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Cordless vs Corded Tools

dewalt corded and cordless circular saw

Corded vs Cordless Tools | The saw on the left is a corded one that uses 120-volt electricity. The saw on the right is a cordless one that gets its power from a battery. Copyright 2022 Tim Carter

Corded vs. Cordless Tools - Which One Costs More?

Do you have a love affair with power tools? If so, my guess is you may have succumbed to the Sirens’ songs luring you into the Sea of Cordless Tools. Before you become mesmerized by the nymphs’ sweet voices, I suggest you check your heading and go hard to starboard before dashing your boat on the rocks.

As luck would have it, just as I was starting to write this column, a serendipitous email from Bill popped into my email inbox. He lives in Spokane, Washington and shared a story about a recent visit to one of the big box stores that was cluttered with pallets of wares that had been hidden for months in storage containers anchored off Long Beach, CA. The text of his entire email is at the bottom of this column.

“I couldn’t help noticing all the many cordless tools. It seemed like there were hundreds, all with little signs that said something like ‘Tool Only’. I couldn’t help wondering about this trend in tools, and comparing it to what is apparently happening also in automobiles.”

Bill is older than I am by a few years and he still owns plenty of power tools that have a 6-foot 120-volt power cord attached to them. I have many in my garage in excellent shape and I’m so glad I do. If invited to sit down to lunch with a group of young-buck carpenters, I’d be the old goat sitting on an empty overturned drywall mud bucket that would say, “Back in my day, we didn’t have cordless tools. We got along just fine.”

What are the Pros and Cons of Cordless Tools?

The inspiration for this column came from a sidebar discussion on one of my recent live stream video broadcasts. A viewer asked me to list the pros and cons of cordless tools and then asked me what I thought the future was for traditional corded power tools.

It’s important to realize I’m old enough to remember seeing cordless tools enter the marketplace back in the 1980s. My best friend was my HVAC contractor. He bought a small cordless Makita drill outfitted with a nut driver that allowed him to drive hundreds of tiny self-tapping screws. I marveled at how he didn’t need to trip over a power cord while up on a step ladder. That little cordless drill/driver saved him lots of time.

As a carpenter and plumber, all of my power tools were corded. The biggest concern I recall is making sure you didn’t cut through an extension cord. On a new construction site, mud-covered extension cords were something you just dealt with. That said, we always had power. The tools always worked. We never had to wait for a battery to charge. Cold weather didn’t sap my saws of their strength.

Is There Competition for Battery Raw Materials?

I decided to step back and do a true and honest comparison between corded and cordless tools. If ever there’s a time to do it, I feel it’s now. Inflation is raging and I don’t see it calming down anytime soon. My geology degree also is screaming at me. The war for raw materials for car, truck, and tool batteries is going to heat up. This competition for the ingredients is most likely going to cause the price of cordless batteries to soar higher than a rocket headed to the moon.

What is the Biggest Benefit of a Cordless Tool?

When I collected myself to answer the viewer watching the live stream, I said, “You can’t beat cordless tools for convenience. You can use them without having to plug in a cord.” I then hesitated to list other positive features of cordless tools. Why? I have this nasty habit of always looking at what things really cost you in the long run.

Cost Comparison Between Corded and Cordless Circular Saw (May 2022)

Days ago I decided to do a fast price comparison between two normal 7 and 1/4-inch circular saws made by the same manufacturer. One was corded and the other one was cordless. The new corded saw cost $144.00. The cordless saw, tool only, was $159.00. You had to spend another $147.00 to get two batteries, a charger, and soft-sided bag to transport all the gear. Invoking your grade school math you can see out of the box the cordless saw job-site-ready was over $300.00.

How Many Times Can you Recharge a Cordless Tool Battery?

I went to the manufacturer’s website and read that you can expect to recharge the battery up to 1000 times. Using a cordless tool all day long on a job site might have you charging the battery at least once or twice a day. It’s possible you could recharge a battery 450 times a year under heavy use.

Do Cordless Tool Batteries Record Your Activity?

If you wear out a battery and try to return it as a warranty claim, don’t try to fool the manufacturer saying you only charged it 200 times or so. I’m reasonably certain hidden inside all cordless tool batteries are electronics that not only protect the battery during charging cycles, but they also record how you use the battery, the number of recharge events, and all the particulars of the condition of the battery at the time it’s charging. I remember saying at a cordless tool editors conference years ago that the batteries were nothing more than spies. The tool representatives in the room didn’t disagree and glared at me.

How Much Does a Replacement Battery Cost? (May 2022)

I then looked at the opens in a new windowcost of replacement batteries. You’ll currently spend $100 for one with a decent amp-hour rating. What’s that battery going to cost you in two, five, or fifteen years? Keep in mind I have corded tools that are decades old that still work. What will you spend over time to ensure your power tool works?

Bill finished his email to me saying he’s going to continue to trip over his cord. I intend to do the same thing comforted by the fact that when I bought my corded tool I paid a one-time fee and will never have to spend more to keep it running so long as I care for it. It might be prudent for you to invest in a variety of high-quality corded power tools before they become extinct.

opens in a new windowCheck out a powerful corded miter box saw here.

Author's Note: This is the text of the email I received from Bill in Spokane, Washington:

I was in the Home Depot in Spokane yesterday. It was in a terrible mess, chaos everywhere. There were pallets and pallets of new merchandise down the length of every aisle, cluttering up the store, and making it impossible to have a meaningful visit. I asked an employee what was going on, and he said "You know all those ships that have been sitting in Los Angeles harbor waiting for two years to be unloaded?.. Well they are finally being unloaded, and this is the result."

I wandered over to the tool section (relatively clear of debris) to see what was new. I couldn't help noticing all the many cordless tools. It seemed there were hundreds... All with little signs that said something like "Tool Only". I couldn't help wondering about this trend in tools, and comparing it to what is apparently happening also in automobiles. Huge need for batteries and charging systems! I fairly lusted after a Milwaukee cordless framing nailer that claimed hundreds of nails driven on a single charge, at a rate of three nails per second! Wow! But the battery charge does eventually run out, and the battery pack eventually does turn to mush and has to be replaced. And what about the huge waste problem of disposing of all these batteries? Have the 'greenies' ever considered these facts?

I am an old man (80), and like my father before me, I find myself saying "I don't belong in this world anymore". I will personally continue to trip over my cord, and its long extension from the meter base, outlet, or small generator knowing that I can keep working with this corded tool until the Lord takes me home... and my ancient tool turns up at Habitat for Humanity.

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