Over the last few weeks we’ve been running a series of brilliant product demonstrations by building expert Roger Bisby, as part of our partnership with Skill Builder. We’ve had some great feedback on these, so we thought it would help to put them all in one place – and to give you a bit more info about both Skill Builder and Roger Bisby. Just in case you’ve never heard of either of them and don’t get why we think their opinions count for anything!
The Skill Builder website describes itself as ‘the resource for everyone involved in a building or renovation project’. It provides practical guidance for all aspects of building renovation, drawing on the experience of industry experts like Roger Bisby. That guidance comes from things like product evaluations, practical demos and more detailed case histories, that will help you find the right products and materials for the job you’re doing. At the end of the day, however experienced you are, it’s always worth getting some real-world feedback on the tools and equipment you’re planning to use.
Here at Real Deals for You, we decided to team up with Skill Builder to create a series of product demo videos, using some of our favourite tools and equipment from our promotions. But we also wanted to make sure that these reviews were totally independent, so we ask Roger to give us genuinely honest feedback and evaluation, with his own personal views on each item. That way, you can be sure he’s not just saying what we wanted him to say!
Roger is widely recognised for his expertise in the building industry, and has featured regularly over the years as the resident expert on TV programmes like the BBC’s Watchdog and Rogue Traders. He works as a TV presenter and journalist, writing articles for magazines and newspapers and also writing a series of his own DIY books – including the Reader’s Digest DIY Encyclopaedia. He also works with magazines such as Professional Builder, Professional Electrician, Professional Heating and Plumbing Installer, and Professional Housebuilder and Property Developer. So you can be sure he really knows his stuff.
We chose a six different products and equipment which we felt might be of interest to the widest audience - giving Roger the opportunity to test each one out and then to explain what he felt made them ideal for use by tradesmen and enthusiastic DIY-ers alike. The full set included:
And here’s what Roger had to say about each product:
This is a lovely lightweight tote bag and is very strong. I've had a good look at it and I've tried it out, and I can vouch for the fact that it is well made. Very often I find that handles can start to tear off on these types of bags - but the great thing about this one is that the handles are not just stitched on - the strap carries on around the bottom of the bag, so you've got really good support. For me, that's a great feature. Sometimes the zips are a weak point on these types of bags, but this looks to me like a pretty good zip, and one that's made for a lot of use. It's also got a handy shoulder strap on it, for carrying a heavy load - and it's adjustable so you can alter the length of it.
The great thing about a tote bag is that you're using it for a selection of tools - if you're moving from your van to a job, or from your shed into the house - you don't want to take all your tools, you just want to take the ones that you need. So you can just select a few tools that you're going to need for the job - so it's the kind of bag that you're going to be emptying out and filling up regularly. There is plenty of room in it for such a tiny bag - a bit like the Tardis really! It holds a lot more than it might appear to - and you also have the outside pockets, including some with a zip or hook and loop flaps - so you have extra room for other things. So all in all, quite honestly, for a tiny bag like this - it packs a lot of stuff away.
As I’ve found over the years, not all tape measures are the same, and the quality is very variable indeed. Komelon is a specialist manufacturer and they have a lovely range of tapes, including this hi-viz Powerblade tape measure. It has a rubber coating around the outside, which protects it from damage, but also stops it damaging other things. It stands up on its own, but also very comfortable to grip – and even though an 8m tape is the maximum I would want to hold, I’m happy I could hold this one without dropping it.
The hi-viz ‘Powerblade’ blade is clearly marked out, which is ideal for anyone whose eyesight is going a bit as they get older and it gets more difficult to see the numbers - but this is pretty clear and easy to follow. It’s also very useful to have the scale on the back as well, if you’re doing vertical measurements. The hook on the end allows you to hook up or down, so if you need to hook onto the underside of a beam for example, you can do that just as easy as hooking onto a table. Very versatile and easy – but the hook isn’t too big, which is good, as some tape measures have hooks with very large points which can scratch things. This one has a good grip, but is not too sharp and won’t cause damage to work surfaces etc.
It’s also very important to have a good brake on the tape, so it won’t move when you have locked it off. Not all are the same, make sure you can’t move it at all, if you can, then it’s useless. You will never know if your measurement is accurate, and 2mm can be the difference between a good job and a bad one! There is also a nice flat surface on the back edge for marking off against - whereas rounded case makes it difficult to mark off accurately. Full marks for that, and for having a clear blade and a good lock. All in all, this tape ticks all the boxes and will last a long time because of the nylon coated blade.
I’m really pleased to be showing you this product, because I can’t believe that a brand like Leica has been able to produce a level like this, at this price. It really is the sort of thing that people used to have to save up for a long time for. Leica is a premium brand, really well known in the optics words, and known for their surveying equipment. So for them to bring out this fantastic and compact laser, is a really good thing. If you’ve never had a laser level, and been put off by the price, now’s the time to think about it. Not only is it tiny, it also packs the features.
In the case you get an adapter to put onto the tripod, a pair of legs and a carrying strap. The controls on the top include an on/off switch which fires up the laser straight away, into the first sequence – which is the horizontal line and the vertical line. When you press the switch again, it goes to the horizontal line only. This can be used for set-out, for example if you’re tiling around a room. If you press the on/off switch again, it changes to the vertical line only – which goes right up onto the ceiling and onto the floor – ideal for setting up a wall or something like that. It will give you a perfectly straight vertical line, anywhere around the room.
The locking mechanism on the side is also very important, which takes you from one position to another – and there is a little light on the top which shows that it’s locked. But why would you want to lock it? Because you might want to run a line at an angle – for example if you were setting out a staircase or a roof, or something like that. It’s very useful to be able to lock it like that. But of course in the normal mode, the pendulum inside means that it’s self-levelling. If the line disappears, it’s not level, but if you can see the line and it’s steady, then you know it’s level and you’re ready to mark out.
