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Old March 7th 05, 01:37 PM
John Rumm
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Default For peer review, new FAQ section: Power Tools. Draft 2

I think I have incorporated most of the comments from the previous
thread, so hear is a revised version. There is now a section on specific
tools and what one can do with them - contribuitions for this section
especially would be welcome!


Choosing a portable power tool

Choice of power tool is a topic that comes up for discussion at regular
intervals on uk.d i y, which frequently generates long threads of
opinion and counter opinion! (aka arguments, and flame wars!) Much of
this discussion seems to stem from different peoples understanding of
what “DIY” is all about, as well as each person having often conflicting
needs and expectations.

To help focus discussion, this section of the FAQ sets out some of the
various tool buying policies that are routinely suggested. If you use
this to identify which policy most closely resembles your favoured
approach, you should be able to solicit advice from the group that takes
this into consideration, and will save you needing to wade through too
many heated debates!

What do *you* mean by DIY?

This is not as daft a questions as you may think! Since it will have a
big impact on the tools you will consider “suitable”. DIY will mean
different things to different people. For some it will be about saving
money, for others it may be a relaxing hobby. It could be as simple as
occasionally erecting a shelf, or changing a tap washer. For others it
could be as elaborate as building their own house! For many today
(especially if you live in the south east) DIY is often the only option
because finding good trades people willing to actually quote or even
turn up for work on some jobs is getting increasingly difficult!

It is safe to say that the tool you purchase with the expectation that
it will live in a cupboard for 362 days of the year, may well be very
different to the one with which you indulge your hobby of fine furniture
making five days a week. So before deciding on much else, it is
advisable to decide on what level of use you anticipate making of the tool.

Class of tool:

There are a huge variety of power tools available from the general
purpose to the highly specialised. Almost every DIY shop will not only
stock a selection of well know brands, they will often offer their own
range of “own brand” tools, and prices for similar looking tools can
range from as little as £5 to well over £500. The choice can seem
bewildering. Understanding the way in which these different ranges of
tools are marketed and distributed can go a long way to help
understanding this large range.

Budget tools

The prices of budget tools in recent years have fallen dramatically. The
majority of tools are manufactured in the far east and then “branded”
for the eventual retailer. It is not uncommon to find exactly the same
tool available under several different “brands” where the only
difference is the label and the colour of the case. Since access to the
original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is limited, getting any after
sales service and spares for these tools can be difficult or impossible.
Often the retailer may offer more attractive warranty terms to mitigate
some of these limitations. So if a tool breaks during its warranty
period, then the retailer will simply replace it. However if it breaks
after this time, the tool will need to be discarded and a replacement
sought. Although a long warranty may seem attraction remember that you
may need to factor in the cost of your time should frequent trips to the
shop be needed to acquire a warranty replacement.

High End tools

At the high end, tools are often built and assembled by factories owned
by the brand maker, or built for them by OEMs to the brands own
specification and quality standards. There will be a service and support
network that will enable tools to be repaired, and spare parts obtained.
Needless to say this backup and support has to be paid for in higher
tool prices.

Mid Range tools

The mid range can be even more confusing since it can encompass tools
from the “edges” of both categories above – often with the range of
tools available under one brand spanning a good proportion quality and
price range available. It is also an area with a large number of
suppliers, sellers, and advertisers, each competing for your money.

Where should I buy from?

Many tools are available from a wide range of sources including the big
name DIY shop, to the specialised independent tool supplier. A growing
market sector is the dedicated “online” seller.

For easy availability of budget and mid range tools, it is hard to beat
the big DIY shops. If you want the best and most knowledgeable advice
and after sales service you will need to seek out a dedicated tool
merchant. If you are looking for the best possible price the online shop
will often give it to you.

There are cases where a average quality tool purchased from an above
average retailer will offer some of the benefits and after sales care
that usually only comes with much higher price tools.

The purchasing factors

Assuming you have dismissed hiring a tool, there are some are obvious
factors like features of the product and its price that you will
consider before you buy, but some are more subtle. For any given
purchase you will need to weigh up these factors, since they may often
be different for each tool you buy.

1) Tool features
2) Purchase Price
3) Availability of spares and support
4) Tool quality (and quality of results achievable with it)
5) Total cost of ownership (factoring in your time to buy and maintain
the tool, cost of spares etc)
6) Comfort of use (Not only ergonomic design, but also factors like
weight, noise, vibration, effective dust collection)
7) Speed of operation
8) Availability of suppliers (and service where applicable)
9) How much you anticipate the tool will be used
10) How long you need it to last
11) Brand image

Buying policies:

The disposable tool

This is an easy one! Sometimes a tool is needed for a specific job and
then that is it. Chances that it will be used again are slim. Often
hiring a tool is a good way to meet this need, but that will not always
be cost effective or practical if you are going to need it on an ad hoc
basis spread over several weeks.

