Cruiser’s Power Tool Kit

Given that we let all of our tools go with the McCurdy and Rhodes 56, I'm thinking a lot about optimal tool kits for cruising boats. Actually, I have gone way past the thinking into full-on tool-lust, followed by inflicting serious damage on our bank account as we rebuild our tool collection in anticipation of our new boat.

This has been, and continues to be, a fun and interesting exercise since rarely in life do we get a total re-do opportunity for anything—let's not talk about my three marriages—let alone a re-do based on 50 years of relevant experience and 30 years of cruising remote places where having the right tool aboard was vital.

Have To Be Selective

The other thing that makes this interesting, and useful for others, is that the new boat displaces less than a quarter of the old, so Phyllis and I have to really think about what tools we really need, so we don't weigh the boat down and thereby screw up the sparkling sailing performance that was our primary selection criteria in the first place.

And that tradeoff is not unique to us. Even with bigger boats, overloading is one of the most common mistakes I see out there. Taken to extremes it will not only ruin a boat's performance, it can get to the point where the boat will no longer rise to a sea properly or accelerate in a gust of wind, but instead will heel and bury.

Heck, I have even seen quite a few boats so far down in the water that their cockpits no longer drain properly, a seriously dangerous situation.

Point being we can't just dump every possible tool on the boat that we think we might need.

But, on the other hand, we need to guard against using the wrong tool because we don't have the right one and thereby making an already shitty repair situation a lot shittier.

Like most things in offshore voyaging it's all about tradeoffs.

So let's take a look at the power tools we have bought and recommend:

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Did I miss something? It sounds like you have your new boat: or at least picked out. Dick

Michael Lambert

That was the other thing I was going to say. It did sound like it. I even sensed a wiff of multihull in there.

Ben Logsdon

Close as in near, or close to finish the deal? Got to love English.

Michael Lambert

I have all of the above 18v tools, and love them, including the vac. I like the idea of the articulating driver, but haven’t delved into 12v batteries yet. What about instead the impact with 1/2 socket built in, which might be almost as low profile, and a long extension for situations where you would straighten the 12v one.

https://www.zoro.com/bosch-two-in-one-impact-driver-18v-gdx18v-1800cn/i/G7210754/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=surfaces&utm_campaign=shopping%20feed&utm_content=free%20google%20shopping%20clicks&gclid=Cj0KCQjw5uWGBhCTARIsAL70sLJdE-KnFbn0_K1BZYETEoe5QfEUGy2qEce7dXMV0dJ_FVcWIAUT4XoaAqs9EALw_wcB#description

Also, some brands have chargers that plug into 12v sockets, but I don’t recall which, but I think Bosch doesn’t. Would that be beneficial you think?

Michael Lambert

Good to know about inverters, I hadn’t thought of that’s question and the idea that with batteries you can charge when there’s plenty of power at the same time before.

As for impact drivers, well, they are amazing. Seriously, get one for the house at least. Switching bits is cake, and speed and power, and they feel good in the hand. But a drill is also key just for the clutch.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,

About inverter efficiency: They are dramatically less efficient than the numbers pretend. Normally we should expect about 50% more draw from the batteries when run through an inverter. That’s pretty dramatic, especially with applications that last a while, like battery charging. I have an inverter, Victron 500W, but it’s only for the very unusual events when 240V is the only solution. Charging batteries from it is totally illegal on our boat. 🙂

There are several reasons for the much higher than claimed inefficiency of inverters. Partly, they draw a noticeable current when they’re just turned on, with zero draw. This can easily be 20 Ah or more per day. Pretty bad. Also, the claimed efficiency is measured at the best load point of the inverter, which probably isn’t the load we run it at. Real efficiency can be quite different. The real problem, however, is that a battery for a power tool needs a low DC current, close to what we have on the boat. Using an inverter from DC to AC and ramp up the Voltage, and then using a battery charger to do the exactly same thing in reverse, (the latter item probably doing it with very poor efficiency), is very wasteful. As mentioned, expect about 50% more consumption than if using a DC charger.

Making sure that absolutely everything electric we want to use onboard when unplugged is able to run straight from the house bank, has a big influence on consumption. Inverters should be seen as random rarely used items. They really don’t belong on a boat. The current standard of having charger inverters that are always on is not a smart solution, to put it very politely.

