All at Sea; Ocean liner memorabilia may be riding a wave of popularity

Our staff’s entirely opinionated and biased list of the best new equipment.

After eight years of writing the Best New Tools column, you’d think that we’d be jaded and bored with the tool industry. (“Oh look, yawn, another new cordless drill with a bubble level.”)

But every year, all the editors for this magazine sit down with our lists of tools we like, and we are amazed at how many innovative and cool new tools are released every single year. For a craft that is as old as civilization itself, it’s a testament to ingenuity that we can continue to find new and better ways to manipulate wood to our liking.

So what do we look for in a tool that makes it a “Best New Tool?” Usually the winners are the tools that make us sit up in our chairs when we first hear about them. They might be tools that have never existed before, such as the Festool Domino – a shoo-in on this year’s list. They might be tools that are being revived and improved after near-extinction, such as the Veritas Small Plow Plane or Gramercy Dovetail Saw. They might be tools that are simply the “Best in the Category,” such as the Milwaukee two-base router kit or the Apollo HVLP system. They can be tools that make a bold and important statement, such as the riving knife on the Bosch 4100 table saw or the Grizzly jointer/planer – it took guts to bring those European features to the North American market.

And sometimes, a Best New Tool is something that you never ever would have thought of, and is so interesting that you just cannot stop talking about it. I am talking, of course, about the Steel City tools with granite tops and fences. Maybe next year we’ll get bored with this annual award – but I wouldn’t count on it. .

— Christopher Schwarz, editor

Mirka’s Abranet
It was hard for us to imagine that sandpaper could be improved significantly. Sure, we’ve seen some advances in the longevity of the abrasive during this century, but it wasn’t until Mirka introduced Abranet to the world that we saw a major improvement in reducing the worst parts of sanding: the dust and the drudgery.

How does Abranet do this? It’s porous, somewhat like drywall sanding screen. So instead of having five holes or eight holes that suck dust through a sanding disk, you get thousands. The difference is incredible the first time you try it. And after using the stuff for more than six months, all of the woodworkers in our shop have switched over to Abranet for power and hand sanding. It’s that good.

The fantastic dust extraction of Abranet also speeds your sanding because the stuff is much less likely to load up with dust during use. We’re getting about three times the life out a piece of Abranet compared to our old premium brand – so the increase in expense is more than worth it to us. Abranet is available in all the grits you need (#P80 to #P800) and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for it locally, a good place to start is your neighborhood Woodcraft.

While no product will ever transform sanding into blissful joy, Abranet comes awful darn close.

Contact: Mirka Abrasives Inc., 800-843-3904 or mirka-usa.com

Apollo’s AtomiZer HVLP
Apollo has always made excellent spray equipment that has performed well in our tests. But the company’s new 7500 line of premium HVLP guns is head and shoulders better than the guns we’ve tested and used for the last 11 years.

We’ve been testing the A7500QT AtomiZer Quick-Release Cup Gun with an HVLP turbine and have been impressed not only with the workmanship and controls, but with the astonishingly small amount of overspray generated by the gun. We’re still testing the A7500, but there’s little doubt this is the best HVLP gun we’ve seen in a long time.

Contact: Apollo, 888-900-4857 or hvlp.com

Bosch’s 4100 Table Saw
Tool snobs might scoff at our inclusion of a benchtop table saw in this list of the best woodworking equipment, but we know this tool. While traveling the country to do woodworking shows, we used the earlier version of this Bosch to build projects. It’s more than accurate and powerful enough for most woodworking tasks (and is a lot more portable than a cabinet saw).

Now Bosch has released a new model with some important changes. Most significant is the European guarding system, which is a vast improvement over standard U.S. guards. Other manufacturers are introducing this style of guard to the market soon, but this is available right now. The guard has a riving knife, pawls and blade covers that can be snapped on and off in seconds. Of all the new guard systems we’ve seen, Bosch’s is the friendliest we’ve used.

The new saw also is available with a digital rip fence that works down to 32nds of an inch. While this is a nice feature for some woodworkers, we’re mostly enamored with the guard, which is still in place on the saw that we’ve been testing for months.

