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Blog: Using Tool Batteries Effectively

Lithium batteries have become the standard for handheld electric power tools, and manufacturers aren’t actively searching for what comes next. Instead, their research is dedicated to finding ways to reduce battery weight while increasing the energy available for use. 

Lithium batteries are common in computers, cameras, phones, watches and much more—each one requiring different levels of power. But lithium batteries for tools are special because they must deliver high levels of power and, to do this, software is included to manage current (amps) and voltage.

Compared to the NiCad generation of batteries (the one before lithium), lithium batteries don’t have memory problems, so you don’t have to discharge them completely before recharging; you can recharge at any time.

Where manufacturers are headed

Tim Truesdale, production manager for cordless tools, Bosch USA, says contractors want more runtime, so manufacturers are increasing the energy density of their batteries to produce higher amp-hour ratings (think of the amount of gasoline in the tank) while keeping the weight down. 

Most tool batteries on the market today have 4 to 6 amp-hour ratings, and this number continues to increase. Ward Smith, a group product manager for Dewalt Tools, adds that battery platforms such as 12 and 18 volts are taking on harder applications. Tools once thought to be for corded applications only now can be powered with more powerful lithium ion batteries (angle grinders, for example).

What to look for when buying batteries and tools

You probably don’t think much about the battery when you buy a tool, but you should. Smith says you are investing in a system, and you will want to use a manufacturer’s battery to power different tools, so buy thoughtfully—your purchase has long-term implications.

Truesdale suggests that you also consider the following:

•    Protection. Batteries often cost as much as tools. Look for technology that helps to keep batteries cool.
•    Overheating. Battery surrounds (or heat dissipaters) and software should be engineered to manage heat buildup—high performance means nothing if a battery overheats easily. 
•    Size and weight. This counts especially when you have to carry a tool all day long. 
•    Amp-hour rating. Keep up with the latest technology; it could mean the difference between carrying one battery or several to the jobsite.
•    Charging systems. Chargers determine how fast a battery will charge; 3 or 6 amps are currently state-of-the-art. When they include cooling systems, they also protect batteries from heat damage during charging. 

Using your battery more effectively

Batteries can have a long usable lifespan or a short one, depending on how you treat them. Here are ways you can improve your battery’s life:

•    Don’t leave batteries in the rain, snow or hot sun.
•    Keep the contacts clean on batteries, chargers and tools. Protect electrodes from metal filings and foreign debris.
•    Store in a good climate; cold isn’t as big of an issue as heat.
•    For long-term storage—up to a year—charge the battery before storing it.
•    Don’t cause batteries to get hot by working a tool too hard.

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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 jnasvik@sbcglobal.net.

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