Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Cordless Tools for Camping

Power tools for camping?  Are you kidding? One of the reasons we go camping is to "get away from it all", so why would you want to take power tools camping?  Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose?  Well, perhaps, but we do still enjoy our modern conveniences.

Our modern technology has produced a plethora of  cordless tools that add convenience and make many tasks easier.  Some of these can be used in an RV, on a boat, or even when tent camping too.  Being cordless they can be used just about anywhere without the need for direct access to 120 volt power.    I've even seen them recommended for use on sailboats.  Of course, you will either need some way to recharge the batteries or bring along plenty of fully charged batteries to last more than a day or so.  Solar battery chargers are a convenient way to recharge many types of batteries.  If you can't find a solar charger for your cordless battery you might be able to use a solar panel and an inverter to power the factory 120 volt charger.  Even the little 150 watt inverters that plug into a cigarette lighter should be powerful enough to charge batteries for cordless tools.  If you use such a device, be sure to monitor the charge off the 12 volt battery (RV, boat, or vehicle battery) is it connected to.  Be especially careful when charging them off the vehicle starting battery except when the engine is running to avoid drawing down the battery and being unable to start your vehicle.  Considering the weight of cordless tools and the space they take up you will want to be sure they are worth bringing along.  If you seldom use them, you should probably leave them at home, especially the larger, heavier ones and even more especially if you have space or weight limitations.  Be sure to plug them in a day or so before each trip to make sure they will be ready to use when you need them.

Perhaps the most familiar and most popular cordless tool is a drill/driver.  These are available in a variety of sizes.  Size is usually defined by the largest drill bit the chuck will accept.  1/4', 3/8" and 1/2" units are typical.  Another measurement is power, which is usually determined by the battery voltage.  Common drill/driver batteries are 12, 18, and 20 volts.  As you might expect, the higher the voltage, the more powerful the drill.  Recent advances in battery technology have further enhanced the strength and performance of power cells for drill/drivers.  The older 12 and 18 volt batteries had a tendency to be heavy and to take a fairly long time to charge.  Modern 20 volt lithium-ion batteries are usually lighter, hold a charge longer, and charge faster.  Lithium-ion batteries also continue to deliver satisfactory performance right up until the charge is gone, whereas with older style batteries the power would slowly decrease as the battery lost charge.  Sometimes that comes as a surprise to the user when the device just suddenly stops working, as if a switch or connection had failed.  If your lithium-ion powered cordless device stops working, be sure to charge the battery before concluding it is worn out or has failed.

A drill/driver is a handy tool to have around an RV.  There are hundreds of screws that hold things together.  Sometimes they need routine tightening; sometimes you need to remove panels or disassemble components to do other work.  A drill/driver makes these tasks faster and easier.  If you routinely do your own maintenance you will quickly find a cordless drill/driver indispensable for things like installing, removing, and replacing things like roof vents and windows.  However, you probably won't be replacing vents and windows in camp very often but it can be invaluable at home!

Why not just use a 120 volt drill if I have 120 volt power available?  I suppose you could for some things, but the cords often get in the way or restrict access to where you can use them.  In addition, and perhaps more importantly, cordless drill/drivers have a clutch system built into the chuck that allows you to select a torque setting so you don't over-drive a screw and sink it below the surface.  A screw isn't going to hold a panel in place if it is driven all the way through the panel.  BTW, 120 volt drills are usually more powerful and will be faster if you're drilling a lot of holes, especially in heavy materials.

Another cordless tool I have found extremely useful around home and in my RV is a Worx brand cordless screwdriver.  It is only 4 volts, with a built in rechargable battery.  In place of a chuck it has shaft with a 1/4" hex socket.  It has a feature not found in larger drill/drivers, but is extremely useful:  the shaft can be extended to reach into places that the fat chuck on a regular drill/driver can't possible fit.  You can get a variety of  1/4" hex drive bits to fit the socket.  I even have a set of a few small drill bits with hex drives on them.  I was pleasantly surprised by both the power and how long a charge lasts, especially for such a small, low voltage  unit.  It is light weight, easy to use with one hand, and stores easily in any tool box or kitchen drawer.  It does not have the clutch feature of larger units but, even though it has plenty of power to drive long screws, it generally doesn't over-drive them.  It doesn't have the high speed and high torque of a regular drill/driver for drilling holes, but will work for some light drilling using hex-shanked drill bits.  If I only had the room or the budget for a single cordless tool for my RV, boat, or camp kit, it would be a Worx 4 volt screwdriver along with a variety of screwdriver and nutdriver bits an some hex-shank drills.   These are small enough and light enough to take just about anywhere, even as part of a boat took kit.   With the high number of screws that secure many parts of an RV, a power screwdriver can save a lot of time keeping things together on the road.