Edit: There’s an article on marinehowto looking a bit into this problem: https://marinehowto.com/a-look-at-inverter-inefficiencies/

Matt

I love the 18V impact drivers (with 1/4″ hex quick-chuck) for general carpentry – think decks, fences, framing, etc. where you are using dozens or hundreds of the same wood screw over and over. But I’ve yet to come across a situation on the boat where I wanted one.

Bill Attwood

Agreed Matt. I am building a woodshop, 630 sq metres frame construction, and a cordless impact driver has saved my sanity and body. But the ability to drive hundreds of screws without pre-drilling doesn‘t have a place on a boat.

Bill Attwood

Hi John
No, because the height of the door is only 2.1 meters (garage roll door). Trouble is, even if the boat would fit through the door, the shop will be full of tools. 😁 Tablesaw/shaper combi, resaw bandsaw, jointer/thicknesser combi, and a large lathe. They have been sitting in storage since we moved from near Berlin to the Baltic Coast, and the pandemic lull in sailing motivated me to get on and build my new woodshop. Of course, the build has given a fantastic chance to acquire yet more tools, a win/win. 😂

Kevin Towers

I’ve spent years restoring old cars. Impact drivers are great for breaking out old rusty screws and bolts. Get the right size driver head, some penetrating oil and most stuck screws will come right out.

I’m thinking that there might be some corroded crews and bolts on a bolt as well…

James Pendoley

When rebuilding my Perkins I could not have done the job half as quickly without my impact driver

Brian Russell

About the only way to remove a sheave from an alternator, at least a Balmar, is with an impact driver and socket. Thanks to Farron at Beta Marine in NC for that tip, saved my bacon when I had to swap alternators (long story, my fault) in mid ocean earlier this summer. Also, the little impact drivers are the best way to drive wood screws, as the bit doesn’t torque out as easily as with just a drill driver.

Kit Laughlin

“primary selection criterium”

I think you mean “criterion”, John. By all means correct and delete my comment.

James Evans

A good cordless drill is a must. But the rest? There’s a plethora of drill attachments that will – albeit often inelegantly – do just about everything else. The shop-vac is great for a major job, but to carry all that stuff everywhere? LUXURY! (And you tell that to t’ kids today, they don’t believe yer).

Lee Corwin

Excellent list. We also carry a sawsall, detail and palm sander. Prefer Dewalt to Bosch but that’s just personal preference.

Ben Logsdon

Having used some brushless tools (DeWalt) I can say that the brushless technology is a perfect companion to lithium battery. Smooth, powerful, efficient, smaller and lighter. If brushless is available in the battery platform of choice, choose that option.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi John, bought almost the same tools for the refit, albeit from Einhell. Exchangable 18V power pack, never yet disappointed.
I passed by the angle drill but use a flexible well instead which works quite well.
Can we already congratulate on your new boat? The next happy day of two in total? 😉

Tony Brown

The Bosch professional 12volt cordless tools are great – I’ve used them extensively. Drill, planer, circular saw, jigsaw and mini angle grinder are all excellent and long-lasting

Matt

Every true pro (as opposed to general handyman) I’ve ever met has stocked their main bag with Milwaukee, Bosch, or DeWalt 18-volt gear. You’ll see the occasional specialty tool from other brands, but the go-to grab bag is *always* red, yellow, or blue.

I’m partial to Milwaukee, myself, but the three vendors’ pro lines are of nearly identical quality.

A lot of the new Milwaukee pro stuff has radio tracking tags, which might be nice – “Did I leave the grinder in the boat, the shop, or the car? Let’s check the app – well, it says it’s in Bluetooth range of my wife’s phone, and she’s in the car.”

I concur with all John’s recommendations here. He chose nothing I’d omit, and while I’d add a *lot*, that wouldn’t be a base kit anymore 😉

Bill Attwood

Hi John
Having started „at the top end“ with Festool, I have transitioned to Makita and have become an absolute fanboy. They seem to have the widest selection of cordless tools available, and the quality is excellent. Prices in Europe upper mid-range, but cheaper than Festool with at least equivalent quality. Their 18V angle drill is brutal, and I have idly wondered if it could be used as a winch driver. Winter project perhaps.
My list of boat cordless tools: 2 Makita drills; Fein Multimaster; Dremel tool; Makita vacuum (not a success as it uses up battery power too quickly); Makita hand search/floodlight – this is absolutely amazing! Anyone looking for this capability should take a serious look.
I have a sawsall for shore-based carpentry work, but wouldn‘t dare use it on board because of the difficulty I have controlling it. For disaster work, eg clearing cabinetry to reach a leak, I have a hand axe.
Yours aye
Bill

Edward Scharf

I have to say that I have been happy with Ryobi for years. I started with them and continued with them. They have taken down buildings on island, built out a van and done a lot of work on boats. Prices are good. Recently I have gotten some Milwaukee tools because I got a large 1/5″ drill to use on winches. Having plenty of batteries is important if you need to do a lot. And I agree the 4.5 grinder/ cutoff is very useful.

