said.

Linley says the main sea change over the past two decades is that customers — and potential ones — increasingly see his designs as relevant to the way they live. But there’s so much more to be done. “We want to widen the appeal, without losing the reason why people come to Linley in the first place — the quality and the service,” he says.

Future projects include building on the interior design services, creating more objects for the home, wholesaling part of the range and even setting up shop in America. “I’d love to open in the U.S., but I need to find the right partner to work with. And I want to do it properly — you know, open 10 stores at the same time.”

Linley has even farther-reaching ambitions. “We’re at a very exciting stage now, and we also realize that we’re only as good as our last piece of furniture. I would love to get into the dictionary as synonymous with great quality and service.”

Electrical discharge machines (EDMs) are the heart of Classic Die Inc

Electrical discharge machines (EDMs) are the heart of Classic Die Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich., shop that produces precision molds used for making plastic parts.

“We use EDMs for almost everything,” Dan Parmeter, Classic Die president, said. In the 12 years since he founded the company, Parmeter said has found a niche in molds used by the automotive, medical, furniture and electrical industries.

EDMs used by the shop are two computer-numerically controlled (CNC) models from LeBlond Makino Machine Tool Co., Cincinnati, and two from Charmilles Technologies Corp., Mount Prospect, Ill. Classic Die recently bought two CNC mills to add to its complement of milling machines, band saws, lathes and grinders, all of which are used to shape electrodes for the EDMs.

“The mills run around the clock, cutting electrodes continually,” Parmeter said.

An improvement that Parmeter said boosted the productivity of his 18 employees is the installation of an integrated tooling system from Erowa Technology Inc., Windsor, Conn. The system is a series of workholders that allow the electrodes to be moved from mills and grinders to the EDMs without having to be realigned.

“We mill, turn or grind our graphite electrodes in Erowa holders, then move them to the EDMs with absolute repeatability, Parmeter said.

“Previously, when we used conventional angle plates or V-blocks, shimming or squaring was always required,” he added. “Also with the old system, if you had a problem that required cleaning the electrode, you were always afraid to remove it because of the constant need to recheck and reset it. Now, you can take it off, grind it, then put it back on the EDM with no alignment or checking required. What’s more, anyone can change the tool. You don’t need a skilled operator.”

Dan (D.L.) Winell, shop foreman, said that few improvements at Classic Die have equaled the integrated system. “Nothing we have purchased has had a faster payback,” he said.

Parmeter said it was difficult to quantify the payback of the system because it was acquired about a year and a half ago, when Classic Die purchased several machines and moved into a new plant. However, he said the shop now is able to take on more jobs with the same number of people, since less time is spent shaping electrodes.

Other savings from the integrated system come from the purchase of the graphite and its reuse. Classic Die used to buy small pieces of graphite to reduce shaping time. “Now, we buy larger pieces at a better price and simply bandsaw the graphite as needed,” he said.

Graphite needs have been reduced because the used electrodes can be readily reshaped, Parmeter said. “We can keep using the electrodes as long as some graphite is left.”

PHOTO : AN ELECTRODE is inserted into one of Classic Die’s two LeBlond Makino EDMs by shop foreman Dan Winell, who attributed productivity improvements to an integrated tooling system.

Lasers are cutting thicker materials faster with W.A. Whitney’s

Here’s a start…clearing up old business, which means writing all the stories that I thought were worthwhile and haven’t written yet. Or, as in the following, reporting on some developments seen late last year at Fabtech.

I suppose “hot” doesn’t really apply to the waterjet machining process, but developments and machines were moving fast at Fabtech. Flow International’s Dynamic Waterjet with Active Tolerance Control pushed cutting speeds up 50 to 400 percent on its WMC series machines. Key is software that automatically–according to sophisticated mathematical algorithms–tilts the nozzle to position the cutting head so parts are cut without taper. The bend in the cutting stream is eliminated. All the user has to do is enter the material type, thickness and desired cut quality into the control. Flow sold three machines by the second day of the show.

Lasers are cutting thicker materials faster with W.A. Whitney’s, PlateLaser 6000 machine. The unit has incorporated a PRC 6kW laser with its rapid pierce and pierce-on-the fly capabilities to cut mild steel up to 1[1/4]” thick and stainless steel to 1″ thick. Piercing to initiate the cut is done neatly and quickly in less than 1 second with the machine’s rapid pierce feature.

One of the newer entries to the North American market in turret presses is coming from Taiwan’s Tailift Co. It has sold a number of machines in China–said to be the hottest market for turret punch presses in the world. Tailift has introduced both hydraulic models (HPS 1500/HPS 2500) and mechanical turret punch presses (the CP 1250, 1500 and 2500) models at prices that range from the mid-to-high $200,000 range.

