Batteries 101

By now everyone has heard of Lithium-Ion batteries, but there still seems to be plenty of confusion in the market. Is Lithium-Ion really better than the Ni-Cad and Ni-MH batteries we have been using for the last 20+ years? Let me assure you that Lithium-Ion batteries are engineered with far superior technology. But in order to appreciate the extent of this technology, you will need to forget some of what you’ve already learned about batteries.

To start, let’s back up. Ni-Cad batteries were the technology of the 70’s and 80’s. These batteries provided adequate power, but due to their chemical composition they are heavier and bulkier and have a shorter overall cycle life over their lifetime. Much of this is attributed to the “memory” in Ni-Cad batteries. When a Ni-Cad battery is placed on a charger without being properly drained or removed from a charger without being properly charged, it creates a “memory.” This is essentially a point on the battery that when recharging in the future it will not surpass, eventually making the battery only capable of holding half a charge and sometimes less.

At this point it’s important to clarify proper Ni-Cad charging and use: a battery should never be completely drained since this can damage the cells. A battery should always be charged when you notice a decrease in performance. For example, if you have drilled 100 holes and they only take 2 or 3 seconds each, and then hole number 101 takes 4 or 5 seconds, that is clearly a decrease in performance and an indicator that it’s time to charge the battery. You should not continue to use it until it will not drill at all, and NEVER tape the trigger down to allow the tool to run until it cannot run any more. Furthermore, you should never charge a Ni-Cad battery while it is hot. After using it strenuously for several hours, a battery can heat up. Heat is the number one killer of batteries. Always allow the battery to cool before placing it on the charger. Finally, never pull a battery off the charger until it has completed the charging cycle. If you follow these simple steps your Ni-Cad batteries will last much longer.

Now for Lithium-Ion. Some of the basic battery principles still apply. Heat is a also an enemy of Lithium-Ion batteries, but an advanced charging system like Makita’s, for example, actually has a computer chip inside the battery and a built-in cooling fan inside the charger. Therefore, while other Ni-Cad batteries may take several hours to cool before they can be placed on the charger, but some, like the Makita 18V Lithium-Ion system actually starts cooling the battery immediately once it is placed on the charger with its built-in cooling fan. This allows Makita 18V Lithium-Ion batteries to boast the fastest recharge times in the entire power tool industry. The Makita 18V LXT battery (part # BL1830) will charge in 30 minutes and the 18V Compact battery (part # BL1815) charges in only 15 minutes. That is four times faster than traditional 18V Ni-Cad batteries.

Lithium-Ion batteries have some major advantages over the Ni-Cads of yester-year. They are much lighter than their older counterparts and much smaller too, yet they pack the same power. The new chemistry and technology in these batteries will now hold a charge for months and even years while sitting idle on a workshop shelf waiting for their next use, instead of depleting their charge, so you can be confident when you are ready to work, your tool is too. Ni-Cads have a slow drop in power when reaching the end of their charge, sometimes giving the appearance of having a charge, only to get to the top of a ladder and realize that there was nothing left. The Lithium Ion batteries of today hold essentially 100% performance through the entire charge and then quit completely when they run out. This leaves no question of whether the battery is ready to be charged, or if you should try to run a few more screws.

Lithium-Ion batteries do not have “memory,” but you should still follow these basic guidelines during use. Do not over-discharge the battery before recharging. This means that once you notice a decrease in performance, place it on the charger. While it will not hurt a Lithium-Ion battery to sit on the charger until it is time to use it, it is not required to do this to have a charge when you are ready like you probably experienced with your older Ni-Cads. Once you have charged the battery, you can be sure it will be ready to go when you are, so remove it from the charger and be confident in the superior technology you have purchased.

I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion over the new battery chemistry and technology, but if you still have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

My Door and Window Trim, How-To

In my Quickie Dining Room Makeover post, we removed the boring plain jane casing from the door and windows and built up our own stylish trim using some very inexpensive and readily available building materials.

