After spending some quality time with Snap-On's newest generation of power tools, I feel that I now know enough to provide some quality insight on their quality and design. I am far more impressed with the quality of their cordless power tools than I am with their diagnostic equipment considering the price and what you get for the money. I spent a lot of time leveraging information out of Snap-On and their representatives to provide you with this information so please feel free to take it with a grain of salt. Although I am no industry insider, I come into this having a strong affinity for Snap-On hand tools and a sincere disappointment with their diagnostic stuff. I cannot possibly use and evaluate ALL of the cordless power tools on the market, but because Snap-On has the "tool truck credit" thing going for them, I like to let folks know if the stuff they sell really measures up to what most of us expect from stuff with the Snap-On name on it. Lots of people wont buy outside the Snap-On family of tools for three reasons:
- Either they are addicted to Snap-On tools and just want to keep the same name on all their stuff (even though Snap-On does not make all their own tools)
- They simply cannot afford to pay 14% on a credit card purchase when Snap-On will give them cheap or free credit to buy from them.
- They are mindless drones who are incapable of buying any other brand than Snap-On for tools, cloths (although they do make some bad a$$ cotton work socks), plates, cups, soft core pornography, time prices, or any of the other stuff Snap-On sells.
Keep in mind that a cordless tool is only as good as the battery system that it uses. This is, in my opinion, the achilles heal of Snap-On's current line of cordless power tools. They appear to have gotten the message and are making some changes to better power sources, but they are SLOW in doing it and it wont come cheaply to those of us who are hungering for the change. Keep in mind that I am not comparing these tools to their competitors because the cordless power tool business has its foundation in the same couple companies who build electric motors and battery systems. Generally speaking, the companies who buy the components like control systems, battery systems, and electric motors and just build their own proprietary tool chassis systems and storage cases.
First of all, to know how well these tools work, we must put them through the ringer in an environment where by they can be accurately measured and evaluated. For instance, I would not be able to give a reasonable assessment of a reciprocating saw if I only picked it up once in a blue moon to cut a muffler off of a car. Furthermore, I would conversely not feel comfortable giving an evaluation of this tool if I dropped it in a salvage yard and was using it to cut exhaust systems off of cars 12 hours a day in the most demanding conditions. The answer to me was to give it to the guy who cuts catalytic converters off of cars along with other exhaust system parts in a muffler shop. This is the kind of environment I drop these power tools into to find out if they are any good or not from the stand point of functionality and durability.
If I want to find out if they are durable in situations where they will be used and abused by "less than experienced" well meaning idiots, I could simply drop them into a high school auto shop or manufacturing shop program where the people using them will not just use them to get a job done, but as a party favor, a noise maker, a basketball and to simply do their best to wreck the damn thing, in other words, abuse the hell out of it! In this environment, its not weather or not the tool will hold up, but how long it will take to destroy it because, after all, that's their job, their high school kids having a good time learning how to do things with tools someone else paid for. Now we could always hook a crack head up with one and tell him to go out and cut catalytic converters off of SUV's in the mall parking lot for scrap, but we wont do that for obvious reasons! LOL!!!!!
WHO MAKES SNAP-ON'S POWER TOOLS?
OK, lets start with some background. Sioux tools was bought by Snap-On Incorporated in 1994. Sioux has been building pneumatic and electric power tools for many years. They are based in Murphy NC right with their corporate brother Snap-On but items and parts are manufactured all over the world including the UK, Australia, Italy, Latin American, and you guessed it Asia. Those of us in the industry know Sioux tools for building some of the most bad ass, durable, hard core power tools in the industry for as long as we can remember. Sioux built everything from valve grinding equipment to aerospace equipment before being purchased by Snap-On. Their tools were the main stay in US auto assembly plants for dozens of years before Hitachi, Panasonic and Toshiba started pounding them with cheaper alternatives for less money. Sioux was in big trouble for a long time before Snap-On took them over and made them their own. Now, Snap-On markets Sioux tools exclusively to the auto, aviation, and aerospace technician who is glad to pay more for a better product. Plus, lets face it, now a days the Asian stuff is starting to be built like crap just like everything else. Even Asian companies are feeling the pinch of a bad economy and cutting back quality (Hell, just ask Toyota).
