The Trouble With Cordless Power Tools

If you grow up around a small engineering business you are likely to gain something of an appreciation for power tools. You’ll see them of all ages, sizes, manufacturers, and technologies. When thinking of the power tools constantly on hand in the workshop of a blacksmith like my dad for instance, I’m instantly seeing a drill and an angle grinder. The drill that most comes to mind is a Makita mains powered hand drill, and given that I remember the day he bought it to replace his clapped-out Wolf in 1976, it has given phenomenal service over four decades and continues to do so.

41 years of hard use, and still going strong.
41 years of hard use, and still going strong…

Of course, the Makita isn’t the only drill in his possession. A variety of others of different sizes and speeds have come and gone over the years, and there is always one at hand for any given task. The other one I’d like to single out is I think the most recent acquisition, a Bosch cordless model he bought several years ago. It’s similar in size and capabilities to the Makita save for its bulky battery pack, and it is a comparably decent quality tool.

So, we have two drills, both of similar size, and both of decent quality. One is from the mid 1970s, the other from the end of the last decade. One is a very useful tool able to drill holes all day, the other is little more than a paperweight. The vintage model from the days of flared trousers is a paperweight, you ask? No, the not-very-old Bosch, because its battery pack has lost its capacity. The inevitable degradation due to aged cell chemistry has left it unable to hold enough charge for more than maybe a minute’s use, and what was once a tool you’d be glad to own is now an ornament.

... Not so many years of light use, can't say the same.
… Not so many years of light use, can’t say the same.

Naturally, this will not be unfamiliar to most Hackaday readers. We’ve all been offered a pile of dead cordless tools over the years, and as writers we’ve covered quite a few inventive hacks using them. They’re a useful source of motors and sometimes even speed controllers, even if you don’t want to use them as tools.

Comparing the Makita and the Bosch as exemplars of the two strands of power tool ownership, I have though to admit an unease over the rise of cordless tools, and a dislike of the marketing that surrounds them. In converting their customers to cordless tools, the manufacturers have found a way to get them to buy the same tool from them every five years or so when there is nothing wrong with their previous tool, simply because its battery pack has reached the end of its lifetime. Battery pack form factors change with each successive generation of tools, so the customer can not merely buy a new battery pack and move on. Great for the manufacturers, awful for the consumers.

Meanwhile of course, the marketing machine is in full swing pushing the convenience of cordless tools. Amazingly this often concentrates on those problematic batteries themselves, for example where this is being written the manufacturer of those lime-green power tools has a commercial promoting a range of tools that all have the same battery. The idea presumably being that after five years you won’t simply have to replace your drill due to a dead battery, you’ll have to replace all your tools!

"You might as well take that lot away with you Kevin, I'll have to replace them all in a few years anyway!". (Ryobi TV)
“You might as well take that lot away with you Kevin, I’ll have to replace them all in a few years anyway!”. (Ryobi TV)

Of course, a full-on rant against power tool built-in obsolescence is of little use though without some kind of solution. If we’re to identify a problem then we should also provide some way out of it, at least a way that works for we hardware hackers and makers if not for the wider public.

The most obvious way to avoid cordless tool obsolescence is to not buy a cordless tool in the first place. Think carefully, how often do you use a power tool away from a mains socket? Really how often, not just hypothetically. The chances are it won’t be that often, if at all, and buying an extension cord with your electric drill will be a lot cheaper than buying a replacement drill in five years time. And then there are the unexpected benefits, you forget just how lightweight a power tool is when it doesn’t have a battery pack strapped to its handle. Buy a tool with a cord, and like my dad with his Makita, you might still be using it in four decades from now.


But let’s say you have a cordless tool, and its battery is failing. Can you fix the battery? Of course you can. You are Hackaday readers, you’ll all be aware that inside almost all cordless tool batteries you’ll find a set of standard off-the-shelf cells wired together, C or D cells in the case of NiCd or NiMh packs, and maybe 18650 cells for LiIon. If you can defeat the efforts of your tool manufacturer to discourage battery pack dismantling, you can have them out on your bench, and replace them.

This is a rather nicely built tab welder we recently featured.
This is a rather nicely built tab welder we recently featured.

Of course, there is a snag to replacing cells in a pack. This isn’t like the spring-loaded battery compartment in your radio, each cell will have spot-welded metal strip conductors linking it to its neighbour, and you’ll have to come up with a way of replicating that. If you’re lucky you’ll find solderable batteries, otherwise you’ll have to consider a battery welder. But if you can overcome that hurdle, you should at least be able to replace your cells without breaking the bank.

You will be unlikely to find a tool with a NiCd battery for sale new these days, but there are still huge numbers of older ones with dead packs to be found often at next-to-no outlay. It’s not the safest of exploits, but it is possible to rejuvenate dead NiCd cells with the application of short bursts of high current. The theory goes that metal crystals grow in the cell and short it out, and the high current blows these metal crystals and brings the cell back to life. There are tales of this being performed with hefty bench power supplies, car batteries, and arc welders, though you may wish to research carefully before you give it a try.

Finally, who needs cells? If you have a suitably powerful low voltage supply, why not run your tool directly from it and forget about the battery pack? Of course, you lose the ability to run it as a cordless tool, but if it came to you at very little cost than that should present very little hardship. Try a modified PC power supply if it’s a 12 V tool, or a lead-acid pack if it isn’t.

So we’ve got past my rant about the iniquity of the built-in obsolescence of cordless power tools, and identified several ways that we as resourceful Hackaday readers can benefit from the cast-offs of others whose batteries have reached the end of their lives. It doesn’t change my personal view that I’d always still buy a tool with a cord by choice, but at least there are ways forward for those stuck with failing cordless tools. Do you share my feelings on this topic?

242 thoughts on “The Trouble With Cordless Power Tools

  1. ” Battery pack form factors change with each successive generation of tools, so the customer can not merely buy a new battery pack and move on. Great for the manufacturers, awful for the consumers.”

    One would think there would be a battery-aftermarket, or is this like the printer-ink market, DRM and legal alike?

      1. This.

        I have a `93 Makita cordless that’s still running strong on a very good NiMH pack from Amazon (~$20). The only adaptation was to get a second-hand NiMH charger from Ebay as well since the original NiCd charger wasn’t recommended. ( An $8 upgrade).

        The other thing that the author has missed is that the current “technology” seems to revolve around selling batteries and replacements, and essentially giving the tools away so you can do so, so the obsolescense window gets shorter (and given the increasing DRM/Chipped nature of these things, a lot nastier).

    1. Ryobi has maintained the same battery pack configuration on their 18V line for 15 years or more, even when they switched from NiCd to lithium and managed to make a lithium pack that will last for years. I just wish the tools were as good as the battery packs.

      1. Yup. +1 for Ryobi’s unchanging battery pack form. For just a few years, I had a useless Black and Decker NiCd drill combo. Orange. Firestorm, maybe? Then I made the switch to Ryobi. My oldest tools are the blue color scheme, which came with NiCd yellow batteries. Recently, I received a couple of 4ah lithiums to add to my collection, and I also have some slightly older, 2ah lithiums. I even have a couple of “back up” tools, from having bought sale packs on specials around Christmas. I guess I’m pretty close to 15 years in, myself. I love those tools- at least for average consumer stuff, anyway.

        1. Yeah I bought Ryobi when plus one came out, because it was affordable and I was broke-ish. 15 years later I’m amazed my cordless tools are still relevant. Pleasantly surprised by my uneducated decision at the time.

          1. We are in the same boat! I decided I liked the idea of one battery (type) and plunged in like yourself, I now have about 15 Ryobi tools including the lawnmower that takes 2 x 18V batteries but does all the garden grass (no cords, no petrol etc.). Same batteries as my drill, mitre saw, impact driver, mastic gun, circular saw…. etc.
            Not the greatest quality (comes with a 3 year warranty though), just destroyed my 2 week old SDS. I was emptying 5ah batteries every 3 minutes!…. don’t ask!

        1. Ridgid/Homedepot also just adopted a lifeftime warranty on all batteries purchased with a tool(in the same box). As long as you register the battery and tool online, and keep the original Home Depot receipt, you have a lifetime warranty. Some tools need about a month to repair, but if your a non-profesional that isn’t a huge issue, if you are a professional, you should have more than one tool as a backup. I have about $3000 worth of tools, and I have returned 2 batteries no questions asked for an instant swap out. But I think if they didn’t stock the particular part anymore it may take a while for them to repair. Or if I returned a device that had water damage/ been dropped off a roof, they would look at me funny or at most deny me. I think they are banking on most not registering and keeping their receipts.

          1. You do realize the catch to that lifetime warranty, right? Once they switch their battery pack format again, they’ve nothing to give you as a replacement. Will they then give you a whole new tool with the new battery? If so and that’s hassle free, great but I wouldn’t buy the brand hoping for that unless you can get it in writing.

