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Thread: Myths about power tools

  1. #1

    Default Myths about power tools

    Hi there, was lurking around and decided to register. I frequent all major woodworking forums and tool blogs and noticed there is a massive brand bias and misinformation about cordless power tools and batteries.

    I owned, used and tested numerous tools from various manufacturers and did A LOT of research regarding batteries and their chemistries, discharge patterns, shelf life etc.

    Hopefully my post will be useful to you to clarify some misconceptions in woodworking community.
    ---------------------------------------------------------

    1. Memory effect in NiCd batteries
    First of all, I would like to talk about NiCd batteries and "memory effect" so many people talk about.
    Memory Effect will only happen if the battery is charged and then partially discharged to a specific exact voltage over and over. This process causes active elements inside the cells clump together into bigger chunks thus reducing the active surface area for energy storage.

    Because of irregular loads and irregular charge and discharge cycles, power tool batteries are not affected by memory effect whatsoever. IT DOES NOT EXIST in power tools batteries.

    There are at least a dozen of reasons for a NiCd battery to lose capacity, and laymen ALWAYS blame it on memory effect. IT DOES NOT affect power tools.

    References:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory_effect
    http://www.dansdata.com/gz011.htm


    2. NiMH Batteries

    Makita pioneered NiMH cells into mainstream but never succeeded to convince other manufacturers to go along. One of the pitches was absense of "memory effect". Read #1 in regards to this. NiMH cells are great, they are light and have higher energy density (2.4 Ah NiCd is the same size as 3 Ah NiMH), relatively cheap and long lasting. One problem: self-discharge rate and maximum current. NiMH cells self-discharge nearly twice as fast as NiCd and can not provide high currents that NiCd can. NiMH cells also last approx 30% less than NiCd cells when it comes to charge-discharge cycles.

    3. Lithium Ion Batteries

    Not all lithium ion batteries are the same. There are hundreds of various chemistries and they all have different properties.

    DeWalt uses Lithium Iron Nano Phosphate or LiFePO4 chemistry in their 14.4/18/28/36 volt NANO batteries which provides very long life (15% capacity loss after 1000 charge-discharge cycles), very high currents (70 Amperes per cell continuous, 120 A for 10 sec), great safety (slow venting in case of perforation or 100% short), resistant to overcharge, medium energy density (1.1 Ah for 18mm cells and 2.3 Ah for 26mm cells). Same cells (18mm) are used in Black and Decker VPX line.

    Makita, Ridgid, Bosch, Ryobi, Panasonic, Skil use Lithium-Manganese cells which have relatively long life (40-60% capacity loss after 500 cycles) but not as good as DeWalt, moderate discharge current (15 A per cell) and moderate safety (can detonate if shorted or overcharged). Do not tolerate overcharging and perform poorly in cold weather.

    Milwaukee uses Lithium-Manganese Oxide Spinel cells which allows very high density (3 Ah per 26mm cell), high discharge currents (20 A) and fair battery life (6% capacity loss after 50 cycles).

    To sum it up, Dewalt are the most long lasting and the most powerful batteries with good capacity, Milwaukee have the highest capacity/weight ratio and shortest life span and Makita, Ridgid, Bosch, Ryobi, Panasonic, Skil sit right in between.

    4. Torque Ratings

    Never trust what the box says when buying impact drivers or drills. Manufacturers often measure peak torque by driving a screw into a predrilled hole in steel until the drill/impact stops and then use a torque wrench to unscrew it, measuring how much torque it takes to unscrew it. This is not an accurate measure and is often overblown. Makita rates their LXT drills as 560 in-lbs @ 300 rpm and Dewalt as 450 in-lbs @ 450 RPM. If you ever tried drilling wood using large auger bits or large hole saws, you will see Makita's drills poop out almost immediately while dewalt keep going until they twist your arm. This is partially bacause of battery design, but the point is Makita is NOT more powerful than Dewalt. For average everyday application you will not see any difference, but in extreme conditions Dewalt wins. Do not make your purchasing decision based on what the box says, look at the price, battery type, voltage, weight and features.

