Two Weeks In Puerto Rico
One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve been able to share in many years was spending two weeks in Puerto Rico as a disaster relief volunteer. I really count it as a privilege and a blessing to be able to use my skills to help others.
What happened there was deeply disturbing . Much of the suffering and loss of life could have been prevented. It has been exported that fewer than 100 people died during hurricane Maria but upwards of 4,000 lost their lives from after effects from the storm. There was no power to run medical equipment of any kind. Many are still without power more than 9 months later. Most were without adequate water and food. All supplies were limited. Government corruption and misappropriation of resources are just some of the many things that went wrong to add to the suffering of the people.
When I received the preliminary invitation on Builder Assistant to go for reconstruction work I immediately talked to my family about the possibility. We talked about the expenses, the missed work, the time apart and a bunch of what ifs. We said some prayers and thought about the blessings we have received. Everyone was in agreement that I should go for two weeks. We accepted the invitation and began looking for a good flight.
The letter that accompanied the confirmation of my accepting the assignment mentioned the scope of work would be framing and metal roofing. It said bring your own tools to complete the work. I thought that was pretty vague so I began playing out different scenarios in my mind. What would I need? Would there be power? Should I take corded tools or cordless? I quickly decided cordless was the way to go. Then I had to decide which cordless tools I would need to take.
I had heard from others who went that I would need a drill, impact and saw for sure as well as nail bags and normal hand tools for framing. I am the Toolpig and I knew that I would need more than the basic tools.
My flight like most included a carry on and one small item. One checked bag up to 50lbs was $25.00 US each way. A second bag up to 50lbs was $35.00 each way. I decided that I would take every tool possible and stay under the 100 lb limit. Just an extra 20lbs would be an extra $100.00 each way. It didn’t seem to be worth the extra expense for the tiny amount of extra weight. Some of you generously offered to pay the 100.00 and I really appreciate the kind offers. I hope you don’t think I was rude for not taking you up on it. I just felt that it was a rip off for American Airlines to charge that much more for a few lbs. I asked about any breaks for disaster relief workers and they told me there were none for Puerto Rico. They had some offers for the Virgin Islands and one other place but nothing for Puerto Rico.
My next hurdle was to decide which cordless platform I would go with. I started weighing the basic tools like a drill and impact. I weighed Ridgid, Milwaukee, DeWalt, Bosch and Makita brushed and brushless drill and impact sets. Right away I ruled out Ridgid because of the extra weight and bulk. Next I started to look closely at what supplemental tools I would be able bring and stay under 100lbs.
For framing, a circular saw and reciprocating saw are very necessary. For metal roofing a metal-cutting saw, nibblers or shears can save a lot of time. I heard we would be installing a lot of T-111 sheathing inside and out of the homes. That requires a lot of hole cutting for electrical outlets and switch boxes. I figured a jigsaw or multitool would be the best tool for the job. I really wanted to take a track saw but it was out of the question when I started weighing tools. Plus how would I take a track? That would have been a third piece of luggage and would have been more expensive than a track. I was now down to considering Makita and Dewalt.
When flying with power tool batteries there are strict TSA guidelines. For lithium-ion batteries under 100 watt hours there is no limit to the amount you can take in your carry on. Between 101 and 160 watt hours there is a limit of 2 batteries. You can’t have terminals exposed so each battery must be individually wrapped to avoid contact with anything that could cause a short.
The TSA rules really made it a no brainer to go with Makita for all my power tools. I could take unlimited 18v 5.0 amp hour batteries. I did not know how much charging I would be able to do each day so I took 25. (Makita is the only platform I have so many batteries in. I bought almost all of them in kits during extra battery sales and sold the tools.) With DeWalt I would have not been able to take more than 2 flex volt 2.0/6. batteries. The 3.0/9.0 batteries are over the limit of what you can take. I know you can slide the clip on the batteries, effectively separating the 3 cell banks. I just felt it was not worth the risk trying to get them through TSA. They do have the last say right or wrong. If they say it doesn’t go on the plane you leave it behind or miss your flight.
Makita must have been paying attention to my instagram posts about getting ready to go. They overnighted a brand new set of the new more compact 16ga metal shears, a fan cooled jacket and a new brushless hybrid tool. It is a 4 in one drill, driver, hammer drill and impact as well as a few sets of bits to take .
As it turned out that was a very good move on Makita’s part. Those tools proved themselves to be very useful for the building work.
Here is a pic of the tools I took.
Brushless impact, brushless circular saw, brushless metal-cutting saw, brushless router, subcompact reciprocating saw, subcompact rotary hammer, brushless hybrid tool, top handle jigsaw, oscillating multi tool, brushless grinder, right angle impact driver and the new cordless shears. I also took the new fan cooled jacket.
We used every single tool I brought. I used the circular saw the most. I was usually cutting for myself as well as a few other guys. Next most used was probably the impact driver but a very close third was the oscillating multitool. I had no idea it was going to be so useful while framing. The crew also appreciated the sub compact recip saw. It easily fit between rafters when cutting mistakes. It is so handy with its short size but it’s not short on power.