          2. well did you every try to get a replacement battery from Rigid.? I did and this is the short version of the story…After navigating thru all the paper work (god help you if you did not register the product or lost your receipt). I had to wait six months for the battery to arrive. I kept getting the answer that the batteries where not in stock, delays from China etc. By the time I finally got the battery my hammer drill had finally broken…it did last ten years…I will give them that. On the other hand my 21 year old Bosch corded hammer drill is still working just fine…Just plug it in…no hassles..

      2. Bought a set of cordless Ryobi around year 2000. The upgrade to lithium was great. It holds more charge now and almost recharges faster than i can finish my coffee/snack break. If someone bought a brand that switches battery compatibility every few years then i’d ditch that brand. They obviously don’t care about the long-term support of their products.

        1. I too, love that Ryobi kept the same battery format but there are valid reasons why most manufacturers switched, such as optimizing the size and shape of the packs for 18650 cells, not wasting space with that stem that Ryobi has when it was formerly used to hold 1 x of the sub-C NiCd cells but today is just empty space making the handle larger, and the biggest reason is that if you have a double sided blade contact (per contact) instead of the single sided Ryobi has, you can deliver more current. Notice how the newer Ryobi tools and batteries now have an additional two contacts for this purpose, for example on their current gen 3Ah/6Ah/9Ah batt packs. The older batteries will work with the newer tools and vice versa but it does limit the performance.

      3. I haven’t been able to pin down exactly what year Ryobi started their ONE+ battery system, but I bet it’s close to 20 years ago. You can still buy new NiCd ONE+ batteries and they’ll work in ALL of the ONE+ tools ever made. Same goes for all the Lithium-Ion ONE+ batteries.

        There are two grades of LiIon ONE+ batteries. The better ones have a built in LED bar graph charge meter, have a higher capacity and use a newer chemistry that works in colder temperatures.

        There’s only ever been one style of NiCd ONE+ battery while the LiIon ones come in several capacities. For higher draw tools you want the batteries that are the thicker style because they have two sets of cells in parallel for both more capacity and the ability to support higher amp draw. The thin ones will drop quickly in a saw.

        I don’t know why Ryobi skipped MiMH but some people rebuild the NiCD batteries with NiMH cells. The chargers work fine with them.

        That’s another nice thing about ONE+, the chargers for LiIon also charge the NiCD batteries. The older chargers of course don’t handle LiIon but no worries, they won’t be damaged because they were made incompatible with the charge state sensing of the NiCd batteries.

        I bet when some new battery technology comes along that puts Lithium-Ion in the shade, Ryobi will add it to the ONE+ system and the batteries will still work with 30+ year old tools.

        The upside of such longevity is that ONE+ tools are easy to find used and also pretty cheap.

        1. Ryobi introduced 18V ONE+ in 1995 with NiCd batteries that were all black. A bit later a slightly higher capacity black and yellow NiCd was introduced. Lithium-Ion ONE+ came along in 2005, along with the neon green tools. There is one of those you may want to steer clear of, the P102. It’s their cheapest, lightest, lowest power battery. It comes with most of the lower power tools and the lower priced charger+battery kits.

          But it’s not because of that! The P102 has an issue with its over-discharge protection. If you run it down to the point where it shuts off *immediately* get it onto the charger. Don’t park it on a shelf for a couple of days or forget to turn the tool’s switch off (if it’s one that can lock on like a flashlight). Also don’t leave a P102 battery in an unplugged charger. Never leave any ONE+ battery in an unplugged charger.

          1. Did this happen to you? If so, what tool? I run my batteries down on a vacuum and don’t seem to have that problem. Curious about how many people see this issue.

          2. The issue is somewhat present on ALL Li-Ion batteries, as it should be. If a battery drains too low it gets damaged (even a fire risk) so they have to be conservative on the low voltage cutoff to leave a little margin so it doesn’t drop below this critical voltage from sitting around and self discharging, but with a lower capacity battery you can’t set that cutoff too high or the runtime is terrible. IMO they simply realized this and set the cutoff more conservatively once they had higher capacity batteries.

      4. +another for Ryobi. Bought my old setup probably 2001. I still have them today. I’ve added a TON of tools to the set and of course changed out the NiCd’s to Lion a while back.

        At the time my ex-father-in-law laughed at my decision to buy the $200ish set on sale vs his $1600 dewalt set…

        16 years later I’m still on all the original tools. I’ve finished my first house small basement (500sq ft) current house basement (1600 sq ft, 3 bedroom 1 bath, full kitchen) done 4 decks (my own and neighbors) and they are still kickin’….

        Oh and a 10×12 shed….

      5. Came to say the same. Ryobi 4 lyfe here. You can buy a new battery and plop it in a 15 year old tool, or vice versa. I also have tons of lights and weird things like a radio, glue gun, and air compressor that all run on the same batteries. Their system is just genius.

  2. Interesting choice in calling out the Ryobi’s on the battery rant. I’m still using Ryobi cordless tools from 15yrs ago…. When they were still blue and not a home Depot house brand. I’ve replaced the batteries a few times, but the tools themselves actually work better than before because the packs are now lithium ion instead of nicad.

    Not all tools have been supported that long, but even the DeWalt have adapters for the older tools to keep them working.

  3. Cordless tools = good in theory, but failing easily, and always out of juice just when you need them.
    For that reason I use corded tools whenever possible. I still got some Jacobs drills from the 1960s :) in working condition.

    I tried connecting an old PC power supply to dead 18 V cordless tool, but current at 12 V was insufficient to get the tool working. At 5 V it would not turn.

    I keep those old cordless tools in the hope I will use them as geared motors, or even generators for Savonius turbine one day :) Gearing is there.

    1. Cordless tools use a lot of amps. 50-100 isn’t uncommon for the more professional ones. You’ll need a server psu or a surplus bench supply (unless you want to rewind and ATX psu) to get one turning.

      1. lol, no, there are no cordless tools that use anywhere near 100 amps. The power density would be too high, the batteries can’t deliver that, and the battery contacts can’t either. Typically the pro tools use at most, around 500W per 18V/20V battery. That’s about 25 amps.

        1. Bosch ProCORE batteries can deliver up to 90 A, which at 18 V is about 1.6 kW. They also have 18 V tools that can take advantage of that sort of current (think large rotary hammers or angle grinders). But yes, most 18 V tools will use much less than that.

          1. Nope, it can deliver “up to” 90A in short bursts, not sustained, where it also wouldn’t stay as high as 18V. Even then, that doesn’t at all mean that putting one of those in an rotary hammer or angle grinder would result in anywhere near 90A, no not at all. They (the tools) are designed to have near peak performance using contemporary batteries and this is why most tool brands are now ramping up 40V and 60V tools, because it become unmanageable to try to put more than a few dozen amps through a tool. It isn’t remotely cost effective to do that when you can just double the voltage and not have the vDroop through the pack and control circuit.

            Take a look at their great angle grinders and see what they say about them, quote “Delivers power equal to a 1,000 W corded grinder due to brushless motor and ProCORE18V battery technology”. In other word,s they are saying that since their brushless motor is more efficient than a 1000W brushed motor, they can achieve the same power (which is a misuse of the word, not power, rather performance) with less than 1000W, which is true but it also mean it is less than 1000W. That is a good thing, you don’t want your tool to have terribly short runtimes.

            On that note, it should be obvious enough if you think about it. If a grinder were to use even 50A avg, from an 8Ah battery, it couldn’t even run for 10 minutes. We both know they can run longer than 10 minutes. Math for the win.

          2. “Up to 90 A” is literally what I said. And Bosch claims that’s continuous current, not “short bursts”, nor do they say anywhere that the voltage would drop below 18 V.

            Also, Bosch promises up to 1500 W corded tool performance for their upcoming Biturbo angle grinders, and up to 1800 W for circular saws. For rotary hammers, they’re promising up to 12.5 J of impact energy, which in corded hammers corresponds to 1500 W. Even if they’re comparing to corded tools with brushed motors (which, again, is not explicitly stated anywhere that I can see), that’s still more than 1000 W of actual power.

            And yes, I’m aware cordless tools can run for more than 10 minutes. I wasn’t suggesting that they would pull 90 A continuously, simply refuting your claims that batteries cannot deliver (or the tools make use of) that much current. Although I admit the comment you were replying to was off the mark as well.

            As for battery voltage, most tool brands are in fact sticking to 18-20 V as the primary platform. 36 V seems common in outdoor power equipment, but in most cases increasing amperage is the way to go. Manufacturers are already putting more cells in parallel to get more runtime, and that automatically gives you the potential for more amperage as well. Yes, wires and connectors will need to be able to handle the current, but that’s not really as big an issue as you’re making it out to be. Meanwhile, putting more cells in series to increase voltage means a bulkier battery just to maintain the same ampere-hour rating as a lower-voltage battery. Not to mention one does not “just double the voltage” without considering safety regulations, component voltage ratings, etc.

