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The `ultimate in convenience' drill

The first time you pick up Craftsman's new Redi-Drill, you're going to feel like Wyatt Earp.

That's because this drill has a sliding magazine that holds up to five different bits. To change bits, you open the chuck, pull the exposed bit back in with the magnetic push rod, rotate the magazine, look through the window to find the bit you want, load it, then tighten the chuck. This feature will win you over the first time you need an 1/8-in. bit to drill a pilot hole and then a Phillips bit to drive the screw home.

The Redi-Drill comes with two 12-volt batteries and a one-hour charger, giving it enough run-time and power for most jobs around the house. But this drill does have a few drawbacks. It's big and heavy for the amount of power it delivers, and its long body will make it tough to use in tight areas. Despite these detractions, everyone I showed this drill seemed itchy to get a finger on the trigger and give it a test drive. The Redi-Drill is currently in Sears stores for $169.

Craftsman Tools: (800) 377-7414.

Outlet cutout fixer-upper

I've cut hundreds of holes in drywall for outlet and switch boxes. And about two out of three times, I get that hole in exactly the right place. For the other one-third of my botched cutouts, I've tried any number of fixes to fill the gap so the faceplate neatly and evenly covers the electrical box. The new self-adhesive Easy Outlet Patch offers a simple, solid solution to this problem.

Just grab a patch, peel off the paper back, stick it over the box, and apply the joint compound. The holes let the mud squeeze through to make a strong patch over the gap. For double-outlet boxes, just snip off a side and combine two patches. The Easy Outlet Patch costs about $3.50 for two patches and is available at home centers.

Well Tool & Tape Corp., Dept. TFH, 81-11 101st. Ave., Ozone Perk, NY 11416; (877) WAL-TAPE (925-8273).

How do you measure a tape measure?

I probably spend more time with my tape measure than any other tool I own. It's always there, attached to my belt, even when I'm grocery shopping. In spite of their importance, tape measures have looked and acted pretty much the same for decades, and we've learned to live with their flaws. But recently, a new generation of measuring tools has begun showing up in home centers. They're tougher, more user-friendly and just plain smarter. Here are five of the most useful ones:

The toughest tape

Until recently, I considered tape measures to be disposable because the tape would usually develop a tear or even break after a year of heavy use. That's because I don't have the time or patience to let the tape retract gently. But Stanley's new Maximum Steel tape takes durability to a new level. First, it has a shock-absorbing bumper to soften the impact so the tape and little end hook don't slam back into the housing.

Second, the Maximum Steel's tape is seriously beefed up. In fact, the tape's so sturdy that we routinely extended it horizontally 9 ft. or more before it could no longer support its own weight. In contrast, most tapes will go only about 7 ft.

This stiffness makes measuring easier. You can, for example, stand in a spot and hook the tape over the end of a fascia board that's 10 ft. away without the tape flopping around. The Maximum Steel tape costs $14 to $16.

The Stanley Works: (800) STANLEY.

The user-friendly tape

Starrett's Rapid-Read tape takes the user-friendly prize for two special features: First, the tape actually labels each 1/8-in. increment, reducing the possibility of error due to a misread. Second, you don't have to lock the tape to keep it extended; it automatically stays extended until you press the button to retract it. The Rapid-Read tape costs $8 to $15.

L. S. Starrett, Dept. TFH, 6555 Fain St., Charleston, SC 29406; (800) 541-8887.

The smart measuring tool

Let's say you're shopping for a new house and you want to check the accuracy of the house's data sheet just get Zircon's Dimension Pro 4.0. It costs about $30 and works sort of like a radar gun with a built-in calculator. The Dimension Pro allows you to add, subtract and multiply, and is accurate within 1 in. Just stand in one corner of a room and calculate its square footage in about 30 seconds.

The only drawback of the Dimension Pro is that you have to point it directly at a flat, hard surface to get an accurate reading, making it easiest to measure an empty room. It's possible to measure a furnished room, but it takes a little experimenting to find the right spot. While this nifty gadget doesn't give you tapemeasure accuracy, it's a great help for materials estimates.

Zircon, Dept. TFH, 1580 Dell Ave., Campbell, CA 95008; (800) 245-9265.

The high-tech tape

At $40 to $50, Starrett's Digitape Plus is a bit pricey, but for the techno junkie, its performance makes it a good buy. The digital readout (accurate to 1/16 in.) reduces the possibility of a misread. It can store up to three measurements. It can give you readouts in inches, feet and inches, centimeters, and even convert to decimals (2 ft. 7-1/2 in. = 2.63 ft.) to make your math easier. You can even flip the display for right- or left-handed measuring. To top it off, you can get an optional cable and software that makes it possible to plug this tape into your computer for data entry!

Because this tape is essentially a mini-computer, we wondered if it would stand up to some abuse. So, when I recently built a small garage, I used the Digitape and accidentally dropped it a few times, once from the roof. It even got caught in the rain once, and it still works. Though we didn't check out the software option, the tape alone is about as easy to use as your average digital sportswatch. You do have to read the directions, however. (Sorry.)

L. S. Starrett, (800) 541-8887.

The tape with a memory

The "repeater" tape measure contains a mini-voice recorder that holds up to 20 seconds of information. It's ideal for remembering multiple measurements, like for cutouts in drywall or odd-shaped pieces of plywood. Our on-the-job test bore out that it's sturdy, too, withstanding drop after drop from atop a 6-ft. stepladder.

Abbeon Cal Inc., 123-299F Gray Ave., Dept. TFH, Santa Barbara, CA 93101-1809; (800) 922-0977. $39.95 delivered.

A dustpan built for the shop

Like the can opener or the wheel, the dustpan seemed like a product that couldn't be improved upon.

Then along came the ultra heavy-duty ShopScoop. Unlike ordinary dustpans, the Shop-Scoop doesn't require you to hold onto it while you sweep the dust up--just set it down and bring the dust to it. It has a huge capacity, holding two or three times as much stuff as kitchen dustpans. And its leak-proof reservoir even lets you pick up liquids, like this oil spill.

The Shop-Scoop ($19) also has a little brother called the Home-Scoop ($14) if you want a lighter-duty model.

The ScoopWorks, P.O. Box 165, Harbor Springs, MI 49740; 800-526-0906.
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Publication:The Family Handyman
Date:Mar 1, 1999
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