Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 160, December 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This Month's Column:

• You Never Miss A Detail, Do You?
Confounded By Fractions
A Woodworking Anniversary Of Sorts

You Never Miss A Detail, Do You?

We definitely have some hawk-eyed readers that catch every detail of what I write. Woodworking must either have as a prerequisite, or the activity must condition us all, to be sticklers for details. I truly was making a separate point last month when I mentioned traveling to a woodworking store solely to pull aside the Festool representative for a few quiet "off-the-record" words. It was mentioned as an aside… a bit of "color" to add to the story… or an excuse as to why I would ever go anywhere other than Highland Woodworking. So, what feedback did I get? Everyone wanting to know what I was asking the Festool rep!

The answer is pretty straight-forward. I wanted to know if or when Festool is going to introduce a ratcheting impact drill/driver. Perhaps I should digress here just for a moment… what exactly are we supposed to call these things? The word "impact" when used for a tool such as an "impact wrench" implies not just rotational impact but downward impact. A drill/driver sort of does that, but a bit more, shall we say, "delicately." There are big powerful impact drills (commonly called hammer drills) that can drive holes through concrete and even act a bit like a jackhammer when outfitted with a chisel-shaped bit. "Ratcheting" isn't exactly the right word, either. When we say a "ratcheting screwdriver" the first thing I think of is a screwdriver bit mounted in a ratchet handle, or even an old-fashioned Yankee screwdriver. Can we all at least agree that we know what I am talking about here? It looks like a battery-operated drill, but it drives screws with a rapid pow, pow, pow sound while turning… and it can drive screws of a diameter and length that no mere drill/driver could ever do. Let's just call it an impact driver, even though that name is not exactly correct.

An impact driver is a key, crucial part of my construction "kit" of tools. When building structures, the choices for joining construction lumber comes down to nails or screws. Nail guns certainly have their place, but more and more I find myself turning to construction screws to join wood. The barn I built over the winter and into the spring of this year was done almost exclusively with screws.

Driving long screws through two-by lumber takes power, and an impact driver is just exactly the right tool for the job. And mine is on its very last legs.

One thing many woodworkers share is a sort of dichotomous sense of money… many woodworkers, and this includes me, are the proverbial "Jekyll and Hyde" of spending. We will fret and ponder over when, if ever, to throw away a dilapidated paint brush or fret whether or not that 1-1/2" long pencil still has some "life" left in it, then we will turn around and spend hundreds on a new power tool while scarcely batting an eye.

When I wash my hands and dry them on a paper towel, I save it for wiping up spills… it is clean, after all, just damp. I keep strange fasteners for which there is no foreseeable future use, and save scraps of wood that I suspect sane non-woodworkers wood toss in the fireplace or in the trash. It is manic… it is obsessive. But then, almost on a whim, some pretty new tool turns my head and I am obsessed with obtaining it, frugality forgotten in a moment of tool lust.

I gave up trying to "fix" this illness. Short of professional help, my destiny is to obsess over pennies while the dollars fly willy-nilly from my wallet.

With this admission, here is why I was obsessed with getting the straight scoop from the Festool rep… my impact driver is old, and its batteries are decrepit. Of the original four batteries, two don't have the amperage rating to run the impact driver, one is dead and won't take a charge at all. The other battery will run my driver for thirty minutes or so, perhaps 50 screws, then it must be recharged. And new batteries cost $120!

Even though it is a mistake I have made before (and swore I would never do again), I decided to try a cheap "middle ground" approach, and ordered what was advertised to be a "direct replacement" battery made by another manufacturer. It cost me $35… a darn sight better than $120, so I gambled… and lost. The $35 knock-off battery did fit my driver, and it did run my driver. It did take a charge on my existing charger. But only three times. And then it died, deader than the proverbial doornail. That $35 sure seemed like a bargain, and now it seems like a completely foolish example of "throwing good money after bad."

So my dilemma is pretty simple. Should I spend $120 bucks for a new battery for an old tool, or should I wait and buy a spanking new Festool impact screwdriver, if and when one is ever introduced to North America? It could come down to a "non-decision" if my one remaining battery dies before Festool introduces a new impact driver. And wouldn't it just be frustrating as heck if I shelled out $120 for a new battery, or worse, splurged for a new impact driver from another manufacturer only to find out a few weeks later that Festool has introduced the tool I really want?

So, that's why I wanted to speak with a Festool rep… to get the straight scoop and help me with a buying decision.

You want to know what he said? "Festool doesn't do anthing until they figure out how to do it better than everybody else." I said he was a Festool "rep" --- salesman is probably a more apt description. That answer didn't really satisfy me so I pushed a little harder. He finally told me that they will be introducing a new impact drill/driver in the Fall of 2019. That seems a long ways off. Can I limp forward with what I have until then? I don't know… but I'm sure going to try.

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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