It wasn’t so obvious to me for years and I honestly didn’t think much about it, but the important question remains: how can I use and care for my power tools?
Power tool care requires knowledge of and adherence to two key things: common sense and manufacturer guidelines.
It seems obvious, right? Still, because most people do NOT follow the guidelines and because there are so many variables and possible questions to ask, I felt like this area needed to be explored more.
Before writing this article, I contacted several name-brand power tool companies in order to find out the answer to the question “how long does or should a power tool last” and I got some great info. However, this led me to pursue a series of other related questions of importance, as well–which led me to this second, exhaustive article of questions and answers.
I decided to spend some time to research, send emails, and ask other people so that I could answer all of the questions we might have about how to care for and use our power tools and then list them here. I realize that this list doesn’t have all of the answers and that often more detailed info is needed, but rest assured that there is quite a lot of valuable research here which I believe some of us might reasonably need or what to know.
Let’s dive right into question number one:
1. How can I tell when it’s time to replace my power tool?
Generally, when your power tool repair cost exceeds about 30% of the cost of a new tool, it’s time to replace your tool.
According to the response I received from DeWalt, the 30% guideline is more or less a good way to determine if a repair is warranted or just digging a deeper hole.
I remember years ago when my (now ex) in-laws basically all ganged-up on me one Sunday, grilling me over why I was repairing my old 1985 Ford F-150 instead of just buying a new vehicle. In my mind, a new vehicle—though nice to have—just wasn’t affordable or doable for me.
Furthermore, the ongoing cost of two monthly payments alone would exceed an entire year’s worth of repairs that I might would need to make, and three months of payments would buy me a brand-new transmission!
I find it hilarious that the mostly-new Cadillac they bought from a “family friend” wound up costing them several thousand dollars in repairs—no warranty–less than eight months after they got it. Combine that with the price they paid for the down payments, insurance, and monthly payments, and I could’ve practically renovated my old truck!
2. Is it smart to buy a used power tool?
It’s a good idea to buy a used power tool if it’s from a reputable seller and either offers a value price, warranty, or both.
It’s not always a good idea to pick up Joe-Bob’s one-year-old DeWalt electric drill, even if he is your cousin and swears up and down it’s in excellent condition.
The fact of the matter is that even if he thinks it’s in good shape–and it just might be–how exactly do you know that his idea of “good” shape is what good shape really is, that he’s not holding back any info, and that he may have forgotten that he actually dropped it (perhaps even multiple times!)?
The point is that you don’t really know so unless you’re just getting an amazing deal, then just beware. Also, it’s not uncommon for used tools to be stolen goods so again, make sure you know and trust the seller.
If you decide to buy something online, the best way to avoid issues is to buy certified refurbished from the manufacturer, which can actually be done via big sellers like Amazon–or even through manufacturer-approved resellers which you can find on their pages.
3. How can I find out how old a used power tool is?
The easiest, fastest, and most straight-forward way to find out how old a used power is would be to look the model number up on the manufacturer’s website.
You can always try to “Google” the answer directly and that may work, but it doesn’t always fly the first time, if at all. If you can’t easily find the answer you’re looking for in an online search or while perusing the manufacturer’s website, then you can simply click-through to their customer support like I did and either talk with them on live chat or send an email.
Out of the several emails I’ve sent lately, about 80% were answered within 24 hours, so you should definitely be able to get your answer in a try or two–just be sure to let them know the type of power tool, model, serial number, and include a picture if you can for added help.
3a. How do I find out the model number of my power tool if it’s missing?
If for some reason you don’t know the model or serial number (perhaps it was scratched-off or removed), then you’ll have to rely on visuals to get your answer.
There are a couple of ways you can find the missing model number of a power tool yourself:
- First of all, ask the original owner, if possible, about what year they bought the tool. You can then go online to look at tools around that year and just perhaps you’ll see your tool listed.
- The second way is to send (good) pictures to the manufacturer to get their answer.
- A third way is to visit a local repair shop and show it to them. Chances are they’ll be able to tell you or look it up. I wouldn’t recommend going to a sales-only store like Home Depot or Lowe’s simply because most guys there don’t usually have this type of knowledge, especially if the tool is older.
4. What causes a power tool to deteriorate faster?
The main cause for faster deterioration of a power tool is simply frequency of use, but other factors are also contributors, such as extreme climates, weather conditions, improper usage, care, storage, and transport, and careless handling.
It goes without saying that you don’t want to drop your power tools. They just aren’t as durable as most hand tools and many can’t take even one single drop before they’re either off for repairs or gone to the scrapyard.
However, “normal wear-and-tear” is a different story and will eventually and inevitably win the battle against even our most beloved power tools.
5. How can I increase the lifespan of my power tools?
In order to slow down the deterioration of our power tools, we can do the following:
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommended use and care instructions, which will include proper applications, accessories, attachments, parts, lubrication, storage, repair, and more.
