Product Test Team 2018: 6 Farmer-Tested Tools
Farmer evaluators test a variety of the latest advances in shop tools. Here's what they had to say about each.
With a retail price of $649, the Wilton Tradesman vise had better be good. Wilton Tools, known to make the Cadillac of vises to the trades, claims the Tradesman 1765XC is virtually indestructible due to its 60,000-psi ductile body. I set out to test that claim myself.
I couldn’t confirm its indestructibility, although my comparison of the Tradesman involved a sledgehammer. Based on a comparison with my +30-year-old vise, I can say that the precision slide bar of the 1765XC is far superior to the one on my vise – as well as any other vise I’ve ever used.
That slide bar is calibrated to .003 inch to eliminate movement in the front jaw regardless of opened distance. The flat (top) plates and pipe jaws grabbed and held anything I clamped down, even a 14-foot length of steel pipe. I whaled on any number of different pieces of steel, sometimes with that sledgehammer, to see if the jaws stayed clamped. They did so with impunity.
A great feature on the 1765XC is an anvil that’s twice the size of average vises (I measured, so I know it’s true). The vise employs a longer spindle nut to provide smooth movement and straight-line pull. Smooth is an understatement compared with my old vise.
The spindle is permanently sealed to prevent dust and debris from getting into the gears. Wilton backs the Tradesman with a lifetime warranty. Its nickle plating makes it good for outdoor work.
HIGH-POWERED BATTERY-POWERED GRINDER
The corded angle grinder in Cory and Bryson Hall’s shop will now be gathering dust. That’s because the father-son farming team discovered the latest high-powered battery-powered grinder on the market. The Winterset, Iowa, farmers were given a Flexvolt 60-volt model DCG414B from DeWalt, which turns out up to 13 amps of equivalent power (compared with corded tools) through a 2.2-hp. motor. The grinder handles 4½- to 6-inch wheels.
“I really didn’t expect it to outperform our corded grinder when it came to heavy-duty jobs,” Cory says. “We used it extensively when recently expanding our grain-handling center, and the corded grinder was left in the shop after the first day using the DeWalt.”
Bryson appreciates the brake mechanism that stops the grind wheel from turning 1½ seconds after the trigger is released. Also, the tool’s E-Clutch Kickback Brake activates in less than ¹⁄10 second when the tool detects that its wheel has been pinched or stalled.
“I was impressed with the tool’s run time,” Cory says. “We ran it most of the day on one charge, although we didn’t use it for nonstop grinding.”
DeWalt claims the tool’s 6-amp-hour battery stores enough power to make up to 126 cuts through ½-inch rebar between charges.
Another feature Cory found convenient was the grinder’s One-Touch Guard. It allows for single-action adjustment of the grind wheel guard’s position without using tools.
The online list prices for the tool alone range from $135 to $190, which includes a three-year warranty.
TOP-OF-THE-LINE IMPACT WRENCH
The crew at the Rezac Land & Livestock operation near Onaga, Kansas, are no strangers to cordless impact wrenches, having used older 12-volt impacts in their shop for years. But evaluator Todd Boswell was taken by surprise with the performance of Milwaukee’s top-of-the-line impact wrench. “It’s a beast! That impact can do anything my ¾-inch air impact wrench can do. There was little that wrench couldn’t handle,” he says.
The tool tested by Boswell is Milwaukee’s model 2763-20. The ½-inch impact is rated by its manufacturer to turn out up to 1,100 foot-pounds of torque (for loosening fasteners) and 700 foot-pounds of maximum torque (for tightening). Powered by a 5-amp-hour extended-capacity battery feeding a brushless motor, the tool offers two fastening modes, as well.
Boswell says the impact wrench was a huge time saver compared with using air impact tools. “It could get a 15-minute job done in 5 minutes compared with using air tools that involved dragging the hose out for a job,” he says. “We used it for everything ranging from serious mechanical work to taking truck tires on and off.”
Another feature Boswell likes is the storage capacity offered by the higher amp-hour batteries available on high-performance cordless tools today like the 2763-20. “I worked that impact hard for a couple hours between recharging times,” he says. “With regular use, it would last all day.”
At $265 (online price, no battery), Boswell recommends the 2763-20 as a solid investment for any farm shop.