WHY SIOUX TOOLS ARE BETTER?
Keep in mind that Souix is a global company that has two product lines. If you go on their web site, you will find two catalogs, the Industrial Line catalog that contains products that are made right here in the United States, and the Commodity product line that is made off shore.
Also keep in mind that just because a product is made off shore, that does not mean its junk, nor does it mean that stuff made here in the United States is better than import products. With regard to Souix products, sure, their commodity line is made off shore, however it is made to Souix specifications. Snap-On tools, in general, does this as well. They have several lines like Bacho, Williams, and Blue Point, much of which are made all over the world (China and Taiwan included) that are descent tools at a cheaper price. A lot of it, however, is crap! Before reading any review or critique of any product or product line, keep in mind that the reality is that we are in a global manufacturing society. As such, companies like Souix or its parent company Snap-On build products that are as good as the design from a standpoint of not only functionality, but the stuff they are made out of. Keep this in mind when someone starts to talk about quality in the context of geography (where its made dictating the quality of a product). I can cite a multitude of products that are made right here in the United States of American that are imported to other parts
Now that we know WHO is making Snap-On's power and air tools, lets talk about what sets them apart from other tools in the industry. Sioux spends a lot of time and money building ergonomic products that are user friendly in all environments for all body types. They make their tools to be used by people with varying stature and strength. A 220 lb guy will hold and operate a tool a lot differently that a 98 lb woman will. They build their stuff to be light weight, powerful and vibration resistant equipment. Structurally speaking, their stuff is very easy to use by most all different size people. Anyone who has used Snap-On's newest power tools, either electric or air-powered, knows that they are light weight and very good on not rattling your back teeth out. In a high production environment, this is HUGE when it comes to preventing such dreaded afflictions like Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and Tendonitis. Snap-On's cordless electric power tools are also Very "Torque" as they simply put, have a lot of power, generally speaking. Some of thier air tools have a lot to be desired but we are not here to talk about them right now. I have found, generally speaking, that Snap-On's air powered tools, with a few exceptions, have lower than desired torque output I am sure that after some more research, I will find out why they do this and do another long winded guide.
POUNDINGOUTAGRESSIONTURNEDINTOOBSESSIONCANNOTKILL...THE BATTERY (thanks Metallica)
With all of that out of the way, lets get to the meat of the discussion. What sets a cordless power tool apart form its brothers is the battery system. here is some useful information on batteries that you need to keep in mind if your a big cordless tool user. We will briefly cover common cordless tool battery systems like Nickel-Cadmium (NiCD), Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), and Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries and charging systems. These are the most common battery systems we see on cordless power tools these days. Knowing the difference can really affect how you chose your tools as each system has unique characteristics that impact how you will be able to use them. Snap-On uses Nickel-Cadmium and Lithium Ion most commonly so I will stick to those.
