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Power Tool Innovations: New Dimensions in Safety, Power & Wireless Charging

Also: Expert Picks in Circular Saws, Drills, Impact Drivers, Jigsaws & Sanders

The technological beat goes on for power tools as smart sensors are introduced in drills and impact drivers. Manufacturers increased a battery’s run time and incorporated wireless connectivity.

Bosch

Just about every device that you can name now has the capability to link to your smartphone, and the latest power tools are no exception. One manufacturer added Bluetooth connectivity to its batteries, so you can see their charge levels through a mobile application. Even without the smartphone connection, you’ll find power drills and impact drivers that contain sensors and sophisticated motor controls that were found only in high-end models 2 years ago. One company now even lets you charge its batteries wirelessly.

SMART FEATURES. If you ever stripped a screw head by using the wrong clutch setting on a cordless drill/driver, or twisted your arm when a drill bit binds, you’ll be glad to know that power tools that prevent those scenarios have become more affordable.

Two years ago, models that had electronic clutches that monitor and stop a driver’s motor when a screw is driven cost at least $400. Black & Decker in May 2014 introduced the BDCDE120C ($80) cordless drill that has what the manufacturer calls AutoSense, which automatically performs this function in milliseconds.

AutoSense forgoes the need for a clutch. Initially, we were dubious: The drill shut down a second or so after we pressed the trigger, rather than after the screw was driven. We found—by experimentation (not covered in the instruction manual)—that you have to pull the trigger slowly and ease in on acceleration as you drive a screw. The feature is helpful, particularly when you drive screws into soft materials, such as drywall.

Makita in 2015 debuted impact drivers that have similar technology, which it dubs Quick-Shift Mode. At press time, the XDT09M was the least expensive model that we found that has Quick-Shift and includes a battery and charger, for around $370.

Meanwhile, two manufacturers now have technology that automatically shuts down the motor when a drill bit stops turning, which might otherwise send the power tool spinning and your arm wrenching.

In May 2014, Bosch rolled out the DDH181X battery-powered drill/driver and the HDH181X hammer drill/driver, for $279 and $299, respectively, which feature what the company calls Active Response Technology. DeWalt has a similar feature on its DWD220 corded power drill ($139). DeWalt calls it E-Clutch, and the feature sends the motor into a rapid on/off mode to dislodge stalled bits and then shuts down the motor if it’s unable to break free.

We put both companies’ technologies to the test—gingerly—by using paddle bits, which are notorious for binding, and we discovered that both work with flying colors.

Bosch declined to say whether other upcoming power tools are slated to include this feature. DeWalt says it might expand the technology to a “variety of products” but didn’t provide details. No other manufacturer reports that it’s working on electronic clutch or anti-kickback features.

CHARGE IT. Three trends should help you to avoid ending up with a dead battery in the middle of a project. An increasing number of chargers are designed to hold more than one battery at a time; Bluetooth-enabled batteries notify you when they’re charged fully; and one manufacturer even introduced batteries that charge wirelessly.

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Further, you should know that the latest high-capacity batteries require less frequent charging than they did even 2 years ago. Five manufacturers—Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, Metabo and Milwaukee—upped the ante on their high-capacity batteries to 5 amp-hours (Ah). In February 2015, Bosch pushed the limit to 6 Ah. That means that these models have 25 percent to 50 percent more run time than does a 4-Ah version. Starting at $109, 5-Ah batteries cost $10–$20 more than do 4-Ah batteries. Bosch’s 6-Ah battery costs $129, which is $20 more than its 5-Ah version.

Steve Wilcox of Bosch says that, regardless of the run time, when you use the company’s WC18C Wireless Charger ($59), which was introduced in October 2014, you might never have to have more than one battery. The device allows you to charge 18-volt batteries when you set them atop the charging pad, which is known as inductive charging and can be done without removing the battery from the tool. Consequently, if you place the tool on the charging pad each time that you set it down, it will add life to the battery’s charge. Wilcox says the charging pad charges batteries at about the same rate as do standard batteries on a regular charger. Inductive charging requires a specific battery, however.

Bosch’s WCBAT612, which is a 2-Ah wireless battery, sells for $89. At press time, the 4-Ah WCBAT620 ($119) was scheduled to hit shelves in October 2015. Bosch’s standard 2-Ah and 4-Ah batteries sell for $69 and $99, respectively. As of press time, no other manufacturer reported that it was working on inductive charging, although several admitted that they’re mulling the option.

Of course, if you prefer to stick with the good old-fashioned method to charge a battery, then you’ll find it easier these days to locate a charging station that’s designed to hold multiple batteries at once. Five companies sell such models; 2 years ago, only two did. Craftsman, DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee and Ryobi now have multibattery charging stations that start at $79.

Finally, two DeWalt batteries send a message when they’re charged fully. That saves you from being interrupted while at work, because you won’t turn to your backup battery midproject only to discover that it’s low.

DeWalt’s DCB203BT 2-Ah ($99) and DCB204BT 4-Ah ($139) batteries went on sale in September 2015. The batteries connect to Apple iOS or Google Android smartphones through Bluetooth technology and a free app, which allows you to display a list of connected batteries as well as connect to each individually to check its charge.

You’ll pay extra for the convenience: DeWalt’s Bluetooth-enabled batteries cost $30 more than do its standard batteries of the same capacity. DeWalt says its DCD795D2BT, which is a 20-volt hammer drill, is the first tool to include Bluetooth-enabled batteries as standard. The drill hit the market in September 2015 for about $259.

We’re told that increased intelligence will be part of the drill when it comes to power tools.

Drew Vass is a regular contributor to Consumers Digest. He has written about a range of home-improvement products and topics, including replacement windows, garage doors, home heating systems, and bathroom and kitchen remodeling.