Evans' tools hit with Jay Leno
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 01/19/2014 8:12 PM
JOICE —Eliot Evans' tools are catching attention.
His Make Sense Tap Adapters were a Plant Engineering Product of the Year finalist and won a Gold Award at INPEX, the country's largest invention trade show.
Perhaps most exciting for Evans, who farms and runs a machine shop near Joice, was a personal invitation to Jay Leno's Garage where he and Leno made a video about the Tap Adapters and the Make Sense Socket Extension. The video can be seen at Jay Leno's Garage website at jaylenosgarage.com/video/tap-adapters/n43958.
"I was working on stuff and it had threads but there wasn't any room to get the regular tap handles in that spot," Evans said. "I figured there has to be a better way to do it than spending four hours tearing something apart just to get in there and fix the threads."
He took a piece of steel hex stock and put a hole in it and put a square in it. The Tap Adapter adds no length to the tap. It can be used with any common wrench or ratchet wrench, and it eliminates the need to remove obstructing parts.
"I figured there's got to be a lot of other people who have the same problem I have," Evans said. "It's really a pretty simple idea."
The extension can be modified to any length and still have 100 percent functionality. It can be used with a box-end or open-end wrench at any location on the extension. Two wrenches or a ratchet and a wrench can be used at the same time.
Both tools are patented. If Evans is successful in selling them, he has plans for more Make Sense tools.
As a way to market the tools, Evans sent them to a few famous people he thought might use them.
"Jay Leno called me one day on my cell phone," Evans said. "At first I wasn't going to answer, but I did. When he said it was Jay Leno, I didn't know if I should believe him, but it sounded like him."
Leno told him his mechanics had used his tools and liked them.
Leno, a comedian and host of The Tonight Show, owns 160 antique cars and 80 motorcycles. Jay Leno's Garage is where he stores his vehicles and works on them.
"Jay said if I came out to California, he would make a video with me that he'd put on his website and maybe I'd sell some tools," Evans said. "He told me to call his producer."
It took Evans a couple weeks to call the producer and by then the producer had left his job. When Evans called the new producer, it took eight months before he called back.
"He didn't know anything about the tools so he had to talk to Jay," Evans said. "It was two more months before he called me back to set up a time to come."
Evans, his wife, Barb, and their sons Ethan, 14, and Chace, 4, drove to Los Angeles in October. They spent four hours at Jay Leno's Garage.
Leno served pizza and soft drinks and encouraged them to look around. Evans estimates Leno's garage is 100 feet wide and 500 feet long with a complete machine shop. Leno is knowledgeable about tools and mechanical work, Evans said.
"We talked to a couple of his mechanics," Evans said. "They were really nice guys, and they said Jay is a lot of fun to work with."
The video took about 10 minutes.
"I was nervous," Evans said.
In the video, Leno says that he likes the fact that guys "like Eliot are squirreled away in Iowa inventing new tools."
He said he and his mechanics were impressed with the tools.
Evans, who farms 1,000 acres in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, said the tools should appeal to farmers and mechanics.
"They might not use them every day, but when you need them, you need them," he said. "It's kind of like a combine, when you need it, you need it. If you can fix something in five minutes as opposed to four hours, the tool will pay for itself in one instance."
When Evans graduated from high school in 1979 he completed machinist, welding and diesel mechanics programs at Albert Lea Vo-Tech and went to work for machine shops in Iowa and Minnesota. While working for Fleetguard in Lake Mills, he started a machine shop on the side and eventually went on his own. He custom built equipment for Fleetguard plants in China and Australia and also worked for Larson Storm Doors and Winnebago Motor Homes.
During the 1980s the price of land fell and he started farming on the side.
"I guess it was a blessing in disguise that I didn't start farming right out of high school," Evans said. "I got a trade, worked full time and saved my money."
He likes being diversified. When manufacturing or farming go through a down cycle, he can fall back on the other. Manufacturing has experienced lean times when Fleetguard closed its Lake Mills plant and moved operations to Mexico. Holcim, a Mason City plant he did work for, also closed.
Five years ago he started working on his Make Sense tool line, but plans were slowed by a major fire four years ago.
"I was underinsured, and when you build something up over 25 years, it takes a while to bring that back," he said.
He was ready to start manufacturing in 2013.
Evans has received tool orders from all over the United States and recently got an order from Australia. His goal is to get his products into major tool stores. A Texas company is interested, and he's talking to several others.
The 11-piece Tap Adapter, which is made of black oxide-coated steel and sits in an aluminum block holder, sells for $80. The Socket Extension comes in many sizes. For more information, go to eliotinc.com/eliotinc/ or email email@example.com.