    5. Brand Bias


    A lot of contractors buy 1-2 tools of a specific brand, hear 1 bad story about anoher brand and make a definitive decision not to buy that brand. A lot of people bash Delta or Porter cable but praise Dewalt, even though all three are owned by Black & Decker. Milwaukee, Ridgid and Ryobi are owned by Tektronic International / One World Technologies. Craftsman doesn't even make their tools, they are made by anybody from Makita to Ridgid to a hundred other manufacturers. People bash Craftsman and then go and buy identical Makita compressor or Ridgid table saw made on the same factory.A lot of people praise Festool because it's so "good". My personal opinion is that they make tools with nice features, but they have a lot of plastic and flimsy parts and will simply fall apart on a typical construction site. Makita's 15 Amp recip saw is much better than Milwaukee's sawzall in terms of features and vibration, yet a lot of people stick to Sawzall because it's "historically" good. Dewalt's 18v jig saw is much better than any 18v jig saw out there, but people buy flimsy Makita LXT with acrylic blade change lever. Bosch makes awesome SDS rotary hammers but people stick to overpriced Hilti.

    Do your research!

    6. Ridgid is NOT owned By Home Depot in any way, shape or form, don't listen to HD reps.
    HD is merely a distributor with a contract.

    Hope this is useful!
    Last edited by DRC-Wartex; 10-21-2008 at 11:23 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Hello drc-wartex, welcome to the forum and thanks for a great post. You are certainly right that there are a lot of misconceptions out there, and a lot of people make a lot of bad decisions based solely on things like price, name brand, or some anecdote that some friend told them. I've often advocated here that the best way to research a tool is actually to try it. Find a store that has a good return policy, buy the thing on credit, and take it home for a week and put it through the paces. Don't trust the price tag, don't trust the box, don't trust the colour or the brand name, and don't trust what some dude told you some friend of his said about that tool, but rather trust your own experience!

    Once nitpik with your post:

    Quote Originally Posted by DRC-Wartex View Post
    Milwaukee, Ridgid and Ryobi are owned by Tektronic International / One World Technologies.
    Technically that's not completely correct. Tektronic International, AKA TTI, does own Milwaukee and Ryobi outright, as seen from their webpage here where they list the brands they own. Ridgid, however, is not owned by TTI. As it says on their webpage here, Ridgid is owned by Emerson Electronics. The confusion happens because Ridgid subcontracts to TTI to build most of their powertools. This does not include, however, their handtools, plumbing tools, or shop vacs. All the same, the Ridgid, Ryobi and Milwaukee saws and drills do all end up coming out of the same factory, so in the end the point is a little moot, but just to be technical!

  3. #3

    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    You are correct about Emerson, some stuff is made by Metabo for them (hammerdrills and grinders). I'm aware of this and was just simplifying.

    Nitpick with your post: It's Emerson Electric, not Electronic.

    Milwaukee sawzalls are made in USA, some air tools are also made in USA.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    I guess that your research just confirms what many have found.. one can no longer judge quality solely based on the reputation of the brand.
    I suspect that even the major publications that conduct studies and provide comparisons and ultimately ratings may be a bit biased based on who's toes they may tread on. After all, ad $ are essential to all but a very few mags. 'Woodworking" is an ad-free example, but they aren't truly independent either because they are owned by one of the majors too.
    I look mainly for actual user experience and feedback on individual tools or equipment, preferably from those I know and trust, and it's proven to be most honest and reliable. Forums like this one are great sources of info and advice.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Glad to see you aboard. Very interseting post, I love strong opinion one way or another.
    I'll only add to this statement. "Bosch makes awesome SDS rotary hammers but people stick to overpriced Hilti." Hilti does also have exceptional after sales service to their clients and offer many other construction related products that make them a useful one stop shop.
    They have real sales people with great product knowledge and know how to take care of clients. Having said that yes they are crazy expensive for small contractors.
    Paul

