Tool Reviews [Master Thread]


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
Arcturus has gradually been accumulating his own dedicated set of tools. At first, I brought a box or two of tools from the shop every time I went to do a boat project. But that seemed to be every single time. So obviously a tool set was needed on board. But I still brought power tools from the shop. Then one day, when the boat was kept 100 miles away, I forgot to bring the all-important drill gun. So rather than drive 200 miles to fetch one, I stopped and bought Arcturus one for his very own. That was the beginning of a small collection of power tools. The most recent one brought up some issues, but I might as well say something about the others and why they should be on-board. Or why not. Some of this stuff is obvious and/or generic. Feel free to chime in.

That first tool was a "Rigid" brand 12 V LiIon drill from Home Depot. As near as I can determine, it's exactly the same drill sold under the "Milwaukee" brand, with a slightly different case and color. That was probably about four years ago now, and I've been very pleased with it.


To begin with, it's the smallest and lightest drill gun I've ever owned, but it seems as solid and powerful as the big ones. Compact is a good thing for the boat. It's got a little LED that illuminates what you're working on, which is very handy in the remote crevices of the boat. The batteries that it comes with are 16 Whr = 1.33 Amp hours - pretty small, but enough charge for most drilling jobs. And they hold their charge for months at a time. The only thing that it notably lacks is a hole for a lanyard - highly desirable for jobs done dangling in the bosuns chair at the mast head, and less perilous locations too. It also doesn't have a bubble-level like some others do, which is handy for keeping the drill straight and level. But of course, that wouldn't really work on the boat anyway, so it's no loss in this case. It does not have the second handle that you can screw in at right angles which many larger drill guns do, but this unit is so small and light that I don't think one is needed.


This particular unit came in a "starter kit" with a charger, two batteries, and a flashlight that uses the same battery. I've never really used that flashlight for anything - there's nothing special about it and it's usually more handy to grab the one kept at the companionway. The second battery is essential, given the small capacity.

Of course, the other part of a drill gun is the drill bits. I've got a slightly older version of this index set on board. I'm not sure if I bought it or inherited it. It's not bad as an inexpensive "starter" set. But there are some things about it and other sets like it...
To begin with, I do like index sets. I like to be able to find the bit I want quickly and be able to see at a glance if something is missing and needs to be replaced. And drill bits do need to be replaced, especially the ones for your most common fasteners - might as well buy them two or three at a time. This case does have two slots each for 1/8 and 1/4. But the bits in these sets are not always carbide-tipped or even very high quality, and drilling through a lot of fiberglass and metal will quickly dull them. (I keep a small bottle of 3-in-1 oil for drilling metal.) There is a lot of stuff in this set. Quite often, pre-made sets contain a lot of "filler" items that you will never use. I think I've used about two thirds of the times in this set at least once. The set does not have hex-shanks, which I prefer for hand-tightened chucks. Regular bits end up getting stuck in the hole and sucked right out of the chuck too often. I've gradually been replacing the ones that break with hex shanks. And there are a couple of larger bits I've had to buy for certain projects rolling around loose inside the box. For example, the forstner bit that I had to buy to finish the hatch project last week.
Finally, there is that case... possibly the most awkward object on the boat. It's made to hang inside a cabinet door, where I'm sure it would be very handy. Or on the wall behind a tool bench. But very difficult to store anywhere else. Some rainy Sunday afternoon, perhaps I'll get out a piece of sailcloth and sew up a tool roll to hold all my bits in an orderly indexed fashion, and leave out the ones that I don't use. Clearly, the best solution is to know in advance all the bits you will ever need, buy quality ones, and build a custom-made index holder that fits perfectly in your tool storage space.


E35-3 Illinois
Tool thread! I love it and cool to see what works and is useful for other people

I got one similar to this about 10 yrs ago and use it more times than I can recall. Recently bought this one for the boat after needing an offset bit several times to get in tight spots. Another nice feature is it’s small size and at a glance you can see if something is missing. It has held up very well and expect it to last for years too.


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
One thing to consider when purchasing one of these battery-operated tools is that you are buying into that whole family of tools. Who is going to buy their next tool from a different brand that uses completely different batteries and needs a different charger? Perhaps it's wise to survey the whole line for possible future needs before you buy anything.

Happily, I found a second tool from the Rigid 12V liIon family that is a good contributor on Arcturus. It was the "multifunction tool." Basically a power and drive unit to which you can attach different tools heads. It uses the same batteries as the drill, although this is a bit more power-hungry tool, so it goes through them faster. It came with a second charger, which is handy during the heat of a big project, but you can get chargers that do more than one battery at a time, and take up less space.


