Outside the Cubicle | DeWALT 20v Max Cordless Tool Platform

Outside of the Linux thing and retro tech hobbies of mine, I like to build things and generally improve my domicile so I enjoy tools, especially cordless power tools. Not having that tether to the wall has a kind of freedom to it that makes working with your hands much more enjoyable. I have been using cordless tools in the form of the Porter Cable 18 volt line for about 10 years. It has been a fantastic platform of cordless tools but unfortunately, it was the decision by the company to abandon the 18 volt line and move to this 20 volt Max line without an upgrade path. I stuck with the Porter-Cable tools for quite a while but in the last year or so, the batteries were all giving out. No batteries were available in the stores anymore so I bought some knock off batteries on eBay. I had to repair both of them after using them due to a manufacturing flaw but that was the deciding factor that I could not continue to stay with the Porter-Cable 18v line of tools.

Did a lot of research online, wanted to hear harsh opinions of all of the tools, read or watch anything that told me the good and the bad with every aspect I could fine. I wanted a tool I could afford but one I could rely on with a broad selection of tools and a non-restrictive technology. I wanted to have some level of trust for the intentions and motivations of the company that owns the brand. After all of my searching, studying and evaluating each of the value propositions, I landed on DeWALT.

Value Proposition

How I ended up on this decision. Keep in mind, this is an evaluation of what I value that works best for me. This is not universal to all people, nor should you take this as a recommendation that works best for you. You will have to determine this for yourself using your own value proposition wheel.

Durability

I need tools that will handle my level of abuse. I do try to be careful with them and I do keep them clean but I am not exactly good at preventing me from happening to my things. I am prone to drop, kick, knock off high places and so forth my power tools. I need things that can survive my usage. Based on my contractor friends’ preferences. DeWALT tends to be their preference. Though, my plumber friends tend to go Milwaukee for some of their plumbing specific tools, I don’t have Milwaukee money.

Variety of Tools

The next most important aspect of my choice was to have a large variety of tools to remove complexity in accomplishing tasks in my life. My time is limited and I need to maximize efficiency whenever possible (side note, much of the reason I use Linux and specifically openSUSE but that is another discussion for another time). Suffice to say, I want options, lots of options and DeWALT has the best score here for my preferences. I also want the ability to use easily use batteries with other tool platforms (supported or not). Since DeWALT is a popular platform, there are many hacks out there so that is also a big win.

Battery

It was a absolutely a necessary requirement to have options for large capacity batteries for higher draw tools. I don’t like extension cords. Sure, that is the universal power source but it is also very inconvenient and I tend to mangle my extension cords over time. In this are, DeWALT really fit the bill. Not only do they have their 20 volt Max line with 6 Amp Hour batteries but they also have batteries that will flip to 60 volts (actually 54v nominal) for a chain saw, table saw, and a miter saw. These vast options bolstered my decision to go with the 20 volt Max platform.

As an aside, Makita cordless tools batteries had the high capacities but should I choose to refurbish them with new cells, they would no longer function. This would not work for me. Milwaukee arguably have the best battery in the business and the price reflects it.

Commitment of Long Term Support

My experience with the 18 Volt Porter-Cable line was good, but within 4 years they started their transition to the 20 Volt Max along with their DeWALT and Black & Decker counter parts. Unlike DeWALT, there was no provided upgrade path. Had I bought into DeWALT 18 volt line years ago, I could have upgraded batteries over time and slowly transitioning to the 20 Volt Max line. I wanted to have some kind of corporate commitment or at least the perceived commitment that I would be able to use these tools for many, many years. Based on the rate of expansion of the tool line, there is some sort of engineering and product development commitment and therefore, it is likely to be around for a while.

Based on these three bits of criteria plus the bonus if it being “manufactured in the USA with globally sourced materials” I decided that DeWALT would be my best decision. It hit with the highest marks on all parts.

The First Purchase

I was at Lowe’s to get materials for a project and I saw there was special on DeWALT Tools. What cought my eye was a 10-pc tools set, last one and when I did the math, I would spend less than $60 per tool, factoring the two batteries and charger, it appeared to be a spectacular deal for DeWALT. Buying so many, tools at once meant I could completely change over my cordless platform. I am not going to give a full review on each component, just the highlights and drawbacks.