          3. “Up to 90 A” is literally what I said. And Bosch claims that’s continuous current, not “short bursts”, nor do they say anywhere that the voltage would drop below 18 V.

            Also, Bosch promises up to 1500 W corded tool performance for their upcoming Biturbo angle grinders, and up to 1800 W for circular saws. For rotary hammers, they’re promising up to 12.5 J of impact energy, which in corded hammers corresponds to 1500 W. Even if they’re comparing to corded tools with brushed motors (which, again, is not explicitly stated anywhere that I can see), that’s still more than 1000 W of actual power.

            And yes, I’m aware cordless tools can run for more than 10 minutes. I wasn’t suggesting that they would pull 90 A continuously, simply providing a counterpoint to your claims that batteries cannot deliver (or the tools make use of) that much current. Although I admit the comment you were replying to was off the mark as well.

            As for battery voltage, most tool brands are in fact sticking to 18-20 V as the primary platform. 36 V seems common in outdoor power equipment, but in most cases increasing amperage is the way to go. Manufacturers are already putting more cells in parallel to get more runtime, and that automatically gives you the potential for more amperage as well. Yes, wires and connectors will need to be able to handle the current, but that’s not really as big an issue as you’re making it out to be. Meanwhile, putting more cells in series to increase voltage means a bulkier battery just to maintain the same ampere-hour rating as a lower-voltage battery. Not to mention one does not “just double the voltage” without considering safety regulations, component voltage ratings, etc.

          4. Increasing amperage is not the way to go past (very) few dozen amps. You strike me as someone who read some marketing material but does not understand the tech behind the batteries or tools. ALL batteries suffer voltage droop at high current, a function of their internal resistance, but also with current that high, even the contacts and wiring itself causes substantial additional losses.

            Yes you can just keep putting bigger cells in and parallel them in a pack to get higher current, but past a certain point it is a bad design with more problems than benefits compared to just increasing voltage.

            Yes most tools are still at 18V, because they don’t consume much if anything more than 500W.

            Let’s wait and see how that pans out. Right now it looks like a very expensive way to end up with an inferior tool compared to using higher voltage. Yes it is outdoor tools often having higher voltage but didn’t you wonder why that is? It’s because they are higher wattage and it is most beneficial to move to higher voltage to support that. They are already doing, what I stated because the problems with the tools themselves consuming that much current, have been known for 100 years.

      1. Yep, I have that one, too. Got it from my father-in-law, who had used it for the last 25-30 years. Lots of torque, too; it’ll seriously tweak your wrist if you do it wrong.

        I love it.

        1. I got one too. Still in good shape. Nowadays I use a battery pwd drill driver a lot, but the Makita packs a good punch and it’s chuck grabs a round shank a lot better.

    2. You might want to try to modify the power supply to give more than 12 V. It’s not very hard, there is probably a resistor divider there that can be modified. I modded one to give about 14 V for 3D printer, but I’ve heard that they can go somewhere around 50 V (might require more hacking though) and most output caps will need to be replaced then. It should give the original rating of power at higher voltage so it’s a very useful hack.

      1. Going from 12V to 18V requires a fairly extensive hack.
        Anything more the about 14V needs caps with higher voltage ratings, 18V will most likely also require rewinding the transformer, which means it’s complete disassembly, which is a PITA, as it’s epoxied together…even having it in boiling water (softens the epoxy) there’s still a good chance the ferrite will crack when you’re prying it apart.

        Personally I’d go with NOT modifying a laptop suppy, as they are 19V and have a higher IP rating. The beefy 150-200W ones should suffice.

      2. Might see what the voltage coming off the rectifier is (unfortunately probably way too high). If the voltage there is useful to you, just added some voltage-appropriate caps, and it might work out (additional filtering probably not very important here). I have also seen some older PSUs that have a tweaker pot to adjust some of the voltages (sometimes partially or completely covered in hotsnot).

    3. That’s true for NiCd/NiMH batteries. I hate them for that and buy new tools only with lithium batteries. They have (nearly) no self discharge and they have most times a quite accurate capacity display on the pack.

    4. I can only assume you have no experience of good quality cordless tools since about 15 years ago, particularly with the arrival of Li-ion batteries. The Makita 18V (MX battery) range is excellent and the thought of reverting to messing around with extensions again is utterly appalling. I simply can’t understand why *anyone* (with good experience of both types of tool) would want to have anything to do with mains-powered ones – unless it was for something very heavy-duty and/or over long periods of time – drilling lots of holes in masonry, for example.

    5. You’re using either weak, obsolete, or shit batteries from 2001…….Any Li Ion Ryobi battery that is at least 3.0 ah or higher will last my friend….. for example, My lovely cordless sds rotary hammer drill that I recently purchased, well it Drills 100s of 4 inch holes into concrete foundation like butter for rebar with plenty juice leftover. You either are using a yellow Ni Ca battery still,a shitty terrible 1.3 ah, or your battery is junk n needs recycling……

    6. Normal people just buy a 2nd battery and swap it out to keep working while the other battery recharges. Li-Ion batt packs self discharge very slowly so they aren’t always out of juice when you need them, don’t have to charge before use like people often had to do in the NiCd days.

      Regardless, if you really are a glutton for punishment, and want to tether a big switching PSU to the tool, you can get 18V PSU with 30A (for good margin) on ebay. I don’t see why though, far better to just buy a new battery, rebuild the battery with new cells, or get a corded tool instead.

  4. I have Ryobi 18V one+ powertools and love them. I bought my first set 15 years ago and the old tools use the same batteries as the new tools. And the old batteries work in the new tools(even though I get about 98 seconds of power from the old batteries.) Ryobi has made a commitment to keep the one+ system going for a long time and has done a wonderful job at it so far with new battery technology and new tools over the years and all cross compatible with the original one+ system. The only thing that’s not fully cross compatible is the older battery chargers but the new chargers work for the older batteries as well as the new ones so all is good!

    1. I can’t find a good link right now but what’s interesting to me is that Ryobi’s parent company manufacturers approximately everybody else’s power tools for them. Ryobi and Milwaukee are just brands they own and care about.

    2. Gotta say, I love Ryobi tools too. I remember my dad going through a lot of old tools and brands, but he had a Ryobi hammer drill and circular saw that never died (I think he still has them now, 15-ish years later). I bought one of the Ryobi one+ kits with two batteries, and I’ve never ran out of juice on them. Keep one pack on the charger, and swap out when needed (or leave on in the circular saw and one in the drill on a big project).

      I’ve been keeping my eyes out for any older one+ tools to add to my collection. Almost bought a second drill, jig-saw, and sawzall for $40 of Craigslist, but someone beat me to it.

      1. Love my one+ compound miter saw too. I am up to 12 batteries of 2 different sizes and 18 tools. Drills, saws, nailguns, etc. Even got the palm router which rocks! I’m using it to get into carving names into half cut down dead trees in peoples’ yards.

    3. I too like my Ryobi 18V One+ tools quite a bit– all except for the pathetically wimpy circular saw. I didn’t like the old batteries though. So when they came out with the batteries, I was a lot happier. I’ve had them for around 10+ years now, and the “new” batteries for going on five years and they’re still going strong.

      1. there is a new circular saw that has a larger blade…which means it can cut through a full 2×4 in one pass. Still not as powerful as my corded saw but I haven’t actually used the corded saw in 3 years. I build furniture and stuff. Do a lot with pallets and such too. Built my entire deck without corded tools even.

      2. Gotta get the p508 7 1/4 inch cordless circ saw. It can cut 45’s no problem. I had the 5 1/2 inch p501 for years so I’m definately familiar. Anything weaker than a 3 ah battery is gonna suck too. I use two 6 ahs and two 4 ahs and never run out of battery ever!

    4. I agree with Jenny and with Ray.

      As for Ryobi, they are one of the few companies that actually has kept the same style battery interface for many years and I believe they will continue to do so. I believe that has been a selling point for them at some point in the past.

      As for changing battery interface styles, I had some DeWalt power tools that lasted 16 years and were still working when I had to sell them when I moved. But after DeWalt had 3 different battery interfaces in about 5 years (the adapters were about $40 each) I left them for good and went to Milwaukee. I like that Milwaukee sells about 70 tools that use the same battery. While I wish they had a cheaper LED light, I’m still very pleased with them and plan to get 15+ years of use out of them. Supposedly DeWalt and their parent company Black and Decker have the smallest R&D departments of all the power tool companies. I changed because I don’t want to deal with a company that makes changes that affect my wallet so much and also that plays catch-up by following what others have done instead of developing new solutions on their own.

      While Jenny had some good points and I enjoy reading her articles more than many of the authors here, I choose cordless tools to avoid the hassle of cords. Battery replacement is not that big of a deal. Dealing with cords, especially around kids, is not worth the hassle to me. And when I’m installing electrical outlets, it’s also less of a practical option.

