Power Tool Fun Fest

Early in our tenure as the caretakers of Galapagos I needed basic power tools that would be kept exclusively on the boat. A variable speed drill is probably the most heavily used power tool on our boat and so, after the requisite perseveration, I bought A Ryobi kit which included a drill, a small circular saw, a halogen flashlight, charger and one battery.

Ryobi, like many tool manufacturers, makes their tools so that you can use one battery style with any of a number of tools. They offer a few 18 volt, lithium ion batteries of varying sizes which all work with any of the Ryobi tools. While they are pretty common now, it is important to know that you do want lithium ion batteries for these kind of tools; not only are they lighter, they deliver a great deal more power right up until they quit and need to be recharged. While it is always frustrating to have a battery die right before finishing a critical task, it is far more frustrating to have the tool slowly peter out on you over a few minutes time.

All our Ryobi tools. So far. Also note the 12 volt charger mounted on the bulkhead.

All our Ryobi tools. So far. Also note the 12 volt charger mounted on the bulkhead.

After using the drill and flashlight during our engine repower and various other projects,  I felt that these tools would hold up reasonably well and could be trusted during our extended voyages.  The drill is powerful and well balanced;  The flashlight is bright, has a reticulating head and the bulb is easy to change.  Both of these tool have dedicated mounts  near the workbench and are used just about every time I venture into the shop. I should also mention that the Ryobi brand is not terribly expensive and they are carried by Home Depot.  I happen  to know that Home Depot has stores in Mexico, Canada, the Virgin Islands and Guam.  This means that if I need a new battery or lose a tool overboard in the Baja, I can probably replace it with little fuss.

One day as I was perusing the tool aisle at Home Depot, I noticed a DC charging station for sale.  With that purchase, I was able to eliminate the need for an inverter to charge my tools.  The old AC charger went into the garage at home and I hard wired the new 12 volt charger into the breaker panel.  You can see it in the photo above just to the right of the hardware bin.

With that purchase, I was well and truly committed.  I began to look for the perfect Ryobi tools to complete my collection.  I think the next purchase was the Spotlight.  It is a 35 watt spotlight and is adequate for most uses but I am sure there a better spotlights available.

After that, I think I bought the little handheld vacuum pictured in the foreground. Mine is the older, style but I think they are pretty much the same.  We really use this a lot even though it is loud as hell.  I had really hoped to find a cordless wet/dry vacuum by Ryobi, but no such luck.  Dewalt has one and I think Milwaukee makes a battery powered wet dry as well.

Remember the circular saw that came with the initial kit?  I never used it for two years. Never, until I needed to build a set of steps by the boat for the the dog.The saw worked well with two inch lumber and I have used it on plywood.  For most projects I just use a hand saw but it if I needed to make several cuts at a time or even make a series of  kerfs  in a piece of wood, this would be handy.

the Ryobi Multi-Tool has been incredibly useful.  I think I bought it initially because I needed to make some flush cuts in a difficult to reach spot.  this tool has a removable head so that you can pop a right angle drill, jig saw or a couple of other tools onto the body.  for us, the flush cut blades and the sanding head have been really useful.  Melissa has been sanding off the old cetol on our teak with this with great success.

Finally, as Melissa was cleaning up the exterior woodwork, we bought this little palm sander.  This takes the standard 5 inch hook and loop sanding disks and has worked very well.  I used it for about 90 minutes today and found it fairly comfortable to use.  With a tool that you will use and control for long periods of time, the weight of the battery becomes more important.  For these kinds of tools, I would recommend using the smaller batteries as a matter of comfort.

Speaking of batteries, we now have two of the compact lithium ion batteries and they have held up well.  With the palm sander, I got abut 25 minutes of run time.  I really couldn’t tell you how long they work with the more commonly used flashlight and drill since those tool are generally run for only a few seconds at a time.  My plan is to use the current batteries as long as they hold up but to buy fresh batteries just before our departure.

Has anyone used another manufacturer of cordless tools that they would recommend?  Is there a tool that you can’t live without?  Leave a comment below.

9 thoughts on “Power Tool Fun Fest

  1. A tool we can’t live without? All of them and then some. It never seems to fail, despite our large collection of tools aboard, every new job on the boat seems to require a new tool.

