Cutting the Cord

October 19, 2012 | by Ethan (email) |

From my own DIY exploits and hanging with pro contractors it has become very apparent how important it is to have the best possible battery for your cordless tools. Batteries impact tool performance, runtime, productivity and even future purchases. Just about everyone owns a cordless drill/driver, and more and more manufacturers are offering cordless versions of traditionally corded tools. Before you jump head-first into the world of cordless tools, here are some questions you need to ask yourself.

Are You Ready for a Committed Relationship?

Unfortunately, the battery is often an afterthought when you’re making that first cordless tool purchase. You’re excited about the new combo kit that just went on sale! What you don’t realize is that you’re (probably) getting locked into a line of tools, and it’ll be difficult to ever jump-ship.

Imagine you own a DeWalt drill/driver and impact driver. What are the chances you’ll buy the Milwaukee cordless hammer drill, radio, circular saw or anything else? Your hopes of buying that heated jacket are dashed because you don’t want to have an odd battery with a different charger. It’s even worse for a contractor because they have purchased thousands of dollars in tools, and to switch battery platforms would mean calling bankruptcy on a huge investment.

Even tools from the same manufacturer are not necessary compatible. If you bought into the Hitachi NiCad battery line, you probably won’t purchase newer tools like the Brushless Impact Driver because they’re only available with slide-on li-ion batteries. Now you’re using outdated technology and missing out on the advancements that manufacturers work so hard to produce!

Making the Switch
Tool companies see these problems, and sometimes they’ll offer a buy-back program to ease the pain. DeWalt and Hitachi offer an 18v li-ion post style battery that are compatible with their older 18v line of tools.

I think Ryobi has a great thing going with their line of 18v ONE+ tools. You can get a “dual-chemistry charger” that can handle an 18v li-ion or NiCad battery. Furthermore, any 18v battery (li-ion or NiCad) works with any 18v tool. Everything is interchangeable so you don’t even have to think about what battery you’re grabbing.

What About Service?

I’ve known people who purchase tools based on service agreements and the distance to the nearest service center. If that’s you, then you’re buying Ridgid brand cordless tools. Ridgid offers a free lifetime service agreement (LSA) when you register your tools within the first 90 days of purchase, and that includes “a lifetime of free replacement batteries”!  If that wasn’t good enough, most Home Depots with tool rental centers will do LSA battery exchanges for the 18v and 12v line.  You don’t even have to ship the old batteries anywhere.

Compare that with Milwaukee who offers at best a 5 year warranty depending on battery type and pro rated warranty after the first 1000 charges or 2 years. Bosch offers a 2 year warranty on batteries, DeWalt offers 3 years of free service through the general DeWalt warranty, and Makita provides a 1 year warranty on li-ion batteries.

Who is Top Dog?

Despite these consideration you’re probably asking which battery gives the best performance, and that’s not an easy question to answer. For instance, the Ridgid impact driver (and battery) is designed for higher torque so that you can power that 8″ Timberlok through pressure-treated 4×4’s without pre-drilling. However, Ridgid sacrifices some runtime for the increased torque.

Up until recently, Porter Cable offered a 1.3Ahr and 2.6Ahr battery while competitors offered 1.5Ahr and 3.0Ahr batteries. It seems they’re catching up with the times with their new 20v Max line up (info on ToolGuyd).

It’s tough to say who makes the best battery, and the technology is always changing. For instance, I expect 4.0Ahr batteries from the major competitors in the near future. At the same time, I wonder how long the slide-on battery will last before a new style takes over. If you caught our 2011 drill/driver comparison, you know that the Bosch driver was the smallest, lightest and longest lasting compact driver introduced in 2011. You can also see that the difference between the top performers was incredibly slim!

You Tell Me (and Win)

Leave a comment with who makes the best battery and why. The most compelling argument will get a OPC t-shirt, Project Points and lots of respect!

23 Responses
  1. I’m not commenting for the shirt but wanted to point out that the low end market is about to get really interesting. Ryobi is releasing 2 and 4 Ah Li-Ion One+ upgrade kits this month and next. Works with all of the previous One+ tools. $59 gets a new battery and charger.

  2. Reuben says:

    I don’t think I buy enough tools for this to really be an issue for me. Of course I don’t want a dozen battery chargers sitting around, but it seems like by the time I go to purchase a new cordless tool, my existing batteries are incompatible with everything, even tools from the same brand as the batteries. But I don’t do much with cordless tools, I guess.

  3. Mickey says:

    I’ve found the Makitas to be fantastic. Plenty of power and they hold their charge for a long time. Perhaps most compelling, though, is that you can fully recharge a battery in just 15 to 30 minutes!

    • Fred says:

      We’ve yet to have Makita send us a driver for testing purposes, but a number of folks on our Drill/Driver comparison article recommended Makita as a 6th for the test based on their outstanding experiences with the brand… I also know that other brands in the industry respect what they’ve been able to do in terms of market penetration in the contractor space.