Drill

This model has brushed motor, feels good in the hand, slightly smaller, faster and more powerful than the 10 year old Porter-Cable 18v cordless drill. A nice feature of it is the work light in the front turns off after approximately 20 seconds after you release the trigger.

The anti-feature of this drill is the speed selector switch is a bit ropey. The one and only feature that is lack luster. This would have been a top-of-the-line drill 10 years ago but today, there are many better options.

Impact Driver

This model has a brushed motor and is much more compact than the Porter-Cable 18v equivalent model. The 3-LED front work light with similar delayed turn off feature makes this fantastic for working in dimly lit areas, which seem to be the work environment I end up more frequently than not.

The anti-feature of this is that although more compact than what I have been used to, not as much as I have seen and a brushless motor would be nice, even if not necessary.

Reciprocating Saw

This is the larger, brushed motor model, feels beefy in the heads and is a bit weightier than the Porter-Cable 18v unit it was replacing. It looks and feels like it will take more of a beating than it is likely to get in my possession.

The anti-feature is that it is longer and heavier than what I would like but it’s really not worth complaining about as this isn’t a tool for which I am likely to put a ton of hours.

Circular Saw

This is the brushed motor model with the 6-½” blade. It is well balance and the over all use and feel of it is quite satisfactory. This has seen many linear foot of wood travel past it’s spinning teeth. Since I have used it quite a lot I can confirm that it does the job very well.

The Anti-Features of this tools is that the chips from cutting wood somehow seem to jump into my face more than my previous Porter-Cable model, it also lacks a laser guide and a 7-¼” blade would have been preferred. This also does not have a laser guide like you would see on some brands as standard.

Angle Grinder

This tool is very similar to the Porter-Cable 18v unit it has replaced. Although I haven’t heavily used this tool, it has chewed through many pipes and nails. I like how the design of the tool has a built in hand guard.

The anti-feature is that it has a slightly slower maximum rotational speed (RPMs) than my previous cordless unit but it seems to perform similarly. No complaints here.

Oscillating Multi-tool, XR model

This is the brushless motor model and at first, I didn’t like the trigger vs switch as compared to the Porter-Cable equivalent. After actually using it, I found that the trigger with the lock was more ergonomic and ultimately easier to use. It also has a very bright work light in the front with a similar delayed shut off.

Anti-feature, the learning curve for this different switch mechanism but I wouldn’t change this.

Blower

I have used this for numerous functions around the house besides blowing sawdust off of my projects. It’s great for clearing the driveway and the front porch. I have also used it to inflate an air mattress or exercise ball more than once. It isn’t loud and painful on the ears like some air pumps.

Anti-features, it could be more powerful and have a longer nozzle attachment but that would likely put it in another class of blower so I will not complain about this either.

Vacuum, DCV517

This could almost be my favorite tool in the pack and it is the one that gets used nearly every day. I have found that this vacuum is not only great for cleaning up your work, the tools after getting them dirty but also great for quick cleanups around the house and in my truck. The detachable hose makes it very useful for cleaning up dust bunnies in corners, or on ceiling fan blades and when paired with round brush attachment makes quick work of cobwebs between the floor joists or cleaning underneath the couch cushions. It should also be noted that this is a wet/dry vacuum, of which I have used it for both.

Anti-feature, it could suck with a bit more force but considering the size of it, I believe it to be adequate.

Bluetooth Speaker

It’s a nice portable speaker that I pair with my computer, usually my Dell Latitude E6440 and listen to podcasts while I work around the house. The KDE Plasma Bluetooth module had no issues pairing and remember this device (the Linux tie-in). I find that this one gets a lot of use too. Also, with the Plasma Media Integration, starting and stopping the podcast or YouTube video playing on Firefox worked perfectly. Additionally, I could use my phone to stop the media playback using KDE Connect. Pretty fantastic.

Anti-feature, it could be louder.