    • We would probably need an extra boat to cover every tool contingency. One thing I wish I had that doesn’t exist is a small welder that could be run off of the ships batteries without killing them. I don’t know how to weld but I would love to learn and we have both had occasion to mend a steel part or fabricate a part on the go. Our exhaust elbow adventures still haunts my dreams.

      • Mike –
        Welders use a lot of power (not surprising – they melt steel…). But that said, I have a Miller 135 which runs off of 110V, and can be run via an extension cord (typically these are 16 ga wire at best). I suspect that it would run off of our 2 kW inverter, tho I have not tested it. Smaller welders are available too. Stick welders are simpler and might be more suitable for inclusion on a boat, but I much prefer my wire feed.

        s/v Eolian

        • Without a genset, a welder is just a dream. I have never learned to weld but the basics are surely within my grasp. Like most skills, the little details are what make the difference.

          I see some really cheap welders at Harbor Freight that might be useful for learning to weld. Have you ever used any their welding equipment?

          • No, I haven’t. And tho I have several tools from HF, I do not think I would recommend their welders… except as a throw-away, well maybe. The have a cute little 120V flux-core-only welder for just $109. But its adjustment for output voltage is just a two-position toggle switch – not much control over penetration there. Everything else they currently list needs 240V.

            For offshore, get a Miller, Hobart, Lincoln or other well-known brand. That way when you need a new tip, a new gun, etc, you will be able to find parts. An example: http://store.cyberweld.com/mi125homigwe.html

            The ability to use shield gas is a nice addition, but is probably overkill on a boat – after all, you have to buy and carry the gas cylinders. on the other hand, if you intend to weld stainless, then you’ll need it. When welding mild steel, using flux-cored wire works, is simple, and it is messy. CO2-shielded welds have much, much less spatter. (My CO2 cylinder does double duty – when it is not on the welder, it is part of my kegerator.)

            I’ve reconsidered what I said earlier about a stick welder – typically these need a lot more power, and the rods must be kept *DRY* (industrially, welding rods are stored in an oven). And doing any real welding (say, repairing a broken alternator bracket) with the tiny, tiny electrodes that the 110V stick welders use would be an exercise in frustration. I think a small wire-feed welder is a better choice.

            Consider that an angle grinder is part of any welding setup. And an automatic face shield.


    • Yes, the D.C. charger was the piece that made the whole thing come together. To keep thing tidy, I hard wired the charger into an existing circuit and mounted to the bulkhead. That keeps it secure but of course it is not as flexible if I needed to take it ashore.

      I have been quite happy with the speed of charging. About half an hour for the smaller batteries.

  2. Michael,

    I think you have taken a good approach.

    The batteries are among the most expensive parts of the cordless tool proposition. Standardize on a good, long lasting battery and buy the tools you need that use it.

    And avoid over-investing in higher priced tools because our work environment increases the probability that they will meet a premature demise… [For us it is typically through drowning, dropping from too high an altitude, ruined bearings from abrasive fiberglass dust, etc…]

    Find the tools that will get the [occasional] job done for the right price point and you are ahead…

    Now I’m fond of saying I can’t afford cheap tools… but I don’t always need the absolute best either… It is a value proposition based upon functional requirements and duty cycle…

    Having said all that, I recently found myself having to acquire some cordless tools for a project at home. [All the Festools from my old wood shop are in storage by the boat- and I’m not near there…] Therefore I was forced to go through the same exercise and chose the 20VDC DeWalt lithium batteries and associated tools using all the logic described above.

    These will become the boat cordless tools when we return…

    Stay the course; upgrade when you must or it becomes too compelling [or when you have an extra helping of rationalization…]

    Cheers! Bill

    • The Dewalt tools should serve you well. I think they are a bit better quality than the Ryobi and just as widely distributed. I agree with your assessment. You would be far more upset if your festool orbital sander went over the side of the boat than if you dropped your new Dewalt sander in the same situation.

      The batteries are an investment and I plan on buying new ones just before we depart. Two of the Ryobis smaller capacity batteries are about one hundred dollars.

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