Corded, but Uncommon
A funny thing happened on the way to the compact revolution. Users welcomed cordless offerings so readily that manufacturers began to wonder if smaller corded tools would have a viable market, too. If users like Barss are any indication, there is a market.
“Compact cordless is a reality, and as a general rule users desire more power in a smaller, lighter-weight product,” says Bill Harmon, a product manager for DeWALT and Porter-Cable. Harmon noted that the market is there, but the challenge lies in the fact that once you limit a tool to a target weight range, current motor configurations eventually max-out on the power they’re able to deliver in the space available. Still, manufacturers are eager. “I’d say generically speaking we’d like to go that route, but currently much of this is dictated by the user’s desire to trade off power for size.”
And there’s the key for compact corded tools, just as with cordless. For some jobs — building a deck, demolition work, remodeling — you’ll still need tools with enough power to make Tim “The Toolman” Taylor a happy guy. But for day-to-day work, the options are wider.
“Compact tools can perform the majority of a contractor’s needs without the need of a full size tool,” says Rachel Lombardo, Porter-Cable’s manager of corded products. “This size vs. power equation gap is closing and users prefer to use more compact designs when available. Knowing that compact tools can’t perform all tasks equally, their value is the weight, ease of use and the ability to get into smaller areas easily.”
Small corded tools — like their cordless counterparts — have been around for ages, mainly small drills, palm sanders and the like. An upgrade to these occurred several years ago with the introduction of laminate trimmers. These little routers were great for, well, trimming chores, but they often lagged for tougher work. Bosch was a leader again in this area with their Colt router, a 1-hp dynamo that caught on quickly with woodworkers.
“The Colt is fast and easy to use for light routing tasks, but it has the power that laminate trimmers lack,” says woodworker and writer Ralph Bagnall, noting that compact corded tools offer something besides lower weight. “I really like the small Porter-Cable belt sander and the Bosch Colt, because they offer more control in many situations than their ‘full-sized’ brothers. I’ve already replaced full-sized belt sanders with the smaller Porter-Cable.”
The sander he’s referring to is the Porter-Cable 371, introduced just a few years ago. You won’t be stripping a deck with one of them anytime soon, but for small work — cabinet doors and drawer fronts, say, or flat railings – it has more than enough power in a very light and easily controlled package.
The Bosch Colt and Porter-Cable 371 may have been the early birds in the corded category, but other manufacturers are catching up.
In addition to their 12-volt cordless oscillating tool, Dremel offers their Multi-Max corded version. Smaller, lighter and yes, less powerful than the full-sized Fein MultiMaster and Rockwell SoniCrafter, it still tackles a variety of chores for which the two larger machines could quickly cause arm fatigue.
Remember that smaller circular saw Andy Barss longed for earlier? RIDGID has one as part of their “Fuego” corded line. It includes a 6-1⁄2″ circular saw, a 5″ fibercement saw, compact orbital reciprocating saw and a small but beefy one-handed recip saw. (RIDGID also has an 18-volt Li-Ion version of the one-handed recip.)
The biggest news in this category has to be the recent introduction of a pair of compact routers from DeWALT and Porter-Cable. Rated at 1-1⁄4hp, could they be the “missing link” between laminate trimmers and full-size routers? At just 1/2hp less power than the Porter-Cable 690 and DeWALT DW616 routers, they’re much more powerful than today’s laminate trimmers.
“Most lam trimmers are 5 amps and this is 7, so just by the math you’re looking at over 28 percent improvement in power, which allows for larger bit cutting and less bogging of the bits, less vibration and less burning due to bit slowdown,” says Bill Harmon. “Although with the increased power the compact router becomes an upgrade to the trimmer that allows you to do many of the mid-size applications with one hand, so there will certainly be a gravitation toward this product because of how many applications it’s able to accomplish that you can’t do with other trimmers today.”
The two machines look like twins and share several specs, but there are differences. The DeWALT has variable speed and LED guide lights, two features the Porter-Cable doesn’t offer. Both machines weigh just a hair over four pounds, and both have an option no laminate trimmer has ever offered: a plunge-style base.
The compact category is still in its growing stage, especially for corded machines. Chances are good that between the time I write this and the time you read it, more corded compact tools will be on the drawing boards if not nearing official introduction. With both users and manufacturers excited about the category, that’s a trend you can count on.
“Outside of jobs such as demolition and remodeling, one-size-fits-all products will be a thing of the past,” says Rachel Lombardo. “Compact [tools with] appropriate power and size will lead the corded category, and pace cordless development and expansion.”