I was working on another post when I started thinking – we sure have seen a lot of innovations these past few years, most of which would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier.
Could you imagine ever going back to the NiCd-powered cordless tools you used before Li-ion battery tech rolled out a few years ago?
Following are some of the innovations that have come out in recent years, or are coming out very soon. While some of these new technologies won’t benefit all users, they still represent step forwards.
High Capacity Li-ion Battery Packs
Today’s 5Ah battery packs have around DOUBLE the capacity of the highest capacity NiCd battery packs, while weighing around the same or maybe even a little less.
While some brands offer 6Ah batteries, most are jumping to larger form factor cells, and thus slightly larger battery pack sizes, to bring us 6Ah packs, and beyond.
Dewalt’s new FlexVolt battery tech and tools have shaken things up with a few “world’s first” tools, such as the world’s first cordless table saw, and the world’s first cordless 12″ sliding miter saw.
It’s impressive technology, and it will be quite interesting to see where things go from where.
The best part is that Dewalt’s FlexVolt battery packs are backwards compatible with their 20V Max tools. FlexVolt battery packs can work with 20V Max tools, the new line of 60V Max tools, and in pairs to power 120V Max tools.
With all of the new tools coming out, and the backwards compatibility of the new FlexVolt battery packs, Dewalt is sure to see a surge in sales by both current 20V Max users and converts.
Dewalt FlexVolt Intro
Dewalt FlexVolt Q&A
Dewalt FlexVolt Tool Coverage
Milwaukee High Demand Batteries
Milwaukee has been working on their new M18 High Demand 9.0Ah battery pack, which features an extra row of battery cells to boost charge capacity, but also to increase the power available to heavy duty tools.
It’s with the new battery pack in mind that Milwaukee designed their M18 Fuel 10″ brushless sliding miter saw.
The HD battery pack is designed to power the brand’s heaviest duty tools, and is backwards compatible with all M18 tools, with few exceptions.
Milwaukee’s One-Key technology offers inventory control, reporting capabilities for certain tools, and tool customization options.
We’ve seen performance benefits, such as with their new M18 Fuel Sawzall with One-Key, and remote control capabilities with their upcoming LED worklights.
Some contractors have sung praise for One-Key’s tool tracking feature, which can help find missing tools. If a tool is lost or stolen, any smartphone with One-Key app installed (and opted in) can send the owner a location update when within 100 feet of the tool.
Brushless Motors and Milwaukee Fuel Tools
Milwaukee has quite the lineup of M18 and M12 Fuel brushless tools, and often leads other brands whenever they come out with new Fuel products.
Brushless motors are more efficient than brushed motors, offering more power, longer runtime, or a balanced combination of both.
See Also: Brushless Motors 101
But it’s not just about power and runtime; brushless tools often offer advanced features as well – things like adjustable speed and torque settings for impact drivers, anti-kickback sensors in high power drills, and special speed sequences that benefit certain fastening applications.
Milwaukee of course isn’t the only brand to offer brushless tools, but they’ve been shaking things up the most.
Makita Smart Impact Tools
Makita’s new 6-mode impact driver offers 2 special driving modes, adding to the special Quick-Shift mode they came out with a few years ago.
Makita was the first – to my knowledge – to experiment with special tool profiles designed to improve the performance of a particular application.
Their Quick-Shift mode starts the tool off in high speed, and then finishes driving fasteners at a lower speed, to help prevent stripping or overdriving.
The new additional mode works in the opposite manner, starting at a slow speed to prevent stripping or camming out, and finishes at a higher speed once the fastener starts to tighten.
I think that Makita’s next step should be to allow for customization, similar to what Milwaukee’s One-Key tech allows for. That would be a nice extension to the practical and useful modes built into their most premium impact driver.
Bosch Wireless Charging
Bosch’s wireless charging system is quite amazing, and I still think it’s our best chance at seeing a universal charging standard.
While designed primarily for users who work at a station (think industry), or out of a van or truck (think technicians), Bosch’s wireless charging base and holster holds great potential.
Imagine putting all of your tools away and having them charge automatically, regardless of brand.
Dewalt and Black & Decker Gyroscopic Tools
Black & Decker’s Gyro and Dewalt’s gyroscopic screwdrivers are neat devices that are intuitive to control.
