Tool Test - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Ratings & Reviews: SENCO, FUJI, Fein & Vermont American

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Tool Test



This fall you are going to see more new tools from the major manufacturers than you can shake a length of exotic wood at. Black & Decker, Bosch, Delta, Fein, Porter-Cable, Senco, Skill, Ryobi, Vermont American, Zircon, are just some of the manufacturers with new tools that we will cover in the next couple of issues. Be sure to check these exciting new tools out at your local woodshow or woodworking retailer.
 
SENCO
Senco, the company known for its high quality air-powered tools, has recently released a new line of nailers that in fact don’t use compressed air as a power source. Thus their name, AirFree.
 

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These new nailers, both brad and finishing, use12v and 14.4v NiCad rechargeable battery packs respectively as their source of power and of course, there are many advantages to being free of air hoses and/or power cords.
 
The Senco AirFree nailers that we tested were the Model 41, Angled Finish Nailer and the Model 25 Straight Brad Nailer. The latter uses 18ga brads while the former uses 15ga finishing nails.
 
Both tools come in kit form as most quality cordless tools do these days and the blown-plastic cases contain the tool, two battery packs and a diagnostic one-hour charger.
 

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Weight
One of the main concerns of woodworkers is the weight of these cordless tools but surprisingly enough, the AirFree tools were not that much gainlier. Not that I would like to hold them over my head for any length of time, but I don’t much like doing that with a 16 oz. hammer either.
 
The Model 41 is an Angled Finishing Nailer and that has an advantage in that it can get really close to the work at hand. In an enclosed cabinet for example, you can set a nail as close as half inch. Any closer than that and there would be the fear of splitting the wood.
 
Model 41 Features
The Finishing Nailer has a “snap” open nail jam access but in the hundreds of finishing nails that I used, none jammed. There is a large knob located up near the top of the motor housing and that is used to adjust the depth of nail recess desired. It is well marked and very simple to use.
 
Loading nails on the “41” is simple. Just slide the nails into the chamber and pull back the slide. No tricky doors or buttons to play with. The “41” will fire finishing nails from one and a quarter inch to two and a half inches in length.
 
Model 25 Features
The Brad Nailer uses 18ga brads from one inch to two inches and it too has an easy load feature. A simple clip opens the breach for loading and unloading. The same control knob as on the model 41 adjusts the depth of set.
 
The “25” can get you as close as ⅜” in tight quarters and there is a “window” that tells you when you are low on brads. Although removing nail jams require a supplied allen wrench, like the model 41, there is little need for it.
 
On The Downside
The user of either of these tools must remember that if there are nails or brads loaded in them, they are ready to fire. Although pressure is required to do so, a simple on/off switch would be a good safety feature to have.
 
Senco earns a well deserved ★★★★★ for these.
 
FUJI
There are many advantages of an HVLP (High Volume Low Pressure) finishing sprayer in any serious woodworker’s shop. Ease of set-up and use, easy clean up, low over-spray and much less finish material wastage.
 
We recently tested the Q3 Fuji HVLP 3-Stage System on a number of projects.
The Q3 is a very quiet system to use, less noise than a domestic vacuum cleaner. We found that using the correct needle/ nozzle/jet and the correct viscosity of the finish material made using the HVLP a breeze to use.
 

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A word about HVLP systems: these systems are sophisticated versions of the old home vacuum cleaner paint sprayers. With a conventional air compressor gun the paint is siphoned (sucked) up to the spray gun – which is called siphon-feed. The difference with a turbine spray gun is that the paint pot is pressurized pushing the paint up to the gun and out the aircap – which is called pressure-feed. We found that the HVLP system creates less over-spray and that converts to better finish economy. In fact, if you do a lot of finish work, the unit could pay for itself in a few years.
 
Our Test
We used the Fuji Q3 with lacquer, shellac, water-based and oil-based stains. We also gave it a try using latex paint to re-finish our mini-barn. We had nothing but excellent results with it. As a firsttime user I found the manual directions easy to follow and the Q3 unit shipped had all of the necessary tools and accessories.
 
Using the Q3 to spray other than relatively thin finishes like oil stain was pretty simple. A viscosity cup is included and you simply thin the material according to the instructions and install the appropriate needle set. I spray painted my 8’ x 14’ mini-barn with exterior latex in less than a half hour. Clean up took less than that.
 
Using lacquer, one has to be very careful. The fumes are highly volatile and it should be used only in a well ventilated area. We found that the HVLP performed beautifully and gave an even coat each time. There was no orange peel visible.
 
Accessories
Fuji included a mini-pot set with a 6’ whip hose and this proved to be a worthwhile accessory for doing small touch-up jobs. The nozzle of the Q3 was so finely adjustable in both pattern and spread that we found that we could nicely feather to cover even small scratches on a finish.
 
If you use brushes to apply furniture finishes, you will love the ease of use of an HVLP system, especially the ★★★★ Fuji Q3 System.
 
A Fein Router
We have been waiting for over a year to test the Fein RT 1800 Plunge Router as it has been available in the US for that long. It finally arrived in our shop and we put it to work. The RT 1800 is a 15 amp Plunge Router that is rated at three and a quarter horsepower and is a variable speed tool. It has an electronic slow-start feature so that its torque (of which there is plenty) does not jerk it out of your hands. A top-mounted dial controls the speed from 8,000 to 22,000 RPMs.
 

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The tool has the typical triple-turret depth adjustment and it has a micro-setting for fine tuning the plunge depth. The RT 1800 is a heavy router at 12 pounds but it is comfortable to use. The on/lock/off switch took a little getting used to and the plunge lock worked well from either side of the tool. This is a half inch router and with its power, will easily handle the largest of router bits. A quarter inch collet is available. A dust collection adapter was included in the box as was a template guide that fits Porter-Cable bushings and the RT 1800 is equipped with a height limiter.
 
The Downside
We were not at all impressed with the instruction manual. It made references to components of the router with no crossreferences and looked like a photocopy. The tool is very heavy and in our opinion is not suited to router table use.
 
The Fein RT 1800 Plunge Router earns ★★★★.
 
Vermont American
When it comes to power tool accessories there is one manufacturer that stands out in my mind and that is Vermont American. They seem to be really on top of things.
 
A prime example of this is with their new Xtend line of products. The Xtend line is designed work better with cordless power tools. That means that the drill bits, circular saw blades and reciprocal saw blades have to be considerably sharper and offer less friction than conventional ones.
 
Drill Bits
Our recent tests proved that in fact VA was very conservative when they say for example, the Xtend Drill Bits will drill four times more holes per battery pack charge than standard drill bits.
 
The design of the Xtend Drill Bits gives them wider and sharper flutes for easier waste extraction and ultra-sharp tips for penetration.


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Reciprocal Blades
The new Xtend Reciprocal Saw Blades are thinner for less resistance and utilize VA’s Micro Edge Technology. If you look at the teeth on these blades, you can see the depth variations of the gullets and how sharply they are cut.
 
Vermont American’s claim that these will double the amount of cuts per charge is again, understated. Our results were much higher than that.
 
Last year we tested their Xtend circular saw blades designed for cordless circular saws and these too, were understated. We were very impressed with the Xtend cordless tool accessories and happily rate them with ★★★★.
 
TOOL TEST RATING SYSTEM
★.............. below average quality
★★........... average quality
★★★ ....... very good quality/value
★★★★..... excellent quality/value
★★★★★.. top of the line



Graham McCulloch
GRAHAM McCULLOCH is a woodworker and writer living in Halifax, NS
(902) 479-0221
www.shortcuts.ns.ca