Fechino Files: Cleaning and Updating My Tool Bag

Words: Steven Fechino

Words and Photos: Steven Fechino

Some of us do not use tools any longer, and when we do, some of us have to clean them first…admit it, you do. Well, last year, I got back into the actual laying of material again.  I had a few projects and thought it would be fun to do.  I admittedly am the slowest and not the slickest or even sometimes a good bricklayer, but over the past ten years, I have improved enough that my wife allows me to do final products on our house. I had to clean up my tools, and as I went through them, I found a few personal treasures. I found a thumb joiner that had been given to me from an old superintendent that I worked with, and he had his name engraved in it. Bill Hows was his name; he wore overalls and ate peanuts in his truck, many hundreds of peanuts.  I had to move his truck one time on the job, and I bet there were three inches of shells on the muddy floor. My point is that mentors, bosses or even just co-workers can have lasting memories.  I bet if you are reading this, you may never have realized that you, too, are creating long-lasting memories for someone, something to think about.

I dug out the old tools and even found the first trowel that I bought at a lumber yard as a teenager. It was stupid big…13-inch, and no, I never plan to use it again.

The tool bag now has several updated tools. The tools that I will mention will be simply my opinion of their value, and I know others will have varied opinions. Some of the tools are also a product of the apprentice scholarship program that I am part of, so I decided to see if what we were giving out really performed as we say. And a few others are just cool.

The first tool that I found really impressive is the Knipex 10-inch CoBolt Cutter. This tool fits in your back pocket and replaces the small set of bolt cutters that you use to cut the wall wire. This tool is definitely worth a look.

The second tool that I really like is the KAPRO 26-foot wide blade tape measure. I did a side-by-side against the Fat Max, and it was lighter and went out to 13 feet before it kinked. Really what made it better are three different features, it has a vertical scale on the bottom of the tape, so when you measure up a wall, it gives you measurements in a much easier way to read. Second, it has a wide tip that is magnetic and will help you out when you drop your joiner off of the scaffold and you are too lazy to jump down and pick it up (if you know me, you realize I am talking about a friend), let’s just say the magnet is really strong. Third, it will not spring back once it extends from the cartridge unless you hit a release button. I can say I have released other tape measures on folks, and it is very unpleasant. It is just a nice safety feature to have a release.

Another tool that I like to use is the Mason Square. You are probably familiar with the Tri-Square or the Johnson Square; well they are for carpenters. Masonry now has its own Masonry Square that incorporates a residential side that has a list of jobsite conversions and a partial oversize scale. On the opposite side is more for commercial work, where it incorporates a portion of the Standard Spacing Rule and the Modular Spacing Rule along with a list of commercial conversions.  This square can be used to set up arch templates, make rake cuts and be used as a plumb bob if the need arises.

New to me, the Ball Joiner. This tool took a few tries before I decided to keep it in the bag. At first, I really did not like it because it was more of a rake than a joiner.  So, I tried to give it a second chance, and it is good for times when you cannot access a joint very well due to space limitations.  I was building small steps in a corner, tried it out, but used it as a compressor more than a joiner, pushed and gently slid. I got the small area I was doing finished, and it ended up being okay. It will just need the right application.  I think It would be challenging to try to join anything more than isolated joints, but for that, it worked well.

The Jag Clamp. Most of you know about this tool by now, and if you do not have a set, get a set. You will not be sorry.  They are the only way to lay a concrete Block Wall (CMU). You can pull, tug or even tightrope walk on your string line; these will not budge. The closest I got to the tightrope walking was when I tripped over the line, and it held tough…just in case anyone was wondering. These clamps will apply good results to a variety of applications, including stone, brick, CMU and even terra cotta applications.

As I was going through some old stuff, I came across two different Marshalltown joiners that were too cool not to share. I must have had these for about 18 years or so. They are handy when you need them, but when you use the one that is bent under, you need to take care if you have big hands as your knuckles are really close to the wall. I think they are great tools and have been using them quite a bit lately.

It is cool that I have been doing this long enough to see so many changes, but some things never change, like the smell of a tub of mud first thing in the morning when you are all ready to get started.

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