  6. #6

    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Hilti can afford post-sales support because you pay a premium for it. Bosch offers to replace a tool with a loaner while you are on site so you don't have lost time, Hilti doesn't. Don't get me wrong, Hilti is the best hen it comes to concrete and measuring. I have a Hilti PD30 laser rangemeter and I think this is the best thing since sliced bread.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    I've got a couple of their lasers too, awesome.
    Paul

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    I have used dozens of Hilti products over the years. As new models came along, our old ones were up graded. All I can say is I'm glad I wasn't paying for them. Our first set of powder actuated nail guns was too good a deal to pass up. Buy $1000.00 worth of shot and pin and you get the gun free. We got five guns that way but that was over 20 years ago.
    A couple of years ago they lent us a cordless electric impact driver to try out. I had it for a week and I was really impressed but it wasn't long enough to really put it through it's paces.
    I told my boss I was really impressed with it and when he got the price...he went and bought me a Maxim impact driver. It lasted all of a week and then it was garbage.
    There is no questioning the quality of Hilti tools and service but boy you sure pay for it.

    While we're on the subject...My brother also owns a door company and he uses cordless impact drivers for everything. He has tried them all and was about to give up on them when someone steered him to Panasonic. At 400 bucks a pop he was a bit hesitant at first but he bought one to try it out and now he owns 6 of them.
    I've used them when helping him out and they are a top quality tool.
    Impact drivers seem to go through batteries like crazy but these Panasonic drivers do heavy work all day without any problem.
    FWIW
    J.P. Rap Mount Hope Ont.
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  9. #9

    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Long ago when I got my first cordless drills, Makita 9.6 volt stick battery, I heard stories about the memory NiCad thing and as there was no mention in the Makita manual I wrote Makita Canada a letter asking about charging and discharging. They wrote back saying the way the Makita batteries were designed there would be no memory problems and I should use and charge as required. Those 9.6 batteries had a good long life and those drills were good - I have 6 of them and they have been worked hard but still carry on.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Great post, welcome aboard. Totally agree with the Festool statement. A buddy and I did a race with a dewalt 18v vs a makita 18v, both L-Ion, driving a 6 inch screw into a solid fir post. Dewalt won hands down, once with the batteries full charge and again at a lower charge. The dewalt operator had time to put his drill down and pick up his coffee cup before my makita was finished. Makita is lighter and is my preference because of that, but I sure am impressed with the speed and power of the dewalt.

    Good info you posted there, thanks.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    I have to disagree with the Festool statement. Airbus makes a plane with a lot of "plastic" parts, and 20 years ago a lot of experts were predicting that they were throw away planes and wouldn't last. Still going strong. There are many different types of plastic. I use a Festool vac and sanders, jigsaws on job sites regularly and all have stood up very well (almost 5 years now). Just my opinion after 5 years of hands on assessment.

    Steve
    If a man speaks in the forest, and there's no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Yes, not all plastics are created equal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineering_plastic

  13. #13
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    Default NiCad Memory

    I used to be into model R/C Aircraft and NiCad memory was a big topic, something about loosing control of an aircraft that cost hundreds of hours to build and was using a 1.5HP engine to drive a prop at 12,000 RPM and having it hit someone, go figure.

    The statement about discharging to an exact discharge level was never really mentioned but how to "fix" the problem was. Typically we would use high end charging systems that would automatically turn off at the end of the charge cycle. Most "regular" units have a tendency to fry the cells by overcharging them. The other thing that was done was to have a battery cycler which would go through one or more charge/discharge cycles to break the memory. I remember having a set of cells that had been on the shelf for years. They had self discharged and I thought they were probably trash. I put them through the cycler and went from a 80 minute discharge time to 120 minutes in three cycles, further conditioning didn't change the discharge timing appreciably and I still use them in a flashlight.

