We have seen plenty of “smart tools” in recent years, some good, and some quite clumsy.
I recently posted about how tools are getting smarter, but I was more referring to subtleties in existing products, and many of the minor optimizations that live beneath the surface.
REEKON Tools successfully delivered a digital miter saw measurement device, and their T1 Tomahawk digital tape measure is set to ship later this year.
The M1 Caliber miter saw accessory is now available at Amazon, Home Depot, and other retailers. The T1 Tomahawk saw a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, with 11,274 backers pledging more than $2.5M to help bring the product to fruition.
Christian Reed, of REEKON Tools, shared his views on the types of tools many of us associate with the terms “digital tools,” “smart tools,” or “connected tools.”
His comment was submitted in reply to a ToolGuyd post, but I felt it to be interesting enough to share in a more visible manner with its own post.
I feel that this statement sheds light on the approach Reed and REEKON Tools have taken with their own products, at the least.
Please keep in mind that, although Reed was aware his comment would be publicly visible, the statement wasn’t intended to be quoted in this manner. I have not given Reed the opportunity to modify his words, but asked and was given his permission to quote him in this manner.
I added line breaks for easier readability.
Digitizing traditional (generally analog) measuring tools has countless benefits for the job-site and trades professionals ranging from error reduction to completely new capabilities.
However, it is critically important (and generally the shortcoming of many new companies working in the space) that both new technology and robustness are combined into the end product.
Many of these more ‘modern’ tool innovations focus too much on technology and borrow design language from Nest/Apple/Amazon vs where they should be from Dewalt/Milwaukee/Hilti, who have perfected robustness over the past several decades (aluminum dings up a lot easer when dropped as opposed to rubber overmolding).
If a product is designed to look good next to a MacBook computer, is it really believable that it would survive being thrown in a toolbox on the jobsite? This destines many of these products to fall much more into the category of “Sharper Image/Skymall” vs professional jobsite tools.
At REEKON Tools, when we set out to make our T1 Tomahawk Digital Tape Measure, a central tenant for our engineering team was “you cannot have a great digital tape measure until it is first a great tape measure;” highlighting its need to perform well next to a [Stanley] FatMax or [Milwaukee] STUD before the digital benefits could be fully appreciated. This philosophy stemmed to all aspects of the development process, from the drop ability of the tool to the replaceable tape measure blade.
Jobsite durability, combined with high technology, is a key component of introducing new professional tools that will actually be used by professional tradespeople.
I wonder if they will make a digital readout for a table saw. It seems like it might fit their niche.
Somebody (Wixie?) makes one, but the online reviews make it look incredibly fragile and finicky. A friend of mine bought one, and was very unhappy with it.
I have one that I bought as part of a package with a Bosch 4100 jobsite saw. I thought that I would use it a lot. But I’m not sure what I was thinking – having never missed having a digital readout in 50 years of use on my Unisaw. I should have saved some bucks – as I find it not a must-have item.
I should have been clear that what came with my Bosch 4100 saw was Bosch’s DC010 digital fence readout that was bundled with the saw
Table saw digitization is something we have and are certainly looking into. However, there are many challenges to digitize what a user would want (blade height, angle, and distance from fence) in an elegant way that doesn’t require a lot of installation and works with hundreds of different kinds of saws. Stay tuned!
I think that Christian raises a very good point that if any new tool is to be taken seriously it has to be durable enough to withstand the worksite and not just be something that looks trendy. I’m glad to hear that robustness is something that they are concerned about as the “sharper image” tier stuff like the Robblox drill is just a joke in my opinion. I also couldn’t agree more about the fact that the Tomahawk cannot be a good *digital* tape measure until it is first a good basic tape measure.
Though at the same time I’m a bit skeptical. For all this talk about durability we haven’t heard anything about an water or dust proof rating for the Tomahawk tape measure. And if I recall correctly, it was only rated for a 1 meter drop, which is frankly terrible compared to what traditional tape measures are claiming these days. So I have my concerns about whether or not those talking points about durability are actually implemented into the tool.
I’m also curious just exactly how this smart technology is supposed to help me. Going back to the premise that a good digital tape must first be a good traditional tape: Well, at first glance the Tomahawk is worse than a traditional tape. It’s much bigger, it’s more expensive, it runs on batteries, it has buttons and screens (points of failure), and it’s presumably a lot more fragile given the 1-meter drop test rating. So far we’re not starting off on the right foot. What exactly is this going to do for me in exchange for those disadvantages? Most of the features seem a bit gimmicky.
