New Tools From the 54th Annual National Hardware Show

MOTHER EARTH NEWS picks the best new tools From the 54th Annual National Hardware Show.

| February/March 2000

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The best new tools from the 54th annual National Hardware Show.

So my hotel wasn't the best Chicago had to offer. So what. The way I see it, room service and cable TV are for tourists, and touring (I can assure you) was not on this reporter's list of things to do while in town for the 54th annual National Hardware Show. Besides, tools and tough guys have been a part of the Windy City for decades, what with the cattle industry and the steelworkers. Hell, even Al Capone worked this town. . . back when the only tools a guy needed to get the job done were a square jaw and a Tommy gun. In Chicago, it doesn't take long to realize that a good deal on a well-made hammer is better than complimentary shampoo any day.

Make no mistake, the National Hardware Show is no normal hammer-and-nail nexus; it is nothing short of the crossroads of Tool-dom, where 3,000 exhibitors from over 90 countries converge on a 1.3 million-square-foot indoor universe called McCormick Place Convention Center. Once inside, the intrepid explorer finds himself in a do-it-yourself fantasy world with enough gear to make Tim Allen go weak in the knees.

My goal on this indoor tool planet was to find out what was new and, well, cool in a very healthy, very competitive tool industry. So after securing my press credentials and rolling up my sleeves. I figured Stanley Tools would be a good place to start. The company's quaintly described "booth," some 30 minutes, by foot, from the press office, was actually a two-story house in the center of the exhibit hall. It seemed an oddly appropriate display for one of the tool world's juggernauts.

Right away, what caught my eye were not the fancy IntelliTools or laser guided carpenter's squares (I'll get to those later), but the comprehensive improvements on usability, safety and efficiency that Stanley has designed into its new tools. It signaled an industry wide trend toward more ergonomically-friendly gear.

Ergonomics refers to a principle of design (of tools, furniture etc.) that emphasizes human efficiency, comfort and safety. Companies everywhere have been developing this new approach to tools over the past three years in order to help reduce the amount of physical stress endured by workers who use the same tools over and over. Improved materials like softer plastics and rubbers have given handheld tools more comfortable grips, while innovations in multi-use tools have cut down on the number of times workers have to return to the toolshed. Combine this with safer power tools, clearer digital displays and longer lasting batteries and the industry hasn't so much invented new tools as it has improved upon old reliables. An ergonomists like to say, the industry vision has shifted from expecting workers to fit the tool to offering tools to fit the worker.

For Stanley, the move to a more comfortable tool builds on a long history of producing reliable gear. Its new multi-bit ratcheting and non-ratcheting screwdrivers use "tri-lobular and bi-material textured" handles (sounds fancy enough to be good) with a built-in six-bit cache, so you don't have to bend over into the toolbox every time you use a different-size screw (Multi-bit screwdrivers have been around for a number of years and Stanley's brand is certainly not the be-all, end-all. Best Way Tools out of Deer Park, New York, puts out a very solid 12-bit screwdriver that's sure to meet every possible screw driving need.) In addition to its ergonomically designed multi-bits, Stanley also has a notable new line of self-adjusting pliers called MaxGrips, as well as perhaps the first overhaul of the tape measure since the 100-footer hit the shelves: the Fat Max. This 25-foot rule features a 1 1/4-inch-wide tape that has an 11-foot standout.

The other tool company — Black & Decker — wasn't too far from its major competition and I just couldn't resist taking a turn on one of its new cordless drills. For what Stanley is to the handheld, Black & Decker is to the power tool.

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