Exotic Essentials: Tools For The Modern Garage

By Michael Zimmers

One lesson my father taught me at an early age was the value of high-quality tools. If you’re a professional mechanic, your time is money, and good tools help you do the job right in timely fashion. If you’re a hobbyist or do-it-yourself-er like me, part of the pleasure of the work is in enjoying the tools you’re using and getting something right the first time around.

Over the last year, several new tools have been introduced that are either innovative or outright revolutionary in their design and implementation. These tools are fun and exciting to use, as well as legitimately time-saving.

Chicago Pneumatic CP7750 2.0 Impact Wrench

Chicago Pneumatic has been a leader in pneumatic tools for over a century, and is well-known for its large selection of high-quality tools. Their new star is the CP7750 2.0 impact wrench boasts a whopping 800 foot-pounds of loosening torque. As the name suggests, the CP7750 2.0 is the second version of the wrench, featuring a new air motor to reduce air consumption (making the wrench more useable in shops with limited air supplies), a grease clutch and an updated back cap and selector switch.

While the wrench’s torque is impressive (highest in the industry for a 1/2" drive), even more remarkable is that CP has managed to fit this power into a very conventional (and manageable) package. Here’s how the CP7750 2.0 compares to my trusty old Campbell Hausfeld TL1002:

CP7750 2.0 TL1002
weight 5.0 lbs 5.0 lbs
air consumption 6 SCFM @ 90 PSI 5.1 SCFM @ 90PSI
torque 800 ft/lb 230 ft/lb

As the photos show, the CP7750 2.0 is also virtually the same size as the TL1002, despite its ability to deliver far more power.

Performance in the shop

How does CP manage to get so much power into the CP7750 2.0? The secret is in a patented, dual motor configuration that CP claims took four years to develop. The CP7750 2.0 does require an above-average air supply to drive this motor, and CP is quick to point out that the 800 lb/ft spec is attained under optimal conditions, including a 25′ 3/8" line and 3/8" fittings.

I was curious to see how well the wrench performed under less-than-optimal considtions. My garage features a 26 gallon compressor, a 75′ 3/8" line with 1/4" fittings, which is considerably less than what CP considers ideal. And while I wasn’t able to find a real challenge for the CP7750 2.0, I can report that it handled mundane tasks such as loosening my F150′s lug nuts with the greatest of ease. I was able to spin the nuts off considerably faster than with my old wrench, and my compressor didn’t seem to have to work hard to keep up with the load.

Any time a heavy-duty tool is used by enthusiasts, usability is a serious consideration. Often a tool that a pro will love will be too heavy, too difficult to use, or too high maintenance for us occasional users. I’m delighted to say that the CP7750 2.0 doesn’t suffer from any of these issues; it is, in fact, lower maintenance than my old wrench. CP also designed the CP7750 2.0 for lower vibration, making the wrench usable for sustained periods without any significant fatigue, even for a middle-aged shade-tree mechanic like me.

In short, the CP7750 2.0 is clearly the "must-have" tool in its category. Its power, usability and low-maintenance, coupled with CP’s reputation for quality, make it an easy choice for anyone needing a new impact wrench.

Milwaukee Tool Cordless Impact Wrench

The CP7750 2.0 is clearly the tool of choice for those of us who have compressors in our shops. But what of those less fortunate, who due to limitations of space, power or funds, are "compressed-air challenged"? Until recently, the heaviest jobs had to be done with a lot of exertion, or farmed out to the pros. But Milwaukee Tool, with its revolutionary V28 line of cordless tools, is about to change all of that.

The heart of Milwaukee Tool’s V28 system is the 28-volt, lithium ion battery pack. This battery pack delivers up to twice the run time of 18V NiCad batteries while actually weighing less. The lithium ion technology also offers the advantage of a "no-memory" battery that can be trickle-charged to keep it ready to go at a moment’s notice. As the photo shows, the battery is qute large, but Milwaukee Tool has done a good job of locating it on the tools to minimize its intrusiveness into the work space. Some tools even allow for multiple mounting options. A nice feature of the battery pack is a "fuel gauge" which consists of four LEDs that tell you the state of charge of the battery at a glance.

One V28 tool I tested was the impact wrench, which features a 1/2" square drive, variable speed and up to 325 foot-pounds of loosening torque, which again is far more than I expect to need in my garage. I did use the wrench on my F-150′s lug nuts, and it loosened and tightened all four wheels without registering any drain on the battery pack indicators. Impressive, indeed.

The impact wrench is indeed considerably heavier than a pneumatic equivalent, and I imagine that day-long use would become somewhat fatiguing. Then again, this may be more a statement on my personal arm strength. In any event, the tool is well-balanced, feels good in the hand and is an absolute pleasure to use.

Milwaukee Tool V28 Cordless Hammer Drill

As impressive as the impact wrench is, the V28 hammer drill is almost certainly going to be the superstar in the lineup. Ask a mechanic (professional or casual) what their most important tool is, and a cordless drill-driver is the most likely response. These versatile tools serve a multitude of purposes, drilling holes and driving screws into a variety of materials.

Ask the same people what their biggest complaint is of their drill-driver, and the most likely response is going to focus on the battery: they don’t hold a charge long enough, they don’t supply enough power, they need replacing too often. The V28 hammer drill is going to change much of this. The 28-volt battery enables the tool to offer 600 inch-pounds of torque and 1800 RPM, which is enough to tackle all but the most challenging drill applications.