Flashlight

Frequently, this is considered the “throw off” or “sandbag” item, and I can agree to that with some sets but this is a nice flashlight and also gets a lot of use, mostly by my kids. The pivoting head is great for setting it in a particular direction to light up your work.

Anti-feature, it could be brighter or have an adjustable focus.

Summation

These are not DeWALT’s finest tools by a long shot but spending about $60 per tool, I would say that it was quite worth it. Admittedly, the flashlight isn’t worth $60 but as a package deal, very worth it. There really is only one tool for which I am not completely satisfied and that would be the drill. I knew this going into it and I wasn’t about to drop the coin on having a set that consisted of nothing but the top of the line XR tools as I don’t use them enough to warrant that.

Tools that I like most in the set

Impact Driver – The key feature of the impact driver I like most is how compact it is and the three LEDs on the front of it. It feels good in the hand when pared with a 5 cell battery and spectacularly drives screws into stubborn materials.

Vacuum – Although not exactly a tool someone is likely to seek out, this is the tool that gets the most use in my house, day in and day out. It is a wet dry vacuum that really sucks. I have used it more for cleaning dust bunnies, crumbs and floor dirt than anything else but with the hose being an integral part of the tool, makes this fantastic for quickly cleaning up the messes of life. This has done more to simplify and improve efficiency of my life than any of the other tools in the group.

Blower – As odd as it may sound, this cheap tool has been used a lot. Everything from blowing leaves, cleaning grass off the sidewalks to inflating exercise balls (darn thing had a leak).

Tools I Don’t Like as Much

It is not that I am disappointed with anything it is just to give an honest bottom three in this 10 piece tool set ranked from least to most disappointing.

The Reciprocating Saw is fine, very powerful and also quite heavy. It is better than the 18 volt Porter-Cable model I had but also, having held the XR line of more compact Reciprocating Saws by DeWALT makes this one feel a lot more like last decades technology.

The Circular Saw, it’s really quite decent but it as such that I feel like I get hit in the face with wood chips / dust more often because the saw blade and motor are opposite to what I am most accustomed. Also, it is a 6 ½” blade as opposed to the 7 ¼” blade that is standard on typical corded circular saws. This saw feels a lot like the 18 Volt Porter-Cable but a mirrored version of it.

The drill, although not bad and better than the Porter-Cable Drill that I loved so dearly for a decade is probably the least thrilling of the bunch. I only say this because of the XR line of brushless cordless drills available. Those are something special, this is just, meh.

Of these bottom three, the drill needs to be upgraded for me to be happy with the tool set. I could get along fine with this drill but I would rather move this drill into the kitchen as a hand mixer and have a better compact XR drill for making and fixing things.

Amendment to Cordless System

This is just may be me, but the cornerstone tool of any kit is the drill and before I actually left the store, I had already made up my mind that I needed to get a second drill anyway. The drill I ended up purchasing, on eBay, was the DeWALT DCD791, a part of the XR Line with an extremely bright work light light on it, just above the battery. There are three settings to the work light. Dim, Bright and super bright. The “Super Bright” also has 20 minute delay on it so you can pull the trigger. set the drill down and brighten the dim corner you are working for quite a while. This is super, super handy. No regrets on that $80 purchase.

The second tool that I also needed to have the tool set complete enough for my next series of tasks was a hammer drill. I ended up getting this DCD996 Hammer Drill. My mistake that I made was purchasing it without the side handle. The performance of it is to my satisfaction and it too has that very handy three setting light system. In a pinch, you can set these drills up around you to brighten something up.

DeWALT 2, 3, 4 Ah BatteriesAlso purchased two, 4 Amp Hour batteries because the two, 2 Amp Hour batteries were not sufficient. Lowe’s also had a buy one get one deal going so I purchased another charger with a 3 Amp Hour battery.

I found that I was ripping through batteries pretty quickly with only having two, 2 Amp Hour batteries. Having the additional batteries made it possible to always have at least one charged and ready to go and one sitting in the vacuum.

Where to from here

This was the first phase in my goal for simplification for my project tasks. Not just for fixing, building and making but also for general operation to include cleaning and maintaining my domicile. Little things like a vacuum at the ready with batteries in reserve has made my life a lot better. The next steps were to replace my aging 18v Line of Black and Decker outdoor tools as well as replace my mower with a DeWALT cordless variety.

