It’s not only the humongous corded tools and fancy lithium-ion powered drills and chainsaws that matter. Innovation often comes in the form of a simple hand tool.
Except that there’s nothing “simple” about making an innovative hand tool.
With less to play with, hand tools are among the more difficult products to improve. If just anyone could build a better mousetrap, then it wouldn’t be nearly as rare. Hand tools are complex things with long legacies and lots of personal character.
Below are some hand tools we thought took a decidedly advantageous step forward in innovation.
Winner: Hand Tools—Cutting & Crimping
KNIPEX TwinForce High Performance Diagonal Cutter (73 71 180)
What they say: The KNIPEX TwinForce produces the cutting power of a 10” pliers in a compact 7” tool, cutting 50% easier than comparable 8” pliers. The KNIPEX TwinForce employs a twin-hinged joint design, giving the tool a superior solid feel and the ability to do rough and fine work with the same pliers. In use, the double-hinged joint allows the user to cut unusually large or hard wire with a second or third cut as the jaws “open up” to accept large items.
What we say: We love the idea of more leverage in less space. Given the fact that electronics are constantly shrinking the amount of space we have to work with respect to motors and machinery, having more leverage with less clearance is a ginormous advantage. I don’t know any tool bag that is complete without a good pair of pliers, and right now I can’t think of a better pair than the new TwinForce series from Knipex.
Winner: Hand Tools—Fish Rods
Klein Tools 100′ Non-Conductive Fiberglass Fish Tape (56024)
What they say: Klein Tools’ non-conductive fiberglass fish tape reduces the risk of injury and damage on the job site. A streamlined eyelet tip incorporates a wire trough so the wire pulling head is smaller for easier navigation through packed conduit. Permanent markings in 1′ increments allow accurate measurement of depth of conduit runs. Round diameter fiberglass protects existing wires from damage when fishing.
What we say: Klein has always had a knack for making the perfect tools for electrician’s, however the redesign of the streamlined eyelet makes wire-pulling even easier than before. As I’ve pulled through some tough places, any innovation in this area is welcome and deserves recognition.
Winner: Hand Tools—Knives, Pocket
CRKT Ripple Stainless
What they say: The CRKT Ripple designed by renowned custom knife designer, Ken Onion, is a classic, every day folder that features premium ‘ripple patterned’ heavy duty stainless steel scales with a gray or bronze titanium-nitride finish. The innovative IKBS ball bearing pivot system delivers a smooth, fast opening when used in conjunction with the flipper. The frame lock provides a secure lock up when the blade is open and is also easy to close one handed when you’ve finished your task. A custom removable stainless steel clip enables easy carry.
What we say: Innovation is the name of the game with folding knives, though sometimes manufacturers get into a rut. Not this time. CRKT has released a beautiful product with the updated and re-worked Ripple that reflects Ken Onion’s signature style in a whole new way. The titanium nitride coated stainless steel handle is amazing!
Winner: Hand Tools—Knives, Utility
IRWIN Tools FK250 – FK Series Folding Utility Knife
What they say: Irwin’s new FK250 folding utility knife allows quick access to his most commonly used screwdriver bits without the bulk of a multi-tool. Additionally, blades can’t accidentally pull out of the handle during use because Irwin’s BladeLock Technology lets the user change blades only when the release button is engaged and the blade holder is in the 45° open position. The FK250 also features a liner lock that prevents the knife from closing while in use and allows for safe one-handed operation.
What we say: This is a great knife, and the inclusion of blade and bit storage coupled with the safety features of the BladeLock technology are what earned Irwin a Pro Tool Innovation Award for making the utility knife even better.
Winner: Hand Tools—Levels
OX Pro Heavy Duty Torpedo Level (OX-P027210)
What they say: The Ox Pro Heavy Duty Torpedo Level is the toughest torpedo level in the world! There is a tilted horizontal vial for direct view of the bubble and three unbreakable acrylic shock-proof vials. Accurracy is to within <0.0005″/” (0.5mm/m) and the 25mm thick profile means it has extremely strong construction. Heavy duty rubber end caps are designed so that they can be actually be struck with a mallet without damaging the accuracy or functionality of the level.
What we say: Ox Tools is gradually bringing more and more of its lines to the US market, and the Ox Pro heavy Duty Torpedo Level is one of their first products. Given their proclivity towards catering to the masonry and drywall professional, having a durable level that you don’t have to baby is a great idea. It was the little things that sold us on this product, however, like the open level vial for easy front-viewing. It’s amazing how many companies get this wrong.
