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When I started seriously into building campaign furniture, I found that I was driving hundreds (no lie) of screws each week when building a typical piece with all the brass hinges, stays, corner guards and straps.

To speed me along, I bought a Starrett 819 centering punch, and if you have ever struggled with installing hardware, you will love this thing.

Like many woodworkers, I’ve tried all the silly gizmos for installing hardware (including the always-breakable Vix bits). I’ve trashed all of those and use only the 819 to mark my pilot holes. The way it works is simplicity itself. You press the tool’s black sleeve into the screw hole of the hinge or whatever it is you are trying to install. Press down. Click. It makes a perfect dimple in the middle of the hole. Done.

By the way, you can buy cheaper versions this sort of tool at the home center. Don’t. They stink for a wide variety of reasons (they aren’t spring-loaded or they fall apart).

— Christopher Schwarz

For Day 1 of this year’s gift guide, click here.
For my gift guides from 2013 and 2014, click here.

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Showing 13 comments
  • Brian Brazil

    Yes! I tried all manner of centering bits, but found that no matter how careful I was, the hardware always moved on me and I never drilled the holes straight because I was concentrating on holding the hardware in place. It was a mess! I picked up this punch from Lee Valley as an add-on to get my order over the free shipping limit and it’s made installing hardware a breeze. I usually keep the spring set very loose so I can produce a small dimple without risking the hardware sliding, then I come back with a birdcage awl and/or drill to expand the hole. Easy peasy.

  • jglen490

    I don’t have the Starrett punch, but it looks like a very good solution. However, there are some other automatic self-centering punches on the market. Not talking about the hammer powered ones. There are a few, including the Starrett, at Woodcraft. There is also the Pittsburgh version for about $10.00. Harbor Freight seems to have it right now for $2.99. That’s low enough to pick up and try it; then treat it as a throw-away, if it doesn’t work. Starrett has a super reputation as a high quality builder of tools – at a high price. Not trying to be cheapskate (however, my ancestors are Scottish!) not every high priced item is so much better that it, and only it, is solely suitable for purchase. I’m going to stop at HF this week and try the Pittsburgh!

  • BLZeebub

    There is another reason to own this tool AND to keep one in your car. Here in FL we are not only surrounded by water, we have to dodge lakes, ponds and puddles deep enough to submerge your pickup too. If you ever have reason to (after an extended bar crawl) find yourself sinking into one, the automatic punch can shatter the side glass on your now submerged vehicle allowing you egress and an adrenaline fueled swim to the surface. Just remember to keep your wits while the interior fills up. The Starrett can actually be a life saver. As mentioned, it works pretty darn well on wood too.

  • cagenuts

    Difficult to pass up on the <$9 one from Lee Valley.

    Anyone used this and can comment?

  • bonobo6000

    I wish they’d made them sized to work on smaller hardware as well. Also, it doesn’t work like magic – you have to be really careful about holding it perpendicular to the surface or the mark will be off.

  • pmkierst

    That is one of my favourite tools. It is great for many reasons, not least is that the is comfortable on the palm after firing it a gazillion times, something the cheaper versions are not. Also, right weight, adjustable, I could go on and on…

  • TwoWheelNeil

    I’ve tried many styles of this type of bit (but not the Starrett version) and I still prefer a bird cage awl to mark centre. Why not manual marking?

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