You turn them, and they respond by spinning a bit in the same direction. Turn the driver slower, and the bit turns slower.
Many people have grown accustomed to gesture-based activations. Swipes, shakes, and tilts have replaced button presses, and they quickly become second nature.
Certain tools would certainly benefit from advanced methods of control, such as LED worklights.
Anti-Kickback and Other Sensors
But we’re also seeing sensors being used in powerful new ways. Several brands now offer kickback protections in their high powered drills. Some utilize current sensors to detect jamming conditions, others use gyroscopes or accelerometers to detect the fast counter-rotation that occurs when a bit jams.
The cost of positional sensors have also dramatically decreased these past few years. The only limitation now is the imagination of tool designers and engineers.
It’s been hinted that Metabo is working on user-following LED worklight quadcopter drones. That’s within the realm of possibility these days.
Did We Miss Something?
Are there any other recent tool innovations that you would consider game-changers?
Suddenly my Dewalt 18v NiCad drill seems really outdated. Accepting donations now…
Don’t forget about impact drivers which seem to have appeared out of nowhere and are now everywhere.
I can’t believe I forgot about impact drivers! They took a while to catch on, and for the longest time they were the fastest growing tool segment. I’m sure the growth has flattened down a little bit, but brands continue to focus a lot of energy into making them smaller, lighter, more powerful, and better featured.
Cordless nail guns now seem to be in the same boat.
Other Game Changers, over the last 15-20 years, in no particular order:
1. Saw-Stop technology, hopefully once the litigation dies down we’ll see this essential electronic safety sensor technology become standard, like airbags did in the 1990s.
2. LED, LED, LED: Portable LED technology now means a high-power headlamp goes with me on every job, even though many of my tools have sprouted LEDs themselves. Being able to shed a suns worth of light under that sink has helped tremendously.
3. Mechanics Gloves – far better and more dextrous than the traditional cowhide work gloves, these now go on before any job involving tools and have saved my skin many times.
4. Rare-Earth magnets, on top of powering our cordless tools and headphones, these also help out in impact bit holders, attach to tape measures, flashlights and other tools to hold things in place, to lock tool cases and provide easy, convenient holding power in thousands of applications.
5. Modern Glue Technologies: Maybe not a tool, but whether it’s Liquid Nails, gorilla glue, 2 part epoxy, or just the high quality wood glues, we’ve never had this much choice and effectiveness in glue before. It really is a game changer, especially for complex joints and joining of dissimilar materials. I can alternately choose a glue that shrinks OR swells as it cures, and multiple resistances to liquid, UV or solvents.
Cordless lawn tools has been the largest jump to me. Especially with tool manufacturers who share it with their main battery platform. Corded lawn tools suck and the cordless ones from 10-20 years ago were worse. IF it was forced on me I’d pick a corded drill over a corded string trimmer.
“It’s been hinted that Metabo is working on user-following LED worklight quadcopter drones. That’s within the realm of possibility these days.”
I’d totally use this when walking my dog at night to help me identify land mines in the neighborhood.
Brushless motors are a big step for all tools.
Skeptical of the wireless charging. If it can’t charge as fast or faster than the direct contact stations, they wont take over. But I do agree that its the best shot at a universal charging station. It would let each manufacturer keep their proprietary connectors so there wont be any cross-usage of batteries and tools, while letting them be charged the same.
Not so much game changing – but once the Fein Multimaster came off-patent – the proliferation of new oscillating multi-tools was tremendous. New features like quick blade change came with the added competition.
I also thing that track saws – starting with Festool were a game changer – as we learned that they had better cutting capabilities than just a circular saw and a straight edge.
To a lesser extent the Festool Domino machines have been a game changer (for me anyway). I used to do mortise and tenon joints on the table saw – and even tried some by hand. They worked great – but were time consuming and almost always required some tuning with a sharp chisel and a shoulder plane. I tried biscuit jointers (OK for alignment but not for strong joints), then a Freud Dual Doweling machine – but found it to be sloppy. The Mafell doweler was not out at the time – and when it became available its $1300 cost put me off. So when the Festool Domino XL appeared – I took a deep ($1200) swallow and shelled out for it. Haven’t looked back. I suspect that once it goes off-patent – there will be copycats.