STICK, MIG & TIG ALL IN ONE WELDER
Not only was James Fred given the opportunity to try out TIG welding for the first time, but also he got to evaluate one of the new-generation multiprocessor welders on the market. Fred, who farms with his father, uncle, and cousin near Rochester, Indiana, evaluated ESAB’s Rebel EMP 205ic, which is capable of stick, MIG, flux-core, and TIG welding – all in one unit. “I used all those functions except stick welding since we don’t do much stick work anymore and have an old welder devoted just to that,” Fred explains.
He particularly likes the Rebel’s smartMIG technology. “Basically, you set the thickness of the piece you are working on, and the welder tells you what wire diameter to use. After that, you start welding and the machine records the first 10 seconds of your technique. Then the welder automatically makes adjustments to amperage and wire feed speed to your welding style.”
The welder also remembers your welding technique, which allows for repeatable welding results on other similar tasks.
Fred appreciates the welder’s touch control digital screen, which simplifies setup. “You still need to read the owner’s manual to understand how to use some features of the screen,” he notes. “Once you understand how it works, though, that screen makes setup fast.”
Fred says the Rebel produced minimal welding splatter, probably because it was making automatic adjustments to suit the job.
The feature Fred most wanted to try out was the Rebel’s ability to TIG weld. “I used it to make repairs to some stainless steel items we use with the dairy,” he explains. “I quickly gained confidence with TIG, especially after I invested in a foot pedal control that adjusts amperage. Now I’m working with TIG to handle thin, mild steel sheet welding.”
Fred also likes the fact that the Rebel offers the flexibility to operate on 120- or 230-volt current. “It’s lightweight enough to haul anywhere on the farm,”
The Rebel EMP 205ic involves a sizeable investment (online prices range from $1,399 to $1,699, including a three-year warranty). “That is about the same price you would pay for a TIG welder alone. So getting one machine that offers several welding processes makes the investment well worth it,” he notes.
SUPER-HOT HEAT GUN
Heat guns are often overlooked in lieu of torches for mechanical work, as it’s assumed a torch turns out more heat. But with a top heat setting of 1,300°F., Wagner’s Furno 750 has all the oomph of a torch without the flame. As Jerl Joseph discovered, the model 750 also has the huge convenience of 117 temperature settings and five fan speeds to precisely regulate the maximum 5,100 Btu’s the gun can turn out. “You set the amount of heat you need (from 125°F. to 1,300° F.), and with the digital LCD screen, you can read your setting and adjust accordingly,” he says.
The Hampton, Nebraska, farmer has used a heat gun before. “It only had a high-low heat setting, though,” Joseph recalls. “All the settings on the Furno allow you to adjust it to the job. Plus, it cools itself down and shuts off automatically, which is a nice feature.”
With the variable temperature adjustment, the gun is capable of doing everything from removing old engine gaskets (high heat setting) to taking off those pesky stickers on repair parts (low heat setting).
“I’ve even used the heat gun to bend PVC conduit (½- to ¾-inch diameter). It would work well to unthaw hog waterers, too.”
The Furno 750 retails for $69.99, which includes four nozzles and a storage case.
SMALL BUT SURPRISING METAL SAW
At first glance, the Milwaukee model 2782-20 looks like it would barely cut through thick wood let alone steel. But Paul Heineman’s eyes were opened to the surprising power of today’s brushless motors and high amp-hour batteries. “It’s light to pick up but not lightweight when it comes to cutting metal,” the Ogden, Iowa, farmer notes.
Weighing less than 6 pounds, the 18-volt M18 Fuel saw spins a 30T carbide-topped blade at 3,900 rpm. Heineman tested the saw “cutting through ½-inch-thick steel 12 inches wide. It took just over 12 seconds to cut through that stock,” he says.
When equipped with a 57/8-inch blade, the saw offers a 2¼-inch cut capacity. “We already had a Milwaukee corded circular saw, which has proven invaluable for cutting thicker steel (¾-inch thick or thicker). It was much heavier than this saw, so I didn’t expect much,” he says. “But that little saw has guts. Because it’s cordless and so light, it’s ideal to grab and go over on the metal rack to slice off thin stock. It definitely has a place in my farm shop.”
The saw comes with Milwaukee’s RedLink Plus electronics, which communicate with the motor to prevent overload and overheating. Other features include an LED work light and stainless steel shoe. The 2782-20 (tool only) retails online for $235.
What do you want tested?
We will continue to test shop tools and products throughout the year – and feature them in future issues. Let us know what items you would like to see tested. In addition, we are always on the lookout for farmer evaluators to join the Successful Farming Product Test Team. To get involved with our testing process, email email@example.com.