Cordless Drill Batteries

A few of the cordless drills in my collection

Overview

Through the years, I’ve accumulated numerous cordless tools. My first cordless tool was a 9.6 volt Makita that I used for many years. This model used the tall slender type of battery that slid up into the handle. Before getting the Makita, I used standard corded models that worked great, but were inconvenient to use at times due to their pesky electrical cord. Once I got the Makita, I rarely used the older corded electric tools. It was so easy to just pick up the Makita and not have to worry about finding an electrical socket, or an extension cord.

A few years later, I got a DeWalt 14.4volt, which offered more power (hey, I’m from Texas, we like everything to be bigger and better) and a few more torque settings. A few years later, DeWalt came out with their 18volt cordless models and I got one of those. The increased power and run time, versus the 14.4volt model was considerable the 18volt drill became my “go-to” tool when I needed a cordless tool. Not long after I got the 18volt, I got to use the “new and improved” 18volt extended run batteries when I succumbed to the lure of a DeWalt cordless reciprocating saw.

Sweet! The extended run batteries (XRP’s) were even better and lasted quite a bit longer than the standard 18volt battery. Some time later, I succumbed once again to the lure of a DeWalt cordless jigsaw, with an 18volt XRP battery. I was in cordless tool nirvana. Then, I got a Fein 14.4volt that ran as smooth and sweet as my Mercedes, with less noise than the DeWalts.

I also got a Ryobi 18volt, a Skill 14.4volt and a Black and Decker 7.2volt as gifts. My collection was growing and I added three more cordless models to my stable. When one battery ran down, I grabbed another battery. When both batteries ran down I picked up one of the other models, whilst the other batteries were charging. No matter what the task, I had drills and batteries to spare, until one day when the batteries started their inevitable slide towards the recycling centre.


Dead and dying cordless drill batteries

And Then There Were None

All of my cordless drills were using Ni-Cd batteries and like any rechargeable battery, you reach a point in time when the battery begins to lose the ability to hold a full charge, then to hold a charge at all. One by one, my rechargeable batteries succumbed to age, as they reached their maximum number of charge cycles and stopped working. The Makita died first, then the DeWalts and the Black and Decker. The Skill was next, then the Ryobi. The Fein is nearing its greater reward as well. Where I once had drills to spare, I now have a collection of tools with dead and dying batteries.

Thankfully the Fein drills are still working, but they do not last as long as they once did. The clock is ticking… No problem, I thought I would just get some new batteries and I would be back in business. I had been putting off buying new batteries because I always had several other drills that were working. When I began to have more dead batteries than working ones, I had had enough and I drove to the local mega-hardware box store to get a handful of new batteries.


A Rude Awakening

Whoa Partner! The cost to replace two batteries with most of the models was 50% or more of the original cost, with each battery costing £39.52 – £76.00 ($65.00 - $125.00) give or take at the time (They have come down a bit since that time). Humm… I decided to cut bait instead of fish and I left the store with nothing. On the drive home I thought that with the high cost of replacement batteries, I might as well buy a totally new one, which comes with two new batteries and a new charger. Sounds good, but then what do you do with the old power heads? It’s easy enough to take the dead batteries to the recycling centre, but what do you do with several power heads that still work, but just need a good battery?


Undaunted

With no easy solution at hand, I decided to check into getting the batteries rebuilt at a local battery rebuilding service. Rebuilt batteries were about half the cost of factory built new batteries, so I thought that might be the way to go. At least it would be cheaper and I could get higher Amp-hour batteries installed during the rebuild. More power! Using rebuilt batteries also allows the continued use of my existing power heads, which are still in good shape. As I was getting ready to drive back over to the battery shop to drop off 10 – 12 battery packs to get rebuilt, I quickly added up the cost.

Whoa Partner! At £27.36 - £39.52 ($45.00 - $65.00) per rebuilt battery, I would be pouring a significant amount of money back into several old tools. Some of which (like the 9.6volt and the 14.4volt), lacked enough power and run time for my current needs. Being born in the year of the rat made me want to stretch more life out of the older ones, but the numbers were not adding up. I kept looking around the Internet and found a few companies that sold new “no-name” battery replacements for a little less than the rebuilt ones I was quoted.


Decisions, Decisions

However, I had never dealt with any of these companies before and most of the websites offered little, or no technical specs on their batteries. Without knowing the Amp-hour rating of the batteries, it makes it hard to compare different brands, so I kept looking. The new Lithium-ion cordless models were beginning to lure me into the abyssal vortex. Lithium-ion batteries are smaller and lighter than the same voltage Ni-Cd battery, which is a big benefit since my 18volt gets tiresome after using it all day.

I also thought about getting a 24volt, but the 24volt models seemed to be made for folks with forearms like Popeye the sailor man. Luckily, I never succumbed to the lure of 24volt drills. They were just too heavy to use all day, or for the occasional odd job around the studio. Then came the 28volt models, then the 36volt mega-extreme… I resisted once again. The Lithium-ion versions of the higher voltage tools were quite a bit less in weight, but still seemed like overkill for what I needed.

While it’s easy enough to just buy a new drill or two, the dilemma of what to do with my old power heads remained. It seemed like a waste to just throw them away! I guess old cordless tools are a lot like other tools and equipment, when they quit working you just get a new one and pitch them into the rubbish bin.


Another Option

One last option that I considered was to get a few Lithium-ion batteries for my existing 18volt DeWalts. The DeWalt line of 18volt tools can use the newer lithium-ion batteries, as well as the regular Ni-Cd’s, but you have to get a new charger to use the Lithium-ion batteries. So if you’re thinking about doing this as well, add up the costs before you lay out the plastic.

Two DeWalt Lithium-ion 18volt batteries and a charger are none too cheap. (One 18volt DeWalt Lithium-ion battery and a charger is around £108.83 ($179.00), two batteries and a charger is about £187.26 ($308.00), which is the same cost as a new 18volt DeWalt ½” NP-Lithium-ion cordless model, charger and two batteries – £187.87 ($309.00) at a large online merchant.

Note: There is no difference in power or run time between Ni-Cd and Lithium-ion batteries of the same voltage and Amp-hour rating. None, zip, nada. The main benefits of moving to Lithium-ion batteries over Ni-Cd’s is less weight, a more compact size and virtually no self-discharge of the battery when not in use. Lithium-ion formulas vary however, some are better or worse than traditional Ni-Cd’s, or NiMH batteries.


Decision Made

Well, after much deliberation I have decided to get a new 18volt Nano-Phosphate Lithium-ion based cordless drill (DeWalts NPLI battery is good for 2000 recharges, versus 800 recharges for their current Ni-Cd battery), instead of replacing/rebuilding my old dead batteries – with one exception! The Fein drills are just too well made and smooth running to discard, so I’ll be keeping those and rebuilding their batteries in the near future. As for my old DeWalt drills, those will get pitched/recycled and the batteries will go to my local recycling centre.

The logic for keeping the old cordless tools and rebuilding them just never worked out. Not when I can get a brand new model with Lithium-ion technology that weighs less, for less money than rebuilding all of the batteries for the old drills. Now all I have to do is decide which new drill I want. If any of you have a Lithium-ion drill and you like it, let me know. If you don’t like your new Lithium-ion drill, let me know that as well. I still can’t get used to the idea that a drill costing a few hundred dollars is disposable!


Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.


Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.