Tools That Don’t Suck – The Ryobi ES1500

As water feature installers, my sons and I are used to hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous work. We enjoy what we do, whether it’s digging ponds, plumbing pumps, rolling boulders or tweaking waterfalls, but we also value anything that helps make the work easier or more fun. We’re always looking for tools, apps or gadgets that save time & effort, eliminate stress, add to our comfort on the job or are just fun to use. Often a buddy will turn us on to one. I’d like to return the favor by passing our favorite Tools That Don’t Suck along to you.

Handy Phone Tool

So, as you might expect, I often get asked to recommend a particular pump for a contractor’s project. The steps are simple and easy (not the same thing.) There are four simple steps to finding the right pump:

  • determine the required flow
  • choose the right size pipe
  • add friction head to vertical head height
  • go to the charts to find a pump that delivers the right flow at the right head

The steps are easy. Multiply the flow per foot by the width of the waterfall, in feet. Pick the right size pipe by finding the flow on a chart. Add up plumbing length. Multiply the length by a decimal. Add that result to the actual vertical height of the waterfall to find the Total Dynamic Head (TDH) – and there’s the problem.

It turns out that most people overestimate the actual height of the water feature they’re planning on building. By a considerable amount. It’s particularly hard for anyone to estimate true vertical height on a slope, where many of our potential projects are situated.

Why does that matter? Well, you need to know the true vertical height of the water feature to find the actual load the pump will be under. Knowing the true workload not only lets you pick a pump that will thrive under those conditions, you can also cut costs by using very efficient low head pumps…IF you correctly estimate the vertical head height.

The Ryobi ES1500

Photo credit: www.ryobitools.com

I have come to appreciate the Ryobi ES1500, a little gadget that takes the guesswork out of measuring height. It fits on any phone with a headphone jack. (Sorry, you need to have the jack.) I found mine at a tool store under a banner advertising Ryobi Phoneworks. For $15, I figured I didn’t have much to lose. I paid willingly, if a little dubiously, and downloaded the free app.

The “Laser Pointer/Transfer Level” plugs into the standard headphone jack on my Android phone and shoots a bright red laser beam on command. The app has a couple of level functions, including a bubble level. The easiest to use is a red dotted line with the numeric value of degrees the unit is tilted displayed right next to the line. Once the phone is level, at 0 degrees, the beam coming out is pretty level too. The accuracy of the unit isn’t stellar, but it’s close enough. It’s just bright enough to be seen in the shade during the day. I do most of my estimates after work, and it’s really visible as the light falls.

I’ve gotten pretty adept at holding the phone level, at head height, while standing where the pond will go. I note of where the roughly five-foot-high laser beam hits on a tree or a slope near the waterfall-to-be. For larger distances, I’ll repeat the process, moving to where the beam struck the ground, until I’ve worked my way upslope, five vertical feet at a time.

I will admit it’s a bit crude, but it works well enough to get a pretty accurate vertical height for the Total Dynamic Head calculations.

The Ryobi ES1600

So, as I’m finishing up writing this, I look up the Ryobi ES1500 to find there’s a new version, the ES1600, that sounds like it has my shaky eye level zapping method beat all hollow. The newer version clamps onto the phone and lets you snap a shot of the site with the camera and get a picture with the level marked directly on it. Sounds a whole lot easier to have the pic right there to refer to. I still see the ES1500 out there for $15-20 and I’d still call it a Tool That Doesn’t Suck.  The newer version is double that, but might be worth the $40 if if gives you a permanent record right on a photograph. I’m gonna pick one up and let you know next month. In the meantime, I’ll continue using my TTDS, the Ryobi Phoneworks ES1500. Might work for you too.

Tools That Don’t Suck – Tech Support

As water feature installers, my sons and I are used to hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous work. We enjoy what we do, whether it’s digging ponds, plumbing pumps, rolling boulders or tweaking waterfalls, but we also value anything that helps make the work easier or more fun. We’re always looking for tools, apps or gadgets that save time & effort, eliminate stress, add to our comfort on the job or are just fun to use. Often a buddy will turn us on to one. I’d like to return the favor by passing our favorite Tools That Don’t Suck along to you.

ON-THE-JOB TECH SUPPORT?

So, In the last two blogs I shared a couple of tools that I’ve found very useful, one that makes cutting non-woven fabric easier than using the typical razor knife (see TTDS #1) and one that fixes those really inconvenient plumbing breaks right alongside fittings (TTDS #2). Today I’d like to move towards the tech side, to show you a couple of tools for the smartphone that I can’t do without. (Who knew years ago we would even have PHONES on the job, much less SMART ones?) The first is an app I have found particularly useful for on-the-job estimating and record keeping called CamScanner.

CamScanner App for Smart PhonesWhen I go on an estimate I will typically sketch up what the customers and I talk about, both to clarify the bones of the design and to get down on paper everything we have spoken about. In about 10 seconds, CamScanner lets me take a picture of whatever I’ve written down, automatically crop it, enhance the picture with a variety of filters, compress the image and store as a .jpg or .pdf. I can then immediately send it to my customer via text message or email, so both of us have a record. Oh yeah, did I mention it’s free?

