Home Improvement: Power Tools Review

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The latest power tools put more savings and versatility in your hands. Manufacturers increased run time, and new hybrid tools allow you to perform multiple tasks. Plus, you’ll encounter a new twist on how to operate cordless screwdrivers.

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To say you’ll encounter a battery of changes when you shop for power tools in 2013 is a both literal and figurative interpretation of what manufacturers have done to their products in the past 2 years.

Literally speaking, the newest batteries that are used for cordless power tools drive their products 33 percent longer than do the batteries that had the most capacity 2 years ago. Figuratively speaking, the newest power tools usher in a new generation of versatility and control. A new crop of hybrid products allows you to use more tool heads than ever before on the same body, so you can do more than just drill, hammer and saw with the same tool. Also new are cordless screwdrivers that you operate with a twist of the wrist rather than the press of a trigger, which is a feature that likely will arrive on other power tools in the years ahead.

BATTERY LIFE. Today’s power-tool batteries typically have a maximum of 18–20 volts, but their capacity, which is measured in amp-hours (Ah), continues to increase. As a result, the run time for power tools that use the newest lithium-ion batteries is longer than ever before.

In 2011, no power-tool battery had a capacity of more than 3 Ah. However, at press time, 12 out of 18 power-tool manufacturers offered 4-Ah batteries that can be used to power multiple products, and three other manufacturers are expected to add such batteries in the months ahead. Furthermore, Metabo says it will introduce a 5.2-Ah battery in 2014.

Experts say it’s impossible to pin down how long that most power tools run per amp-hour, because the amount of power that the tools consume varies greatly depending on the task and how the tool is operated, such as how much speed and pressure that the user applies. Nonetheless, battery experts confirm that under identical working conditions and with the same tool, a 4-Ah battery should last 33 percent longer than a 3-Ah battery does before charging is required. Based on our hands-on evaluations, we found that the experts’ take is reasonable.

Another benefit is that larger-capacity batteries should have a longer lifespan than do batteries that have less capacity, experts tell Consumers Digest. Lithium-ion batteries are designed to serve 300–500 charge cycles (depending on the quality of their cells), battery experts say. So, a 3-Ah battery will have to be replaced sooner than a 4-Ah battery will, because the 4-Ah battery runs longer between each charge.

For example, if you used the same batteries across a lineup of cordless power tools to complete a home-renovation project, it’s reasonable to expect that you might have to recharge a 3-Ah battery three times per week. Under the same circumstances, you’d have to charge a 4-Ah battery twice per week. In such a case, a pair of 3-Ah batteries would last 2–3 years before they’d have to be replaced. A pair of 4-Ah batteries, however, would last 3–5 years.

Before you get too amped about the newest battery capabilities, you should know that you’ll pay at least $30 extra for a 4-Ah battery compared with a 3-Ah battery and $50 more for a 4-Ah battery than you would a 2-Ah battery. In addition, 4-Ah batteries might have more capacity than you need.

The run time of most 4-Ah batteries outlasts the demands of most homeowners and do-it-yourselfers, says Jayson Serrault of Batteries Plus, which sells and rebuilds batteries for power tools. In other words, if you use tools heavily, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you pay the extra money for 4-Ah batteries. However, if you’re anything less than a weekend warrior, buying power tools that have a 2-Ah battery should serve you just fine, experts say.

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