Power Tool Maintenance Basics

Photos courtesy of Festool USA.

Power tool maintenance isn’t just about the tool itself, but also the tooling used with the tool. This may be items such as blades, bits, pads, and abrasives. Most tooling is consumable, meaning it is used up as it is used. With blades and router bits, they may become dull, chipped, or loaded with pitch and resin – all of which affect performance both in quality as well as power.

In the case of circular saws and saw blades (whether handheld or miter saws), it pays to be mindful of the condition of the blades. Before inspecting blades or bits, ensure that the machine is deenergized – corded tools are unplugged, and cordless (battery operated) tools have their power source (battery) removed. A regular visual inspection can be done in seconds, starting with a quick sweep of the outer perimeter, beginning with the teeth. Look for chipped carbide or missing teeth. Also, notice the amount of resin or pitch (typically from cutting solid hardwoods such as maple, cherry, and other resinous woods) built up on the teeth. A build-up of resin increases the load on the tool’s motor, and compromises cut quality. Blades easily can be cleaned with commercially available cleaners made for saw blades and router bits.

After inspecting the teeth, look at the plate of the blade. Is there any sign of burning (presented as dark build-up), and if so, is it in one area or is it consistent on the plate? If a blade is warped (either from heat or damage), it may show burning on the plate in some areas. If you suspect a warped or damaged blade, discontinue use and either have it inspected and reconditioned by a professional saw blade shop or replace the blade entirely. Dull blades should be resharpened often as the saw blade shop will not have to remove as much material to produce a keen edge.

ABOVE: Circular saws and miter saws not only benefit from clean and sharp tooling, but also from visual inspections and regular cleaning. TOP: The same approach for circular saw blades can also be applied to router bits. Like saw blades, bits may be cleaned with commercially prepared cleaners.

Circular saws and miter saws not only benefit from clean and sharp tooling, but also from visual inspections and regular cleaning. Visual inspections should indicate loose or missing parts, compromised safety mechanisms, frayed cords, bent parts, etc. Blowing off excess dust with low-pressure air (do not use high pressure as you would in a nailer) should be done with caution to avoid blowing into motor cooling vents or switches directly as many power tools are equipped with electronic control boards, and high air pressure may damage them. Alternatively, if a dust extractor or vacuum is present, the machine may be vacuumed clean. Any missing or damaged parts should be replaced to help to ensure safe usage. Factory original parts are recommended.

The same approach for circular saw blades also can be applied to router bits. Whether bits are used to make grooves, do cut-outs, or apply a decorative edge, bits are subject to the same type of wear as circular blades. A visual inspection can reveal damage to the cutting edge as well as pitch build-up. Like saw blades, bits may be cleaned with commercially prepared cleaners.

Routers also can be inspected and cleaned in a similar manner as saws. If the router is the plunging type, be sure to inspect the columns for corrosion and apply a light lubricant as recommended by the manufacturer to ensure smooth and even plunging movement. Power cords also should be inspected for wear on the insulation as well as plugs. Repair or replace as needed. Routers also may be blown off with low-pressure compressed air or vacuumed to remove dust.

To prolong the life of the backing pad, it helps to keep them clean and free of debris. Always store the sander with abrasive on the pad so that nothing else can stick to the pad. If the pad is of the hook-and-loop style, the pad may be vacuumed to remove debris as well.

With sanders and abrasives (sandpaper), the story is a little different from saws and routers. Sandpaper is not made to be as long-lasting, nor is it as durable as saw blades and router bits, but it’s a good idea to pay attention to the condition of the sandpaper and the backing pad to which it is attached. The backing pad is a wear item that is subject to the stresses of sanding – both friction as well as torque (especially in rotary sanders), and they do fatigue.

To prolong the life of the backing pad, it helps to keep them clean and free of debris. There are a couple of ways to do this. One way is to always store the sander with abrasive on the pad so that nothing else can stick to the pad. If the pad is of the hook-and-loop style, the pad may be vacuumed to remove debris as well. Any debris that sticks to a pad not only can damage the pad, but also may project through the sandpaper and affect the finish of the surface being abraded, so clean pads that are flat and true are the best way to help ensure the best surface preparation results.

Sanders benefit from similar cleaning practices as saws and routers. Vacuuming or blowing off the tools with low-pressure air helps to keep them free of debris. Replacing old or fatigued pads helps to prevent untimely pad breakdown and disintegration. Also, power cords should be inspected and replaced as needed.

Lastly, we should not overlook the workhorse of the jobsite – the dust extractor/vacuum. High-quality extractors should be comprised of a primary filter bag and a main filter. Using the dust extractor with a filter bag not only helps for dust containment and disposal but also acts as the primary filter, which helps to prolong the life of the main filter. In general, filter bags are not made to be reused and should be disposed of once full. Regular visual inspection of the main filter also is a good practice. Look for dust accumulation, discoloration, tears, or other similar deficiencies that affect filtration. Filters should be replaced as needed. Avoid using high-pressure air to clean filters as that may damage the media and compromise filtration performance. Hoses and cords should be inspected regularly for wear and tear, and the extractor/vacuum can be vacuumed to clear away dust and debris on the surface.

Paying a little attention to your tools, keeping them clean, and performing regular inspections will help to provide maximum life and performance.

Rick Bush is a product marketing manager for Festool USA in Lebanon, Indiana. He can be reached at rick.bush@festoolusa.com.

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