Winner: Hand Tools—Measures, Laser Distance
Northwest Instrument Laser Distance Measure & Calculator (LSC60)
What they say: NWI’s LSC60 combines the capabilities of a traditional laser measurer with industry first built-in calculator to create the complete job estimation tool. Like a traditional laser distance measurer, the LSC60 can automatically calculate area, perimeter, volume, angles via pythagorean theorem and continuous distance. With the calculator it can take those results and calculate job costs.
What we say: Measuring area or volume is just part of the job. The LSC60 can automatically calculate the area of a 23′ x 42′ room for a flooring application, but, unlike a traditional laser distance measure, it can then calculate how many 24″ tiles you need to fill the space. You can use the same tool to measure, calculate and bid the job—all at once.
Winner: Hand Tools—Measures, Tape
QuickDraw Tape Measure (QD 25PRO)
What they say: World’s fastest, most accurate tape measure. Patented Self-marking feature rolls an erasable graphite line precisely where you want it. Patent pending Tru-View indicator eliminates the parallax effect, which allows you to instantly mark with greater accuracy. The patented steel wheel lays down a .9mm line (1000+ marks per load). Reload takes six seconds using standard .9mm 2H graphite.
What we say: QuickDraw is very excited about their new tape measure, insisting it is the fastest in the world and challenging people to see for themselves. We wanted to support their efforts and agree that a tape that marks itself would be a huge improvement over having to pull out the pencil. For that reason alone, the QuickDraw gets our 2013 PTIA.
Winner: Hand Tools—Nutdrivers
Milwaukee 7 PC Magnetic HollowCore™ SAE Nut Driver Set (48-22-2507)
What they say: Milwaukee Tool’s HollowCore™ Magnetic Nut Drivers are able to fasten at an unlimited depth in both threaded rod and long bolt applications, while remaining secure on the application material with a powerful magnetic driver head. The drivers Give you the flexibility to perform applications such as running a 9/16” nut infinitely up a 3/8” diameter threaded rod for hanging uni-strut. In addition, the magnetic driver head features a universal design, fitting Square, 12 point, 8 Point and HEX bolts.
What we say: Milwaukee literally innovated this tool based on observing the way tradesmen were modifying existing tools. The entire design is innovative and solves a common problem many of us have actually encountered. We love the tool and the thought that went into it. This is what the PTIA Awards are all about.
Winner: Hand Tools—Pliers
Channellock® E Series™ XLT™ Combination Pliers (E348)
What they say: The CHANNELLOCK® E348 is part of the new E Series™ line of pliers which are forged in Meadville, Pa., USA, using only North American, high-carbon C1080 steel. The new XLT™ Xtreme Leverage Technology allows for less force to be used while making clean, accurate cuts, and a sleeker, lighter profile for increased ease of use and accessibility for tight quarters.
What we say: It’s hard to build a better pair of pliers, and Channellock managed to pull it off—with more leverage and less required clearance. This are innovative pliers that will definitely get the job done.
Winner: Hand Tools—Pry Bars
Forrester Manufacturing Duckbill Deckwrecker
What they say: Duckbill Deckwrecker™ is an ingenious tool specifically designed to remove even the most stubborn boards with minimal effort. Patent pending design uses leverage rather than strength by sliding under the board, straddling the joist and simply lifting it out! With its strong, lightweight and durable fiberglass handle, it drastically reduces project time and effort. Its steel head easily rotates 180 degrees, changing the working angle for use in two directions, and allowing easy board removal close to the structure.
What we say: The Duckbill Deck Wrecker improves upon the traditional pry bar by straddling a single (or double) joist. The head is shaped such that when you push down on the handle, maximum leverage is engaged to pull up nailed or even screwed-down boards. The handle is made from fiberglass, and the tool has a padded non-slip grip. This tool makes us want to go destroy a deck.
Winner: Hand Tools—Shear, Siding
Bullet Tools 26″ EZ Shear for Siding & Siding Trim (SST 226)
What they say: The 26” EZ™ Shear for Siding & Siding Trim (SST226) is the only tool on the market that cuts a 4/12 pitch on 8-inch fiber cement siding while producing a very clean edge and no air born dust. It’s designed for cutting fiber cement, vinyl, and cedar siding. The SST 226 requires no electricity and reduces installation time by one-third, providing a fast, easy, clean alternative to cutting siding and siding trim. With a blade that outlasts traditional saw blades 20 to 1, this tool also features an infinitely adjustable fence that can be changed to accommodate different angle needs.
