Power tools available to electricians today are compact, light but powerful, easier and less tiring to use, and more tools than ever are available in cordless models.

Indeed, these characteristics have defined power tools for the past several years.

But the evolution of tool design is a continuing process and, in fact, power hand tools today are better than models sold only a year or two ago. Some improvements are visible while others are not. New materials make tools lighter; tools are more comfortable to hold, less tiring to use; more power is packed in smaller packages; batteries last longer and do more work; and drill bits and saw blades cut better and last longer.

Durability sets many of today’s tool products apart from older models.

“Manufacturers spent the past several years addressing power levels,” said Jeff Wilkinson, business segment manager for Bosch Power Tools. “Now there is emphasis on making tools that last.”

Perhaps best of all, many tools actually cost less than older models with standard features that once were add-on options.

Here is what representatives of several power tool makers say about today’s products:

“Ergonomics have been a focus over the last five years, specifically with handles and lightweight tools,” said Randall Coe, director product marketing for Bosch Power Tools. “The next wave is total tool size and power ratios—lighter, more powerful tools, and over the next five years, power-to-size ratios will lead to higher run times, more efficiency and less fatigue on users. Newest cordless products include miter saws and routers. The trick is the performance-to-value ratio that will dictate when cordless will totally take over corded. We have definitely seen the acceptance of many of the current cordless tools, drill-drivers, hammers, circular saws, reciprocating saws, as a complement to or replacement for their corded counterparts. Accessories also are following value-added trends. As battery technologies mature, they will raise the performance gap between corded and cordless tools. All tools that are corded will eventually be cordless, large and small.”

Todd Walter, DeWalt Industrial Tool Co. spokesperson, said: “Cordless tools are the fastest growing segment of the power tool industry. And improvements inside tools make them more durable against dust and debris. Electronic controls inside some tools help them to maintain power even under load; 18V is the most popular platform, providing a good balance of power, tool size and battery performance. There are more categories of cordless tools today. In general, new technology has improved performance of the accessories that are used with power tools, such as blades and bits. Cordless impact tools—relatively new to the U.S.—work faster than conventional drill-drivers or hand ratchets. The bottom line: as cordless technology improves, more and more traditional electric tools will go the way of cordless. For professional users, power and durability are the main requirements—they want tools that are more powerful, last longer and are easy to handle.”

Ken Woo, director of strategic marketing, FCI-Burndy Products: “Power tools today absolutely make electricians more productive. Instead of manually pumping a crimper 15 to 30 times for each crimp, pull a trigger and 7 to 10 seconds later the crimp is done. Cutting components are made of better material making them more durable. The trend is moving towards battery-operated tools for convenience and ease of use. For the most part contractors today can accomplish all their electrical connector installation requirements using battery-operated cordless tools. There are current tools with 18V NiMH [nickel metal hydride] batteries, which provide longer life. We expect the tools of the future to be even lighter with more durability and more range, all at a lower cost. We expect more tools at the lower range of the spectrum to be available in battery powered models.”

Jim Eisele, product manager, Greenlee Textron: “Power tools today are able to perform multiple tasks that enable the tool user to save both time and money. With increased power and multifunction capability, newer power tools allow electricians to work more accurately and efficiently. This means more work is done at lower cost. Using power tools that reduce strain on muscles and tendons results in less fatigue and injury risk and higher productivity. There are more quick-change options on hole saws and carbide cutters. High-speed steel cutters last much longer than traditional hole saws and leave a very clean hole for a lower cost per hole. These cutters also provide the lowest cost per hole when cutting mild steel. High-speed steel lasts 10 to 20 times longer than standard bimetal hole saws. Step bits have extra-long lands to help prevent over-drilling; step bits with double-flute construction require less pressure and reduce drilling time and those with split tip design can penetrate steel faster to provide better cutting time and durability. Saw blades with progressive tooth pitch are designed and engineered to eliminate the need to change blades when cutting varying thicknesses of material, saving valuable time and money. These blades are designed with closely spaced teeth near the blade’s shank to provide both speed and control when cutting thin materials, and wider spaced teeth near the tip of the blade to quickly go through a variety of thick materials. Battery manufacturers continue to increase the battery amp-hour ratings, and many are now offering NiMH batteries that have higher amp-hour ratings than NiCd batteries. The result is longer run times, even though size and weight have not increased.”

Keith Kirk, senior market manager, Hilti Inc.: “Battery technology is likely to be the biggest focus for companies for the next 5 to 10 years as manufacturers convert products that were traditionally corded tools into cordless models. Battery-powered tools offer electricians more mobility than corded tools. In many cases, electricians need power tools before power is available at the job site, and battery tools allow them to work before power is available. Tool manufacturers are designing tools that are lighter with more power to increase productivity and operator comfort. This trend is evident with both corded and cordless tools. Battery technology will continue to focus on reducing the size and weight of batteries—hence allowing larger tools to utilize battery technology. It is expected that the next generation of battery tools will be in larger tool categories.”

Kevin Fairchild, product manager, Hitachi Power Tools: “It seems that every year tools become smaller while power and functionality continue to increase. Lightweight tools reduce user fatigue while increasing power to boost productivity. Drill bits, saw blades and other cutting tools are better than in the past because better, stronger materials are used. There also are more product specific bits and blades. Improved batteries charge faster and have more power.”

Bruce Hartranft, business unit manager, Ideal Industries, Inc.: “Cordless drills are ubiquitously present on job sites today. They cut time and ease the workload of cable installations. Battery powered cable cutters are gaining wide acceptance. They eliminate a laborious task and make cleaner and more accurate cuts. Advancements in cutting blade designs and materials have resulted in faster cutting and longer blade life. Hole saws are a great example of the improvements; today electricians get 75-plus cuts in stainless steel before the cutter begins to wear out. Improvements in battery life and capacity continue to improve the performance of cordless tools.”

Vince Caito, marketing communications manager for Makita USA Inc.: “With today’s power tools, electricians have tools that are smaller, lighter and more powerful, giving them the ability to work in small, enclosed areas more comfortably and for longer durations, leading to increased productivity on more applications. Some enhancements include LED lights and quick-change features. Cordless tools are definitely replacing their corded counterparts in the industry such as reciprocating saws, miter saws and rotary hammers. There are lighter and more compact impact drivers and wrenches, and more powerful and faster drilling rotary hammers. New models include 7 1/4-inch cordless circular saws, cordless miter saws and better cordless battery-charger systems. Batteries are better because of newer and more intelligent charging technology. NiMH batteries provide longer run time and life of batteries. Saw blades have become more innovative with new tooth designs. For example, Makita has introduced a unique new woodcutting saw blade with a unique M-shaped, dual-bevel tooth. There has also been an increase in blades for metal cutting.”

Richard Peterson, brand media manager for Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. said, “Cordless tools are becoming more powerful and versatile. Today’s tool designs do make workers more productive. For example, a new reciprocating saw has a pivoting handle that allows the user to go between joists and studs to work in confined spaces and to make cuts under countertops and in crawl spaces where it is inconvenient to use corded tools. Common battery designs allow different tools to share the same batteries and chargers, reducing the cost of battery inventories. Reversible batteries for driver-drills and hammer-drills make the tools able to fit into tight places and they also adjust the balance of the tool in certain applications. Drill bits, saw blades are designed to use less power to cut and drill. As technology advances we expect tools to be even more versatile and powerful, while keeping tool weight down.” EC

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