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Product Test Team: 7 Farmer-Approved Tools

Our team of evaluators test a variety of tools and products that typically sell to contractors or fabricators yet prove equally valuable on the farm.

No one knows tool or shop supply innovations better than farmers. That’s why we asked a team of farmer handymen to evaluate a toolbox of shop advances that are typically only marketed to other industries for this Successful Farming Product Test Team report. 

electromagnetic drill press

Bobby Huffman has a lot of favorite tools. “I’m a tool junkie,” the Edina, Missourian admits. “I have a lot of tools I love, but I’m very partial to my magnetic drill press.”

The tool that Huffman refers to is designed for the construction trades for drilling holes in I-beams, framework, and bridges. These drills employ an electromagnet on their base, which, when activated, attaches the tool to metal with a strength that makes it impossible to remove manually.

The drill Huffman put to work, an Evomag42, offers nearly 2,900 pounds of magnetic strength. “It will not move, even when used vertically to drill through thick steel,” Huffman testifies. Case in point, he had used the Evomag42 to drill 15⁄8-inch holes through vertical I-beams being used to make a homemade hydraulic press. “The holes it drilled (using annular bore cutter bits) are dead-on round and smooth. No burrs are left when it’s finished,” he notes.

As for its use on farms, Huffman is convinced this is a tool operators would use and wonder how they got along without it. The Evomag42, which is part of a line of electromagnetic drills from Evolution Power Tools, has a ¾-inch arbor that accommodates either up to ½-inch-diameter twist bits or 15⁄8-inch annular cutters. The tool’s rated drilling depth is 2 inches. The Evomag42 sells online for between $585 and $774. 

thermometer gun

James Fred had been using a cheaper remote temperature-sensing device that “proved handy for mechanical work,” says Fred, who is part of Fred Farms near Rochester, Indiana. “I didn’t realize its limitation until using a more advanced gun like this.”

The gun he is referring to is the 12-volt DeWalt Max Infrared Thermometer, which provides an accuracy of ±1.5% to gauge temperatures from -20°F. up to 932°F. from an area that is 1½ inches in diameter from as far away as 12 feet. What sets this DeWalt gun apart from the previous temp device Fred was using is the fact that it offers visual and audio alarms to alert the user to a problem. Plus, it features LED hot and cold spot indicators. “With it, I could sweep the gun across an area to pick up hot spots, for example,” Fred explains. “Plus,  I can customize that hot-cold alarm setting to a range. So if I were looking for a bearing that was getting hot on an operating machine, I could narrow the range to eliminate high temps (given off by an engine, for example) to readily find that problem bearing.”

The other feature Fred appreciates about the advance temp gun is that it has data storage for recording temperature readings. “I can compare the temperature of a bearing with other bearings, for example. The laser spotting light makes it easy to pinpoint exact locations from a distance. I could use it to get a reading off of an engine radiator if I was double-checking the temperature gauge on an engine. Other times, I used it to get a rough reading of building temperature by spotting the exhaust fans in my dairy barns,” he notes.

The 12-volt DeWalt DCT414S1 includes a color-coded display, audio alarms, and backlit screen so it can be easily read in any light condition, including those in full sunlight. The device retails for $128.99 for the gun alone or $209 for the gun, battery, and case. 

portable band saw

Corded portable band saws have been a staple in the building trades for years. Recent advances in battery capacity and motor ability (due to brushless motors) by Milwaukee have created a cordless band saw that readily fits the portable needs found on farms. 

“This tool is so impressive in what it can do in the field,” says Tom Boswell of Rezac Land & Livestock near Onaga, Kansas. “It is a serious tool that makes surprisingly quick work of cutting metal.”

Boswell and his crew put the Milwaukee M18 Deep Cut Band Saw to the test in a wide variety of jobs on their operation. “It came in particularly handy when we used it to erect a grain leg and bin this past summer,” he says.

In that regard, Boswell points out that the saw ran nearly all day between charges even with constant use. “It certainly has the power to lug through any cutting job,” he says. “The Milwaukee blades that come with the saw are very impressive.”

A huge feature of the Milwaukee design is its industry-leading 5×5-inch cutting throat. “That comes in handy when making fence with well-drilling pipe,” Boswell notes.

The 15-pound saw runs off an 18-volt, 4-amp-hour battery that powers a Powerstate electronically controlled brushless motor at speeds up to 280 feet per second.   The suggested retail price for the saw alone is $546 or $1,019 with two batteries and a case. The tool carries a five-year warranty.

Super magnetic jigs

Designed for professional welders, Magswitch’s Pivot Angle 200 and Multi Angle 1000 MagVise are two devices that are surprisingly strong, easily adaptable to a wide variety of uses, and could quickly become as necessary as C-clamps on a farmer’s welding table, Bobby Huffman observes. 

“To be honest, I really didn’t think I’d use them that much,” he admits. “But as I put them to use during the evaluation, I quickly found that they became my go-to welding jigs.”

Part of an extensive line of super-magnetic devices sold by Magswitch, the Multi Angle 1000 boasts a holding strength of up to 1,000 pounds on thick steel by twisting a handle, yet it only weighs 3½ pounds. The tool provides multiple common angles to accommodate most welding approaches.

“When I turned that handle, it was stuck down tight. Even a big guy would be hard pressed to move it,” Huffman says.

The Pivot Angle 200 didn’t offer as much holding power (up to 200 pounds of magnetic strength), but it features a pivoting joint that allows the jig to be positioned at any angle from between 25° and 270°. The elbow joint locks and unlocks quickly with a lever.