Nickel-Cadmium (Nicad) (NiCD)
Nickel-Cadmium batteries make up the majority of Snap-On's tool line. NiCD batteries have good low temperature performance, long life, good reliability and low maintenance requirements, but unfortunately, the NiCD battery has a specific energy tha is only slightly better than an old fashioned Lead-Acid battery used in automobile applications. For you tree huggers who want "Green alternatives," They are also loaded with toxic Cadmium. Now seeing as how most of Snap-On's tools use NiCD batteries, I am going to focus here on what the functional problems are with NiCD batteries on tools that use A LOT of current over extended periods. Tools like impact guns and reciprocating saws are often candidates for severe duty applications. NiCD batteries tend to get VERY hot when they are in continuous use. Most battery systems have thermo-protection circuitry built in, but one big problem is that Snap-On's NiCD battery system will not charge when it gets too hot. We put a fully charged 18 volt NiCD battery on Snap-On's reciprocating saw, and used it to cut the roof and firewall out of a 1994 Ford Tempo. It took us about 15 minutes to totally kill the brand new battery that started with a full charge. We slid it onto the battery charger, and needless to say, was very bummed out to find that the battery had reached a temperature of 120 degrees F and the charger wouldn't charge it. It took over an hour for the battery to cool down enough to charge the battery. Problem was, the saw only came with one battery. This took the tool out of commission for over two hours as we had to wait for it to cool down, than charge up. Long term continuous overcharging of NiCD batteries induces an artificial drop in capacity resembling battery "memory." Long term overcharging can also, over time, reduce the overall life of the cell. Now if you don't run the NiCD battery from full charge to totally dead before charging it, you can set up a vicious cycle of battery memory. If you, for instance, pull the battery off with half the charge still there, the battery will than start to degrade and die at that half charge cycle if you do this often. The good news is that a few nice deep discharge cycles will usually get the NiCD cell back on its feet, but overall, the battery packs that Snap-On uses do not seem to like fast and extreme discharge. For those of you who are buying to use your cordless power tools for brief periods of time like an occasional engine tear-down or tire rotation will not notice the design flaws with NiCD batteries in high current capacity cordless power tools like impact guns and reciprocating saws. If your going to use your power drill, however, to drive drywall screws for 10 hours a day 6 days a week, you better have a lot of NiCD battery packs laying around to switch to while the spent units cool down and can be recharged. This will be a big factor if your going to use your Snap-On reciprocating saw to do demolition work as we found that the NiCD battery, simply put, SUCKED when we needed this thing to perform over long periods of time in a high draw situation like cutting up cars for custom projects and disposal of donated vehicles. NiCD battery packs that Snap-On uses wont charge if you leave them out in the cold below 40 degrees until they warm up so keep them inside and don't leave them out in the garage all winter.
The other issue is the cost of replacement batteries from Snap-On. Generally speaking, to buy them from Snap-On is cost prohibitive to the point where most people sell the tool when battery life starts to flounder at a incredible loss. There is an alternative for us though, there is a GREAT battery re-builders on Ebay called Voltman batteries. They can re-build your battery for fraction of what it costs to replace it and it will actually come back to you better than the original product. I love these guys because they are a family owned organization in Mansfield Ohio who do a quality product for a great price. They also have a GREAT video on their home page that shows how they re-build batteries. Its Pretty frigging funny too!
Snap-On is now switching to Lithium Ion battery systems on their 18 volt cordless 1/2 drive impact gun. Now Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) is a whole different deal than Ni-CD. Li-Ion battery first hit the scene as a primary cell (non-rechargeable) as it has long life and can withstand extreme high discharge situations like in digital cameras. Problem was, they were VERY expensive as is most new technology. Li-Ion batteries have a very specific energy and good high-temperature performance as well as low self-discharge. Li-Ion batteries do not seem to suffer from the issue of battery memory seen in NiCD batteries and best of all, the typical Li-Ion battery cell has over 3 volts per cell making it a powerful item in a small package. Now that they are becoming very common place in industry, the cost is coming way down and now, we see a lot of secondary (rechargeable) Li-Ion batteries in the marketplace. You can thank the laptop computer industry pushing for greater capacity and lower price, we now have Li-Ion all over the spectrum of consumer cordless products.