  4. Chris says:

    I have been using my 19.2v Craftsman tools for close to 8 years. Granted I don’t use them every week, but I am still using the 2 original batteries that came with my drill. They are starting to get weak though and I need both to be charged for most projects. I have been looking at upgrading them to the 19.2v lithium batteries that are compatible with all the tools I own.

    • Fred says:

      Good testimonial for Craftsman. I used a craftsman 18v NiCd for the first 7 years of home ownership, switching to Ridgid after the batteries finally gave up the ghost. Also, Craftsman’s NEXTEC right angle impact driver is among my favorite tools currently.

  5. brianv says:

    As you say in your article, battery technology is always going to be changing and the various companies will constantly be leap frogging with the newest, latest and greatest battery. There will never be one company that makes the best. Not for very long anyway. My family has had rechargeable battery tools and we have gone back mostly to corded tools as we want our work to be something other than charging batteries and waiting for them to charge.

  6. poiboybf says:

    I like Dewalt. Don’t know why I prefer them over anyone else. This argument will definitely win me the T shirt.

    • Fred says:

      T-Shirt notwithstanding, you’ve identified the reason most people pick a tool/battery – individual brand experience or “impressions” of the brand. I won’t buy Porter Cable in the future unless I see a major improvement from them, since we’ve had a few so-so experiences.

      • Joe says:

        and oddly enough, thats what I have now, and I have been very happy with it (PC/DeWalt/B&D are all the same company)

        given, I got it because it was the largest number of tools I could get for my dollar (or $130). I will probably be getting corded tools or 12v from now on, and I might go with Milwaukee for their 12v line. They seem to have a huge selection of tools, and that jacket is exceedingly awesome. but I have no need as it is, so it probably wont be anytime soon that I get a new tool.

  7. Fred says:

    My cordless tools are Bosch. I think the Bosch cordless are the best quality 18v tools, but you asked specifically about batteries. Since all manufacturers have a 12v ‘compact’ line now, it’s easier for me to make a comparison using them.

    I’d buy a Milwaukee 12v tool set over any other brand. Based on my uses Milwaukee & DeWalt are the two top brands, with Milwaukee best overall. To be fair, not every Milwaukee 12v tool is better than every DeWalt 12v, but again I’m just talking about the batteries.

    Milwaukee’s 12v ‘barrel’ batteries are better designed than the flat DeWalts for the smaller and more varied (heated jacket, inspection camera, thermometer) tools that are in this space. They are making the 12v tool lineup more than just drills & saws which is great for the industry and the technology.

  8. trebor says:

    Actual quality of the battery aside, I think it’s tough to beat Ridgid’s warranty. Free lifetime service? Yes please.

  9. paintergal says:

    I don’t have any idea about battery life for tools, but if you discover the best one for cameras, let me know! 😉

  10. Eek565 says:

    I can only comment on my DeWalt 12 volt Nicad battery, but it took 7 years before I had to replace it and the drill driver itself is still going strong and handles most tasks pretty well. Runtime is not admittedly the best, but batteries have come a long way since then.

  11. Eek565 says:

    I wanted to add that just going by your reviews I’d be inclined to purchase a Rigid. I like the lifetime replacement warranty and I’d choose more torque over runtime any day. Granted, my projects tend to be smaller so it’s not as much of an issue for me.

    Side Note: What happened to the feature that allowed us to edit our comment a few minutes after we post it?

  12. Blair says:

    Eek565 ,

    I can raise you, and call there, my DeWalt 12 V NiCads lasted almost 11 years. That is not just homeowner occasional use, the driver was on the job daily with me. When the batteries finally did go, I replaced them, and am still using that driver regularly today!

  13. tooljunkie says:

    I firmly believe that on the high end of cordless tools the actual difference in performance is negligible. And as for runtimes, having multiple batteries, which most of us do, solves the problem of having to wait for one to charge. That is as long as you always keep one charged while the others are in use. So in the end what it comes down to is what company’s tools feel best in your hand and offer the spectrum of tools compatible with their battery platform that suit your needs best. And the final issue is what can you afford or at least buy with the blessings of your loving, and understanding wife…

    • Ethan says:

      Hey Tooljunkie,

      I think you’re right about the performance between the top 3 or 4 brands. When I did a driver comparison, they were all really close together. My big beef is that manufacturers don’t plan for the future, and when they roll out the next style of battery, all the current users will get left behind. I’d like to see a standardized battery platform that will be ready for whatever comes after Li-ion.

      I can’t remember seeing you comment before so welcome to OPC, and I hope to see you around again.

  14. HANDYMAN51 says:

    I’ve got the RYOBI ONE +, and it’s done well with limited household usage. I did not know that RIGID has free lifetime battery replacement. That sounds like a definite plus.

  15. supimeister says:

    Having initially invested in high-end cordless tools (granted – I got a super deal on them) and now selling them to get high-end corded equivalents….. I still think I would recommend homeowners to buy corded… If you really want to go cordless, go with a company that has really service on battery replacement (for life).

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