Smoky the Bear Sez:

Remember, with Canada Day and the US Fourth of July festivities coming right up…


How many times in that week will we hear the famous last words,

“Hey, hold my beer, and watch me do THIS!”

A Tale Of Three Tool Kits~ Part One

I have often mentioned my 90%/50% Rule [If you can get 90% of the utility for 50% of the cost you’ve made a good deal]. However, I was also raised to believe in the idea that you should buy things for the long-term. This means purchasing with the idea of getting the best quality, and then not having to replace the item [at least for a long time]… especially for things that you know you will be using regularly. Ever since I started spending my own money, I have been a fan of L.L.Bean’ clothing, Sears-Roebuck’s “Craftsman” brand, Toyota, my Bark River and Grohman knives etc… established brands you know you can count on for not only the finest quality, but also for standing behind their products with good service and warranties. For me, most particularly, this policy has always taken the form of spending full price for excellent, professional grade tools.


Now that the Château is up for sale, I have been dealing with the collection of “Everythings” that has accumulated from four generations of my forbears, and however many families that actually includes. This also means that I have been selling off all the contractor’s grade tools that I’ve accumulated over the last four decades. And it means that since these tools were worthwhile when first purchased, they had a reasonable resale value, and I’ve been able to make a considerable amount back… I can’t call this “profit”, but I can call it a depreciated return on investment.

This is only a portion of the tools I had up for sale. By the time this photo was taken, many items had already sold.

Realizing that I would still want to do many things with power tools that I have done before, but not at the contracting type level, I have been looking into the new generation of 20V battery powered toolkits that provide a wide selection of tools. All of which are powered from the manufacturer’s proprietary battery system… you have to choose a product line or suck up the cost of multiple battery systems and chargers. One of the biggest advantages though is that there are no more grimy power cords to deploy and have snaking all over underfoot. [In the clean out I’ve found I had accumulated 14 of them, ranging in length from 10′ to 100′]

While I was in North Carolina with the Rev. elfLiza a Bosch drill-driver and impact driver set went on sale at an irresistible price point of $99 including a charger, two batteries and a “fitted” case. They were only 12V, but had the advantage of being much smaller in the hand that most of the 20v offerings. Since she lives in an urban setting where Amazons”Prime” means overnight delivery, I picked it up.

My buddy, TOG already had a similar drill driver from Makita that I really liked using, so I pretty much knew what I was getting… Decent power and the big advantage of being small enough to drop right in the pouch of my tool belt or stick in a hip pocket. While I had purchased the set with the full intention of leaving it behind in North Carolina for use down there, I discovered I liked it so well, and it was so small that I could tuck it under a seat, and it went in the car and came back to Maine with me.

I wasn’t wild about the little, squared off fabric case that came with the Bosch Combo, and I ended up I substituting a small Gladstone tool bag that I had up in a closet. It was a perfect fit for the entire kit… drill & driver, both batteries, charger, plus two sets of specialty drill bits and a DeWalt driver-bit set in a hard-shell case that I already had. Pretty much anything I am likely to want to do with a drill/drive can be done with what’s right in the bag. Despite their small size, the batteries charge up fully in just over a half an hour, so I can’t really imagine any work slowdown ever occurring at my expected level of use.

Additionally, I had an older set of Ridgid brand battery tools that I bought while I was building the Château.

IMG_4847This had the hammer drill, a smaller drill-driver, a 6 1/2″ circular saw and a work light, as well as the charger, three large batteries and two small. They were state of the art back then. I offered them up for sale both on Craigslist and at barn sales with the other power tools, but no one was buying, even at the decent price I offered. They all still run well and were great tools when they were purchased, but the batteries are now about two generations behind, and don’t hold a charge as well as they used to. I had tried several times to sell them all for $35, and have ended up hanging on to them more or less by default.

In retrospect, I’m grateful that no one took me up on the deal. My lady friend is coming up for several weeks from North Carolina, and I will simply send this set back down with her to replace the Bosch set that I absconded with. That way, that I will have perfectly OK tools available there until I make the actual move.