After removing the casing, check the existing jambs for any nails that may be left. This is also a good time to scrape the old caulk, and do any sanding required to make the jambs look good and fresh again. Next, take a tri-square, speed square, or ruler and mark 1/4″ back from the opening on the jambs so you will know where to nail your new trim boards and have a uniform reveal around the jamb.

For your door trim, measure from your finished floor up to the mark you just made on the header jamb.  Cut a 1X4 to this length and nail on your marks making sure the reveal going up the jamb is uniform and that the board is 1/4″ above the bottom of the top jamb. Repeat this process on the other leg.  This completes both sides of the door. Now to build the top.

Measure across the door from the outside of one trim leg to the outside of the other.  Cut a 1X6 to this length. Now add 1 inch to this measurement  and cut a piece of lath (the material used to make lattice) to that length. Evenly spacing the lathe so that there is 1/2″ past the 1X6 on both sides, nail it to the bottom of the 1X6. You can now put this assembled piece on top of the 2 trim legs installed earlier.

The final step is a personal one. I chose to use ‘Bed Molding‘ a traditional very small type of crown molding.  Many people will nail a 1X2 on the top and keep the look simple with straight lines. I like the extra elements and small curves of the bed molding, so I cut a piece to the length of the 1X6 with outside miters on each end. Then added a return piece on each side, cut to 3/4″ length and flat on one side and an outside corner miter on the other. This step may sound a bit complicated at first, but really it is not. If you are intimidated by cutting crown, just add a 1X2 to the top of your casing and place a straight piece of cove molding under it. It will look great!

This project can be done without the use of any power tools, but having a few will make the job much faster. A miter saw will make fast, precise cuts and can be purchase brand new for under $130, and a compressor and trim nailer set will make your nailing clean and fast

Quickie Dining Room Makeover

Last weekend we decided to do a little makeover to the dining room. When we moved in, the walls were light brown over brown, with a terrible chair rail, no window treatments, and carpet on the floors. During the Kitchen Renovation we removed the carpet and added hardwoods, and also repainted, but the room was still dark and drab. We decided to lighten up the walls, install a new higher chair rail, and add some recessed boxes below the rail. We painted every thing below the rail a bright white and painted the top of the walls a neutral gray. Below are a couple before and after pictures.

Kitchen Renovation

My wife and I just finished a small renovation in our kitchen. It wasn’t overly intensive, but it definitely made a huge difference in the look and feel of the space. Our kitchen was a small rectangle crammed between our dining room and the garage. It was a very small with limited storage and felt dark and cramped due to a dingy stained pine floor and stained pine cabinets. We decided to push our entry door from the garage out into the garage about 3 feet to open the space and make the kitchen into an “L” shape and use the new space to build a pantry. We also added a side panel at the refrigerator to allow us to pull the upper cabinet over the fridge out to the front of it for better access and giving that elevation better definition. Finally we replaced the flooring throughout the kitchen, living, and dining rooms with a light colored American cherry laminate, replaced the faucet, replaced the door pulls, and finally replaced the blinds.

The biggest hiccup in the plan was the fact that the wall we moved was load bearing. I didn’t want to have a header protruding into the kitchen since I felt that would reduce the impact of opening the room. I decided to solve this problem by putting a post on either site of the new opening, installing a double lam beam above the ceiling by cutting out the ceiling joists, the reattaching them with joist hangers to the new beam. After this was done, I removed the wall from underneath the new beam and the ceiling did not fall!

After the pantry was built, the cabinets were modified, the ceiling was re-supported, and the flooring was installed, we painted the cabinets and doors and installed the new pulls to complete the renovation, giving the kitchen a more open and modern look and feel.

BEFORE___________________________________________ AFTER

More photos here:

Total Cost of the Renovation: $2,300

Total time: 5 weekends

Tools used: All of them!

Bosch table saw 4100-09, Makita Miter Saw(LS1016l), Milwaukee Sawzall(6538-21), Porter Cable Random Orbital Sander(343K), Porter Cable Router(690LR), Makita Drill / Driver(BDF452HW) , Porter Cable compressor and guns (PC3PAK), Milwaukee Circular Saw (6391-21), Bosch Jig Saw(1587AVSK), RotoZip Spiral Saw (RZ2000-52-RT)