- Pay attention to what’s going on around your tool: this means weather, people (especially children), and more. Don’t just set your power tools on a table and walk away, even if it IS in the garage. It could fall, get accidentally damaged, “borrowed,” or more.
- Learn how your particular power tool is supposed to be cleaned, and how often–and do it.
- Be aware if your power tool needs to be oiled and, if so, learn how often and–you guessed it–do it.
- Don’t buy cheap, wrong, or unapproved parts or accessories to go with your power tools. These are low in quality and can not only cause damage to your power tools but can actually hurt people, too.
6. What causes a power tool to break?
Dropping a tool causes it to break–no duh, right? However, improper application, using the wrong or unapproved accessories, or putting too much of a strain on the power tool can cause it to break.
Other, less obvious factors are also culprits but according to Troy Stubblefield, long-time repairman of various tools, the main reason is always us, the user.
Also, if a tank runs it over, it’s pretty much guaranteed to break. Just FYI.
7. How can I decrease the wear-and-tear on my power tools?
In order to best decrease the normal wear-and-tear of your power tools, be sure to clean and, if required, lubricate them properly. Although there are other things, these are the most important.
Following the steps mentioned above will definitely improve the lifespan of your tools drastically, but in order to better decrease normal “damage” to the tool from simply using it for its intended purpose, keeping it cleaned properly and lubricated or oiled are the best things you can do.
There are some tools, of course, which are oil-free so you need to check your tool’s documentation in order to determine best practices for recommended care.
8. How should I store my power tools?
There is no one particular way to store your tools, but you should make sure they are dry, secure, and depending on the type of tool, covered or enclosed in a case.
I actually already posted a full article about this very topic so if you would like, click here to read more about how to store your power tools.
The best answer is to find a way that is not only beneficial for the tools, but also convenient and ideal for you, as well. There are a vast amount of storage ideas and options, so the sky’s basically the limit. You can also venture into your local home improvement store and take a look around because they always have a variety of choices for you.
9. How should I care for my power tools?
The best way to care for your power tools is to use them the recommended way, for the recommended application, with the recommended accessories and parts, keep them clean and oiled, and of course store them properly.
Because this question has the same answers as the question “How can I increase the lifespan of my tools?” above, you can read those five answers to recap!
10. How should or can I clean my power tools?
Most power tools can be cleaned with a dry cloth or rag, while others may even require some type of water or liquid, or perhaps even oil–it depends on which tool you have.
At the cabinet shop I worked at, we had a few different types of power tools there, and they required different types of maintenance to keep them functioning well and out of the repair shop. They were:
- Cordless drills
- Cordless impact drivers
- Cordless hammer drills
- Table saws
- Portable air compressors
- Large air compressors
- Mini drill presses
- Scroll saws
- Band saws
- Reciprocating saws
- Circular saws (read my circular saw guide)
- Disc sanders
- Pad sanders
- Cabinet door hinge press
We also had a few different types of pneumatic tools which also need a degree of care and maintenance, so we treated them similarly to some of the power tools.
At one time, we had two different types of air compressor, one needing some oil added regularly and the other one being oil-free. We also kept it clean of debris and sawdust by blowing it off with our air hose after work each day and sweeping up the area around it often. Some other tools, such as the band saws, mini drill presses, and table saws were also taken car of in a similar fashion.
I can’t recall us ever doing anything particularly special, however, with the cordless drills, apart from occasionally blowing them free of debris with the air hose. The nail guns were a different story and had to be oiled regularly, on top of cleared of dust and debris.
I would like to add, however, that the tools which really demanded regular oiling, wipe-downs, etc, were also the ones that taught me how important it is to clean both your power and hand tools. Furthermore, it gave me a new angle on how to care for other things around me, as well.
11. Can or should I oil my power tools?
If it is recommended to oil your power tool, then you should clean and oil it regularly, as per its manufacturer’s recommendations.
It may seem like a another “no duh” moment but you would be amazed at just how many people do NOT oil tools they should be–and desperately need it. In truth, I’m willing to bet that the majority of tool owners who have a tool that comes with a small bottle of oil haven’t used it in a long time, if at all.
Remember that not all power tools need or require oiling, and by attempting to do so you can actually cause some damage to the tool itself. I know, it sounds crazy, but that’s the way it is. Look at it this way: the electronics inside your brand-new Makita cordless impact wrench don’t play well with oil, do they? Keep that in mind.
12. How long does a brush motor last in a power tool?
In actuality, many brush motor power tools can last for over 100 hours, if not indefinitely.
A trio of guys over at Wood Workers Journal (click to read their full article)–who are smarter about the inner workings of power tools than I am–say that brush motors in general are actually quite durable and can last a long time, with many of them never actually needing much attention.