All this post is by way of preamble. Even with these two perfectly usable sets in hand, I knew that in the long run I was going to want something better and featuring a wider variety of tools to replace my pro setup. I had sufficient money from all of the sales of my other tools, so…

…and THAT will take us to Part Two of the series which I will post separately.

The Dewalt DCK694P2 20V Max XR 6-Tool Combo Kit Quick Review ~~ “A Tale Of Three Tool Kits”~ Part Two

This will be a broad look at the DeWalt Combo Cordless Kits. Reviews of the individual component tools will come as I get a change to work with them in the coming weeks.

After reading a lot of reviews, and looking at a lot of the various “Combo” sets in some of the big box home improvement stores, I ended up choosing to go with Dewalt’s 20 V Max “XR” system. Even then, it was a real problem choosing from all the varieties of kits offered. Not only do the tool selections very from kit to kit, but DeWalt also offers them in 18V as well as 20V, and brushless versus brushed motors.

See what I mean…?

I went through a lot of Internet research, and I’ll share some sources that I’ve found the most worthwhile right here in case anyone else is considering a similar purchase.

I finally limited my choice to two six-tool kits: the DeWALT DCK684D2 and the DEWALT DCK694P2.  They offer DeWalt’s heavier duty, brushless motors [the lower cost sets have brushed motors], and having the power I am used to from my contractor grade tools was one of my primary criteria. DeWalt claims that the brushless motors run far cooler, and have “run-time” between battery charges that can be more than 100% greater.

Trust me. There is a good bit of difference between these two very similar looking sets…

Since I was already well equipped in terms of drill drivers from the previously mentioned Bosch and Rigid sets [see Part One], the three tools that made the most difference to me as I tried to hone down my choices, were the reciprocating saw, the 7 1/4″ circular saw, and the new multi-use “oscillating tool”. The same three models were offered in each of these kits, so the real choice was down to the other amenities offered by the drill drivers and the battery sets.

[Interestingly enough, all most all of the tools seem to have LED lights built in, so the “work light” DeWalt puts into all the combo kits to boost the “tool-count’ is especially redundant]

There is a basic cost difference between these two sets of approximately $100 due to the bump from a 2Ah battery set in the x84 series of kits to a 5Ah battery pair offered in the x94s. The 694 kit also upgrades you to a hammer drill. A real “buyer’s remorse” concern with many of these DeWalt Combo sets arises from the fact that the prices on these can change up or down overnight and by as much as $50-$100 over the course of a month. If the price on a set “lurched” it could make it more or less desirable in an instant. After much obsessing, and way too much compulsive researching, last weekend it seemed that the price on the 694 set had dropped by nearly $100 overnight, bringing it to within $20 of the cost of the 2Ah one. I made my choice, pulled the trigger and placed my order.

…. And promptly screwed myself.

In my rush to buy I ordered the wrong set. I acted too quickly, and without reading in detail, without looking closely enough [ I probably had my glasses up on my forehead], and I ended up getting one of the x94 series hammer drill kits alright… but it was the four tool one that did not include the oscillating tool… that’s why all of a sudden the price was so inviting. My mistake was compounded by the fact that the particular Amazon vendor my order went through had only a 30 minute window during which you could cancel your order… of course I didn’t see the error until the next morning. And, of course, it was also Memorial Day weekend so their customer service was closed. You can probably guess… the tools shipped on Sunday night, and I couldn’t talk with CS until Tuesday morning. Despite the difficulties, and after some finagling, I actually found myself quite satisfied once the tools came and my final cost evaluation was done.