In this category tools from the cheaper end of the market can be ideal,
often you are not too concerned what the life expectancy of the tool
will be, so long as it gets the job done. If it lasts longer then that
is a bonus.

Almost any DIY shop will have a suitable supply of tools. The down side
it that the quality of the tool compared to a hired one may be inferior
since the hire shops will typically buy top end tools so as to get the
best life out of them, make sure they stand up to the abuse dolled out
in unskilled hands, and to keep their trade customers happy! The tool
may also be less comfortable to use, achieve lower standard of results,
and take longer. Finally, you either need to store or otherwise dispose
of the tool when the job is done.

The second hand tool

Don’t dismiss this option! Sometimes places like hire shops will sell
off surplus tools. If you can find one that has not been hammered to the
edge of its useful life this can be a way of picking up a top quality
tool for not much money.

The buy to try approach

Sometimes you are not sure how much actual use you will make of a
particular tool, but you can’t be sure until you have a chance to try
one for yourself. Hiring can be a solution here although you would need
to a specific project in mind. The alternative is to buy one from the
budget or mid range, to see how you get on with it. You may find that
your purchase satisfies your need, or it may be a stepping stone to
something better. It also means when you do buy “something better” you
have a much clearer understanding of what features to look for and which
ones can be dismissed as “fluff”.

The “buy several” approach

The own brand tool may not offer the reliability and performance of a
more expensive tool. However the price is often such that some people
advocate buying more than one of each tool, often for the less than the
price of a single better tool. Should a tool fail, you simply discard it
and switch to its replacement and carry on working. (The same policy can
actually be applied to any type of tool in any price range if it is
important that you can carry on working, not just the “DIY shop
special”, Even expensive tools bought for business use may fall into
this category).

You can have several tools “on the go at once”. With things like drills
this may equate to faster working since you will not need to stop to
swap between say a drill bit and a screwdriver bit, just pick up a
different tool.

You need to balance this with the fact that the money spent on two tools
may buy one of better quality, which may outlast the two cheaper ones,
give better results, and be nicer to use. Also you will need more
storage space if you have several of each!.

The mid range choice

This is the hardest range to purchase from, because there is a huge
choice, and it is not possible to make blanket purchasing decisions
based on brand for example. Each brand will have good and not so good
products in this class. Buying from this range is often what the ad men
call an “aspirational purchase” (i.e. you would like something better,
but budget dictates you buy something similar but cheaper!).

Mid range tools are often well suited to the less intensive user. The
results and quality of work that can be produced will often be higher
than with lower end tools, and some after sales service and support may
be available (this is often true where the manufacturer sells tools in
several ranges (like B&D or Bosch for example). You have ready
availability of tools and lots of competition keeps prices low. You may
find that the quality, comfort of use, speed etc, may still be lacking.

The “top quality” approach

Sometimes only the best will do. If the work you want to do demands the
highest quality of finish, or you want the utmost comfort and ease of
use from your tools then this might be the approach for you. You can
expect tools in this category to stand up to intensive every day use,
even for “trade” purposes. Reliability should also be better than the
other groups, and spares and after sales service should be readily
available. Ideally suited to the serious DIYer, the tradesman and
craftsman. You will be getting the smoothest operation resulting in good
finish and low operator fatigue, with good finesse of control. If you
have a habit of being a bit “heavy handed” with your tools then remember
these were designed to be used and abused on building sites! Sometimes
there is just the satisfaction in using and owning “the best”

The tools are going to be more expensive, and are more likely to be
stolen if not carefully looked after! Note also that just because repair
services are available there may be down time waiting for repairs to be
carried out.

Mains or Cordless

Over recent years the number of cordless (i.e. battery powered) tools
available has grown enormously. In many cases available power is but an
extension lead away and so you may not “need” a cordless tool. There are
some items (drills / powered screwdrivers notably) for which the
cordless tool is desirable as a class of its own - often in addition to
a mains equivalent. If in doubt as to whether to go cordless (for things
other than drills) you are probably better sticking to mains.

There are a few “givens” with cordless tools: they cost more, and will
often deliver less power than a similar price / size mains tool, and if
you use them infrequently then they will be flat when you want to use them!