Since Fabtech is a punching, lasing, and cutting kind of show, flat part measurement took a major step forward with the introduction of the Trumpf Qualifier (TQ) model light/laser-based measuring machines. A user can measure punched, formed and laser-cut sheet metal parts and do reverse engineering since the Qualifier can detect the contour of a part and convert the data back into a CAD file. Measuring areas are 4′ x 8′ (TQ 2500–$120,000) and 4′ x4′ (TQ 1250–$90,000).

Virtek Laser Systems followed up on the success of its LaserQC and new QuickInspec flat-part inspection systems with the first showing of its prototype Laser Expert system. It is a work-in-progress and is being designed to integrate laser inspection of all the processes from manufacturing, assembly and layout, inspection and marking. A major aerospace manufacturer bought the prototype to inspect composite ply assemblies.

Kaltenbach has taken the “clean sheet approach” to designing its new line of horizontal automatic band saws. The result is the new KBR double-column series that features linear guides and an inclined sawband that permits precise square cuts of solid materials as well as profiles, layers and bundles in high-production sawing applications. Available in three sizes, KBR band saws can maximize cutting with bimetal and carbide-tipped sawbands in semiautomatic and automatic modes.

Quickmill introduced the largest of its line of Quickdrill machines, a 120″ machine with a CAT 50 spindle with thrucoolant for milling, drilling, circular interpolation of holes and grooves. The machine can remove material at the rate of 10 to 15 cu. in./min. on its fixed table. The Quickdrill is also available in 60″ and 96″ versions.

Keeping one eye on the end users always works, especially when you’re selling through distribution. Miller Electric exhibited is MIGRunner packages that deliver a complete industrial MIG welding system with one stock number. Each package includes a power source, matching wire feeder and gun, newly designed running gear and other accessories. “It’s what the customer expects, and the package simplifies fulfillment by the distributor,” the company says.

Motoman offered a welter of new products and announcements, including a distribution agreement with BOC Automation, which will offer Worldlite and other robotic solutions. One interesting innovation is the MotoMount compliant tool mounting systems, which is a modular accessory for headstock/tailstock positioners. It eliminates the additional headstcck bearing loads induced by tooling and headstock/tailstock misalignments up to a maximum of two degrees.

And moving on to new business…

Nick Bloom has reacquired Techspex, which he founded six years ago. It is simply the best database of machine tool models and suppliers of related products serving our industry. In that time, Techspex has reached 250,000 unique visitors and signed up 25,000 registered users while generating five million page views. It’s the best way to find and assemble a spreadsheet of “select” machine tool models using a parametric search engine. Techspex has been a featured destination on the American Machine Tool Distributors’ Association website. AMTDA will work with Bloom in continuing development of Techspex as the premier database source for machine tools. Visit it at or

Material yields are critical

Bicron Corporation, Newbury, Ohio, is a producer of thallium activated iodide (crystalline salt) scintillators used in the detection of nuclear radiation. To maximize its material yields and decrease production time, Bicron required a band saw which could cut the brittle sodium ingots into their end-use sizes ranging from 1/2″ X 1/4″ to 20″ X 20″, in circular cylinders and other shapes. The saw to perform these functions was purchased from W F Wells & Sons, Inc., 16645 Heimbach Rd., Three Rivers, MI 49093.

  • While crystals from other saws require remachining, the Wells Model G-30 band saw is able to achieve a cut close enough to machined finished to assure Bicron of maximum material yields. The Wells machine produces a cut with less than 0.005″ variation in a 32″ diameter piece. Because of the machine finished cut, the secondary milling operation is eliminated, resulting in more streamlined, efficient operation for Bicron.
  • The sodium iodide from Bicron is grown at high temperatures in platinum lined furnaces. Crystal cylinders or ingots grow at approximately a millimeter an hour, to as large as 32″ in diameter and 22″ tall. The standard size ingots that Bicron works with are 17″, 26″, and 32″.
  • The crystals are cut, machined, and further processed under dry-room conditions into finished detectors. The detectors are used for nuclear medical imaging, oil exploration, reactor safeguards, physical research, non-destructive testing, and other applications.

Material yields are critical, because of expensive raw materials, long growth cycles of crystals, and the high capital cost of growth furnaces.

To hold the crystal with its face parallel to the saw blade, a special vise was developed with a vacuum plate. The vacuum plate is mounted to the vise bed and used for fine positioning of the ingot. A microvalve was installed in the hydraulics to allow the machine to run at a precisely controlled rate of 1/16 ipm.

Because the Wells saw leaves a surface on the crystal comparable to a machined surface, the subsequent machining operation has been eliminated for many jobs. The Wells saw also has replaced milling work for a number of other ingot shapes. In these cases, process times have decreased, frequently by as much as 50 percent.

According to the company, initial capitalization of the Wells machine has been justified by increased efficiency and material yield improvement.

