This is a question we hear every now and then. The wording varies, but in essence the question drills down to – is now a good time to start buying cordless tools?
Brian wrote in:
I haven’t used any cordless equipment for about 3 or 4 years, maybe longer. How are cordless tools coming along? I’ve used some cordless where I spent more time recharging batteries than I did working. I really, really hate that. I know they will never compare equally as the battery will eventually run out of power. I’m just asking how much better are they now. I would be looking at either Dewalt, Milwaukee, or Ridgid. I know Ridgid did have a lifetime battery guarantee. They other thing I don’t like is that I’m committed to one companies tools once I buy in. That bugs me too as one company doesn’t make the best tools across the board. I have Dewalt, Bosch, Ridgid and Skil depending on the tool. All corded.
This is not an easy question to tackle. Cordless power tools have never been better, making this a great time to buy into one or more cordless tool platforms.
How are cordless tools coming along? I’ve used some cordless where I spent more time recharging batteries than I did working.
Lithium-ion battery technology is leaps and bounds better than Nickel Cadmium and Nickel Metal Hydride technologies from a few years ago.
Today’s battery packs are more compact, lighter in weight, and have greater charge capacity. Runtime is often quite good.
These days, I rarely ever reach for my corded drill. There are still reasons to keep it around, but most of the time there isn’t much my cordless drill/driver or impact driver cannot handle.
Battery charging times are quite good too. Even today’s high capacity 4.0Ah battery packs charge up in 45 to 90 minutes. We put together a chart detailing various brands’ battery charging times.
Certain tools still drain battery packs quite quickly. Circular saws, reciprocating saws, cut-off tools, angle grinders, and other such heavy-duty tools typically deplete battery packs quickly under continuous use.
Brushless motor technology provides for unprecedented corded-like power and longer-than-ever cordless tool runtime, but thus far Milwaukee is the only brand to have brought brushless cordless saws and grinders to market.
There is no doubt in my mind that now is a great time to buy a cordless drill, hammer drill, impact driver, or impact wrench.
It’s also a great time to buy cordless saws, grinders, or oscillating multi-tools but runtime could be an issue when these tools are used continuously.
I would be looking at either Dewalt, Milwaukee, or Rigid. I know Ridgid did have a lifetime battery guarantee. I’m committed to one companies tools once I buy in.
Yes, Ridgid still has their lifetime battery guarantee program (more details, via Home Depot).
That’s still another unfortunate limitation about cordless power tools – each brand has their proprietary batteries and chargers. Different tools that best fit your needs might be from all different brands.
If you want a Dewalt drill, Milwaukee impact driver, Bosch oscillating multi-tool, Ridgid saw, and Makita sander, you will need to invest heavily in batteries and chargers to fit each tool.
Right now, Bosch is my favorite cordless tool brand. I feel that Dewalt is also a good all-around brand (despite the growing but still limited selection of their 20V Max lineup), and Milwaukee is the best high performance brand. Milwaukee has the greatest selection of brushless tools (under M12 and M18 FUEL branding), and has proven themselves to be a market leader in regard to cordless innovation and advancements.
Ridgid is a good brand as well, but their product selection is limited and they are somewhat slower than their competitors in bringing cordless innovation to market.
Following are the tool categories I use most often, and whether I use corded or cordless versions most of the time:
- Drill: cordless
- Drill/Driver or Screwdriver: cordless
- Impact Driver: cordless
- Impact Wrench: cordless
- Jig Saw: corded
- Plunge Circular Saw: corded (because there’s no cordless track saw yet*)
- Circular Saw: cordless
- Angle Grinder/Cut-Off Tool: cordless
- Rotary Tool: corded
- Rotary Hammer: cordless
- Reciprocating Saw: cordless
* As per comments below, there is at least one cordless track saw (Dewalt 28V) on the market.
It is possible to use cordless and corded tools side by side.
If I were in a trade where I had to pick one cordless brand to stick with, it would be Milwaukee.
For many corded tool users, now is the BEST time to start looking at cordless options. It might not be a good time to switch over each and every tool, but this depends on personal usage tendencies and preferences.
Runtime and power considerations aside, cordless tools are often more compact, lighter, and engineered with additional features. For instance, it is rare to find a corded drill with adjustable clutch, or a corded impact driver with multiple speed and torque settings.
It’s really astounding how much better cordless tools are today than what they were 5 years ago. I would steer clear of Ridgid because I know a lot of people that have been screwed over by their “Lifetime Battery Warranty.” I personally have Dewalt 20v tools and Milwaukee 12v tools. I think that between the two brands and voltages I have everything that I would need.
Also, I believe that Dewalt does make a 28v cordless tracksaw, at least I’ve seen it advertised somewhere.
Here is the cordless Dewalt Track Saw http://www.dewalt.com/us/tracksaw/products/DC351KL.html
Thanks for the link!