Eventually, I had bullied my way up through several levels of CS management with the seller and was able to get a 5% reduction in the charge on the cost of the 594 kit. Then I went ahead and ordered the oscillating tool as a “standalone kit” that also came with its own single 2Ah battery, a [2nd] charger, and a tote, as well as a plastic tote box of DeWalt brand O-tool blades, accessories, and some of their own proprietary shaped sandpapers. To finish replacing the corded tools I had sold, I also went ahead and ordered a nice, easily portable DeWalt 2 gallon wet/dry vac that operates both corded and cordless… since this was not included in any of the kits it made no difference in my final price.

This is my shot of the new gear fresh out of the boxes… no blades or accessories attached.

What I ended up with:

  • 996 hammer drill/ driver
  • 887 impact driver
  • 367 reciprocating saw
  • 570  7 1/4 inch circular saw
  • the new 355oscillating multi-tool with the bonus of everything that was included from buying a standalone kit
  • the 581 wet/dry corded/cordless vac
  • two charger bases [one not shown]
  • two 5Ah Max batteries and a single 2Ah one
  • [the only tool that has not been replaced so far is a jigsaw. The Bosch version that I sold was their top-of-the-line unit and I got a very good price for it on eBAY… so good in fact that my replacement cost is a “wash” when the DeWalt cordless unit drops back to levels I have already seen. Even more so if I choose to get a re-furb]

My total cost for all of these top-end DeWalt tools was only $65 more than if I had purchased the lower cost set [the one I had originally intended to get] together with the shop vac. I am satisfied because the cost is really deferred by the fact that I got the more powerful hammer drill, a total of three batteries and two bases including the higher powered batteries, and the nice accessories kit that came with the oscillating tool. All of the tools are about as good as I could get, and all of the expense was covered by the sale of the corded “contractors” tools, and the other accumulated tools I let go. [In fact, I will come out quite a bit ahead once all of the other extra contracting and shop stuff has sold or gone to auction]

Wrap Up:

Why I got the DeWalt lineup:

  1. All the sites I read reviewing the cordless tool “combo sets” from competing brands always placed DeWalt high at the top of their favorites
  2. I really wanted to stay with the larger 7 1/4″ Circular saw that I was used to, and I also have have a metric shit-ton of 7 1/4 inch blades for various materials that are still in excellent shape. In the circular saw comparisons that I read, the Dewalt unit was consistently the highest rated unit, and additionally, I had just never warmed up to the 6 1/4″ Ridgid saw despite its smaller, more handy size.  Other than the size, the argument is that the left-mount blade is easier to see and keep on track for most right-handed folks. I prefer the wider base on the board that the right-mounted blade on the 7 1/4″ saw gives. I have 40 years of practice looking down the back of my right knuckles. I can hold my speed square in place with my left hand, the saw is rock-steady on the board surface with no tilt-off,  and the cut off board end falls away to the right… that’s just “how I work”.
  3. The DWS570 circular saw unit also has a heavy aluminum base plate with flat edges rather than one that has been stamped out of lighter material where the edge curves up. This may seem like a small thing, but it makes it much easier to guide the plate with a speed square for more true and exact cuts.
  4. Lastly, I am really excited to try out all the stuff I can do more easily with the new Oscillating tool… small/tight sanding/ flush cuts/ scraping, etc. I want to do some furniture restoration and refinishing when  get to Carolina, and I think this tool will be perfect for those needs.

What I like about the tools comes right down to their convenience:

  • NO cords/Light weight…. I don’t know how many times I have put off doing a small job around the house simply because the set up, with the extension cords, power cords, the out-of-reach outlets and the heavy tools themselves made it seem so daunting. The trouble I had to go to seemed out of proportion to the accomplishment.
  • Anywhere/ Anytime…. I can carry a power tool up to the barn for a quick, one-board job with no hassle. I am done and back before I would have gotten set up with my contractor’s gear.
  • Quick Charge/ Long Use… My mistaken order actually got me the larger, 20V Max XR 5Ah batteries that I might have had to buy down the road. They are advertised to charge in only 90 minutes and the brushless motors on the x94P2 series tools are supposed to deliver incredible battery life and up to 100% longer run-time. Right now I cannot see any circumstance in which I could possibly run down all the batteries and end up “powerless” unless I intentionally left the charger or extra batteries behind.
  • I am already truly loving how easy the 2 gallon shop vac is to carry around and use. It makes staying ahead of my cleanup much simpler… and that makes the job go quicker.

