Contractors and their service staff invest significant sums of money to buy the highest-quality power tools available. A breakdown of a saw or drill on the job, however, can create havoc in meeting a tight deadline.
That’s why you should always treat power tools with respect. Otherwise poor performance, tool malfunctions, and safety hazards could result.
Maintaining power tools isn’t complicated. It’s just a matter of exercising common sense before, during, and after using the equipment, and developing proper habits — from properly cleaning the tool, to using the right power source.
Reading is fundamental
The first step toward protecting power tools, which most tool users tend to ignore, is reading the owner’s manual. The operating requirements of circular saws differ vastly from those of cordless drivers or reciprocating saws.
The manufacturer provides basic information on the tool, including sections on maintenance and troubleshooting, which describe potential problems, their causes, and their solutions.
Reading and understanding the manual will answer many general questions, so the next time you buy a tool, make the owner’s manual mandatory reading.
Abuse it and lose it
A power tool’s worst enemy is abuse and misuse.
Most reputable power tool manufacturers provide comprehensive warranties that cover defective tools. However, common wear and tear, misuse, and abuse typically are not covered.
Therefore, be mindful of the types of abuse that can damage a tool and use preventive measures to extend its lifespan.
One common power tool enemy is byproducts created by use. Foreign particulates, such as sawdust, wood fragments, metal chips, and drywall dust, are some of the materials that can build up and harm power tools.
Thus, it is essential to clean power tools regularly. Get in the habit of blowing out your tool with an air hose after each use. This will clean off excess dust before it settles in the tube.
This basic and easy procedure can play a major role in extending power tool life.
Also, periodically check the wear of brushes in the tool; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Most models allow easy access to check brush wear.)
Many tools require new lubrication when changing the brushes. The tool’s performance and operation will be adversely affected if the brushes don’t make complete contact with the armature.
Your company should establish a preventive maintenance program to ensure proper power tool care. This is best done by periodically bringing the tools to the manufacturer’s authorized service center every six to 12 months, depending on how often the tool is used.
In addition to cleaning, service centers can perform tube-ups, lubrication, and other maintenance procedures. These are not costly, and the small investment can help prevent major, expensive problems in the long term.
While a majority of a technician’s tools are used daily, certain power tools may sit idle for days or even weeks. Inactive tools can develop excess dust which, in turn, can cause motor problems.
It is best to store the tools in a dustless area or in their protective cases.
Another common mistake is placing power tools in the back of work vehicles, unprotected from the weather. This habit almost guarantees future problems.
If left unprotected, power tools can rust internally and externally. While it is easy to see exterior rust, internal rust remains hidden and will ultimately cause the tool to malfunction or fail.
Most manufacturers provide storage cases to protect tools from the elements. If you don’t own a case, invest in one.
Most are designed to hold the tool firmly in place, but if not, pad the case with cardboard or foam to protect the tool from jostling in the vehicle. Also, many cases allow you to store and protect tool accessories.
Some technicians try to save time by using equipment not designed for the job. For example, someone may try to save time by drilling a 2-in. hole with a small-capacity drill because the tool is at hand. This is likely to damage the drill.
Take time to retrieve the proper tool for the specific task. The owner’s manual lists application capacities. When using electric tools, remember to use power sources correctly.
First, make sure the power rating on the tool’s name plate matches the power source. This is particularly important when generators are used.
Generators with direct current (dc) will damage variable-speed switches, so be sure to plug variable-speed-controlled tools only into alternating current (ac) outlets.
An extension cord creates additional concerns. Make sure to estimate the required length of the extension cord needed for the job. The owner’s manual should have a recommended chart for the minimum wire size of the extension cord needed.
“Bosch” and “Skil” power tools, for example, are designed to operate efficiently within a range of 110 V to 120 V. Improper extension cord selection can reduce the voltage below this range.
Low voltage results in loss of power and speed, overheating, and possible tool damage. The general rule is to use cords with the proper length and gauge to handle the amperage rated on the tool’s nameplate or in the owner’s manual.
Apply this amperage figure to Table 1 to determine the proper size and length of the extension cord. Always use a UL-listed, three-wire extension cord.
In addition, check power supply cords for wear and exposed wire. If a cord is worn or cut, replace it.
Using electrical tape as a short-term fix-it method is often done, but it shouldn’t be considered a lasting solution. Moisture can develop underneath the tape, causing damage to the cord and affecting power flow. It is best to make the investment and buy a new cord. This is true for power supply or extension cords.
Power tools are among a technician’s prized possessions. By following the guidelines presented here, you may not need to shell out the cash for replacing prematurely failed equipment.
Guide for Selecting Extension Cords
ampere rating 0- 2.1- 3.5- 5.1- 7.1- 12.1-
(on nameplate) 2.0 3.4 5.0 7.0 12.0 16.0
Cord length ft Wire size (ga)
25 18 18 18 18 16 14
50 18 18 18 16 14 12
75 18 18 16 14 12 10
100 18 16 14 12 10
150 16 14 12 12
200 16 14 12 10
300 14 12 10
400 12 10
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