I reviewed Black & Decker’s Gyro screwdriver a year ago, and was absolutely impressed with it. Even so, it hit me by surprise when Dewalt announced they were coming out with a gyroscopically-controlled lithium-ion cordless screwdriver of their own (DCF680 preview).
As you might know, Black & Decker and Dewalt are part of the same company, so it makes sense for innovations and technologies to occasionally be passed back and forth.
Dewalt didn’t just release a compact cordless driver, they kicked off a new 8V Max lithium ion cordless power tool platform around it.
Availability: 2-battery kit via Amazon
This is going to be a lengthy review, so get comfortable.
Basic Features & Technical Specifications (DCF680)
- Gyroscopic controls – slow for precision, fast for power
- Pivoting handle (90°, 0°)
- Variable speed (0-430 RPM)
2440 in-lbs maximum torque
- Adjustable clutch (15 settings + max)
- Spindle lock allows for manual use
- One-handed 1/4″ hex chuck
- Reversible (also controlled via gyroscope)
- Removable rechargeable Li-ion battery pack
- 8V Max 1.0 Ah battery recharges in about 1 hour
- ~120-130 1.5″ sheetrock screws per charge
- LED worklight
- DCF680N1 kit comes with the screwdriver, (1) 8V Max battery, a charger, and kit bag
- DCF680N2 kit includes a second battery pack
What Does the Gyroscope Do?
Essentially, it’s righty tighty, lefty loosey. Press the trigger/activation switch, and twist the gyroscopic screwdriver in the direction you want the bit to spin. Twist the tool clockwise to drive screws and fasteners forward, or clockwise to loosen or remove them.
With a product like this, I feel that it’s important to understand how and why it was developed. If you’re not interested in this part, just scroll down to the next photo to resume the review.
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again – there is a very fine line between innovation and gimmick. Early on, it seemed to me that Dewalt might have simply been looking to capitalize on the success of Black & Decker’s Gyro driver with a screwdriver of their own. I haven’t seen any sales data, but I bet the B&D Gyro sold really well during the 2012 winter holiday shopping season.
I had a lot of questions (as usual), so my [remaining] friends at Dewalt put me in touch with Jim Watson, group product manager and lead of the innovations team. Dewalt’s Innovations Team is the same group responsible for designing Dewalt’s 12V imaging thermometer and 12V handheld radar scanner.
I spoke with Jim for about a half hour, discussing various aspects of the 8V gyro driver’s design and development.
What types of users was this driver designed for?
Cabinet installers, maintenance workers, tradesmen, and anyone who normally uses an impact driver for larger fasteners and manual screwdriver on smaller ones. It’s a pocketable driver that’s also great for mobile users.
What is the aim of Dewalt’s Innovations Team?
The Innovations Team supports the professional tools segment. Essentially, their aim is to come up with new ways to solve end user frustrations.
What frustration does the gyroscopic cordless screwdriver solve or ease?
Most significantly, the gyroscope allows for more intuitive speed and direction control. The gyroscope allows for speed control over a wider range of motion, compared to a traditional trigger. Users can give it a quick twist (~10°) for full speed, or a feather touch across ~0-35° for greater sensitivity and finer adjustments.
8V Max Design Focus
The 8V Max battery packs are built with 14650 Li-ion cells instead of 18650. (Think AAA vs. AA). This allows for a greater focus on size, portability, and ergonomics.
(I can think of at least one more product that is sure to be released into the new 8V Max platform!)
8V Max vs. 7.2V?
Dewalt will continue to produce and support their 7.2V NiCd driver. Right now there is no like-power replacement for the 7.2V pivoting handle screwdriver. The 7.2V driver delivers up to 80 in-lbs of torque, while the 8V Max gyro screwdriver has a peak torque of up to
24 40 in-lbs.
Pro Tool or More for Consumers
The team designed this product for a 100% duty cycle (similar to Milwaukees M4 screwdriver). In other words, it’s designed more for tradesmen, commercial, and industrial users, and is just as good in consumers’ hands.
The driver was mainly designed with machine screws and lighter duty and repetitive installation tasks in mind. It’s better suited for tasks that one could ordinarily use a manual screwdriver for.
The screwdriver has a pivoting handle that allows for pistol-grip and inline orientations. It doesn’t really pivot, it swivels, but the result is the same.
The handle position can be unlocked from both sides of the tool, but the swivel mechanism only works in one direction. This doesn’t seem to take away from anything.
To operate the screwdriver, you first have to press its trigger switch. Of course this isn’t a speed control trigger switch, it’s more of an on-off switch.
The Black & Decker Gryo took very little time to get used to. Dewalt’s driver, however, is not quite as initially intuitive to use, at least in the pistol grip orientation.
With the Dewalt gryo screwdriver, you can’t just operate the driver by twisting your wrist; I find that I end up having to shift my entire arm a little. This is because the tool’s axis of rotation is above the hand. With the B&D Gyro, the axis of rotation is in your hand and is closer to the center of wrist rotation.
It’s just a matter of practice and acclimation. A flick of the wrist is easy to adjust to, a flick of the wrist and shift of the arm takes a little more time for muscle memory to develop.
I initially found the screwdriver to be a little more comfortable, or at least easier to control, when held in the straight-grip position.