Agree with the tracksaw I love my festool. Good to know about the domino… I thought it was just a biscuit jointer as well? Seemed like it with the accessory pieces in the systainer they sell for it. Biscuits did always look weak to me, I have one of the cast doweling clamps that center the hole on the workpiece edge that I use along with a hand drill. I dont make pretty things yet but feels like thats one of the things limiting me.
The Domino looks like a biscuit joiner, but instead of using a small saw blade, it uses a router type bit and automatically oscillates it back and forth. It creates an oblong slot that can be used with their tenons, or you can make your own on a router table.
The Domino is a slot mortiser, which uses loose tenons for the connection. Really nifty engineering to fit it into a package that small.
Using dowels were a traditional joinery method. Good for lots of furniture. I used a Dowelmax jig many times – works very well – but a lot slower and not as strong a joint as with big loose tenons. As an example I took apart 2 big 10 x 4 foot salvaged oak church doors and cut them down to size to work as 8 x 3 foot double doors. In the past I might have cut matching slots to glue in splines -and/or built a jig to rout mortises for homemade loose tenons – but with 14mm Festool loose tenons and the Domino XL the job took way less time – with no fussing over getting everything to fit just right – and the doors are plenty strong. Building thick table tops has also become a lot easier.
So you all are saying loose fitting… do you use glue to fill in the rest? And this allows for it not to be exactly lined up but rather close enough and the glue and clamping cover the rest?
Loose tenon is a bit of a misnomer. It is loose as compared to a tenon that is cut at the end of a piece of wood – say by a hand saw or tablesaw – and is integral with the wood. This might be on a the ends of a door rail as an example – where the tenon then fits into a mortise cut (or chopped) into the door stile.
The fit between the Festool-made 5mm to 14mm tenons and the mortise that the Domino machine makes is fairly a snug fit. Glue is indeed applied – the tenon is tapped into one of the mortises with a mallet – and then the mating mortise is lined up with the other end of the tenon and the assembly is then typically pulled together with a parallel jaw bar clamp.
I would have to vote for LED lighting embedded in tools (wired and wireless) as well as the work lights and flash lights we have come to love.
In the same vein as the gyro tools I would add the little Ridgid palm impact driver. They had a demo day at Home Depot and it I think it would be great for light to medium duty impact driving needs. Insert bit, pick forwards or reverse, insert screw and go. The harder you press, the faster it drives. Ease up and it slows down. I think we will see a growth in tools with intuitive controls, as it speeds up the job. Trying this driver, one hand controlled it perfectly, so the only job your off hand had was to keep feeding it screws.
There’s often talk of the higher capacity of Li-Ion (and LiPo) bring as compared to the old NiCad and NiMH tech, but that’s arguably not the reason for their success. The newer LiIon/LiPo cells have a much higher discharge rate than older cell tech — that is, it can dump it’s power much faster which is essential for getting the blade to spin fast and to power through a cut, for example. *That’s* the thing that makes the cordless tools successful!
Next up is the discharge curve. Those who’ve used a NiCad battery know it starts strong but quickly isn’t quite as fast/bright/strong. And just a little later it’s even worse. The charge isn’t dead, but gee, it’s not near it’s peak anymore. “Time to top it off” was a constantly required mantra of activity. And of course, you’ve got to worry about maintaining the cells so they don’t develop a memory and permanently have poor performance. Modern battery technologies dump all they have, from start to finish, with a decrease in voltage only at the very end of the charge life, with no memory effect.
An often overlooked area of battery tech is the charger. Old chargers just pumped juice into the battery and it was up to you to not fry the battery! The manufacturer would say things like “don’t charge for more than nine hours” but that doesn’t really help you understand if the battery is completely charged, or if you’ve overcharged it and potentially shortened its life. Your only real option was to pull out the multimeter and watch the battery voltage as it was being charged and unplug it when done. Chances are, the battery had been charged to a different voltage over the last few days and is performing differently each day because of that. Modern chargers are smart, measuring individual cells in the battery as it’s being charged, delivering the voltage specifically where needed, and once that peak voltage is reached, charging shuts off automatically. Plus, charging will take perhaps 30 or 60 minutes, instead of a big chunk of the day! Charging the battery correctly keeps it operating at peak performance and will keep it in good shape for many more cycles.
