Future of cordless tools is in lithium ion power

Posted Oct. 10, 2008, at 7:13 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:59 a.m.

Many of the tools we use today are cordless. What a revolution we have lived through over the past 20 years regarding these tools.

My first cordless tool was a Makita 9.6-volt cordless drill. It was a like a gift from God, when you consider that I was usually on a roof somewhere drilling holes without an extension cord.

At some point someone lent me a small cordless Makita saw. It had a 3-inch-diameter blade that was perfect for cutting clapboards while on staging.

Fast-forward to October 2008. Many box stores sell kits of cordless tools that are 18 volts up to 36 volts. They have cordless drill-screwdrivers, a circular saw that is at least 5 inches in diameter that can cut two-by-fours with ease, a reciprocating saw and a flashlight.

I used to think the flashlight was just to bump up the tool count, which is probably true. It is, however, a great asset when skulking around old, dark basements or attics.

These tools are amazingly affordable. Their cost has come down as the variety and volume of choices have increased from many manufacturers.

A tool kit of cordless tools seems, to me, to be a perfect wedding present.

When we were rebuilding our present home, I had removed the electric service while we rebuilt the walls where the service would be reinstalled. I had a big plastic garbage bag full of 18-volt batteries that I carried like Santa to the job site every day. When I ran out of batteries, it was time to go home. The batteries usually outlasted me, so they really egged me on to do more work that way.

For a number of years, these tools have used nickel cadmium batteries, also known as nicads, as a power source. They usually had a decent life expectancy and have a good track record. Today, most manufacturers are starting to offer a new alternative, lithium ion batteries.

Lithium ion batteries are used in cell phones and computers and are amazing. They afford cordless power tools more power and longer usage in between recharging.

The testing I have done indicates that they last about twice as long on a charge. And they seem to have a lot more moxie than nicads. Many cordless power tool manufacturers have offered a battery upgrade that allows you to use these new batteries with your current tools. Of course, all those nicads I have lugged around for years started to give up their spirit right before the lithium ion batteries came out, so I had just bought some new nicads to replace the oldies.

Being the cheap person that I am, I bought only a couple of new nicads. When I got a lithium set, the future was clear. If you are buying power tools, do not waste your time with nicads. Get the lithium ion batteries; you will not be disappointed.

There is a sidebar to cordless power tool batteries. I believe that as these batteries become more pervasive, the cost will drop. More important, the use of lithium ion batteries in automobiles also will become pervasive. The Tesla electric car (yes, I know it costs $100,000) uses lithium ion batteries to go more than 200 miles on a charge.

We are watching the future of a new technology taking hold with these batteries. Imagine what your grandfather would think of these tools, not to mention the cars.

Questions for Tom Gocze may be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.

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