Contact: Bosch, 877-267-2499 or boschtools.com

Festool Domino
So much praise has been written about the Festool Domino this year that it’s hard to add anything new. This new handheld loose-tenon tool is quite simply one of the smartest new tools we’ve ever seen introduced. Yes, some people complain about the price tag, but they haven’t used the tool. Once you cut a few mortises with the Domino, you’ll join us in our applause for this German company.

Contact: Festool, 888-337-8600 or festoolusa.com

Grizzly  12" Jointer/Planer with Spiral Cutterhead
Combining a jointer and a planer into one machine is nothing new – it’s a popular configuration in Europe that has never caught on much in North America.

But now that Grizzly Industrial has gotten its sharp teeth into the category, we think you should take a close look. We saw the new G0634 jointer/planer at the AWFS show in Las Vegas this year and were all quite impressed by the features, workmanship and the astonishing low price: $2,295.

Just try to get a new 12" jointer and heavy-duty cast-iron planer for that price and you’ll see why we think Grizzly is really onto something. The G0634 has the added bonus of being equipped with a helical cutterhead with carbide-insert knives, which ensures long times between tooling changes. And the machine has guts: It’s powered by a 5-horsepower, 220-volt motor.

Switching the machine between its two  functions is easy. Let me repeat that: it’s easy. Don’t let anyone tell you different. The only thing we would change on this machine is we wish it had the option of a European-style jointer guard. Grizzly opted for the more traditional pork chop-shaped guard. But that’s just our personal preference.

To be honest, we’re just getting started with this machine in our shop, so look for a full review in the print edition of the magazine.

If you’re short on shop space and long on ambition to work with wide solid-wood boards, this Grizzly machine should be at the top of your list.

Contact: Grizzly, 800-523-4777 or grizzly.com

Gramercy’s 9" Dovetail Saw
Most premium dovetail saws look and act a lot like the very sweet Lie-Nielsen model that has been available for many years. But the Gramercy is different. It has finer teeth, a smaller blade and a smaller brass back.

The net result of these differences is that the Gramercy is decidedly more lightweight and easier to start than its many competitors. We’ve put this saw in the hands of several dozen woodworkers, and many report that the handle is more comfortable than any other they’ve used. Perhaps even more telling, we know several woodworkers who abandoned their Japanese saws in favor of the Gramercy – high praise indeed.

Contact: Tools for Working Wood, 800-426-4613 or toolsforworkingwood.com

Freud’s Quadra-Cut Bits
While many router-bit manufacturers have improved their cutters with better carbide and closer manufacturing tolerances, Freud took a big leap forward in 2007 with its new Quadra-Cut bits.

As you might have guessed from the product’s name, the Quadra-Cut bits have four carbide cutters instead of the usual two. The additional cutters are pitched in a different direction (two make an upshear cut; two make a downshear). The result: These new router bits remove material efficiently, and they practically eliminate the fuzzy edges produced by profile router bits when cutting across the grain.

Freud officials say the Quadra-Cuts will cost on average only about 10 percent more than the company’s two-cutter bits. New profiles are being added all the time to the Quadra-Cut line – we think they’re worth waiting for.

Contact: Freud, 800-334-4107 or freudtools.com

Jet’s JPS-10TS Hybrid Table Saw
The two most important parts of a table saw are its rip fence and its motor. These two components are responsible for making the table saw what it is today: An awesome ripping and joint-cutting machine.

This year we tested hybrid table saws and brought in examples of all the major brands; we had Contributing Editor Troy Sexton go over the saws in detail. Now Troy is hard to impress. He has nice professional machines and knows his stuff. So when Troy freaked out about the Jet model, we knew that something was up. After we started using the Jet’s rip fence, we knew exactly what Troy was talking about. The fence slides over the tabletop like it’s an air hockey game. You actually have to be careful to make sure the fence doesn’t hit the blade sometimes. Add to that the fact that you can adjust the rip fence in all three axes and add jigs to the aluminum faces via T-slots, you might understand why it garnered an “Editor’s Choice” award and now also earns a “Best New Tool” award.

So how did the Jet do when it came to raw power? Very well. If you’re in the market for a hybrid table saw, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better, especially for the price (about $750).

Contact: Jet, 800-274-6848 or jettools.com

FullPro’s SoundVision
Combining ear muffs and eye protection has always been a problem in the workshop. The two safety devices just don’t play well together. Now FullPro has used the power of Velcro to fix the problem. Put on the muffs, then attach the eye protection to the muffs using the Velcro straps. It’s easy and comfortable. Even after six months of testing, we still like the SoundVision FullPro Protective Gear and use it any time we crank up the big machines.

