I think I have incorporated most of the comments from the previous
thread, so hear is a revised version. There is now a section on specific
tools and what one can do with them - contribuitions for this section
especially would be welcome!
Choosing a portable power tool
Choice of power tool is a topic that comes up for discussion at regular
intervals on uk.d i y, which frequently generates long threads of
opinion and counter opinion! (aka arguments, and flame wars!) Much of
this discussion seems to stem from different peoples understanding of
what “DIY” is all about, as well as each person having often conflicting
needs and expectations.
To help focus discussion, this section of the FAQ sets out some of the
various tool buying policies that are routinely suggested. If you use
this to identify which policy most closely resembles your favoured
approach, you should be able to solicit advice from the group that takes
this into consideration, and will save you needing to wade through too
many heated debates!
What do *you*
mean by DIY?
This is not as daft a questions as you may think! Since it will have a
big impact on the tools you will consider “suitable”. DIY will mean
different things to different people. For some it will be about saving
money, for others it may be a relaxing hobby. It could be as simple as
occasionally erecting a shelf, or changing a tap washer. For others it
could be as elaborate as building their own house! For many today
(especially if you live in the south east) DIY is often the only option
because finding good trades people willing to actually quote or even
turn up for work on some jobs is getting increasingly difficult!
It is safe to say that the tool you purchase with the expectation that
it will live in a cupboard for 362 days of the year, may well be very
different to the one with which you indulge your hobby of fine furniture
making five days a week. So before deciding on much else, it is
advisable to decide on what level of use you anticipate making of the tool.
Class of tool:
There are a huge variety of power tools available from the general
purpose to the highly specialised. Almost every DIY shop will not only
stock a selection of well know brands, they will often offer their own
range of “own brand” tools, and prices for similar looking tools can
range from as little as £5 to well over £500. The choice can seem
bewildering. Understanding the way in which these different ranges of
tools are marketed and distributed can go a long way to help
understanding this large range.
The prices of budget tools in recent years have fallen dramatically. The
majority of tools are manufactured in the far east and then “branded”
for the eventual retailer. It is not uncommon to find exactly the same
tool available under several different “brands” where the only
difference is the label and the colour of the case. Since access to the
original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is limited, getting any after
sales service and spares for these tools can be difficult or impossible.
Often the retailer may offer more attractive warranty terms to mitigate
some of these limitations. So if a tool breaks during its warranty
period, then the retailer will simply replace it. However if it breaks
after this time, the tool will need to be discarded and a replacement
sought. Although a long warranty may seem attraction remember that you
may need to factor in the cost of your time should frequent trips to the
shop be needed to acquire a warranty replacement.
High End tools
At the high end, tools are often built and assembled by factories owned
by the brand maker, or built for them by OEMs to the brands own
specification and quality standards. There will be a service and support
network that will enable tools to be repaired, and spare parts obtained.
Needless to say this backup and support has to be paid for in higher
Mid Range tools
The mid range can be even more confusing since it can encompass tools
from the “edges” of both categories above – often with the range of
tools available under one brand spanning a good proportion quality and
price range available. It is also an area with a large number of
suppliers, sellers, and advertisers, each competing for your money.
Where should I buy from?
Many tools are available from a wide range of sources including the big
name DIY shop, to the specialised independent tool supplier. A growing
market sector is the dedicated “online” seller.
For easy availability of budget and mid range tools, it is hard to beat
the big DIY shops. If you want the best and most knowledgeable advice
and after sales service you will need to seek out a dedicated tool
merchant. If you are looking for the best possible price the online shop
will often give it to you.
There are cases where a average quality tool purchased from an above
average retailer will offer some of the benefits and after sales care
that usually only comes with much higher price tools.
The purchasing factors
Assuming you have dismissed hiring a tool, there are some are obvious
factors like features of the product and its price that you will
consider before you buy, but some are more subtle. For any given
purchase you will need to weigh up these factors, since they may often
be different for each tool you buy.
1) Tool features
2) Purchase Price
3) Availability of spares and support
4) Tool quality (and quality of results achievable with it)
5) Total cost of ownership (factoring in your time to buy and maintain
the tool, cost of spares etc)
6) Comfort of use (Not only ergonomic design, but also factors like
weight, noise, vibration, effective dust collection)
7) Speed of operation
8) Availability of suppliers (and service where applicable)
9) How much you anticipate the tool will be used
10) How long you need it to last
11) Brand image
The disposable tool
This is an easy one! Sometimes a tool is needed for a specific job and
then that is it. Chances that it will be used again are slim. Often
hiring a tool is a good way to meet this need, but that will not always
be cost effective or practical if you are going to need it on an ad hoc
basis spread over several weeks.