There are countless benefits of having a fully digital tape measure. While you are right, it is undoubtedly bigger and more expensive, the added size and cost were certainly tied to benefits over a traditional tape measure
– Send measurements to other areas of the jobsite, automatically, without shouting (i.e. I can be up on a ladder taking measurements and have them live streamed to someone operating the chopsaw)
– Record a near infinite number of measurements without writing anything down using the epaper display
– User the laser line to indicate patterns (i.e. turn on every 14 11/16″)
– Take relative measurements (i.e, start counting at 0″ regardless of where the hook is latched on to)
– Take internal measurements with the rear surface and have the width of the tape automatically calculated
– Capture measurements faster and more accurately than a traditional tape (no need to count lines
I don’t consider most of those to be benefits:
Sending measurements elsewhere on the jobsite implies there is a mobile phone involved. No thank you, I don’t want that fragile distraction machine anywhere near my work area. A phone app being involved is an automatic non-starter for me.
Recording measurements sounds great at first, but it’s not very helpful if I can’t easily modify those numbers as they are recorded or label what they are for. For example, if I’m using an old-school tape measure and I can see that I might want to make a particular cut slightly shorter than what I measured I can mentally subtract a little from my measurement before I write it down, or perhaps I can write a – sign next to it. One could probably cheat the measurement on the Tomahawk by extending or retracting it further before pressing the record button but that’s extra work. I have zero interest in saving measurements unless I have the ability to tweak them as they are saved. The same goes for adding notes to the measurements. Let’s say I want to go measure a bathroom for new trim. This could give me a list, but it doesn’t give me the ability to note which pieces are the most visible and should therefore use the best wood, and which ones are hard to see and thus can use lesser material or perhaps some offcuts. Or as another example, I’m measuring baseboards. I find that one of them needs a hole cut in it 17″ from the end to allow clearance for a pipe. With paper I can note that right next to the measurement, or even sketch a simple diagram. With the Tomahawk I still need paper. As the recording feature is incomplete I’m never going to bother to use it, I’ll use good ‘ol paper which lets me write down whatever comments I want alongside the measurements.
My Mabo Supermatic takes internal measurements automatically just directly reading off the tape, no need to switch modes, just read it. I don’t think I’ve ever needed that feature, but hey, it’s there.
Relative measurements? Useful on a milling machine or lathe’s DRO, but I can’t say I’ve ever wanted a tape measure to do that.
Laser line patterns? I like laser levels, but turning on a line ever so often doesn’t seem useful.
Captures measurements faster? No. Because I’m not going to trust its automatic reading, I’m always going to count lines to verify the automatic reading is correct. I’ve worked with enough devices that use linear encoders and rollers to take measurements over the years to know that they sometimes slip. I use digital calipers measuring precision parts nearly every day and I still double-check the vernier each and every time to make sure the measurement didn’t skip.
In my opinion these “benefits” are either disadvantageous or are not even close to being beneficial enough to outweigh the bulk and cost of this unit. I’m sure some of these features will be of use to some people but to me they’re gimmicky minor benefits. This feels like a solution searching for a problem rather than the other way around.
One electronic feature that I actually would find useful is curiously absent: Angle meter.
I don’t think the Tomahawk ever came off as that type of “Cheap Looking” in my eyes. In fact I still hold it in pretty high regard as a tool, much like their M1, that has the right idea in mind, but executed it with one tiny flaw that seemed far too much like a cheap compromise than an advantage.
The M1 uses a roller to track how long a work piece is from the blade. This is great, until you’re intentionally using a Miter Saw to cut something that has stylistically, or through recycling, been rendered slightly wavy. In which case, that wheel will measure every bump, and wave, as a proportionally longer amount of material. When you go for an even 6′ from the blade, that wheel will possibly register it when the actual end point of the material is only 5′-3/4″, or some even smaller difference. I personally work in Metric more, so I’d say it would be off by a Centimeter, or perhaps a couple millimeters. Which, if it’s a support beam at all, is a huge gap that isn’t tolerable, given the tolerance of the tool. On average, for 99% of all uses, this won’t matter, and it’s a great idea, for a great tool, and should be awarded for such innovation. But I do know the tolerance issue is a possibility, so I have to say “So Close!” when I think of recommending the M1. Good Job making it… with a caviat, basically.
