Home center and hardware stores must inform their clients of the trends and emerging technologies used for power tools and other portable machines. Manufacturers have developed products that are simple and easy to operate. Thus, employees must be knowledgeable on the types of power tools, safety precautions and the uses of cordless and portable drills, grinders and drill presses. However, cordless tools have become one of the favorite products in the market that manufacturers are designing tools that implement the the cordless concept.
Ergonomics is the industry buzz word in tool development. From both the d-i-y and professional channels, customers have been demanding tools that are not as cumbersome, require less effort to use and are naturally contoured to fit comfortably in the hand.
Manufacturers have responded to these demands by incorporating plastic polymers and lighter, stronger metals to develop tools that weigh less but are equally, if nol more, durable.
Manufacturers have also added features to tools that help promote ease of use. Many drills now sport levels to ensure straight, even holes; circular saws are engineered to allow users to see the blade as it cuts; and sanders come equipped with fatigue reducing handles and dust-collection systems.
Cordless tools continue to rise in popularity, and retailers now operate in an increasingly competitive market for the category. As a result of this increase in competition, manufacturers have improved the quality of their tools and offer a wider selection at better prices. Because of the expanded selection, many retailers choose to carry several different brands of power tools, although the products are highly price-sensitive.
When it comes to cordless tools, consumers seem to be saying more is better. D-i-yers are opting for tools that were once used only by professionals. Cordless drills are now available in 18-volt models, and even tools such as reciprocating saws are available in cordless models.
With an increasingly price- and product-savvy consumer seeking advice on tool purchases, it has become imperative that sales-floor employees be able to understand and explain the different features and benefits of power tool products. The section that follows should provide the foundation for that knowledge.
ALL ABOUT POWER TOOLS
Quality in power tools is determined by physical construction and motor capacity. A light-duty unit might be satisfactory for a casual user, but it would have an extremely limited life in heavy-duty applications. As consumers become more experienced d-i-yers, they tend to move to higher-quality tools.
For more information on the safe use of power tools, contact the Power Tool Institute
Quality housings are usually die-cast aluminum, high-impact plastic or a combination. Die-cast aluminum is especially popular in gear cases for cool running and for holding the gear train in a precise location. A glass-filled nylon housing offers better impact resistance than aluminum.
Double-insulated plastic is a non-conductor and has lower heat retention. Some power units, while not double insulated, feature plastic-coated handles for this reason.
Housings should have adequate ventilation and exhaust ports.
In the event of an electrical short, by avoiding contact with metallic surfaces the operator is protected from shock by a double-insulated housing. As a result, double-insulated tools do not require three-wire grounding cords.
In a grounded tool, the motor windings are insulated from the housing, and a three-wire cord is used to ground the housing in the event a short does occur. The tool must be plugged into a socket with a ground. If an extension cord is used, it also must be a three-wire grounded cord. Most high-amppower tools work best on 12-gauge wire, especially where a long cord (50 feet or more) is used. The gauge of the wire is imprinted on the cord cover or can be read on the cord label.
There are more than 150 variations of motors that drive power tools. Among the quality features are welded connections, built-in fans and commutators welded to motor windings.
Bearings can be oil-impregnated brass or steel ball, needle or roller bearings, with ball and needle bearings in higher-quality motors.
A higher horsepower usually means more power or torque at a given speed as well as less wear on the motor under prolonged use. Power tools such as drills and saws will have a range of horsepower ratings with minimal horsepower for the occasional d-i-yers through maximum power for commercial uses. Amperes can also be an important factor in determining a tool’s efficiency. Similar to a tool’s horsepower, the higher the amp rating on a tool, the higher its power output. A tool’s type of gears and bearings are other measures of power and quality.
Switches used on power tools are on/off, multi-speed and variable-speed. On drills, a reversing switch is frequently used. A toggle switch merely turns the unit on or off, providing only one operating speed. Trigger switches are usually designed to spring to the off position when finger pressure is released.
Multi-speed switches allow the user to select two or more speeds. The switch usually must be manually moved to the off position to stop the motor.
Variable-speed switches allow speed settings at any level from minimum to maximum by varying the pressure on the power trigger. This allows slow starting for situations such as starting a hole in metal with a drill. Some units are provided with a switch lock to set speed for continuous operation at a specific level.
Some premium grade tools, both corded and cordless, are using variable speed switches with “electronic feedback” that will keep the tool working at the speed desired under load.
Most higher-quality drills, saws and other tools feature an electric brake that immediately stops the chuck, blade or bit from turning when the trigger is released to avoid over-tightening or cutting.
In some high-quality tools, the switches are protected by encased triggers that seal out dust that might collect from cutting or drilling into materials.
Customers may ask what the “Rockwell hardness test” figure means; manufacturers may quote it in their literature.
Rockwell testing is one of the best-known ways of determining how hard a tool’s metal is. The Rockwell system has several scales, designated by a letter. Each scale designates a test carried out with different static loads and penetrating devices.
The one encountered most frequently in this industry is the C scale, and ratings can run from C20 to C70; the higher the number, the harder the metal. For soft steels of medium or low carbon, the B scale is used. For extremely hard metals such as tungsten carbide, the A scale is used.
Most hardware and tool ratings will range from the middle or high C30s (semi-hard) up to the C60s (very hard).