TORQUE IS THE ISSUE

For this article, Tools of the Trade contacted all of the manufacturer members of PTI with torque-rated power drill or driver products, as well as non-PTI members and the manufacturer of the test equipment required for measurement according to the PTI voluntary procedures .

Most of the brand managers agreed that creating a torque procedure under PTI auspices was needed to provide consumers with a common point of tool comparison. They also generally agreed that torque procedures for corded tools was not at issue because plug-in tools are commonly rated by amperage, an unvarying standard of measurement based on the amount of electrical current drawn from any available source.

But when it came to rating cordless drills and drivers, there was little agreement among the key participants, other than the shared view that torque tests should be viewed as just one way to judge a tool's capability, not the only– or best– way.

"Amperage alone does not tell the user how much he needs" when buying a drill or driver, explained Andrew Gongola, director of new product development at Milwaukee Electric Tool Co. "Amperage rates the motor– torque rates the motor output." Although Milwaukee supports the PTI torque voluntary procedures, he added, the company was "not yet" using them to rate its tools but may in the future.

Another manufacturer that agrees in principle with the PTI voluntary procedures but has chosen not to comply with it is Bosch Power Tools. According to Randall Coe, vice president of marketing, "Consumers don't typically shop cordless products by torque. From a user standpoint, torque is just a guidepost."

Power-tool maker DeWalt also has refrained from adopting the PTI voluntary procedures, though the company has not ruled out using it eventually. "We believe the PTI method was a great step in the right direction and a more accurate way to measure torque than previously used," said product engineer Chris Sanford, whose responsibility includes standards compliance. "But a torque rating by itself is not an accurate way to represent the performance of that tool. DeWalt stopped using torque as a measurement and began using unit watts out in 2006. UWO is a better way to evaluate the tool– a combination of torque and speed." (See "Power Trip," Cutting Edge, July/August 2006.)

This argument is echoed by Festool, a PTI nonmember watching closely from the sidelines. Product manager Rick Bush said the company prefers "doing our own testing, but torque is just one measurement. At the end of the day you have to ask, 'How will this tool perform for me?' Is torque the best standard to use for comparison?"

Even officials at CDI Torque Products, which builds the test equipment that all of the brands must use to measure their tools' torque output under the PTI method, agree that torque alone is an inadequate yardstick when it comes to choosing a tool. "Torque is not an exact science," said Gary Fitzhugh, a technical trainer and advisor with the company, a subsidiary of Snap-On Tools. "Just like horsepower in a car, it's something you can use to quantify, but with torque there are so many variables."

IS TORQUE REALLY THE ISSUE?

The two toolmakers that have implemented the PTI voluntary procedures reject these arguments out of hand. Makita adopted them beginning in November 2008 and currently lists the PTI torque measurement on six models. The company also promotes the PTI procedures in a banner ad on its Web site home page. Hilti, the other manufacturer currently using the voluntary procedures, devotes a page in its new catalog to an explanation of torque testing procedures and to promoting its compliance with the PTI program.

"We agreed to begin testing soon after PTI approved it," said Robert Chetalet, product manager for Hilti cordless tools. "We just missed getting [the information] into last year's catalog, but it's in the new catalog, and we're still updating our Web site. We're very excited about it. It gives users a fair, agreed-upon method to compare one tool to another."

Said Ken Hefley, senior vice president of marketing for Makita, "For tradesmen, torque is an important factor in the performance of a drill, and a single testing guideline will produce consistent data so professional users can make informed purchasing decisions. Makita supports the new voluntary procedures ."

Ethan Haughawout, product manager for Makita cordless tools, said implementation of the voluntary procedures to date "has been pretty straightforward. We added the PTI torque procedures to our published measurements along with our previously published 'maximum torque,' which was based on a methodology we used before the PTI voluntary procedures came out."