The first head that I bought for this was the oscillating tool that cuts, sands, and polishes, depending on which blade or pad you snap onto it. If cutting fiberglass is in your future, this is the tool for you. At first I was a little disappointed in the performance, but that was because the blades that it comes with are wimpy "general purpose" blades that are quickly worn down when asked to do fiberglass. The cut goes slower and slower... then it starts smoking. This is a sign that the blade is toast. However, with the proper carbide-tipped blade, it goes through fiberglass like hot butter. You will still need a back-up blade or two, because even the carbide will wear down eventually. I find it makes far easier to cut an accurate line with this tool than with a jig saw or grinder. And it makes far less dust, since it cuts a razor-thin kerf. It's important that the work is clamped down, or this will just wiggle it very quickly. (e.g. cutting the head off a seized bolt can be a challenge if the bolt is loose in the hole.) Ear protection is de rigueur. Compared to my corded oscillating tool, the Rigid tool is lighter and easier to handle on long cuts. But on a larger job, it does go through a few batteries. Chalk this one up as another essential boat tool.


The second head I got for the multitool was the jig saw. With an appropriate selection of blades, you can rip through wood, fiberglass or metal. It's got an integral light, like the drill. I find it difficult to cut an accurate line freehand with this tool. If you can clamp down a straight edge as a guide fence, it's OK. And you can do all the usual fine inside curves that you do with jig saws, if you're steely-eyed and steady-handed enough. I guess most of the jobs that this one could do, I still take back to the shop. The only recent uses in memory were when I needed to cut into the wood cabinetry in situ. I think if one were living aboard and didn't have recourse to the shop, it might get used more. But heck, if you've got a multi-tool, you just have to buy multiple heads for it.


The multi-tool is basically my on-board cutting tool, but there are still more heads available for it. Although their availability seems to waver. A right-angle drill - might be useful in tight spaces. A power ratchet - you know, I've got some air-ratchets back in the shop and I almost never use them. They end up being good ways to twist heads off bolts. I suppose if one had to do a lot of repetitive screwing and bolting... not sure how often that comes up on board. And a power hammer! I don't know what that's for, but I bet it would be super cool to play with.


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
Well, I haven't done a blood test, but I'm pretty sure that "Arcturus" was always a dude...


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
Rigid 18V wet/dry vacuum. And... that battery.

Well, let's just get this out of the way: It sucks. Really well. But...

After the Great Hatch Fiasco, the little shop vac that I bring from home for boat projects was in grave condition. Its bearings were so far gone that people nearby thought that an ambulance was rolling down the dock. The mess from fiberglass work was intense and defied sweeping. When I first got the boat, I thought that a simple brush and dust pan would be adequate for such a small space, but that strategy has been steadily losing ground - especially in (the many many) awkward corners and crevices and fiddled surfaces. I've been waiting for dust to settle on to impermeable surfaces, then wiping it up with a sponge and bucket of water. Slow and tedious. Perhaps it was time that Arcturus had his own dedicated vacuum cleaner.

The canister type is relatively inexpensive but difficult to store on a boat this small. (Perhaps a built-in system could be devised, but this boat already has a ludicrous amount of systems.) So I went looking for a battery-operated hand-held vacuum. Because of favorable experience with the Rigid tools described above, I looked toward their offerings. However there was nothing that would use the same battery system. The vacuum would require moving up to the 18V range. After much internal debate, I did.

First, the 18V tools are a whole different breed. They have a different business model - tools do not come with batteries. First you have to buy a quite expensive battery and charger. In fact, the current deal is that when you buy the ridiculously big battery, you get the first tool of your choice for free. The total price ends up being less than buying a lesser, more affordable battery and a tool. Well, I went for it. With some trepidation. This thing is a brick. 9 amp-hours! It could probably start the engine, if the voltage matched a little better. It has a bluetooth interface to talk to your phone - this seems kind of ridiculous to me. It gets me thinking about the proliferation of lithium batteries on board and whether they constitute a fire hazard.


Second, the ridiculously big battery is the gateway to the whole 18V line of tools, which makes possible such things as grinders and circular saws. Does the boat need these? Unlike the 12V tools described previously, this range cannot be considered "compact." They would be kind of a pain to store on board. Probably the only scenario in which I'd consider if was if I didn't already have a shop full of tools and was living aboard. But even then, would it be better to buy these expensive battery tools or to just buy conventional corded tools run from the ship's power source(s)? Food for thought. One of those things that maybe ought to be decided on before you start collecting tools on impulse. Oh well.

Let us consider the vacuum itself. When it came, I was a bit shocked not only by the size and weight of the battery, but by the size of the tool. It looks like something that Zorg Industries would try to sell to a Mangalore. The assembled unit has the size and almost the heft of a small chainsaw.
It comes with a floor extension and crevice tool. And a piece of 1.25" tubing from the hardware store will slip over the nozzle for handy reaching back into awkward locker and bilge corners. It certainly cleans better than the old canister unit, and much better than the brush and dustpan. And for fine dust (like fiberglass) or animal hair a brush is just no substitute for a vacuum. But now the problem is how and where to store the thing. There is a key-hole on the bottom, for hanging it from a nail, but there are not a lot of places on board to hang it. Or it looks way out of place hanging there. Really, to be of facile use, it needs to be stored somewhere that is instantly accessible. Not stowed away in the bottom of a locker. Perhaps a dedicated space needs to be designed into a yet-to-be-constructed locker. This may take some time and experimentation.
Still not sure about this one... maybe should have stuck with the bucket and sponge.


