Canadian Woodworking

Who will speak for the small tools?

Blog by Rob Brown
Can You See the Difference?

Decades ago, most hand-held power tools and portable machines were on the small side.

Medium-sized 10″ non-sliding mitre saws and 9.6V cordless drills were the norm. Before the 9.6V drill came the 7.2V drill. Both of these drills fit nicely in your hand and were easily manipulated. Sure, the long handle that housed the battery had its drawbacks, but overall they were fine for most tasks. And mitre saws used to be easily carried around the jobsite, backyard or shop. Now it takes a lumberjack to pick up one of these unwieldy beasts.

Dangerous drills

I have about 10 cordless drills. I’m not quite sure how I ended up with so many, but there they are, waiting for me on the shelf. Most cordless drills today are 18V or higher, and are fairly large and heavy. Sure, they have enough power to strip a 1/4″ bolt, but I simply don’t need that sort of capability. In fact, I usually want something that can be finessed and won’t risk damaging what I’m working on. For instance, if I’m driving in a 1-1/4″ long #8 screw to secure two plywood kitchen cabinets together I don’t want to drive the screw too far and have it protrude through the other face. Or maybe I’m hanging smaller doors with some 3/4″ #6 screws and don’t want to drive them even 1/4 of a turn too far.

I remember using one of my 18V drills in a tight space, with a single, extended hand. I didn’t realize the fastener was close to being seated properly, and when it finally did seat completely I twisted my wrist something fierce. It hurt for days. You can chalk that up to me being inattentive, but the fact is that it’s likely a fairly common situation in which to find yourself and a lighter drill doesn’t have that inherent danger.

I have four 12V drills and about six 18V versions, yet I almost always reach for the 12V versions first, unless I have a larger boring task to complete. I find the smaller, lighter drills are so much easier to manipulate and usually have enough power for most of my small shop drilling and driving tasks.

Monster mitre saws

I have a 10″ sliding compound mitre saw that can cut just about everything, short of a 4×8 sheet of plywood. It’s great, but it seems like every time I need to remove it from the stand it lives on, I throw my back out. It weighs over 50 pounds, which isn’t incredibly heavy, but when you factor in the fact that it’s awkward to carry, that weight becomes a serious challenge. Admittedly, I’m not a big guy, but I’m no string bean either. When you factor in a set of stairs, stepping over some other material or walking on uneven ground, I find this monster dangerous to carry. There are many other much larger mitre saws on the market, some upwards of 70 pounds. My back aches just thinking about them.

Last week I had some on-site trim work to complete on a fireplace surround I was installing. The thought of lugging my big mitre saw to the jobsite made my back twinge. I headed for the local supplier to see about a smaller, more manageable option. I came away with a corded 10″ mitre saw that weighs about 27 pounds. I can easily lift it and carry it to wherever I need without the risk of injury. Sure, it won’t cut 12″ wide pieces with a single cut, but I don’t need that capacity very often. I’m guessing most folks don’t often need that capacity, either. Now, if you’re a carpenter and regularly cut large baseboards, crowns and other trim members, buy the big one. Otherwise, I’d recommend going small.

Thankfully, this “bigger is better” trend isn’t seen across every hand tool, power tool and machine in the woodworking world, but I think it’s starting to get out of control. I’m not saying manufacturers should stop making larger tools, as some DIYers and tradespeople clearly need the larger capacity. I’m just saying I hope they continue to offer smaller, lighter, more maneuverable options as well for folks who don’t need the weight or capacity to do the work they do. All too often manufacturers offer the larger tools with higher-quality parts and manufacturing methods, while the smaller tools aren’t made as well. If I had my way, size wouldn’t be indicative of quality, and there would be all sizes available. My back is only getting older.

Can You See the Difference?

Two 12V drills, on either side of one of my 18V drills. Getting into tight spaces is easier with the 12V drill, but I mainly prefer it for its light weight and maneuverability.

Can You See the Difference?

Only When Needed

I use an 18V drill only when I need a bit of extra torque. Or when I need more than four drills on the go at once, which actually does happen.

Only When Needed

Simple and Small

I picked up this small 10" compound mitre saw for when I need a jobsite saw. It will also sit on one of my worksurfaces and help me crosscut smaller workpieces.

Simple and Small
Published:
Last modified: August 17, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

6 Comments

  1. I standardized on De Walt 20 volt years ago and have never regretted it. Size, weight, torque and features are all user-friendly. They handle a broad range of tasks from delicate shop-work,cabinetry, trim work to framing and have a wonderful assortment of tools available (drills, drivers, saws, flush cutters etc.) all based on the one battery…20 volt.

  2. Yes, I also now own a small Bosch cordless drill. It’s replacing the large Makita that I had for years. So much easier to maneuver and less fatigue. Also no wrist twist!

  3. I have a number of cordless tools. They are used all the time. My only real concern is that when you use them all the time the batteries need to be recharged and they only last so long. The tool manufacturers keep upgrading their batteries and tools. When the batteries die you cannot replace them because the new tool is now 20V and they no longer make the 18V battery. You need to buy a new tool and battery and charger. I work outside where there is no power so I need to go with the batteries but it becomes very expensive to continually replace tools and batterties.

  4. I only own two cordless drill and one impact driver. All are the same series, ten year old 12V DeWalts that perform as well as new. I’m not a pro and they aren’t used every day but I love the ergonomics of them and have never felt I needed more for woodworking.

  5. Bosch makes a wonderfull line of small handheld tools. Their small battery router (12V max EC Palm Edge Router), drill (ps31-2a), impact driver(PS41), Multi head driver (GSR12V-140FCBSS) are good enough for small to medium jobs…etc. And they all use the same battery size. And I’ve never had a problem with their batteries dieing (vs others such as DeWalt and Ryobi)..and I’ve had some Bosch batteries for 15 years.

  6. I have owned two battery operated drills. Never again. If domestic power is not available I will but a generator and be done with it. A hedge trimmer I started using with an electric extension cord in 1959 gave pit die tp worn out brushes. How many batteries would have been needed in the 59 years this tool was used.

    Ken.

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