There is also a huge range of difference between the best and the worst
examples. The worst cordless tools are virtually useless. The best can
be used as non stop work horses.

The single biggest influence on the quality and usability of a cordless
tool are its batteries and their charger. It is simply not possible to
purchase good quality rechargeable cells at very low cost. Many budget
cordless tools are sold at a price that is less than the wholesale cost
of a decent set of batteries. So something has to give! The quality of
the batteries will affect how long it runs, and the power or torque
available. The quality of the charger will affect how long the batteries
take to charge, and more importantly, how many times you can recharge
and still get useful performance from the tool. Batteries will need
replacement eventually. With a budget tool this will usually be a non
economic exercise (assuming spares are available), with a higher end
tool it may well be more expensive than you expect.

The other influence on performance is the quality of the motor and speed
controller used. A good one will deliver lots of torque and control,
even at low speeds. The poorer ones will only deliver torque at high
speeds which is far less useful.

Are more “volts” better

In the quest for more power, performance and speed from battery operated
tools, there has been a slide upwards in battery voltage. This suits the
marketers well since there is a nice “number” to use a sales hook. The
bigger the number the better right? Err, no not always. The more volts,
the more cells, the bigger and heavier the tool will be. If you want a
nimble easy to use drill/driver this is not a “good thing”. Then we come
down to quality of batteries again: a top end 14.4V drill will out
perform a 18V or 24V budget tool for just this reason, while being
smaller and lighter into the bargain.

Which brand is which?

Identifying which of the above groups a tool belongs to is not always
straight forward. Many people will not even agree which is which. Some
brands may make tools in several distinct categories, (which may or may
not be distinguished in some way). In recent years many of the big name
makers have acquired smaller brands so as to be able to compete in
several different ranges without confusing people as to which market
they are aiming for (i.e. B&D own Elu, Skil, and DeWalt)

Budget brand tools:

NuTool, JCB, Many DIY shop “own brand tools”, Power Devil, Ferm

Mid range tools

Bosch (green bodied), Black & Decker, Skill, Wicks own brand (grey
bodied), Freud, PPPro (B&Q), Ryobi

High End

Makita, Trend, Bosch (blue bodied), Hitachi, Festool, Fein, Lamello,
Freud, Elu, Metabo, DeWalt, Atlas-Copco/Milwaukee, Panasonic

All about Different Tools

The following section lists lots of tools, why you may want them, and
highlights specific things to look for that are particular to the tool.

[feel free to jump in here guys and gals and provide some sections! –
this could go on a bit]

The jigsaw

This is an example of a tool where there is a massive shift in
performance as you move from budget to high end. To the extent that a
high end tool is to all intents and purposes a different tool to the low
end. It makes answering the question “why would I want one?” a bit
tricky since the range of things you might do with a good one is much
wider that those you would contemplate for a poor one. Hence it is
simpler to treat these as two separate types of tool:

The budget / mid range jigsaw:

Ideal for cutting curved lines, (indeed without practice, that may be
the only type you can cut!). If you need to cut out shapes, (i.e. hole
for a sink in a worktop), or make some ornate woodwork this may be the
tool for the job. If you need a jigsaw then there are few alternatives,
there are some jobs that only a jigsaw will do. The speed of cut is
relatively slow (ones with pendulum action will cut faster (and
rougher)). The tools are pretty small and light. They are often a bit
uncomfortable to use since you get a fair bit of vibration. They are not
suited to being a general purpose saw (a circular saw will often be a
better choice). The quality of the cut is moderate, and will need a fair
amount of sanding etc prior to finishing if it is to be on display.

Features worth having include tool less blade change (sometimes called
SDS just to confuse), an illuminated cutting line is nice, as is a dust
blower that keeps the cutting line clear of sawdust.

The high end jigsaw

This will do all of the things the budget one will do. However it is a
far more general purpose tool. It cuts quickly and smoothly with little
or no vibration. It is much better at cutting straight lines, and can
often be used with a straight edge or rip fence without the blade
wandering to “interesting” angles. Tool less blade change is a given, as
is a good speed controller. The base plate will be a solid cast metal
rather than a flexible pressed steel one. With a fine or medium blade it
will also give a very fine finish to a cut.

The Drill

The SDS Drill

The Sander

The Circular Saw

The Planer

The Router

The Biscuit Jointer

The Reciprocating Saw

The Mitre Saw



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  #2   Report Post  
Old March 8th 05, 02:35 PM
John Rumm
Posts: n/a

John Rumm wrote:

I think I have incorporated most of the comments from the previous
thread, so hear is a revised version. There is now a section on specific
tools and what one can do with them - contribuitions for this section
especially would be welcome!

