See a Slide Show of the Fall Tool Harvest

Even though the building economy is in a slump, new tool launches don't seem to be slowing down a bit. Rapid in-house prototyping lets companies move designs to market quicker than ever, and fiercely competitive overseas production keeps many prices as low as they've ever been.

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Porter-Cable

And we're not talking about just a few improved models. Some brands are rolling out entire new product lines and adding tools to existing platforms by the bushel.

Here's a taste of the biggest launches we know. Remember, you saw it here first!

Porter-Cable has a new line of corded and cordless tools, loosely called the Tradesman line, that is aimed at the lower-priced market defined as "between what is needed for the homeowner and for the serious professional." We've heard this market referred to as the "value-conscious pro."

The corded tools are circ and recip saws, drills, and an angle grinder, all priced below $80. The cordless range includes drill/drivers and circ and recip saws with 18-volt nicad batteries, a new voltage for the brand. Porter-Cable is also introducing a more compact 18-volt drill/driver with a compact lithium-ion battery for $180; both new battery types will fit every tool.

Though Porter-Cable has discontinued all its previous cordless tools, its new corded tools will not replace its existing professional corded tool lineup, which remains unchanged. Available Nov. 1, this new Tradesman line seems to be taking over for Black and Decker's soon-to-be-discontinued Firestorm line, with a major improvement: The P-C tools will have a professional-use warranty.

Bosch has big news with the long-awaited arrival of its lithium-ion cordless drill/drivers in 18- and 14.4-volt platforms. These drill/drivers will be sold in two variations for each voltage: heavy-duty Brute Tough and lighter-duty Compact Tough versions. There will be full size and compact battery packs available in each voltage for maximum versatility, but they will not fit Bosch's existing nicad battery tools. One of the last to market with 18-volt lithium-ion cordless tools, Bosch undoubtedly will fill out this product line with subsequent releases.

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Bosch

Also new are additions to Bosch's 10.8-volt subcompact line, which it now calls the 12v Max line because other brands are labeling their own three-cell battery packs as 12 volts. Look for the second generation of the Pocket Driver, a two-speed drill with a standard chuck, an LED flashlight, and the Multi-X, which is a neat, little oscillating multitool. Expect a general release of these tools Oct. 1.

Ridgid has improved versions of just about every cordless tool in its 18-volt cordless lineup, including drill/drivers, recip and circ saws, impact drivers, and a new fluorescent-bulb worklight. The light fits a standard bulb, and the recip saw is only the second cordless one that we know of with orbital action.

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Ridgid

However, the most exciting innovation is the AutoShift. This revolutionary self-shifting drill/driver feature will downshift the drill's gears automatically when the load is too much for high-speed use, then shift back to high gear when the trigger is released. This keeps the user from having to decide which speed to work in to balance productivity with motor protection. Ridgid will phase out 24-volt compatibility in favor of these new tools and their more popular voltage platform.

Ridgid is also launching several innovative corded tools and expanding the Fuego name to cover new recip saws–no longer just the popular circ saw that first bore the name. Standouts include a one-handed recip saw, a fiber cement circ saw with a built-in blower, and a granite-topped contractors' table saw. Most of these tools will be available by mid-September, and the last two will come out in November.

Milwaukee expands its cordless lines with more than a dozen new tools between its two newest lithium-ion voltage platforms. The newly named M12 subcompact line adds a few unusual tools to its lone driver out last year, and are the only subcompacts with beloved battery fuel gauges built into the tools.

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Milwaukee

Other new things from Milwaukee: The M-Spector remote digital video viewer lets you peer into walls and plumbing with a watertight camera on a flexible cable. The Hackzall is a mini Sawzall that fits standard blades but is meant for light-duty jobs, such as cutting plastic tubing. The copper-tubing cutter is a handy new tool for the plumber, featuring a self-tightening, rotating head that handles 1/2- to 1-inch tubing cuts in seconds.

A new impact driver and worklight round out the line. Milwaukee's new M18 line adds tools to its compact driver out last year; it features compact and full-size batteries that are not compatible with previous V18 lithium-ion and 18-volt nicad tools. Filling out the M18 line are new drill/drivers, recip saws, circ saws, jigsaws, an impact driver, a grinder, and a worklight.

The inspection camera was released in July, and most of the rest should be on store shelves Oct. 1. The grinder and jigsaw will be out later this year.

Panasonic is introducing an entirely new voltage with its 21.6-volt lithium-ion drill/drivers, and plans to add more tools to this platform next summer. Like the new 28.8-volt rotary hammer that we featured earlier this year, U.S. market demands are driving these higher voltage tools, which are not really part of Panasonic's worldwide offerings. New tools that fit that description are in the 14.4-volt lithium-ion category, such as the upcoming rotary hammer/driver, jigsaw, grinder, and metal-cutting circ saw. Expect these tools out in late October.

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Panasonic

Craftsman's 12-volt Nextec line makes it the latest brand to enter the growing subcompact tool arena. So far, coming in early November are a driver, 24 LED flashlight, and a mini saw that fits jigsaw blades but can be used in both recip and jigsaw positions. A cordless nailer that works like a palm nailer but is shaped like a 90-degree drill will debut shortly after. This curious, one-of-a-kind tool will be known as the Hammerhead, and could be just the thing for the last couple of nails under a cabinet toekick.

–Michael Springer