After eight years of writing the Best New Tools column, you’d think that we’d be jaded and bored with the tool industry. (“Oh look, yawn, another new cordless drill with a bubble level.”)
But every year, all the editors for this magazine sit down with our lists of tools we like, and we are amazed at how many innovative and cool new tools are released every single year. For a craft that is as old as civilization itself, it’s a testament to ingenuity that we can continue to find new and better ways to manipulate wood to our liking.
So what do we look for in a tool that makes it a “Best New Tool?” Usually the winners are the tools that make us sit up in our chairs when we first hear about them. They might be tools that have never existed before, such as the Festool Domino – a shoo-in on this year’s list. They might be tools that are being revived and improved after near-extinction, such as the Veritas Small Plow Plane or Gramercy Dovetail Saw. They might be tools that are simply the “Best in the Category,” such as the Milwaukee two-base router kit or the Apollo HVLP system. They can be tools that make a bold and important statement, such as the riving knife on the Bosch 4100 table saw or the Grizzly jointer/planer – it took guts to bring those European features to the North American market.
And sometimes, a Best New Tool is something that you never ever would have thought of, and is so interesting that you just cannot stop talking about it. I am talking, of course, about the Steel City tools with granite tops and fences. Maybe next year we’ll get bored with this annual award – but I wouldn’t count on it.
— Christopher Schwarz, editor
It was hard for us to imagine that sandpaper could be improved significantly. Sure, we’ve seen some advances in the longevity of the abrasive during this century, but it wasn’t until Mirka introduced Abranet to the world that we saw a major improvement in reducing the worst parts of sanding: the dust and the drudgery.
How does Abranet do this? It’s porous, somewhat like drywall sanding screen. So instead of having five holes or eight holes that suck dust through a sanding disk, you get thousands. The difference is incredible the first time you try it. And after using the stuff for more than six months, all of the woodworkers in our shop have switched over to Abranet for power and hand sanding. It’s that good.
The fantastic dust extraction of Abranet also speeds your sanding because the stuff is much less likely to load up with dust during use. We’re getting about three times the life out a piece of Abranet compared to our old premium brand – so the increase in expense is more than worth it to us. Abranet is available in all the grits you need (#P80 to #P800) and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for it locally, a good place to start is your neighborhood Woodcraft.
While no product will ever transform sanding into blissful joy, Abranet comes awful darn close.
Contact: Mirka Abrasives Inc., 800-843-3904 or mirka-usa.com
Apollo’s AtomiZer HVLP
Apollo has always made excellent spray equipment that has performed well in our tests. But the company’s new 7500 line of premium HVLP guns is head and shoulders better than the guns we’ve tested and used for the last 11 years.
We’ve been testing the A7500QT AtomiZer Quick-Release Cup Gun with an HVLP turbine and have been impressed not only with the workmanship and controls, but with the astonishingly small amount of overspray generated by the gun. We’re still testing the A7500, but there’s little doubt this is the best HVLP gun we’ve seen in a long time.
Contact: Apollo, 888-900-4857 or hvlp.com
Bosch’s 4100 Table Saw
Tool snobs might scoff at our inclusion of a benchtop table saw in this list of the best woodworking equipment, but we know this tool. While traveling the country to do woodworking shows, we used the earlier version of this Bosch to build projects. It’s more than accurate and powerful enough for most woodworking tasks (and is a lot more portable than a cabinet saw).
Now Bosch has released a new model with some important changes. Most significant is the European guarding system, which is a vast improvement over standard U.S. guards. Other manufacturers are introducing this style of guard to the market soon, but this is available right now. The guard has a riving knife, pawls and blade covers that can be snapped on and off in seconds. Of all the new guard systems we’ve seen, Bosch’s is the friendliest we’ve used.
The new saw also is available with a digital rip fence that works down to 32nds of an inch. While this is a nice feature for some woodworkers, we’re mostly enamored with the guard, which is still in place on the saw that we’ve been testing for months.
Contact: Bosch, 877-267-2499 or boschtools.com
So much praise has been written about the Festool Domino this year that it’s hard to add anything new. This new handheld loose-tenon tool is quite simply one of the smartest new tools we’ve ever seen introduced. Yes, some people complain about the price tag, but they haven’t used the tool. Once you cut a few mortises with the Domino, you’ll join us in our applause for this German company.
Contact: Festool, 888-337-8600 or festoolusa.com
Grizzly 12″ Jointer/Planer with Spiral Cutterhead
Combining a jointer and a planer into one machine is nothing new – it’s a popular configuration in Europe that has never caught on much in North America.
But now that Grizzly Industrial has gotten its sharp teeth into the category, we think you should take a close look. We saw the new G0634 jointer/planer at the AWFS show in Las Vegas this year and were all quite impressed by the features, workmanship and the astonishing low price: $2,295.
Just try to get a new 12″ jointer and heavy-duty cast-iron planer for that price and you’ll see why we think Grizzly is really onto something. The G0634 has the added bonus of being equipped with a he
lical cutterhead with carbide-insert knives, which ensures long times between tooling changes. And the machine has guts: It’s powered by a 5-horsepower, 220-volt motor.
Switching the machine between its two functions is easy. Let me repeat that: it’s easy. Don’t let anyone tell you different. The only thing we would change on this machine is we wish it had the option of a European-style jointer guard. Grizzly opted for the more traditional pork chop-shaped guard. But that’s just our personal preference.
To be honest, we’re just getting started with this machine in our shop, so look for a full review in the print edition of the magazine.
If you’re short on shop space and long on ambition to work with wide solid-wood boards, this Grizzly machine should be at the top of your list.
Contact: Grizzly, 800-523-4777 or grizzly.com
Gramercy’s 9″ Dovetail Saw
Most premium dovetail saws look and act a lot like the very sweet Lie-Nielsen model that has been available for many years. But the Gramercy is different. It has finer teeth, a smaller blade and a smaller brass back.
The net result of these differences is that the Gramercy is decidedly more lightweight and easier to start than its many competitors. We’ve put this saw in the hands of several dozen woodworkers, and many report that the handle is more comfortable than any other they’ve used. Perhaps even more telling, we know several woodworkers who abandoned their Japanese saws in favor of the Gramercy – high praise indeed.
Contact: Tools for Working Wood, 800-426-4613 or toolsforworkingwood.com
Freud’s Quadra-Cut Bits
While many router-bit manufacturers have improved their cutters with better carbide and closer manufacturing tolerances, Freud took a big leap forward in 2007 with its new Quadra-Cut bits.
As you might have guessed from the product’s name, the Quadra-Cut bits have four carbide cutters instead of the usual two. The additional cutters are pitched in a different direction (two make an upshear cut; two make a downshear). The result: These new router bits remove material efficiently, and they practically eliminate the fuzzy edges produced by profile router bits when cutting across the grain.
Freud officials say the Quadra-Cuts will cost on average only about 10 percent more than the company’s two-cutter bits. New profiles are being added all the time to the Quadra-Cut line – we think they’re worth waiting for.
Contact: Freud, 800-334-4107 or freudtools.com