A side effect of a sluggish housing market is less work for construction workers, and it also means those workers are less likely to invest in new tools, especially the pricey ones.

Tool dealers and distributors are worried about that. The Elm Grove, Wis.–based Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association—the dealers and distributors of power tools—posted an open letter on its Web site, hoping to assuage anxiety about the deteriorating housing market and slowing business activity.

“For many members,” president Rick Peterson’s letter began, “this will be a difficult year, to say the least. The impact of the housing downturn on the building trades may leave some members teetering on the edge. Some may have already laid off workers, pinched every penny, and prepared for the huge decrease in housing starts projected for 2008.”

Hoping to counter the malaise that has gripped the housing sector, tool manufacturers are trying to ignite sales of their products. Charlotte, N.C.–based PAM Fastening Technology, for example, is exploring other markets. “To compensate for the new-housing slowdown, PAM Fastening has tried to put more attention on the remodeling market and especially the decking market,” says marketing manager P.V. Archer.

That’s not to say that PAM has abandoned product innovation during this time, though. In fact, it is focusing product development time and money on motors that have historically shown themselves to be the most reliable and tools that are flexible enough to be used for multiple tasks.

Paslode, a division of Illinois Tool Works in Vernon Hills, Ill., “has made a concentrated effort to do jobsite visits all across the country to better understand what the end user needs to be more productive,” says Kevin Walsh, Paslode’s national marketing manager.

Still, manufacturers know the only thing that can guarantee a spur in tool sales is the return of a robust market. In the meantime, Archer says, smart operators and contractors should continue to do research and test tools “to find ways of improving their productivity and profitability when business returns.”

Self-improvement: The CF-325 cordless framing nailer has been significantly improved with productivity in mind. It has a newly designed nosepiece that allows better toe-nailing, and it has faster firing with no delays between drives. The unit also has a new fuel-loading system that eliminates pre-use snapping, twisting, and aligning. A fuel canister delivers at least 1,200 drives.  Paslode. 800-222-6990. www.paslode.com

Multitasker: Weighing only 5.1 pounds, the PC-12 cordless screw gun is a multipurpose tool that can be used for a variety of tasks, including drywall and numerous other applications, the company says. It has a two-piece design, accommodates 1- to 2-inch fasteners, and runs 600 to 900 screws per battery charge. PAM Fastening Technology. 704-394-3141. www.pamfast.com

Rotary club: This 7/8-inch compact rotary hammer offers power in a compact, lightweight package. Using an 18-volt lithium-ion battery, it can be used as a rotary hammer, drill only, or chipping tool. Measuring 12 inches long and weighing 8.8 pounds, it delivers 4,500 blows per minute. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. 800-729-3878. www.milwaukeetool.com

Drop the hammer: This 36-volt DC901KL hammerdrill/driver is engineered with a NANO phosphate lithium-ion battery that provides twice the number of recharges of traditional NiCad batteries. The battery technology also results in longer cycle life, lighter weight, and better performance, the company adds. It has an all-metal, 1/2-inch self-tightening chuck and a three-speed transmission. Dewalt. 800-433-9258. www.dewalt.com

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Milwaukee, WI, Charlotte, NC.