For about five bucks the full version offers other features that I don’t have much need for. Optical character recognition lets you scan printed material and turn it into into an editable .txt file. You can set it to upload automatically to cloud services like GoogleDrive and Dropbox. You can even fax documents, but there’s a third-party charge of $0.99 per page.

Love Handle

Love Handle cell phone grip

The second phone tool I now use all the time is a little gizmo my buddy Sean Bell turned me on to at a diner one day. I had my phone down on the table sitting in the crumbs, while he was one-handing his, using his thumb with the phone apparently stuck to his palm. When I asked how, he said “Let me show you my Love Handle“. Before I could jump back in horror, he flipped the phone over and revealed a little elastic strap stuck to the back of his phone case. “You just slip it over your finger and it makes one handed operation easy. I even use this to hang the phone on stuff for selfies and videos”, he explained. I was very impressed and vowed to order one immediately.

Love HandleHe got exasperated after asking me ten times if I liked it and bought me one a month later. Bless his soul. I absolutely love it. On my phone there’s a special finger swipe to miniaturize the keyboard, so I can make one-handed calls when necessary, but for me, the best thing about the Love Handle is I don’t drop the dang thing anymore. (I used to. Yes, all the time. Let’s just leave it at that.)

Now, especially when traveling, or late to get on a plane, or leaning over the pond to get a picture of a leak, I enjoy the security of having the phone firmly stuck to my hand, impossible to drop. I can even use CamScanner one handed now. Definitely Tools That Don’t suck. Enjoy.

 


 About the Author:
Demi is the Direct of Product Information for Atlantic Water GardensDEMI FORTUNA

Demi has been in water garden construction since 1986. As Atlantic’s Director of Product Information, if he’s not building water features, he’s writing or talking about them. If you have a design or construction question, he’s the one to ask.

Tools That Don’t Suck – Cordless (Liner) Trimmer

As water feature installers, my sons and I are used to hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous work. We enjoy what we do, whether it’s digging ponds, plumbing pumps, rolling boulders or tweaking waterfalls, but we also value anything that helps make the work easier or more fun. We’re always looking for tools, apps or gadgets that save time & effort, eliminate stress, add to our comfort on the job or are just fun to use. Often a buddy will turn us on to one. I’d like to return the favor by passing our favorite Tools That Don’t Suck along to you.

Cordless (Liner) Trimmer

TrimmerThis first tool makes the nasty job of trimming liner and underlayment easier and much safer. Most of us have had to trim wet, bunched up, sand- and mud-laden underlayment and liners. It’s a dangerous chore. Razor knives that so easily cut clean fabric in the shop dull in minutes in the field, requiring new blades constantly (until you run out). There’s always the risk of cutting too close or through a hidden fold (or yourself) while hacking away. (And let’s not even mention where the dull-but-dangerous-used-blades-that-should-always-be-safely-disposed-of turn up.)

My wife Susan, who is always looking out for me and her boys, saw this little trimmer advertised for scrapbookers. She actually thought it might work for us! I laughed at the “toy” when it arrived. I don’t laugh at this tool anymore. I have since apologized to Susan. Many times. (She likes that.)

Skil TrimmerThe original trimmer shown is 4 years old and has gone through hell. It ain’t fast, but it still chews through muddy, sandy liner and underlayment for hours on a charge, though I’m not sure exactly how many. In the field, trimming in 10 minute bursts every hour or two, it doesn’t run out for a couple of days, very forgiving for when we forget to charge it overnight. The octagonal blade with its 8 corners almost self-feeds through a single layer of liner up to 60 mil or 8oz fabric with minimal effort, and it continually sharpens as it spins. One last thing, for anyone with employees (or sons, or an aversion to seeing their own blood) – it’s almost impossible to cut
yourself.

Skil discontinued the model shown, but there are a number of similar trimmers out there, many around $45. At that price, we can afford to test them for the day that Old Red finally dies. Give these cordless trimmers a try; I think you’ll find this is one Tool That Don’t Suck. Thanks, Sue!

**UPDATE

QUICK CORRECTION AND THANK YOU – out to the The Pond Gnome Paul Holdeman for being the REAL source for the nifty little Liner Cutter featured in the last blog. Although Susan had purchased them for me and the boys on a scrapbooking site, Paul showed it to her at a charity build he graciously donated his and his crew’s time and tools for at the Virginia C. Piper Cancer Center of Phoenix in 2014. Thanks Paul!!! It was a pleasure working with you!

 


 About the Author:
Demi is the Direct of Product Information for Atlantic Water GardensDEMI FORTUNA

Demi has been in water garden construction since 1986. As Atlantic’s Director of Product Information, if he’s not building water features, he’s writing or talking about them. If you have a design or construction question, he’s the one to ask.