There’s a mini-revolution happening in the world of portable power tools. Some of the old stalwarts are getting complete makeovers, while bigger batteries are allowing manufacturers to convert some stationary tools to portable ones.
One of the more noteworthy battery advances is the FlexVolt system from DeWalt (flexvolt.dewalt.com). It not only ups the amps, but it also allows the tools to demand and use only the amount of power they need. Kitchen and casework installers are going to love having the ability to run a real, full-strength miter saw or even a small table saw on battery power, especially on job sites where temporary power is limited and other subs are shouldering for room.
The heart of the FlexVolt system is a battery pack that delivers either 20- or 60-volt juice, depending on the tool’s requirements (the pack automatically recognizes which power level to supply). You can even sequence two of the packs to deliver a full 120 volts of current on site, which is required for the company’s new cordless 12” sliding miter saw. FlexVolt has also been engineered to work with a shop’s existing 20-volt DeWalt portable tools and chargers. When used in those tools, the 60-volt battery pack runs four times as long, so most woodworkers will be able to get through a full day on an overnight charge.
There are also some new DeWalt tools that have been specifically built to take advantage of this huge power source, including a 7-1/4” circular saw, a 1/2” drill, the 8-1/4” table saw mentioned earlier, a reciprocating saw (with more power than a 13-amp corded version) and even a 6” grinder. The FlexVolt comes with a “fuel” gauge that lets a woodworker check on the charge level visually. It can be fully charged in an hour (using an optional fast charger), provides 120 watt-hours of energy and has no battery memory.
The power tools division of the Bosch Group (boschtools.com) has been working hard, too. Bosch recently introduced its new GTS1041A-09 Reaxx 10” job-site table saw that includes the company’s injury-mitigation Active Response Technology platform. As with other saws on the market, it drops the saw blade below the tabletop when it detects human flesh, but this one does so without damaging the blade. And, after activation, the system can be reset in less than 60 seconds, so downtime is minimal. The saw also includes a modular blade guard (called Smart Guard System) that includes an adjustable riving knife, anti-kickback pawls and a barrier guard. The fence is heavy-duty with the feel of one on a cabinet saw. And the saw, with a 15-amp, 4-hp, soft-start motor, comes on a quick-rise, wheeled platform that is designed for tough terrain, easy setups and fast takedown.
Circular saw innovations
Another very interesting innovation that is especially attractive to installers is the Straight Flush Saw from Cuz-D Industries in Lacey, Wash. Though not in full production yet (it can be ordered for $575 for delivery next year and will come with a lifetime guarantee), it’s a promising alternative to existing options. Invented by construction vet Jake Cuzdey, it delivers more power, has better built-in dust collection and gets into more tight spaces than most of the competition. That last attribute is what’s turning a lot of heads: the saw can cut right up against a wall or a backsplash and it can do so horizontally or vertically because the handle rotates. There’s even a second handle that allows the operator to use both hands to guide, which significantly improves safety.
Cuzdey also built in a trigger on the handle that allows the operator to retract the guard one-handed at the start of a cut and let it fall back in place before the cut is finished. This saw makes it very easy to do accurate undercuts, so that laminate flooring or even countertops can be installed up to and even under a wall without visual gaps. The blade on the Straight Flush Saw tilts from negative-5 degrees to an impressive 65 degrees, which can come in very handy when framing complex roofs, bay windows and other irregular construction challenges, and can be heaven-sent when installing odd-shaped islands and trim. The front end is hinged and can fold up so the blade can get really close in corners. There’s a long rip guide (the full length of the saw) that’s a lot sturdier than almost any other manufacturer’s and allows accurate sheet stock ripping at very fast speeds. The saw can also be converted to cut metal or concrete, using water or CO². The demo video on the company’s website is pretty astonishing (cuz-d.com/see-the-saw-in-action).
Festool USA (festoolusa.com) released a series of new tools in North America this fall, including the HK 55 and HKC 55 portable circular saws. The company says that they deliver “benchtop miter saw precision and functionality” in a portable power tool. These are essentially superb circular saws with an attachable retracting guide rail for panel and straight-line work. There’s a corded AC version (the HK 55) and a cordless 18-volt version (HKC 55). Festool also released its new DWC 18-4500 cordless drywall gun this fall.
Airing it out
A portable power tool is one that a woodworker can transport to the job site easily and that certainly includes small compressors and air tools. In that configuration, air-hoses have traditionally been a bit limiting onsite, especially in cold weather. In March, Senco (senco.com) released its Hybrid Hose, which has been designed to provide the ultimate in flexibility and memory resistance, even in extreme temperatures (-40 degrees to 150 degrees). It lays flat and won’t kink under pressure. These new hybrid polymer hoses have the flexibility of a rubber air hose, but the long life of PVC, for uninterrupted air pressure.
If your compressor tank is having a hard time keeping up, take a look at the new Airkeg from Rolair (rolair.com). It’s installed between your compressor and the air tool to increase reserve air and also minimize frictional loss over extended distances. It provides the user with more air, which prevents the air compressor from cycling too often. As a result, gas engines get better fuel economy and electric motors run cooler. It also means that the user can work farther from the air compressor while minimizing frictional loss and it delivers a quieter, safer work environment without sacrificing performance. Plus, additional air means there’s consistent pressure to the tool for longer periods of time, so there are fewer “stair-stepped” nails.
Airflow is also essential to the new 36-volt brushless, cordless ½-gallon XCV05Z dry vacuum from Makita Tools (makitatools.com). This vacuum is an ideal solution for job sites, especially residential installs and clean environments such as medical facilities because of its low noise level (47 dB). Equipped with a HEPA filter, the vacuum is designed as an extremely portable and compact backpack. It eliminates extension cords, and tool connection adapters are available (sold separately). Two 18-volt lithium-ion batteries, which are also sold separately, power the XCV05Z, and its brushless motor generates 53 cfm of suction and 28.5” of static water lift. The batteries deliver up to 90 minutes of continuous operation on low setting and 60 minutes on high. And, with the batteries on board, the entire unit still only weighs 9.4 lbs., according to the company.
Speaking of light, the latest news from MicroFence (microfence.com) is the release of a couple of light rings for its aftermarket plunge bases. The company has been working on these ever since the miniature LED lights it used to offer were discontinued. The solution to the problem is a printed circuit board light ring that features six LED lights that bathe the work area. They provide virtually shadow-free illumination, without the need for batteries. The light rings can be retrofitted to any plunge base that MicroFence has ever made.
For woodworkers who use hand tools a lot, especially when carving or doing restoration or on-site trim work, Rikon has a new 8” wet sharpener that, at 23 lbs., is both portable and powerful. The model 82-100 (rikontools.com) comes with a 220-grit, 1-5/8” wide stone wheel that revolves at a staid 115 rpm and a leather strop wheel. The unit includes a reverse switch and a water trough (bring your own bottle of water).
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.