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Trying to choose a planer? Read our plain-talking guide

Originally a mediaeval tool, a planer cuts wood to the desired thickness, while at the same time creating perfectly parallel surfaces and beautifully bevelled edges. Whether you’re levelling floor joists, smoothing rough surfaces, or ensuring accuracy in cabinet-making, a reliable planer is an essential component of any woodworker’s toolbox. It’s therefore worth taking the time to decide which features are most important to you when you’re looking to buy one.

What to look out for

Electric power planers can dramatically cut task times, while providing a professional, clean finish. Key aspects to consider when selecting an electric planer include: power, cutterhead quality, cutting widths, weight, dust collection, and portability.

Selecting a tool that has enough power to drive the motor, no matter what type of wood is being cut, is essential. One measure of power is the speed (in revolutions per minute) at which the motor turns. Anything less than 8000 rpm isn’t going to provide the drive needed.

We’ve picked out three of our most popular models across the varying price ranges, all with impressive durability and performance, to demonstrate the versatility of the tool and to point you in the right direction on your hunt for the ideal planer.

Our top picks

At the value end of the range, the Bosch GHO 26-82 Planer 110V provides plenty of power for a small machine. Its compact size makes this tool perfect for transporting on-site. For a competitive price, you’ll get the fastest and best value blade changes on the market, and it also comes with parking rest, and lock-off switch, and chip clearance suitable for both right and left handed users.

At the other end of the market, the Festool EHL65EQ One Handed Planer 240V should be on your shortlist. This machine is designed with comfort in mind. Complete with a soft-grip handle and weighing only 2.4kg, it’s a versatile and portable addition to your power tool collection.

The Festool Planer works to a planing depth of 4mm, and 23mm rebate, with a spiral blade that reduces noise levels while working. As you would expect with a Festool product, the dust extraction at the left or right hand side means the dust is taken away immediately so you can clearly see what you’re working on, and you won’t need to clean up afterwards. With infinitely variable chip depths, this planer has the advantage of a quick blade change thanks to its automatic adjustment for greater speed and efficiency.

Another respected name in the market – DeWalt – offers a powerful model that copes with even the hardest wood. The DeWalt D26500K 4mm Planer 240V has left and right chip rejection, front handle depth control and a large planer blade drum which rotates at high speed to provide an excellent finish.

If you’re looking for a planer, we’ll point you in the right direction – matching your requirements with the ideal model. Give us a call or pop into the store for one-to-one advice.

Dust from power tools: are you using the right level of filtration?

More than simply an irritation, dust generated during construction can be extremely dangerous. The Health and Safety Executive states that ‘regularly breathing in dust can cause diseases like lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’. In fact, silica – commonly found in building materials – is the second biggest killer after asbestos.

If you work in the industry, you need to be aware of the dangers posed to your health, and the effective ways to minimise your exposure to harm. Modern-day power tools create much higher levels of dust, so common-place items like saws, sanders and grinders present a greater risk than non-electric hand tools.

The material that you’re cutting also plays a part in the nature of the risk, as some substances are more hazardous than others. For example, silica is classed as posing a ‘serious’ risk. Even wood dust can be carcinogenic according to health experts and therefore precautions must be taken.

Reducing the risk from construction dust

One of the biggest changes to the industry is the tightening of Health and Safety regulations around protecting workers and creating a safe work environment. To improve air quality, sites must use vacuums and dust extractors to trap the dust and safeguard the health of those around.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (2002) introduced different levels of filtration needed to combat dust found on most modern construction sites. There are three levels, or standards, which determine the maximum amount of dust that can pass through the filter and into the atmosphere – thereby limiting exposure.

Dust filter levels include:

L-class for light hazards (e.g. household dust)

M-class for medium hazards (e.g. wood, filler and concrete)

H-class for high hazards (e.g. asbestos or pathogens)

Designed to meet the needs of these different filter classes, most modern extractor units will clearly state this classification. Some of our customers are surprised to hear that construction sites have been known to turn away tradespeople with anything less than an M-class model.

