The right tool for the job depends on you… and if you can use it as a hammer

Hammres 2


“The right tool for the job.” It’s a saying that my father used quite a bit.

It’s a saying, “the right tool for the job,” that’s so popular it’s been co-opted by other, non-trade industries, but I never fully appreciated it until recently.

From experience, I’ve learned it basically means “If you have the correct tool for the job, you probably won’t ruin things, and you’ll curse much less.” For my decades of putting tools to the test, it all comes down to one thing… can I use it as a hammer?

Of course, by that I mean, “Which tool will be the highest quality, most durable and the best bang for my buck?” But also, I’m probably going to use it as a hammer eventually, either because of frustration, rage or pure necessity. There are so many places to find yourself the perfect pipe wrench, drill press, or miter saw for whatever job you’re tackling, that it’s mind-boggling to think about. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 categories to help you decide not what tool is best, but what tool is best for you.

Homeowner tools

Congratulations, you just bought a house! You’ll need tools for up-keep, and repairs. Just go Craftsman, hit up Sears, or find a nice K-mart special-30 piece tool set. That’s all you really need. No need to spend a Corvette’s worth in tools for light-bulb fixtures and table leg repairs. Done.

DIY / hobbyist / garage-r tools

You’re a serious DIYer. You need a quality tool for the job but you don’t need the best tool on the market. I’ve worked on my car since I Corey's Dad-Tool Box purchased it at 14 using whatever tools my dad had. They usually weren’t the best quality, but I still use some of them to this day. Go Craftsman for hand tools or better. Their wrenches, pliers and hammers are perfect for everyone from the weekend track racer to the most Ron Swanson of us all. The higher initial price is out-weighed by the lifetime use of the tool. Just check for the warranty so you can replace it if necessary.

Full-time trade and craftsman tools

If you make a living off your tools, you’re going to want something that will pay for itself over the years. You need power, precision, and durability. The hands down consensus is that if you want the best tool that’ll last a lifetime, you want Snap-on.  If your company is paying, or if you can afford it, Snap-on is the best bang for your buck for any dedicated, daily wrench jockey. They have consistently beat any challenger for best in the business. If that isn’t a possibility, brands like SK, GearWrench, Matco Tools and Mac Tools offer replacements with warranties that are just as good with only a minor sacrifice in strength and durability.

Still not sure which tool is right for you? Start simple and build up from there. You may find that, most of the time, you need the basics but for a few specific jobs, it’s worth investing in the right tools. Like my dad always said, “The right tool… “

Helical Screw Pile Technology for Contractors

Deep earth solutions for contractors

Adapting to advances in technology can sometimes be a drag. Learning new software, purchasing new tools, updating procedures due to regulation; sometimes it’s a hassle. For contractors though, there are some products and advancements simply too good to ignore, and one of those today is helical screw pile systems.

Although screw pile systems have been around since the 1800’s, installation methods have become much easier. Advancements now allow for helical screw piles to be used for a variety of applications, both large and small.

To be brief, helical piles are steel shafts with helix shaped bearing plates. They are generally used for deep earth foundation applications, providing structural support as either piers or as tension anchors. There are numerous types of plates, shapes, sizes and designs available, each made for specific applications depending on the integrity of the soil and the weight or tension the helical pile is meant to support.

Uses for helical screw pile systems

One popular use for helical piles is as piers under porches, decks or small additions. Traditionally, holes are dug by hand or with excavators and concrete is mixed and poured into a tube. Afterwards there is still a cleanup involved, not to mention the curing and drying process of the concrete. This all equals a lot of man hours, perhaps a couple days, especially if there are 10+ piers to install. Now imagine finishing all this by lunch and construction above beginning immediately. With no waiting for concrete to dry or inspectors to ensure your holes are a minimum of 4’ deep, helical piles are an incredible time saver. Not to mention less labor intensive. Your back muscles will thank you, or at least your crews will.

Helical screw pile post installed under a porch.

Helical screw pile post installed under a porch.

In addition to saving contractors time, the steel shaft pier will also be a blessing for the property owner. Take a look at some concrete piers and you will notice some have heaved, many have settled and others are simply crumbling away. These are now problems of the past, as helical piles are installed at depths based on soil conditions. When installed correctly, there is little chance the shafts will ever settle or heave. This means one less repair to consider in the future. Another plus; helical piles can be installed year-round whether there is frost or soggy, wet soil. Again, crews will be grateful.

Helical screw pile attached to wood post

Helical screw piles easily attach to pressure treated posts, both 4×4 and 6×6

Contractors also use helical screw pile systems for docks and walkways in marinas, on lake shores, or for bridges in parks and golf courses. Green thumbs will love it too, as little or no earth is displaced and there is minimal impact on the environment.

Stabilizing foundations

As mentioned, there are several applications for helical screw pile systems, the pier/post being just one of them. More heavy duty push piers (not always with a helical plate affixed to them) can be used for stabilizing, or even raising, settled buildings. Push piers save property owners from having to completely replace failing foundations due to settling. Likewise, for new construction, helical piers can be installed under slabs or footings to ensure homes or buildings will never settle. This can be especially important in places known for having problematic soils, such as in areas over old landfills or near high water tables.

