Drills, hammer drills, saws of various types, cable cutters, hole punches and crimpers are among the power hand tools most often used by electricians, helping complete more work in less time with less physical effort. Manufacturers continue to develop power tools that are more compact, more powerful and that have ergonomic features that make them easier and less tiring to use, even for repetitive tasks.

The number of cordless models continues to grow, helped by advances in battery technology, which has seen NiMH batteries replacing NiCad on many tools. Earlier this year, Milwaukee Electric Tools introduced a cordless tool system using new high-draw lithium-ion batteries that the company said not only provides better performance and significantly more run-time per charge, but opens the door for cordless tools that always have been corded.

This report provides an overview of power tools and battery technologies from the perspective of several leading suppliers. Advances in bits, saw blades and other cutting tools will be covered in another report.

Handheld power tools

Bosch Power Tools (saws, drills and drivers, hammer drills and rotary hammers) Randall Coe, product development director, said: “The most significant advancement and improvement in power tools across the board has been the advent of cordless power-tool technologies. The inherent advantage of any cordless power tool is its convenience.

“Cordless also makes contractors more efficient, providing the ability to move from room to room with ease. The value of combo kits are also placing more cordless tools in the hands of end-users. Another significant improvement has been lighter weight tools. By adopting newer materials such as composites, manufacturers have been able to cut weight and increase durability. Furthermore, lightweight tools lead to more comfort, which includes better ergonomics. Vibration dampening, soft-grip, better balance and more [features] allow users to be more productive with tools than ever before. Durability also serves as another driving factor in tools. In the case of cordless, new materials such as ABS/Nylon housings, and unibody power trains for cordless drills, allow tools to take drops of one story or more and still function perfectly.

“Battery and motor technologies are the driving trends with respect to cordless products. Advancements in battery voltage, type and AMP hours [gas tank size] have made cordless saws, concrete drills and other various cordless tools possible. Today's motors deliver higher power and better efficiency, thus the ability to add higher-powered cordless products. Most high-production trades and applications still use corded tools today, mainly due to the unlimited power source. Further advancements in motor technology and battery sources are in development to allow efficient use of larger tools like demo hammers and large rotary hammers.”

Greenlee Textron (cutting, punching, crimping tools), Jim Eisele, product manager: “In the past couple of years, battery-powered crimping and cutting tools have become significantly smaller in size and lighter weight with smaller price tags, and our goal is to continually try to reduce size, weight and price, although in some cases, this may mean less capacity. However, Greenlee also has reversed the trend toward cordless in these categories, introducing corded versions of most battery-powered cutting, punching and crimping tools. Some customers told us they usually have power on job sites and were frustrated with battery tools. Corded tools are less expensive, because no batteries or chargers are needed. Different tool users have different perspectives, so we offer both cordless and corded models.

“Toolmakers have gone about as high in amps as possible with NiCad batteries and are moving toward nickel hydride, which provide more cycles per battery charge, but they are not available for all tools yet.”

Ideal Industries (cable cutters and power tool accessories, including hole saws, reciprocating blades, step-drill bits, augers and bit extensions), Jon Howell, product manager, hand tools: “The most significant recent advancement is versatility. We are creating products for electricians that can either be used in several different ways or combines two tools into one. Ergonomics and safety are the key issues we see affecting the hand tool market-softer, more secure grips that allow experienced contractors to work longer with less fatigue. Our most important considerations currently are to make tools that provide additional value and make an electrician's job faster, easier and more comfortable. Incorporating ergonomics into a tool and creating tools that serve multiple functions help achieve these goals.

“Power tool manufacturers continue to improve battery options. But we've taken a different approach with a cable-cutting tool that attaches to any power drill, giving electricians the versatility of having a powered cable cutter, without the need for special battery packs or chargers since it works with the drill they already carry, providing ... ease of use for powered cable-cutting needs.”

Makita USA (saws, drills, hammer drills, impact drivers, driver drills), Brent Withey, brand manager: “Power tools today include enhanced features such as incorporating LED lights for greater visibility in confined work spaces, quick-change features and tool-less features. It is important for manufacturers to respond to what the market demands in term of the professionals' power tool requirements, and that equates to smaller, lighter, more ergonomic, durable and pro-friendly tools that ultimately increase overall performance, productivity and work output. Advanced features to increase the professional's productivity are imperative.

“Battery technology continues to improve because of newer and more intelligent charging technology. The switch from NiCad to NiMH batteries has also led to longer run times and overall life of the battery. Some of the latest batteries that have been released have incorporated LED technology with LED lights built right into the battery. These high-output LED lights work independently from the tool and help in illuminating professionals' work areas for increased visibility. LED lights last 10,000 times longer than regular lights and are virtually indestructible.

“Tool designers will continue to respond to what their customers are demanding. Power tools will continue to get smaller and lighter while gaining performance and durability.”

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. (reciprocating, band and circular saws; high-torque drills; diamond coring rigs), Joseph Smith, vice president, marketing: “The most important considerations in designing power tools today is increasing power without increasing tool weight. The most significant recent advancement for cordless tools is the introduction earlier this year of lithium-ion 28-volt battery technology and tool system.” EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.