By Marni Jameson
Looking around the tool show in Atlanta, I quickly grasped that I was the most unlikely person there. Surrounded by tool bloggers, tool testers, tool reviewers, and other tool aficionados, I stood out frozen in place like the waterproof flashlight on display beaming from inside a block of ice. (Because I always need a flashlight when I’m inside a block of ice.)
As I cruised the aisles, I tried to blend, which was difficult in my pink leather jacket. (What was I thinking? If you ever go to a tool show, wear plaid.) The sounds of saws and drills filled the air, which was so thick with testosterone I felt my voice starting to change. All around me crowded booths bustled under banners blazing tool brands that reminded me of my handy dad: DeWalt, Diablo and Dremel; Ryobi and Ridgid; Milwaukee and Makita.
I think of my own tool repertoire, which does not extend beyond my well-used pink and purple tool kit, in which nothing is powered, and feel as overwhelmed as I deserve.
Though I gravitate toward shows featuring furniture and fabrics, art and antiques, I forced myself to attend Home Depot’s spring tool innovation event — knowing I would feel like a cat in a pack of hunting hounds — because tools are, after all, what make our homes come together. And I could stand to learn a few things about them.
Fortunately, fellow female Charlotte Gooding, blazing the trail for women as senior merchant of tools for the retailer, sensed my discomfort. She guided me through the aisles with laser precision, focusing my attention on what was new in the world of tools.
Apparently, that’s a lot.
“About 80 percent of the improvements made in tools in the last 30 years have happened in the past 10 years,” said Gooding, “and we expect even more in the next three.”
All around us, tool pros were buzzing about advances in lithium power sources, ergonomic design (for smaller hands, YAY!), brushless motors, and intelligent tools.
We rounded a corner to find a fellow in the DeWalt booth extending a heavy-duty tape measure like a reptile tongue bragging about its “stand out.” I look at Gooding, who translates. “How far the tape can stick out before it breaks.”
“So, when you’re measuring a wall for drapes, the tape doesn’t keel over and bonk you on the head?” I ask.
She nods. This seems eminently practical.
“So how far does your tape stand out?” I ask, hoping he doesn’t take that the wrong way.
“Thirteen feet,” he says proudly. “Typical is nine to 10 feet.”
It’s time to move on.
With Father’s Day in mind, I asked Gooding to take me on a deeper dive into the improved world of tools. Here’s what’s new:
- Better handling. Tools today are not only for the big and strong. More are designed for hands of all sizes. Today, more women and seniors feel comfortable gripping power tools, which have come down not only in size but also in weight. “Nobody asks, ‘Do you have that tool bigger, heavier and with a cord?’” said Gooding.
- Cutting the cord. Move over alkaline. Lithium batteries are revolutionizing cordless power tools. Rechargeable lithium batteries last longer, weigh less, and run cooler. Plus, lithium-powered motors don’t have to work as hard so tools last longer, said Gooding. As a result, more tools are losing their cords.
- Brushless motors. Apparently, cool tools are desirable because the biggest reason tools fail is heat, say the experts. Brushless technology is also keeping tools cool. Until recently, power tools had gears that touched or brushed against one another, creating friction, which caused wear. New tools use brushless technology. Magnets propel the gears, so they don’t touch. This improves performance and increases lifespan.
- Intelligent tools. Meanwhile, over at the Bosch booth, a representative is drilling into a cinder block demonstrating multi-grind technology at the expense of our hearing. He paused the action to explain. A new impact driver and drill can sense what material you’re boring into, and will self-adjust its speed and torque accordingly. My eyes must have crossed, because he made this simpler: “That means you can use the same head for many materials so you don’t have to buy as many.” Got it.
Next thing I knew, I was donning a pair of safety goggles, wielding a lithium powered drill like the best of them, and showing a large block of wood who was boss. Just like one of the guys.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.