1988 E38-200 Contributing Member
12 Volt option

I see that some of you like 12 volt DC power tools with rechargeable batteries. For an older Milwaukee 12 volt drill that I own, I made an adapter to use the house batteries aboard the boat for those times when the rechargeable drill battery is dead... or if I do not have shore power or another AC source to charge it. It is great for use while sailing, at anchor, on a mooring, etc. I opened up the case of an old dead drill battery, removed the actual battery and then soldered in a cord connected to a cigarette lighter plug. This should be fused. The "adapter" snaps into the drill just like a battery. It has worked well for me for many years.


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Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
BTW: I just saw that this month's Good Old Boat has an article on making tool rolls.
I switched to tool rolls, from the bulky blow-molded case a couple of years ago, and I have to conclude that they are not for me. At least not for general purpose tool storage.
I do like that they are comparatively compact, fit in almost any storage space on the boat, and can be well-organized.
My chief beef is that every time I want one tool, I have to get out all the tools. In most cases, getting the tools out becomes the biggest part of doing the job.
Maybe other people's boats are so well maintained that they don't need a tool every day?
I'm looking for something equally organized but more random-access. But that is a bit off-topic.

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
Recommendations for "hole saws", preferably one I could hook onto my current drill (is that a thing?)


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
Depends on how big and what you want to cut a hole in. See post #1 pic 3. Those nested dealies in the upper right hand corner of the set are hole saws. They all fit on a common arbor which is just below. The cheapest of the cheap stamped metal. OK for rare use in thin wood. Two or three uses in fiberglass will probably kill them.
All the major brands sell more robust bimetallic hole saws. Do look for ones with interchangeable arbors. Anything over 2” is going to require a high torque drill with half- inch chuck and two handles. Hold on tight because it can dislocate your arm if it gets loose.

Kenneth K

1985 32-3, Puget Sound
Blogs Author
Ok I was wrong. That Harbor Freight set is even cheaper than the cheapest. Single-use disposable desperation cheap. I’ve gone through a few of them.

I think using the words Harbor Freight and Disposable in the same sentence may be redundant.....


OOHHHH.... I have 4 boxes of tools on the boat. I have a soft round leather pouch tool bucket that holds my screwdrivers inside and out in handy pouches. Interior has the same small areas for vertical storage and an open space for
a couple of larger tools in the middle. I have stainless fasteners with plumbing and electrical in one of the small plastic tool box and another for sailing items, blocks, rigging supplies like cotterpins sail tape, needles, pins ect.

The most used tool that has been on now 3 of my boats - 17 yrs old is a Dewalt Corded/ cordless Battery Powered Shop Vac. I can't say how many times this little unit has paid for itself over and over. Being off the hook and cleaning up a spill, or just plugging it in and using it as I do work on the boat or keep the floor clean in the cabin... Well worth the $100.00 I spent on it so many years ago. This thing has been priceless!!!

The photo is of a newer unit - mine has battle scars and fits neatly under the nav station.



Continuously learning
I’ve grouped my tool types into little snap boxes. I got tired of needing a screwdriver and taking out a huge box of everything and leaving piles sitting around. Now l, when I want pliers or a wrench, I grab that box. It has made me more organized and less likely to get yelled at by the boss lady for making messes.


Advanced Beginner
Blogs Author
I’ve grouped my tool types into little snap boxes

I did a similar thing, but with tool rolls. I have
-- a tool roll with "general" tools (screwdrivers, pliers, crescent wrenches, all the stuff to do a typical job)
-- a tool roll with "electrical" tools (wire-cutters, strippers, crimpers, etc) for those kinds of jobs
-- a tool roll with a healthy assortment of box-wrenches
-- a tool roll with "repair" tools (files, scrapers, putty-knives, hacksaw blades...)
-- and a little tool tote with rigging tools (splicing fids, pushers, etc)

Yeah, sometimes I need to pull out more than one roll. But for the most part, if I'm headed to work on something, I can grab a roll and (usually) have what I need in one spot.

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
Buying a fish tape and hole saws this weekend. I'm gonna get this battery monitor installed, got dang it.

I would like to get a wet/dry vac but they seem like more than $100 w/batteries included. Anyone else have a second opinion on the DeWalt or is there another shop vac that folks love?

Also, forum structural question that probably came up before - would Tools be appropriate as a sub-forum so we could have individual "Hole Saw" "Shop Vac" "Wrench Sets" "Tool Bags" threads to collect info specific to each tool? Or would that unnecessarily clutter things?