What, no comments? Can't believe you all think it is now perfect!



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Old March 8th 05, 08:23 PM
Stefek Zaba
Posts: n/a

John Rumm wrote:

What, no comments? Can't believe you all think it is now perfect!

I have no quibbles with the current draft, at least! It sets out lots of
the relevant factors, doesn't ridicule different buying policies, and
has lots of specifics. I particularly valued the section on cordless
tools and the wide differences in battery quality.

If anything, I'd drop the more ambitious 'ways in which particular tools
differ' sections at the end (well, the section on jigsaws and the
placeholders for the others) for now. It's a big extra chunk of effort,
and I think you should rest for now ;-) Of course if others want to chip
in with words for the empty sections, so much the better.

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Old March 8th 05, 08:55 PM
John Rumm
Posts: n/a

Stefek Zaba wrote:

If anything, I'd drop the more ambitious 'ways in which particular tools

I see what you are saying... it seemed like the logical place to go
next, although as you highlight there is plenty work required to get
this section to a really useful state.

differ' sections at the end (well, the section on jigsaws and the
placeholders for the others) for now. It's a big extra chunk of effort,
and I think you should rest for now ;-) Of course if others want to chip
in with words for the empty sections, so much the better.

Yup some words for the other sections would help.... I could do the
router and drill sections easy enough, but more input on things like
planes, sanders, circ says etc. would be good (just noticed I forgot to
include angle grinders!).

A good amount of it could be culled googling posts to this group in fact.



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Old March 8th 05, 10:04 PM
John Rumm
Posts: n/a

Stefek Zaba wrote:

If anything, I'd drop the more ambitious 'ways in which particular tools
differ' sections at the end (well, the section on jigsaws and the
placeholders for the others) for now. It's a big extra chunk of effort,
and I think you should rest for now ;-) Of course if others want to chip

OK done another bit:

The Drill

We can deal with two types he the mains and the cordless.

Mains Drills

Probably most peoples first DIY tool purchase. Essential for the classic
DIY task of affixing shelves, but also able to make holes in most
materials, sand (quick and rough), grind, polish, polish etc… if you
start looking at all the add on gadgets you can get a drill becomes a
very versatile bit of kit.

Drills in their most basic form are single speed with rotation in one
direction only. These are fine for drilling in wood, and also ok for
many polishing, sanding and grinding operations. The are also pretty
small and hence can be handy for getting into tight spaces like between
joists etc.

Adding things like variable speed and reverse expand the range of tasks
that can be done safely like screw driving, and drilling metals. The
addition of a gearbox with two or three speed ranges also add the
ability to use less speed and more torque for tasks that will benefit.
The other usual addition is that of “hammer” action. Hammer is perhaps
overstating the facility a little, "vibration" might be better! This
gives you some capacity to drill hard stuff like masonry at the expense
of lots of noise.

For big, or deep holes in masonry (especially really hard materials like
concrete or engineering bricks) the recent advent of the SDS drill will
wipe the floor with any hammer drill as well as adding some party tricks
of its own.

The bigger more powerful drills can turn tools like big hole saws, core
bores (for big holes in masonry), and are good at mixing stuff with a
suitable mixing paddle.

For basic operations the budget tools will do pretty much what the high
end ones will. Spending more money will buy you better endurance from
the motor (you can run it longer without rest periods, and it will last
longer), better speed controllers, and more robust gearboxes. Bearings
will improve and become more impervious to dust (handy if you do much
masonry work, or lots of grinding and sanding). If looked after, even a
basic drill should last years (there must be countless 30 year old Black
and Decker drills floating about).

Cordless Drills

The cordless drill is a godsend any time you need a drill and the
freedom from a mains flex. Ideal for screw driving (where the DC motor
will provide a much smoother delivery of power than many mains drills).
If you assemble flat pack furniture then a cordless drill will save many
hours of work!

The spread in performance between budget and high end is very marked in
cordless drills (far more so than with mains drills). The cheaper end of
the market can be pretty disappointing – to the extent that it is often
better looking only at the mid range or up. Remember a good amount of
money will need to be spent on batteries and charger before you are
going to get decent performance.

Two types are readily available, the Drill/Driver and the Combi Drill.
The latter adds a hammer action. The former will be cheaper and in many
cases more than adequate if backed up by a mains or SDS drill for times
that hammer is needed.