      Keep up the good work Jenny.

    1. Being unstoppable is a problem, it needs either a low voltage cutoff or at least a vow voltage warning. These cheap Li-po’s will stand up to being underdischarged.

        1. In the UK back in the 1947we changed from round pins to rectangular pins on outlets, so the age of the house dictated the type of outlet, as a result appliances came with no plug, this farcical situation continued into the 80s where everything changed and we got moulded plugs.
          This demonstrates the fact the we will in fact accept pretty much anything.

  5. The problem isn’t necessarily cordless tools, rather its the low quality of the batteries. I started with a 9.6V makita with the long stick batteries you see in the pic above. Those batteries lasted over 10 years. I bought a newer 19.2v drill and the batteries with it last maybe three years. The cheap black and decker, ryobi, etc that are sold at consumer prices have the cheapest cells in them which don’t last.

    1. You are overgeneralizing and it’s false more often than true. Ryobi uses major brand Li-Ion cells in their packs. I haven’t torn apart a Black & Decker in years so can’t tell you about theirs, but i suspect you are talking about NiCd batteries from decades ago anyway. However it is true that all else equal, “ALL” brands of Li-Ion batteries have fewer full charge/discharge cycles than NiCd, but their extra capacity and low self discharge rate more than makes up for it.

      SO, talking # of years is somewhat meaningless compared to # of full charge cycles, and if that new Li-Ion pack has three times the capacity the old NiCd packs had, you’ll be recharging it 1/3rd as often for a similar amount of work, and hardly ever due to it just sitting around self-discharging like NiCd and NiMH tool batteries do.

      However the other side of it is that the tools are now far more powerful than your ancient 9.6V Makita was, so if you use that extra power to get more work done, obviously it is a larger battery drain rate too.

  6. Milwaukee has been using the same M12 and M18 battery formats since 2008. My newest batteries work with my oldest drills. When I bought most of my cordless tools, I was hiking in to job sites in a state park. Corded tools were not an option. I also much prefer standing in a creek using a cordless tool than a corded tool running off a generator.

  7. It does seem like the “bad old days” of rapid battery form factor changes may be starting to fade. My experience with Ryobi and Ridged over the past few years has been good in that regard. Now the fact that a new battery can easily cost $80, that’s another issue entirely…

      1. Yes, I do that sometimes to get new batteries for my Ryobi tools. When I see a good sale on bundled tools, sometimes it ends up being cheaper than new batteries alone, or close enough that I get a couple of extra tools that I can lend out or beat up without much concern.

        1. Recently started switching from Dewalt to Ridgid because Ridgid has life time warranty on everything, even the batteries. I also look for the kits on Fathers days and Black Friday. Two new batteries and a drill/driver in every room.

        2. That’s not really true. Their bundled tools not only tend to be their older tech (Unless the kit is pricey) but also the lowest capacity batteries in those low cost kits. You can get a pair of 4Ah Ryobi batteries at Home Depot on sale for around $70-80, though it is true that they have recently had a lot of deals where you buy a pair of batteries like their newer 3Ah and get a free tool with it, OR a free pair of 4Ah batteries, all for roughly $100.

  8. l love cordless tools
    l build tree houses for a living
    that and remodel other off the grid living living situations

    and l have the same DeWalt tools kit l bought reconditioned 15 years ago
    at the dawn of the age of cordless tools

    and while the switches have worn out on several tools (drill and circular saw)
    the are all still kicking
    and while the original batteries are worn-out/obsolete
    DeWalt has made the new batteries backwards compatible!
    for which l commend them

    though the current generation (20v li) requires a (expensive) adaptor)
    which I’m working on reproducing/improving

    but for me
    not having to use generators
    long extension cords

    more than makes up for dealing with batteries

    even in workshops
    not having to worry about things bieng plugged in
    having enough to outlets/cords
    having said cords reach…

    I’m a confirmed battery tool user

    do have some coarded tools
    cuz they are more powerful (in general)
    especially big bulky ones l don’t move arround

    l do wish there was a better battery aftermarket
    but l guess the general construction type isn’t interested in fixing/modifying tools

    1. but I live

      off the grid, and

      find that

      cordless tools needing float charging

      to remain useful

      are incompatible

      with minimizing phantom loads.

      I too

      have a Makita drill

      with cord,

      as depicted,

      from my departed Uncle, plus two more.

      corded, ftw.

      1. I have an off-grid situation in the garden house, with a small (50W) solar system. I don’t have any problems with LiIon powered cordless tools, I really love them. Give them an hour or one-and-a-half on the inverter and they are fully charged and ready to go. and they are the same two or 3 weeks later, no self discharge. Luckily the old days of NiCd batteries and their shitty chargers (4-5hr with no cutoff) are gone. These things were a real PITA. 5hrs are to long to monitor but to much current for constant trickle charge and if you leave them on the charger overnight, the batteries die really fast, like in 5 to 10 cycles.
        Why should I drag around cables if I have no mains powered socket anyway? :-) Of course I can use the inverter directly, but then I had to run it for much longer time, until the work is finished or walk to it’s switch after every cut or hole to avoid it’s idle current (~1Amp).

  9. Corded + Extension Reel is the only real way to go when you need power (especially drilling concrete). Obviously learned that the hard way. A battery screwdriver with the torque of a asthmatic fish on a bike, an electric strimmer that can’t strim grass, etc. Luckily the strimmer batteries were compatible with the electric hedge trimmer being the same make. Actually, the last one is fairly good, and you won’t have to worry about trimming the power cable, which can be a worry when you’ve got hedge falling around you and you’re up a ladder.

    1. Not sure what you tried using to drill concrete, but the Makita hammer drill we use in the company drills just as fast as the corded one.
      Never had a problem with it except the flat battery here and there, but that’s why have 3 packs…
      Try pulling an extension reel onto a mobile arm lift with the platform 15m (almost 50ft) off the ground, especially if you have to drive the lift around.
      I also remember abusing a Makita drill to go though a 8mm wall of a steel girder and then force a tex screw into the holes to mount a security camera… did that and the drill is still kicking.

      If you use shit tools, don’t be surprised by their…shittyness…

      1. Can confirm on the effectiveness of the cordless Makita. I have the brushless XPH07 flagship hammer drill and it cuts through concrete quickly. Like a hot knife through butter if you have a decent quality masonry bit.

    2. I have a 24 volt cordless string trimmer. Not too heavy even though it’s packing a pair of 12V lead acid gell cells. I looked into upgrading it to lithium ion to cut weight and increase the run time. For what that’d cost I could buy two or three new trimmers.

      Putting new batteries in the old Weed Eater WLT24 C-Max was much cheaper. (Same exact trimmer was sold under at least two other brand names.)

      1. And it died Fall 2018. Got real anemic despite being ‘fully charged’. Put a meter on and the pair of SLA 12V that should read 24V drops to 5V when the trigger is pulled. So I bought a new Ryobi ONE+ trimmer that came with their best type 4AH Lithium-Ion, and fast charger. Now my old blue+yellow circular saw has powah!

    3. I use Ryobis new cordless Sds rotary hammer drill with a 6ah battery and I can drill 4 inch deep 5/8 diameter holes in no time. I do a 3 car garage, boom …. not even half my juice is gone when I’m finished

  10. Of course, the unstated options are to a) just stock up on spare batteries, bit expensive, but works, or b) chose a brand that doesn’t change it’s battery styles very often, for example I’ve got a Milwaukee M12 drill that I got second hand with a stack of 6 battery packs, the logos seems to indicate that they’re from a 5-10 year span, but even the oldest one still works just fine, and if I do manage to kill them, not much of a deal to crack the housing and replace the cells, they just snap together.

  11. 1. Batteries are majority of the cost of tools
    2. NIMh or NiCad to LiIon was a huge change in density and form factor
    3. Electrical motors have become smaller and more efficient
    4. Brushless tools would have previously been crazy expensive, now reasonable
    5. A tool is what you use to get the job done with less effort/time

    Sure, if you want to make tools into a hobby to tinker with, that’s great. I’m not ordering questionable-quality cells off ebay for 60-80% of what a whole new drill set would cost and spending hours working on it…again. Yes, I’ve converted my old NiCad set to LiPo. I was always worried about dropping them. Charging them was a pain. They were excessively large. Ultimately I gave up and bought a nice LiIon set.

    Hack your old drill into something cool, just not another drill that doesn’t work as well as a new drill.

  12. The thing is that there are a good number of situations that simply demand a battery-powered tool. Here are a few situations that I’ve personally encountered in the past year:
    * Remote outdoor work.
    * Tight quarters work.
    * Work where there are more people working in the same space than available outlets.

    I only have room and money for one power drill, and it’s battery-powered.