“It certainly was easy to position and was dead-on when it came to holding at a precise angle,” he says.

Twisting levers engage individual magnets of the Pivot Angle, which are located at either end of the arms (silver items in the image). Those magnets are designed to hold flat, round, and odd-shape pieces.

“I was surprised by the strength of the magnets. Although they were weaker than the Multi Angle, they still held steel in place for welding, drilling, cutting, or grinding,” Huffman says. The Multi Angle 1000 retails for $174.99; the Pivot Angle 200 sells for $410.

leaf blowers on Steroids

Cory Hall and his son Bryson (Bryson is shown below) were dubious about a leaf blower having any use on the farm. “Oh boy, the one we tested could do far more than just blow leaves around,” Cory says. “I can definitely see it being useful to blow off a combine or to clean out a truck box or shop floor without having to drag cords or an air hose around.”

The blower that the Winterset, Iowa, farm team evaluated was introduced a year ago by WORX as part of a line of yard tools powered by that company’s new 56-volt battery advance. The blower, tabbed the Turbine, turns out a blast of air at 125 mph at volumes up to 465 cubic feet per minute (cfm).

That doesn’t compare to the pressure turned out by an air hose nozzle. But, as Cory notes, the WORX Turbine is cordless, plus it weighs just over 8 pounds. “I was really surprised when I picked it up – it was so light,” Bryson notes. “I didn’t expect much at first, but when I used it to blow corn out of a truck box, it was blasting kernels feet away.”

The Turbine is one of two high-voltage cordless blowers on the market. Echo is selling a 58-volt blower that turns out a 120-mph blast at a volume of 450 cfm. Both the Echo and WORX blowers employ brushless motors that are noted for converting more battery power to work.

“Full blast was impressive,” Cory notes. “But I liked the fact that I could vary the airflow with a speed control in case I was in a confined area and didn’t want to blow up so much dust or when just moving a light load of dirt or debris.”

One of the unique features of both the WORX and Echo blowers is that they consume air from the back of the tool through a fan for a direct stream. Typically, leaf blowers suck in air from their sides, which can hinder flow. This flow feature, combined with the higher battery capacity, results in their higher air velocity.

“I was definitely impressed in that regard,” Cory says explaining that he could effectively clean off a combine and its engine cavity at the end of the day.   The WORX Turbine retails for $199.95, including a battery, charger, nozzles, and three-year warranty. 

fast-fix hydro hose

For the past year Jerl Joseph, who farms with his son, Eric, near Hampton, Nebraska, has put to the test a hydraulic hose repair product designed for the mining, logging, and electrical utility industries. The Quick-Fix kit offers thermoplastic hydraulic hose (either 3⁄8- or ½-inch diameters) that doesn’t require an expensive crimper to make repairs. “Instead, you use this high-density plastic two-piece holding die that is clamped down with a C-clamp or a locking pliers,” Joseph explains. “The kit includes a hose cutter that is similar to that used to cut PEX plumbing pipe except it’s more heavy duty.”

When making a replacement, he explains that you cut the length of hose needed with the cutter. “Quick-Fix said it didn’t leave debris or frayed edges behind, and so far the cutter works as they said it would,” Joseph says.

Next, the end of the hose is clamped into the die and the appropriate coupling is screwed into the hose using an open-end wrench. All the couplings that come with the kit are reusable, which certainly is a big advantage to the system, Joseph notes. “There is a two-part fitting. You screw the first portion of the fitting into the hose. Then you use two open-end wrenches and screw in and tighten the second part of the fitting.”

The manufacturer claims that a person can make a replacement hose in around 10 minutes. “The first time I used the system, it was maybe more than that as I got used to making a repair,” Joseph says. “But after that, I could make a replacement in that 10-minute time.”

One of the hoses Joseph created was a replacement for a conventional hose that ruptured on a tractor loader. “That is some pretty hard use for a hose – loader work, that is,” Joseph adds. “That hose has been in use a year or more with no problems.” Nitta Corporation guarantees its 3⁄8-inch hose has an operating pressure of 3,480 psi, and the ½-inch size withstands up to 2,900 psi. “All hoses have a minimum burst pressure of four times their recommended operating pressure and an operating temperature range of -40°F. to 212°F.,” adds Larry Johnson of Nitta. “The fitting and adapters that come with a kit cover the vast majority of needs on farm machinery.”

The ½-inch hose kit Joseph tested retails for $329; the 3⁄8-inch kit sells for $299. 

inspection camera

James Fred always wanted a mechanic’s inspection camera (borescope), but he could never convince himself to make the investment. 

“Knowing what I know now about their usefulness, I would buy one,” Fred says talking about his review of the DeWalt MAX 9MM inspection camera. “First off, I was surprised how sharp the images were from such a small camera. These images were in color, as well.”

This particular DeWalt borescope employs a 9-millimeter camera positioned at the end of a 3-foot-long flexible cable. Color images are displayed on a 3½-inch screen, which is detachable. “I really appreciated that feature,” Fred points out. “I could take the screen off and set it down for easy viewing while manipulating the cable (as he does in the above image with the screen resting on the tractor tire).

“The camera has three times the zooming capacity, so I can zero in on a problem once I find it. The only improvement is that I would have liked the camera lighting to be brighter.”

Another feature Fred likes is the ability to record the video or still images on an SD card. “I can look at larger images on a computer screen, which is really revealing for when I’m looking inside an engine,” he says.

DeWalt offers cameras with 5.8- and 17-millimeter lenses. The 9-millimeter model DCT411S1 kit evaluated by Fred retails for between $260 and $390 online (includes a battery, charger, and inspection tools). 

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