Another crew favorite was the right angle impact driver. It was the perfect tool for installing the Simpson strong tie hurricane clips in tight spots. It was used over 100 times in the two weeks I was there. The metal-cutting saw cut the steel roofing panels with ease. It was much better cutting the sheets upside down. There was less chatter and throwing of metal shards that way. The new shears are simply amazing on flat metal. They aren’t the best at cutting through the ribs but we figured out quickly that if we slightly curved the panels it would cut the ribs pretty well. The hybrid tool was a treat to have with us. It was especially handy at pre drilling then driving screws. This was the case in both wood and concrete. It works with any 1/4′ hex shank bit.
It just so happens that I took an assortment of 1/4′ hex shank bits from makita and some newer carbide tip multi purpose bits Bosch. They proved to be extremely versatile. They are made for metal, wood and masonry. We used them for pre drilling studs. We used them for tapcons. We even used them as countersink bits for some of the hurricane clips. They aren’t quite as sharp as a typical twist bit so they worked very well for countersink bits because they didn’t dig in so fast that we couldn’t stop them from blowing through.
As it turns out, taking Makita tools was a wise decision. The weather was typical for a Puerto Rican summer. We were out in the sun and on the roof. The heat made every brand of tool run hotter. The sun beating down on the black batteries made them all a little hotter as well. Fortunately, none of the Makita tools went into thermal overload. When the batteries were put on the charger, the cooling fan would quickly cool them down to charging temp. This was significant. Unexpectedly one whole day we had a crew of electricians working with us and they got to the point where their Dewalt and Milwaukee batteries wouldn’t charge fast enough in the heat. Some of them wouldn’t charge at all. They had to borrow my 1/2′ drill and impact driver to get their work done.
Before I went several of you suggested that I leave the tools behind for others to use. After seeing what many were using to get the work done, I decided that was a good idea. I just left the basic tools. XPH12 drill, XDT12 impact, XSH03 brushless saw and the black subcompact reciprocating saw as well as a charger and a few batteries. I am positive they are in good hands and will be used well. Many will benefit from them both in the work and those who get their homes worked on. I was told by my Makita contact they may be willing replace them for me but I’m not sure. If that changes I will update this and credit will be given to Makita. The most important thing is that they will be used to help with the rebuilding work even though I am back home with my family.
Two companies who also deserve a shout out are Stabila and Home Depot.
Stabila levels sent 10 Pro sets with a 4′ and a 2′ and a torpedo level in each as well as two Jamber sets with 78″ and 32″ levels for hanging doors as well as a bunch of tape measures. They also sent me the green cross line laser level that I took down. I ended up giving it to the workers that would be there long after I was gone.
Home Depot sent me a 500.00 gift card for whatever I needed while down there. We used it to buy a tee square, chalk line, numerous blades and bits as well as many fasteners. I didn’t spend the entire amount but my project coordinator made sure the remaining balance was used for the work after I was gone as the need arose.
The best part of the experience was getting to know like-minded people from all over. There were so many backgrounds. Some were really young guys just out of high school. One 19-year-old I worked with actually sold his truck so he could afford to go down for months. Another volunteer in his 30’s left a successful business behind to his younger brother so he could go indefinitely. Others were retirees who had great freedom and wanted to use their last good years to help as many as they could. One older volunteer was in Florida for relief work for months. When his assignment was complete he drove home to Rhode Island and took a nap and got on the plane to Puerto Rico. Many sold vehicles and homes so they could help out. My sacrifice of a few tools, plane tickets and a couple of weeks lost wages was nothing compared to what many have given in support of the work. You may or may not believe in an all powerful creator but I feel that this is one way we can give back for all the many gifts he has given us. I will do my best to keep life simple so I can be available for more of this work n the future.
My crew for 2 weeks enjoyed a well deserved beach party with dozens of other volunteers and locals on my last Friday of the trip.
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Great article. Really enjoyed reading your experience with the trip.
Amazing story, great article ?
Thanks for sharing and thank you for serving others with the skills and talents that God gave you.
Excellent write up Paul. It really documented a sacrifice you and your family were willing to make to help others. I throughly enjoyed my short time down there as well and was glad to have good tools to use. Keep up the fine fight and keep that life simple, something I struggle with often. Let’s face it, I think we all do. ????
What a beautiful beautiful thing to do brother!!! It’s AMAZING to see a tradesman like yourself put so much into helping people! It’s very inspiring and as a tradesman and also a Father of three small children, it motivates me to do more …..
This is a good read. I am an electrical Apprentice (1 year to go) and I also use the Makita platform for all my power tools. Your review of tools actually got me into the Makita (and I am a little bit bias to Japanese company). I just want to say thanks for your honest review of tools. I also want to say thanks for helping in the relief and when I journey out I want to help out with reliefs like this.