For nearly eight years across more than 200 episodes, Americans laughed their way through the sitcom “Home Improvement” starring Tim Allen as Tim Taylor, a former tool salesman turned TV star with his home improvement show, “Tool Time.” Much of the hilarity came in the disasters created by Tim’s minimal skills handling power tools. His mantra was “more power,” and his character simply reveled in the power of power tools. As funny as that may have been on television, it is not at all funny in reality. The power in power tools is the primary reason for caution, care and cleaning.

Strength in terms of human power and endurance were the main driving forces making tools perform myriad tasks in construction, repair, maintenance and industrial work. Though the Egyptians are credited with the earliest lathe “power” tool, it was still hand-powered. The Industrial Revolution forced the big transition from rural, agrarian populations to urban industrial civilization with new materials, machine and tool inventions and energy sources. No longer confined to the energy from a water wheel or later the steam engine, portable tools vastly improved work speed, efficiency, and in some cases, precision.

Revenue from power tool sales in 2016 topped $30 billion and is expected to grow by 30% or more in the next decade. There are a few ways to participate in power tool sales —

  • buy good tools when you begin your stone mason career
  • upgrade your tools as new, improved models are introduced
  • do not take care of what you have, so you need to replace them often for benign neglect and/or carelessness.

One wonderful thing about power tools is their versatility and longevity with tender loving care (TLC). Like tires on your vehicle and work boots on your feet, buy the best quality you can afford and take excellent care of them. The power in tools is derived from three main sources: electricity, battery and compressed air. The electric drill, for example, has been around for more than a century. In 1910, in a machine shop in Baltimore, a Mr. Black and his business partner Mr. Decker designed a portable drill. Temporarily stumped for how to hold and operate it, they resolved both challenges by looking around the room and focusing on a product of one of their machine shop clients, the gun manufacturer Colt. Not only were the pistol grip handle and trigger incorporated into the drill design, but also both features are still integral parts of drills, cordless as well.

Electric Power Tools

It is possible that the main adversary of power drills and power tools is the same one that plagues masons and construction workers on a jobsite: dust. Stone masonry, like bull riding, by its very nature is a dusty vocation. Short of sitting in someone’s all grass turf backyard laying a brick wall or outdoor barbecue with a hand trowel, masons live, breathe and work their days in conditions replete with dirt, dust and all kinds of airborne particles. Factor in a breeze, some open space and heavy equipment on the move, and you have a dustbowl of a workplace. Moisture is another concern. Your power tools however, can operate optimally and last a very long time with routine attention.

As the new silica ruling kicks in for your protection, so must you divert some dust attention to your power tools. New innovations are being incorporated into power tools every year, but high quality power tools well-cared for can last for decades, and picking them up each day can be as comfortable as slipping into a well-worn pair of steel toe work boots. The reasons for caring for these tools are the same as for hand tools, and no one is immune to a simple review:

      • make a professional impression on every job
      • increase the life of the power tool
      • keep interior moving parts moving
      • control out-of-pocket expenses for replacement tools
      • reduce, and ideally eliminate, injuries from preventable malfunctions
  1. “Two of the biggest issues on the jobsite that can lead to tool malfunction are dust and moisture,” states Gregg Mangialardi, Product Manager for SKILSAW. “Both of these factors can affect tool performance and overall lifespan. In order to have proper working tools, owners must clean and take care of their equipment. The most effective TLC approach is to clean and inspect tools after every use. This includes pulling out the air compressor to clean out dust and inspecting cords to ensure there are no tears or exposed conductors. It’s also important to understand your equipment and know what tools need to run smoothly. For example, lubricating oil in a worm drive saw needs to be replaced annually. Knowing your tools’ requirements can turn a total replacement into a simple repair.”

The SKILSAW instruction manual outlines safety and care directions, like this: “Check for misalignment or binding of moving parts, breakage of parts and any other condition that may affect the power tool’s operation. If damaged, have the power tool repaired before use. Many accidents are caused by poorly maintained power tools. Keep cutting tools sharp and clean. Properly maintained cutting tools with sharp cutting edges are less likely to bind and are easier to control.”

