Choosing Best Cordless Power Tools Requires Savvy Specification
Part three of a four-part article on power tools
Cordless power tools with advanced features and functions now enable technicians to perform an array of tasks more efficiently and safely. Among the improved features and functions are: wireless battery chargers; combination kits, such as the 18-volt, two-tool kit with ¼- and ½-inch socket-ready chuck that eliminates the need for two tools and extra adapters; built-in LED lights with a 20-second delay when the tool is powered off; and shears for making curved cuts in a variety of materials.
The key to capturing optimum safety, productivity, and long-term performance when specifying cordless tools is selecting the tool that best fits the job. Making a smart choice boils down to several key questions: What will the technician use the tool for? What attachments will the user need? How much power does the technician need?
One tool is rarely suitable for all tasks, but by careful specification and selection, managers can determine the optimum number of tools to address the highest-priority tasks safely and efficiently.
Managers need to decide whether a cordless power tool or a corded model is most appropriate for the applications. Cordless tools are easier to use in high-elevation work sites and crawl spaces because technicians do not have to find a power source and be concerned about the location of the cord.
Cordless tools also can be appropriate for small jobs because technicians do not have to unwind and rewind the cord and find a power outlet, which can be time-consuming and reduces productivity. Cordless power packs have enough capacity for short jobs, while corded tools are more appropriate for jobs requiring a great deal of fastening or drilling or many cycles of the tool, which can deplete a battery’s power quickly.
Corded power tools are especially appropriate in certain circumstances because of the benefits they provide. They offer a ready source of reliable, unlimited power on long projects at the same site and are unaffected by cold, which can reduce battery capacity by 50 percent, as anyone knows who has found a perfectly fine car battery dead after parking in the cold.
Managers who specify cordless tools need to be familiar with the operating and maintenance manuals for both the tool and the batteries before technicians use the tools. To alert the user to the importance of this, managers should point out the symbol on the tool’s housing directing the user to read the manual before use. The manuals contain a wealth of safety, operating and maintenance instructions for the specific make and model, including uses, capacity, operating steps, and limitations.
For example, in the case of a drill/driver, the manual instructs on proper drilling procedures, the size of the drill for a fastener, the depth to drill, the clearance needed in the top piece for a tight fit, and rules for charger use.
The user might be tempted to use any charger on the tool, but that is a bad idea. Different chargers have different design characteristics, and mixing them can result in overheating if the rate of charging is too great for the battery design. Users also should keep batteries away from small metal objects when they are not charging tools. Metal objects can short the terminals, causing tool damage, fire, and explosions.
Managers can maximize the investment in power tools by ensuring technicians are familiar with the manuals and follow the operation and maintenance instructions for optimum safety and performance.
Effective safety practices need careful and continuing attention. For this reason, cordless tool manufacturers subject their products to testing by an independent laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL), before a certification mark can appear on the housing. UL has an online search database for verification of certification marks.
Thomas A. Westerkamp is a maintenance and engineering management consultant and president of the work management division of Westerkamp Group LLC, www.westerkampgroup.com.