Back when I was just a little kid, way before blogs were invented, my Dad ran a side business installing sound systems in churches. I remember hanging around and watching him solder custom audio cables at home some evenings, and for some reason, I was always dying to get in on the soldering action. It just looked fun. But far be it from any responsible parent to allow their 8 year old daughter to wield a soldering iron, so I was out of luck.
My Dad eventually wound down the custom audio work, and as a result, I pretty much forgot about soldering as less lethal-for-kids projects like friendship bracelets, crepe paper flowers and paint-your-own ceramics came my way. Fast forward to 8th grade, that magical year when public school kids get to experience the wonders of Home Ec, Sewing, Drafting and Wood/Metal Shop, all in two whirlwind semesters. When the “make-a-wire-guy-and-permanently-weld-his-feet-to-a-piece-of-sheet-metal-so-he-looks-like-he’s-walking” portion of the program rolled around, the almighty soldering iron came crashing back into my life, but this time, I was the one holding it.
It’s been around 17 years, and despite the fact that I enjoyed my brief stint as an underage solderer, what I remember most is the flux. The gunky, nasty, greasy tins of flux that we had to dunk our solder into. Without fail, we’d always use too much or too little, and would either end up with a joint that wouldn’t take, or a mess of excess flux spitting and running everywhere. But believe it or not, flux issues can get even worse.
While the excess flux issue was annoying for Junior High-aged me, I imagine that it’s even more frustrating for people who, say, make a living soldering printed circuit boards. While soldering is a vital part of electronics in general, residual flux on circuit boards can cause shorts and electrical leakage, or interfere with a board’s thermal properties. And if you’re not careful while trying to remove flux residue, even more damage can occur.
That’s why MG Chemicals’ lead-free flux-core solder is so great. Filled with a core of just the right amount of flux, this solder leaves behind a bare minimum of residue, so there’s little or no cleanup involved. Whatever flux residue does remain is hard and nonconductive, so it doesn’t carry the threats of diverting electricity or causing shorts. As a bonus, the silver-infused lead-free formula saves you from inhaling potentially harmful lead vapors, but also leaves you with solder joints that have excellent conductivity.
How do you drive a DIY’er insane? Hand him or her a screwdriver, then have them try to dig ancient, stripped screws out of some drywall. From there, you just have to stand back and wait for the sweating and profanity to ensue – don’t worry, it won’t take long.
It’s pretty amazing how something so small and seemingly insignificant as a stripped screw can jeopardize a person’s mental state and waste so much time. Working on a family renovation project a few years back, I couldn’t believe how much of a pain it was trying to remove old curtain-rod hardware, but unfortunately that one seemingly piddly aspect of the process had to happen before we could patch the walls and paint. No getting around it.
Sigh. Wish I’d have known about the proGrabit back then. This ingenious little bit set would have gone great with my brother’s power drill, and would have saved more than one member of the fam a heck of a lot of time. Let me explain: Rack-a-Tiers’ proGrabitis a double-sided drill bit that works with just about any power drill. It has two ends: one acts as a reamer, to grind out the center of any screw head. Once everything is cleaned out, you just flip the bit and use the other side to actually bite into the screw and draw it out.
Where has this thing been all my life?
We’re talking stud finders today, ladies and gents, but girls, don’t get too excited. I hate to disappoint, but nothing about these babies will alert you to the top-secret, undisclosed whereabouts of Gerard Butler, Bradley Cooper or the like. While these handheld scanners will tell you exactly where the studs are, it leans much more toward the wood and metal types (you know, what your drywall is nailed to?) rather than the Hollywood variety.
Ever witnessed a “handy” person looking for studs using the old “knock along the wall until you hear a change in sound” routine? Word to the wise: never, ever, allow that joker to attempt to hang your gorgeous new Plasma screen. One’s knuckles may be a suitable stud-location system when you just want to hang a hefty picture, but when it comes to mounting a small fortune in electronics that weighs as much as a small person, think again. I don’t know your opinion on the matter, but personally, I think I could end up facing manslaughter charges if I lost a new flat screen because some well-meaning but knuckle-dependent installer missed the studs by half an inch when putting up my TV mount. A barrage of profanity from my general direction would be the least of that fool’s problems.
Lest I sound mean, let me assure you that I don’t intend to – I’m just trying to stress the importance of a accomplishing a task with a certain degree of precision – one that can only come from a high-tech gadget. When you can’t afford a mistake, spend a few extra dollars and get a tool that will guarantee success – in this case, the Greenlee Stud Sensor. Based on its readings, you’ll be able to miss studs when you need to, hit them when you need to, and avoid making contact with live AC lines at all times – all pluses in my book. Believe me: the small investment in a stud sensor is a lot less expensive than a new TV, a trip to the the hospital, or, in my hypothetical case, legal defense.
Ahhh, staple guns. For most of my life, I’ve considered them to be the perfect tools for either roofing or shooting goofy burglars in sensitive areas (sorry, looks like Home Alone made a bigger impression than I realized), but now I’m seeing how great they are for running cables. In new constructions, it’s common practice to route low voltage, data, coax and Romex cables along studs, and when you do that, you have to do something to keep them in place. So why not just staple them down?
