Going Cordless

A while ago, I purchased a DeWalt random orbital sander on-line. It had a power cord like a length of mangled rebar. Even in the 40° C (104° F) heat of summer, the cord was so stiff that it interfered with the sander’s operation.

I contacted DeWalt about the likelihood of similar complaints and the possibility of an upgraded cord, but their response was a curt “If you’re not happy with the tool, return it to the retailer for a refund”! The retailer wasn’t at all sympathetic either, so in disgust, I put the sander at the back of a drawer and out of mind.

In my current little home workshop, I don’t have the luxury of the unlimited shelving I once had during my working career and so I must be ever vigilant of every square inch of storage. Corded powertools can be disorderly items to store, so where possible, I have purchased cordless tools such as… well, a drill so far, but ultimately, the torque and limitless power of mains electricity is desirable for the operation of big grunty tools such as belt sanders and circular saws etc.

Something I was working on recently necessitated frequent, alternate use of several corded power tools and I realised I detested the lot of them! I decided to do something about it and so I took a pair of side cutters and cut the cords off all the tools (after unplugging them all first – naturally). I felt much better for it.

Of course, I could no longer use the tools from that point, but I promptly resolved the problem: I purchased a number of user-wireable IEC-14C in-line connectors and 0.5m IEC extension cables with moulded connectors (at $4.25, the extension cables were only 26 cents more than the bare in-line connectors).

IEC-14C in-line connector.

IEC-14C extension cable.

IEC connectors are commonly found on an assortment of electrical appliances including computers, printers, sound equipment and electric kettles (although the kettle connectors have a higher heat rating and are only one-way interchangeable). IEC-C13 (female) and IEC-C14 (male) connectors are rated at 10 amps (heavier ratings are available; C19 and C20 connectors are the same size, but rated at 16 amps for example). C17 and C18 are identical to the C13 and C14 connectors, but lack the ground pin.

I popped the covers off the power tools to establish which of them were easily rewireable and which were soldered nightmares. I dug out the DeWalt ROS again and as its cord was all soldered up with other connections and little things that looked like bits of transistor radio, I left it well alone and wired one of the in-line C14 connectors to what remained of the original cable.

C14 in-line connector wired onto the back of the resurrected ROS.

The Hitachi belt sander was a much simpler affair internally, so I took one of the short IEC extension cables, cut off and discarded the female connector, stripped the wires, crimped pre-insulated ring terminals onto the wires and screwed them to their respective connections in the sander’s junction block. The job is electrically sound, secure and looks ‘factory’.

The moulded C14 end of an IEC extension cable wired into the belt sander.

Now my power tools live neatly side-by-side on a shelf without the customary entanglement of cords. I’m even contemplating fitting chassis-mount C14 inlets to some of my machinery which I roll around in- and outside the shed.

I also purchased a variety of different length IEC power leads; a 2 metre (6′ 6″) lead for bench work, a 3 metre (10′) lead for anywhere else within the shed and a 5 metre (16′) lead for when I’m working outdoors.

I’ve used this very amenable system of connection for a while now and it’s revolutionised my power woodworking! The connectors are a good firm fit, so there haven’t been any incidences of a power lead pulling out of any of the C14 connectors. However, should the C14s ever loosen up for some reason, there is a unique solution: A locking C13 power lead.

Locking C13 power lead.

The locking C13 connector has a small button, which, when slid forwards, operates a small internal clutch (just like the stack of clutches in pipe cramp heads) that firmly grips the centre (ground) pin inside the C14 connector. I don’t feel the need for one (though they’re no more expensive than normal power leads); I just offer the information for what it is.

I’m aware Festool have introduced their ‘plug it’ power cords on a number of their power tools, but I hope the day will come when manufacturers universally incorporate IEC inlets (or a similarly compact system) into their power tools.

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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4 Responses to Going Cordless

  1. Tico Vogt says:

    Great job. How about a shot of your tools on the shelf as you describe them?
    My great hope is that there will be huge breakthroughs in battery and solar technologies. Imagine having your own little solar charging system in the yard and batteries powerful enough to handle the tasks of sawing, sanding, and routing.

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      Thanks Tico. My tools aren’t anything out of the ordinary, in fact I’m sure they’re not as good as most people’s.

      I agree, batteries and solar cells are improving in leaps and bounds. In my own little future fantasy world, power will be transmitted through the air like radio waves, thereby doing away with the need for batteries alltogether!

      Like

  2. Jeremy Kriewaldt (jmk89) says:

    Your blog inspired me to start the task of replacing the cords on my power tools with IEC plugs tonight. One down and several to go. Thanks for the post.

    Like

  3. Another great idea!

    This is something I’ve contemplated doing to my own tools but, it’s always reassuring to see someone else do it first (and, to know that it all still works! ;-) ).

    It is surprising that more companies haven’t already begun to follow Festool’s lead (!!) – surely, they can’t have a patent on this as well?!

    There’s only one downside I can think of – you may have some trouble selling these tools on (unless you’ve kept the leads?). Or, at least, getting good value from any sale – not that many woodworkers get in to the habit of selling tools, anyway! ;-)

    Olly.

    Like

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