With a wealth of dust extractors and vacuums on the market now, here are some of our top recommendations, including trusted brand names and key features to look out for:

Festool is one of the biggest and most highly-regarded producers of mobile dust extractors in the market. If you’re thinking of investing, and work in the trade, we would recommend an M-class product like Festool’s 574825 Mobile Dust Extractor CTM MIDI I 10V Cleantec, which will cover all bases.

Lightweight and compact, this model uses innovative Bluetooth technology which remotely activates when using cordless power tools. With a manual suction hose and a filter that can be changed from the outside, this product is easy to maintain and robust in design.

The Dewalt DWV902m Construction Dust Extractor 110V contains a duel filter cleaning system for tough construction applications. The filter is cleaned every 30 seconds to reduce clogging and power tools can be connected.

One cost-effective worksite system is the Nilfisk Alton Aero 26-21 Wet & Dry Vacuum. This unit can be easily transported to site and features a power tool adapter to suck up dust at the source, which means it’s easier to see what you’re working on.

Recommended dust extraction features

Approximately 95% of the dust extractors on the market have universal extensions which can be fitted to most power tools. However, it’s worth checking compatibility with your equipment and whether additional couplings can be bought. Another useful feature is auto start, which runs as soon as you start working and continues for a short time after you stop.

Regardless of which brand you choose, this is one piece of kit that you shouldn’t do without. Our customers repeatedly tell us these products have a huge impact on their work – saving time and energy on the clean-up process, as well as their health.

If you’re unsure which dust extractor or vacuum is best for you, give us a call or pop into our Redhill store and we’ll be happy to guide you in the right direction.

Are you using the right screw for the job?

Do you know your Phillips from your Pozidrive? Or the difference between a coach screw and a carriage bolt?

Screws, nuts and bolts come in a mind-boggling array of names, shapes and sizes which can be a cause of confusion. However, we’re here to point you in the right direction with our quick guide to the most commonly used, and frequently misinterpreted, fixings products.

1. The Twin-Threaded Wood Screw

This humble all-purpose wood screw is the staple of any DIY or tradesperson’s tool box as it’s suitable for most timbers and applications. Fully threaded (with twin spirals down the length of the screw for greater grip and quicker installation), it can be used with a red or brown plastic wall plug into masonry.

2. Single-Thread Chipboard Screw

As the name suggests, this screw is ideal for chipboard or timber applications where you need to secure materials that aren’t too heavy. It can be screwed directly into wood.

3. Hex Set Screw

This product is one that often causes confusion. Commonly referred to as a ‘bolt’ by customers, when questioned further most people are actually describing the hex set screw. These fully threaded screws aren’t tapered like wood ones and can be used to fasten wood and metal together by screwing a nut onto the opposite end.

4. Carriage Bolt

Often mistaken for a coach screw – the carriage bolt has a cup head with a square hidden underneath the head for greater grip into the material being fixed. The hexagon nut can then be threaded onto the bolt from the other end and tightened.

5. Coach Screw

With a sharp end, coach screws aren’t designed to be accessed from the other side with a nut, unlike the carriage bolt. These screws can be driven in with a socket driver or impact wrench for heavier timber installations, and for fixing items to timber.

6. Screw head names

To add to the confusion, screw heads come in an assortment of designs for different purposes and tools. Most of us are familiar with the ‘slotted’ and ‘cross’ head, but how many others can you name?

  • Slotted head: (single line) a less common screw head mostly manufactured in brass and found in old furniture
  • Phillips: (cross head) normally found on a dry wall screw
  • Pozidrive: (cross head with a second cross) good for wood and timber
  • Torx: a six-pointed star commonly used for concrete applications
  • Tamper-resistant Torx: a small pin in the centre means a standard screwdriver can’t unscrew it. Ideal for construction projects that require added security
  • Hex or ‘Allen’: the hexagon head is used with an Allen or Hex key

When it comes to security screws and bolts, the head design relates to the level of strength required, rather than the application. Here at Fixings and Powertools Center, we have access to Hafren security fasteners, each with a security rating from one to five – from entry level security to maximum strength. For more details visit the product page of Hafren’s website.