Eric Klem

Hi Edward and John,

I really don’t know much about the Ryobi line but if you look back at Black and Decker of 30 years ago, it provides an interesting lesson on homeowner grade tools. At the time, their professional tools were equal to or simply the best there were. However, they had released a homeowner version and pretty quickly, the brand had gotten a reputation for poor quality as people were using them as if they were pro grade. As a result, they lost a ton of market share to players like Makita despite the fact that their pro grade tools were still as good as anything. To deal with this, Black and Decker rebranded their pro tools as Dewalt. As some may remember, it felt like Dewalt came out of nowhere and immediately had good tools and good selection, something that would normally be very hard to pull off but they actually didn’t come out of nowhere, it was basically a marketing play. This is a classic marketing case study which you can find plenty of analysis on with a quick google.

Eric

Evan Effa

The rotary tool is a necessity on board; but, my experience with the Dremels is that they just don’t last. The internal gears strip out and you are left with an expensive fishing weight. My Milwaukee version has been much more robust.

Marc Dacey

A very useful addition to a Dremel set is the accessory that can turn it into a sort of drill press or plunge router, especially if you have to replicate carefully something out of bar or plate stock. Obviously limited in scale, but very helpful for small jobs.https://www.amazon.ca/Dremel-220-01-Rotary-Tool-Station/dp/B00068P48O/ref=asc_df_B00068P48O/?tag=googleshopc0c-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=292953024923&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=5338715692747776699&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9000038&hvtargid=pla-435384894398&psc=1

Ben Garvey

Ahhh, tools. Excellent subject. Agree with all you’ve said John, and if I were starting again I’d be torn between the Bosch choices you make above and the equivalent Milwaukee options. As it is I’m in the group with a mish-mash of well-worn tools (my old friends – many of them are named affectionately) made up from 35 years of boat-building, repairing and generally mucking about in boats.

Two points I’d make:

In many cases, I’ve found that having an excellent suite of tools (plus knowing how to use them, and being willing to use them) has been a wonderful way to make friends in foreign ports. Sitting in Bermuda, Horta or any number of other cruising ports, sooner or later you’re going to see a dismasted/half sunk/disabled somethingorother limp in with an exhausted and mangled crew in shock. Being able to welcome them in with a cold drink, a warm embrace and a practical suite of solutions to help them realize that all is not lost is a wonderful thing. I’ve removed engines, rebuilt rigs, rebuilt alternators, scarphed spars, cut off rigs and rebuilt rudders over the years, in places close and far from home – and it was always a hoot to do.

Some of my closest friends have been made this way, and I too have been a recipient of said human kindness as well. It is a wonderful part of cruising in my opinion.

The second point is related to the safety of high-capacity Lithium power tool batteries. I’ve never had an issue with them myself, but I have read accounts (which seemed credible) of a vessel loss in the Gulf of Mexico due to a chafed drill battery shorting and catching fire. the battery was I believe just tossed in a locker under a vee beth, and during a particularly boistrous sail, it lit off and was ultimately impossible to fight as it was buried and producing incredible amounts of toxic smoke. I believe the 2 folks aboard eventually abandoned (after emptying every extinguisher they had on the area but not making much difference to the fire) and were picked up by the USCG. the vessel was lost.

So- since reading that I am a bit more careful about how I store my drills and their batteries!! there is enough stored energy there to cause a real mess if let go in a bad way…

Brian Engle

i agree… lithium-battery-powered devices of all kinds scare the daylights out of me on a boat. I doubt many are engineered with tinned conductors and I worry about the potentially devastating effects of salt fog on the internals. Some brands/models are likely better than others, but how is one to know. I’ve also toyed with the idea of a fire-resistant, vented locker for these battery packs. The idea of cheap, “offshore” portable devices like phones and tablets stuffed away in guests’ duffel bags are the things nightmares are made of. Case in point would be that dive boat fire that was in the news a few years ago. When I was a kid, nobody had propane lockers. Maybe we need to look more deeply into catastrophe mitigation for portable battery tech. They aren’t going away any time soon. For now, I’m sticking with corded with the exception of dockside work.