However, they do note that heavy-use power tools such as routers might require more attention, repair, or replacement than other power tools do. They also go on to say that it’s difficult to know exactly how long your tools will last because who actually counts the specific hours they’re logging on their tools? I know I haven’t–and can’t even begin to fathom a guess!
13. How long does a brushless motor last in a power tool?
A power tool with a brushless motor should be more efficient and last, generally, well over 100 total hours of standard use.
Without going into specifics of all the differences between a motor with a brush and one without, there are a few key points to know, which should show you why a brushless power tool typically outlives its counterpart.
- A brushless motor undergoes much less friction than a standard, brush motor, which naturally means longer life
- A brushless motor uses a type of circuit board in order to distribute varied amounts of power which improves efficiency without the added friction
- These are called “smart” because they can adjust the motor’s output depending on the power required to complete the task. This results in the motor not going “all out, all the time” like a brush motor does, and thus increases the overall lifespan past them.
14. What’s better: Brush motor or Brushless motor?
Generally, a brushless power tool motor is actually better than the ones with a brush, due to decreased wear and tear, improved, ‘smart’ performance, and longer lifespan.
As per the reasons mentioned just above, I definitely put my money into the corner of the brushless motor ring. To add another reason, let me tell you something you may not know.
The brushless motor isn’t a “new” gimmick or technology, as many might think. It’s actually been around for many decades–can you believe that? It’s been used in the commercial industry for larger machinery, but Makita decided to start utilizing this tech in their power tools back around 2003. Since then, they have become increasingly popular and available and are, in my opinion, definitely more than just a selling point.
So what’s the advantage of the power tool with a brush motor? Well, the only main one I can think of is that right now these are cheaper to buy. The reason is that the brushless-motor tools are more expensive to manufacture due to higher-priced materials.
The other main reason I would say that a brush motor is a good choice is that if you’re not buying a power tool for heavy or daily use, then perhaps you will get around the same type of lifespan from it that you’d get from a brushless, given that you take good care of it.
So, if you want to save the money and aren’t going to be going all Rambo with your tool, then picking up the older, brush motor tool won’t be a bad choice at all.
15. What effect does weather & environment have on my power tools?
Power tools are usually only damaged by either extreme weather conditions or quick, sudden changes in temperature.
15a. So how can I protect my power tools from the weather or environmental conditions?
Here are key ways to protect your power tools from weather or the environment:
- Manufacturer’s specific recommendations which are included with each particular tool (because they could be different!)
- Common sense: don’t use your power tool in the rain, snow, sleet, near the crashing waves, underwater, etc. It’s also the best idea to keep them away from potential harm, such as sandy or ‘salty’ areas (beach), windy areas (can get dirt, water, or other debris inside), inside a boat that’s actually ON the water, etc.
- Use approved oil, lubricant, etc during cleaning and before storing your tools for an extended period of time. It’s important to remember that humidity is a primary culprit in damaging your tools, not so much temperature. Still, as mentioned above, consult the information included with your power tool.
16. Does altitude affect the performance of power tools?
Altitude does affect the performance of any AC or DC equipment but the degree to which it causes stress or performance degradation varies.
Currently, I am awaiting a more detailed response from some technical experts but I believe that I summarize it for you below.
AC/DC equipment is affected by altitude simply because they are engineered and designed for use at sea level and air density is included in that formula. Therefore, using power tools at a higher altitude would definitely affect them but to what degree you would or could actually notice is difficult to say without actually trying it out–or using testing equipment to measure the difference.
Furthermore, how this would change or affect the lifespan of your power tools is unclear as no exhaustive study has been performed in this area, to the best of my knowledge. Currently, I am awaiting a response from a group of technical experts who should be able to give us some better ideas as to how altitude actually affects our power tools in these areas.
17. How does frequency of use affect my power tool’s battery?
Frequent power tool use will cause the lifespan of the battery to shorten faster simply because its capacity will decrease over time after each charging cycle–however, there are some differences between battery types.
Lead acid, NiCd, NiMH, and Li-ion batteries share some similarities but also key differences.
These differences also include how they respond to frequency of use and how that affects their overall lifespan. However, the key issue here is that not everyone knows how to properly use and care for their batteries–regardless of type–and even fewer people actually bother to follow proper care protocols daily.
18. So how can we take care of our batteries and get the most use out of them?
Well, that’s a good question and I’m glad I asked!
The answer to this question isn’t direct or short due to a few variables and the fact that it’s actually a lot more information than we realize. After researching this myself, I highly recommend that you check out Battery University’s great article about battery care — it is thorough, informative, and although it is somewhat technical in places, it isn’t difficult to read.
19. Does frequent or irregular use shorten my power tool’s lifespan?
Using a power tool regularly, even when proper care and application is strictly adhered to, does indeed cause the lifespan of the tool to shorten–but not by working hours.