You do have to be careful, though, because using the wrong staple gun and staples can lead to crushed wiring, and we all know that that’s no good. To keep the fastening easy but still play things safe, opt for a cable-specific staple gun, like the Cable Boss™ from Gardner Bender. Why the Cable Boss™? First of all, it’s built to dispense a particular type of insulated staples that have integrated cable guards, which prevent cabling from being squeezed or crushed. Secondly, the Cable Boss™ staple gun is designed so that you can wield it single-handedly and still prevent your cables from twisting at the same time. This cool little feature is made made possible by two things: a lever-action handle that operates with minimal force, and a rear cable guide that holds the wires down, and in line, for you.
Add to that the fact that this gun can accommodate cables of many shapes and sizes, and you’ve got a great little multitasker that works effectively and cuts down on the number of tools you need to tote between jobs. They don’t call it the Cable Boss™ for nothing.
Filed under: Cable and Wire Storage, Cable Pulling, Tools and Cases
How is it that so many times, the simplest things can be the most useful? Sure, you can get plenty of cool gadgets that have GPS, lasers, Internet connectability and every other high-tech feature out there, but sometimes what you really need is just some bent metal tubing and a couple of wheels. After all, electronics are great, but they’re not going to get you too far when you’re trying to schlep cable reels from one place to another.
If you’re still scratching your head over the “bent metal tubing” comment and wondering what on Earth that has to do with transporting spools of wire, let me explain. I recently came across the ReelCraft® Side Mount Cart Handle, and I have to say that despite it’s simplicity, it’s really pretty smart. Fully-loaded cable reels can be pretty unweildy to just hoist up and carry around, so it just makes sense to have what is essentially a wheel-equipped handle that attaches to the spool and lets you just push or pull it around.
The Side Mount Cart Handle is 42 inches tall, so when you use it, there’s no bending involved. You just grab on to any point that’s comfortable for you, and and enjoy the lack of back strain. Add to that a couple of smooth-rolling semi-pneumatic tires, and your job just got a whole lot easier. As for how it works, simple: you just attach it to the side of a reel, and you’re ready to rock.
How do you move a flat panel display from one place to another? Very carefully. I know, I know – we just got started, and you’re already rolling your eyes, thinking “Wokka wokka wokka – where did she get that come from, a Laffy Taffy wrapper?!” For your information, the answer is no, I did not (how could you think that?). And just for the record, it wasn’t a joke – even though it did sound like one. A really, really bad one.
But down to business. I wasn’t kidding about that “very carefully” stuff – moving plasma and LCD screens can get pretty tricky, and if you make even one wrong move, it can turn out to be expensive, too. Replacing broken screens can really set you back, so if you ever have to move one, do the following: cast all thoughts of cardboard boxes, packing peanuts and moving blankets out of your head. You heard me – no flimsy packing materials. I’m usually a pretty frugal person, but this is one area in which I will loudly school anyone who attempts to take the cheapskate route.
That said, I happily recommend Gator’s G-Tour LCD and Plasma Road Cases to anyone who regularly travels from job to job with an LCD screen in tow. I’m not going to say that they aren’t a bit of an investment, but when it comes to sparing the lives of large, expensive electronics, I think a little preventive spending is in line, don’t you?
I really like these cases, because they’re both good looking and functional, inside and out. Based on what meets the eye, they’re like sleek, modern, low-profile steamer trunks for your HD display – but instead of sailing up the Nile, they’re better for getting booth display screens to that tradeshow in Atlanta and back. That’s all because of the cases’ less-obvious inner appointments, which include shock-absorbing polyethylene foam lining, and configurable foam wedges that allow you to custom-fit the case to your screen. Talk about traveling in luxury – it’s like going cross-country in a Tempur-Pedic® bed.
The entire line of G-Tour cases meets ATA specifications for transport cases, so you don’t need to worry about running into any unusual luggage difficulties – just check the case at Point A, and retrieve your unscathed Plasma or LCD at the other end of the line. Too easy.
I have something to confess. Only this afternoon, I “judged a book by its cover,” and do you know what? I was wrong. I’ll admit it. What was the so-called “book” that I misjudged? The Rack-A-Tiers Wire Connector Tool. And how, pray tell, did I go astray? I saw it, and automatically thought to myself: “that’s the laziest thing I’ve ever seen!” But now I see the err of my ways…
Here’s how it all started: I know how wire nuts work. I’ve used them. It’s not rocket science, and when all is said and done, you’re not exactly physically wrung out when the job is complete. So what self-respecting wire splicer would use something to make it even easier? But then, a little voice in my head shamed me by saying “What do you know, kid? You’re no electrician! You’re just an electrical newb!!!” And as it is in many cases, the voice was right. I had received my come-uppance. Who am I to judge, when I don’t spend 40+ hours a week winding wires together?