And, let’s not forget about the problem of self-discharging. Oh, you didn’t use your NiCad-powered drill for a few weeks? Well now you need to recharge it before you can use it. (And because of the poor charger it has, you’ll need to wait hours for it to charge and you therefore can’t start your project until tomorrow!) Thanks to modern battery tech it’s safe to bet that your LiIon drill still has a charge and will still get the work done today.
So much about battery tech has changed over the last many years!
You sir, win this whole discussion. The reliability and consistency of newer batteries, in my opinion trumps all the other gains that have been made with cordless tools. Sure different aspects make them faster, stronger, smarter, but set up your batteries wrong back in the day and you were out for much longer than the difference between brushed and brushless. Slap and go, true freedom.
This is a really good point. I think you’re right. It’s probably the biggest game changer so far
As an electrical engineer, I agree 100%. Well said, Sir.
Cordless tools becoming as powerful as corded is a true game changer. The most mind-blowing stuff to me though is contractor grade outdoor power equipment. Ego’s 56v lawn mower especially is impressive compared to gasoline power.
I love my craftsman nextec Auto Hammer. There have been others, and I’m not sure how new the technology is (hell the nextec is “old” now by today’s standards). But it works, and is a great innovation.
Dominic van Lievenoogen
I think you totally missed the most important change and that is metabos lihd battery.
Currently the only pack on the market using bigger form factor cells.
They are beter in Every way compared to 6 amp batteries, flexvolt or Milwaukee HD.
Evert brand will be copying these types of batteries.
Others have already stated they will use those new cells. That’s why the FlexVolt packs are big pigs, the Dewalt 6.0 20v Max are big pigs, and I believe M18 9.0 is the third little pig to follow metabo’s footsteps.
Also why we haven’t seen the M18 9.0 etc. in over a year since they were announced and 7 months since they were meant to be on the market.
Also why the current Bosch 6.0 have less runtime than a 5.0 under heavy load.
Thanks to Hover boards the way to ship lithium ion products has changed due t new Government regulations. Many companies who use lithium ion batteries suffered and delays were caused.
I was considering Metabo’s LiHD tech, but was iffy about it.
Right now, Bosch, Dewalt, and Ridgid are also adopting larger cells for their highest capacity packs. It’s unclear if other brands will join them.
Ridgid’s Stealth Force and Makita’s Oil Pulse impact drivers have the potential to change the way pros do work in situations where low noise is a necessity. The Ridgid is a lot quieter then I thought it would be compared to my standard impact drivers.
THIS. Quiet impact drivers. I am sooooo looking forward to when DeWalt gets on this train.
I’m a long way from being sold on the whole cordless charging hooplah, phones or tools. You’ve still gotta put the item in a designated location and leave it there in order to charge. For phones you save the what? 1.5 seconds to pull out the cord? For tools, granted you can leave it in the tool but still, 20 maybe 30 seconds tops to remove the battery and slap it into a tool. It’s cool technology, but I don’t have any need for it.
For tools, it’s intended for workstation use. Use the tool, sit it down. Pick it up, use it, sit it down, constantly staying charged. Also, I think the wireless charging theoretically avoids the risk of damage to the contacts, junk building up around the contacts, etc. It’s the contacts damage that is where it shines for phones, much less of an issue with cordless tools as our battery contacts are a lot more robust than a micro-USB.
I think there’s one other tech that’s been overlooked: Bosch’s cool Socket Ready Impact Driver. Combine a 1/2″ socket ready (think ratchet) connector with a 1/4″ hex drive socket. This is one I’d love to see picked up by other makers. Okay, I really don’t care of Milwaukee, Makita, Rigid, Ryobi, Hitachi, Kobalt, AEG, Festool, Fein, Metabo, Hilti, Triton, or Panasonic pick it up. I just want to see DeWalt pick it up. 😀
The advances in jobsite radios is nice. Ironic too, because nowadays jobsite radios seem to be about the only boomboxes available any more.
Kregg (Kregg jig) has revolutionized the cabinet industry in the last 20 yrs as well.
