Homeowner Tools, Tradesmen Tools vs Renovator Tools
The first cordless Ni-Cad battery-operated tools were convenient additions to a toolbox. Although not very powerful, and the batteries didn’t do much work between charges, they were popular enough to become standard tools on many job sites.
The arrival of Lithium-Ion batteries triggered a dramatic increase in performance and speed. With this new arrival, the tools became so important that old habits of mixing corded-tool brands in a toolbox started to be replaced by a desire to stick to one brand of batteries. This became the Holy Grail for tool manufacturers—brand loyalty depended more on battery platforms than on individual tool performance.
To augment this battery-based brand loyalty, manufacturers needed to widen their horizons and offer tools with a new objective: owning the construction site. At the same time batteries grew more and more powerful, until they eventually “cut the cord” completely—making new cordless tools that would perform as well or even better than the corded tools of the past, accelerating the expansion and breadth of cordless tools.
As all of this was happening, the industry also went through significant restructuring with many new acquisitions. Stanley bought Black&Decker and then acquired DeWalt, Stanley Fat Max, Porter Cable and Bostich; Milwaukee bought Rigid, Ryobi and Empire Levels, and Bosch bought Skil, Freud and Freud’s construction division, Diablo. Amazingly, Japan’s Makita and Hilti held their ground despite significantly less North American marketing efforts. Germany’s Fein is growing fast and Festool from Europe has now strongly entered the competition.
Own the Construction Site
Everyone started to make the same tools and accessories, especially in the cordless arena, as with battery brand loyalty, but the tactics of how to gain market share were changing. You couldn’t “own the construction site” if you didn’t cover all the bases. Bostich extended their products from fasteners to a whole range of power tools. DeWalt, envious of Milwaukee’s domination in HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing, also moved into these specialty areas as Milwaukee began to spread-out into DeWalt’s construction site domain. Porter Cable left the cabinet shop to join the competition on the renovation site. Each corporate entity started competing with several different levels of tool quality. All of this made it difficult to sort out what was good for your business.
Sorting it Out
Perhaps the only general guide through all of this is the distinction: Homeowner, Renovator and Tradesman. The new corporate groupings allow one head office to cover all these markets via different brand names—which in turn, helps to sort out some of the confusion for tool buyers.
Homeowner Tools are often made with bushings rather than bearings and are designed to handle lighter duty tasks, run for shorter times and charge slower. These tools often have a working-life expectancy of only a few hours of operation time, which is not bad as most of a homeowner’s time is spent scratching his head and wondering what task to start next. These brands are Black&Decker, Ryobi and other in-house brand names and offshore brands.
Tradesmen Tools are built to run continuously and under tough conditions. They operate much longer on a single battery charge and charge batteries quickly. They have ultimately replaced most of the corded tools on a construction site. DeWalt, Milwaukee, Bosch, Fein, Metabo, Makita, and Hiliti dominate this category. Festool also fits this category for quality and price, although there seems to be more traction for them amongst finish carpenters and renovators.
Renovator Tools have to be professional grade, but because renovators use a wider variety of tools on an occasional basis, they need to be less expensive. At the same time, because tasks change constantly in renovation, generally they will not get as much heavy use as a tradesman that does one task all day. For this reason, costs can be lowered by reducing the durability while still giving excellent performance over shorter operating lifespan. This also produces smaller, lighter tools that fit into the tight spaces that are typical of renovation work. In this category, we find brands such as Porter Cable, Rigid, Skil, Bostich and FatMax.
This is already enough to be confusing, yet there are many more brands on the shelves. The key is to analyze your own needs and pick a tool that has a cost/performance balance appropriate for you. The manufacturers are counting on you to choose a battery brand first and then only shop within their offerings—and that may make a lot of financial sense—so look at the whole tool lineup first and then choose your battery base carefully.
By Jon Eakes
Montreal-based TV broadcaster, author, home renovation and tool expert
Jon Eakes provides a tool feature in each edition of Home BUILDER.