Overview: Buyer's guide for cordless tools
There are a dizzying number of cordless
tools, batteries and chargers on
the market. Spending a lot of money
on them is easy. But getting your money's
worth is harder. Knowing the
proper way to use and care for your
cordless tools can be the difference
between a lithium-ion battery that
dies after a year and one that's still
going strong after three. Read on for
tips in this buyer’s guide that will help you get the most out of your cordless tools.
Tip 1: Buy lithium-ion
Lithium-ion batteries are quickly displacing
nickel cadmium as the standard batteries on
cordless tools. Although lithium-ion (li-ion)
batteries can cost twice as much or more,
they're worth it. They're small and lightweight,
they run at top power longer, they're good for
two to three times more charge cycles than
nicads, and they can sit for months without
losing a charge.
They do have a couple of downsides,
however. Besides cost, they perform
worse than nicads in extreme temperatures
(below zero and above 105
degrees F). But competition among
manufacturers is starting to drive
down prices of lithium-ion
batteries. And the newest “smart” chargers
and “extreme weather performance”
features help keep lithium-ion batteries cool
while charging, and working longer in below-zero
From Ron Kruppa Field Editor:
I waited until my
nicad cordless tools
died, weighed the
and bought a
drill. I only
wish the nicad drill
had died sooner.
Tip 2: Six ways to make your lithium-ion battery last longer
A lithium-ion battery is expensive. Follow these tips
to get the most charge for your ka-ching.
1 Don’t discharge
Running a lithium-ion battery
until it’s fully discharged can
lead to an early death. Try not
to discharge it lower than 20
percent before recharging it.
Recharge it when you notice
even the slightest drop in performance.
Don’t wait until yourtool has stopped working.
2 Charge it
You might have heard that it's
best to charge batteries only
when they need it. Not true.
Frequent charging is good for
them, even when they're only
3 Charge it at
The optimum temperature
range for charging lithium-ion
batteries is 40 to 85 degrees F.
Charging them at extreme
temperatures (below 32
degrees F and above 105
degrees F) disturbs the chemical
reaction taking place in the
cells and can result in a permanent
loss of run-time. Keep
your charger indoors or in the
4 Store it
where it’s cool
(but not freezing)
Lithium-ion batteries generally
last three to five years if stored
properly. Extreme temperatures
shorten their life span, so don't
store them in your truck, garage
or freezer. Store them in a cool
place, like your basement or
refrigerator, at about 40 percent
charge. This partial charge
keeps the battery and its protection
circuit operating during
5 Buy fresh
Lithium-ion batteries have a
finite life span. They start to
slowly degrade right after
they’re manufactured, so it's
important to buy the freshest
batteries possible. Check the
date code on the battery or
packaging to make sure you're
buying a fresh battery (instead
of one that's been sitting on a
distributor’s shelf for a year).
6 Use your
Don't buy an extra battery and
store it for long periods. The
battery will degrade more rapidly
if it's not used at least every
couple of months. If you have
two, be sure to use them both.
From Field Editor Bill Skog:
Read the owner's manual
on the care of batteries. I
work at an industrial supply
company, and I constantly see
people bringing tools back
because the batteries don't
last due to poor care.
Tip 3: Save money with bare tools
Several manufacturers offer bare tools (the tool only), and
what you see at home centers is often just
a fraction of what’s available.
Check online for the
Jigsaw costs about
$60 at online
Tip 4: Two batteries are better than one
Buy a kit with two batteries. It's almost
always cheaper than buying a cordless
tool with one battery and buying a second
From Field Editor David Hawkins:
An extra battery
is a must unless
you want your battery
when you will be
Tip 5: Shop for a system, not just a tool
You may be drawn to a drill, but think
about future tools before you choose. If
the batteries and charger from your first
tool can power other tools, you can buy
“bare” tools in the future and save a lot of
money. Most manufacturers offer a wide
variety of tools that accommodate the
same battery type. Eighteen-volt tools in
particular have a broad range of options.