The impact has been the greatest in my daily work life, 4x power, no drill chuck to rub/bits coming loose… I do not go 4 hrs in my work day without using one, replaces hammer and nails (for building and bracing) , replaces a hand ratchet for automotive work, drilling 1/2 holes or smaller in anything except steel (add a 12inx 1/4 extension for a longer drill bit), led turns it into a flashlight, no more stripped screws… And probably forgetting several more.
Makita’s X2 WAS revolutionary but they overcharged for it, never marketed it correctly, and squandered the opportunity. Now it’s OBE due to flexvolt.
Decent cordless hand vacs have been a plus.
It wasn’t exactly revolutionary; Black & Decker and probably other brands have experimented with modular battery pack designs in the past.
well aside from the battery chemistry – how about the charging technology that had to keep up with the improved cells. and the dual voltage chargers. Having the ability to deal with your 12 v and your 18/20 volt batteries with one charger is a nice feature.
follow on – the Control Logic boards in the new tools. Brushless motor is useless without it’s controller. And for those to hold up to the abuse the tools receive is rather impressive to me. Take your impact drivers – they literally vibrate and shock load the tool frame. Circuit boards hate that. Yet most of us have a brushless, cordless impact driver that we use daily. I’d say the circuit design and toughness is as important as the change to LI battery chemistry.
Smartphones – I’m one of the few people that mentions it but smartphone technology has become more and more useful on the jobsite. Or to me it has. I consider it a tool as much as my impact driver or wrench set. The ability to look up specs, see video of a removal, take video of some damage, calculate on the fly etc. Call it connectivity, call it internet or whatever – but I have apps on my smartphone I use that don’t require internet activity to be useful (electrodroid for example)
Stuart why do you mention “brushless motors and milwaukee fuel tools” in the same heading?
Makita brought brushless motors to consumer power tools first and they deserve that recognition if you are going to mention it as a “game changer”.
Milwaukee’s implementation, not Makita’s introduction, was more of the game changer.
As Andrew said, it was Milwaukee, not Makita, that pushed things forward in a huge way. When the first generation of M18 Fuel drills and drivers came out, Makita had a light duty brushless hammer drill, and that was it or nearly it.
A couple of simple google searches says otherwise. I would have thought you would be better informed about the history of tools innovations.
The first two M18 fuel tools were introduced in March 2012 (compact drill and hammer drill), then they brought out the M18 impact driver in June of 2012 which is THREE YEARS after Makita introduced the first consumer grade brushless 3-speed impact driver in 2009 (which was five years after Makita introduced brushless tools for the defense and aerospace industries in 2004).
That very first consumer brushless impact driver was the actual game changer – you could drive TWICE as many screws on the same battery as the brushed version.
Milwaukee had nothing to do with the innovation of brushless motors in tools, they simply saw what Makita had done and followed suit although I do admit that after that initial THREE YEAR gap Milwaukee came out with more brushless tools in their lineup than Makita but those tools aren’t really game changers and they all follow Makita’s original innovation (they likely have a licence agreement with Makita who surely has several brushless-power-tool-related patents)
I wrote about the Makita LXDT01 in September 2011 (https://toolguyd.com/makita-cordless-18v-lxt-impact-driver-lxdt01/), and the Milwaukee Fuel impact was announced a few months later in early 2012 – https://toolguyd.com/milwaukee-fuel-m18-brushless-impact-driver/ .
I don’t recall seeing a 3-speed before that. I can find references from ~2012 mentioning a 2009 brushless impact from Makita, but can’t find any model number or specific info. Do you happen to recall the model number?
In recent years, Makita has been very reactive, instead of setting the pace.
There are definitely a LOT of Makita innovations, such as their hybrid impact drill (https://toolguyd.com/makita-xpt03-hybrid-impact-hammer-drill/), but in recent years not too many have been changing the face of the industry.
The model number was TD132D. It was only available in Japan so you had to order it from Ebay, but the nice thing is you could get it in five different colors.
Eventually they released the international version of the same tool as the LXDT01 but they also moved production to China and you could also only get it in the teal color (in Japan they make the tools in five different colors because instead of the tool color identifying the brand in Japan the color of your tools and uniform indicate the trade you are in).
Fast forward to more recently, you could get the TD148D (again from Ebay and again in five colors) since 2013 but it only recently was brought to other markets including North America as the LXDT09 (actually they have dropped the L and it’s just the XDT09).
