Deep Dive: My Tools of Choice

Going into the project, I was prejudiced against cordless tools: they generally seemed to be wimpy "play-pretend" tools with batteries that always died at just the wrong time. Forever hopeful for improvement, I'd bought and sold quite a few of them, all "high-quality" name-brand pro-sumer models that failed to impress. Since I wouldn't have electric service for some time, I armed myself with a monster portable generator that would deliver all the power I could possibly need—albeit along with considerable noise:

But shortly before getting down to business, I'd come across an article that suggested a new generation of cordless tools, powered by vastly superior batteries, represented the next step in their evolution. On a lark, I decided to give one a try. I deliberately chose a circular saw, as I'd found them to be the weakest link in the cordless tool menagerie. Having had a good experience using a DeWalt corded miter saw, I chose a DeWalt 20-volt circular saw as my new guinea pig.

I charged it up and had at a two-by-four (something a previous cordless saw couldn't even begin to cut). Wow. The beast chewed through it with barely any effort. So I took on a two-by-twelve, and it mowed through the thing with the same vigor as my big Porter-Cable corded saw! This resulted in an immediate about-face: suddenly I was thoroughly impressed by a cordless tool.

I then went out and purchased DeWalt's biggest impact-drill-driver, and these two tools have done 99.9% of the work on my house. Indeed, I wound up never using any of my corded tools (and, furthermore, I later sold nearly all of them!). It was particularly satisfying to rip several four-by-eight sheets of 3/4-inch sheathing lengthwise before having to change the battery. Although I had plenty of spares, which I charged with a little tiny generator, I rarely went through more than two or three of them in a day. Here are my two "hero" tools on their first official day at work:

Naturally I bought a few other tools: a saber saw, a saws-all, and a couple of other sizes of drill-driver. The saws-all was the next-most impressive of the lot: it was unfazed by stacks of two-bys populated with loads of screws, and also made short work of pruning small tree branches. Meanwhile, their baby 12-volt drill-driver became my go-to tool for all of my electrical work.

A year and a half and many, many thousands of cuts later, the circular saw is still going strong, now only on its second blade. And for the record, it never once bogged down or stalled. The drill-driver has been dropped, rained on and used relentlessly (the house is assembled exclusively with screws—there are no nails!), and it has likewise been a champ throughout. Plus, none of the batteries have yet to peter out.

Recently I needed to rip a 2x12 lengthwise. The 10-foot long cut was handled masterfully by the circular saw, although it did almost completely deplete a full charge. Still, that was a mighty impressive achievement for a battery-powered tool.

Doubtless there are other brands of comparable quality, but given the immense level of satisfaction I have with these tools—not to mention the massive amount of work they've done—I offer my enthusiastic endorsement of DeWalt's pro-sumer 20-volt tools. I still think it's awesome to realize that two battery-powered tools basically built this whole house!

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