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.

Three years and many, many thousands of cuts later, the circular saw is still going strong, now on its second blade. 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 go bad.

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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