What we say: A good quality shear can save your bacon when doing siding or even flooring. The ability to cut a rather steep angle on fiber cement at the length that the SST 226 affords makes it a very specialized and unique tool. We also like the ability to vary the leverage used when cutting materials.
Winner: Hand Tools—Sledge Hammers
HART Sledge Hammers
What they say: HART sledge hammers feature a new innovation called POWERSTRIKE™. The POWERSTRIKE™ face delivers a 44% more efficient impact on every blow. The patented “+”design focuses the energy to the central point of the face, forcing a better hit. POWERSTRIKE™ concentrates the energy to a small area for maximum impact, which reduces the amount of strikes needed to break concrete.
What we say: The PowerStrike face on these new sledge hammers is something we’ve not yet seen. By concentrating all of the force of the hammer into a central area, you definitely achieve a higher amount of targeted force to the point of the strike. What do you know, innovation has come to the sledge hammer!
Winner: Hand Tools—Stud Finders
Franklin Sensors ProSensor 710
What they say: The ProSensor 710 can instantly find studs. Just place it on the wall, hold the button, and the LED lights will immediately illuminate if a stud is behind the sheetrock. There are no special sliding or calibrating procedures such as those required by other stud finders. In addition to being easy to use, the ProSensor 710 has the newest and most advanced stud-sensing electronics and is able to sense the wall in thirteen locations simultaneously. This gives it much higher accuracy and gives it the ability to find studs, even through construction abnormalities that often confuse other stud finders.
What we say: When we first tested the Franklin ProSensor 710 we wondered if the claims would turn out to be hype. One PTIA later and you can see that we really think this is a brand new way of stud finding—one that should eclipse and overrun all other methods.
Winner: Hand Tools—T-Bevel
General Tools & Instruments Digital Sliding T-Bevel (828)
What they say: General Tools’ Digital Sliding T-Bevel (828) is the first and only digital T-bevel on the market. It takes the guesswork out of angle measurement and duplication, and eliminates the problems associated with interpreting analog readings and transferring manual measurements. Operating as both a digital T-bevel and a protractor, this tool gives users more bang for their buck. To read or set an angle with a traditional sliding T-bevel, it must be placed on top of a separate protractor. With General’s Digital Sliding T-Bevel, the protractor is built-in, so it eliminates this step.
What we say: Being first isn’t enough to win you an award, but being first with a product that makes sense and innovates its way out of a problem is. General’s Digital Sliding T-bevel seems like the perfect tool for both the construction worker or fine carpenter. Whether you’re checking angles on a rafter tail or building cabinets, this is a product that’s going to need a place in your tool bag.
Winner: Hand Tools—Trowels
OX Pro Series Brick Trowels – Narrow London, Wide London & Philadelphia
What they say: Ox Pro’s professional brick trowels include a few features that stand out. For one, they use a solid forged steel blade for strength. Second, they have a precision tapered ground blade that is ready to go right out of the packaging. Their OXGRIP handle with finger protection provides extreme comfort and the hard end handle is useful for tapping in bricks.
What we say: A good tool works in the way the user wants—without modifications. Bricklayers and masons frequently use the back end of the trowel to tap bricks into place, so why not design the trowel to work that way? Ox Pro did. And if you think the grips on a tool you’re going to be holding onto for most of the day isn’t important…you’d be wrong. Ox Pro has built some nice trowels in all of the styles required. That’s why we like these tools and awarded them a PTIA.
Winner: Hand Tools—Wrenches
MountzPro True Dual Scale Torque Wrench
What they say: Many Torque wrenches will say they are dual scale, whether it is a window based scale or body scale tool. But most are calibrated in one unit of measurement, the primary scale, and the other unit of measurement is only a reference. The MountzPro True Dual Scale Torque Wrench” is designed with a patented torque adjustment system that gives the ability to accurately set the wrench in either scale easily and independently. It’s a slick automotive torque wrench that’s special because it comes calibrated in both scales of measurement. No math, no hassle.
What we say: If you care about accuracy and want a torque wrench that is certified in both metric and SAE scales, then MountzPro’s unique True Dual Scale Torque Wrench is a great product. We also love that there are five models covering three drive sizes, 5-50 N.M. scales, and lengths from 18-1/4″ all the way up to 68″.