The Remarkable Array of Cordless Power Tools

Right around the time that I got out of high school, Makita cordless drills were taking over the world of drills. My friend Ken got a couple for his job installing car stereos, and my friend Marc and I got them too... they were 9.6 volts, and everyone had one.

Ken also bought a Makita right-angle drill, which was good for car interiors, and used the same 9.6 volt battery.

Other tool companies joined in to break Makita's stranglehold on the market. Dewalt came in, Porter Cable, Craftsman, Ryobi, Milwaukee and many others. The battery shape morphed from a stick into something like a shoe, and the voltage of the tools slowly increased, from 9.6 volts, to 12 volts, 14.4 volts, 18 and 20 volts, 24 volts, 28 volts and 36 volts.

In retrospect, it would have been pretty awesome if they could have settled on an industry standard.

The increasing voltage arms race was called off when several manufacturers began using Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) batteries instead of traditional Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries. The Li-ion batteries are lighter, charge in less time and hold a charge for a year or more.

It has been fun to watch the "Professional" marketing change from big, heavy NiCads to lighter, quicker Li-Ions. Its like Ford introducing a tiny electric truck for the "professional" working man.

In 2010, the 18 volt Li-ion battery has become the heavy-duty standard drill battery. I've never had a great use for any other cordless tools, but the tool companies make a wide variety. I think having a robust line of tools which can use the same battery is a big selling point, even if the tools themselves are just a novelty. Milwaukee has its M18 line, Ryobi has One+, Black & Decker has Firestorm, Makita has LXT, Dewalt has XRP. I think they recognize the thrill of swapping batteries like clips of ammunition.

After the drill came the flashlight and the floodlight. Now there are many more devices (Pictures below link to individual items on



Oh man. If you want to see a designer's rogue's gallery, take a look at the flashlights that cordless tool companies make. Apparently flashlights which use drill batteries have to be shaped like a drill.

Work light

6 1/2" Circular saw

Boom box / MP3 player

Dustbuster-style Vacuum

Rotary Saw

Angle Grinder

Sawzall-style Reciprocating saw
Cut off tool
Paint Sprayer

Impact Driver
Rotary Laser
Infrared thermometer
Inspection camera
Finish Nailer
Pole Saw
Hedge Trimmer
Impact Wrench
Portable Band Saw
Tire Inflator
Weed Eater-style String Trimmer
Portable Wet/Dry Vac
Wet/Dry Vac
Auto Hammer

Concrete Vibrator


As battery power approaches the price and power density of gasoline, I imagine the realm of cordless tools will continue to grow.

That's the state of the world at the end of 2010, what's next?



Name: Jen    

I'm reminded of the spread page in Dave Barry's Taming of the Screw (a fantastic and hilarious little book that seems right up your alley, Rob, if you've never read it) that shows the 9 Tools in 1 tool set. Complete with interchangable tooth brush and paper clip for a screwdriver base.

Monday 22nd of November 2010 10:04 pm

Name: El    

Concrete Vibrator. Heheheheheh.

St. Vincent & The Grenadines
Monday 22nd of November 2010 10:52 pm

Name: Mike Hunt    

Cordless tools always seem to be dead or go dead when you need them, I've switched my drills and everything possible to plug in, and have been much happier, more and unlimited power, extension cords are a small pain, but i'd rather have that than a dead battery that will have to be replaced down the road

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 5:49 am

Name: John Non-Jovi    

Ryobi sucks. Bought a buncha stuff, and most of it didn't last a year. Especially the fan & air compressor.

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 6:14 am

Name: Keith    

I too have switched to corded only. Throwing an extension cord out my apartment window is actually way more convenient than starting to perform a task on my one day off and finding that no battery is in working order.

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 6:48 am

Name: Hm    

My 5-year-old Ridgid cordless drill is still kicking butt after all these years. Came with 2 batteries, so you can always have one charging while you're working. Just have to, you know, plan ahead when you know you have a job coming up. I can't recall ever needing the drill on an emergency basis and having to deal with a dead battery.

Palestinian State*
Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 8:34 am

Name: Rob Cockerham    

Does anyone else, when they see these tools, think "hey, these would be great for doing a prank out in the field, away from power outlets?"