Daniel McCarty

Interesting that this tool discussion was posted because a few days ago I was looking at battery powered tools. Specifically, I was looking at the battery chemistry being used, and the best I could find, was Lithium Ion…

I gave up on battery powered tools years ago after my last 18v Dewalt NiMH battery started smoking and melted down. I had used the battery to drill a couple of holes in plastic, not a difficult job for the drill. I put the battery back in the charger and a few minutes later, I smelled something funny. Looking around the house, I noticed that the battery was heavily smoking. <YIKES> I picked up the battery charger, not something I wanted to do, and tossed it and the battery out of the house.

If I had not been in the house, I think that battery would have caught fire and burned down our home. I never bought a replacement battery and just used corded tools, which frankly, worked so much better.

However, with Lithium batteries, the cordless tools should work for many short term jobs but the risk of a fire is a concern. The best I could come up with is having a compartment on the boat where a fire would not be a disaster. Not sure how that works on a plastic boat but a metal boat might have a chance of pulling off such a compartment.

Drew Frye

Good tool summary.

The USCG has been looking into small lithium batteries and fire ever since the dive boat fire. They issued this directive in the fall of 2020: https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Portals/9/DCO%20Documents/5p/CG-5PC/CG-CVC/Policy%20Letters/2020/CVC%20PL%2020-03_CARRIAGE%20OF%20LITHIUM-ION%20BATTERIES%20ON%20SMALL%20PASSENGER%20VESSELS.pdf

Some of the requirements are difficult to meet on a small fiberglass boat, particularity the requirement to store them in a non-combustible area (steel or lined locker?).

The problem is that lithium fires are extremely difficult to put out. A laptop can be thrown out a hatch, no problem. Tools in a locker or a battery bank, not so much.

Just food for thought. I don’t have an opinion.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

The 3rd crucial precaution is to make sure that they can never, never ever, be short circuited. Lead acid batteries are childs play against the reaction of a LiFePO4 to being shortened…

Bill Attwood

Makita fanboy here again. Their batteries come with a plastic cover for the „business end“. I store my cordless tools on board with batteries removed, and the batteries stored in a lidded plastic container, with packing to hold them firmly. However, after reading some of these alarming comments, I shall rethink battery storage. Maybe an old ammo box? Not too heavy and the right size for half a dozen batteries.

Daniel McCarty

Yeah, I thought of a ammo box but wonder if it needs to be insulated with a material that will not burn, something like rock wool maybe? The heat resistant gloves, welders gloves should work, as John mentions, is a good idea.

Robert Hellier

Hi John,

Being in the middle of a major refit on a steel expedition sailboat, I can agree with your list wholeheartedly.

An angle grinder was my go-to tool for the exterior of the hull, allowing me to grind down to bare metal quickly in spots where the wet-blasting could not get to, to cut away metal that was too far gone, to grind down welds and recontour metal. I would add, however, that using a typical fixed speed grinder in areas of confined/awkward spaces is a disaster waiting to happen. A grinding disc spinning at 13,000 RPM can do a lot of damage to the operator when it binds on something and jumps out of control. To minimize this risk I invested in a Dewalt variable speed grinder with kick-back brake and fast-stop clutch. https://www.dewalt.com/products/power-tools/grinders/small-angle-grinders/5-in-brushless-paddle-switch-small-angle-grinder-with-kickback-brake-nolock-variable-speed/dwe43214nvs. These features reduce the risk of injury significantly.

An added bonus of variable speed for an angle grinder is that you can dial down the RPM to reduce the extent that dust and debris from grinding propagates to the rest of the boat – vitally important when you’re working in the boat’s interior.

An angle grinder is only as versatile as the types of discs one has to attach to it. Besides the standard grinding disc and zip disc, one attachment that I’ve found to be most useful is the poly strip wheel disc https://www.amazon.ca/100mm-Poly-Strip-Wheel-Disc/dp/B07PLDKGKD/ref=asc_df_B07PLDKGKD/?tag=googleshopc0c-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=347912908774&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=6458244802010623392&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9000507&hvtargid=pla-815407193200&psc=1. OMG do these discs ever make short work of built up paint layers, yet are sensitive enough not to dig into the metal plating. They’re also a great burr and blemish remover for metals.