      1. We have 240V here, and if you accidentally cut into one of these extension cords, you’ll know about it. Working on metal boats in the water with shore power is another recipe for a sort life. +1 for the Ryobi cordless system, too; we have quite a few of these, like many here.

  13. Like the author, I too am wary of battery powered devices in general. I had so many nice products rendered unusable: shavers, beard trimmers, camping lamps, mobile phones, portable phones, laptops, vibrating alarm clocks, flash lights, etc. A fair number of them simply died in the cupboard.

    Would it make sense to have a device to monitor and occasionally recharge a battery pack that is not in use?

    It sounds like a wast of energy but the environmental balance might in fact not be so dim considering the alternative (the energetic cost of producing another battery and taking care of the old one).

    From a design point of view it would have to have highly reliable safety mechanisms to operate unsupervised for long stretches of time, and it should be adaptable / configurable to a number of different use-cases (by battery chemistry and configuration, whether the battery is naked, guarded or built-in and so on).

    1. Thinking again, it might be enough (if not better) to have a device which just monitors batteries and battery containing products, detecting conditions that are detrimental to their life expectancy or safety—in which case it alerts the proud owner to do the footwork of recharging.

    2. I had a cheap battery powered shaver. I replaced it’s batteries for nearly it’s own price (~€20) and quite some time/effort of work, only to notice not much later, that it’s blades/foil are completely worn out and replacement costs again as much as a new one, especially with the added shipping cost. :-(
      So I bought a new one with a LiIon battery. So I have the old one sitting on the shelf with two nearly unused AAA Eneloop NiMHs. :-(
      In the camping lantern with a compact fluorescent tube i replaced the 6V/4Ah lead acid with the LiIon cells of an old (but working) laptop battery converted to a 2S4P configuration. That thing runs now nearly for ages.
      For LiIon cells no top up charging is required/recommended. Store them in a cool dry place with 20 to 80% state of charge and be happy. Fortunately they have so low self discharge, that this is enough. Better don’t store them at 100% as this accelerates aging. If you store them for a really long time like >1yr, then it’s good to check them from time to time.
      I avoid other chemistries if possible.

    3. When my Remington face fur trimmer died I replaced its pair of NiCd cells with new NiMH. Charges fine with the original wall wart and a few times I’ve taken it on trips without the charger. Couldn’t do that with the original cells. The trimmer I had before the Remington died suddenly one day and when I took it apart I was surprised to find a single AA NiCd. The computer shop I worked at then also sold cell phones (mainly ye olde Motorola bag phones) and somewhere we’d obtained an odd handheld with a chunky battery that wouldn’t charge.

      So I cracked it open and found a few AA size NiMH cells in it. Ah-ha! I separated them, put them in a charger that did cells independently instead of in pairs (the second edition RayOVac renewal charger that can charge batteries other than Renewals) and one of them worked. Soldered that into the trimmer and it had more power and a much longer run time. Used it until being gifted with the Remington. It’s that one they don’t make anymore with the fan in the bottom that’s supposed to vacuum the trimmings.

  14. My first cordless drill had no battery, so I used an old universal laptop charger as a power supply and made it corded drill. Later I’ve got a drill branded Bavaria. It came with two battery packs that use NiMH cells and crappy charger that won’t really terminate on its own. I’ll modify first drill to work with Li-Ion battery pack made of old laptop battery cells and custom boost converter. When I get time…

  15. A guy like me is tempted to mine the recommendations in this article about the brands that maintain battery compatibility. I have both a corded Milwaukee drill for “tough jobs” and a battery DeWalt for convenience. I used the battery rig 90 percent of the time just because it saves time versus dragging out an extension cord. The Li-ion based DeWalt has been amazing.

    One thing I have learned – never buy anything with the Black and Decker label made in the past 10+ years.

    1. I’m afraid B&D feel victim to the usual “we need 10% more profit this year so we have to cut some corners” mentality. It’s closer now to a budget label instead of the reputable brand it used to be.

    2. It might come as a surprise then to find that DeWalt is actually a subsidiary of Black and Decker, since 1960. In 1992 Black and Decker decided to rebrand their professional tool line to the well-known DeWalt name, while keeping the cheaper hobbyist-grade tools under their own name.

      A better approach than what Bosch did by just changing the colour of their tools (blue for professional, and green for hobbyist) which damaged the Bosch name to be synonymous with mid-range/cheap tools.

    3. I bought some B&D battery things ~ 25 years ago. When the tools were 5 years old, I needed new batteries and they no longer sold them. I haven’t bought a single B&D product since.

      Like so many other people commenting, I bought a Ryobi One+ tool. I still use it and because the batteries are still sold, I’ve bought other Ryobi tools.

      If it’s something you’ll run for a few minutes, cordless, like drills, works well. Otherwise, I like cords.

      I did get the Ryobi sawzall. I took apart a 10×10 shed with it. I used 2 NiCD and 2 LiON batteries and charged at lunch. A 3rd LiON would’ve helped, but they charge quickly,

  16. I have a Hilti hammer drill that was given to me. The 36 volt Ni-Cd packs are long dead. I have a project afoot to use three lead acid gell-cell batteries in an external “satchel” to make the drill useful again. One concern is that I may need to add some ballast to the handle so the hammer has some mass to react against.

  17. Makita orphaned all of their customers. You can’t buy anything but a stick pack for older tools. I have a really nice 18v 1/2″ drill that was orphaned, and a 3 pack of 12v tools. This is what caused me to switch to Milwaukee. I appreciate the nice trigger control and battery universality and longevity. I even rebuilt an 18v and 12v Makita pack with 3ah Ni-Mh batteries just so I could use these perfectly good tools.

    I consider replaceable brushes a hallmark of the higher quality Makita tools, I really like the 3/8″ impact. Sadly, nobody sells the batteries around here.

  18. My drill and Dremel are just about the only cordless tools I have, just about everything else is corded. My reasoning is that if it’s something that I’m not likely to use often outside of any significant project, the cost of dealing with batteries far outweighs the benefits in most cases. Fun fact, the 24V NiCad packs for my old cheap Black and Decker drills have lasted me over 12 years. Only recently have the packs started showing symptoms that cells are reaching the end of their life. I have since decided to spoil myself by picking up a new Makita cordless drill. I may try rebuilding the NiCad packs if I find a good price on replacement cells.

  19. Hear hear! I fully agree with all your points. There is no real advantage in battery powered tools for the average consumer. My tools never leave the workshop. The only cordless power tool I use is a nice 14V Makita drill/driver that was gifted to me. It can deliver a decent amount of torque and came with three battery packs so it doesn’t have the “always out of power when I need it” problem. The whole concept of having all your tools powered by the same battery system only looks great in advertising; in real life it would be a costly nightmare.

      1. LOL. Well, “never” is a slight overstatement of course. But it is so rare that I keep all my power tools except the saws plugged in & ready to use in my shop/shed. And my house has plenty of outlets if I need to do something. Which is like, never… ;)

    1. Counterpoint: most of my power tools (not all) are cordless tools because a) I do a lot of work outside, and b) corded tools slow me down. If I have to go grab my extension cord and un-tangle it or unbend the prongs because I’ve stepped on the end 300 times then I’ve lost time that could be better spent actually doing work. I have multiple batteries and when one dies I swap it out in the charger. Most people I know who have and use cordless tools love them.

    2. Actually, the battery monoculture is a huge benefit. I use the cordless drill motor constantly, but rarely use the small, underpowered circular saw. But when I need a cordless saw, I don’t have to worry that its custom battery pack is flat or worse. And when i need a large, stationary flashlight, I know a fresh battery has enough power to keep a dark workplace lit for hours.

      And as others have mentioned, Ryobi has maintained backward battery compatibility with their One+ line. The new batteries work in the new and old tools, and the new chargers safely charge both the new and old battery packs. That was important when I was buying new and replacement tools, but has become less important as the old battery packs have died off.

      The only Ryobi devices I’ve had to discard in the last 15 years are the old chargers, dead NiMH packs, and a worn-out drill motor or three (the transmissions are made with cheap nylon gears, and their brush motors are not the highest quality.)

      Another huge drawback of corded tools is that the cord can get stuck and tug on the tool at unexpected times. Even with careful, painstaking cord management (which takes a lot more time than battery management,) something can still go awry and the cut goes bad. This still bites me with belt and orbital sanders.

  20. Bosch used to have a good reputation, you used to see them being used on construction sites a lot. They seem to have gone more mass-market recently and I think they have lost a bit of the professional quality, I don’t see them being used by ‘proper’ tradespeople these days. DeWalt and Makita seem to be the choice brands.

    I would go with batteries if I was going high-end, but I usually buy cheap drills and stick to corded. For cheap stuff, corded wins hands down.

    1. There are two kinds of Bosch tools: consumer grade (green housing) and professional (blue). IMHO the green range is already pretty good for average users like me. But you’re right; DeWalt, Makita and Festool are very popular on construction sites. Not the cheapest option and that’s probably part of the appeal.