Contact: FullPro, 888-873-8557 or fullpro.com

Milwaukee’s 5616-24 Two-base Router
The Milwaukee BodyGrip fixed-base router has been a shop favorite since the day it was introduced. It’s stout, accurate and easy to adjust. But Milwaukee didn’t have a plunge router to go with it, or even a second plunge base for the BodyGrip’s motor.

But in 2007 Milwaukee introduced a plunge base that is worthy of the BodyGrip’s reputation. Hands down, the Milwaukee is our favorite two-base router kit. Compared to its competitors, we found that the Milwaukee vibrated the least and had the smoothest plunging operation. The controls are right where you want them. It has power in spades. Switching between the two bases is easy and (more important) this router is the easiest when it comes to changing bits – something you do every day. The only thing we’d change on this outstanding tool is to substitute a base with a square shape instead of a round one. But that’s something you can easily do with a piece of scrap plastic or thin plywood.

Contact: Milwaukee, 800-729-3878 or milwaukeetool.com

Lie-Nielsen’s Large Router Plane
The Lie-Nielsen Large Router Plane might look like the old Stanley No. 71 it’s based on, but the Lie-Nielsen is worlds better. It’s easier to adjust the cutter and infinitely better when you want to set the tool’s depth stop. Plus, as always, the manufacturing quality of the tool is first-rate.

Router planes are great tools for adjusting your joinery, especially dados, tenon cheeks and hinge mortises. Buy one, and you’ll be amazed by how many tasks this tool can make easier.

Contact: Lie-Nielsen, 800-729-3878 or lie-nielsen.com

Steel City’s Granite-top Saw
The first time we heard a rumor about a granite-top table saw from Steel City Tool Works, we all thought someone was playing a trick on us. Two seconds later, we realized that it was such a brilliant idea that it couldn’t be a joke.

Think on this: Granite doesn’t rust. It stays flat. It’s heavy. When thick enough, it’s very durable and long-lasting. And it can be made very smooth and astonishingly flat.

When we first got a gander at the initial Steel City saw with this feature, the 35915G, our suspicions were confirmed. It looks like a great idea. Steel City also is adding granite to the top of its 14" band saw and (most amazingly) to part of its jointer line as the fence. Anyone who has had a jointer with a warped fence (that is, almost everyone) will see the utility of having a granite fence. We’re scheduled to receive one of these saws soon. So look for a full review in a future issue.

Contact: Steel City, 877-724-8665 or steelcitytoolworks.com

Veritas’s Small Plow Plane
The Veritas Small Plow Plane is a gem made of iron, steel and brass. Well-made, thoughtfully designed and quite useful, the plow plane will quickly become your favorite tool for making grooves and small rabbets, especially if you value a little peace and quiet while cutting joinery.

We’ve written a full-page review of this tool in the Tool Test section of the December 2007 issue (see page 32), so let us just say here that we think that this plane is further evidence that traditional hand skills are on the rise – after years of neglect and decay. Once you pick up one of these tools and try it a few times, you’ll see that the barriers to learning to use hand tools are mostly in your head.

Contact: Lee Valley Tools, 800-871-8158 or leevalley.com

Lamello’s Fixo Biscuits
The knock against biscuit joining has always been that biscuits don’t work well in joining narrow stock. This led to the popularity of pocket screws and the Festool Domino. Lamello has fixed that with its new Fixo biscuits. These barbed, half biscuits act as clamps, pulling joints tightly together from behind. Fast and effective in our tests, and using a tool that we already own, make Fixo biscuits a winner for everyday joinery.

Contact: Lamello, 781-585-4364 or csaw.com

Work Sharp’s WS3000
We’ve worked with a lot of sandpaper sharpening machines, but this new Work Sharp unit has some features that really set it apart. First, there’s the tool rest that is also a heat sink. It really works to keep the tool cool during sharpening. Also, the slotted Edge-Vision wheel allows you to see your tool’s edge as it is being shaped.

For woodworkers who dislike hand-sharpening, we think the Work Sharp is the perfect package. PW

Contact: Work Sharp, 800-597-6170 or worksharptools.com

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