The Cons:

  • the DCD996 Hammer Drill is likely over-kill for my probable use. Any need likely will be so limited that the old Ridgid hammer drill would have done just fine
  • I also suspect that time will tell me that I have no real need for any drill/driver chore that is bigger than I could have dealt with using the Bosch pair… those have surprising power for something that small and being only 12V
  • the 5Ah “Max” batteries weigh a hefty 1.3 lbs each which is a trade off of a considerable load in the hand for the long use between charges. They make the tiny Bosch pair look mighty inviting for any chore involving the drill or driver. [The whole Bosch drill with its battery only weighs 2.3 lbs.]

Right now, these tools a completely new to me. I have not had any time to put them through their paces and get a feel for them. For that reason I am not going to go any further with “reviews” of the individual tools.

Once they get some use, I will post my experiences and review each one individually.

Bonus Review To Come:

There is actually a fourth tool kit for me to talk about and review. In the things that were left in my barn several years ago [by a man who promised, “only for a little while” and, “I’ll pay you $25 a month”…. and then never did, and ended up unable to return at all] there was a LNIB Dremel 3000 Rotary Tool in a case, and with two full, and different, sets of accessories. I haven’t even had time to power it up, and it is still in the plastic bags inside the case. …Gotta get to that, too.

A New Way To “Screw Up”~ BAHCO Model 808050S Magnetic Ratcheting Stubby Screwdriver Review

… or down, or sideways

Every now and again a tool guy just HAS TO buy a kewl new tool. This was my latest.

From Swedish maker BAHCO comes this sweet Model 808050S Magnetic Ratcheting Stubby Screwdriver with a bulb handle.

[The unit comes without any extras… the other stuff was right outta my tool box. You will need to provide a set of bits in your choice of sizes and tip patterns].

The driver itself is quite small… right at 4″ with a bit installed. Perfect for tight spaces, and I have always been a fan of a bulb handle for a better grip and the ability to add some palm force to better drive the screws.

This little guy really delivers on both. 

For those you who may not understand exactly what it ratcheting screwdriver is, it’s simple. Inside the metal collar between the body and the shaft of the screwdriver is a gearwheel and a locking cam. On the BAHCO, the gearwheel has a very high number of teeth. It allows for very smooth, strong movement and greatly reduces the chance of stripping out the screw head. When the gray arrow points to the center, the shaft is locked, and operates just like a regular screwdriver. However when you turn the collar to the right or left, the cam will slip backwards or forwards on the gear teeth allowing you to twist back and forth with only your wrist instead of changing your grip on the handle of the screwdriver. No more realigning the tip and slipping out of the slot on almost every move! 

As far as I am concerned, the BAHCO folks absolutely nailed it with this product. Their 808050S Stubby Ratchet Driver has a good, solid weight in your palm without being heavy, and the ergonomics of grip and operation are equally great. You can change the rotation or lock functions just using a thumb and forefinger and without changing your handhold or palm pressure at all.  [I did, however, add the red nail polish to the direction set indicator arrows for easier visibility]

The bit tip is interchangeable for any of the standard hex bits you buy or that come with battery powered drill drivers. Flat, phillips, hex, star, square drive, Torx… whatever. You can even use shafted nut drivers or wrench sockets in mm or inch sizes. The Bahco’s shaft itself is magnetized to hold the bits securely without any chance of drop-out, but is not so strong that it is a bother getting them off to change.










I paired mine up with a slip-collar extension shaft [also magnetized] from an old drill-driver kit so that the whole unit really acts as a full length screwdriver as well. [The slip-collar slides up around a screw held in the bit and stabilizes it for one-handed driving… as the screw goes in the collar slips back down the length of the shaft]. Together with the little 6-bit holder strip, it makes a nice pocketable kit.