    2. How do I know construction companies don’t get special deals to use DeWalt and such? Why assume it’s about quality, if in many cases the boss/company decides, who then might be tricked into buying cheaper if it is ‘good enough’.

      Not that I think those brands are bad, I just don’t completely trust your logic.

      I know for instance the pentagon happily buys ‘good enough’ over ‘the best’ under the influence of politics and money. So why not construction companies?

  21. I still have the Black & Decker drill I bought in 1975, having changed the brushes once. In recent years, I added to more of the same vintage, bought used and very cheap.

    But I liked the idea of a cordless drill, and finally bought one on sale a few years ago. It didn’t take long before the battery didn’t hold a charge long. But having it made me realize two things. It doesn’t have the speed of the cord drill. And it’s really bulky when using it as a screwdriver.

    Then I did buy a “cordless screwdriver” and that’s a better for many uses. It’s smaller and the battery works better. I find I do use it for screws, because it easy to use. It was a bit cheaper, and when it dies, I will replace it. It can’t drill, or rather I have no drill bits with hex base. I was thinking of buying a set, but expensive especially when I don’t see them sold individually to deal with replacing broken bits. Then on a whim, I wondered if thy made chucks to fit the hex holder of the screwdriver. They do, and they aren’t expensive. Not good for heavy drilling, the screwdriver is too slow, but handy every so often. One use I got out of the cordless drill, ie a time when no cord was useful, was patching the plastic compost bin, when the squirrels had been nibbling. Drilling plastic doesn’t take much power.


    1. I have almost every BD cordless tool available, always had good luck with them. Transitioning from 18v nicad to 20v lithium now. The circular and reciprocating saws even work admirably. Would like to cook up an adapter to run my 18’s on lithium. I bet the 18’s would work fine on 20 ?

        1. Looking again at the Dutch Wikipedia page Jan linked, I realize that have worked with all the drills depicted. They are tools designed for different purposes:
          – The “borstboormachine” is designed for walls of stone and concrete. The gearbox of mine is 1:5.5, with 1:2.2 on the other driveshaft. The “borst” part (Engl.: breast) means you can put a lot of weight behind it, which is essential to make a dent in hard material. Of course, we are talking is pre-1970s—in the time you drill one hole you can charge the batteries of the power tool. I use it for drilling the odd hole in a PCB, chassis or polymer construction element, especially when the Dremel would melt the material rather then cut it, and the excessive torque of a slow power tool would mash or rip it.
          – The “booromslag”, the one you linked, is most useful for wood and for large diameter holes. Think of timber framing: each dowel requires a hole. Sometimes you have a set of these, each with a fixed drill. Using it well looks easier than it is, though. I do not know, but I can imagine that carpenters still use these—if they do not use a Forstner with a power tool.
          – The “handboor met overbrenging” (pinion wheel type) is for more delicate work and smaller diameters. It works well for any type of material and is easy to guide. I had one of those as a child and drilled all the holes in the self-etched PCBs with it. Required some elbow grease but worked well.
          – The “handboor met pompbeweging” is for even more delicate works. The sliding motion is translated into a rotation using the twisted shaft, which is a form of transmission. It has a tendency to lock up because the blocking torque is rather small, and so of course it is easily used beyond its limits.
          – The “handboor”, and its smaller brother the “handboortje”, are straight 1:1 hand tools exclusively for wood, because their design displaces a lot of material rather than extracting it, look at the taper. The small ones are useful to prime a hole for a screw, and they are ready for action without changing drill bits or charging batteries. (Call me old fashioned.)

          My excuses for this slightly OT post, but I enjoy explaining that different tools are good for different jobs—be it drills or programming languages. (And to those who ask me what a “machine” and a “tool” is I recommend the 2009 Bollywood movie “3 Idiots” with Aamir Khan, whose character has it nailed.)

  22. I would use corded drills more just to not deal with the battery issue, but they (usually in my experience) have some huge shortcomings. I’m actually not sure why it is, maybe an A/C motor thing.

    1. Usually no clutch to prevent over-torque (so they are somewhat useless for driving screws)
    2. Don’t stop quickly after releasing trigger, tend to keep spinning with a good bit of momentum after release
    3. Speed control not as good, while cordless drills seem to have a constant speed for a given trigger position, the corded ones have a constant torque at a given trigger position. This makes it much more difficult to control under load (e.g. As you are drilling and bite into a big chip, the speed slows so you compensate by pressing the trigger, when chip breaks the speed spikes out of control).

    This makes corded drills basically only good for running wide open where you don’t need much control, like if you’re drilling through masonry.

    1. This sounds pretty much right. Apparently speed control on a DC motor is much easier to achieve, and that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out being Hackaday people and all. For driving screws an “impact driver” is a revelation over a drill. Anyhow, my corded drill is my brute force tool when I need big imprecise holes right now.

      1. Nobody’s talking about it, but this is the real reason nobody uses corded drills these days. Even though they never run out of power, they suck after you compare to the experience of using a DC battery powered drill.

        1. Alex Rich, yes I totally agree, the level of control is out of this world on modern good quality battery drills and drivers, I’m new to battery impact drivers but now I wouldn’t be without one.
          my other type of drill is petrol (gas) powered, it’s unwieldy, but it never lacks power.

    2. That’s because AC tools use universal motors instead of permenant magnet motors. The field and armature windings are in series. Because of this, I believe torque is proprtional to the square of current because the field gets stronger with more current draw. Because the field strength increases as applied torque goes up, the speed goes down because the stronger field requires less speed to create the appropriate amount of back EMF.

      Conversely, reducing the load causes the speed to increase. In the worst case with no load, the speed can increase so much it damages something. A series-wound motor always needs to have some amount of load, even just friction or a cooling fan, to prevent it from destroying itself.

      Permenant magnet DC motors are easy because the magnetic field is fixed. Ideally, speed is proportional to voltage and torque is proportional to current. Factor in the coil resistance and that’s pretty much it.

      1. That makes so much sense. I guess they don’t make corded drills with DC motors because the power supply would be too large. It’s a shame, because the way the A/C motors behave is border-line unsafe.

        A google search shows a ton of people have converted their old cordless drills to work with a mains wall-wart, but they are typically dinky drills with minimal power demands, or they have a huge computer power supply hidden somewhere on their shelf that is supplying the power to the drill.

        1. In the mean time there are some 300VDC permanent magnet motors for small kitchen appliances like blenders. I think they have (peak) power ratings of up to 300W. this is a little less than a usual corded drill with universal motor, but probably the increased efficiency of the PM motor could outweigh this. The PSU and control could be reduced to an SCR based rectifier.
          But on the other hand: In my opinion battery technology has advanced enough with the invention of the lithium based batteries, that I prefer cordless anyway.

        2. Many AC corded tools do use a DC motor, with a full wave bridge rectifier or for diodes arranged as one. I’ve seen them setup with the four diodes soldered right to the motor terminals.

    3. I like my Dewalt corded drill. Unlike a lot of cheap drills it’s variable speed trigger is pretty good and will slow down to maybe 10 RPM on the output, which is fine for drilling screws. The problem comes when you are putting in a big screw that needs a lot of torque, you need to give it more current and so if you lose the screw head with the trigger pressed halfway down, all of a sudden the drill accelerates and will mar the workpiece if the driver bit you have in it hits the surface of what you’re working on.

      If I used it more I’d spring for one of the various lithium ion tools out there, and unlike when I bought the corded drill I now have the skills to replace the cells anyway.

      However I do like the fact that corded drills, despite their faults last a lifetime unless they are extremely cheap ones or they are used professionally – although there was plenty of 30 year old Makita drills in the metal fabrication shop at my old workplace. Even though it’s true that the new lithium ion stuff is a huge improvement, you still can’t beat ‘no batteries’.

      1. I agree, the disposable nature of almost every modern product is disappointing. At some point I may give the corded Ryobi a shot after listening to people’s reviews here, it looks like it has a clutch at least, although probably still an A/C motor. I have some old (> 15 year old) Ryobi tools I got in college and they are pretty mediocre, barely better than Harbor Freight. They must have improved their quality in recent years.

        1. I found a corded Ryobi orbital grinder in the dumpster and tried it, as it looked completely fine externally. Did not work, as it was of crappy construction. The motor had no dedicated metal frame. It consisted of it’s parts (field coil, bearings and commutator) just fitted separately into the thermoplastic housing!
          The cooling vents got slightly clogged by dust – which is nearly unavoidable when you grind something – so the coils got hot and softened the plastic. The impacting of the unbalanced rotation (which is the principle of an orbital grinder) on the warm and softened plastic distorted the guide points of the shell enough to get the motor parts out of alignment. The bearings were hard to turn in this “configuration” and the brushes had no reliable contact to the commutator anymore. Then the thermal fuse opened as a last resort against fire.

