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Choosing the Right Cordless Tool Battery

1/23/24

Whether you're shopping for an extra battery for your cordless tool or a replacement, choosing the right type of battery is critical for proper performance, safety and longevity. But with so many options and features to choose from, knowing which type can be challenging. From voltage and amp-hours to run time, get to know the important considerations with our comprehensive power tool battery guide.  

Types of Power Tool Batteries

The batteries commonly used in power tools include:  

  • Lithium-ion (Li-ion): These are the most popular batteries due to their high energy capacity, weight and faster charging capabilities.
  • Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd): Found in some older tools, these batteries are more economical and impact-resistant but can suffer from "memory effect."
  • Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH): Less common than Li-ion, these batteries have a lower self-discharge rate than NiCd batteries. 

Key Battery Terms

Understanding common terms and features can help you choose the right battery for your tool and different applications. Here are some important terms to know:

Voltage

Voltage refers to the battery's strength and determines the power level a tool provides. Always consider the voltage requirements of the specific tools you plan to use. Tools with higher voltage batteries are more powerful, which is important when performing heavy-duty tasks, but they may be heavier and less compact. Tools with lower voltage batteries are often lighter and more compact but less powerful. Matching the voltage of the replacement battery to the original tool ensures that the tool will operate at its intended power level.

Battery Capacity

Measured in amp-hours (Ah), the capacity refers to how much power a battery can hold and how long it can run before recharging. Certain tools require higher Ah to operate to user expectations. When comparing batteries, look at the Ah ratings to determine a battery’s overall storage capacity and run time. Higher Ah ratings mean the battery can be used for longer periods before needing to be recharged. However, as Ah ratings increase, so does the weight and bulk of the battery and hence the tool.

Memory Effect

This phenomenon occurs in older battery chemistries, like NiCd, where the battery remembers its previous capacity when it's not fully discharged before recharging. When memory effect happens, the capacity can gradually decrease, reducing overall battery life. Newer lithium-ion batteries don't have a memory effect, making them potentially longer-lasting.

Use the following comparison chart to help find the right battery for your needs:

Battery Type Amp-Hour (Ah) Range General Charging Time Recommended Tasks Maintenance Requirements

Lithium-ion    (Li-ion)

1.5 - 28 Ah

1-2 hours

Light, medium and heavy-duty tasks

Low maintenance, no memory effect

Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd)

1.5 - 8 Ah

2-4 hours

Light and medium duty tasks

Less prone to memory effect. Regular full discharges recommended

Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH)

1.3 - 8 Ah

1-2 hours

Light-duty tasks

Regular full discharges recommended to help reduce memory effect 

Important Considerations

Always refer to the manufacturer's guidelines for specific details related to a particular battery and keep the following tips in mind:  

Compatibility

Ensure the battery is compatible with the specific power tool you plan to use in terms of the brand, battery series and voltage. Many power tool manufacturers have proprietary battery platforms, so sticking to the same brand for compatibility and optimal performance is generally recommended. Many brands offer interchangeable batteries and chargers that can be used across their tool lineup.

Original (OEM) Batteries

Choose original manufacturer (OEM) batteries for power tools whenever possible to ensure compatibility and peak performance. According to the Power Tool Institute, OEM batteries are made, tested and certified by independent labs like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to ensure they work properly with the tool and charging system. Many OEM batteries also have smart technology that helps monitor battery health and tool performance.  

Combo Tool Kits vs. Bare Tools

Depending on your work, it's important to consider whether to purchase a combo tool kit with multiple tools and batteries or bare tools (tools without batteries). Combo kits can be more cost-effective and provide a range of tools with the same battery system, while bare tools are better if you already have compatible batteries.

Extra Batteries and Chargers

Cordless power tools and combo kits often come with the necessary charger, but having extra can ensure your tools are always powered up and ready to go. Look for features like multiple charging ports, temperature gauges and the ability to charge different battery voltages. Also, consider the number of batteries included. Having extra batteries on hand can increase productivity and minimize downtime by having backups in case of any issues.   

System Features

Look for additional features in a battery system, like built-in fuel gauges that show the remaining charge or cordless tool tracking tags. Some advanced systems also offer Bluetooth connectivity that helps track battery usage and overall performance.

Charging Type

Battery chargers are designed with different capabilities. Sequential chargers charge one battery at a time, switching to the next one when the current one is fully charged. Simultaneous chargers, on the other hand, charge all connected batteries, stopping when each battery is fully charged.

Charging Time

Battery chargers are rated based on their charging time and features. Compare batteries according to their charging capacity, which shows how many amp-hours the charger can provide in one hour. Higher Ah batteries take longer to charge. For example, a 6A charger takes about one hour to charge a 6Ah battery and half an hour to charge a 3Ah battery. Extreme chargers can recharge batteries at around four times the speed of standard chargers, while rapid chargers can recharge batteries about twice as fast as standard chargers. Consider fast-charging options if you need to minimize downtime.  

Battery Disposal

Before getting rid of your old rechargeable power tool batteries, it’s important to check local regulations to ensure you follow the proper disposal procedures to help prevent environmental damage and reduce the fire risk. Check the battery disposal laws map created by Call2Recycle to find information for your state.

Choosing the right battery for your power tools is critical to ensure they work properly and last. By understanding the key features and your specific needs and staying mindful of battery compatibility, you can ensure that your tools are always ready to tackle the task at hand.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.