Drills, hammer drills and saws of various types head the list of power tools most often used by personnel who do electrical and voice/data/video (VDV) installation and maintenance work. Other power cutting tools include cable cutters and hole cutters.

Today’s models may not look much different than older models, but continuing improvements and refinements make them better and more reliable than earlier versions.

“Tool companies are always improving their products,” said Dennis Reese, product specialist at wholesaler Graybar. “Motors, transmissions, batteries—all are better on today’s models. Newer drills have improved chucks to make change-outs quicker and to hold bits more securely. Tool designers constantly focus on ergonomics. Grips are softer, triggers easier to pull. Lighter weight is becoming a critical issue. ”

Cordless or corded?

The popularity of cordless tools continues to grow with lighter tools using batteries that provide longer run times.

“However, run time of cordless tools still doesn’t match corded models, and I don’t know that it ever will,” said Reese. “All tools are not necessarily being converted to cordless ... the switch concentrates on those most often used. Many workers bring both corded and cordless models to the job—corded tools for prolonged work, cordless ones for quick jobs in remote locations. Time savings of cordless tools is important to some users, and to limit downtime, they may have two or three batteries with one always charging while a tool is in use.”

Boyd Miller, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. Sawzall product manager, summed up the evolution of power cutting tools in four words: More power, lighter weight.

“With the emphasis on cordless, tool design is affected because available power is limited by the power in the pack,” Miller said. “Longer run time may be accomplished through more efficient motors rather than battery performance, and that goes back to tool design.”

While ergonomics apply to both corded and cordless models, Miller believes cordless designs have taken ergonomics farther. “The weight of the battery, how it fits in the tool, and how it makes the tool feel are ergonomic considerations.”

Most high production trades and applications still use corded tools today, primarily because they use an unlimited power source, said Randall Coe, director of product marketing, Bosch Power Tools.

“However,” he added, “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. Today you can find smaller masonry and light concrete drilling tools like hammer drills and small rotary hammers as examples of technology moving in the right direction. These tools serve as perfect examples of how batteries and motors have improved to provide more power and runtime to meet users’ needs.”

Ergonomics and performance led recent improvements to power cutting tool designs, according to Christie Rooney, product manager of cutting and cordless products for Hilti. “With ergonomics, there are big improvement in overall hand positioning which has greatly increased the ways in which a tool can be used—overhead, below the waist, in tight areas. Also important are vibration dampening, soft grips, and knobs which are positioned for easier use. For performance, advances include more torque control and adjustment; more cuts or holes from a single charged battery; and better charger performance, including automatic refreshing of cells, fan cooling, and faster charging.”

Batteries

“Battery and motor technologies are the driving trends with respect to cordless products. Advancements in battery voltage, type and amp-hours have made cordless saws and concrete drills possible. Today’s motors deliver higher power and better efficiency; thus the ability to add higher powered cordless products,” said Bosch’s Coe.

In addition to tool features, buyers today sometimes must evaluate which type of battery best suits their needs.

“Today, you generally find NiCd [nickel cadmium] or NiMH [nickel metal hydride] batteries,” said Hilti’s Rooney. “NiCd batteries tend to have less capacity [2 Amp hours] compared to NiMH batteries, which are typically 3 amp-hours. If you expect to cut or drill a lot, the NiMH version is better because it gives you longer run time. However, if you are working in temperatures of 23 F or lower, the NiMH will lose some of its capacity per charge. Another thing to consider when selecting a cordless tool is the efficiency of the tool and charger. The tool is actually what determines how much work you get out of a charge. The charger can help extend the life of the battery by providing shorter charger cycles, air cooling and providing automatic cell balancing. All reduce wear and tear on the battery and provide the biggest potential for long-term savings. Lithium ion batteries have been recently introduced on a limited basis, but we do not yet have a good base here.”

While NiMH batteries provide higher amp-hours, Bosch’s Coe noted that they cannot be recharged as many times as NiCd.

Better blades and bits

Better drill bits and saw blades also make tools more efficient and productive, and representatives of tool manufacturing companies who provided input for this article agree that advances in drill bits, saw blades, and other cutting components are among the most significant in recent months.

John T. Nethery, senior product manager, Greenlee Textron, observed that today’s tools offer more options for quick change on products such as hole saws and other metal cutting tools.

“They just make work much easier and faster,” he explained. “For hole saws and carbide cutters, quick-change designs allow rapid mounting and removal of saw blades, faster ‘slug’ removal, allow the user to drill a pilot hole first, then complete the cut by snapping on the saw. This eliminates the ‘bite’ when the saw crashes into the steel, reducing stress on the wrist, arm and hand.”

In the opinion of Chad Long, product manager for cutting supplies, Ideal Industries, the majority of product advancements in the last 18 months has been in life and durability of blades and bits.

“Blades and bits,” he said, “are better today as a result of advances in metal technology, heat treating processes and cutting geometries. Blades with features like progressive pitch make them more universal in application with less need to swap out blades based on the material being cut. Step bits have longer lands at popular steps to prevent over-drilling. Other new bits include combination bits that can drill and tap in one operation.

“Today’s blades and bits represent a better value for the electrician because the increased durability means more cuts/holes per dollar spent—a blade that lasts twice as long for the same price means your cost per cut is half of what it was before.”

In the opinion of Milwaukee’s Miller, demolition saw blades are one of the biggest cutting tool developments. “They are thicker and won’t bend or break as easily,” he said. “Carbide- and diamond-tip blades and carbide grit blades cut through very hard materials and complement tool designs for power and speed.”

Saw blades have changed in many ways from the days of steel saw blades, said Vince Caito, marketing communications manager, Makita USA. “Blades today have many features that are designed to extend the life of the blade and improve overall performance. Features such as heat vents, expansion slots, tooth design, and friction-reducing coatings are just some of the ways manufacturers have improved the performance of saw blades.”

Not only are bits and blades better, but hole cutters and cutting tool accessories for special, sometimes-neglected applications also are better, commented Lenox director of marketing Nick Morrisroe.

“For example,” Morrisroe said, “electricians have been cutting holes in sheet metal for decades, but until now, there has never been a tool that was made to perform well for this application. Standard hole saws fail to cut burr-free concentric holes and their design allows the product to drill beyond the work, which often damages other parts. Carbide hole saws are too expensive and also fail to cut concentric holes. Knock-out punches are often used for clean, concentric holes, but they are cumbersome, manual, and slow to use. Other carbide hole cutters are available on the market, but they require tool owners to buy into a new arbor system which makes the cost of using these products very high.

“These issues were considered in the design of new hole cutting products that make cutting sheet metal easier, safer, more precise, and more cost effective.”

What about the future?

“Improvements will continue,” said Greenlee’s Nethery. “ The challenge will be providing more ergonomic tools that will work well with both corded and cordless tools. It’s very difficult to have a common accessory that’s optimized for both tool types. I see more accessories customized for either corded or cordless tool—one type to minimize user torque or force, the other to maximize battery life.” EC

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