If your friend’s lower-priced Kobalt drill is still going after five years and your pricey, schnazzy Milwaukee drill just crapped-out after three, then you might find yourself scratching your head and wondering why that is.
The first thing I would ask you is, of course, how you cared for your tool and what you used it for. As I already mentioned above, these things are the most important factors which determine the long lifespan for our power tools. It’s also possible that there just happens to be a defective part in your Milee-waw-kay (the good land, according to Alice Cooper), because hey–no tool is perfect.
However, assuming that both you and your friend are like OCD Virgos and have always been meticulously careful with your baby tools, then the culprit probably lies elsewhere, in hours used.
According to my conversation with Sears warranty customer support, the average lifespan of a tool is just 3 years–THREE YEARS!! Now, I didn’t get the exact explanation of this comment but after looking at the conversation again, I believe that what she was trying to do was get me to focus on their primary warranty coverage, which expects that we, the users, will not or should not experience any issues during that time.
This viewpoint also seems to coincide with what DeWalt told me, as they placed an emphasis on the different warranties and how it relates to the overall expected or even possible lifespan of the power tools.
So, my guess would be that you used your tool a heckuva lot more than your friend did, so perhaps you got to that minimum expected lifespan of your drill far before your friend ever will. Therefore, it doesn’t matter even if he’s using a cheaper brand tool because it hasn’t even had the chance to come near its expected, minimal “rest in peace” date.
The only other thing I would ask is “how heavy is the workload you’re placing on your tool?” I’ve seen a few older guys at my old cabinet shop go through three name-brand cordless drills in the same time I was still using my Black & Decker, and all because of how we used and took care of them.
Remember: application and care matter!
20. How do I know the correct working capacity of my power tool?
The only sure way to know what the correct working capacity and/or applications are for your power tool are to look at the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations, which are included with a new tool purchase.
There is obviously no one-size-fits-all besides “check the manufacturer’s documentation.” You can find this with the included paperwork and generally it has a lot more information than any of use will ever care to know or even need.
However, if for some reason you’ve lost or tossed that paperwork, you should easily be able to find a PDF/digital copy or version of it on their website. I’ve done this many times and it’s quite easy.
If you are still unable to find an answer, then it’s as simple as sending an email to their support team or finding a phone number and giving them a call.
21. Which tools last longer: electric, gas, pneumatic (air), or cordless tools?
Generally, tools with more mechanical, easily replaceable and durable parts have the capacity to last longer than their electric or electronic counterparts.
The main reasons for this are that repairs are often doable by the user and super easy for repair shops, plus newer-model power tools often include more expensive technologies or electronic parts, and some of those parts may not always be available for future repairs. For sheer “repairability” alone, simple, strong, mechanical air tools could feasibly last indefinitely.
Now don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say that having an electric cordless impact wrench is more expensive or worse-off than having an air tool. Actually, it could be much, much cheaper–and is definitely cheaper in the short-term.
Air tools will require hoses, compressors, and not to mention the need for electrical outlets in order to provide it power, to boot. This initial cost is often enough to cause people to steer completely clear of the option, especially for one-time or short projects.
Cordless tools have the important component of their power source–the battery–so if that kicks the bucket then you’ll have to replace it, which can generally be done. However, even an electric power tool can just as easily develop a short in the cord so it’s not so different.
I think that the best way to look at it is to not go by type of power tool but by the expected, normal lifespan of the particular tool you’re looking at. It could actually be that a manufacturer expects one particular corded tool to last longer than another, similar tool which runs on air, or vice-versa. Look at the warranty for an idea.
22. How much does it cost to repair a power tool?
Repairs to a power tool vary from free to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars–it really depends on the type of tool, the parts which may be needed, and the labor or time involved to repair it.
Obviously there’s no blanket statement to this question. It’s like asking “How much does it cost to fix my Lamborghini?” Well, it depends. Did you hit a deer or did your son kick his football into the side? The answers could be drastically different.
There are some simple repairs that you could do yourself if you have the proper knowledge. However, if it’s clear that you are treading water in deep and unfamiliar waters, then perhaps you should climb back into the boat and contact a repair shop technician or experienced neighbor to guide you to safer waters.
Remember, however, that it is not always a good idea to repair a tool. Sometimes, it’s best to simply replace it, as sad as that thought may seem. However, if it has sentimental value, then perhaps it’s worth it, after all.
23. Is it worth spending the money to repair a power tool or should I just buy a new one?
According to DeWalt’s warranty department, if the cost of your power tool repair is 30% or more of the cost of a new tool, then it’s probably best to buy new rather than repair.
I already covered this question above so I won’t add much extra. However, I’m glad to know about this basic guideline because I had never really thought about it before I got this answer from DeWalt.
I hope you found the answers you needed on this page and have a great week!