          A really disappointing way of construction – but cheeeap!

  23. I used to be a fan of corded tools and despised battery tools. The batteries never seemed to be charged when I wanted to use them and they always seemed to die just before I finished a medium sized project. Two things changed my view – 1) I started doing a lot of remote/field projects where mains power was a bonus but not a given, and 2) lithium batteries replaced NiCd batteries.

    My craftsman set all uses the same battery packs which havent changed form factor since I got the set over a decade ago. When I bought the set, it came with 2 niCd batteries that I upgraded to lithium batteries a couple years ago. The lithium batteries needed a new charger, but the performance boost of the lithium batteries was totally worth it. The only reason I end up with dead batteries is because Im no longer in the habit of charging them after every use, since they hold so much charge. I do recommend the craftsman line in that they have a full line of tools and accessories for their power tools and they dont seem to be in the business of obsoleting things.

  24. I tend to stick with corded tools when possible, but I am the unfortunate owner of a cordless drill. When the battery pack failed, I soldered on a power cord with an Anderson Powerpole connector on the end. Now I can run the drill from my ham radio 12v supply, my lead-acid backup batteries, or my 20A variable power supply which coincidentally is a Heathkit “battery eliminator”. Yup, it is indeed.

    1. Was thinking of doing the exact same thing, 45A andersons and using a dremel to trim off the bottom batteryguard… bit of sugaru in the handle to keep the cord fixed in one spot. I’ve got a hitachi impact driver I really enjoy using, but the battery’s gone south.

  25. Working in remote locations [forrest and such] i really need cordless tools. I especially like the Makita cordless circular saw. My Makita pro tools never fail me, but there is a huge difference in battery quality between consumer grade and pro grade. And sure, they come with a firm price tag. But after 5 years of almost daily use the high-amp-hour packs [2.2 amp-hour more than consumer grade!] still feel as new and hold a lot of charge. Often i throw three charged battrypack in mij tool chest and leave the charger at home. Also the battery connection and form factor hasn’t changed in ages. So imho good cordless tools áre made, you just need to be prepared to pay a bit more.

    1. My dad did that once with a Skil saw. The piece of board he was cutting through dropped onto the cord and flipped it up into the blade the instant before the guard snapped closed, *CHIIIIING* Snipped the cord in two just like it’d been sheared.

  26. Been looking for a corded drill with a clutch for years…..still looking. Like the cord, less waste. DC supplies are hard to come by for high amp needs of a cordless/cord adaptation.

  27. I’ve done a little bit of work in OpenSCAD, slowly building a socket and a battery model for my Harbor Freight 12V lithium packs. Once I’m done, I’ll have “forever” platform with which I can build tools or batteries. My Hello World will be a flashlight tool that takes the existing battery, and maybe a springy replacement pack that takes bare 18650s without welding them… not sure if there’s a charging board inside the pack yet. I’ve seen brand-conversion clips for battery packs of mainstream flavors on Thingiverse… I’ll add my stuff when I’m done too.

    1. Spring connections often are only good for low currents. The spring steel has a quite high resistance. That’s the reason, some crazy guys shunt the spring with some heavy copper braid, when they want to get the absolute maximum lumens out of their flashlights.
      I had already some AA battery holders melting their springs out of the plastic at only 1A or 2A while fast charging NiCds.
      So you have to design a very good spring mechanism. Perhaps some copper foil, sheet metal or braid backed by heavy springs to separate the mechanical and the electrical task.

  28. Being an older hacker “as we are now called” My first intro to cordless tools was a Makita 9.6 volt in the 70’s. I was in awe. After forking out cash for the Dewalt drill and sawzall 18 volt, then having them rebuilt 3 or 4 years later., I’d had enough. I did get lucky and spot welded a couple with my MIG welder-scary as hell (thought they might blow up) So even though Ryobi makes Rigid battery powered tools, here in the USA, if you buy the tool with batteries, everything is guaranteed for life (Batteries also). Buy battery separate, 3 year warranty. I bought 2 combo tools and got 4 batteries. I’ve already got two replaced for free. Drills are now brushless. Circular saw stinks, but it came with the biggest Amp-hour battery. Got a free rigid saws-all for free(Owner tired of slightly messed up blade holder) Thanks for posting the spot welder hack.

  29. I dislike the thought of wasting electricity on maintaining battery charge when I’m not using the tools. Did anybody ever confirm that chargers go into a low-power mode (with a Kill-a-what, e.g.) when the batteries are charged? I primarily use a corded Milwaukee drill, weedwacker, and/or table saw at most once a week and I don’t mind the cord. I totally agree that battery-power will be useful if I’m working on many projects over several days or weeks and will be away from mains power. It has to be worth it and I’m not there yet. Good to read about the tools that can be kept through several battery purchases.

  30. “Of course, a full-on rant against power tool built-in obsolescence is of little use though without some kind of solution.”

    The solution is obvious, make the battery packs interchangeable between all devices of the same manufacturing era (spanning several years at-least, after all technology moves on).

    “The most obvious way to avoid cordless tool obsolescence is to not buy a cordless tool in the first place.”

    WRONG. If you’ve ever dealt with the likes of dry-wall, ceiling panel, nailed exterior siding or even roofing tile installation businesses, cordless is MANDATORY.

    1. Funny thins is half the brands are owned by the same parent company. Black and Decker, Porter Cable, DeWalt and Delta are all owned by the same parent company. Black and Decker was the low end and dewalt the contractor grade. Porter Cable was the woodworker grade but now they are basically the same as the black and decker. I have black and decker and porter cable tools and the battery packs are exactly the same except for the pinouts and a key to prevent one from plugging to the other.
      Dewalt, ryobi, makita, etc are all very closely the same shape battery pack so there is no reason a standard couldn’t be developed.

        1. Except for Apple

          There’s no agreement, there’s an common charger specification standard in the EU that began in 2009 with each company signing a letter of intent to follow it, and even then it’s voluntary. Apple is wiggling around the rule by selling adapters.

          1. I can’t even remember the last time Apple actually followed a standard, they will do things different just for the sake of being different.

            Of course the nice thing about standards is there are so many of them. Now the standard is changing to USB C. We have two USB C devices now and the rest are microUSB so we still have different cables.

  31. Li-ion/po have really blurred lines of useability. No mention of SLA in prehistoric devices ? Not as old as breast drill but still . First NiCd devices sucked but still useful in their own. Poor lifespan overall. As raw power and capacity went up so does the price tag and complexity of charging. NiMH better capacity (Watt-hour) and longevity. LiPo best but price still high. LiFe ‘bestest’ but stupid price. To list all power sources and relative use would be an encyclopedic. Need to include pneumatic, hydraulic and chemical (non battery) for comparison. I like the multi tool single pack idea even if some if the tools are practically useless. Ya know like sanders. Give me the cord for that.

    1. I always got at least 10 years lifespan from older Nicad packs back when the cells were made in japan instead of china. I can’t get a Li based to run more than 4-5 years. If someone could make Li that last 10 years I’d be happy to switch but nothing today seems to have the longevity of the old.

      1. Unicorns and fairies you say.? snicker. Usually two to three years on the Cad. More service on the NiMh. That’s with my own smart chargers on the cadmium. Factory supplied chargers (especially on cheapo Harbor freight/ Orient ) tend to cook cells regardless of care. Almost all Li-X are smart chargers. Final assesment pending but they’ve beat majority others so far. Exception being one BnD black and decker 12V NiCd slow wall wart passive. Ya its not even an industrial. Note that its a ‘ princess ‘ drill/driver thats usually hanging with the ladies and as pretty as store bought new. Disturbing mint condition. But it too is slowing after 5 yrs.

        1. A trickle charger will kill batteries no matter what. I can’t get 10 years from a modern NiCad but I think thats just because they are made at a much lower quality price point. The main issue is I still can’t get 10 years from a Lithium based battery either so I don’t see the point in paying the extra $ for them. But maybe I need to invest in a DeWalt or something and give it another try,

        2. In this case the weakness of LiX batteries – their absolute sensitivity to overcharging with a danger of catastrophic failure – turned out for good. The manufacturers just could not use shitty chargers without charge termination any more without risking to burn down the house of the customer or have the battery back in for warranty replacement after the first charge cycle. NiCds mostly tolerated this kind of abuse until the warranty period was over.

  32. I’ve had mixed results and feelings about battery powered tools. I’ve got a craftsman line of battery power tools and their form factor hasn’t changed much over the years. I have an older drill from them and a newer one that came with a saber saw, cordless circular saw and such… both use the same battery and I’ve had both sets for more than a few years now…. batteries are still going strong.

    My problem is with battery powered lawn equipment. I’m on my forth battery weed eater at this point. The batteries barely hold a charge on any of them and when I buy a new weed eater I’m lucky if the batteries last a season. None of the packs are interchangeable either. I’m going to try and repair a set soon.