In this category tools from the cheaper end of the market can be ideal,
often you are not too concerned what the life expectancy of the tool
will be, so long as it gets the job done. If it lasts longer then that
is a bonus.
Almost any DIY shop will have a suitable supply of tools. The down side
it that the quality of the tool compared to a hired one may be inferior
since the hire shops will typically buy top end tools so as to get the
best life out of them, make sure they stand up to the abuse dolled out
in unskilled hands, and to keep their trade customers happy! The tool
may also be less comfortable to use, achieve lower standard of results,
and take longer. Finally, you either need to store or otherwise dispose
of the tool when the job is done.
The second hand tool
Don’t dismiss this option! Sometimes places like hire shops will sell
off surplus tools. If you can find one that has not been hammered to the
edge of its useful life this can be a way of picking up a top quality
tool for not much money.
The buy to try approach
Sometimes you are not sure how much actual use you will make of a
particular tool, but you can’t be sure until you have a chance to try
one for yourself. Hiring can be a solution here although you would need
to a specific project in mind. The alternative is to buy one from the
budget or mid range, to see how you get on with it. You may find that
your purchase satisfies your need, or it may be a stepping stone to
something better. It also means when you do buy “something better” you
have a much clearer understanding of what features to look for and which
ones can be dismissed as “fluff”.
The “buy several” approach
The own brand tool may not offer the reliability and performance of a
more expensive tool. However the price is often such that some people
advocate buying more than one of each tool, often for the less than the
price of a single better tool. Should a tool fail, you simply discard it
and switch to its replacement and carry on working. (The same policy can
actually be applied to any type of tool in any price range if it is
important that you can carry on working, not just the “DIY shop
special”, Even expensive tools bought for business use may fall into
You can have several tools “on the go at once”. With things like drills
this may equate to faster working since you will not need to stop to
swap between say a drill bit and a screwdriver bit, just pick up a
You need to balance this with the fact that the money spent on two tools
may buy one of better quality, which may outlast the two cheaper ones,
give better results, and be nicer to use. Also you will need more
storage space if you have several of each!.
The mid range choice
This is the hardest range to purchase from, because there is a huge
choice, and it is not possible to make blanket purchasing decisions
based on brand for example. Each brand will have good and not so good
products in this class. Buying from this range is often what the ad men
call an “aspirational purchase” (i.e. you would like something better,
but budget dictates you buy something similar but cheaper!).
Mid range tools are often well suited to the less intensive user. The
results and quality of work that can be produced will often be higher
than with lower end tools, and some after sales service and support may
be available (this is often true where the manufacturer sells tools in
several ranges (like B&D or Bosch for example). You have ready
availability of tools and lots of competition keeps prices low. You may
find that the quality, comfort of use, speed etc, may still be lacking.
The “top quality” approach
Sometimes only the best will do. If the work you want to do demands the
highest quality of finish, or you want the utmost comfort and ease of
use from your tools then this might be the approach for you. You can
expect tools in this category to stand up to intensive every day use,
even for “trade” purposes. Reliability should also be better than the
other groups, and spares and after sales service should be readily
available. Ideally suited to the serious DIYer, the tradesman and
craftsman. You will be getting the smoothest operation resulting in good
finish and low operator fatigue, with good finesse of control. If you
have a habit of being a bit “heavy handed” with your tools then remember
these were designed to be used and abused on building sites! Sometimes
there is just the satisfaction in using and owning “the best”
The tools are going to be more expensive, and are more likely to be
stolen if not carefully looked after! Note also that just because repair
services are available there may be down time waiting for repairs to be
Mains or Cordless
Over recent years the number of cordless (i.e. battery powered) tools
available has grown enormously. In many cases available power is but an
extension lead away and so you may not “need” a cordless tool. There are
some items (drills / powered screwdrivers notably) for which the
cordless tool is desirable as a class of its own - often in addition to
a mains equivalent. If in doubt as to whether to go cordless (for things
other than drills) you are probably better sticking to mains.
There are a few “givens” with cordless tools: they cost more, and will
often deliver less power than a similar price / size mains tool, and if
you use them infrequently then they will be flat when you want to use them!