Nate Pellerin, Product Manager at DEWALT, promotes the company’s many cordless brushless motor options on its tools. “These help to reduce downtime due to clogged brushes because the tools do not have brushes in them to get clogged.” For tools, which do have brushes, it is recommended to replace them both at the same time with replacements from the same manufacturer. Hold them lightly as you unscrew them, as a spring-loaded brush can pop out on its own. Vacuum around the cap, install the new brush and the spring and tighten the cap. Refrain from blowing away dust with a little blast of compressed air as this may move dirt particles into other places, like the switch.

Battery Power Tools

Battery operated power tools have become dream tools for not having cords to trip over, saw through, drive over or otherwise impede progress or cause injury. They are also referred to as cordless, not to be confused with wireless, which denotes devices that use forms of energy like radio waves and ultrasonic compression waves to transmit information. The first cordless tools (drill and vacuum cleaner) have been attributed to Black & Decker in 1961, with more developments under contract with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) throughout the mid-1960s. Milwaukee Tool, Bosch, iQ Power Tools, Husqvarna and many others carry awesome cordless tools for masons.

There are a few basics on keeping batteries and battery packs in good condition:

  • Keep the battery charged, recharging whenever a decrease in power is noticed
  • Let the battery fully charge before installing and using the tool
  • Use battery powered tools often, as battery life decreases when not used
  • Store cordless tool batteries in original or cushioned cases
  • Have a second battery [pack] on hand for every battery powered tool
  • Check settings for each job; higher torque settings may deplete a battery quicker
  • Clean contacts with a little alcohol and cotton swabs.

Air Tools

The human lungs functioned as air compressors before hand-operated bellows were crafted, followed by foot or water powered bellows around 1500 B.C. Air compression was relegated to mines and metal fabricating before compressing air as an energy source became popular around 1800. “The first successful large-scale transmission of energy by compressed air took place in the Alps on the border of southeastern France and Italy. Railway managers decided to use a newly invented pneumatic rock drill to connect the two countries with an 8-mile rail tunnel under Mt. Cenis. The work began with manual drilling in 1857, but a few years later engineers installed “wet” compressors (which used water to cool air inside the cylinders) on the French and Italian sides, and two teams drilled through the rock toward each other. When they met, there were about 4 miles behind each team, proving that compressed air could transmit energy over long distances.” [ecompressedair.com]

Pneumatic (use of pressured gas) tools have been reported as safer to operate and maintain than electric power tools. They have a higher weight to power ratio, which permits a smaller, potentially lighter weight tool to do the same job. Air tools come in two grades:

  • General grade consists of disposable tools with a short life span
  • Industrial grade tools cost more than general grade, enjoy a longer life span and can be less expensive than electric counterparts.

Of course, factored into the cost of the tool and its proper care is the cost of an air compressor and associated air hoses, nozzles, plugs and connectors. So while the tool independently might look attractive for a smaller price, you have to include a source of compressed air and the care and maintenance of that. Air tools are tough, designed for work in harsh environments, but still they need attention to run well over a long period of time. Using the right tool for the right job is objective one in performance. Manufacturers publish hour ratings for each tool, and keeping track of tool usage can be paramount for servicing it or replacing it and avoiding mistakes and accidents.

It’s kind of a no-brainer to check your power tools after every use, clean them, lubricate with oil as necessary, replace cracked housings and get inside for a deep cleaning when used often. Check and replace damaged power cords and prongs. Electric shock and fire are not welcome on the jobsite, in the workplace or the home. Read and keep all the instruction manuals. Review them as often as necessary to know and understand your tool and its intricacies and special care needs.

Storing power tools is part of the performance program and part of the reason that most of them come with nice cases. Milwaukee Tool brought its innovative PACKOUTTM Modular Storage System to the market this fall. A variety of tool boxes, totes and organizers of different sizes and configurations can be assembled, stacked and locked together to easy movement to any jobsite. The rolling toolbox on the bottom sports 9-inch all-terrain wheels and can transport up to 250 pounds. Toolboxes you carry by hand, roll along the ground or floor, wear on your belt or carry in a backpack are out there, not only for your particular style, but for the protection of your tools as well.

“Proper equipment maintenance will save money on replacement equipment in the long run, but more importantly, it ensures your team’s safety on the jobsite,” Mangialardi states. “It is essential to a functioning jobsite, a profitable business and a safe team.”

Words: Joanne M. Anderson
Photos: welcomia, South_agency, Bogdanhoda, Masonry Magazine

Joanne M. Anderson is a freelance writer and magazine editor with more than 1,000 articles and blogs in print. She especially enjoys home improvement and building topics. www.jmawriter.com