PHOTO : The W.F. Wells & Sons Model G-30 band saw eliminated a secondary operation for Bicron

PHOTO : Corporation by producing a cut close enough to machined finish to assure maximum material

PHOTO : yields.

Injury is father of invention for Stout Tool’s founder

An ailment forced Scott McIntosh to make a career change at age 35.

McIntosh, a pipe fitter since he was 18, had developed carpal tunnel syndrome caused by the repetitive hand and wrist movements he made while working with heavy tools.

In order to help other workers avoid similar injuries, McIntosh created a lightweight cordless band saw that can be used with one hand – a far cry from the traditional heavy, two-handed, corded band saw.

  • Since starting Wixom-based Stout Tool Corp. in 2003 with business partner Al Wisne, McIntosh said his new X-Band saw has drawn more interest each year from companies employing those in skilled trades, especially electricians. Stout recorded $700,000 in sales in 2004 and topped that in the first five months of this year. The company estimates revenue of $2.5 million this year, he said.
  • “We didn’t really get going until about March of 2004, but every quarter our sales have almost doubled,” said McIntosh, now 44. “We’re on pace to sell 1,000 (saws) this month.”

The 8-pound X-Band saw helps relieve problems caused by weight, pressure and repetitive movement, McIntosh said. A typical band saw, which weighs about 20 pounds, requires the use of two hands, and a clamp is needed to hold the item to be cut. The user then has to move the machine back and forth against the item, straining the wrist and shoulder, he said.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, laborers and material movers suffered the most injuries and illnesses with days away from work, followed by heavy-truck and tractor-trailer drivers; nursing aides, orderlies and attendants; and construction workers, among others.

In a 2003 report, about 89,500 injuries and illnesses resulting in days off were reported by laborers and material movers. Drivers reported about 71,900 injuries, construction workers reported 41,600 injuries and carpenters accounted for 29,480 reported injuries.

The same report said that in industries producing goods, contact with objects and equipment and overexertion were the leading causes of injuries and illnesses.

Sharon McFarren, ergonomics engineer and managing consultant with Ann Arbor-based Humantech Inc., said McIntosh’s saw could relieve the causes of several workplace injuries. “There’s a big industry out there where they’re trying to come up with tools that don’t cause (injuries),” she said. “Big tool-manufacturers, such as Stanley Hand Tools, have a whole line.”

But McFarren added that while the automotive industry benefited from the larger companies’ investments in creating more ergonomically correct tools, band saws haven’t seen many changes.

Stout Tool, meanwhile, is expected to sell its first production run of 10,000 X-Band saws by this summer, McIntosh said. That first run was assembled at Bolton Conductive Services L.L.C. in Walled Lake, and the next run will be assembled on-site at Stout Tool.

McIntosh said that he hopes to develop several versions of the saw, as well as accessories, in the coming year.

“I’ve got huge plans for this,” he said. “I think this could be like the cordless drill, where everybody has one.”

Ever wonder how woodworkers can cut a slot in a board

Ever wonder how woodworkers can cut a slot in a board and then slip another one into place that fits like a glove? Most likely, they make the cut, called a dado, on the table saw in their shop. But how can you cut a dado, for example, to add a decorative railing to a fence post like we’re doing, if you don’t own a table saw?

Professional carpenters do it all the time using one of two common power tools — a circular saw or a router. And you can too.


A circular saw, with a carpenter’s square as a guide, will do a fast, good job. And most of you are probably pretty comfortable operating one. Speed is the biggest advantage of this method — you can make a lot of cuts quickly with a circular saw.

The biggest problem when using a circular saw is a accuracy in the depth of the cut. Making small adjustments is tricky. Also, the blade leaves a fairly rough cut. Make a few test cuts on some scrap material.


If you own a router, you already know one advantage: The cut will be cleaner. The downside, however, is the added time. It’s fussier to set up, and you need to make multiple passes because the router won’t cut as deep as a circular saw. Each cut must be slightly deeper than the last one.


The most accurate way to make cuts with a route is to use a jig. Ours is simple and easy to build. It’s made from a piece of 1/4-in. thick. Masonite and a couple f pieces of a 1×2, one the width of the Masonite and another about 4 in. long. You’ll also need some 3/4-in. long, flathead wood screws.

Here’s how to make the jig:

* Measure from the edge of your router base to the edge of the router bit (a 1/2-in. straight-cutting bit works best).

* Add about y in. to that measurement and then measure and mark this distance from one edge of the Masonite.

* Secure the longer 1×2 to the Masonite at the mark using the 3/4-in. long wood screws. Screw the Masonite to the board from the bottom and countersink the screwheads.

* Attach the short length of 1×2 on the underside of the Masonite (Photo 5). Position it at a 90-degree angle to the 1×2 guide on top. The short block keeps the jig square.