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Rising performance makes cordless kits an even more appealing way to give handy homeowners on your gift list four tools for the price of two.
Most of these tool kits include a rechargeable drill, a circular and reciprocating saw, and a flashlight for roughly half the price you'd pay for those tools a la carte. Some, including the CR Best Buy Ryobi we tested, can power through an array of home projects for about $200.
The batteries and chargers that provide that power account for the savings. Because all the tools in each kit share the same two cells and charger, you avoid having to buy these pricey parts with each tool. That helps explain why many cordless drills are now sold as part of a kit, rather than separately
These tools could become an even better bargain as cordless options grow. Ryobi now offers its consumer-grade tools without the battery and recently introduced a $119 kit, sans reciprocating saw. The company also sells twin packs of 18-volt batteries for $40, roughly half the usual price. While these developments apply only to Ryobi and are available only at Home Depot, they're likely to put price pressure on other brands and stores.
Cordless tools are getting better as well as cheaper. All nine kits in this report pack the 18 to 19.2 volts that define the most powerful of these tools. Some cordless tools now outperform their corded counterparts. You'll also find better batteries and smarter chargers that work in an hour or less, rather than three hours or more for conventional chargers.
Months of drilling, screw-driving, and sawing in our lab revealed that some kits and certain tools perform far better than others, however. Here are the details:
Cells with more stamina. How long a tool runs on each charge can be almost as important as how well it works. Makita is the latest among a handful of brands to stretch that time by trading the usual nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries for nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH).
Besides eliminating toxic cadmium, which should be discarded at designated collection centers, NiMH cells weigh less than comparable NiCads and outlast them in our tests. For our top-scoring Makita kit, that came to 13 percent more run time for the drill, 23 percent more for the reciprocating saw, and 39 percent more for the circular saw than we got from its closest …