What They Won’t Tell You About Battery Adapters & Power Tools
Power tools – a man’s best friend. Not only that, but the advent of cordless tools has turned man from being tethered to being free, unshackled him from the necessity of the power receptacle and allowed him to take tools anywhere, at anytime, in any way he thinks he should.
Well, perhaps saying in any way we think we should might be slight exaggeration…
But the concept – that man has tamed power, given it a purpose and can carry it with him to accomplish tasks – is an amazing one! Does my husband still use a corded drill? Yes, but only when he is mixing buckets of mortar. Otherwise, he carries a pair of Lithium-Ion powered tools with fancy LED flashlights on the front. They do everything from baby-proofing the kitchen to framing out a bathroom tub insert. They are powerful, portable, and he literally loves them. For the handy husband or the construction professional, power tools are the culmination of years of evolution – and how far we have come from rocks and sticks!
The problem for power tool owners comes when they move to cordless – and discover that the battery packs are heavy, that they require maintenance, and that replacing them when they burn out or break can be prohibitively expensive.
As it frequently happens for men who feel a challenge, many people respond to this as a test of their ability to ‘solve’ problems rather than an opportunity to learn or understand – because most casual power tool users don’t quite grasp the technology or design of these systems and find themselves saying ‘I can fix this, just like I fixed our [insert DIY project here]!’. Not only that, but many take the lack of compatibility and accommodating solutions between power tool companies, batteries, and equipment generations as a personal challenge and tackle it as such. One only has to do a search on ‘power tool fix’ to find an endless barrage of DIY solutions such as ‘Run a Power Tool Off a Car Battery‘, ‘Build Your Own 18V Battery Adapter (for a 14.4V)’, or ‘Power Tool Battery Adapter: Swap from Battery to Wall Outlet!‘ – this repair comes complete with 3D printer schematics to build your own slide-in adapter piece.
Are any of these things solutions? Really?
When I look into internet archives, I find 6+ years of data where men have been ‘conquering’ the cons of power tools themselves – defeating the expense of replacing battery packs and chargers, obliterating the changing tool system designs and battery types. As a side effect of this, they have encountered things like burned out motors, fried windings, and blackened commutators.
But why does this happen – and why should we not be trying to solve our own power supply problems? Thanks to an interview with Milwaukee and Bosch battery experts from Protoolreviews.com, we get a lot better picture of what it takes for new battery technologies to work with power tools. Specifically, they examine Lithium Ion batteries, why the technology today is vastly different from previous versions (such as nickel cadmium or nickel metal hydrides).
What the article basically says is that rechargeable battery packs are now a science of their own – designed and engineered with a level of functionality most people can’t even dream of. Predictive, ‘intelligent’, and capable of communicating with both the power tool they are plugged into and the charger they rest on, this is not the world of battery packs our dads had to deal with. Instead, these are intelligent tools – designed with heat sinks, perfect battery memory, the ability to analyze their own ‘death curve’, built in electronics to give perfectly ‘balanced performance’, durability, and extend their own life.
The problems we face as ‘do it ourself-ers’ trying to fix the world on our own is that as the technology in the batteries gets better, our ‘homebrew fixes’ are doing more harm than good. The factors impacting the performance of our battery packs are extreme temperatures (such as heat or cold), vibration, moisture, and discharge depth. When we meddle with batteries, chargers, and power supplies for our tools, we are actually breaking the chain of communication and command between our smart-packs and our expensive, extremely useful tools. In the long term this means we will hurt ourselves and those tools that we rely on so heavily.
If you’ve been suckered in by an advertisement for a guy wearing a bandolier’o’batteries and doing his best Sly Stallone impression, then run – don’t walk! – away from this ‘amazing, flexible battery system’. The website (founded in 2008, I might add) lists the ability to use the following skills in order to even assemble the ‘battery kit’: soldering, the ability to use and read a voltmeter, wire cutting, stripping, and ‘basic cordless skills’. It also says, ‘If you have trouble using a screwdriver or a hammer – this is not for you’. Then it goes on to list a dozen tools needed to ‘assemble’ this battery kit, not including the instructions and porta-pak power station which you can only purchase from them. The tools ‘suggested’ include things like a variable speed multi-tool, step drills, soldering iron, sub-c cells with tabs, etc. etc. The concept is great – make tools smaller, lighter, and more portable – but the execution might be suffering, since it involves assembling your own bandolier of batteries and your own power cords, along with ‘hacking’ your own power charging station and butchering all your cordless tools battery packs. You’re also expected to be able to design and maintain a multi-voltage system of batteries, adapters, cords, chargers, etc. Why is this ‘easier’?
And of course, if it’s too good to be true – it is. Buying third party battery packs is cheaper, and unfortunately not doing anyone a favor since knock-off replacements are not really compatible with the tools they claim to be, despite best attempts at reverse-engineering them. The designs are not understood, just attempts at imitation, and won’t properly extract heat or moisture from the batteries as originally intended. The battery cells themselves may or may not have the right chemistry balance, and when the power tool talks to the mis-matched battery pack, all it will say is ‘GO’ with no concern for being smart or ‘thinking’. Because of this, aftermarket products void tool warranties, and ultimately will end up ruining tool performance.
The long and the short of this weeks blog is – if you value your cordless tools, if they are a long term investment and something you want to retain, maintain, and pass on, then please, please give them the gift of appropriately designed, engineered, sized, and smart batteries. A short-term solution that makes them ‘GO’ isn’t a good one; odds are highly likely that forcing your tools to run at speeds they weren’t designed to, burning electricity they aren’t meant to handle, and ‘forcing’ them into working under conditions completely outside of their intended purposes will hurt your tools. Damaged tools are expensive to repair or replace, and it can be hurtful to not have them on hand or usable when needed.
Man or woman, we all want to feel equipped with good tools to do a great job!
Swartz Electric – Your Colorado Springs Electrician performs electrical work throughout Colorado Springs, Monument, Black Forest, Fountain, Falcon, Woodland Park, and everywhere in between. We are the electricians in Colorado Springs to solve your electrical problems and meet your electrical requirements.
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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