Final Thoughts

There have been many times when I have made purchases that I have regretted shortly after. That is not the case at all with this 10 piece tool set. After selling off my old tools the difference would have been about the coast of new batteries. Surprisingly, 10 year old cordless tools hold their value pretty well.

I am very glad I purchased a few extra batteries as it allows me to rotate through and always have a battery on hand. I have subsequently put in several hours of use on each of the tools I have briefly described here. They have all performed to my satisfaction, even the lack-luster drill has been used pretty heavily. I have made several mean pots of mashed potatoes with it.

I am not sure where I am going to go from here. I have no intention of doing any work to failure videos or tests as there is no way I would get any value out of that. I may focus on more interesting tools at a later date on if it suites me. I can guarantee that some of these above will make cameo appearances on future things as they are very often in supporting roles.

Tools are very much a necessity in many, many aspects. They are force-multipliers in chores and tasks which consequently make life more efficient and help to make my time in this fallen world a bit more enjoyable. A quality tool is never (maybe rarely) a wasted purchase and from what I can tell, I have purchased quality tools that have, so far, held up quite nicely.

References

Lowe’s 10 pc tool set product information
DeWALT Tools
KDE Connect Article on CubicleNate.com

FreeOffice on openSUSE

I am not really much of an “Office Snob” but in recent weeks, I have heard people hammer and clammer about this FreeOffice for both “in favor of” and “against” it. In full disclosure, I mostly use LibreOffice and I still use Microsoft Office 2007 for certain very specific reasons. That said, I am obviously not an open source purest. Back to the reason for this write up, I use office products a lot for the purposes of creating product for home educating my kids as well as for many administrative things that I do as a part of my employment. For the most part, I don’t do anything terribly complex but I do like a certain uniformity and bits of information on things to keep me organized.

Bottom Line Up Front, FreeOffice is a fine, well polished, very complete application. I am only using the “Free version” and I am very impressed with it. The user interface is flexible to your liking, looks clean and modern, most things work fantastically well and I am not sure how they get away with the look of the UIs similarity to Microsoft Office. Although this would likely serve all my needs, I will stick with LibreOffice because it is what I am most accustomed and I don’t gain anything by switching to FreeOffice. At a minimum, I would have to keep LibreOffice Draw for a few specific tasks.

Installation

The installation process for openSUSE is very straight forward. You can read their directions here:

https://www.freeoffice.com/en/tips-and-tricks-linux

They also have other distros there too if you are interested but since I am writing this specifically as a user with an almost unhealthy obsession with the openSUSE project. I will summarize the process here because I need to feel like I am actually doing something.

There are two ways you can go about doing this. First would be to download and install the RPM which will give you the shell script to add the repository. Alternatively, you can hop into the terminal, my favorite place (sometimes), to use the fantastic Zypper command to do all the heavy lifting for you.

For simplicity, I’ll break this down into steps using a terminal. If you don’t like the terminal… you should like the terminal because it is pretty awesome once you understand it.

Import the Public Key

Arguably this is an optional step, you could really just ignore the warning you would get other wise but for the sake of completeness, download the public key here. By default Firefox will put it in your “Downloads” folder, navigate to it and this is how you will import the key, using the terminal:

sudo rpm --import ./linux-repo-public.key

You’ll see some output, read it, then move on to the next step.

Add the repository

sudo zypper ar https://shop.softmaker.com/repo/rpm FreeOffice

Agree to whatever is necessary to move forward to the next step.

Refresh the repositories

The next step is to refresh the repositories. Depending on your inclination to install the public key or not, you may have to select ignore to continue.

sudo zypper refresh

Install the application

The last step will be to install the application. This does seem to take a while. I am note really sure why but the installation process seemed to take an unnecessarily long time.

sudo zypper install softmaker-freeoffice-2018

Once complete, you will have the application links in your menu and the associations with your mime types so opening a document from the file manager into FreeOffice works as expected.