Two screws about to revolutionise the industry include the concrete and cutter screws. The concrete screw is ideal for concrete and brickwork, and won’t expand or damage the brick when driven in. The cutter screw has a unique self-countersinking head with ribs and tucks on the underside, which channel into the surface without having to drill a countersink separately.

Still unsure which screw or bolt you need for your project? Come in and talk to our team – they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

Tips on how to keep your gas nail gun firing

Nail guns – or nailers as they’re also known – are one of the handiest tools in the toolbox. Far from being a luxury, it’s an essential piece of kit for any keen DIYer or tradesperson involved in construction.

It can help you get the job done quickly, and improve accuracy, as the nails are driven in at high speed. It could also save the odd finger here and there too!

However, as a repair and maintenance centre, we handle a significant number of nail guns every week that have stopped working due to a lack of regular servicing and basic care.

Nail gun maintenance doesn’t need to be carried out in a professional workshop. There are things you can do at home to keep your nail gun performing at its best. Not only will it help you save money in the long run, it will also ensure your safety.

Here we’ve put together our top four maintenance tips:

1. Cool it down

If you’re maintaining your nail gun after use, make sure you turn it off and let it cool down. Remove any gas, batteries or nails before conducting checks. This equipment is highly dangerous if handled incorrectly.

2. Oil it every day

The moving parts of the nail gun need to be oiled every day and in between sessions during periods of heavy use. Different manufacturers will recommend different oil types dependent on the machine you have, so check the manufacturer’s guidelines for suggestions. Pay particular attention to the O-rings inside.

3. Keep it clean

Airborne dust and debris can build up in the system and interrupt the nail feed. Use a degreaser to wipe off built-up dirt. Again, check the guidelines for recommended cleaners that match your brand. Avoid using a cleaner that leaves a sticky chemical residue. You can also rub down your gun with a lint-free cloth that won’t shed fibres.

5. Give it a once-over every month

Nail guns are subjected to high levels of pressure and movement, which means screws can loosen and parts can break off. Check it over once every month to make sure nothing is loose or out of place. Tighten bolts where necessary. Replace worn-out parts such as O-rings, battery pads and filters with approved spares or take it to our service centre for more advice. Make sure you’re using the right fuel cells – check they’re in date too!

If your nail gun isn’t performing correctly, don’t spend hundreds on a replacement until you’ve popped into our Redhill workshop. It’s open Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm, so there’s plenty of opportunity to come along and speak to our expert team.

 

Trade insight: safety gear essentials

Whether you’re a one-man-band working in the trade or the owner of a building company, taking a relaxed approach to safety isn’t an option in a modern working environment.

When working on site, checking that you or your team are dressed in all the right gear isn’t always the first thing that springs to mind. However, the facts around the building trade make for alarming reading: according to the Health and Safety Executive, construction is the most dangerous industry to work in, with more fatalities and injuries than any other.

The guidelines around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at work have changed over the years, with the onus now falling on employers to protect employees from risk of injury by providing the right clothing and equipment.

Consider the hazards in advance of a project, and mitigate the risks by selecting adequate protection that’s suitable for the job. PPE products should have a CE mark to indicate quality and compliance. The good news is the essentials aren’t expensive to buy.

Our pick of the top five PPE and workwear items for your kit:

1. Gloves

Look out for a robust pair, preferably with an insulated lining for cold temperature handling or outdoor winter wear. A long cuff will protect your wrists, and a latex coating will offer good grip which is ideal when handling goods. A quality glove will be abrasion and tear resistant. The Cut Resist Glove is made of Kevlar and glass fibre for the ultimate protection.

2. Safety glasses

This simple piece of equipment really is essential in most environments where material is being cut and particles are being dispersed into the air, whether at work or even strimming the garden at home.

Never use a power tool without investing in an appropriate pair of glasses.

Most safety shields fit over prescription glasses, however if working with tools that produce large amounts of dust full goggles are more suitable as they offer side protection and fit close to the face. We stock Economy Spectacles from just £2.80.

