Since brushless power tools entered the market the older style brushed tools have fallen somewhat out of favour.
It’s easy to see why. The new brushless motors generally offer more power with less battery draw than their brushed equivalents, which is a win-win for most users.
However, this does come at a price premium, which begs the question: should you buy a brushed or brushless tool? The answer depends on a few factors.
Firstly, let’s examine the differences between the two motor types. Brushed motors employ carbon brushes, which are essentially small carbon blocks that wear down over time. Once they wear all the way down they must be replaced. For most electric motors in power tools, the brushes are the only part that really wears because of use.
The good news is, they last a long time unless you flog your tool for hours on end every day. A tradesman using a brushed circular saw heavily might burn out their brushes within a year. The same tool being used occasionally for home use may not require replace the brushes for over a decade.
The good news is that even if your brushes do require replacement they are usually pretty cheap, in the $15-$30 range for a new pair. Usually if a brushed tool stops working the brushes are a likely culprit.
On the other hand, brushless motors are a new design that employs a larger coil and – as the name suggests – does not require any brushes. Effectively they are motors with no wearing parts, so they should last a long time before they burn out or fail as all electrical items eventually do.
The bad news is that if there is a problem you won’t have the cheap fix of new brushes, you may instead require a whole new motor. If the fault is not covered by warranty then the repair could cost as much as a replacement tool.
So there are pros and cons each way, but which do you choose?
For a professional tradesman the more expensive brushless tools are usually the better choice. The increased power and longer run time will also extend the lifespan of your batteries. For tools that are used on a daily basis then the extra expense can be justified.
In my case I have a mixed bag of brushed and brushless tools. My impact driver is brushed and this is one of the tools I use most around the house.
I am not a tradesman and I don’t use my tools for work. They are generally used on weekends for small jobs.
For me, the brushed impact driver does everything I need it to do. I’m not a roofer so I don’t drive hundreds of screws a day.
I recently performed minor repairs on a staircase with long timber screws. Some did not have pilot holes drilled first and the driver still had no problems. It was a fairly small job – just some pilot holes and large diameter screws – and I didn’t even use one bar of charge on a single 5.0aH battery. The battery life on brushed tools is still good, just not as good as the brushless.
So for occasional home use brushed tools are still perfectly fine. The advantages of brushless are outweighed by the cost if you won’t be using your tools heavily. It is also “old-school” technology that has been around for decades and has proven its reliability.
For example, my Dewalt impact driver has been serving me faithfully for a number of years now. A quick inspection showed the brushes are barely worn, so I can expect good use out of the tool for a long time to come.
Sometimes it gets a decent workout and has never let me down. Like many brushed tools it smells a little as they first warm up but the performance is faultless.
It is worth noting that most manufacturers are updating their ranges slowly and eventually there will be few if any brushed tools still available.
So, tradies of the world, by all means spend up and grab yourself brushless tools, especially the ones you use day in and day out. Or if money is no option, why not spoil yourself with the latest and greatest?
For everyone else, you’ll find brushed tools still serve your needs and will burn a smaller hole in your pocket. So if there is a brushed version still available for the tool you need, buy it with confidence.