Maybe I should have said no 18V-class track saw.
other than my corded dewalt drill and my sawzall (which i wish was cordless) i’m all cordless honestly i never have battery problems as long as you charge them after your done and dont have some crappy brand of battery’s you will be fine
I’m kind of all or nothing when it comes to my cutting tools, so I prefer them all to be corded. I have the M12 multi tool, but I wish I had a corded one. Plus, a corded tool will keep working when the batteries have stopped holding charge on a cordless tool. Batteries are so expensive now that it seems every few years one is forced to buy a new cordless kit, because its essentially paying for batteries and getting new tools for free. On the other hand, I absolutely love how light weight, compact and powerful cordless drills have become.
So yeah, while these cordless circ and recip saws are tempting, I’m keeping my corded kit.
Some tools have a cord adaptor that plugs in where the battery goes. Also, places like Batteries Plus will re-cell your packs.
They only re-cell Ni-Cads. I’ve asked at several stores.
For someone who works outside or in varying locations, cordless tools are a HUGE timesaver. I still have an inverter in my car trunk, though.
I have used a cordless drill since 1993. Was a Dewalt 14.4 volt pistol grip hammer drill. I was a commercial construction super and used it to bore lockers in solid doors, install tapcon type screws or other smallish diameter anchor holes in concrete and masonry, hang drywall, whatever. As long as you had a couple batteries you almost couldn’t outrun the charger. Now for heavy duty hammer drilling I always had a $750 Bosch SDS rig nearby but for a drill/screw gun there’s nothing a homeowner needs with a cord.
Dewalt even had a battery saw in around 95 or 96. Worked ok but not a direct replacement on a job site. Again for a homeowner would probably be fine.
I have a mini 12v dewalt Lithium drill and screwgun set and last year got an 18 vikt and they’re better than ever. The recip saws I see daily on sites also.
When it was negative 15 outside my Dewalt 18volt nicad tools worked just fine. I have 8 batteries and 6 tools for that system. My m12 (yes with Gen 3 batteries) failed to start the tools. My coworkers m18 milwaukee also failed. Another coworkers makita stuff was kinda working. So take that as new technology isn’t always better.
Paul in Leyden
Several times a year I need to cut plywood or paneling so I set everything up outside and then pull out my ancient Craftsman corded circular saw and wrestle with the extension cord with special attention to careful cord placement around and under the setup. (Has anyone ever cut through a circular saw cord?). I usually daydream while cutting (not good) of getting a cordless circular saw someday. I still haven’t justified the expense due to the relatively limited use I put my old circular saw through but it is something I would love to have and will probably purchase someday when I see a sale that is too good to walk or surf away from.
The biggest problem with cordless tools is the user. While the tools are better than ever, some jobs are best reserved for a tool with a pigtail. Saws and hammer drills used extensively are not well suited for cordless technology. The drain rates on the batteries are high with these motors, the batteries and tools get very hot when the tool is under load and if you manage to get the job done, you’ll probably shorten the life of the battery and/or tool. If you care about the battery at all, you’ll let that battery cool first before recharging, effectively doubling the advertised recharge times. So you have to consider what you’re going to do with the tool, how often you need to do it and whether corded is an option.
And at the end of the day, I’d give that cordless tool a 10 year lifespan at best. At some point the battery technology moves on rendering your old cordless tool obsolete. That corded tool can probably sit in your toolbox for decades until you actually wear out the tool.
I don’t mean to sound anti-cordless. I have a cordless circular saw, recip saw and hammer drill among others. But I reserve those tools for quick lighter duty jobs (and my lithium ion batteries are going on 8 years old). For anything more extensive, the corded equivalent comes out, even if the cordless version has the muscle to pull it off.
I’ve read and re-read this post and the comments a number of times. I think I might go ahead and get a cordless drill/driver as I like the clutch which my corded drill doesn’t have. I’ve looked at Dewalt and Milwaukee so far and I favor Milwaukee as I found they have a charger that will charge six batteries in serial! I like that! I don’t know that I need to go whole hog into cordless but it would be nice to have a cordless drill/driver.
Thank you for posting this Stuart and opening it up to comments. It has helped greatly.
You won’t go wrong in buying a cordless drill/driver. One little advice from personal experience (at least regarding the the fuel m18 and the new dewalt brushless drill) dewalt drills have a better clutch. I did some comparison and the milwaukee clutch is not as sensitive as the dewalt. Some people may not care for this but others might, depending on your necessities. One good use for sensitive clutch would be for cabinet work.
Another thing that I noticed between the two is that milwaukee battery drains faster than my dewalt. The reason that happens is because milwaukee uses a bigger brushless motor than dewalt. So there is a trade off…milwaukee may have more power that drain the batteries faster and dewalt may have less but the batteries last longer.