One other lovely little feature is the button which dims the light down to about half the power. You don’t always want a bright laser shining around as it can be a hazard to others on site - so if you’re not working in very bright conditions, you can turn it down, and it also saves the battery. One last thig to mention is the little tripod bracket which you can use on a table, and the adaptor so you can use it on an ordinary tripod. This makes it very easy to swivel it around the room and set out a line wherever you need one. This is a fantastic bit of kit, and I think it’s the sort of thing that most people would find lots and lots of uses for, and be very glad to have.
Every tradesperson knowns that a cheap pair of cutters is a very bad investment. There are cutters out there which bend like toffee and really don’t do the job! If you need to cut through cables, nails or even screw heads, you need cutters with hardened steel. And who makes the best cutters in the world? The Germans! They have a reputation for making high quality cutters. These are from Irwin, and American company, but they are made in Germany – which gives them the kind of pedigree that you get with some of the more famous names in cutters.
We’re looking at a 7” pair and an 8” pair –and the thing that really gives them the advantage is not only the hardened steel edge but also the dual mechanism. This double pivot mechanism means that, as you apply pressure, it duplicates it and doubles the power-up within the mechanism – so you get twice the force at the cutting end. Much better than a simple cutter with a central pivot, which gives you far less leverage. You get twice the power, so you don’t have to use as much force, even on things like piano wire, which is normally really difficult. For all your electrical jobs, a pair of cutters like these will work really well for you. I like the grip, and they are pretty nice to use.
When you’re working at height, on ladders, with any tools, there is always a possibility of dropping them – and that’s a danger. In fact, on some sites, they insist that you tether your tools to your tool belt. So Irwin sell a separate lanyard, which you can attach to their cutters, which allows you to securely hang them on your belt and use them at height safely. Very useful – and a nice litter feature which is well worth having. They are every bit as good as those other famous German cutters, and at a really competitive price.
Rapid is a company that's been making staples for many years and they are a specialist in their game - so they should know what they're doing. The reason you'd want a hammer tacker as opposed to a stapler is simple - with a stapler it's quite hard on your hand, and if you're doing some of the heavy duty jobs, like putting down roofing felt, it's much easier to use a tool that works like a hammer. You can just go all the way across and put those staples in - and a hammer tacker is a quick and easy way of doing that.
I really like this one as its heavy duty and it has a great grip on it - you can really feel that the balance is nice. It has a large striking face, and the reason that's important is because some products have a smaller striking face - and when you hit the material, something like a breather membrane on a roof, you can actually damage the material around the fixing - which of course weakens the fixing and could cause a leak. So having a nice large, smooth face on this product is very good indeed. It also has a Double D hammer in it for extra long life - with a great striking mechanism inside. It's going to put up with a lot of punishment and it's going to work day-in, day-out, and really earn its keep.
The other thing I really insist on with a hammer tacker, or even a stapler, is easy load. If you're up on a roof, or in an awkward position, it's not always possible to load new staples two handed. So having an easy-load system is very important indeed for a lot of people. It's possible to open it and turn it around one handed, and then I can get some staples for my pocket with the same hand and load them into the magazine - then simply push it closed and we're ready to go again. So that easy-load system for me is an absolute must.
There are lots of these multi purpose wipes around these days - but Big Wipes have really set the standard. They have set the bar high for everyone else to follow. We looked at the multi-purpose wipes and also the heavy-duty ones as well. Starting with the multi-purpose wipes, they have a lovely smell - lanolin and lemon - and they are also dermatologically tested, which means they won't harm your hands. They have all kinds of natural ingredients in them like Aloe Vera, which actually make your hands feel softer.
Looking at silicone for example - it's nasty stuff and you don't want to get it on your hands. It's notoriously difficult to remove, but these Big Wipes remove it perfectly easily - as long as that's before it's cured of course. It really isn't difficult at all - and this is the brand leading silicone we're testing them with, not a water based one. Even though the Big Wipe ends up covered in silicone - it still doesn't deposit it back into your hands. It just carries on taking off the silicone, absorbing it and storing it within the wipe. Very impressive.
This is a multi-purpose wipe, so it can be used on all kinds of surfaces, not just hands - but do be careful of you're using it on fabric, such as work trousers, or on soft plastics. And if you have a surface with wood grain, and the sealant gets into the grain, then of course it will be hard to get out. But for most surfaces though, they are very good. They also work on fixer or expander foam - which is used everywhere in the building industry these days. When you get it on your hands it's the most awful product to remove, especially when it dries. It can stay on your hands for days on end! Or if you get it on a window frame, or the glass, then it's very difficult to get off. With the Big Wipes, you just give it a little run and it absorbs the polyurethane - and they work the same on polyurethane glues as well. Carry a tub of these on your van and you're covered for all eventualities - they are also great for cleaning up in customer's houses.
Looking then at the heavy-duty wipes, what else do they offer over the multi-purpose ones? First, you get 100 in the pack vs 80, and these ones are 4-ply - they are also blue instead of yellow so you can tell them apart. These wipes have 'scrubability' - on one side it's smooth, but on the other side coarse. So looking at the silicone again on your hands, and maybe some paint as well - the heavy duty scrub side on the Big Wipe takes all that off your hands really quickly. They deal with things that, years ago, it was just impossible to get off. And even when the wipe is dirty, it still doesn't transfer any of that dirt back into any clean surface. Having a tub of these wipes on your van - if you're a tradesperson of any kind at all - I'd say is almost essential.