Best New Tools of 2008

Before I started working at this magazine, I saw tools as things that came in boxes. But during the last 12 years, my view has changed. I now see tools as triumphs of marketing, engineering or both.

After you meet the people who make and sell your tools, you never look at the tools the same way again. I know the guy who designed my jack plane, and the man who came up with the idea for SawStop. Because we know these people, you might think that we cut them a lot of slack when selecting the winners of our Best New Tools award each year.

Nope. Today we wrapped up our selection process, and we spent most of that time ripping apart the candidates, exploring what we didn’t like about them. It’s a bit like telling your spouse that you don’t like the way she gets her hair cut. But we have to do this. Not only for you, but for the engineers and marketing people who conceive of these tools, figure out how to make them and successfully bring them to market.

We owe it to these people to select the tools that are like nothing that anyone has ever made (such as the Jointmaker Pro). Or tools that have innovative features that revive an established form (such as the new Festool router). Or tools that take an old idea and use it to make a new tool that works better than we could have imagined (such as the Veritas skew rabbet planes and the Bosch jigsaw blades).

These tools might be manufactured of steel, glass-filled nylon and brass, but they really are made of guts, gray matter and gumption.
 — Christopher Schwarz, editor


COLT
MaxiCut Forstner Bits

It’s taken more than 125 years, but it looks like the Germans have perfected the Forstner bit. The new Colt MaxiCut bits are virtually uncloggable and cut rapidly and cleanly through tough materials, even exotic woods. What more could you want?

The genius in these bits is that the cutting lip is designed to bust up the chips as they are severed. So you don’t get big disc-shaped chips, which clog the works. Instead you get ribbon-like shavings, which eject easily, even from deep holes.

We tried to overfeed this bit, and we failed. Bravo to Colt. These bits cost a little more, but we think they’re worth it.

Colt  •  Available this fall from specialty stores


POWERMATIC
18″ Band Saw

If you’ve ever been to an automotive show, you know that those cars come fully loaded and tricked out with every option and good idea the manufacturer has to offer. And that’s exactly what it felt like when Powermatic unveiled its new 18″ monster band saw at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta.

The saw is overbuilt in every way you can imagine. The only plastic on the saw is the switch’s cover. The cast wheels are beefy enough for a car. The saw’s independently adjusted guides are planted on a rock-solid post. And the whole thing is powered by a 5-horsepower motor.

In addition to the cast iron, Powermatic added some sweet amenities: An intuitive blade-release mechanism, a clever way to tilt the saw’s table both ways quickly, and a T-square fence that works like a Biesemeyer. The whole package is extremely well thought out with everything that you both want and need in a saw.

Priced at about $4,000, it’s at the upper end of the market, but it will be the last band saw you ever buy.

Powermatic  •  800-274-6848   •  powermatic.com


DELTA MACHINERY
U.S.-made Unisaw

The biggest news in woodworking machinery this year was the redesigned Delta Unisaw. With a new look, new features and a new factory (in the United States), skeptical but excited woodworkers were clamoring for a first look at the saw.

After looking over the saw, we think Delta is delivering on its promise to build a new and better Unisaw in the United States. Here’s what we saw:

•  Better controls. Delta has put both the bevel and the blade-height mechanisms in the front of the machine, where they belong.
•  Better safety equipment. Delta added a riving knife and removable blade cover, which everyone is adding these days. Delta also made it as simple as possible to add and remove the guard. Now there’s little reason to leave the guard off your saw.
•  Smart improvements. The throat plate is bigger so you can get your hand in there. The arbor locks so you can remove the blade with one wrench. The arbor nut is one piece instead of two (and there’s a convenient front door on the saw in case you drop it). And there’s more cast iron table in front of the blade.
•  Better dust collection. Now there are two ports to keep your saw cleared of debris.

As long-time Unisaw users, we cannot wait to get our hands on the new model, which will be assembled in Tennessee from parts from all over the country (more details on this later). Welcome home Unisaw!

Delta Machinery  •  800-223-7278   •  deltaportercable.com


BRIDGE CITY
Jointmaker Pro

When I saw the Bridge City Jointmaker Pro for the first time, it was hard to figure out exactly what it was. Was it a hand-powered table saw with a sliding table? An upside-down hand-powered miter saw? A precision joinery jig for a Japanese handsaw? It turns out that the Jointmaker Pro is all those things and more.

At its heart, the Jointmaker Pro is a precision sliding table and an adjustable Japanese-tooth blade. How you combine those two features can create surprising results.

It can simply be a precision crosscutting machine that makes the cleanest crosscuts you have ever seen. It can make glass-smooth miters. Dovetails. Precision veneer for inlay. All without a power cord or more than a whisper of noise.

When the table saw was first invented, I’m sure its inventors were unable to imagine all the things that could be done with it. The Jointmaker Pro is like that. Every time we stepped up to the tool, we thought of something else  new and different that could be done with the Jointmaker Pro with great precision.

The tool is made to exacting standards from high-quality and durable materials. The base model costs $1,095.

Bridge City Tools  •  800-253-3332   •  bridgecitytools.com


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Christopher Schwarz

About Christopher Schwarz

Chris is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking Magazine and the publisher at Lost Art Press. He's a hand-tool enthusiast (though he uses power tools, too).