Tuesday 9 April 2013

Gear and Tool (P)Review: A New Twist On Cordless Tool Kits

       "Is this what you deserve?"
                    -Tears for Fears

       My cordless drill is, like me, starting to show it's age.  It's banged up, nicked, scarred, starting to lose it's grip and no longer has the stamina that it used to and needs more time to recharge than when it was newer.

       It's built boats, boat parts, decks, garden sheds, VW camper interiors, kitchen cabinets, work benches, book shelves... 10 years on, it doesn't owe me anything.

       After taking three times as long as it should to drill lightening holes in paddleboard parts, due to short battery life, I knew I finally had to get serious about finding a replacement for the 12 volt NiCad workhorse.

       "Hmmm"  I pondered to myself, "Self, if you're gonna buy a new drill, maybe it is time to buy one of them 18 volt Lithium Ion cordless kits you've been thinking about for a while."

      Of course, there were a number of reasons why I had not yet made the transition from "thinking about"  to "stepping up."

 1.  $$$.
      Every time I get close to pulling the trigger on buying a bag o' tools I just can't justify the $250-           $350 cost.  After all, my old drill is still working, and I haven't really needed  a cordless circular saw or  jigsaw or reciprocating saw...
          ... yet.

 2. Unnecessary yet inevitable package padding:
      To get the tools I want need in the kit, I also have to pay for tools I don't need want- like a vacuum cleaner, or flashlight.

3. Serviceability:
     Ryobi's One+ tool system is a great idea, addressing my objections outlined above, and the warranty is solid, but the nearest Ryobi dealer is 45 minutes away.  If I need to replace a tool or buy a tool, it will inevitably occur while I am using a tool, and I don't want to have to take a 90 minute road trip to solve the problem.

 4.  Space:
      One reason why I am leaning toward cordless tools is to be able to accomplish boatwork on the boat.  While Whiskeyjack is on the hard extension cords plugged into our portable generator work fine...  but on the Dock it is a whole lot less convenient.  So, I want tools that I can keep on our boat.  Our small boat.  With even smaller storage space.  Stowing another tool bag filled with a drill, a saw, a sander and the accessories is a non-starter.

    All good excuses reasons for not owning a bunch of shiny new tools. But, with paddleboards to be built, and a drill with the staying power of a Vegas wedding,  it was time to get serious about finding a solution.

     I may have found it.

   Welcome to the Black And Decker Matrix.

    What B&D have done here is rethink cordless tool design.

     Basically, the handle is the heart of the system.  The lithium-ion  battery slides onto the butt of the grip, and the rest is pretty straightforward variable speed cordless drill ergonomics-  the motor is cantilevered to the rear off of the top of the grip,  the gearbox above the trigger, and the drive direction switch is just above the trigger.

   Forward of the trigger is where things get interesting. Standard included matrix equipment is a 3/8" drill chuck/ 11 position clutch assembly.   Pretty  typical, with one difference:- the chuck is removable, and can be replaced with an assortment of other Matrix tool heads.  Press a button,  remove the chuck and replace it with the appropriate tool head, and you have a detail sander, an impact driver, an oscillating saw, a router, a trim saw, or a jig saw...
... sort of.

More on that later.

I bought the "Starter Kit."  (For those of you playing along at home, available at Canadian Tire $149.99 )

Inside the box was the drill, one battery, battery charger, detail sander head, jigsaw head, one saw blade, a small assortment of pre-cut sandpaper and manuals.

So, how does this new 20 volt* drill compare to the old venerable 12 volt it is replacing?

  First, let's clear the air about that * above.  B&D bills this tool as 20 volts, BUT, upon  perusing the manual,   I read "Maximum initial battery pack voltage (measured without a workload) is 20 volts.   The nominal voltage is 18." ...  in other words, it is a real-world 18 volt powertrain.

  Even though it is 50% more powerful, the Matrix is a smaller overall package, at least according to my Sharpie-assisted testing:

  The chassis presents the workhead at a lower angle as well.  The rubberized grip fits nicely, and feels well balanced.  Whether there is any advantage to the shallower workhead angle will be seen over the next few months of testing.

   What is definitely an advantage is the difference in weight.  Although more powerful, the Matrix is noticeably lighter:

    The Matrix's Lithium Ion battery is also noticeably lighter than the OldDrill's 12 volt NiCad brick.  lerss weight, and better weight distribution means less user fatigue and more accurate work.

    The battery charger provides charge info, including  "bad battery" notification.  smack the abttery into the charger, and if the battery bad, the LED blinks red.  If the battery is good and charging, the LED blinks green and when charged glows a constant green.  A full charge takes 3-5 hours.  I will report back on real-world real- project battery life over the next few months.  A second battery may be a prudent investment.

"So, it seems like a decent drill."  Faithful reader says, " How about the other tool heads?"

This is where the "sort of"  part comes in.

  Press a button, remove the drill head and install the jigsaw head and you have a variable speed jigsaw...

  ...   An ergonomically unique jigsaw.  With a relatively small footprint and an unconventional grip, the saw may have a tendency to climb or wander.  Two hands may be required to get acceptable cutting performance and accuracy. 

     We'll see.

      On the plus side, changing blades is a quick toolless exercise. and the blades are standard items.

Need to sand the pieces you just cut?  No problem.  Push the button, pull off the saw head, install the sander head...

   Wha-bam!  You're sanding.  As with the jigsaw, the detail sander is ergonomically different than a traditional palm sander.  

    Better?  Worse?  

    I'll let you know over the next few months.

  I bough the starter kit (apparently unique to Canadian Tire) on sale for $99 plus tax.  Additional toolheads and batteries run $24-$59 each.  Add a router, trim saw and oscillating saw and a pretty comprehensive compact package can be had for under $250.

    The space savings over other cordless options is obvious. Will  the ergonomics help or hinder performance?  Time will tell.


"Talk the Dock!"

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, Brian. I went in the other direction with tools having had some "draining" experiences with battery drills. The fact that I have a steel boat with steel boat needs may enter into this.

    I've opted for a range of Makita and DeWalt (and some selected Mastercraft stuff which went on sale) power tools...plus my Honda 2000. The only power tool that makes the Honda cough is my 10 inch Makita circular saw...the 5 amp 1/2 drill and the 6.5 amp 1/2" chuck, two-handled slow 'n' torquey Makita I use for making holes both do well. I also have a Fein Multimaster clone that I got from Fastenal which is very useful aboard, but would kill any practical battery in 15 minutes.

    Having said that about rechargables, I have a "not dead yet" salvaged B&D 14V drill that is slow enough, and yet lasts an hour or so, to do a load of small brass screws. The other drills would strip out the heads. So I will look for a relatively small...but long-lasting...rotary tool for that sort of thing. I have a lot of screws to pull this summer.

    I have heard from contractors that the Milwaukee 18V "sets" that go on sale occasionally are the cat's posterior, however, and I believe it is possible to kludge a fix for dead batteries.

    See http://www.g-batteryshop.com/battery_tips/2010/08/how-to-fix-an-18v-power-tools-battery-drill-battery-tips-by-g-batteryshop-com/

    for instance. It's possible to pick up a bunch of the stock Ni-Cads or LiOn batteries and simply solder them together...but I haven't tried that. Good luck with your purchases.