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 9:55 am

Name: Bunion    

Christmas is coming. Is this a hint

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 9:56 am

Name: Larry    

Man I got to get me one of those Concrete Vibrators for the wife.

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 10:23 am

Name: Stefan Jones    

A few years ago I found, out by the dumpsters, a work light attached to an 18 volt battery. "Wow," I thought, I'll buy one of those sets of cordless tools and have a spare battery and work light." It turns out that the batteries had differently shaped noggins*, and the old battery and lamp were not compatible with the stuff in the new set. Damn. * Technical term for the sticky-outy thing with the contacts.

Cape Verde
Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 10:35 am

Name: phred    

Again more blogvertising. What a whore.

United States
Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 11:22 am

Name: Rob Cockerham    

I'm sorry if anyone doesn't appreciate the content of this article.. if I see a battery-powered chainsaw at Lowes, I'm writing an article about it. I was amazed by the cordless backpack paint sprayer. I mean, think of the rehab you could unleash with 4 gallons of cordless spray paint. Compare that to the fan. Who needs a $50 battery-powered fan? Its obviously a gimmick item created to sell more drills, right?

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 12:01 pm

Name: Sean Jungian    

What I want to know is, does a cordless chainsaw actually work? It just doesn't seem like it would be effective.

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 12:27 pm

Name: Kevin    

Rob, what are you mixing up in the attached photo? I see lemon juice, baking powder, baking soda, Robitussin, and Band-Aids. First aid cookies?

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 12:28 pm

Name: Chris    

I worked in the University's Veterinarian Teaching Hospital during school. Stocking supplies, cleaning and sterilizing instruments. During my interview I spotted something with that unique turquoise Makita handle sitting on the shelf. It was this "" an equine tooth float. Basically, for filing down pointy teeth in older horses.. and that was nearly 20 years ago.

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 1:08 pm

Name: Big Mo    

I can't not go cordless. I had a corded drill for a while and it was a hassle lugging the weight of the cord around too. Second on "I will not buy Ryobi consumer electric products again." That drill got to the point where it worked for about three minutes on a full charge.

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 2:33 pm

Name: Red    

If someone unleashes a bot herd on your amazon referral links, does it disqualify you from getting paid for spam?

United States
Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 4:47 pm

Name: Whimpy    

I'm not buying until I get a george foreman grill option.

Tuesday 23rd of November 2010 9:09 pm

Name: Ed    

"Concrete Vibrator. Heheheheheh." C'mon. You know someone's tried it.

United States
Wednesday 24th of November 2010 5:55 pm

Name: Rob Cockerham    

Op! Forgot one. Automatic caulking gun!

Thursday 25th of November 2010 11:36 pm

Name: Francois    

It's more like the same truck with a small far more economical, environmentally friendly and powerful engine...

South Africa
Friday 26th of November 2010 4:23 am

Name: MeanDean    

To clear up the, uh, confusion: a concrete vibrator is used to get the air bubbles out of freshly-poured concrete. If you ever meet a woman who uses one as an auto-erotic device, put down your drink, smile, and leave quickly. And I've never bought any Ryobi equipment. The phrase 'you get what you pay for' kept running through my mind.

Friday 26th of November 2010 3:12 pm

Name: Walt Disney    

DeWalt *is* Black and Decker, you fools!

Korea, North
Saturday 27th of November 2010 4:14 am

Name: The Cordless wet dry vac was one of the best tools we had at my old job.    

It has a little hose that pulls out and is great for any little job. I would duct tape it to the cordless sander to get a dust collector going and it was the greatest.

Korea, North
Tuesday 30th of November 2010 11:30 am

Name: Bob Smith    

Clip =/= Magazine.

Tuesday 30th of November 2010 8:39 pm

Name: Tom Nardone    

A charity I work with (The Mower Gang) does work out in parks and playgrounds so cordless is the only way to go. The cordless chainsaw is pretty effective for pruning trees but it can't cut down anything bigger around than your lower leg. Still, it's a useful device that doesn't stink up your car like a real chainsaw.