I haven’t had reason to try it out yet, but it should also work with a bent-shaft flex driver for hard-to-reach applications, although you will lose the palm pressure due to the off-center angle of attack.

In conclusion, I really like this lil’ tool. I am fairly certain that it is going to be the one that is pulled out when I reach for a screwdriver from now on.

Truth Be Told Disclaimer: Nope. Didn’t get this one to fit the 90%/50% Rule… paid full tariff at $17.99 on Amazon with no regrets.

Putting a Fine Edge on Things… pt.2 ~ Stones and Sharpeners

Several months ago, I showed you my new Lansky System multi-stone blade sharpening kit. [Post linkI wanted to follow up on that one with some more info on getting a fine edge on your knives and other tools. These miscellaneous stones are what I have used for 50 years, but I have to admit that they pale in comparison to using the Lansky and some strops with different grades of compounds. The Lansky gives you the edge and the strops make it a piece of cake to maintain it. If you really give a blade a workout in the field you can go back to the Lansky quickly to set the edge again.

Over the years I have picked up many various stones and steels. And over the years I have afforded both better and worse alternatives. Additionally,  the technology has also advanced. My father and grandfather never had the option of diamond impregnated steel hones.

The “112” double-sided combo was my first, all the way back in the 1970s. The package has $1.19 as the price. It is a back-to-back, oil-impregnated grinding stone of man-made corundum compounds in relatively coarse and medium fine…. these are about 180-240 grit in the corresponding sandpaper grades. It’s a decent pair, but the resulting edge is still a bit rough. They also remove quite a bit of material, causing wear-down on the blades. The old 112 is my primary stone for finish edges on axes and machetes, and even my sickles and mower blades. I start those with a file, and I have an old piece of a terrazzo floor grinding stone that I picked up on a commercial jobsite back in the 1970s that I use for the medium-coarse honing on those heavier blades.

I had the small “Washita” stone and the black Arkansas one from my Grandfather, and these would let me further refine the edge… these two probably fall around 800 and 1200+ grit. For a long time my efforts were unknowingly frustrated by that gap in grits. The fine stones could not refine the still-too-rough edge by themselves.

At some point in the 1980s I got the three top stones. These were glued to a triangular block of cedar in a support frame. You just went from one grain to the next by turning the whole set. Very convenient, but over the years the stones started to detach from the block, and I finally cut the glue and cleaned them up to use individually. Like the 112, these need lubrication with oil to “float” the debris that is removed by sharpening. The “Tri-Hone” kit was from Smith’s and is still offered, but no longer comes on the nice cedar block with its accompanying cedar box. The gray Smith’s stones are Arkansas Novaculite* [the darker one is a man-made corundum].

*Novaculite is a dense, hard, fine-grained siliceous rock only found in the Ouachita [Washita] Mountains of central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma… hence the name. It is a Devonian to Mississippian-age rock unit that ranges from about 60 feet thick in the northern Ouachitas to about 900 feet thick in the southern Ouachitas. Outcrops of the Arkansas Novaculite Formation are prominent landscape features, and the stone was used and traded by the First Peoples along with the fine fire flints found from there west into Panhandle Country. Novaculite is chemically resistant, so lubricating oil and grit are easily cleaned off. WD-40 works wonderfully for this… grit just wipes right off to the original surface. These stones do wear down in the lower grades, although I have never had the problem in my use. However, they can be re-flattened by the user with wet-dry sandpaper in a similar grit mounted on a piece of glass.

Dieter Schmid Fine Tools has a great info page about all facets of natural and man-made sharpening stones, although it focuses on Japanese stones rather than Arkansas >> LINK


In this photo you can see some of the variation on my own set of Arkansas stones, although the photo-flash has changed their colors.

The top left is the Smith’s corundum, the yellow is their “ultra-fine”, and the mottled is mid-range. The older “black Arkansas” is at the bottom, but reveals far more color. It would be just below the yellow in grade. These probably range from 200-800.

