Why You Should Own an Impact Driver

Drill on left, impact driver on right.

Drill on left, impact driver on right.

How did I spend so many years without knowing the liberating power of the impact driver? How many needlessly stripped screws have abused my patience? How long has the madness of switching bits out on my under-powered drill mocked my home repair progress? Why did I not gift myself an impact driver sooner?

A cousin to those “rat-tat-tat” noise-making impact wrenches found at the auto garage, an impact driver is mostly for driving home screws (or a rough hole in recalcitrant wood). An impact driver works like a normal drill up until the point it starts to encounter resistance. At that point an anvil engages to increase torque. It’s not to be confused with a hammer drill, used for drilling holes in concrete and masonry. A hammer drill taps down the length of the bit, whereas a impact driver’s internal hammer is used to increase torque, i.e. rotation. The increased power of a impact driver means fewer stripped screws and less muscle fatigue. The two disadvantages are the need for more expensive forged steel (rather than cast steel) accessories and the fact that impact drivers make a lot of noise. They also only work with 1/4″ hex shank bits and have a collet instead of a keyless chuck. As for the noise, you’ll definitely wake up the night clubbing members of the household if you begin work early.

If you’re an urban homesteader type planning to do a lot of chicken coop/shed building type projects I would highly recommend owning both a drill and an impact driver. That way, you can drill pilot holes and then drive the screw with your impact driver without having to constantly change bits on your drill. And the increased power of an impact driver means your arm will be less sore after a day’s work. When my corded drill started to give out I replaced it with a Milwaukee M12 12-volt driver and drill. You can buy these two as a kit or separately. If you’re manufacturing cabinets all day you’ll probably want to go with an 18-volt tool but, for most of us, a 12-volt drill and impact driver is all you need. I like the compactness of the Milwaukee M12 even though it means charging the batteries more often.

108 Artist/Maker Federico Tobon

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Update: Federico wrote up a blog post showing some of the things we talked about.

Our guest this week on the Root Simple Podcast is artist Federico Tobon of WolfCat Workshop. We talk about a lot of things including Federico’s art, adventures in extreme “makerdom,” sharpening tools, knots and even how to train cats!  This is an episode that you’ll want to follow along in the show notes so you can see Federico’s amazing work. Here’s some of the things we talk about:

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You can follow Federico’s work at WolfcatWorkshop and he’s @wolfcatworkshop on Instagram. Make sure to sign up for his newsletter.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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A DIY Tool for Taking Apart Pallets

Ever try to break up a pallet without splintering the wood? Personally, I’d put this tool innovation above the level of discovering a unified field theory or spotting life on Mars. This DIY pry bar opens a whole world of pallet wood reuse not possible with a crowbar. And it’s another great video from the folks at Garden Fork TV (who thoughtfully include their trial and error and a Labrador break).

An indispensible urban tool: the titanium spork

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One of my best allies in my effort to cut down on my use of disposables is a titanium spork. It’s strong, pleasant to use, and weighs virtually nothing. I bought it many years ago in preparation for a long hiking trip, but it soon proved its utility in the urban environment. It’s always in my bag, a permanent part of my “everyday carry”, and I use when I’m eating food from home as well as in situations where I’d otherwise be forced to use plastic flatware.

I love its simplicity and utility. The prongs of the spork are substantial enough to work as a fork, but aren’t hard on the mouth when it’s used as a spoon. I have another so-called spork, not a true spork, if you ask me, but a Frankenstein’s monster with a spoon on one end and a fork on the other. Do not be tempted by the promise of having a full fork and spoon in one utensil–it just doesn’t work. When one end is in your mouth, the utensil on the opposite end threatens your nose and eyes, not so much literally, but psychologically. That’s disturbing, so it remains with the camping gear. (KonMari will want me to set it free soon.)

My true spork, the REI Ti Ware spork, is a perfect blend of form and function. While I bought this spork many years ago, REI is still selling a version of it which looks identical, except for having a more prominent logo.  REI no longer carries this particular spork, though it carries other titanium sporks. There’s also a very similar looking titanium spork over at Amazon, produced by Toaks.

Some of you may wonder whether I need a knife, and the answer is I don’t need one in most situations. I usually carry a pocket knife, and I can bring that out if I need to slice something like bread or cheese, but 95% of the time the spork alone is sufficient. Also, it’s sturdy and thin edged, so the side of the spoon can cut through softer foods.

I’ve heard that back in the day people did not expect to be provided with eating utensils in public establishments, so travelers carried their utensils with them. Today this might seem crazy, but to me, if anything is crazy it’s the idea that we have the God-given right to be provided with a set of plastic flatware which we will use once and only once, for the approximately ten minutes it takes us to down a combo platter, and then consign that set of plastic utensils to an immortal afterlife in a landfill. Meanwhile, I imagine that I’ll request that my spork be buried with me, along with the rest of my grave goods.

 Addendum: I just found a cool titanium spork, the Apocalyspork, which is more expensive than mine, but is handcrafted in the US out of aerospace scrap. In addition, the handle is tricked up with a bottle opener, a hex key and who knows what else.

Rip-sawing by hand

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The first thing that comes to mind looking at this illustration from the classic turn of the last century manual The Complete Woodworker is, can we please bring back working in a tie, vest and apron? You’d probably have to journey deep into Brooklyn’s artisinal ghetto to find contemporary examples of dapper carpenters.

But I digress. What I like about this illustration is the deft use of the right leg in place of clamps when rip-sawing (cutting a piece of wood lengthwise with the grain). Some other pointers:

The angle at which the saw is held is of importance . . . A common mistake is to “lay” the saw: that is, to bring it too much into the horizontal, and this is especially the case when learning to follow the pencil lines with the saw. It is a habit which the beginner should get out of as soon as he can. The stroke should be wellnigh the full length of the saw, although this must depend somewhat upon the length of the worker’s arm; but in any case jerky sawing should be avoided. To lessen the strain on the hand and also to assist the saw in keeping to the line, do not grip the tool very tightly. . . In rip sawing the plank requires to be supported at each end, either on sawing stools or boxes. When the work tends to close and pinch the saw, a tendency which is always more evident when the sawing is not true, it will be necessary to hold the cut open, for which purpose the services of an assistant should be obtained, or, frequently, a small wedge may be inserted.

The illustration reminds me of the low to the ground benches and footwork of traditional Japanese carpentry:

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And Egyptian carpentry:

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I’ve seen video footage of present day Egyptian carpenters working barefoot. Feet, after all, can be just as handy as hands when it comes to manipulating a long board.

I’m thankful to be able to go electric rather than acoustic when doing rip-sawing around our compound. I don’t have a table saw, but I have managed to rip quite a few pieces of wood with my circular saw. That said, I’ve long felt like I need to learn some hand tool skills. Maybe barefooted and in a tie and vest?