    I think the main causes of power tool battery death are:

    1. Overcharging - The charger is made dumb to save a few pennies;
    2. Self Discharge - All batteries, rechargeables in particular, loose charge just sitting on the shelf. How fast is a characteristic of the particular storage technology, NiCad is different from Lithium Ion etc as well as the particular implementation within the type. Pros use their tools every day (hopefully), amateurs may not use some batteries for weeks or months. Discharging too far can damage the cells;
    3. Incomplete Charge/Discharge cycles - All cells have a a certain number of Charge/Discharge cycles before they die. If you are constantly discharging to around 50% and then recharging then your battery will die twice as fast as it needs to. I once worked at a warehouse that used electric forklifts. They went from plugging the tow motor in at the end of a shift to using a "battery bull" ( a.k.a. charging station). When the battery on a unit was fully discharged the operator went to the bull and exchanged it for a newly charged one. That meant the tow motors were in service most of the time and the batteries were being charged/discharged optimally. Savings due to the new sytem paid off the $60,000 cost in 6 months; and
    4. Over use - if you discharge a cell too much it will be damaged and not work as well. The point where damage occures is dependant on the storage technology. You want to use the full duty cycle of the cell without discharging it too far.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: NiCad Memory

    Quote Originally Posted by fdaluet View Post
    I used to be into model R/C Aircraft and NiCad memory was a big topic, something about loosing control of an aircraft that cost hundreds of hours to build and was using a 1.5HP engine to drive a prop at 12,000 RPM and having it hit someone, go figure.
    I have friends back home who are big into r/c airplanes, I was into r/c drag racing and some circuit racing. After the first world championships for 1/12th r/c most of us who showed up - and were flogged badly by the US and Japanese pros - began building packs that allowed us to charge one cell at a time to maximise the charge we could shove in without frying the cells. It helped if the cells were "matched" but even after a couple of charges you would have a completely mismatched set. The big thing to improving the performance of those early nicads was hooking a set of resistors across each cell after a race to "zero them down" before allowing them to rest for at least 20 minutes and then hooking up to the charger(s). Tedious, but I found some benefit to it especially with the r/c drag cars where you needed every volt/amp you could find and we were only using the packs for 1.5 to 2.5 seconds per race - separate packs for the radio gear of course. Totally useless way of doing things in the tool world naturally.
    Ahhh drag racing...... how I do miss thee! r/c and full size..... especially the full size stuff..... you know what they say...... petrol is for washing parts, alcohol is for drinking and nitro is for racing
    www.sppss.com
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  15. #15

    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Hello all.

    I'm not debating any points brought up so far. I just wanted to say that wikipedia is never a reliable source of information. That is all.,
    Last edited by Spokeshaven; 10-23-2008 at 02:37 PM.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Spokeshaven View Post
    Hello all.

    I'm not debating any points brought up so far. I just wanted to say that wikipedia is never a reliable source of information. That is all.,
    This is incorrect. There have been numerous studies showing that it is in fact at least as accurate as most main stream encyclopedias. It is also my understanding that numerous encyclopedias are now using wikipedia as their source for information.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4530930.stm


    To be more on topic, I have yet to have any of my power tools that contain plastic to be broken. This includes my hitachi drill that I have dropped off the top of my house three times onto the driveway.


    Ian

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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Quote Originally Posted by IanW View Post
    This is incorrect. There have been numerous studies showing that it is in fact at least as accurate as most main stream encyclopedias. It is also my understanding that numerous encyclopedias are now using wikipedia as their source for information.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4530930.stm

    Ian
    I think both of you are wrong. You cannot make a single blanket statement about all of wikipedia. The only absolute claim you can make about wikipedia is that it belies any absolute claims! Original research is not allowed on wikipedia, so theoretically all authors must document their sources, and those documented sources are supposed to be reliable. However, in practice the quality of that practice varies. Some articles are well written and well researched by experts in that field, while others are written by rank amateurs. It truly is a mixed bag - like shopping at canadian tire!

