Power Tool Maintenance: What you need to know

The average DIY enthusiast buys tools, breaks them and buys more. Most consumer grade tools are not designed to be maintained because the companies would rather you sent them for repairs or bought new ones so they can continue to make money. However, proper maintenance can really extend the life of your tools and can be an important safety factor. Your tools should have a schedule of maintenance to keep them in their best condition.
Good maintenance starts before you put the tool away. Using tools correctly and with the right adapters will keep them working well.

What needs maintenance?

Many tools these days can’t be worked on by the consumer, but there’s still a basic level of maintenance that can be done to keep your tools working and you safe. The most common tools that need maintenance are electric drills, sanders, saws (especially jig saws), chain saws, and most power garden tools too. You’ll need a few basic things to do maintenance including grease, a toothbrush, cleaning cloth, vacuum, and tools for sharpening edges like a grinder and whetstone or honing system.
Here’s a rough schedule of when you should do your tool maintenance:

Every Use:

Clean and brush off debris
Check cords and replace as necessary (including extension cables)
Tighten screws
Test safety features
Replace worn or broken parts
Check the alignment of saws
Check hoses for rot
Charge the battery

Monthly:

Clean and replace filters
Test batteries and chargers

Once a Year:

Lubricate moving parts
File any sharp edges or nicks in shoe plates
Flatten shoes that are bent out of shape
Consider upgrading worn tools

Cleaning

Start by cleaning them after every use. Power tools should never be put away dirty as this encourages rust, corrosion and debris to build up. A toothbrush and a cloth is a bare minimum but if you’ve been working with an especially dusty project blow out the air vents using an air compressor or a can of air so that this doesn’t gum up the inner mechanism. Just doing this will often help tools run cooler and cleaner for longer. While you’re cleaning, inspect the tool for any cracks or breaks in the casing and frays in the cabling. If your cables are frayed they will need to be replaced. While you’re doing this you can also tighten screws and check any safety features like the emergency stop breaks are working.

Lubrication

Any tool that has moving metal parts uses some sort of grease or lubrication to stop friction causing heat and damaging the internal mechanism. Make sure you consult your manual to know if your tools uses oil or grease for lubrication as this will make a huge difference. It’s also important to check if your tool needs a specific brand of lubricant as changing the additives can also damage the mechanism. Clean out old grease and debris before adding more.

Brushes and Contacts

Most motors have two contacts inside that help conduct electricity within the spinning armature of the motor. Over time these brushes will wear out and the motor will eventually stop working as they no longer have enough contact to pass an electrical charge. When you start seeing small arcs inside the housing it’s time to replace them as that is the electricity desperately trying to reach the brushes. There’s usually two small brush cover housings on the side of the casing, simply turn and slide those out, brush them clean and replace the brush heads with the same brand and type then replace. You may want to vacuum the cap and the area around the brush hole to remove any debris build up, do not blow it inside as the debris can get caught inside the motor.

Sharpening or Replacing

Most woodworking tools need to be sharp to do their job right but it can also be a safety hazard and affect the accuracy of your work. Many bits will simply need to be replaced as they cannot be sharpened or it’s simply cheaper to buy new. Carbide and steel often take years to wear down but knowing you don’t need to replace them can make you complacent so that you don’t check them until they break. Grinders are ideal for sharpening tools and you can also get a simple honing system for precision edges. If you use a lot of tools that require sharpening consider investing in a special sharpening station. While you’re here double check the alignment of any saws that may have been bent with heavy use or over time.

Replace Batteries

Always keep your batteries for cordless tools charged, most newer batteries you don’t have to worry about battery memory shortening their life so it’s okay to leave them on the charger until you next use them. Avoid running the battery down completely since the most power is in the first 50% so swap out when you get to halfway and if your battery performance starts to flag it may be time to replace them. Most power tool batteries last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years depending on use. If you know you won’t be using the battery much try and turn it on and run it for a few minutes every month to keep the battery working, a battery that isn’t used will eventually stop working.

Proper Storage

While storage doesn’t seem like it should be part of maintenance it can make a huge difference to how much maintenance you need to perform and make your job easier by being able to find the right tools. Areas should be dry and clean, and if you’re cleaning your tools don’t forget to clean the work area too. Power tools should not be stored below zero degrees as this can affect the battery and it can also cause condensation. You’ll want to avoid moisture or damp in the tool area as this can cause rust which weakens them and shortens their lifespan. If your garage or tool shed is not heated bring the batteries and tools inside in the winter.

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