As soon as I came crashing off my high horse, I started thinking about things from the professional electrician’s perspective (i.e. the correct perspective), and immediately started appreciating this tool for what it is and how it works. Gripping and twisting wire connectors isn’t too strenuous when you only have a few to get through, but if you have to knock out a bunch, day after day, your wrist and fingers are eventually going to start complaining. And you can’t have that.
So, you’re probably wondering how it all works. It’s easy – the tool just slips over a wire connector, and you spin the handle around a couple of turns. Then you’re officially in business. This is a great fatigue-reliever because there’s no tight gripping or wrist twisting involved, and the best part of not getting tired is that you can work for longer, and get more done. But that’s not even the best part. My favorite feature of this wire connector tool is that you don’t have to twist the wires together ahead of time, before you can screw on a wire nut. Just hold the stripped wire ends together, and you’re automatically good to go!
This product has been discontinued.
Being that I’m a non-camping civilian who doesn’t even own a pair of night-vision goggles, it’s kind of funny that I’m so fascinated by today’s featured product – but how could I not be? The whole idea of a lighting system that can both illuminate field shelters and crank out a red LED glow that’s safe for night-vision maneuvers appeals to that deep-down, Special Ops wannabe place that’s inside each and every one of us. Meet Pelican’s™ 9500 Shelter Lighting System.
Made up of 3 lamp modules that can be used alone or connected and hung along a tent’s ceiling, the 9500 is all about providing diffuse and even light. Its LED beams spread outward at a 210° angle and stay steady, without the annoying strobe and dimming effects that fluorescent lights can subject you to. And being that LEDs are noiseless, the 9500 Lighting System is also incredibly safe, with no electric hum to draw attention to your field shelter. When darkness falls, the system can be switched over to night vision-friendly red LED light for security.
Another great feature of this field lighting system is its longevity – because LEDs have a standard lifespan of around 50,000 hours, there aren’t any bulb changes involved, and that means that there’s no need to carry along fragile replacement bulbs. After all, the less you have to pack and transport, the better. And talk about tough: the 9500 can drop up to 3 meters onto solid concrete, and still keep on ticking.
Filed under: Cable and Wire Storage, Tools and Cases
It’s only 10 days until Santa Claus comes screeching into town, and as we start the final countdown, I thought it might be fun to highlight a few of our more Christmassy products. I realize that I’ve already brought up Christmas in earlier posts (I got way ahead of myself in that respect), but there are still a few interesting items that can be very helpful during the Yuletide season.
Only yesterday I was mulling over the things that post-holiday cleanup entails, and the Two-Spool Cable Storage Bag (or Twinkle Light Keeper, as I like to think of it) came instantly to mind. Now, I feel like I’ve used this anecdote far too many times for different things, but it involves a classic Christmas movie, so I’m just going to go for it. Remember in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, when Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to deck the house out in “25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights”? He unloads a beach ball-sized knot of Christmas lights on his young and reluctant son, Russ (Johnny Galecki), with a dismissive “You can work on that.” This scene is pretty funny as it plays out onscreen, but I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that it’s one you don’t want to recreate in real life. That’s where the nifty Two-Spool Bag comes into play.
The entire concept of the bag is so simple, but it prevents some pretty major decorating and post-holiday storage headaches. That’s because when you open it up, you’ll find two cable reels on stands, each of which allows you to spool up to 100 feet of mini Christmas lights. Imagine having 200 feet of holiday lights stored tangle-free inside a bag that measures only 15 x 6 x 11.25 inches! You may have had to unsnarl things this year, but decking the halls should be a whole lot merrier the next time around.
Filed under: Electrical, Raceway, Duct and Conduit, Tools and Cases
A few months back, my sister put together a birthday care package for me, and while she was shopping for fun little treats, she came across one of my personal childhood favorites, Silly Putty. Needless to say, it made the cut, and I got a huge kick out of finding it in my Box O’ Fun. Incidentally, I had an even better time when I plopped down on the middle of the couch and sat, Indian-style, for a good 15 or 20 minutes, blowing off stress by stretching, sculpting, and snapping the stretchy stuff in a state of blissful oblivion. In addition to causing my husband to question my sanity (but that’s beside the point), the experience seems to have reawakened my love of things you can squish, which leads me to wonder if that’s why I’ve lately been drawn to putty-like products such as, oh, I don’t know, Duct Seal Compound from Gardner Bender.
I just found out about this stuff a few days ago, and I think it’s pretty neat. The actual purpose of Gardner Bender sealing compound is very basic, but important: it lets you seal seams and gaps in electrical boxes, conduit, duct work and cable trays so that dust and other contaminants can’t weasel their way inside and start causing problems. What makes it interesting is that it’s got a putty-ish texture, and because of that, you can just work it into place with your bare hands, no tools or gloves needed. But here’s the kicker: it never actually dries or hardens. You can remove, reinstall, or modify it at any time, because like my old pal Silly Putty, it never sets up or becomes unworkable.
Something else cool: despite the duct seal compound’s eternal flexibility, you can still do things like paint over it – no waiting period necessary. And beyond that, it’s safe to handle, is FDA and USDA approved for use in food prep and processing areas, and comes in 1 or 5 lb packages, so you’re not committed to a huge supply if you don’t need it.