What is power? Well, the dewalt 12v drill can sink 3″ wood screws…so can the milwaukee. Since it is a 12v platform, it is only going to drive in a few…but having enough batteries, you can get by for small projects. By taking this in consideration, you can imagine and 18v drill/driver…3″ is nothing…specially for those impacts.
How much power do you need? decisions decisions eh. I personally like dewalt drill for the grip comfort and clutch (though not perfect). Plus, the power to weight ratio.
Which ever cordless drill brand you buy, you should educate yourself about the battery technology. You can easily kill a pack if you don’t treat it how it should be treated. Of the top of my head, lithium ion batteries don’t like to be left discharged for long periods of time. They drain even if they are not being used.
you will never go back:)
I’m not sure how to answer the question of how much power I need. A question I do have. My corded drill is a 3/8’s. For cordless should I stick with 3/8’s? Is 1/2 silly on a cordless drill? I’m thinking of getting a 1/2 corded drill as there are times when I could use the size.
I’m a DIYer and work as a maintenance guy. From my experience I have found the ½ inch chuch convenient for, of course, ½ inch drill bits.
I have used it to accept this “Drill Flip Drive” since the stem is thicker than 3/8 (if I can remember correctly) http://www.amazon.com/DEWALT-DW2700-Drill-Drive-Complete/dp/B0000DD6LX/
I have used it to accept drill bits that have the ½ inch stem size. Though they make those bigger than 3/8 drill bit size with stems that have a reduced stem. I haven’t used those.
I have use it to accept this kind of tool http://www.amazon.com/QEP-61205-Super-Grout-Mixer/dp/B000FK74HM/
I can remember those out of the top of my head but I’m sure I have found other uses for it.
My opinion is go with the ½ inch since the chucks are very compact now. As an example, my dewalt DCD790 has a ½ chuck (good chuck brand) and is smaller in size than the M18 fuel.
With 18V-class drills, 1/2″ chucks are the norm. 3/8″ chucks on 18V drill/drivers typically mean the drill is low powered or the brand wanted to cut corners.
Milwaukee is the only brand I know of that builds 12V drill/drivers with 1/2″ chucks, and that’s just their Fuel brushless line.
There are times when I do need a 1/2″ chuck, such as with large hole saw arbors.
1/2″ chucks are definitely not silly on cordless drills. If you only need a cordless drill for some light casual use, then a 3/8″ drill might suffice, but not you’re not going to get anywhere near corded-like performance.
Some pro-grade brands produce 3/8″ cordless drills targeted at DIYers and homeowners rather than professional users, but my inclination is to spend less and go with DIYer brands or to spend more and go with pro-grade models.
I like my corded tools , they just all seem to have more power than any of the cordles versions. Of course many will say what do you when your working somewhere that has no power , well there is always power in my shop or home so it’s not a big deal ( if the power does go out I most likely would use hand tools or just stop working) But if I did work on a remote no power job site how would I recharge the batteries anyway without an Inverter or Generator. And I think I can buy 2 or 3 hundred feet of extension cords for a lot less than 4 or 5 spare batteries for 2 or 3 different brands of cordless tools , and I might even be able to get a decent generator in the deal as well.
Wrong or right, I’m in.
I got a Milwaukee M18 Fuel drill/driver with two 2 Ah batteries and a dual voltage charger two days ago.
I have read this article a few times now. I ended up buying some new DeWALT cordless drills as a combo set. Love them and the Lithium-ion batteries out of the box lasted surprisingly long with no charge.
My concern now is a reciprocating saw. I’m not a contractor, just a DIYer who has a ton of home projects to get done. Some walls are coming down and exterior walls getting re-framed. Do I invest in a corded reciprocating saw for about $150 or get the cordless equivalent (bare tool) for $110? Some old timers think I’m nuts for considering cordless, but they have come a long way. I love my Lithium-ion drills, but feel I can’t go wrong with corded. I’m torn!!!
Cordless tools have come a long way, especially Milwaukee’s new M18 Fuel brushless model. Even if performance is comparable, you might want to consider long-term cost of ownership.
Since you already bought into a cordless tool platform and have Li-ion battery packs, this is less of an issue, but keep in mind that Li-ion batteries are considered consumables with limited life. Today’s batteries will likely last longer than older Li-ion packs, but there’s still going to be a point where you will need to replace those batteries.
With few exceptions, a well maintained corded reciprocating saw can be used years apart with little difference in performance. The same cannot always be said about cordless tools, depending on the condition of the battery.
You cannot go wrong with corded, and with the short-term in mind, you cannot go wrong with cordless either.
Ignoring for a moment the fact that you have other Li-ion tools that your batteries will support and work with, you might be faced with buying a new battery pack or two 10 years down the road.
However, one should not forget the present when looking to the future. Cordless tools can be more convenient to work with, as there are no power cords to worry about, and the tools are often lighter.
If in your shoes, I would probably go with a corded saw.