My Grandfather’s small Washita stone is about 800-1000 grit. [It too still has a blue label with the original price of 29¢ penciled on it on the reverse side]


My next sharpening set was a mixed one from the 90s with a large medium diamond block from DMT, and two small diamond paddles from EZE-Lap. The paddles fill in “coarse” and fine grades.

Used together with a chef’s steel from the restaurant supply, these are what I have used to keep my kitchen knives sharp for the last couple decades [as well as whatever EDC knife and pocket tool I might be carrying at the time]. The diamond hones are excellent because they can be lubricated with water, resulting in easier, quicker cleanup when you are in the middle kitchen chores.

These are made by pressure bonding fine grades of industrial diamond grit right into a steel backing plate. Over time the grit can wear down with excessive use. For most casual users this will never be a problem. Harbor Freight currently offers both a three-grit set for only $9.99 and also a block mounted one with four surfaces. HF grades theirs from 180-360 on the 3 piece set, and 200-600 in the four. Either would be a super starter set for anyone. [DMT sets go over $100 on Amazon]

Along the way I had gotten the little pocket sharpener to take along in my pack. This one is a clone of a similar one offered on Amazon from Smith’s. They have a pair of carbide blades set in a V and a second set of rods in ceramic. I am not a big fan, because the angle is fixed and can do more damage than good. Fine for a beater maybe, but not on anything good.

The diamond rod sharpeners are from EZE-Lap. This is their M-model in solid brass. They also make an aluminum version that is marginally lighter for take-along. The rod and collar store securely in the brass sleeve, and reverse/screw-in for use. The open one dates from the 80s, and the grit is wearing off. Given that this has always been a “go-to” sharpener in my gear bag, that’s a decent lifetime. However, EZE-Lap offers a lifetime guarantee, and they recently sent me a brand new replacement. [I had to send back the sleeve as proof-of-purchase, but they were happy to return it with my new one. Took about ten days… I do love good customer service] The EZE-Lap M is a great piece of kit. You can give a blade a few quick lappings, either forehand or back, either into the blade or away, and get a nicely refreshed edge with nearly zero wear-down on the blade.


The Project Knife Update #1-2

There has actually been some slow but steady progress being made. I started out a couple of weeks ago, and then got hung up on the rest of my life commitments…

The first steps involved “stabilizing” the leather handle. No disks were actually missing, but there were small gaps between some, behind the brass guard, and right at the front catalin disks. I worked some Gorilla Glue into some of the gaps to start with. I also used some braided casting line with the GG to wrap-and-fill behind the guard. Then I switched to furniture glue as it could be thinned and put in on a razor blade.

This first photo shows where I have glued and then tightened up and worked the spaces between disks to give a single, dime-thick void. I filled this with black “Sugru”.




I finally had some time this morning, so I taped off the catalin decorative disks, the pommel and the guard with painters tape to protect them while I broke out a rasp, a file and the disk sander to get serious with reshaping the now tight and secure leathers. [You can see the Sugru infill there in the center]


For safety while grasping, I also put a pair of duct tape strips up the edge of the blade and covered them with a third layer folded over.

Here we are after some heavy rasp work, some filing, and a go with 220 grit on my Porter-Cable orbital.

After making most of those dark rings there between the disks go away, I moved on up to 400 grit.







Just cleaned up with a rag to get off the sanding dust, I am pretty pleased with the progress so far. You can see the shine already coming up on the leather. The grip in the hand feels fine, with no real change from the very slight material removal. Sure, the Sugru infill is always going to show as a souvenir of the renovation, but that just adds character.

There are some more spaces that showed up in the catalin disks by the pommel, and the down slopes across the catalin on both sides at the guard need to be brought up to the 400g level by hand.

In the center photo you can see how nicely the decorative disks come back. So, my next play is to work a last bit of glue into the gaps, lightly file off the residues, and work down those front slopes to match the rest.