Cheap Cordless Tool Shortcomings

Posted by on December 28, 2005

I’ve seen lots of cordless power tools lately that are under $50. We even sell some. But what that makes many people wonder is what are the shortcomings? Are the more expensive tools really that much better?

Gears are one of the places many cheap tools are lacking. Many are plastic or nylon, making them lightweight and cheap but lacking durability. That’s what I call disposable.

Batteries can be made inexpensively by using lower ratings. The smaller cells typically have the ratings measured in mAh (milli-amp hours) instead of Ah (amp hours). The difference is a factor of 1000, so 800 mAh (like many inexpensive tools) is much less than a 1.7 Ah tool. The result is a battery that doesn’t last as long on a charge.

The main place that cheap cordless tools lack is in the charger. A decent charger, such as a Makita DC1804, will run around $50 by itself. Why is that? The most expensive part of a charger is the protection circuit. This protects the charger in the event of a bad cell in the battery. Cheap cordless tools don’t have a protection circuit.

Who cares?
The answer is that anyone buying a tool that they expect to last longer than a battery should. Once a battery cell goes bad and it gets placed on that charger, the charging circuit gets literally fried. If you, as most people do, spend weeks to find a source to buy a replacement charger in this situation, it will get fried just as soon as you put your dead battery on the charger. At this point, you’ve got 2 fried chargers and a bad battery. You’ll need to buy another charger and another battery now to get it working. This tends to lead to practicing 4 letter words as you throw things in the trash.

Why should you pay more?
Simply because it will cost less in the long run. The batteries will do more work per charge, the tool won’t break as easily, and replacement parts are much easier to find. The “I’m not going to use it much” argument doesn’t hold up, either. The less a battery is used, the more likely it’ll get drained and sit around, which is one of the main causes of bad cells. Do yourself a favor and spend a little extra.

One Response to Cheap Cordless Tool Shortcomings

  1. Anonymous

    I agree with everything he said, but also own a cheap 19.2V “Prosource” reciprocating saw that cost a measily $30 at Big Lots. I use it when I need to cut a few 2x4s for some little project, or when a tree limb falls and I want to cut it up for the rubbish pile. For these purposes, it is perfectly adequate. As a test one time, I cut through a 1 1/2 inch galvanized steel pipe (with a Dewalt metal cutting blade) and the battery made it through the first cut, but was exhausted mid-way through the second. Actually better than I expected. :) For very modest needs, cheap cordless tools are fine for light work around the home when you just can’t justify coughing up $100+ for Dewalt tool you might use three times a year.

    Just remember, these are through aways, not tools you repair when they go bad.