Most will have a speed controller, this essential feature when
implemented well, will greatly enhances the usability of the tool. Some
better tools implement a rotor break that will stop the rotation when
you release the trigger. This helps to avoid accidentally driving a
screw too far into the work, stripping threads etc.

Many will have a variable torque limiter. This will allow you to set how
much to tighten a screw. It can make the task of putting in lots of
small screws quick and easy since you can be quite ham fisted with the
trigger, in the knowledge that the drill will back off before you over
do it! With better tools the repeatability of the limiter improves.

Having more than one battery is to be very much recommended. If you have
three and a good charger, then chances are it will keep going all day,
and you will be worn out long before it is!

What type of cordless do I want? If you are talking about a good quality
tool with decent cells then the limits of performance are roughly:

9V will do most do most wood drilling tasks, but will struggle with
bigger spade bits. Hammer action will be a tad feeble but better than
none. Screw driving will start to have difficulties with 4” and bigger
screws into softwood.

12V will get your 4” screw driven home with more authority and better
performance on masonry.

14.4V will deal with pretty much any screw, handle smaller hole saws,
and make a pretty reasonable stab at hammer action.

18V+ will swing a 5” hole saw, mix a bucket of plaster, and stick a 6”
roofing screw into solid wood without any difficulty. It is at this
level you match the power of a smallish mains drill, but with far more
finesse and controllability. However the weight and size is creeping up
so it pays to choose one with a nice balance to it.

If you are looking at the £29.95 18V combi drill special on the back of
your screwstation catalogue then all bets are off, but it might make a
nice dumbbell!



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Old March 9th 05, 01:09 AM
Posts: n/a

John Rumm wrote:
I think I have incorporated most of the comments from the previous
thread, so hear is a revised version. There is now a section on specific
tools and what one can do with them - contribuitions for this section
especially would be welcome!

Good job...

I think in this draft you've dropped any mention of what I consider to
be one valid reason for not going for top-end power tools, and that is
their nickability. I suspect most people who take their tools out of
their home or business premises do so without insurance, so it's not a
trivial issue. A collection of four or five high-end tools could easily
represent a £1K investment; very attractive to thieves and potentially
disastrous to lose; the equivalent in cheapo brands could probably be
had for 130 quid - far less desirable to John Q Lowlife, and an
'affordable' loss if the worst did happen.

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Old March 9th 05, 01:20 AM
Posts: n/a

Have you checked out the Axminster catalouge? They rate power tools
into Hobby, Light Trade, Trade & Industrial.

They use some interesting criteria including the expected 'hours per
week' use.


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Old March 9th 05, 02:30 AM
Phil Addison
Posts: n/a

On Tue, 08 Mar 2005 13:35:54 +0000, in uk.d-i-y John Rumm

John Rumm wrote:

I think I have incorporated most of the comments from the previous
thread, so hear is a revised version. There is now a section on specific
tools and what one can do with them - contribuitions for this section
especially would be welcome!

What, no comments? Can't believe you all think it is now perfect!

I'm a bit busy to give it proper attention at the mo, but I'll be back

The uk.d-i-y FAQ is at
The Google uk.d-i-y archive is at
Remove NOSPAM from address to email me
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Old March 9th 05, 03:47 AM
[email protected]
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John Rumm wrote:
I think I have incorporated most of the comments from the previous

Good stuff.

I'd add more on second hand tools. I've no experience of buying
ex-hire, but from using hired, I wouldnt touch them with a bargepole.
Maybe others have had better luck.

There is definitely a place for cheap old stuff though. I got an
ancient drill for =A33, didnt need it but thought it was worth =A33 for a
spare. Dont use it much, but when I do its repaid its value many times
over. Its for the occasional job where its really not rpactical to keep
changing bits, and there are more bits in use than modern tools. Did
one job where having this drill must have saved hours of extra work and
hassle. Did another where a chuck seized up, out came the history
piece, job completed, saving a days work.

People tend to dismiss cheap old stuff, but it has its place. If I were
travelling out on jobs I'd take some cheapo backup kit in the car/van.
tool failures and losses happen too often, why choose to be stuck when
you could have a complete set of ****e backup kit there for =A320. Use
it once and cost repaid.

And not much hope of anyone nicking it either: useful if you ever work
in real rough situations.

Also ideal for the penniless diy beginner I spose. Its surprising how
much you can do when broke, but thats another story.

Lots of great content there John, will be very useful.

Only one thing I can whine about: the waffle. It ads nothing, just
irritates, I'd take it out.


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