    1. My sister has a plug in weed eater, and she hasn’t used it in years, after my mother convinced her she might accidentally cut the cord.

      My sister was thinking about a cordless lawnmower, but decided that when the battery wore out, it would be close to the full price to buy a replacement battery. So the gas mower was replaced with an electric, but with a long extension cord.


  33. DeWalt is _still_ making tools with the same form factor they introduced in the mid 90s (starting with 14.4V, eventually bumping it to 18V). I’ve had at least 3 career changes in the span they’ve continued making that form factor. They’re slowly phasing it out for the “20V” MAX line now, but that’s still almost 25 years of one battery form factor sticking around. Even after they stop selling the 18V hardware, I’m sure they’ll still be selling the batteries, too.

    Plenty of other people have mention Ryobi’s form factor longevity. Milwaukee’s had the M12/M18 line for a good while now too.

    Obsolescence isn’t a problem when you’re buying cordless tools from a company known for making cordless tools. The problem here is Bosch isn’t one of those companies. Bosch is big with corded concrete breaking tools, SDS drills/rotary hammers, jackhammers, etc., not so much the cordless stuff. In other cases in might be Black & Decker or whatever Harbor Freight’s house brand of the week is (seriously, they’ve got two different “premium” house brands competing with each other now), or worse yet some dollar store NiMH drill that isn’t going to have enough torque or battery capacity to hang a picture.

    Professionals are using cordless tools all day every day and have been for 15+ years now. They’ll only resort to corded tools when it’s absolutely necessary, like drilling concrete all day.

    The trouble with cordless power tools is buying bad cordless power tools, not the concept in and of itself.

      1. As well as Porter Cable and Delta. PC, Dewalt and B&D all have cordless tools but different grades of quality. So on one hand since one parent company owns three big names it would be easy to standardize on the battery form factor, but then on the other hand people would expect B&D batteries to be cheaper than Dewalt but then the Dewalt owners would try to buy the cheaper B&D batteries and complain about the lessor quality.

  34. The reason Bosch is not making these batteries anymore is because the government nade NiCd illegal, you cannot blame Bosch for this.

    If you still want to use the old drill there are plenty of aftermarket batteries availible for around $40.

    1. I tried that very thing, for use on boats… and it was a failure. The current is such that you have to use fairly heavy cable and clips.. Some of those tools are pulling 20+ amps.

  35. I dont maky my own battery packs. I just get rid of inside of case and put in RC battery. They are ready to provide high amps for tools and fast charge is also fine stuff. Now I am using Ryobi One+ and i realy like this product line. To bad, that some of tools i would like to own are not aviable in my country.

  36. At work we mix batches of grout at remote sites with a paint mixer in a drill. The drill runs for a couple hours a day at high load and maybe only recently would a cordless stand up to the demand. I take old 12v drills, put a cord on them, and run them off a vehicle battery. People are generally impressed by the setup, and I tell them, prophetically, that, “someday, all drills will have cords”.

  37. At work we mix batches of grout at remote sites with a paint mixer in a drill. The drill runs for a couple hours a day at high load and maybe only recently would a cordless stand up to the demand. I take old 12v drills, put a cord on them, and run them off a vehicle battery. People are generally impressed by the setup, and I tell them, prophetically, that, “someday, all drills will have cords”.

  38. Ryobi do not get eniugh credit for maintaining forwards compatability for its tools. BOSCH Green tools are not comparable to Marital blue try Bosch blue. It was an EU directive that caused the standardisation of mobile phone and other chargers – Apple excepted – however as a profit centre those chargers were insignificant compared to batteries for cordless tools with are not even compatible within the same groups e.g.Ryobi/Rigid/Milwaukee.

  39. When looking at power tools, it always makes me laugh to see the marketing misuse of ‘voltage’ as if that were an indication of power. – each new generation of power tool has a higher voltage battery pack and advertisements tout the tool’s battery voltage. Folks don’t seem to realize that it only takes a mere 12V to run the comparatively huge starter motor that has enough power to start your car’s engine!
    I’d rather have a well designed LOWER voltage power tool. Fewer cells in series should translate to higher battery pack reliability (since one bad cell causes the battery pack to become unusable).

      1. Mmm, no. Higher voltage means you can push MORE current through the motor to have a more powerful tool, and if heat is an issue, you put a larger impeller fan on it, and then you put a thermal breaker on it just in case some idiot on youtube tries to see what it takes to make it self destruct and instead is disapppointed that it only shut off instead. Don’t get me wrong, those same immature users will whine that it shut off instead of realizing that any tool at any size or budget, has a limit. You can destroy anything that you set your heart towards destroying.

        Bottom line: No matter what your tool budget is, if you’re pushing it till it’s overheating, you’d have to be an idiot to keep pushing it harder still. Common sense, please.

    1. You fail to understand all the parameters. Your starter will burn out within a minute or two of use. How often have you even cracked it more than 10 seconds? Probably never. That short a use cycle would be intolerable with a cordless tool. Power density matters very much.

  40. I have a really sweet, 1998 Panasonic cordless drill. It’s just got great feel in the speed control, and a very functional and easy to adjust clutch. When the last of its battery packs finally died, I bought $35 worth of NiCds and re-packed ’em. Done deal.

    In the future, I will probably go with LiIon from old laptop batteries, but I didn’t have enough on hand at the time. The weight of the pack is actually an important part of the ergonomics…

    1. That would be a silly thing to do because the batt pack won’t have any overcurrent,, overcharge, or overdischarge protection, and you’ll need a new charger too. To be even slightly safe against starting a fire, you’ll have to spend enough money and engineering time that it’s not remotely close to worth the bother.

  41. When my 14.4V NiCD Makita drill/driver’s batteries both bit the dust after a handful of years’ use, I researched replacement batteries, and at that point in time, there were no aftermarket packs, so for an extra twenty or thirty dollars, I ended up with spiffy new NiMH 14.4V packs, a new drill/driver, a fluorescent work-light (which hasn’t seen much use), an impact driver, and a new charger, as the NiCD charger wouldn’t handle the NiMH cells (but the tools will). A decade later, the darn things still work. When they do die, they’ll be replaced with aftermarket packs.

  42. i, too, hate cordless tools. i do most of my work in my workshop and prefer to have a more powerful tool that works every time it’s plugged in.

    but i think this article is pretty unfair. all tradesmen will sometimes have a use for a cordless tool. no one wants to run an extension cord up a ladder or into a crawlspace. they charge every pack every night so there is never the pack wasting away for years of disuse. they use the heck out of their tools so the repair vs. new purchase question is already on their mind.

  43. I just re-cored an old drill(used as a heavy wood screw driver) battery and thought that Ni-mh would be an upgrade. Turns out Ni-Cd puts out like 50% more amps at voltage and is heroic for not dropping voltage until the very end, different chemistry.
    So I ended up having to order some Chinese Ni-Cds, solder and shrink tube everything into a new pack and everything is good again. He had almost thrown out the drill having given up several years previous on any resolution.

    1. I liked Ni-Cd better than Ni-mh for that reason. Ni-mh was kind of the unwanted middle child of the battery world, lithium ion is amazing for everything from low power things like computers to high power devices that only run a few minutes (of actual running) on a charge. Nimh was fine for low power things but the voltage sag and discharge curve left much to be desired compared to Ni-Cds.

        1. You do realize that it came out of the ground and that the more of it that is trapped in tool batteries, the less of it that is in the environment? I only see it as a matter of recycling, except that the self discharge rate, and today the lower power density of NiCd, make it the battery nobody wants for these other reasons, except for those $1 each from China, solar landscape lights. I don’t make the rules but I am a pretty good observer.

    2. NiMH follows similar construction issues as NiCd, where if you pick the highest current cells in that form factor, the construction compromises to reach that power density inherently mean lower sustainable current.

      The flip side is, if you pick NiMH with good current capacity, and then compare that to NiCd, then look at the total battery lifespan. Early on, at the highest charge voltage, NiCd will outperform, but the longer you use the tool, the more the lower capacity of NiCd weighs against it and NiMH comes out the victor of the comparison, again depending on choosing the right NiMH cells optimized for current rather than highest power density possible.

      However, if you’ were just throwing NiMH into a drill with a charger meant for NiCd, it would not be at all surprising to see that the charger did not do a full recharge, so you never got the full capacity out of the NiMH batt pack.

      Regardless, at this late date, any drill that originally used NiCd, is now surpassed by several generations of newer tools. I’m very much in favor of keeping and using what you have but if you want to talk about performance with various batteries, it is a lost cause because performance with a new drill optimized for Li-Ion packs, especially in the contractor grade tools, is a colossal improvement while talking about old tools and which battery, is just spinning your wheels with nowhere to go. Old drills with rebuilt packs are great as a light duty secondary backup to your newer drill kit, nothing more.

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