With a little more use, the driver was comfortably gripped and used in both orientations.
The gyroscope and control circuitry are properly tuned and implemented, and allow for operation at any angle. Remember, the electronic gyroscope sensor used in this tool measures relative motion and is not the same type of mechanical gyroscope that spins around like a top.
If nut-busting torque is what you’re after, this is not the cordless screwdriver for you.
In one test I drove (4) #8 x 3/4″ wood screws most of the way into particle board shelving material without first drilling pilot holes. The driver could handle it, but barely – I had to manually use the powered-off driver to finish tightening the screws.
In my opinion, this is the type of powered screwdriver that shouldn’t be used on fasteners you couldn’t or wouldn’t use a manual screwdriver on. That is simply how it was designed, and it’s a good thing at that.
Handle Grip Comfort
The grip seems to be designed for a comfortable grip from any angle. In practice, I don’t hold the driver with the grip as shown, I typically hold it so my wrist is straight, with my thumb on the activation switch and my pointer finger resting on the Dewalt logo. If I don’t hold it in such a manner, my wrist ends up bent and uncomfortable when I twist the driver to drive or remove a fastener.
You can hold the driver vertically downwards in a reverse grip, as when working inside an equipment box on the table, but don’t expect to get it right on the first try.
Dewalt 8V Max Li-ion Battery Platform
The size difference between the 8V Max lithium ion battery pack and a common 12V Max battery pack is appreciable. Dewalt’s 12V Max batteries are arranged differently, which is why this seemed to be a better comparison.
It will be interesting to see what other types of products Dewalt designs around the 8V Max form factor.
It should be noted that 8V Max battery packs are rated at 7.2V nominally.
Some of you might find it interesting that the battery pack is made in Japan, evidently using Sanyo rechargeable cells.
“Trigger” and Power Lockout
The lockout switch is located just beneath the trigger/activation switch. This helps avoid unintentional activation when the driver is transported in a tool bag, tool box, or pouch next to other tools that might press on the activation switch.
1/4″ Hex Bit Chuck and Adjustable Clutch
The 1/4″ hex bit chuck works like a charm with 2″ power bits. If you want to use 1″ screwdriver bits, a bit holder or extension is advised.
That’s not to say that you cannot use 1″ insert bits, but most users will probably use 2″ bits.
Bits lock into the chuck just by inserting them, and can be removed with a quick pull of the knurled collar.
I am happy to report that 1″ insert bits are ejected from the chuck upon release. Maybe this is by design, maybe by coincidence, but it’s nice to not have to reach for pliers to remove a stuck bit.
As for the adjustable clutch, there are 16 settings in all. In my interview with Dewalt’s product manager, I learned that the clutch is actually tuned to the low end and is not linear. This gives users greater control and the ability to fine-tune the tool to the exact torque they need for small fastener installation tasks.
I must embarrassingly admit that it took me a few minutes to figure out where to place the removable bit holder. It holds bits reasonably well, and doesn’t pop off the tool unless you want it to.
If you try to lock in 2″ power screwdriving bits by pressing them in, you’ll get frustrated and hurt your thumbs. It takes a lot less pressure if you give the bits properly oriented with a quick twist.
2 LEDs provide near shadow-free illumination. As with other Dewalt tools – and is the trend these days – the light stays on for about 20 seconds after you release the activation switch.
Right at the top of the driver is a 3-LED battery power fuel gauge.
You should be able to drive over a 100 1-1/2″ sheetrock screws per battery charge. Dewalt’s tests place the number at 120-130 screws, which is fairly impressive. Extra battery packs are not yet available for sale. If you think you’ll need a spare, the 2-battery kit (DCF680N2) will soon be available.
The battery packs are rated at 8.0Wh (8V x 1.0 Ah), and recharge in about 1 hour.
Pros: compact, lightweight, almost pocketable, offers wide speed control range, can be used manually for final fastener tightening or initial breaking free.
Cons: takes a little getting used to, low peak torque limits use to light duty applications
Overall, Dewalt’s gyroscopic cordless screwdriver is well designed and well made. However, it’s not going to be the right choice for all users. It looks the part, but the driver is not built for medium-to-heavy-duty driving tasks. Its peak torque rating is a lot less than even some 4V cordless screwdrivers. This driver is about improved control for lighter duty tasks, not power.
Initially, the driver was not very comfortable to hold and use. But, with a little practice, I got used to it. With an ordinary driver, you simply have to align the tool and squeeze the trigger. With this driver, you have to align the tool, squeeze the activation trigger, twist the tool, and shift and adjust your arm to compensate for how the tool moves sideways as you twist it. This is not a fault of the product’s design, but of its size and geometry.
I can definitely recommend the 8V gyro-controlled driver for installers looking for a cordless screwdriver with greater low-torque and speed control.
The 8V driver is thoughtfully designed. My only gripe is that it took longer to become accustomed to it than I anticipated, but it shouldn’t be unexpected that a new design – especially one that breaks the mold – requires a little practice to learn to use well.
MSRP is $90 for the 1-battery kit, $99 for the 2-battery kit.
Thank you to Dewalt for providing the review sample unconditionally. Review samples are typically given away, donated, or retained for benchmark and comparison purposes.