This hammer drill is sheer pleasure to use: while it seems rather heavy upon first heft, it is in fact the same weight as Milwaukee Tool’s 18V model, which I’m told is the most common professional cordless drill platform sold. It is also superbly balanced and not too bulky, and sustained usage doesn’t seem to be too fatiguing. It operates either as a conventional drill or a hammer drill, features a 1/2" hand chuck and a 20-setting clutch. I operated the drill-driver on wood, aluminum, steel and well-cured concrete, and the tool uniformly outperformed any cordless or corded drill I’ve ever owned, running smoothly and quietly in all applications. As an indication of its power, I drilled several 3/8" holes 2" deep into 20-year-old concrete. Each hole took about 30 seconds to drill, and when I was finished, the battery pack still showed as full. Incredible.

Occasional users will likely be taken somewhat aback at the price of the V28 tools and battery packs, as they are (justifiably) among the most expensive in the industry. When considering how much these tools have to offer, however, and factoring in how rarely one will have to replace it, they appear to be an excellent investment. The Milwaukee Tool V28 hammer drill is destined to become the gold standard for drill drivers.

Drill Doctor 750X Drill Sharpener

After heavy usage of the Milwaukee Tool drill driver, many of my drill bits were in pretty tired shape. In the past, my old bits would have been stuck in the back of the tool box, left to sit or use in emergencies. With the all new Drill Doctor 750X bit sharpener, however, these old bits have been given new life.

The Drill Doctor has been around for awhile, but the new product line, introduced very recently, make sharpening drill bits almost foolproof. You simply insert the bit into a sharpening chuck, align its depth and set the bit angle, then rotate the sharpening chuck in the sharpening well. The built-in cam and follower on the chuck remove the skill element from the exercise and produce like-new bits in a minute or less. The 750X model works on bits up to 3/4", which is as large as any bit in my shop, and can also produce split points with just another minute’s work.

Here are some of the improvements in the 750X over the previous model:

  • bit size ranges from 3/32" to 3/4" using a single chuck featuring longer jaws for superior grip
  • choose a point angle from 118 or 135 degrees, or select a custom angle from 115 to 140 degrees
  • metal split-point port reduces the possibility of oversplitting

Here is a before and after picture of a 1/2" bit that I sharpened. I’m sorry for the poor photo quality, but it’s the best my camera would do. The picture on the left shows a gouge out of the cutting edge of the bit; it’s been completely removed in the photo on the right. Time to sharpen this bit was under one minute.

The 750X works on conventional and masonry bits (though it takes a little more technique to properly sharpen the masonry bits), and mends dull and broken bits. It works quietly (I could listen to my AM radio while operating it) and produces little mess. I expect the 750X to find itself being used more and more frequently as I come to appreciate the benefit of like-new bits. The 750X is a solid, compact tool that is about as easy to use as it gets.

A Couple of Neat Gadgets

Measurement Specialties, Inc. produces a large line of sensing equipment for a variety of applications, but a couple of their consumer products deserve mention here. The first is their Park-Zone distance sensor. I’m big on being able to garage my vehicles, and my F-150 is, to say the least, a snug fit in my garage, which seems to be built to amply accommodate a Mazda Miata and a bag of golf clubs. When entering the garage, I was constantly banging into the front wall in an attempt to get the truck as far into the garage as possible. This posed two problems: cosmetic (since I’d just painted my garage earlier this year), and possibly some structural damage to the house itself (I’ve heard of people knocking walls off foundations doing what I’d been doing).

The Park-Zone solves this problem elegantly. As the photo shows, it consists of two units, connected by a short cord. The lower unit is the ultrasonic sensor, which measures how far an object is from the wall. The upper unit is the display; as you get closer to your desired location, the display changes from green to yellow to red, which is of course the signal to stop.

The Park-Zone couldn’t be easier to use. Simply install it where the sensor can "see" the parked vehicle (MSI recommends bumper height, but this isn’t necessary) and where the display can be seen by you. Park where you want to park, and turn the unit on. It will self-calibrate and remember that position for further parking efforts. A true snap.

Also noteworthy is that the sensors are really pretty "smart." I mounted my sensor to hit the left headlamp, since I simply didn’t have room to mount it at bumper height. I was concerned that the compound angle of the headlamp lens might deflect the ultrasonic beams to the point where the unit wasn’t effective. This turned out not to be the case at all, as the Park-Zone operates beautifully despite this challenge.

Measurement Specialties, Inc. also markets some very nice tire gauges. In particular, the Accutire 4350 is an especially nice unit. MSI touts its programmability, in which it can remember correct pressures for front and rear tires, but to me, the really "must-have" feature is its display which is (1) quite large, and (2) brighly backlit in blue. For people like me, whose eyes aren’t as young as they used to be, this is a non-trivial benefit. I own several good tire pressure gauges, but the 4350 is what I reach for first.

Summary

I am pleased to be able to strongly recommend any of the products reviewed in this article. They’re well-designed, well-built and simply the state-of-the-practice in their respective categories. They’re easily worth the investment, and should repay their owner several times over in the course of a lifetime.

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