Wednesday 01st of December 2010 7:10 pm

Name: Lane    

Cords are fine. However, my partner is an Electrician and relies heavily on his battery powered tools. And being in the industry as long as he has been the industry standard for him and his co-workers is Milwaukee.

United States
Monday 06th of December 2010 1:02 am

Name: Drew    

I've had the makita 6012 9.6volt since the late 80's. Still works and you can use the newer NiMH batteries which are better than NiCads. Best part of it is that it's balanced at the trigger, some of the new LiOn battery models are top heavy. I also like Djibouti.

Monday 06th of December 2010 7:15 pm

Name: mahmoud ahmadinejad    

You'll never reach the power of gasoline you fools!

Tuesday 28th of December 2010 3:49 pm

Name: toolplace.wordpress    

Awesome post i have few more tools here is this check it out.

United States
Friday 31st of December 2010 2:49 am

Name: Hovercraft    


Korea, North
Friday 31st of December 2010 7:45 am

Name: Julie    

I had a tree fall in the yard. I took it apart with Ryobi chainsaws. You do need extra batteries. They get heavy when you have to carry a lot of them. But that B&D lopper is great. You can cut stuff that is otherwise very hard to stabilize.

United States
Monday 31st of January 2011 5:24 pm

Name: Roger    

1. My god that band-saw is terrifying. 2. Like many others, I have had no end of trouble with expensive batteries that die within a few months of buying them. I've come to think that the basic blunder is assuming that such an expensive charger would be a smart-charger that can't over charge. Well, mostly they're not, and you can overcharge, and it will sap the life out of your battery in as few as a dozen recharges. 3. It's interesting that some asks if anyone thinks "hey, these would be great for doing a prank out in the field, away from power outlets?" because actually, they are quite popular with burglars ... 4. I'm really not sure about the little electric chainsaw. A 1-3/4 inch tree limb (what the manufacturer recommends) I can cut with a good axe in a single stroke, the axe is 2/3 the weight of the saw, 1/5 the price, no nasty sawdust, easier on your back and great cardio workout!

Sunday 06th of February 2011 11:58 pm

Name: Chervil    

Being a contractor, I have used everything from Makita to Dewalt to Ryobi. By far the best bang for the buck is Ryobi. Mostly because not only are they a cheap tool to replace if it gets broken (which happens on construction sites fairly regularly), but their batteries are at least half the cost to replace of most other brands. The other nice thing is that they were the only company that designed their Li-ion line so that it is completely interchangeable with their Ni-Cad line. Not only can the Li-ion batteries be used in all of their Ni-Cad tools (which means you don't have to re-invest in a completely new set) but their Ni-Cad will work in the Li-ion tools and can be charged in the Li-ion charger. This really expands your options greatly. Oh, and the battery powered fan is great for camping! Love it!

Wednesday 23rd of February 2011 11:24 am

Name: Matt    

You don't have a battery powered grease gun up there, that is one handy tool if you've ever had to pump away with a regular grease gun. I wonder why they don't make a plug in adapter that fits where the battery goes? Then you get the best of both worlds and you don't have to worry about running out of batteries

Sunday 06th of March 2011 9:21 am

Name: Stuart P. Bentley    

Where it really gets cool is that the vacuum can hook up to other tools of the same brand to clean detritus while you use them (check out their manly use case model shots).

United States
Tuesday 29th of March 2011 9:00 pm

Name: Night Ranger    

Battery-powered tools are the standard for monkey-wrencher enviros. A Dremel-style tool for strategic cuttings, a drill with various fittings for opening things on heavy machinery, sprayers for Roundup and paint and the like, and a reciprocating saw for just about anything, and one can really make hay in a short period of time with a minimum of noise and carrying weight. One guy made me a bit upset over a period of years and I was able to carry various tools in a backpack on moonless nights and do considerable damage on the other end over a period of time. The odds of getting noticed were very low, the getaway routes very easy and known, and the damage usually not noticed for hours or, with Roundup, days. Very effective combination. Can be more difficult to execute on environmental projects since construction sites may be manned, but the quietness of the tools and light weights - relative since I am usually carrying on my back or hip using multi-day backpacking skills and routefinding - still make them highly effective.

United States
Friday 06th of May 2011 6:59 pm


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