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Understanding the Technology and Terminology of Cordless Batteries

Cordless power tools provide a level of versatility necessary for any job. And just like every tool you use, you expect them to work every time you pick them up. With cordless tools, however, you’re relying not only on the tool and its performance, but on the performance of its battery as well. 

There have been rapid advancements in battery technology in recent years, and understanding the nuances of battery technologies is required for anyone looking for the right tool. Bosch is here to help with an overview of what you’ll encounter when deciding on your next cordless platform.

Battery type

The first step is understanding the two main types of batteries available: NiCad and Lithium Ion. NiCad battery technology helped propel the cordless power tool revolution, but now it lags behind lithium-ion batteries in several key areas:

•    Weight: Lithium-ion makes it possible to get the same 18 volts of power out of a smaller, lighter battery. If you find yourself working with tools for an extended period of time or working overhead, for example, every ounce of saved weight matters.
•    Consistent power: A lithium-ion battery will deliver close to full power from the time that it is charged all the way until it is nearly drained. Conversely, the performance of a NiCad tool diminishes with continued use.
•    Charge retention: A NiCad battery left unused or uncharged will lose its charge in a relatively short amount of time, while lithium-ion batteries will retain the vast majority of their charges for months after charging. 


A tool’s voltage indicates the power it can deliver—think of it as an indication of the size of its motor. Bigger is not always better, though. For example, many professionals choose 12-volt max tools over larger 18-volt options because they are more capable of working in tighter spaces. Here are some tips on what you need to know about the different voltage options:

•    12-volt batteries are the smallest available, but what they lack in power they make up for with a smaller size and weight. These batteries are excellent companions for those working in cramped or compact quarters.
•    18-volt batteries are the industry standard, and they deliver the performance you need with an overall size and weight that are comfortable for most jobs. There is also the most variety in tools compatible with the 18-volt battery. 
•    20-volt max batteries are commonly seen in tool sections, but regardless of manufacturer, a 20-volt max battery is no more powerful than an 18-volt battery. All standard 18-volt batteries deliver a max output of 20 volts the instant the trigger is pulled, but this output drops back to 18 volts within a fraction of a second. All batteries do this. A number of manufacturers have chosen to stick with reporting the consistent performance voltage (18 volts), while some now report the 20-volt max.
•    36-volt batteries are not for the average weekend warrior. These batteries offer top-of-the-line performance over extended periods of time and are designed for tools with heavy-duty motors, such as reciprocal saws, circular saws and hammer drills.

Amp hours

If a battery’s voltage indicates the size of its motor, its amp-hour (Ah) rating indicates the size of its gas tank. Ratings generally range from 1.5 Ah to 6.0 Ah; the higher the rating, the longer a tool can operate before requiring a recharge. For example, a 4.0 Ah battery can provide the same consistent level of 18-volt performance for twice as long as a 2.0 Ah battery. 

When deciding on the amp hours, remember to think about the size of the job and projects ahead. For quick, small tasks, a low Ah rating should suffice; however, if you have a big task or want to accomplish a lot of work between charges, pick a higher Ah-rated battery.

Battery features

Finally, many manufacturers make batteries with a variety of features that can impact performance. It’s important to understand these features, as they can make a big difference in deciding which battery is best suited for your needs:

•    Fuel gauges: This is a simple indicator that helps you assess and plan around your job. Make sure your tool has an easy-to-read fuel gauge so that you know when you need to recharge.
•    Cooling: As batteries discharge energy, they create heat. Too much heat can hurt a battery’s performance and its ability to hold a charge. Choose a battery built with the dissipation of heat in mind; the integration of features like heat dissipation fins increase the surface area of the battery’s cooling surfaces and allow for increased airflow.
•    Integrated electronics: Tools and batteries can be smart too. The smartest tools include electronics in both the tool and battery that communicate with each other to help manage discharge and performance. Smart systems not only improve job performance, but they can also protect the tool and batteries and extend their lifecycles.

With all of the different options available in cordless tools, it’s essential you understand the different functions and features that are important to you. There’s a tool for every job, but before you can choose the proper tool you must first know the job. When it comes to cordless tools, understanding the battery is required before making a choice.


This content is sponsored by Bosch Power Tools.

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