The same goes for the T1 Tomahawk here… Okay, not the same problem, it’s more of an aesthetic error. The funtionality seems to be spot on, with nothing to complain about, and I don’t have any functional complaints. What I do have a slight problem with is… Honestly, the buttons. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the whole “Born in the 80’s” thing… but those style of rubbery-plastic buttons, brightly coloured no less, were on all the Fisher Price and cheap knock-off toys of the time. They work, lordy they work, but they literally feel childish to the touch for anyone who grew up way back then. If the buttons could be turned to something more akin to ABS hard plastic, or perhaps even cast metal (anodized aluminum or titanium seems to come to mind these days.) then that feeling would disappear.
I genuinely think Reekon should find traditional investors so they can get away from the Kickstarter model. Their ideas, and their tools, are ready to take the world seriously. They just need a partner with deep enough pockets to get them the materials they need to produce the products they create.
I will say though… I know they’re your likely company colours on these tools, but if you could create some colour variants for the main body, to match, or blend in with, the user’s other tools, then these would become impossible not to buy. Even plain black or charcoal shades, would fade into the “Is that just another one of the tools from the same company?” type of aesthetic. The M1 especially, in black, would look like it was always a feature of the Miter Saws that users have. Which would ratchet up the curiosity factor, and generate more sales.
Reekon is doing a good job innovating. I’ve only ever had tiny little caveats for the current tools. That tells me they’re “Ready for Prime Time” as they say. (Do they still say that?)
Their mitresaw tool i thought was a bit of a gimick in that it relied on flat wood and a smooth wheel interaction.
but the tomohawk has some thought to it that I’d cconsider one. wanted to seem them made before I got into one. I like some of the idea.
but they tried. His comment about a tool that looks good next to a mac book – seems like a backhand shot over to the reebox things. and I don’t blame him really as I would argue they have damaged some of the reputation of kickstarter with their drill antics.
eitherway I’m curious as to how their tape will work out
I would personally love it if all companies rejected Apple aesthetics. Devices are supposed to be useful more than they are pretty, or even easy to use. I don’t watch JJ Abrahms movies because he pretty much devotes everything to looking like it’s an Apple commercial. Apple is easily the biggest barrier to people actually learning their skills, rather than expecting things to be done for them without thinking.
I did used to work at a computer store (enter fred-style personal story mode.) and every time someone brought in a Mac or other Apple device, we were legally required to call Apple to get permission to inspect the device for anything from a loose screw, down to a cable that had frayed. Y’know what every single one of those calls resulted in? “No, it has to be returned to us for inspection and repair. Everything is proprietary inside.” Meanwhile… we literally had the Apple license number for the store ready to go, so we could, logically, do the work as a service center. Turns out “Service Center” to Apple, before the “Genius Bars” existed, meant “The place you pay hundreds of dollars to, just to ship things back to the main factories.”
We lost a lot of customers due to Apple’s unreasonable requests, proprietary designs, and oh-so-slippery cheap plastic. On occasion the customers would come back to us, after calling Apple themselves, hand over their Apple computer, and say “Save my files off here, throw it out, and let’s build a PC from scratch. It’s the same price they were going to charge me.”
So, on an Ethical basis, I’m Anti-Apple. I don’t like the Apple Drill either. Reekon has enough of an industrial look to spend time in real industry tool boxes. All these other companies copying Apple are the kind of companies I will happily avoid. Apple plays far too much to the “Fanboy” aspect, and follow the “Modernist” design ethic that results in ugly objects, created to be stared at, not used. I literally have no use for such pretty things. I need things to work.
Maybe if the buttons were the sealed type you can wipe clean. But it will still need to be taken care of with dedicated storage like other digital instruments like thermometers etc. I don’t need one more thing I have to be careful not to damage in addition to my phone.
I’m not necessarily against the idea of adding some technology to things like tape measures but this just feels like too much. Too big, too many buttons and features, and of course way too expensive. I like that it’s not as ‘fashion-oriented’ as some tech you see today but it still is not something you’ll ever see on a jobsite.
Too bulky and I’m sorry but I don’t think I will see many of my Co workers thinking about getting one. It’s too pricey. Bulky. Fragile. And just not practical. This may be a God sent for some one who takes counter top measurements or something like that but for those on the field I don’t see the value in this. Mind you I’m sure when I pass and leave this earth there will still be gimmicks and ideas around hahahah. To each their own.