Cordless DC Power Tool Selection

Several readers have asked me what brand of cordless power tools I use. A few years back, I settled on DeWalt brand 18 Volt DC tools here at the Rawles Ranch. This company seemed to offer a very wide selection of very sturdy and reasonably priced tools with long battery life. The only drawback is that their spare batteries are fairly expensive. (Although their batteries seem to have a much longer service life than most of those made by competitors.) Since then, I haven’t regretted the selection of DeWalt, since they keep adding tools to their line, and a they’ve also started making compatible lithium-ion batteries. One nice thing about DeWalt is that they make both AC chargers and 12 Volt DC chargers. The latter come with ubiquitous cigarette lighter plugs, which I dislike. So I do my usual trick of adding pairs of genderless Anderson Power Pole connectors to the cords, to give me commonality with all of my other automotive, ham radio. and off-grid power systems. (I use fuse-protected RIGRunner power strips in most of my vehicles and Anderson Power Pole connectors all over our ranch house and barn/shop.)

I seem to get the most use out of the 1/2″ chuck impact drill and the reciprocating saw. (The latter uses standard Milwaukee Sawzall blades, and in fact I’ve switched to using the less expensive Milwaukee brand blades. For expendable items, I pay attention to quality and price rather than brand names.) My only regret was buying the compatible DeWalt cordless circular saw. I only rarely use it, so it wasn’t worth the expense. The motor is high torque, so it runs down batteries fairly quickly, and the blade diameter is fairly small, too. This limits the dimensions of stock that you can cut. I should have skipped buying it. Instead, I should have bought the less expensive cordless jig saw.

OBTW, don’t neglect getting a flexible floodlight. These come from the factory with traditional (filament) light bulbs installed, but they can quickly be converted to use high intensity LEDs. Using an LED, just one charged power pack will run the light for hundreds of hours.

I recently found a video of an adapter made that allows you to use less expensive Ryobi batteries in the DeWalt tools. (This is a bulky arrangement, but if you already have a pile of Ryobi batteries, then the adapter is worth buying.) There is also a company that re-builds Ni-Cd battery packs that will no longer take a charge. Detailed do-it-yourself rebuild instructions have also been published.

There is a DeWalt Owners Group Forum where folks discuss a lot of great tips and tricks. I’ve read that people have even done “hacks” for using DeWalt Power packs for powering laptop computers. I’m sure that many more hacks will be developed, as time goes on. I suppose that an iPod, iPad or Kindle Reader would run for months from a big tool battery pack.

One obvious need is a 120 VAC power cord adapter that would allow you to power your “cordless” 18 VDC tools from AC line current, for situations where you have a lot of repetitive work to do in places where you do have stable generator or utility power available. But, alas, the business of selling spare batteries is very profitable to tool makers, so they’ve essentially aced-out and third party vendors by patenting their proprietary battery connectors. I have a feeling that some clever fellow in Hong Kong will soon solve this problem. In the interim, anyone who is handy with a soldering iron can construct their own converter. You could simply take a dead battery, remove its cells, and connect it to a high amperage 18 volt power supply. To prevent over-heating, this would require using some heavy gauge cabling. BTW, the same “dead battery trick” has been used to make laptop power converters or adapters for other DC electronics that are 18 VDC, or less, such as handi-talkies. (Resistors can be used to drop the voltage, as needed.)

One word of advice, in closing: It is fine to look for used cordless power tools online or in pawn shops. But don’t buy batteries that way, unless they are still new and sealed in the factory packages. Otherwise, odds are that you will be buying grief.