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Used But Not Used Up

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Some DIY Maintence will put Used tools back in Main Stream Operation:

Professional grade tools are made to withstand long hours of use and abuse. Many home shops have a number of Professional grad tools but for the most part most home shops have tools that are some what less in quality.

No matter what grade of tool you have none of them are made to be the "last tool you will have to buy".

What is nice is that for the most part the average grade as well as the professional grade tools are designed and built to be reparied which will translate into many years of service.

For the home shop items such as pads, electric cords, on/off switches and motor brushes can be easily replace and done so without a huge pinch in the pocketbook.

A lot of these repairs can be done without even taking the housing off the tool. So to extend your tools service life and get the most from it lets examine a few things you can do.

Always remember SAFETY FIRST:

The first thing before anything else is done is always remove the power source. Make sure that the tool is unpluged or if it is cordless remove the battery. Do this before you pick up any other tool.

If you are going to have to unassemble any part of the tool you need to remember that you will at some point have to put it back together.

When I start to take something apart I get a shallow cardboard box to lay the parts in so that I can keep them seperated and organized. This will make reassembly go much smoother. Watch for different lengths of screws and bolts. A perfectly good tool can be ruined because you try to put the wrong screw back in and strip out a thread.

Enemy #1

The number one power tool killer is HEAT. If you want your tools to last you have to keep them running cool. Any motor by its very nature has armature windings, gears, and bearings that turn at high rates of speed. A natural law says that with any action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So if while your power tool preforms a certain operation the opposite reaction is that it will create heat. If your tools are so hot that they are uncomfortable to hold in your bare hands then its time to do something or the end is near.

Remember a Cool Tool is a Good Tool.

So what is the best way to maintain a Cool Tool?

Keep it clean. Any tool expert will always tell you that keeping dust and dirt from gathering around the motor of a power tool is one of the most important factors of long tool life. All your tools that use universal motors have air intake slots so that air can be sucked through with a fan. A natural byproduct of woodworking is dust and that dust will get sucked into these intake slots. Besides these intake slots every tool has plenty of other nooks and crannies that will grab that dust and hold it.


If your shop is equiped with an air compressor then daily cleaning will be a snap. Make sure you know which slots on your tools are intake and which are exhaust then while it is running shoot a nice refreshing jet of compressed air into the intake side and watch that ole dirt and dust go flying.

If you are not so lucky as to have compressed air then the maintaince is a little more difficult but just as important. You will need to take the housing of the tool off and manually clean the air intakes with a clean brush. If dust and dirt are caked onto the fan blades it will be necessary to remove that also. Just make sure you use something that can not scratch the surface of the blade so as not to upset the blade balance.

Just this one simple maintance procedure will put many extra hours of use into your tools.

Motor Brush Replacement

I have a Craftsman 3/8" electric drill that was one of the first power tools that I ever could say was mine. My father gave it to me when I left home after graduating from High School. This drill and I have been through some times. I used it and to be honest abused it quite a bit.

Finally one day I need it for somthing I was working on and when I got it pluged up and pulled the trigger, nothing happened. I checked the power supply, and all of the other things like wiggling the cord with no results. Then I happened to grab the chuck and kind of twist it a little and since ole dummy me had the trigger squeezed all at once the thing took off and tried to take my fingers along with it.

This brings me to a simple DIY operation that if done on a regular basis will avoid those skin burns that I got.

Check and Change the motor burshes.

If your tool wont start up without a little help from you or you see a lot of sparks flying around the motor housing ( a little sparking is ok just not more than 1/4") or if that motor just doesn't sound or feel right it could be the brushes need replaced.

Now saying the brushes need replaced might have you going off looking for brushes, which you will never find. What you will really find that everyone calls brushes are small blocks of hard graphite with little springs attached to them.

Accessing the brushes is easier on some tools than others. You may have to remove the tool housing or you might be able to access the brush cover from outside the housing.

By whatever method you need to acces the brushes once you have removed the covers the tension on the small springs will be released and they will jump out at you. Gently pull on the springs and the brushes will slide out. The brush will be curved to fit the curvature of the rotating armature. In most instances if it is less than 1/4 inch from the bottom of the curve to the bottom of the brush it should be replaced. If your owners manual is available you may want to check to see of they have a different specification. You will want to remove and measure both brushes as they will not always wear at the same rate.

If new brushes are called for then you have a couple of options. The first and best is to replace with the manufacturer's replacements. If that is not an option then generic brushes are available and will do an adaquate job.

Many times new brush ends are flat but they will conform to the shape of your armature in a short time. "Seat" the new brushes by running your tool with no load for a while.

Brushes are not expensive and will make that old tool run smoother and last longer.

That old Craftsman drill that I told you about. I still have it and have replaced the brushes several times. By the way it was new in the 60's.

Bad Switch

Here is still another common problem with power tools and it is not that hard to fix.

With the newer tools that have variable speed triggers if they get worn you may go from variable to just one or even no speeds. Could be a defective switch.

Now I am sure that all of you are organized and when you get a new tool you safely file that owners manual away for future reference after you finish reading it. So you now need to go to the archives and find that manual for the particular tool you are having problems with and get the part number for the problem switch. Now you can easily order a new replacement from the manufacturer. Get the cost and compare and decide if it is worth replacing before you order.

If it is and you have that new switch in hand you will need to get inside the tool housing. Once in there get yourself a pencil and paper and do a simple drawing of the switch and wires. Note the position and colors and look at the new switch to make sure the wire colors and positions are the same. Remove one wire from the old switch and attach the comparable wire from the new switch. Do these one at a time until all of the wires have been attached. Position the switch and make sure it operates smoothly before reassembling the housing and hooking up the juice.

Cord Replacement

Along with replacing switches and in the same vein of maintance is power cord replacement.

It is a good idea to inspect your power cords on a regular basis and look for things like fraying, missing grounding pin or the cord pulling out of the tool housing. Any of these conditions can pose a shock hazard or short circuit your tool.

Again the best course of action is to obtain a replacement from the manufacturer.

One you have done that it's time to open up the housing again and compare the wires on the old cord with the ones on the new. If they are not the same before you continue you need to contact the manufacturer. If the "hot" and "neutral" wires are switched it is sometimes possible to damage a motor. This is know as reversing the polarity and it is better to check before you burn your motor up.

If everything is ok a simple way to keep track of everything is to cut the old cord off about 4 or 5 inches from the terminals. Slide the new cord into place. Remove one old wire and replace with the corrosponding new one and continue until all of the wires have been replace. Following a simple system like this will eliminate any chance of hooking up a wire in the wrong place.

In conclusion by doing some of these easy and inexpensive routine maintenance procedures you can take a good used tool and keep it from being used up.

Always keep safety in mind and have fun with your woodworking projects.

About The Author

Gene Miller is the Owner and Webmaster of His amateur woodworking experience started as a young teenager when he designed, built and raced several Soap Box Derby cars. Later he assisted his father in remodeling several rooms in their home. Through the years he has tackled many woodworking and Home Improvement projects. With each project he has added to his information of tools, tips and methods.

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