3. Kneepads

Often overlooked, kneepads definitely deserve a place on our list of top safety items. Everyone in the trade does a lot of kneeling down and over time this can obliterate your knees. Kneepads can be worn over the top or slipped into trousers. Ox Ripstop Trousers are available in two colours and various sizes, and include reinforced built-in kneepads for extra cushioning.

4. Ear protection

Do you work with power tools on a daily basis? Equipment such as woodcutting routers emit dangerously high levels of noise. According to the Center for Disease Control, every year around 22 million workers come in contact with noise loud enough to damage their hearing. Operating an electric drill for less than a minute without protection can cause permanent damage. Measures to protect against this are very simple and include using earplugs or ear muffs.

5. Steel toe cap boots

If you turn up to site without protective footwear you run the risk of getting asked to leave. Steel toe caps are a must-have for very obvious reasons. If you’re an apprentice it might be worth investing in your own pair so you can select the best fit. In store, prices range from £43.38, to £92.84 for the DeWalt Challenger 3 Safety Boot which features an antibacterial TPU sole resistant to 120-degrees Celsius, and a waterproof lining.

From first aid kits to high visibility vests, we’ve got everything you need to protect yourself or your staff here at Fixings & Powertool Center. If you’re unsure what to select we’re happy to offer expert advice to keep you safe.

Our guide to buying a reliable router

If you’re on the lookout for a full-sized woodcutting router, the sheer number of products on the market can make the choice confusing. Before you spend hours searching the internet for advice and recommendations, we’ve put together a guide on how to purchase a router that will last.

Whether you need a router for your trade or a DIY project, there are two names that stand out from the crowd. For reliability and power, we recommend DeWalt and Festool, two trusted manufacturers who have led the field in recent years.

A router is a heavy duty wood cutting device on a fixed or plunge base. In this instance, we’re examining products at the higher end of the market, specifically routers with a plunge base used by those in the trade. These models are able to perform a wider variety of cuts in comparison to fixed based ones.

Need to cut, trim, join, carve or hollow? A good router can make light work of almost any job. The versatility of this tool is also down to the number of accessories available, so look at what’s on offer to select the best all-rounder.

What to look out for:

  1. High power output – you need a tool with enough power to cut through the toughest wood
  2. Soft-start motor – to ensure a smooth start for greater precision
  3. Plunge action – look for a smooth plunging mechanism
  4. Variable speed – this is important for different materials and tasks
  5. Dust extraction – to avoid build-up and clogging

There are two size options available on most leading brands, a quarter inch or half inch collet (the sleeve that holds the bit). However if you’re looking for the ultimate machine it’s best to go for a half inch router as it can be adjusted down in size.

The benefits of a DeWalt router

Enjoying a long-established history in tool manufacturing, the DeWalt Products Company began life in 1924 and has grown to be one of the biggest names in the industry. In 1994, DeWalt bought out German power tool business ELU, a manufacturer with a reputation for forward-thinking technology. This has led to an impressive offering of powerful routers that are worth the investment.

We stock a range of plunge routers from DeWalt which offer no-load speeds of between 8000 and 2400 rpm. Other key features include: electronic speed control for consistency; soft start to eliminate misaligned movement from a rapid start; and a precision guide for cutting accuracy. DeWalt has a patent on its plunge arms, which are coated to make the action smoother no matter how dusty they get. Cheaper routers have plastic shields to prevent dust build-up but these aren’t as effective. Prices start from £234.35 for the DeWalt DW615 Plunge Router 110V and 230V.

The advantages of a Festool router

Festool’s routers are ergonomically designed for a smooth glide, and are available in the quarter and half inch collet sizes. Although in the higher price bracket, the three-year manufacturer’s warranty makes it a guaranteed investment.

Its distinctive one-handed design is innovative but means it’s important to try before you buy. Some of our customers love the shape while others prefer the traditional style. We’ve got a selection on display at our shop for you to handle. Our Festool routers start from £389.64 for the Festool OF 1010 EBQ-Plus Router 240V, which features electronic feedback control, a quick-acting brake and chip extractor.

We also stock a range of router accessories including jigs, cutters and guide rails for the perfect finish on all jobs. If you need advice or guidance, pop in store and speak to our expert team, and we’ll find the router that’s right for you.