My Dewalt is a corded tool, so it won’t appeal to those demanding cordless tools for onboard use. If I was going to invest in a cordless grinder, however, variable speed and a kick-back brake would be essential additional features.

Now that I’ve moved onto the interior stage of the refit, I’m finding that even the most compact grinders and sanders cannot get into the tight and awkward spaces that abound below the flooring and between stringers and ribs. For this – I agree – a Dremel tool is essential. For really tight spots I use the flex shaft attachment https://us.dremel.com/en_US/products/-/show-product/accessories/225-01-flex-shaft-attachmentextension.

One other tool that has grabbed my attention is the mini belt sander with a 3/8″ or 1/2″ wide sanding belt extending several inches ahead of the tool’s body. This version by Hilti https://www.homedepot.com/p/Hilti-22-Volt-Lithium-Ion-Cordless-Band-File-Grinder-Sander-and-Abrasive-Kit-3650344/313629219 is probably a good example. Though I haven’t purchased or used one yet, I imagine that – in tight spots, inside corners and recesses, it would perform much quicker and more even work than the Dremel.

Ben Garvey

As a fellow steel boat owner I can heartily agree with all of the above. especially the 1/2″ wide belt sander, which I know as a ‘band file’. I have an old milwaukee one that is simply incredible with a 36 grit belt on it – if you want to, you can use it as a plunge cutter and push right on through a steel plate with little effort. incredible at removing rust from difficult corners like stringer-frame junctions. obviously with that kind of power though, one must be careful…

Which is a significant third consideration. some tools must be kept essentially under lock and key, and one should have to sign a release form in triplicate with co-signing from the wife and the banker before they can be used.

Witness: on a previous boat I owned- a loverly 1964 double-ended wishbone rigged ketch built of eucalyptus and mahogany on the island of Cyprus. I was really frustrated with the cockpit layout. it was about 4′ square and impossible to get comfortable in, for no good reason. there was plenty of space around it to make it bigger.

During an on-the-hard refit period, I took my brand new milwaukee sawzall with some demolition blades, and cut the entire works right out of the deck and chucked it over the side. took about 30 minutes, sawing right thru anything in my way – bolts, beams, screws, wiring, plumbing… it was rather stupid, fueled by frustration, naivite and youthful abandon – but enabled by the tool at hand! At the end, one could stand on the side decks and gaze down at the frames and keelson.

that 30 minutes of destruction took about 8 months of effort to replace and rebuild. I don’t even want to think about the cost.

The final cockpit was a huge improvement, but lesson learned…

Matt

Those poly discs for the grinder are like magic. I tried them (for the first time) while stripping and recoating our aluminum boom last winter…. One heavy pass and the paint is 80% gone, then one light pass and the surface is perfect and ready for etching.
I’d include a few of those in the kit as “must have”, along with a pack of standard cutoff discs, flap discs of various grits, and a couple of ferrous metal grinding discs. Plus a good set of polycarbonate safety glasses and a face shield, because I’ve had wheels explode at 9,000 rpm before, and the shrapnel can *really* move.

Michael Hiscock

I agree with the list and, especially, second the usefulness of a grinder—it is definitely a must have.

After doing some home reno’s and owning different tools, I have settled on Rigid tools as my baseline. They tend to be very good quality (small “dustbuster” vac excluded) and have a lifetime warranty once registered.

Alex Borodin

Hi John,

I think it’s worth mentioning that as Dremel company now belongs to Bosch, Bosch also has a rotary tool now (GRO) and Dremel batteries (e.g. as pictured in the post) are compatible with Bosch 12V (and older 10.8V) range of tools and vice versa

Alistair Cunningham

Possible typo in “8-amp battery”?

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I recently went through this as the drill in my trusty 20+ year old 18V Dewalt kit started having clutch issues and I had switched to using the newer batteries with the Dewalt adapter which was okay but not great. Around here, it seems like the obvious choice for cordless was between Dewalt and Milwaukee. I called 2 good friends both who are pro level users and both who own one brand for their work but also work for a company that owns the other so they could potentially actually compare. Both of them said they think both brands are good and they don’t see an overall difference but do see tool to tool differences but even those are not huge. Since I already owned several Dewalt tools and only want to maintain 1 brand of battery, that was the obvious choice. And if our 35 year old Honda lawnmower ever dies, I might just look at the Dewalt battery powered one. My experience with Bosch tools is limited to some older models so I can’t compare those.

