When lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries were first introduced for power tools, many people believed the market was limited—corded tools would prevail because tools needed a lot of energy. But Mitch Burdick, strategic business development manager for Bosch Tools in Mount Prospect, Illinois, says it didn’t turn out that way. “Most tool manufacturers still make both corded and uncorded tools where necessary, but sales for cordless tools continue to grow faster and outpace that of corded tools.”
The first tools converted to battery power were drill-drivers because they were the easiest. Short run-times and lower amperage requirements made it easier to design batteries that could do the job and still have reasonable run-times between charges. But since that time, advancements in battery technology, tool motors and the software that manages battery operation have changed everything. Today, the list of corded only tools is only getting smaller.
Every manufacturer tells you its tools are the best, but to make good choices you need to know about productivity, longevity and maintenance. Consider the following points when you are deciding on new tools.
Li-ion batteries. They are currently the best type of batteries to use for handheld power tools. Manufacturers continually search for next-generation power sources, but most of the research today focuses on improving the efficiency of Li-ion technology.
Platforms. The three primary voltage platforms are 12, 18 and 36 volts, with the 18-volt platform being the fastest-growing and most common for power tools. Burdick says that battery technology continues to change quickly; 12-volt Li-ion batteries can do most of what the 18-volt nickel-cadmium (NiCd) platforms used to do—even with tools being smaller and lighter—and 18-volt Li-ion batteries can do most of what the 24-volt NiCd and 36-volt Li-ion platforms used to do. Even 36-volt Li-ion batteries are beginning to power tools once thought to be corded or gasoline-engine only.
Amp-hours. Think of amp-hour ratings as the size of a gas tank. This number tells you how much energy can be stored in the battery and relates to how long a tool can be run between charges, because buyers want maximum run-time. Most of the manufacturers have already stepped up their battery platforms from 4 amp-hours to 5 amp-hours, and some are stepping up their platforms to 6 amp-hours and higher.
Charging time. There is a wide discrepancy in the time it takes to charge batteries from different manufacturers, so look for shorter times. In addition, heat is the enemy for all batteries, so you should be sure your batteries have systems to dispense heat, especially during the charging cycle. Bosch recently introduced induction charging, which allows users to place the battery—still attached to the tool—on a charging pad with no wires or battery attachment needed to charge the tool whenever it’s not being used.
Look for tools with brushless motors. Manufacturers are increasing motor power while making them smaller and increasing battery run-time. So don’t look at battery run-time only, look at the tool run-time, too.
Software is built into the battery and the tool so they can communicate with each other. Tool manufacturers have made great improvements in software. It protects tools and batteries from destruction that results from extreme use, manages power use and increases performance.
For instance, if sawing or drilling is consuming power output, software will direct the battery to make more power available. Conversely, if you are performing a light application, software conserves energy in the battery. Software is very important to the function of a power tool.
Should you buy corded?
Corded tools are less expensive than battery-operated ones, and tools with long run-times such as a sander or a router are still corded only. But when there is an option to buy battery-operated tools for the jobsite, the cost may turn out to be less expensive once the cost of extension cords is considered. Cords that need constant replacement due to wear and tear are often fined by OSHA for falling below standards.
Joe Nasvik is a writer and editor serving the construction and concrete industries. He has 18 years experience as a concrete contractor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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