Cordless tool overview

July 5, 2018

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Cordless tools have been around long enough, they probably need no introduction. However, if you are new to the tool world, you may be wondering if they are worth purchasing? The answer is a resounding YES! Cordless tool technology has come a long way since the first cordless drills came out years ago. Advances have increased power output, battery life, and motor life while at the same time reducing weight. The days of short lived, long charging NiCad batteries are long gone, replaced by lithium ion batteries, which unlike NiCad batteries, last longer and can be charged at any stage of their discharge level without fear of effecting battery life. Brushless motors are replacing the standard brushed motors, eliminating many parts that wear out or break as well as reducing friction from the brushes dragging against the commutator. Power output is now on par with the same corded tools and battery life can last up to 8 hours depending on the tool chosen and usage.

           If you are looking to upgrade your corded tool arsenal, or skip the corded tools altogether, you are going to want to decide on what type of cordless tools to buy. In my experience, I would group cordless tool brands into (3) categories:


Economy Grade:

               Economy grade cordless tools are built focusing on low cost more than anything else. More often than not, these tools incorporate older technology as well as cheaply built components. While these can be purchased inexpensively, tool life, build quality, and power output are often subpar. These sacrifices are made in the name of bringing a low cost, functional cordless tool to the market that almost anyone can afford.

Consumer Grade:

               One step up from economy grade, consumer grade cordless tools are a compromise between economy grade and commercial grade. Usually incoporating modern technology, consumer grade tools are built to hold up to normal use in an average household. These tools may appear as well built as commercial grade tools, but may be short-lived if exposed to the heavy usage of a commercial jobsite. The value that this level of performance brings makes it a popular choice.

Contractor Grade:

A little more expensive than consumer grade, contractor grade cordless tools, like the name implies, are built with the intention of using them commercially by contractors on construction job sites. These tools can be purchased through authorized distributors, including big box retailers as well as contractor stores. Built using high quality, heavy duty components, these tools are made to withstand harsh conditions and continuous usage, often coming with warranties as long as 5 years.

               Now hold on before you start tossing out your corded tools. There are a few reasons you may settle for the trustworthy corded versions instead.

  • Cost: Cordless tools are still more expensive than there corded counterparts. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you seldom use a tool, it may be worth saving some money and purchasing the corded version.
  • Usage: This depends on the tool itself, but high draw tools such as vacuums and grinders can draw enough current to quickly deplete batteries. If you will be continuously using one of these tools throughout the day, it may become more of a headache to go cordless.

               Nowadays it is hard to find a tool that ISN’T available in a cordless version, so WHAT cordless tools should you buy, and at which voltage? I think it’s safe to say that the most common voltages for tools these days and 12 and 18 volt. You will see some labeled 20 volt max. This is a marketing gimmick, however, as 20 volts is measured right after a complete charge and the voltage on these tools drops to 18 as soon as you start using them. 12 volt tools are nice because they are lightweight, but don’t necessarily have the power or run time of an 18 volt. An 18 volt cordless tool will always be up to performing the task of a 12 volt tool, but not the other way around. If the extra weight is not a problem for you, I would initially go with a higher voltage tool group. Now if you are doing repetitive light duty tasks, it may be worth looking into something lighter and less fatiguing. As to which tools to buy, I have both purchased and borrowed a variety of cordless tools, and while everyone’s needs will be different, here is my list in the order I would purchase:

  1. Drill: I don’t think anyone would argue that the drill is one of the most commonly used power tools. Accomplishing a variety of tasks such as; drilling, driving screws, and removing rust/scale/paint with a rotary brush. I can’t imagine having to drag out an extension cord each time I needed to do something work related involving a drill.

2. LED Work Light: This would be my number two choice. Lord knows almost every work area can always use some extra lighting. These come in so handy, especially when you are in an environment where the power is shut off. Putting out almost no heat and lasting up to 8 hours, these lights truly are amazing devices.

3. Impact Driver: Cordless drills work great for driving screws and fasteners. Impact drivers work even better and are more compact as well, allowing them to be used in tight spaces where a drill may not work. Think of them as a cordless screwdriver on steroids. Once you have driven some screws with an impact driver, you won’t want to use anything else. Last but not least, they also come with that gratifying impact noise that lets others in your vicinity know that you are building something important. The drill is number one because it is more versatile.

4. Sawzall: If you enjoy working with your hands as much as I do, inevitably you will find yourself tearing out something made of wood or metal. There is something to be said for having a tool that will rip apart just about anything. There is also something to be said for not having that tool stop you in your tracks because the extension cord caught on something as you were walking to the item targeted for destruction.  

5. Oscillating Tool: Some people may disagree with me on this one. While I don’t use this tool every day, this thing is miracle worker in certain situations. This tool has saved me tons of aggravation on: controlled depth plunge cuts in wood, controlled depth long length cuts in wood, precise notching cuts in smooth lap siding, cutting nails underneath smooth lap siding, and accurately trimming off extremely thin pieces of wood that would be almost impossible with most other cutting devices. Needless to say, this tool has earned its place in my heart

 6. Vacuum: Let’s face it, you’re going to make a mess when you’re working on that latest project. I have to admit it’s pretty handy to be able just to grab the vacuum and hit the switch without a cord wrapping around a wheel and tipping it over. The reason this tool is so far down my list is that in my experience they are LOUD and power hungry. My corded vacuum is MUCH quieter than my cordless vacuum. I believe if you look at reviews of your favorite brand, you will see this is a common complaint. They also draw a lot of current and you will be pushing it to get more than 12-15 minutes of battery life out of a cordless vacuum. For quick clean-ups, they do work great though.

7. Impact Wrench: I had to put this on my list. This tool may not apply to you if you don’t do much/any automotive work, but man are these handy. These tools are now at the torque level of their pneumatic brothers and although they are more expensive than the pneumatic version, you don’t have to fill up your air compressor and lug a hose around with you to take off a few bolts or lug nuts. If you do any automotive work, you really don’t know what you’re missing until you use one of these.

The list just goes on and on. From cordless ratchets to jigsaws, circular saws, caulk guns (if you have ever caulked long lengths of control joints, these are a life saver.), metal shears, portaband saws,  rotary tools, grinders and even electromagnetic drills for drilling through thick steel. If it’s a tool you use regularly, these things save so much time, it’s more than worth the investment.