Editor’s Note: We hate missing woodworking shows because we’re sure someone will unveil the next new “tool that we gotta have” and we won’t be any the wiser. So when we first conceived of this eZine, we decided this would be a great vehicle for reporting on woodworking shows with up-to-the-minute information. Because this electronic magazine is so immediate, you can learn about the latest tools almost as fast as we do. So we sent the editor of the Woodworker’s Journal, Rob Johnstone, to the National Hardware Show in Chicago with a digital camera, a list of things to do and the most comfortable shoes we could buy him. Here’s what he found.
Day One – I Wish I’d Thought of That
There was the kind of excitement you might expect on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. when they opened the doors of the National Hardware Show: a crowd of tool fanatics rushed the floor. While the attendance didn’t look as overwhelming as in past years, it was still sizable. The lower attendance may have been due to the major toolmakers that decided to sit this show out ? Ryobi, Bosch, Dewalt, Black and Decker ? or it could have been the result of the preseason Bears’ game the night before.
Whatever the case, there was a lot to see at this show. But I had a list and a mission, so I couldn’t just wander the floor to see what I might see. My first stop was a meeting with the people from freud who were introducing their new line of premium saw blades. These blades are freud’s entry into the top-of-the-line arena, starting at about $110.
Freud also introduced a new router bit that’s designed to replace a set of rail and stile bits. This big boy (1/2″ shaft) will cut both the rail and stile just by changing the height of this bit in the router table.
Since it was Makita’s 30th anniversary in the power tool business, I stopped by to wish them happy birthday. It turns out Makita was pulling out the stops at this show. The company introduced a whole new 24 volt battery line for its cordless tools. There were two sizes of both the Nickel Hydride battery and the NiCad battery, and they all worked with a cool new charging system. As I understand it, both the battery and the charger have built-in microchips so they can communicate with each other. This system is designed to help the charger most effectively recharge the battery to extend the life of the battery and keep it running longer. When Ken Hefley from Makita started talking about cycles, I got lost. Nevertheless, the charger is also equipped with a blower that keeps the battery cooler during recharging.
Makita also introduced a new cordless circular saw, as part of that 24 volt system, that is the first to incorporate a standard 7 1/4″ blade. I was surprised how light and well-balanced this saw was, even with the larger battery attached. This breaks some new ground because, with this standard saw blade, you can now outfit your cordless circular saw with a blade from just about any tool maker.
But the showstopper for me came from the new tools introduced by CMT. These new cutting tools were designed by a well-known woodworker, Lonnie Bird, and they really showed some practical ingenuity. I looked at these two introductions and thought to myself, “this was clearly conceived of by someone who was solving a woodworking problem.”
The first tool from CMT was a cutter for a table saw that would make large coves in the profile of the wood. Now, woodworkers have been making coves on their table saws for years, but we all know how they turn out. They tend to be full of ripples and ridges and take quite a while to smooth out. This blade, which looks a lot like a permanently sized dado, has a series of carbide teeth that gives the operator a smooth angle of attack for making coves. The practice pieces I saw needed to be brushed up with sandpaper, but only just barely.
Finally, in the “I wish I’d thought of that” department, CMT introduced a new series of inverted router bits. The head of this router is, you guessed it, inverted so that you can change the spin of the cutter when you need to. This closes the gap between the shaper and the router and table. In the past, if you wanted to change the spin of a cutter on a shaper you could do it easily. It was impossible, until now, to do that on a router table. In my opinion, CMT really hit a homerun with its new tools.
That’s all for today. There’s a plate of gourmet ravioli out there with my name on it.
Day Two – Tools So New They Aren’t Even Tools Yet
The folks at JET Tools offered a fun and interesting twist to the typical hardware show. They placed several pre-production prototypes of new tools on the show floor. These are tools that JET is thinking of putting in production at a later date. They were asking attendees their opinions about various details on the different tools, thereby getting valuable user feedback. I thought this a clever and useful trade show idea.
I also met with Amazon.com, just to find out how they are doing with selling power tools on the Web. Their site is growing and developing at a brisk pace, and they have added a bit of do-it-yourself content to their site. They’ve received a lot of positive feedback on this additional information.
The folks at RotoZip have been around a while, but they made a few waves at the show with a new version of their rotary cutting tool. The news was that the entire design team for the new tool was female. While I know that in these enlightened times this may not sound like a huge deal, let me just say that the world of woodworking tools tends to be half a step or so behind in areas of gender equity. So this is probably the very first power tool designed completely by women. While it’s more of a home improvement tool than a pure woodworking implement, the Rotozip folks had large groups of people watching demonstrations every time I wandered by their booth.
All in all, the show was interesting, informative and exhausting. As we took a cab to the airport, I was pleased to observe we will have plenty of new tools and woodworking products to write about in the upcoming year. In fact, we probably have more than we can actually cover. Job security is such a pleasant situation!