For tools kept on board a smaller cruiser, a drill and an angle grinder would be my choice. While the usability is not perfect, a right angle adapter for a drill is easy to carry and one less tool. Prior to batteries that maintained a charge for a while, I actually used to just keep a hand drill, a good hacksaw and a good set of files and that never let me down. To be honest, in coastal cruising mode, we could get by without any power tools just fine as we try to do all our upgrades outside of the sailing season and when work is needed mid season, it almost never involves drilling. Obviously if going longer distance I would absolutely carry power tools as the risk of needing to make an emergency repair or drill out a broken bolt goes up dramatically.

During the season, we carry a dustbuster for cleaning onboard. At the ends of the season when doing a bigger clean, we use the Shark cordless stick vac we have for our house which I have come to really like. And during projects, we use a Rigid shop vac of which we have 2 sizes, both corded. Milwaukee just released a contractor type stick vac which I would consider if I had their other tools.

Since we own an old house and I do all our vehicle and other maintenance, we keep completely separate sets of tools for the house and boat. When doing boat projects, we keep a list of needed supplies and tools and I often find that the expanded tools inventory at home really helps but they travel home each night. Things like a good, big impact or an oscillating tool can really make the difference in a project but the 1,000+ lbs of tools at our house would not be practical on the boat.

Eric

John Cobb

I’ve been buying the Milwaukee brand tools. So far so good. 🤞

Thomas Toohey

My buddy who is a full time contractor and myself, part time ,are big Ryobi 18 volt fans. We work these tools unmercifully. They don’t fail. Hey when you use a drill as a hammer the shaft may get a little wobbly . The large size batteries are super reliable too.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
A shop-vac would be very nice, but on a 40-foot boat, it has never found a place. I will look into them again, especially battery-operated ones, as they do look smaller.
That said, we have been very happy with the Black and Decker automobile vacuum. It has checked all the boxes for domestic needs and has also served well for project needs. It is powerful enough to hold near a drilling project and collect dust flying off and keep it contained and great for getting into small places (with its attachments) where sawdust etc. seems to congregate. It can deal with piles of fg dust in short order.
It is powered by a cigarette lighter 12v outlet with a long cord.
It probably needs emptying more often than a shop-vac; not a big deal on a small boat.
As to the “wet” attributes of the shop-vac, these chores get covered by the manual vacuum-pump cannister we use (and already have) for oil changes, but I seem to keep finding more and more uses to it. In my experience, it covers all the challenges that a wet shop-vac would get called upon to remedy and is easier to empty and keep clean and does not need power (other than a few manual pumps).
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi tool pusher,
For those indiscriminate addicts who swing wildly from indulgence to parsimony, your efforts to find the middle ground reflecting real usefulness is greatly appreciated.
My best, Dick

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
My Dremel set is 20+ yo and has been used hard and abused and continues to give service. I am sure it is not commercial grade, but I remain impressed.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

A very good list. We have stuck with corded tools because we’ve got a steel boat and the inverter/battery/Honda gensets to power them, but when my strangely durable Black and Decker drill (not a brand known for long, trouble-free operation) finally goes west, I will want a better-grade of drill and an angle drill for those smaller jobs such as the Bosch models you’ve discussed.

Again, were we in my old, tender Viking 33, I would have an entirely different viewpoint likely identical to yours. But we have both the space and the means to use mostly corded, trades-grade tools, mostly Makitas. We have, for instance, not one, but two wet-dry vaccums, a big ‘un for cleaning the interior from one spot (8 metre hose) and a little Stanley one for the forepeak workshop. I just wait for Canadian Tire sales. I think the Stanley was $29.

And congratulations on the approaching event!

stephen actor

I’m happy with 18 volt brushless Makitas, a drill and the paddle switch 4-1/2” grinder are the bare essentials. I have their 12 volt charger that plugs into a cigarette lighter receptacle to charge the 18 volt batteries. Their small hand held cordless vacuum is the hardest working tool all summer for bee & horsefly catch & release.

Dan Perrott

We have the annoying random selection of different batteries and corded tools but are struggling to justify an upgrade, but it would be lovely to have all one brand.
We don’t have a home port we return to so carry slightly more but could get by without.
A question for grinding/other metal working jobs. What do others do to avoid the hot bits of metal landing on gel coat/paint?
If you don’t have the space luxury of a workbench.

Jo Blach

When working with the grinder on metal, I use one of the those glass-fibre fire blankets for kitchen fires as protection. Doesn’t work all the time, but it’s often good enough. They’re quite cheap and you should have at least one on board anyway. Just get a second one for the tool-box.