People have their biases towards certain beliefs and certainly towards platforms they are invested in but without a shred of doubt the TD148D (XDT09) is the very best impact driver in the world. It simply ticks all the boxes – most compact, lightest weight, smoothest feeling, quietest operation (not counting oil pulse drivers), also it does more work per watt-hour than any other brand so it’s the most efficient as well (this is related to being the smoothest and quietest, they simply use tighter tolerances, better engineering and better raw materials)
Some people will point out that the Milwaukee Fuel drivers have higher maximum torque ratings, which might mean they can fasten a slightly larger bolt that requires all that torque, but in everyday SCREW driving the Makita leaves the fuel drivers in the dust. Why? Because the fuel drivers top out at 3,000 rpm while the Makita driver spins at 3,600 RPM.
Another Makita innovation is of course the quick-shift mode for self-tapping screws, which is certainly a “game changer” in itself for those users.
For me it’s having compact tools with 5 cell batteries and heavy duty tools with 10 and now 15 cell batteries, all on the same system. One charger, interchangeable batteries in a pinch, large variety of tools.
Lithium battery tech is the single biggest improvement but certainly high up on the list has to be a shared battery platform. As best I can recall Ryobi was the first in Australia, sometime @ 2004?
I’d like to add the greatly increased capabilities of the small 10,8V/12V max when compared to earlier generations of compact tools as one of the gamechanging developments, though it’s more a consequence of the innovations already mentioned.
I mean, thinking back 15 years: there were barely any cordless tools on building sites except for drills and the occasional rotary hammer. And those were all enormously heavy compared even to modern 18V stuff. However, if you see anyone doing installations nowadays, chances are they’ve got a bag or box of 10,8v stuff that covers all their needs without needing an outlet.
We used to use a Panasonic 12V drill/driver back then. It had a 3Ah Nimh battery, kost my dad an arm and a leg, but it *smoked* all its direct competition by Bosch, Dewalt and Makita.
However, it weighs in at about 2kg, batteries took two to three hours to charge, and realistically? Modern brushless 10,8v units are half the weight, more power, faster charge, no self-discharge monstrosities by those standards.
I’ve got a Dewalt DCD791, but still see myself reaching for the 10,8’s around here quite often. Sometimes, you don’t need a stronger tool, but the lightest or smallest tool that’ll do. And for quite a lot of tradesmen, 18v is a lot heavier and/or bigger than they need.
Agreed, I have a few 18v tools but the majority of my stuff is M12. We do a/c installs and other than using an M18 fuel rotary hammer for pipe holes through the wall, I use M12 for everything else.
Mr. Grumpy Pants
I just don’t get why these companies are trying to reinvent power tools. I understand that there’s new technology way better than the past. But it certainly don’t mean that its the best way to manufacture tools. I don’t care how “smart” the technology is, bottom line it’s a crock of pasta. It doesn’t matter if they make a 10ah 100v battery, it will never be as efficient, effective, reliable, etc as a corded, pneumatic, or gas powered tool. They even try to come up with fancy names for them-flexvolt, high demand, onekey, etc. Roses! Especially the one key salmon. Why would I want to download something to a power tool. Why don’t it work right to begin with? The worst is the cordless circular, recip, table, miter,& band saws. Why would anyone want one? Every now and then a cordless circular & recip comes in handy, but the others I mentioned, waste of time and money. Same thing with lawn equipment. Its night and day between battery powered tools & tools that have testicles. Drills/impact drivers & light/lanterns are honestly the only tools that benefit being battery powered. I’ve been a contractor for nearly 20 years & have owned several battery powered tools, & every one I’ve bought sits in a box collecting dust or trashed or sold. They don’t serve enough purpose to cost as much as those fishsticks are asking. I remember when cordless l-ion first came out & I went out & bought a few combo kits from the big box brands. I sold them within a month. But as long as there’s a sucker born every minute, they’re gonna continue to produce & make a profit on tools that have no business being battery powered in the first place.
The original comment made me chuckle but the edit actually made me laugh. Nice.
It’s rare that I have to edit out obscenities, vulgarities, and other words that wouldn’t pass a PG filter.
But when it happens, I remove or replace words if it doesn’t change the overall opinion or conveyance of a comment.