Sometimes wishes do come true. Eliminating—or at least minimizing—corded tools on jobsites is one dream that seems within reach for professional remodelers.
Improved battery technology is the key reason this is happening. Introduced in 1991, lithium-ion batteries have been a “game changer,” according to John Castelino, senior product manager for Towson, Md.-based DeWalt Industrial Tool Co.
Lithium-ion technology enables tools to run longer on a single charge, he reports. In addition, he says, marrying electronic controls with a lithium-ion platform leads to increased power and better charge/capacity retention.
In consequence, suggests Robert E. Robillard, a Concord, Mass.-based finish carpenter and general contractor, “Tools today are getting faster, smaller, lighter and more powerful.”
Robillard, who is known for publishing product reviews on his website (aconcordcarpenter.com), cable TV show and newsletter, also notes, “Many high-end cordless tools have microchips to record charges, run time and how hard the tool works. Some tools will shut down to protect the tool or battery.”
Todd Fratzel is another remodeler providing online information and education besides working as principal engineer and project manager for United Construction Corp. in Newport, N.H. Putting the appeal of cordless tools in context, he says, “Skilled labor costs are at an all-time high, which drives contractors to find more efficient tools and methods to keep competitive. Cordless tools are now at a level where most day-to-day construction tasks can be done with them. These tools are typically lighter, more ergonomic and easier to transport than their corded family members.”
Forget ‘Memory’ Problems
Fratzel sees lithium-ion batteries as “a great advancement over the nickel–cadmium (NiCd) days when users could damage batteries by charging too often and creating a ‘memory’ that limited their use.” He praises diagnostic lithium-ion chargers, which have built-in microprocessors to “allow the battery to be charged to its optimum level while letting the user know if it is in good working condition.”
Nick Feld, product manager, cordless, for Mt. Prospect, Ill.-based Robert Bosch Tool Corp., believes lithium-ion battery technology has made a significant dent into the “bigger is better” philosophy. Some remodelers may cling to that belief, but Feld thinks most users now prefer to solve their power and run-time demands with units a fraction of the size and weight of heavy-duty tools.
Pulling the Trigger
While praising lithium-ion batteries for their compact size, lighter weight and uncompromising energy output (“full power from the first pull of the trigger till the last”), Jason Swanson, director of communications for Anderson, S.C.-based Techtronic Industries Co., also touches on the one factor mitigating against their total takeover of the market—cost. “Typically,” he notes, “a customer can expect to pay more for the lithium-ion battery, but the performance outweighs the price increase.” (TTI’s entries in the power tool derby include not only Milwaukee, but the Ryobi and RIDGID brands.)
Fratzel acknowledges the newer batteries can be “quite expensive and a roadblock to some purchases of cordless tools.” Nonetheless, despite the need for a large up-front investment, he contends they are worth it.
Robillard puts it this way: “When the battery wears out, the replacement cost will be high—but the convenience of cordless is priceless.”
Emphasizing time saved is money earned, he says, “Cordless tools allow a contractor to work faster. Using a cordless nailer can shave 40 minutes off your day or a particular repair job.” This time is saved because there is no need to set up a compressor and hose and then clean them before you can end your day.
Looking ahead, all sources see a time when cordless tools powered by litihium-ion batteries will be standard for most remodelers. Robillard says the technology has progressed so much it now “seems like [manufacturers are] competing for the last 2 percent of improvements.” In the future, he continues, batteries will work better in the cold, hold a longer charge and function in all tool platforms. Chargers will get smarter, he says, and be able to charge all platforms, as well as give quick boosts.
Feld sees more good news around the corner. He says, “In coming years, batteries will allow users to benefit from even longer run times, thanks to increased amp-hour capacity (bigger gas tank) and even higher-energy-density cells, which will be able to pack even more power per cell. This will allow users to work even longer without sacrificing performance, size or weight.”