Matt

I have a couple of small drop cloths of nomex fabric (the stuff firefighters suits are made of) which, so far, seem to be mostly immune from grinding and arc-welding spatter.

Marc Dacey

I have similar “fire blankets” as ours is a custom steel boat and there may be welding from time to time. Or wayward food prep. Mine are big enough to drape over the engine.

Steven Hodder

After 30 years in construction, using every brand of corded and cordless tool out there, my go to brand is now Milwaukee. I have a shop full of corded and cordless Milwaukee and they have been bomb-proof. Bosch makes excellent corded concrete drilling tools, but I’ve lost track of the number of Dewalt/Bosch/Makita cordless drills that ended up in the garbage on our job sites. When I retired four years ago, the company I worked for was switching everything to Milwaukee. Just for one simple comparison the top Milwaukee drill is 6.9” long, 3.3 pounds and has 1200 in/lbs of torque. Bosch’s top drill, 7.6”long, 3.4 pounds and 755 in/lbs of torque. Makita’s top drill, 7” long, 4.2 pounds, and 1150 in/lbs of torque. Dewalt, 8.4” long, 3.5 pounds, and Dewalt felt it wasn’t important to list any torque specs on their drills! I have a small boat – I know which one is going in my tool box, and the Milwaukee is $32 cheaper than the Bosch. However, price should never be a determining factor when buying quality tools.

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
Has anyone got suggestions for this irritant: the tools are just fine after 4-6 years but the batteries are showing signs of a life ending deterioration? A bit of research determines that replacing the batteries will cost 2/3rds or more of the price of a whole new set including the tools.
Perhaps lithium batteries display different tendencies?
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Matt

I’ve yet to have a Milwaukee M18 lithium battery go bad, and a couple of mine have now seem 6+ years of use. (And that’s “build a dock, now replace a roof, now build a house” use, not “put up an Ikea shelf” use.)
Eventual battery replacement is just part of the total cost of ownership of this equipment, and is a big reason why you want to pick one pro brand and stick with it: the batteries will stay compatible, forwards and backwards, for a very long time. By contrast, *every* consumer-grade cordless tool I’ve ever used took a battery that is now unavailable.

Eric Klem

Hi Dick,

I have had much better luck with the longevity of the lithium batteries than any of the predecessors. With these, the easiest way to kill them is by dropping the voltage low enough that it goes below the low voltage cutoff of the charger. This means that if you run a battery all the way down, make sure to give it at least some charge before putting it away for a while. Also, you have to watch environmental temp differences, this can also push you over the threshold if you use it in a warm environment then throw it in a cold shop/vehicle and try to charge. I try to swap before running them all the way down and with that and knowing to get them on a charger soon if I run them all the way down, that seems to effectively mitigate this. One other trick is that I make sure to check the charge status on all of the batteries quarterly. For both the house and home, I have checklists for things to check monthly, quarterly and yearly and once you have those established, it is quick to do things like check the extinguishers, zincs, batteries, etc.

Some brands actually make adaptors to allow you to use otherwise non-compatible battery packs. I use one of these with my older 18V Dewalt stuff and the new 20V lithium batteries and the tools work much better than they ever did with the old NiCad batteries. There is one problem which is that the adapter has a parasitic draw and you can kill battery packs with it so you have to be really careful about taking the battery out first. All of my tools of this generation are in rigid plastic cases so I just put something in there to prevent them from going into the case with the battery still attached. I learned a long time ago that as soon as I use a tool, it needs to be put away or organization will fall apart so this is a reliable system.

Eric

Dick Stevenson

Hi Eric,
Boy, I always appreciate the voice of experience. Thanks for sharing.
I too, have a tickler list of daily, weekly, monthly, etc maintenance that is essential for items like “Charge tool batteries” which is so likely to be forgotten till the tool is required (and the battery flat).
My best, Dick

Scott Langer

Hi Dick,
We do not cruise full time yet (we are weekend cruisers for the time being) so take my comment with a grain of mostly land-lubbing salt…

I have been using Ridgid 18v lithium tools for well over 10 years now. they seem to be very durable, although I have never used them in a salty or tropical environment. They must be purchased from Home Depot and then registered with Ridgid within 90 days to receive a free lifetime warranty on not only the tools and chargers but the batteries as well. I have had a Ridgid drill for probably 12 or so years now and had Home Depot replace a bad battery at least two times with no issues. You do have to be able to physically get to a home depot (I don’t know if they have a mail-in service, I have never asked). At the tool rental shop they will test the unit and then issue you a receipt and a new one will be mailed out within a few weeks direct from Ridgid. Another caveat here is they only give a lifetime warranty on the batteries that came with a kit, not sold separately, which is a bummer… However, one can sometimes find kits that come with two or more 4 or 6ah batteries at a good price if you watch for sales.

