I spent the last week in Chicago at the Bosch Media Event held at its Chicago headquarters. The Bosch event is unique in that it allows the home improvement media to not only use its tools, but also those of its competition. I think all of us appreciate the no holds barred attitude towards being the best tool manufacturer anywhere. To that end, one of the most informative sessions is where all of us are asked to meet with product managers and discuss our likes, dislikes and what we would like to see in future tools.
During the woodworking session I get to sit back and listen to editors of the top woodworking publications discuss the various intricacies of what is and is not important and make recommendations based on their experience and feedback from their readers. Since my audience is not uniquely woodworking and I am not a pure woodworker, I shut up and listen. We use the same tools, but we may use them differently. I learned that many woodworkers will build their own router tables and accessories. Our audience at Extreme How-To is more likely to buy a well made off-the-shelf router table. We could build a router table, but truthfully, Bosch or many other various companies make tables quicker and nicer than I could. I look to my tools to do a broad range of tasks.
I ask my miter saw to do more than a pure woodworker asks his to do. However, I handle my routing tasks the same as many woodworkers do. I have a dedicated set up for a router table, a dedicated set up for my dove-tail jig and several free hand routers from my Bosch Colt for small tasks to a 2 1/2 horsepower plunge router used for sign making and profiling. Watching these guys work with wood is fun for me, what I give up in talent I make up for in the ability to appreciate other people’s talents. We broke up into teams of four, three media members and one Bosch expert and competed against each other with one hour to design, build and decorate a “corn hole” play set. Our team used dove-tail joinery and proper construction. truthfully I think ours was the only construction that would have passed code, but I lost that argument. Our team had two woodworking magazine editors and two builders, myself and “Joe the Pro,” Bosch’s face for its marketing to contractors and professionals. Actually, Joe was a professional builder before he went to work with Bosch, so he is not just a guy who looks like what marketing types think builders should look like. I must make a point here, with only an hour to complete a project, dove-tailing may not be the best option. The judges went more for the Goofy-Golf motif of windmills and flashy paint jobs. (Editors note, that windmill is not going to withstand the first decent summer storm, not sour grapes, but our construction method is being looked at as a better way to build hurricane proof “corn hole” boards that can double as ramps for ADA accessibility.)
On the serious side, our users can expect tools to get smaller, more powerful and more comfortable to use. In accessories, some of the things I asked for three years ago, our now entering the market. Bits designed to take advantage of the power increases of cordless impactors and not break and bits that can take advantage of an impactor’s method of driving a bit. For years we have been using impact wrenches on our spade bits with impressive results and much less torque deflection than merely using the drill function. With the help of my buddy Sean ‘O’ Hara at ToolMonger, we raced using 18 volt drill/driver and the impact mode drove the spade bit more than twice as fast as using the drill setting. Try it, you will be impressed.
Lasers are becoming more affordable and more versatile. Cordless hammer drills are becoming more efficient and I can see relying on an 18 volt rotary hammer as my main drill for masonry work. Corded tools are also evolving with smaller footprints and more power. I like the use of brushless motors and look forward to trying some of these out in the coming months.
In the 12 volt category, I was able to attach over-sized spade bits and lock the tool in the run position until the bit locked up and continued to hold the switch down. This usually has bad results, see my post on “Death of a Tool.” The Bosch drill switched off and when I released the switch and pressed again it started up with no damage. One cordless grinder I used and manufactured by another company had an overload protection circuit that tripped at the lightest use of pressure on the disc, rendering the tool useless for most if not all grinder applications. Bosch has gone to great lengths to avoid this dilemma, protecting the motor without rendering the tool a mere toy and it has done an admirable job.
So for those of us who spent last week at Bosch’s North American Mother-Ship, we saw a continued commitment to quality that has relevance to a tool’s real world use without an over emphasis on building tools that perform well on bench test but that under-perform in the field. Tools are getting more compact with increases in power and performance. Accessories are being emphasized more, better blades, better bits and more variety. Field testing still plays a major role in Bosch tool development. The 12 volt category is becoming more viable for contractor use, yet inexpensive enough for most DIY-ers. 18 volt category remains my favorite for all around drilling, driving and even grinding jobs. The 36 volt lines continue to focus on the upper end, high demand applications. In this category, my 36 volt Bosch Cordless Saw has become my circular saw for every day use. Combined with a Freud thin kerf blade it makes a great all around saw.
For those still tethered to the grid, corded tools continue to advance as more efficient motors are developed for cordless, the technology is being picked up by the corded product managers. I am not yet ready to commit to saying that corded tools will go the way of film cameras, limited only to specialized uses, but cordless is gaining market share every day and the tools are getting better. The obstacles of backwards compatibility with battery systems are still an issue and universal chargers seem like only a mirage now. But as in other industries when the market demands it, there will be standards developed and one day soon I expect chargers and batteries to become more standardized. But the days of running around looking for the right charger may soon be over. We have seen the technology of charging pads used in other areas and soon the technology will become a part of the cordless power tool industry. Like many of you, I eagerly await that day.