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Leaps in battery technology, especially lithium-ion, let cordless tools pack more power. Now, other improvements are driving the tools to become more compact.

"The actual motor performance is getting better, and [we have] the ability to deliver more power out of a smaller motor," says Shane Moll, vice president of marketing for tools and equipment for Milwaukee Power Tools.

As well as freeing users from the limitations of cords, these compact tools can be slipped into a toolbelt or pocket, freeing the worker's hands. And less weight means workers exert less energy.

"People are looking to get as much work done as easily as possible with little fatigue," says Steve Jenson, a product manager for DeWalt. Among those who would most benefit from these tools are roofers, electricians, HVAC installers, and window installers. Most of the compact tools are coming out on the 18-volt platform, which many experts call the "sweet spot" for pros and dealers. The tools most affected are drill/drivers.

Ridgid released a compact, cordless 18-volt lithium-ion drill/driver that weighs 4.25 pounds and has 455 inch-pounds of torque. An older nicad 18-volt drill weighed about a pound more but produced only 5 inch-pounds more torque.

Makita's cordless lithium-ion drill/driver delivers 450 inch-pounds of torque, weighs 3.5 pounds and is 8 inches long. An older lithium-ion model weighed about a pound more and was 1-3/8-inches longer but had 110 inch-pounds more torque.

Cordless impact drivers in particular are gaining popularity. With constant high-speed taps, they drive in screws without stripping screw heads. "A lot of contractors have never used them before," says Mike Sheriff, cordless product manager for TTI Professional Power Tools. "They are great for heavy screwdriving tasks."

DeWalt's impact drivers show how manufacturers experiment with other voltages. Along with 18-volt products, it offers a 12-volt cordless nicad impact driver that weighs 3.6 pounds, delivers 1,150 inch-pounds of torque and measures 5-3/4-inches long. An older 12-volt cordless nicad model weighed slightly more, measured 1-1/4-inches longer and delivered 150 inch-pounds less torque.

Also delving into new voltages, Bosch released the 10.8-volt Litheon Impactor Fastening Driver, a lithium-ion impact driver that measures 6-inches tall and 6-1/2-inches long, weighs 2.2 pounds and delivers 800 inch-pounds of torque. Nicad impact drivers weigh almost twice as much, the maker says, and the standard 18-volt drill/driver is about 60% less powerful.

Brian Wilson, product category manager for power tools and accessories at Orco Construction Supply, says these new platforms affect how he stocks tools, replacing some 18-, 14-, 12-, and even 3.6-volt stock with more 10.8-volt units. "There are so many formats out there," he says. "People may be stepping up or down depending on what the need is."

Orco Construction is also purchasing some compact drill/drivers. "It's not as powerful as larger units, but it has more power than most did just a few years ago," Wilson says about one model. "It's a compact size, and it's a very lightweight tool. Sometimes, it's a tradeoff."

–Victoria Markovitz