The other thing that is nice with Ridgid (unrelated to the batteries) is that they have a cordless tool with combo head that has several attachments https://thd.co/3hzOk54. The two heads I carry on our boat are the oscillating tool that came with the set, along with a rotary head https://thd.co/3hs2y7O, which basically turns it into a (abnormally large) cordless Dremel. I also bring the 18v drill with a right angle attachment https://thd.co/3yhm2CZ and a small vacuum and a small blower https://thd.co/2UkVge2 (that we use for all sorts of things from, blowing out clogged drains, to filling up rafts and air mattresses). All the tools use the same 18v batteries.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Scott, Thanks for your thoughts. And for the generosity of the details and urls. My best, Dick

Bill Attwood

Hi Dick,
With careful use of a soldering iron, the battery packs can be renovated with new cells. Cost about half of buying a new battery pack, and the cells are identical. The old battery management chip can be re-used. I followed instruction videos from YouTube.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Bill, Interesting. That may be with-in my skill level, but not my comfort level. Thanks for the thought though. Dick

P D Squire

Would you still carry bolt cutters to get rid of the rig in the event of a dismasting or does the presence of a grinder in the tool kit mean the big heavy bolt cutters are not needed?

DAVID JONES

The one thing I have not yet ever seen on a cordless drill, and I do have it on my old corded drill, is a collar near the chuck end that fits into a portable drill stand. this set-up converts the drill into a small drill press. I find this to be really useful on my boat. Together they take up very little space/weight and I end up with a quite functional drill press on-board.

dj

James Marins

Hi John, tanks for the tips. But, do you have another article about the non-electric tools?

Brian Russell

As a professional fabricator, sculptor, blacksmith, machinist, etc etc for the past 35 years (retired now!!! and cruising) I have never regretted buying a Makita tool. I have a few Bosch 120v tools in the shop, also quite good. But my cordless on the boat are Makita. But I do like the looks of that 12v Bosch adjustable angle drill…

Brian Russell

And then there’s the 28V right angle Milwaukee drill motor I bought last fall, with a Winch Bit-absolutely awesome! For about 1/2 boat unit every winch is now electric! Perfect for the 110 lbs Admiral hauling the 210 lbs me up the mast. Of course, one must be extra careful, etc.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
One tool, not mentioned to my memory in the article, that I consider occasionally a huge help is a heat gun.
On Alchemy, it is always a companion for plumbing jobs. It makes removal of hoses a doddle: especially the long-installed hoses where access is poor and which tax muscles and where the hose has had a long time to form over barbs. Remove the hose clamp, heat the hose, wiggle a little and off it comes. No more wrestling.
The heat gun has saved many a knuckle injury.
Installation of hoses is also made easier and more secure. A warm hose goes on easily and forms to the barb as it is tightened up with hose clamps and cools. A warm hose also facilitates forming to curves and positioning requirements.
A heat gun is less helpful with wire reinforced hoses, but still a help.
I have not seen any heat guns that do not demand AC electricity, but for those with small-ish inverters mine has 2 settings: the hottest is not needed. Hair driers may work, but we both have short hair, so no experience.
In a pinch, wrapping a hose connection with a towel and pouring hot water on it will accomplish the same result, with a greater mess.
Sometimes, the heat gun is awful nice for stripping paint and such.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Steven Bibula

I too have a Bosch lineup, and I found that with the 8 Ah battery, the vacuum operates better, and not just longer. Have you found the same? Since OEM 8 Ah are now $150, I wonder if anyone has had good results from a knockoff 8 Ah.

And regarding DeWalt, or any tool line: I have stuck with Bosch because, decades ago, an experienced carpenter/mechanic urged me to compare drills based on performance at very low speed (consistent trigger responsiveness, smooth operation and the ability to, well, drive slowly). I did test this way, and Bosch -then and since- has always outperformed the competition at this practical and important metric (over the years, I have found DeWalt particularly unimpressive in this regard, every time I pick one up to give it another try). Well, for battery interchangeability, everything else became Bosch as well.