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Starting Fresh – What is the best brand of cordless power tools?

Buying New Power Tools

The question of what brand of cordless tools someone should buy comes up on our forum every few months and countless other times when we talk with our friends.  Everyone wants to think there is a magic answer that will lead them to the perfect tools.  For some people there is an easy answer and for others it is not so simple.  In this article we will walk you through some items to think about when you are looking at buying a set of tools.  If you are honest about these questions with yourself, it will help guide you through the process.  In some cases, people just like a single brand and that is great, we will not talk you out of a brand you really enjoy.  People drive all sorts of different brand cars, some of them have a reason why and some do not, but in some cases, we fall for a brand and stick with them.

Stick with me as we will start off vague and get more detailed at the end.

How Much Will These Tools Be Used

Try to be very honest with yourself when answering these question because it will be one of the factors that will direct you to the segment of tools you need.  If you use these tools on a daily basis and your lively hood is built around them, please think long and hard about getting some of the better tools out there and in some cases be sure you have a backup for the tools you need on a daily basis.  If you use your tools on the weekend for a hobby, it is less of a letdown when you break something or you have a tool failure.  The hobbyist can be one of the hardest people to recommend tools to.  If you are a person who will have modest use of tools, know that and move on to the next question.  If you are a person who just wants some tools around if something breaks or if it might be needed someday, I might suggest looking at corded models as there is not a battery to keep charged or extra expenses if batteries die over time and without much use.

How Hard Will Your Tools Be Used?

This is a question that is tough to gauge and depends on the person.  There are people who know how to use a tool to the limits and others that will push them until they break.  Take a hard look at what you expect out of these tools and how well they will be taken care of.  If you are putting these tools in the hands of employees, know they will not take care of them as you would.  If you need these tools to perform to make money, we need to look at high end models.  As a hobbyist or contractor, how important is your time because some tools will complete jobs faster than others when being pushed to the limit.  A great example of this is a drill.  Almost any drill on the market will drill a 1/2″ hole.  Not all will drill 1,000 half inch holes on a single battery or will they all do it with the speed some want.  Does your drill need to be used with large hole saws?  Think of the applications you will use these tools in and decide if it is high end, mid-grade or just average.

What is Your Budget?

Many people look at the amount of money they have to spend and make a decision on what tool to buy.  I fully disagree with this because you can under-buy and over-buy very easily.  I would rather see people own more tools than over buy on one simple tool.  So once you have decided on the amount of use and impact of the use, let’s decide if you can afford the tool you need or if you can save money for more tools down the road.  If you are a high frequency heavy use buyer, then you should be looking to the lines of tools that will be able to push through your projects.  Your budget will dictate if you are going to buy the top end brushless model or scale back to a high end bushed tool.  Both tools will accomplish the same task to a certain degree, but there will be a huge price difference.  Home owners and hobbyist are going to be a bit more tough based on the time they are willing to spend on projects.  Most will be able to rely on the more affordable tools and being able to get more tools with the money.  Some will want to buy up into more professional grades to know they have more longevity.  Make sure you have the money to expand into more tools.

Single Battery Platform

Having a single battery platform is something to consider.  In some ways it makes a lot of sense because bare tools (without batteries) are much cheaper and can allow one to buy more tools and only have a few batteries.  I am one who firmly feels there is the right tool for the right job and I will buy the tool that I can best complete a specific task with.  But there are exceptions.  We have recently reviewed some outdoor power equipment that runs on the Dewalt 20 volt max battery systems.  In this case you can run your blower, string trimmer and other home owner tools off this platform and buy more bare tools as needed.  On the other hand, why limit yourself to just one brand and what if that brand changes battery platforms?

Longevity of the Battery

Let’s not look at longevity of the battery as runtime.  That issue should have been looked at in step one or two.  Let’s look at the platform as a whole and find out if they have left some battery platforms to upgrade.  While I used Dewalt as an example of a manufacturer who has outdoor power tools and other tools, they also changed from a 18v system to go to a 20 volt max system.  This left a lot of people with 18 volt Dewalt tools unable to upgrade those platforms.  What makes that a bit worse is that 20 volt max batteries from any brand are really 18 volt batteries.  It is simply a matter of how they read the voltage, under load or not.  So 20 volt max is not more powerful than 18 volt.  Same with a 12 volt max system as that is really a 10.8 volt platform.  We never know when a tool company will change, but there are some out there that have never changed and the old tools can still use new batteries.

Look for Branding

To make this very easy, I am going to use Milwaukee Tools as an example.  They basically have 3 lines of cordless tools; Fuel, Brushless and the ones simply labeled as Milwaukee.  The Fuel tools are brushless with the most power and runtime, the tools labeled as just Brushless do not have the same power as the Fuel models, but have great runtime, and the standard Milwaukee tools have brushed motors with less power and less runtime.  So inside the single brand, you have different level tools that have different price points but all take the same battery.  Dewalt has a similar model with the XR line having the brushless motors and more power.  Look for the branding before you buy a cheaper tool in the brand thinking you are getting all the top of the line power.

Amp Hour Batteries

There are a lot of lower end kits that are sold with compact or low amp hour batteries.  The amp hour rating is basically a designation on how long the batteries will last under load.  Most compact batteries are 2.5 amp hour or below.  A great example of buying a nice kit with low amp hour batteries is the Ryobi ultimate kit.  It is a great set of tools, but with the included batteries we were only able to drive 40 three inch screws with the impact driver.  It is a simple upgrade to buy the 4.0 Ah battery, but it is almost $100 for the battery alone.  Many kits are sold cheaper with the smaller batteries.  Currently you can get up to 6.0 Ah batteries in several brands, so take a look at amp hour when you buy tools.

Warranty

Finally, take a solid look at the tool company warranty.  There are some great warranties on the market to take advantage of.  But be sure you read and follow the instructions on registering your tools.  In some cases, there is no warranty if the tool is not registered or if you do not have a receipt.  It is very important to follow the manufacturer’s direction and sometimes double check with the company to make sure the paperwork is filed correctly.  Other tool companies are a bit more relaxed on those policies.

Overall

So we have looked at frequency of use, duty cycles, battery platforms, different models within a brand, amp hour of the batteries and the warranty.  Now it is time to choose the tool that is best for you.  Some tools might have priced themselves right out of your budget and others might be a steal for what you are getting.  Your decisions here are not final and you can change tools if you are not married to the tool due to the amount of money you spent on it.

In my humble opinion, it would be hard to pick one brand. I really like Milwaukee and Dewalt, but the new Ridgid tools have good quality and are priced well. If I had a budget, I would want to own more tools than less, so I would have to pick the highest quality I could get the most tools on the dollars I planned to spend.  I really like Milwaukee tools for working on trucks. IMHO, the M12 ratchets and impacts are perfect for that work and they are small. The new M18 compact impact wrench now gives me a light tool that I can use for lugs and other items. When needed, I can bring out the big gun, but that is not a daily use tool when I have the smaller stuff.

Dewalt makes some nice tools and I really like their outdoor equipment. I have their 20 volt blower now and it is nice for the shop and still works well in the yard. I would not go without the Dewalt battery operated framing nailer.

In some ways, I can be a bit cheap when it comes to tools. So I want quality and quantity together. So that would be Ridgid because the Gen5x stuff has been impressive, but they do not make the tools I want for automotive.

Now if you want to talk about 12 volts verses 18 volts, you are going to open a whole new can of worms!

I cannot pick one brand and I hope you share with us your experiences and what you chose in the comments.

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