Push pier under foundation footing

Push pier under foundation footing

It’s worth noting special equipment is needed to install helical screw pile systems. Bobcat’s or Kubota’s of various sizes can be used, fixed with unique driver heads available for purchase from the manufacturer of the steel shafts. For contractors to get outfitted for installing piers with a machine, trailer and fixture, starting costs will range from $35,000 – $50,000. When choosing a machine, keep in mind how much force may be needed to drive in the screw piles, and also maneuverability on job sites. Depending on how many piers a contractor installs, they can expect to gain the monetary benefits of their investment within a year or two. As mentioned though, the benefits of saving time will be felt immediately.

For the push pier systems, a maneuverable hydraulic pump set up is used for applications. No real heavy machinery is required, and sometimes installations will take place from within the basement rather than from the exterior. Though not required, engineers will sometimes be involved with these systems, which will effect overall costs for property owners. However, when it comes to saving an investment such as a home or property, it is almost always worth the costs.

Bobcat attachment for helical pile installation

Bobcat attachment for helical pile installation

So for contractors who may be weary of trying new things in the field, just know that while you’re mixing your 16th bag of concrete, another contractor using helical piles has already begun installing their floor joists. Sometimes, change is good.

Makerspaces and the New Journeyman


The world of fabrication has changed dramatically since the days of old. Technology and more approachable software systems are part of it, but what’s truly moving things forward is the method of training.

While traditional journeyman programs and on-the-job training are still around, those methods of education have often become what unpaid internships are to the white-collar workplace. Some of the challenges that companies have experienced hiring qualified candidates can also be attributed to this.

Makerspace1 (2)

Vocational and tech schools have grown and helped to change the landscape, but the growing popularity of community makerspaces are helping as well.

Makerspaces are intended to provide access to expensive or complicated tools and software – like CNC machines or 3D printers – for those who can’t afford or don’t have the space for such equipment. As more of these spaces have popped up, they began to compete with each other, precipitating a need for added value. So, the spaces started to expand to beginners and provide classes and on-site knowhow.

For obvious reasons, this has driven a need for makerspaces to train their employees and/or members in an array of fabrication techniques, often even paying for members to be professionally trained at a tech college (sound familiar?).


This is ushering in a new era of training and journeyman-style education.

This new style of training is also set apart because it almost forces a diversified experience. Makerspaces are full of several different kinds of equipment, which can often be in various states of disarray. Working with fabrication machinery in these sorts of conditions can be incredibly frustrating in a workplace environment (where time is money), but in a makerspace, these circumstances provide a prime learning atmosphere.

While the education provided in a makerspace might (for now) be informal, it is truly a hands-on experience which requires both trades knowledge and refined problem solving skills on various fronts. Education in a makerspace is still a growing trend, but it is most certainly growing fast.

4 Ways Employers Can Become All Stars with Local Trade Schools

Manufacturing Tech Example

When employers and skilled trade schools have a healthy relationship, everyone benefits. Employers hire trade school students, but they’re also vital to designing curriculum, staying on top of industry trends, demonstrating pathways to students, and donating materials.

Yet — in our survey, we found it was often unclear to employers how they should get involved with their local trade schools. In fact, some employers confessed they didn’t always know local trade schools were operating in their area.

Here are four ways employers can best work with trade schools.

1. Get Involved Early

“Unfortunately, [some employers] think if they call in April that they can hire their May graduates,” says Olaf Wick of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. “You need to start in October, courting, to have any luck filling positions.”

Most important – get involved early in the school year, not just in May. By having a few touches in the fall semester, schools and employers will be primed for a fruitful Spring. A great way to do this is to facilitate shop visits for students. Shop visits get the ball rolling on student-employer relationships and increase student buy-in by showing them what they are working towards.

“[Employers] are all getting smart: they call early,” adds Barry Knight at Rogers Heritage High School in Arkansas.

2. Hire Part Time

Hiring students part-time benefits everyone. Students get real-world experience to complement their classroom learning, and employers get a good sense for whether that student’s a fit for their shop well before making a full-time commitment. Many students need to work to make ends meet anyway, and so part-time work at a shop creates an ideal situation for them.

“What works is employers who hire part-time,” says Wick. “They can take a look and see how they work. Students can see what it’s like. Most are employable after their 1st semester.”

3. Donate

Many schools function at the limits of their budget and can use all the help they can get with additional materials and equipment. Employers can alleviate this pain by donating equipment, materials and funds — just make sure it’s the current equipment, not the old stuff you’re not using anymore.

“I get a $5K budget for materials, which essentially covers the disposable things. I spent close to $70K, because I got $65K in sponsorships, grants, etc,” says Instructor Luke Becker of Braham High School in Minnesota.

4. Join the industry board

Every school has a board of advisors from local industry. This board often meets just twice a year, but these meetings are crucial to designing curriculum that’s up-to-date with today’s industry needs. Ever hear an employer complain that today’s graduates just don’t have the skills they need? Tell that employer to get on their local trade school’s industry board. That’s where these decisions are made.