By Jon Eakes
Did you know that in the decorating industry there is actually a group of specialists who get together and decide what the colour trend for the coming year will be? The justification for this is to allow the entire industry, from paint to wallpaper to accessories—even plumbing fixtures—to prepare the next year’s product lines so that they all go together. That’s the upside of it. Of course the downside is that if you don’t like this year’s colours, you can always buy white.
Sometimes I get the impression that tool manufacturers have one of those meetings as well. One year all we hear about is mitre saws, the next nothing but the cordless shift and the following year they are all competing for the most powerful batteries. It seems that this year they have set the battle field as “Compact Tools” and, apparently, smaller is better.
It is the Lithium Ion batteries that have opened the door for more power in a smaller and lighter package, so now we are finding what used to be not much more than screwdrivers are now able to drive lag bolts and more.
The little Bosch 10.8v Impact Pocket Driver has 80 in-lbs of torque and can drive 100 three-inch wood screws on a single battery charge. There is no belt hook because it fits right inside your belt pouch and weighs only 1.8 pounds. Its “big” brother, the impact driver version using the same batteries, is about the same size, weighs only 2.2 pounds and delivers up to 800 in-lbs of torque.
Milwaukee calls its 12-volt model a Sub-Compact Driver. Slightly heavier at two pounds, it also delivers a little more torque at 100 in-lbs and will drive 130 three-inch screws on a charge because of the 1.4 Ahr batteries, trading off a little more weight for a little more power.
The even smaller screw driver category also has some radical changes in power because of the Lithium Ion batteries. Skil has made a unique contribution by downsizing its little 3.6-volt iXO2 Cordless Palm Size Screwdriver but keeping the gun configuration.
The automatic locking mechanism on the drive shaft allows for applying a lot of torch with your hand for the last little bit on a tough screw. In fact, if you keep the trigger on while swinging back and forth with your hand, it works like a ratchet driver. The built-in battery is not replaceable, but the new technology allows for leaving it permanently in its charging cradle so it is always maxed up. Did I mention it weighs in at 11.2 ounces and has headlights for working in dark spaces?
Hitachi has followed the more traditional line of the in-line screwdriver design, with an articulated handle allowing a pistol grip configuration as well. The 3.6-volt Mini Driver weighs in at 14.4 ounces, has replaceable batteries and a very respectable 44 in-lbs of torque.
More specialized are the right angle drivers, like the Makita 1/4” 14.4v 90-degree impact driver for working in tight spaces. This is a slick little driver but why they ship it with a “standard” Philips driver I don’t understand as impact drivers only work well on either good fitting Robertson screws or hex head fasteners. With Philips screws you need considerable pressure to keep the driver in the screw socket, which is not an easy task with a right angle driver, impact or not.
It is interesting to note that the difference between this and their 18-volt version is there is a little more working torque (although the final maximum torque is the same), and the larger one will do about 27 per cent more work on a single charge, but it weighs in one pound heavier. This is a typical trade off for the sub-compact tools: less working time but almost as much power in a smaller lighter package.
I was happy to see that the “compact” movement wasn’t limited to cordless tools. When you remove the batteries and put back that 120v cord, you can pack a lot of power in a small tool, like the 3/8-inch Close Quarter Angle Drill from Milwaukee. This 3.5-amp drill does weigh 3.9 pounds so we are not talking about tiny drivers to carry in your hip pocket, but the unique configuration gives hand pressure control right behind the drilling action while kicking that motor out of the way. Although it won’t get in as tight a place as the Makita right angle drill above, it is easier to use.
Furthermore, “compact” is not limited to drills. This little sander is a beauty. Just 10-3/4 inches long, it carries a whopping 5.0-amp motor. It has removable handles to give it the same control as a standard belt sander, or the super compact design you see in the photo. It is great for on-site touch-ups with its flush side enabling sanding up to perpendicular surfaces. The only drawback is that the specialized 2-1/2” x 14” belts are not available everywhere.