The only real noteworthy problems with Li-Ion batteries revolve around things like cost (their frigging expensive) and a little known issue known as "thermal runaway." This means that the more you use it, the hotter it gets, than the heat itself causes the battery to get hotter even though its not being loaded. In this case the battery eventually explodes or melts down like what happened about 10 years ago with Dell computer batteries burning users because the batteries simply went into meltdown mode. The other issue with Li-Ion batteries is that they need a pressure relief system to prevent explosion from thermal runaway. Heat causes Li-Ion battery material to degrade much quicker than many other types of battery materials which is why battery cooling is extremely important for these types of battery systems. The biggest single problem with Li-Ion batteries is that if you completely discharge the thing, you will wreck it rendering it useless and un-chargeable. This is why most Li-Ion battery packs come with a charge indicator to prevent its user from completely depleting the battery and ruining it. Finally, Li-Ion batteries have whats called a "calender life." This means that the day its made, the battery is on a very finite life cycle no matter how well you maintain it. Sure, all batteries eventually die, but you can get many years of life from a NiCD battery if you charge and discharge it properly. No matter how well you take care of your Li-Ion battery two to three years after its manufactured, its going to be ready for the scrap heap weather you use it a lot or not.
One other problem I have noticed now that I have had these batteries in service for some time is that they do not like to be left on the charger longer than their maximum charge period. More than once, I have left an 18 volt Snap-On LiIon battery on the charger overnight only to come back to find that it was reined. I would put the battery into the device and every time this has happened, the same thing has occurred:
Slide the battery in
Activate the item and it will start for a quick second and abruptly shut off.
If you hold the trigger down, it will activate for a split second, than shut down, than activate for a split second, and shut down again. It will continue to do this over and over again. The battery charge indicator indicates a full battery, yet the battery acts as though it is dead.
SOME PROBLEMS WITH SNAP-ON Li-ION BATTERIES - "Flickering" Operation
The Snap-On Lithium battery contains two circuit boards, a mother board and a separate board that operates the fuel leel gauge. Both of these boards have their own firmware programing. Some software conflicts between the two boards caused this "flickering" effect exhibited by these tools. Once these signals become conflicted, the battery software locks the battery up and this peculiar "flickering" condition takes place.
The fix is a simple upgrade to the firmware that is currently only being done at the factory, not in the field. The good news is that if you flip your battery over, you can look at the serial number and identify the date of manufacturer. The first two numbers is the year, and the 3rd and 4th number express what week of the year the battery was manufactured. For instance, my S/N is 11490191 means that my battery was made in 2011 and in the 49th week of 2011.
The batteries that were made before the 13th week of 2011 (first four digits are 1112 or older) were affected by the firmware lock up problem. The resolution is simply to return the battery and get a new one in exchange. Just make sure that the battery your getting has a manufacture date AFTER the 12th week (March) of 2011.
Charging your Snap-On Lithium Ion Batteries:
Your Snap-On Lithium-Ion batteries are "smart" batteries. Now that the software conflicts have been resolved, there is a couple things you need to know about these great batteries!
When you let them sit for extended periods of time, the will go into a "sleep mode" to preserve the life of the battery. The battery may be a touch sluggish when you fire it up and the battery "wakes up" but this is 100% normal!
You can let either the Li-Ion battery or the Ni-Cd battery sit on the charger as long as you like, it will NOT HURT THE BATTERY!
You CAN leave your battery in the car or in the garage in temperatures as low as -4 degree Celsius without any battery problems. Below -4 Celsius, the battery performance will not be as good as the electrons will slow down. The battery, however, will NOT be damaged. High Heat (above 140 degrees) WILL hurt this battery!
Sioux, THE MOTOR MASTER~!
With the battery issue out of the way, we can now take a minute and talk about the other aspects of Snap-On's cordless power tools.......THEIR GREAT! They are very well constructed, ergonomically designed and generally speaking, very durable! Many of their units, however, still use electric motors with brushes so your always going to get the issues of simple wear down, but generally speaking, they are very solidly built units with permanent magnet electric motors that are efficient, light weight, are energy efficient and powerful. The cordless power tools I have used were well balanced and very torque. Sure, there is a lot of plastic on these things, but the most impact sensitive areas are made of light weight magnesium or aluminum.
The Snap-On cordless power tools are really coming a long way with features that the technician really loves.
