Last year at around this time, Porter Cable released a new line of redesigned cordless and corded tools that started lining the shelves at Lowes right before the holiday shopping season began.
After the new tools were released, several recurring questions about them have popped up on online forums and discussion boards. Many of those confused and asking these questions are those that have prior familiarity or experience with Porter Cable tools.
The aim of this informal assessment is to address some of those questions. Click here to skip ahead to the summary.
Background and Overview
About one year ago, all Black & Decker Firestorm tools carried by Lowes were being clearanced out. At about the same time, Lowes began heavily promoting a new line of low-priced Porter Cable tools in their flyers and ads.
To be honest, after first seeing these new tools, our initial thoughts were that the new tools were priced oddly low for Porter Cable branded tools, and that perhaps they were Firestorm tools in disguise. We soon discovered that this was a popular theory. It was not exactly unreasonable, since, after all, what else could be inferred about $40 angle grinders and $109 cordless combo kits given the circumstances?
What Does Porter Cable Say About These New Tools?
In the original press release, it says that these new tools were “developed with the specific needs of the tradesman in mind – offering flexibility, performance and reliability at a great value” and that they were also “designed to meet the demands of the worksite and around the shop.”
So Are These Rebadged Firestorm Tools or Not?
This was our first thought, but our perspective has changed slightly since then. First of all, if these were simply Black and Decker Firestorm tools in disguise, why are their releases being staggered? Porter Cable is gradually expanding the new product lines, suggesting to us that perhaps the tools are in varying stages of development or redesign.
Plus, some of these new tools seem to have better specs and different functional appearances than the Firestorm tools they replaced. Not to mention the warranty is better – 3 year warranty, 2 year warranty on batteries, 1 year free service, 90 day money back guarantee.
Another thing that we noticed is that the the new drills have metal keyless chucks, and feature torque ratings not typically found in consumer level tools.
In short, our answer is a definite absolute maybe. It just cannot be denied that the new tools’ low pricing strongly suggests a deviation in tool quality, design, or durability. Typically, something must always be sacrificed to achieve such low prices.
If we had to guess, we would hypothesize that these tools are Lowes’ mid-range answer to Home Depot’s lineup of Ryobi tools, and Sears’ lineup of Craftsman C3 power tools.
Are These New Tools Equivalent to Their Predecessors?
This is a tough question to answer, but, quite frankly, we don’t see how it would be possible. For example, consider Porter Cable’s new 4-1/2″ angle grinder, which is priced at $40. The previous model, which is no longer mentioned on Porter Cable’s website, the 7418, is currently selling for for $93.
How can a $40 tool compare to one that is priced twice as much? It is this type of discrepancy that has confused many to whom Porter Cable has always meant “professional quality.”
What About Porter Cable’s Other Tools?
As far as we can tell, Porter Cable’s nailers, routers, sanders, and all of their other professional woodworking tools are unchanged.
How Can I Tell if a Tool Has Been “Redesigned?”
As far as we can tell, the product number says it all. The newer Porter Cable tools all have product numbers that start with “PC”. The new angle driver? PC750AG. The new 18V drill? PC1800D. Porter Cable’s pro-quality premium low-profile sander? 390K.
You can probably also tell by looking at the price.
Is Porter Cable Changing Their Focus?
From where we’re sitting, it looks like Porter Cable is still hell-bent on designing and manufacturing top-quality woodworking tools.
I Always Buy Porter Cable – What Does This Mean for Me?
Well, to be honest, it depends on whether you are looking for a consumer-grade tool, or a professional-grade tool. If you are looking for a professional tool, then you may not be able to base your decision solely on Porter Cable’s name and reputation anymore. These new tools are obviously not the same, as should be apparent by their pricing.
At least for the time being, if there is no “PC” prefix, then there is no need to hesitate.
What Does ToolGuyd Recommend?
This is a tough question, and again the answer depends on what you are looking for. Since Porter Cable no longer exclusively offers pro-quality tools, you may need to lend less weight to brand loyalty the next time you go tool shopping.
If you would like to avoid these new lower-priced tools, you can differentiate them from Porter Cable’s existing pro-quality tool lineup by their “PC” prefix as mentioned. If you shop around, you may be able to find some of Porter Cable’s previous model tools. For example, their 19.2V drill (9826), which is no longer being manufactured, can still be found at a few online retailers.
If you’re on the fence and are not sure if you should give these new tools a chance, remember that the tools carry a 90-day money-back-guarantee, and that Lowes has a fairly lenient return policy as well.
We wouldn’t say to stay away from these products, but do shop carefully. If you’re looking for a new drill and amongst your other considerations are Bosch, Milwaukee, and Makita models, you won’t want to look at the PC1800D. But if you’re looking for a cordless 4-tool combo kit and your budget is $200, then the PC418C-2 set should definitely be on your short list.
In short, some of Porter Cable’s new corded and cordless handheld power tools are definitely different than the black and grey pro-level Porter Cable tools that many professional tool users remember. However, Porter Cable’s woodworking tools and all other tools with model numbers not prefixed with “PC” are still pro tools and remain unchanged.
This is not to say that the new Porter Cable tools are aimed at budget tool users. Judging by their specs, features, and designs, the new Porter Cable tools seem to be targeting the mid-range tool market.
Currently, it looks as though Lowes is marketing their selection of Skil tools towards budget tool users, the relatively new Porter Cable lines towards serious DIYers and light pro users, Hitachi tools towards serious DIYers and value-oriented pro users, and Dewalt towards very serious DIYers and pro users, with tools from a few other brands mixed in.
That all said, we would not hesitate to recommend Porter Cable’s new line of corded and cordless tools towards those looking to buy mid-range tools.
Reference Press Releases