Black + Decker Manufacturing Co. (now Stanley Black + Decker) introduced the first cordless electric drill in 1961, but it’s only within the past 20 to 30 years that cordless tools have become an industry standard.

The core benefits of a cordless power tool—maneuverability and portability—have always been clear, but they often fell short of the power and performance of corded tools. However, with advancements made in recent years, it’s now possible for cordless tools to match the corded power of an expanding catalog of tool types.

“Leaps forward in motors and tool electronics ... have pushed the industry to a point few would have considered possible 10 years ago,” says Tyson Apfelbeck, group project manager at Milwaukee Tool, an early adopter of lithium-ion batteries in tools with the launch of its V28 line in 2005. Lithium-ion batteries have supplanted nickel-cadmium as standard, and the advent of the brushless motor has improved the power and operating efficiency of a range of tools, corded and cordless. While performance varies based on the tool and battery, many of the most powerful tools, such as angle grinders and miter saws, are still primarily offered with cords.

“Corded power and consistency is still unbeatable with a battery, even though that gap is narrowing,” says Mark Clement, a residential contractor and editor in chief of Tools of the Trade, BUILDER’s sister publication. “It was just a few years ago a cordless table saw was the tool equivalent of a concept car—a drawing on a computer screen. And hoseless nailers were just this side of gimmicky on most pro jobsites. They couldn’t keep up, they were too big, they were expensive to operate. Now, full-tilt framers are using them more and more.”

We’ve asked industry manufacturers and professionals to provide their thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of corded and cordless tools as they stand today. Note that pneumatic tools are considered corded for the purpose of this article.

Product Mix Breakdown

The first widely used cordless power tool in the U.S. was Makita’s 9.6 volt cordless drill/driver, which came on the market in the early 1980s. (“Everybody had one of these,” recalls Clement. “There are people who still have them.”) Today, cordless tool platforms are widely available and promoted. Of the tool manufacturers that contributed to this article, all five promote cordless tools on the home page of their website, while only Bosch and Metabo HPT (formerly Hitachi) promote corded tools.

In the past five years, the power tool product mix for WORX/Rockwell Tools has moved from about 50% corded, 50% cordless up to nearly 80% cordless. At Bosch, its newest products are focused on cordless, while certain high-powered tools have not made the transition to cordless yet. A majority of DeWalt’s power tools are now cordless, and the company anticipates accelerating its conversion to cordless tools.

Milwaukee Tool is fully focused on pursuing the cordless jobsite, according to Apfelbeck, and it will discontinue corded products if demand for a cordless edition outperforms the corded tool.

Metabo HPT has taken a different route for its cordless tool conversion process with the MultiVolt hybrid tool platform. MultiVolt users can choose to power their tools with either a 36V lithium-ion battery or AC adapter. Its existing tool catalog, excluding pneumatic tools, compressors, and accessories, is about 60% corded and 40% cordless.

Runtime/Battery Life

Corded: With a continuous power supply, a corded tool can operate for as long as needed. “The only advantage of a corded solution is unlimited runtime. At present, some tools get better performance with a cord and if a large tool is close to an outlet, it’s easier working without a battery,” says Mats Stellnert, director of product marketing at Bosch Power Tools.

Cordless: Initially, battery life was a concern. Clement says nickel-cadmium batteries were best for “on-off” activity, such as drilling. High-draw activities, like ripping plywood, would create heat and drain the batteries, and the tool would lose speed and power.

Today’s lithium-ion battery runtimes vary based on the manufacturer, battery model, and power demands of a given tool, but generally last for several amp-hours (Ah). “In the past, users would have a large quantity of batteries to swap out with tools. Now, the end user can achieve the same, if not better, application completion with fewer batteries,” says Ward Smith, director of product marketing for DeWalt.

Operating Power

Corded: Some tools are typically sold as corded products due to their operating demands. “For most users, tools used for heavy applications that require a lot of power still need to be corded: Bench tools, like miter saws, metal cutoff saws, and handheld tools for concrete and metal-working, drilling very large holes or holes in tough material such as hardened or stainless steel,” says Jeanne White, senior product manager for WORX/Rockwell.

Cordless: Much like runtime, today’s lithium-ion battery power levels vary based on model and maker. This article’s contributors have battery platforms that range from 12V to 36V. Advances in cordless tool operating power have also been enabled by improvements to the hardware. “Brushless motors and high-capacity batteries have only breached the surface of what is possible in transforming a jobsite from corded to cordless,” says Smith.

However, if a cordless tool is pushed too hard, it may stall in order to protect the battery. “A battery doesn’t make a tool better just because it’s on board,” Clement says. “It makes the tools better when it adds to [the tool’s] overall performance.”


Corded: Corded tools require a continuous power supply to operate. On a jobsite, this will often mean an external generator. The tools themselves are also often heavy and cumbersome, according to White, which may be an issue with certain jobs, and cords can also pose a danger. “For many jobsites, power cords and extension cords can be tripping hazards, and if the power cord were to be cut or frayed, that power tool must be removed from jobsite for repair or replacement,” Smith says.

Cordless: Cordless tools are typically smaller and lighter than their corded counterparts, White says, which is helpful for use on ladders, in tight spaces, or when working overhead. Many firms, including Makita and DeWalt, are producing “compact” or “sub-compact” editions of some cordless power tools to provide greater maneuverability.

Future Innovations

In many cases, cordless tools are fairly new, and fairly expensive. “It costs a lot of money to redesign a tool,” Clement says. “The bigger the tool—think miter saw and table saw—the more technology that has to go into the batteries.” As such, if a contractor has a corded version of a tool that is still within its usable life, they likely will not replace it with a cordless version ahead of its time.

Among manufacturers, there’s an agreement that the industry is moving toward cordless power tools in all applications. Greater tool power, longer battery lives, and faster charging platforms at a price point accessible to contractors are priorities for all industry players.

“Cordless technology will continue to rapidly push the potential in categories never previously thought of as viable cordless options,” Apfelbeck says.

As this progression toward the cordless jobsite moves forward, manufacturers’ cordless tools will continue to offer more powerful motors and other technology.

“Where we are today was just about unthinkable five years ago,” says Clement. “Eventually I think the battery technology will be so good, and the scale will be so huge, that cost will be driven out of the equation. And corded tools will eventually disappear, but that day is still a ways off.”

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