Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to a tradesman whose invention is pointing the way to success.
“I’ve been in the trades for 45 years,” explains Phill Taylor as he treats us to a guided tour of his self-build home in Ringwood. “In that time I’ve worked on everything from domestic kitchens to some of the largest hotels in the Capital, and have often made my own tools to solve a particular problem.”
In a former life, the inventor of the Pointsman – a redesigned ergonomic pointing hawk – made a living from renovating flood and fire damaged properties from his north Finchley base, and was subsequently in a position to turn his back on the big smoke for the delights of rural Dorset, building his own home in one of the county’s most idyllic woodland spots.
“Although I am semi-retired now I do still keep my hand in with a few jobs, so I’ve got at least a couple of days’ work a week. Since moving down here I’ve developed a group of tradesmen that I do regular jobs with and that’s how the Pointsman came about.
“An electrician friend of mine asked me to look at a friend’s house that was suffering from damp and as a favour I went to take a look. It was pretty obvious on inspection that the pointing had gone but, to be honest, it wasn’t really a job that I wanted to do myself, so it got me to thinking on how I could make it easier.
“Pointing on that scale puts a lot of strain on your body, especially with the uncomfortable body positions you have to adopt, so saving my old limbs was what prompted the light bulb moment, and I made a wooden prototype of what was to become the Pointsman just to see if it would work.
“I got it made in metal before I started the job and it was brilliant – it gives you reach above and below without undue strain and, crucially, it increases your speed. Having repaired the pointing on the whole building in a day and a half I was then determined to take it further.”
Like all of the best inventions the key to the effectiveness of the Pointsman is its simplicity. Unlike on a conventional hawk, the Pointsman’s ergonomic handle is at 60° from the horizontal, putting less strain on the wrist and increasing the comfort for the user.
Where Phill’s invention also departs from traditional hawks is in the application lip, which allows a more precise and direct application of mortar from the hawk to the wall whether at a high or low level.
Like many a tradesman with a big idea for a time-saving tool Phill found that the path to perfecting the concept was a protracted process of prototyping and patents but with the help of Innovate, a company that specialises in bringing new inventions to the market, he was able to improve and refine his design.
“In the early days some of the component parts were just too expensive in production to make it commercially viable – we thought of having the metal pressed, for instance, but the mould alone would have been a £500,000 investment. The early prototypes were also far too heavy so keeping the weight to a minimum was a priority.”
What followed was a search amongst local engineering companies and metalworkers who could simplify the manufacture, before a chance encounter with a metalworker resulted in a working tool that was competitively priced.
“From the initial idea to the finished tool it’s been around two years but it’s actually been a fantastic journey for me. Builders are by nature problem-solvers and for the majority of my career I’ve run companies that were engaged in what were at times some quite substantial projects.
“Having that experience, with the knowledge of what tradesmen actually need, has certainly helped me,” says Phill. “It’s that business acumen that’s also given me the knowledge of what I needed to do to produce a product that we could actually sell.”