Ryobi's 18 Volt One+ system (shown here) has
more than 50 tools that fit its
18-volt battery pack and
includes cordless lawn, garden
and household products.
Sticking with one voltage size
from a single brand means you'll
always have charged batteries
and enough chargers.
Tip 6: Brushless is cutting edge
offer at least a few tools
with brushless motors.
Brushless motors eliminate the
physical connection between parts,
which eliminates friction and wasted
energy. Manufacturers claim brushless
motors increase run-time by 50 percent
and more compared with motors
with brushes. Early reviews among
users are extremely positive.
Initially, brushless tools will cost
$30 to $100 more than the brushed
versions and will be limited to drills,
drivers and impact wrenches. But as
this technology gains wider acceptance,
prices are bound to come down and
you’ll find brushless motors in saws
and other tool types. (And then watch
for deep discounts on tools with
Tip 7: Buy battery packs with fuel gauges
“Fuel gauges” right on the pack or tool can be a lifesaver
for lithium-ion batteries. Not only can you tell at a
glance how much charge is left when you're up on a
ladder, you'll extend the life of the battery by getting it
on the charger before it's fully discharged.
Tip 8: Smart chargers extend battery life
Batteries are the costliest part of your cordless tool, and a bad charger can
shorten your battery’s life due to incorrect charging and overheating.
“Smart” chargers like the Makita DC18RA Rapid Battery Charger have electronic
sensors and temperature and voltage controls that communicate
with a chip inside the battery
pack for optimal charging.
The Makita DC18RA charger (photo)
has a fan that blows
air through the battery
to cool it before charging
so the battery can
be charged quickly
(a 3.0 amp-hour
in 22 minutes).
It costs about $45 and up at home
centers and online retailers.
QuickBoost 12V Charger
(photo; about $35) achieves a 25
percent charge in three
minutes and a full
charge in 30 minutes.
This means you can get
enough juice in a dead
battery to finish up that
task you're working on
Tip 9: Same voltage, different run times
Batteries of the same voltage often come
with different amp-hour ratings. Those with
higher amp-hour ratings are larger and
heavier, and they cost more and have
longer run-times. Some companies list
the amp-hours on the battery; others
name them (such as DeWalt's compact
and XRP versions and Bosch’s
Slim Pack and Fat Pack; neither
shown). A compact 1.5-Ah battery
(vs. a larger 3.0-Ah battery)
is usually fine for weekend DIYers, especially with a fast charger.
From Field Editor Stephen Evans:
are to the tool
industry what ink
cartridges are to the
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Tip 10: Don’t write off corded tools
You can't argue with the convenience of cordless
tools. But in most cases, the batteries will die
long before you've worn out the tool. And
in the case of tools requiring heavy
power, like circular saws and reciprocating
saws, using corded tools delivers more.
They'll last forever and cost less.
From Field Editor Martin Tipton:
If the task requires
a lot of sustained
power, I always turn
to corded tools.
Photo courtesy of Black & DeckerBlack & Decker lithium-ion screwdriver
Photo courtesy of CraftsmanCraftsman battery with built-in LED flashlight
Photo courtesy of DeWaltDeWalt Worksite Charger/Radio
Photo courtesy of DeWaltThree power outlets on DeWalt Worksite Charger/Radio
Three Cool Tools
Black & Decker's new Gyro 4-Volt Lithium-Ion
screwdriver (about $40) is motion controlled and
fits in your tool pouch or kitchen drawer.
The palm-control trigger switch turns it
on, and you control the speed by twisting
the tool to the right or left, depending
on your task. It's pretty slick for light- to medium-duty jobs.
Battery with flashlight
Craftsman's NEXTEC High Capacity
Battery with a built-in LED flashlight
(about $35) has an extra-capacity lithium-ion
1.6-Ah 12-volt battery pack. The flashlight
can be operated attached or separate
from the tool.
DeWalt's DC012 Worksite Charger/Radio (about $175) has
three power outlets and a weather-resistant casing.
It’s MP3 and iPod compatible and has a
built-in one-hour charger for
DeWalt battery packs.
Tunes and remote charging
in one package.