There is also a huge range of difference between the best and the worst
examples. The worst cordless tools are virtually useless. The best can
be used as non stop work horses.
The single biggest influence on the quality and usability of a cordless
tool are its batteries and their charger. It is simply not possible to
purchase good quality rechargeable cells at very low cost. Many budget
cordless tools are sold at a price that is less than the wholesale cost
of a decent set of batteries. So something has to give! The quality of
the batteries will affect how long it runs, and the power or torque
available. The quality of the charger will affect how long the batteries
take to charge, and more importantly, how many times you can recharge
and still get useful performance from the tool. Batteries will need
replacement eventually. With a budget tool this will usually be a non
economic exercise (assuming spares are available), with a higher end
tool it may well be more expensive than you expect.
The other influence on performance is the quality of the motor and speed
controller used. A good one will deliver lots of torque and control,
even at low speeds. The poorer ones will only deliver torque at high
speeds which is far less useful.
Are more “volts” better
In the quest for more power, performance and speed from battery operated
tools, there has been a slide upwards in battery voltage. This suits the
marketers well since there is a nice “number” to use a sales hook. The
bigger the number the better right? Err, no not always. The more volts,
the more cells, the bigger and heavier the tool will be. If you want a
nimble easy to use drill/driver this is not a “good thing”. Then we come
down to quality of batteries again: a top end 14.4V drill will out
perform a 18V or 24V budget tool for just this reason, while being
smaller and lighter into the bargain.
Which brand is which?
Identifying which of the above groups a tool belongs to is not always
straight forward. Many people will not even agree which is which. Some
brands may make tools in several distinct categories, (which may or may
not be distinguished in some way). In recent years many of the big name
makers have acquired smaller brands so as to be able to compete in
several different ranges without confusing people as to which market
they are aiming for (i.e. B&D own Elu, Skil, and DeWalt)
Budget brand tools:
NuTool, JCB, Many DIY shop “own brand tools”, Power Devil, Ferm
Mid range tools
Bosch (green bodied), Black & Decker, Skill, Wicks own brand (grey
bodied), Freud, PPPro (B&Q), Ryobi
Makita, Trend, Bosch (blue bodied), Hitachi, Festool, Fein, Lamello,
Freud, Elu, Metabo, DeWalt, Atlas-Copco/Milwaukee, Panasonic
All about Different Tools
The following section lists lots of tools, why you may want them, and
highlights specific things to look for that are particular to the tool.
[feel free to jump in here guys and gals and provide some sections! –
this could go on a bit]
This is an example of a tool where there is a massive shift in
performance as you move from budget to high end. To the extent that a
high end tool is to all intents and purposes a different tool to the low
end. It makes answering the question “why would I want one?” a bit
tricky since the range of things you might do with a good one is much
wider that those you would contemplate for a poor one. Hence it is
simpler to treat these as two separate types of tool:
The budget / mid range jigsaw:
Ideal for cutting curved lines, (indeed without practice, that may be
the only type you can cut!). If you need to cut out shapes, (i.e. hole
for a sink in a worktop), or make some ornate woodwork this may be the
tool for the job. If you need a jigsaw then there are few alternatives,
there are some jobs that only a jigsaw will do. The speed of cut is
relatively slow (ones with pendulum action will cut faster (and
rougher)). The tools are pretty small and light. They are often a bit
uncomfortable to use since you get a fair bit of vibration. They are not
suited to being a general purpose saw (a circular saw will often be a
better choice). The quality of the cut is moderate, and will need a fair
amount of sanding etc prior to finishing if it is to be on display.
Features worth having include tool less blade change (sometimes called
SDS just to confuse), an illuminated cutting line is nice, as is a dust
blower that keeps the cutting line clear of sawdust.
The high end jigsaw
This will do all of the things the budget one will do. However it is a
far more general purpose tool. It cuts quickly and smoothly with little
or no vibration. It is much better at cutting straight lines, and can
often be used with a straight edge or rip fence without the blade
wandering to “interesting” angles. Tool less blade change is a given, as
is a good speed controller. The base plate will be a solid cast metal
rather than a flexible pressed steel one. With a fine or medium blade it
will also give a very fine finish to a cut.
The SDS Drill
The Circular Saw
The Biscuit Jointer
The Reciprocating Saw
The Mitre Saw
Click to see the full signature.