The 14.4 volt Snap-On impact gun is without a doubt my favorite! In addition to having un-Godly torque, when you release the trigger, it has a brake on the anvil. It stops rotating immediately! Unlike the 18 volt impact that has good torque, but "freewheel" to a halt, this thing gives you TOTAL control of your tool. To an engine builder or under dash technician, this is a HUGE feature! It also has a great little LED light to light up the work area.
Recently, Snap-On came out with a 7.2 volt mini-impact that runs on the same battery as the small screw guns that have been on the market for a long time. This thing is just unbelievable for under dash and light engine work.
The 7.2 volt screw guns now have an adjustable torque feature on the nose that is a big plus as it can dial back the tightening torque of the tool. This set usually comes with a nice LED flashlight which, like all of Snap-On's LED lights, is so bright, you could use it to X-Ray your own hand!
Personally, I don't care much for Snap-On's 18 volt 1/2 drive Impact guns. They are very heavy, bulky, and expensive. The anvil freewheel to a halt making it not very good for sensitive work like engine building. They really hit a home run when they re-designed the 3/8 drive unit, lets hope they take the lead from its popularity and reasonable price and design a better balanced unit like that out of the old clunky 1/2 drive design.
WE LIVE IN A DAY OF CHANGE - know if change is working in YOUR FAVOR of if your getting someone else s old technology
A couple things to look for when buying Snap-On power tools is weather the item your buying is comparable with Li-Ion batteries or not. Lots of the older 18 volt tools are designed only for NiCD batteries. All of the new 18 volt stuff will accommodate either NiCD or Li-Ion. How can you tell the difference? Simple, if the battery charger is black, it will only work with NiCD batteries, if its red, it will do both NiCD or Li-Ion. You can also look at the slide on battery mounting platform on the tool. If it it has a green plastic gate on it vs. the Red plastic gate you can use a Li-Ion battery pack with it AND also still use a NiCD battery.
Also, you can use a slip on 14.4 volt battery from, oh say, a 3/8 drive electric impact on a 18 volt product, but you cant use the 18 volt battery on the 14.4 volt product for obvious reasons. This is kind of cool if you own a 14.4 volt product and one of Snap-On's 18 volt battery products with only one battery craps out and overheats, you can keep going with the 14.4 volt battery.
Now the new 1/2" drive impact that comes with the Li-Ion battery is not much more than the NiCD product, BUT with one major difference, it only comes with ONE BATTERY. All the 1/2 drive impacts with NiCD batteries come with 2 batteries. Also, the Snap-On reciprocating saw, as I mentioned earlier, only comes with one battery even though its catalog picture clearly shows two. Pretty crappy! Snap-On has no plans as of yet to switch the reciprocating saw to a Li-Ion battery, but I am not going to wait, I ordered a second Li-Ion battery. I will keep you posted on how it works out when I get it. Even though the Reciprocating saw uses a NiCD battery, and Snap-On still sells the NiCD equipped 1/2 drive impact, they ALL come with the duel functioning (either NiCD or Li-Ion) battery charger.
Remember that lots of people are selling dead Snap-On batteries as "cores" because they can be rebuilt to better than new status. This is a very good alternative if you have access to a reliable re builders like Voltman batteries of Mansfield Ohio who can re-build your old and re-cycle your new. Sure they are a bunch of goofy kids, but hey, they build a great product! It sure beats the hell out of buying new batteries from Snap-On for a ton of money!
Keep this in mind as you see the flood of 18 volt NiCD batteries and black battery chargers flood Ebay from people who have discovered Li-Ion alternatives and are dumping the old NiCD stuff. Im not saying the NiCD stuff is no good, just know the difference so you can choose your battery system with confidence.
If your a serious tool buyer and user and have a little time to do research, check out siouxtools.com and get the whole story on Snap-Ons cordless power tools. Please feel free to Email me with experiences you have had with Snap-On's cordless power tools and I may add them to this guide.