• Shown here in the in-line configuration, the tool also adjusts to a pistol-grip shape. Note the built-in battery gauge and the trigger used to activate the gyroscopic sensor that controls the speed and direction of rotation.

    Credit: Michael Springer

    Shown here in the in-line configuration, the tool also adjusts to a pistol-grip shape. Note the built-in battery gauge and the trigger used to activate the gyroscopic sensor that controls the speed and direction of rotation.
  • A small two-cell battery pack powers the gyroscopic driver. Trademarked 8V MAX, its actually a 7.2-volt battery.

    Credit: Michael Springer

    A small two-cell battery pack powers the gyroscopic driver. Trademarked 8V MAX, it’s actually a 7.2-volt battery.
 

Late in the summer DeWalt released the DCF860, a new 8-volt max stick driver—with a twist. Instead of using a standard forward/reverse rocker switch, it regulates speed and direction with a gyroscopic switch that follows the user’s wrist movement. The mechanism is intended to give the operator more control for greater precision. My first reaction was, “Is there any real benefit to this or is it just a novelty?”

To find out, I resolved to avoid using my subcompact drill/drivers for a month and use the DCF860 for every job it could handle. At first I struggled to get used to controlling the tool in such a nonstandard way, but before long, the tool’s action became second nature. Okay, maybe third nature—it’s hard to suppress the expectation that a tool will “go” when you pull the trigger.

HOW IT WORKS

Pulling the trigger of the DCF860 starts a gyroscopic sensor that marks the tool’s orientation in space—the starting position. Rotating the tool from this position while holding the trigger down causes it to spin in the direction of rotation. The farther you rotate it, the faster it spins. Turning the tool back to the starting position or releasing the trigger stops it.

SPEED, POWER, RUNTIME

Unlike stick drivers with two fixed speeds, the DCF860 has a variable-speed action. This gives it much greater speed but less torque than a tool with a fixed low gear—which turns very slowly in its power gear.

The gyroscopic driver was designed for light-duty assembly and fastening. I used it successfully on fasteners as small as the screws that hold circuit boards in place. It will also drive screws into wood; I settled on 2-inch drywall screws as the maximum size to drive into framing lumber because anything longer tended not to countersink.

The DCF680 performed respect­ably for its size in my drilling and driving tests in 2-by lumber. On a single battery charge, it can drill 111 holes with a 3/16-inch twist bit or drive 209 coarse-thread 1 1/4-inch drywall screws.

IN USE

The gyroscopic driver does have its quirks. To avoid over-rotating your wrist and operating the tool in an uncomfortable position, you have to cock your wrist in the opposite direction before every pull of the trigger. Also, it’s best to use the clutch when snugging down fasteners, because the mechanism will not allow you to feather them in with short bursts of the trigger. The moment you release the trigger, the sensor forgets the previous starting position and you have to re-cock your wrist or twist it even farther to get going again.

A spindle lock allows you to use the tool as a manual screwdriver—to finish tightening a screw, for instance, or loosen a stuck fastener to the point where the motor can turn it. The trigger is centered, so the driver works equally well for lefties and righties.

FEATURES

The DCF680 is equipped with a dual LED headlight, an on-board fuel gauge, and a two-position handle—in-line or pistol grip. It also has a brake, a 15-stage clutch, and a 1/4-inch hex chuck with a snap-in action you can use one-handed.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Although the gyroscopic driver takes some getting used to, it is a worthy addition to the tool kit of anyone who regularly installs small screws and fasteners—low-torque applications where control is important. Likely users would include painters, electricians, service techs, HVAC mechanics, and other installers.

Michael Springer is the former executive editor of Tools of the Trade.