Ergonomics in Hand Tools
Hello, everyone. I’m Josh, one last time calling myself “the new guy.” While I’ve been writing for The Paint Dealer for half a year now, this is my first piece for TPC. Since I’m new to you, I figured I’d introduce myself to all of you fine folks. One thing you don’t know about me (other than everything) made me a willing candidate for this article. As a musician, I developed some wrist issues from years of playing my guitar too low and putting it at strained angles, so a decent part of my buying process for any hand tool or product is to make sure I can hold it comfortably so I can use it for extended periods worry free.
Whether it’s a tool or a guitar, if it doesn’t feel right in the hand, it doesn’t stand much of a chance of joining my ranks, so when Jerry gave me the chance to do a feature on ergonomics, I had to say yes! I talked to a panel of experts from the industry, painters and companies both, about hand tools, design, and the importance of hand health in the business.
One of the things that gives painters fever dreams every night is the thought of hurting their hand and not being able to work. It not only wastes time, but it keeps money out of your pocket, and nobody needs that. Not to mention if you injure your hands, it might be hard to reach into that pocket for the money anyway.
Tyler Hansen of Painting by Tyler in Beachwood, NJ, put his hands on the table. “I had pain in my thumb joint, probably for a couple years, from holding a paint can—and the can handle rests right on that joint. Is there a right or wrong way to hold a can or a cut pot?” he asks. “I don’t think so. I have read a ton of guys’ answers on this and basically as long as you aren’t spilling paint, there is no wrong way”
Still, it hurt. “I know from the pain I feel that it has to be wrong,” he winced. Using the right tools, however, has helped this pain go away. This is a good time to note that Tyler was introduced to us by Bercom Inc., makers of HANDy Paint Products, and Tyler specifically points to the design of the Handy Paint Pail as a hand-helper.
“The Handy Paint Pail has helped this pain go away. Now, I have no more pain and can work longer and faster with the Handy Paint Pails as my cut buckets.” Not only does it make a day’s work easier, but over the long haul, it reaps a hand-some benefit. “Using products like the this can save a painter’s hands from a lot of damage and keep us going longer. Using the right tools is a big help, and the Handy Paint Pail is definitely one of those tools,” he said.
Hard to Handle
This type of pain isn’t isolated to Hansen’s thumb. Keith Herwig, president at Warner, takes a hands-on (bad joke alert) approach to making sure that painters don’t get hurt using his products, “Professional painters must take care to prevent injury throughout the course of their day,” he said. “A key aspect of this is how the tools they choose assist them in preventing injury due to repetitive use or improperly creating strain on their bodies. An injury caused by an improperly designed tool creates lost productivity and revenue for the professional.”
Warner has done some field research to get some real-world experience. “We spend time with pros watching how they use the tools of the trade, and we interview them for ideas on how to improve the products to help them stay productive and achieve professional results,” said Keith.
You don’t want a high-handed palm reader when it comes to your hands’ future, you want some even-handed research. One of the most important things when designing new products for painters is the engineering that goes into making them comfortable, Herwig explained. As Warner reps hang out with painters on the job they’ll ask several questions towards that end:
• How do they approach various tasks?
• What goes into their planning and product selection?
• What challenges them in the task?
• How does the tool they are using help or hinder their accomplishment of the task?
• What specific steps will they take from here?
After that, Keith continues, information is compiled and studied by the engineering and product development team. “That allows us to create a tool with the proper characteristics to help the professional achieve their desired task while improving comfort and productivity,” he said.
Under Your Thumb
Ben Waksman, president at Corona Brushes, had some handy insight to add as well. “We design handles that are functional, as well as comfortable, and easy to work with over the long hours of the paint job,” he said. “The type of wood we use is also important. It should be well processed to eliminate excess moisture, and sanded smooth so the grain is tight and will absorb moisture, whether perspiration from the hands or water during cleanup.”
Different handles can make or break a job, he adds. “Beavertail handles, whether the thicker wall style or thinner varnish style, are quite popular throughout the Southeast. But the most popular nationally are long sash handles, whether the standard flat, the tapered, or the thinner rat tail handle.”
There’s definitely a lot of thought that goes into making it easy to get a handle on these products, and a contractor’s input is necessarily…a…“given”! Jeff Given, president of Handy Paint Products, brings his specific experience to the table. “Feedback from contractors is an important part of our research and development process,” he notes. “We constantly bring in experienced painters to test our prototypes during the design phase. We then use their feedback to make the necessary modifications and enhancements to the product.” It’s obvious that these companies don’t take hand health lightly and want to provide the most comfortable experience for paint pros.
Preventing a Handful of Problems
There are so many things you have to worry about as a paint pro, so pain and injury from using poorly designed tools should be the least of your worries. As Keith Herwig says, “An ergonomic handle helps you stay productive all day, every day, by reducing the strain that repetitive use places on the body. A handle with poor ergonomic properties will often cause injury and fatigue, resulting in a loss of productivity and a potential decrease in the quality of the task.”
Now, sometimes you want to just get through the project and not think about what it will do to you, or you want to fish out the cheapest tool in the bin so you can afford the bacon-double-cheese burger instead of the regular burger, but I can say from experience that going that route is usually ill-advised, and our experts agree. “A professional painter that loses even partial functionality in their hand or arms is at a competitive disadvantage in today’s marketplace. Selecting tools that help reduce the odds of an injury are worth the slight increase in cost of poorly designed products,” Herwig finishes.
It’s as simple as taking that extra time to figure out what feels best in your hand and pay what it takes to get it, than to go with the cheaper option that, according to our panel, would cost you way more money in the long run through lost time and doctors visits. Hopefully you can all extend your painting lives by choosing the perfect fit!
And in my case, when someone shouts “Freebird” I want to be ready.
All the Drips, Hands, and Buts
Are you squeezing a caulk gun all day, but just around after lunch you realize you can’t bear to extrude yet one more bead? (How’s that for shop talk?) If you can’t hand off your gun to another crewman, it might be time to wrap your fingers around an ergonomic model. Tom Allen, sales manager at Dripless, explained the science involved in matching your gun to your caulk. “The most important factor is to use a caulking gun with the proper thrust ratio for the product being gunned,” he said. “If you use a lightweight gun with heavier material, you’ll have to squeeze the trigger harder to push the product and that strains your fingers, hand, and wrist. Lightweight guns have thrust ratios around 5:1 or 6:1. Good painter’s guns have ratios around 10:1 or 12:1. Guns for the thickest adhesives run 26:1.”
After that, take note of gun weight; over the course of a whole house this can start to make a difference. “If you put a tube of caulk in a heavy metal gun, the weight can be almost double that of the same tube in a composite gun such as the Dripless ETS series,” he said. “At the end of a long day the fatigue sets in and not only are you stressing your wrist and hand, but the quality of your work suffers as well. We designed the ETS series handle and trigger to fit the human hand better than any metal gun,” he continued. Pick one up, and see, he suggests. “That’s how that gun has become the #1 seller to pro painters in the US—we just get them to hold it and it’s sold!”
And hold it tight, because if there’s one things we’ve noticed about Dripless, it’s when someone gets their hands on one, they try to keep it.