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Quote Originally Posted by callee View Post
    I think both of you are wrong. You cannot make a single blanket statement about all of wikipedia. The only absolute claim you can make about wikipedia is that it belies any absolute claims! Original research is not allowed on wikipedia, so theoretically all authors must document their sources, and those documented sources are supposed to be reliable. However, in practice the quality of that practice varies. Some articles are well written and well researched by experts in that field, while others are written by rank amateurs. It truly is a mixed bag - like shopping at canadian tire!
    In other words, Caveat Emptor!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caveat_emptor

  19. #19

    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Evans View Post
    I have to disagree with the Festool statement. Airbus makes a plane with a lot of "plastic" parts, and 20 years ago a lot of experts were predicting that they were throw away planes and wouldn't last. Still going strong. There are many different types of plastic. I use a Festool vac and sanders, jigsaws on job sites regularly and all have stood up very well (almost 5 years now). Just my opinion after 5 years of hands on assessment.

    Steve
    My uncle works for Air Canada as both pilot and a mechanic. He maintains them all the time. All critical and load-bearing components are made of metal like any other plane. Airbus is NOT "still going strong" as they release newer versions and install upgraded parts and planes undergo A LOT of maintenance, and like someone mentioned, Festool does not use aircraft-grade plastics because your sander will cost as much as A320's landing gear. Airbuses do not experience constant bashing that power tools experience on a typical construction site as well.

    Second, the tools that you have are cheap and don't contain small parts. Try buying a Kapex saw for $1300 and drop it on the side diagonally from a 2ft height. This is the bottom of the saw:



    I can tell you exactly where it's going to break.

    Now do the same with any Makita or Dewalt miter and you will see nothing is going to happen to it.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Myths about power tools

    Ok here is one for you. Actually I have a few questions wich I will put in here but break them up.

    1. I used to own a Dewalt 5 pack of tools and at least 3 other 18 volt drills. They worked fine until the batts died on me. I did everything I could to keep them in top shape. Even that effort did not help me use them longer. Such as recharging when I noticed the speed dropping instead of killing the batts right dead. Ect. I got rid of them at a pawn shop and bought my Hitachi drill. Dewalt still makes some great tools. They still make one of the best skill saws out there. Top 3 anyway with PC and Makita. Skill super saws are still ranked up there too. Cordless tools though I still find they suck. They use cheap parts to bring their price points down. I saw a plumber twist the drive unit off the T handle of his drill going though a stud.

    2. I was told by my tool repair place (Which I trust very much as they have never steared me wrong on anything even when my tools would die and how.) that all or at least most batteries were made by Panasonic. They alspo said they had different class of batteries A being the best down to e and f being the worst. Of course tool makers like Ryobi bought the **** batteries and panisonic would keep their latest trick for them selves. WHa tis your take on this?

    3 Where does Hitachi cordless tools sit with you? I have their 18 volt LIon and love it. It has all the power I could ask for. The batteries shut off when they need charging to prevent damaging them. I can't see owning any other drill.

    4 What about Matabo? Their direction changing switches on their drills seam top notch and their power system to prevent damage to the motor seams to work wonderfull. If the bit get bogged down it will take some of the power and shift it so the motor keeps turning at the same speed and not burn out. The bit may slow down but it still dows its job without damaging the motor. To chang ethe direction of the drill you have a switch on each side of the motor that moves the brushes. You wind up knocking any dust out of them and cleaning the brushes when the change the direction of the drill. Fantastic hammer drill and I love rtheir reciprocating saws too. Well built very solid. They don't feal like you will break them by picking them up.

    5 I am surprised by your assesment of Festool. Many wood workers seam to glow when they talk about theirs.

    If you can comment of these things I would appreciate it.
    Last edited by Greg from K/W; 10-24-2008 at 09:31 PM.

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