If  you do a lot of OHV or other mechanical work in the field, you might find a cordless impact wrench to be a good addition to you tool kit.  I keep one in my motorcycle trailer.  You can sometimes  use nut drivers in a cordless drill/driver for many routine tasks, but if you really need to loosen a tight fastener, an impact wrench is what you'll need.  One task for which I have found that is almost impossible to do without  damaging parts without an impact wrench is disassembling the clutch on my dirt bikes.  I've seen guys try to secure the "cage" with some kind of lever (a screwdriver, wrench handle, lug wrench, or crow bar) while loosening the nut with a socket and ratchet, but often as not it ends up damaging the cage.  An impact wrench can spin the nut loose without damaging the cage.

You can even get battery powered soldering irons.   I have one about the size of a penlight and it works pretty well for light duty soldering of electronic parts and runs on ordinary AA batteries.

Bits and accessories.  To get the most out of your cordless tools you will need the right selection of bits.  Look for a kit than contains a variety of bits:  2 or 3 sizes each of flat and Philips bits, some hex bits, and some torx bits.  On many RVs  you will also need a square drive bit.  Also carry a set of twist drills with hex shanks.  Nut drivers, both SAE and metric, are available with 1/4" hex drives that fit the same 1/4" hexsockets as standard screwdriver tips letting you use our power tool in even more situations.  Something I have found handy are extra long screwdriver bits.  Many of the variety packs of bits have bits that are only about an inch long and are intended to be  used in a extension gripped in the chuck of the drill/driver.  Standard bits commonly used in drill/drivers for most tasks are about 1 1/2" long.    Some are reversable with a Philips tip on one end and a flat tip on the other.   I like to have a few 3-4" bits on hand to reach past obstructions.   That has been less of a factor for me since getting my Worx screwdriver with the extendable shaft, but they are still useful to have.

For those with bigger budgets you an even get cordless chain saws for ease in handling your fire wood.   I wouldn't want to count on one to match a gasoline powered model for cutting a cord of firewood, but for light use around camp they should be great.  The only major downside I've seen so far is that they tend to be a little pricey, but when the prices come down I plan to add one to my motorhome to replace an old 12-volt chain saw I've had for years.

Just about any cordless tool you might use in your RV or boat might also be used when tent camping.  However, the opportunities to use power tools when tent camping will be more limited than when camping in an RV or maintaining a flock of  OHVs.  There just aren't very many places you need to drill holes or drive or tighten screws in a tent!  Of course, weight and space considerations will be significant factors in deciding what cordless tools you might want to bring along, especially if you have to hike in any distance to your camp site.

Keep your cordless tools charged!  Stocking your RV or camp kit with cordless tools won't do you any good if they aren't charged and ready to go when you need them.  Check the manufacturer's charging instructions.  Some can be left on the charger indefinitely so they are always fully charged but some caution you to avoid over charging and leaving those on the charger will damage the battery.  Since most of us don't get to enjoy our RVs as much as we would like, it is too easy to forget about our cordless tools until we need them.  It might be a good idea to have pre-trip checklist that includes charging your cordless batteries a day or two before your departure (along with turning on the fridge to pre-cool it before each trip).    If possible bring along a way to recharge batteries for cordless tools as necessary during your trip.  If you have an RV with a generator you can just plug in the charger anytime you are running the generator.  If you don't have a generator or are car camping, pick up an inexpensive inverter that plugs into your cigarette lighter so you can plug your cordless chargers into it when necessary.  I use a portable inverter to recharge cordless batteries on my boat where the 12 volt deep cycle battery is maintained by a solar panel.

We don't always think of radios as tools, but in reality they often are.  They are sources of information, entertainment, and communication.  Portable radios, both simple receivers to have access to news, weather, and entertainment and two-way radios to facilitate remote communications, are very valuable cordless tools for camping, RVing, boating, and OHVing.  Having solar charging capabilities or a built in crank powered generator can make them even better suited to outdoor recreational  and emergency use.

Cut the cord!