First Run and Impressions

Office productivity applications are not exactly the most exciting activity to dig into but I do find them to be an important staple in the refrigerator that is personal computing. Most people I know have office applications on their systems as a necessity. I do realize that it has also somewhat become in vogue now to use online office productivity suites too so perhaps this not relevant.

In order to really use and evaluate FreeOffice, I decided I would take the time and see how working in FreeOffice would be, instead of using my typical preference, LibreOffice. Therefore, I left the automatic file associations defaulting to this, essentially forcing myself to use it.

When you first start it up FreeOffice, you are given six options to set the user interface to your personal design preference.

The top row are three Ribbon menu and the bottom three are Classic menu toolbars options. I went for the Ribbon Dark Theme. Interestingly, there is a “Touch mode” that has larger icons and menu entries. I didn’t try that as I am not using this on a machine with a touch screen interface.

Next you are going to be greeted with entering your user info and you are off to the races.

My initial impression of FreeOffice is the professional feel about it. Very nicely, there is a convenient side bar welcome to get you started. It just feels like the kind of application for which I would have had to shell out some cash on any operating system.

I tend to use one open document formats so I loaded up one. After all, it is one thing to stare at a blank page, it is another to actually use it so I decided to open up and do some of the “work” with it. In this case I was working on product for my home education board for my kids’ weekly memory work.

Using the application, I find that the layout of of the ribbon menu looks very familiar to another, offering by our friends from Microsoft with one caveat, this has a fantastic dark theme. On Microsoft Office 2007 there is a gray theme but nothing dark so this is also a welcome design choice.

In the weeks I spent using it, I did run into one issue with FreeOffice, it seems that the crop performed on an image using LibreOffice isn’t necessarily respected in FreeOffice. This does seem to be a consistent issue. I am showing one example below but this does appear to be a consistent problem. This was only an issue where I cropped images.

There is one specific feature that not having is a kind of deal breaker. That feature is the ability to “Export to PDF.” In FreeOffice they give you a kind of print dialog which is, in my opinion better than just having the save dialog you are given in LibreOffice.

I haven’t used any of these options, I don’t have a particular need for it but I do appreciate having the options there. It would be important if you have some publishing requirements, I suppose.

The thing that I found that was rather lack luster with FreeOffice was the file picker dialog. It is okay, but not nearly as nice as the Plasma File Picker and certainly better than the default GTK file picker.

I would say this is the most disappointing part of my FreeOffice experience. Though, it is probably not very fair because I have been incredibly spoiled by Plasma and the niceties that come with it. It would be nice if there was some option to select to utilize desktop native file picker.

Just to see a side by side of the different office applications I use, I thought I would throw it here. Not for any particular reason other than just to compare the look of the UI. What is interesting to me is that Microsoft Office 2007 (yes, I know it is old but I prefer the look of it), has more screen real estate for the cell display, by default.

I happen to like LibreOffice the most in looks, but I still prefer to use Microsoft Office in the spreadsheet department. I just happen to find it more usable and I do like the built in Visual Basic for some of the fun things you can do with it.

Looking at the free versus paid versions of FreeOffice, there aren’t too many features I would say I would need. The only features that may be missed would be mail merge, not that I have used it in a long time and perhaps the “Presenter View” for the presentation software. The annual cost of $29.90 for the home use license for up to 5 computers is really not a bad deal and it keeps the project going.

For more information, visit the site here:
https://www.softmaker.com/en/comparison-freeoffice-softmaker-office

What I Like

The interface is familiar to anyone using Microsoft Office. The layout and look of the ribbon is comfortable and logically laid out which is welcoming. Since this seems to be what is normal and expected, I can see very clearly, why many people use this office application suite over some others.

The application appears to be just as responsive as LibreOffice or Microsoft Office. I have no complaints as to performance, whatsoever. It is surprisingly enjoyable to use

The specific feature that I use most and is readily available is the PDF Export. This is important because when I create “product” for my home education board, I want to “freeze” it to make it easier to share. The whole PDFs this is, um well, portable… Not having this would be a deal breaker for me so I am glad this is there.

What I Don’t Like

The file dialog box is irritating to use. It is functional but not at all what I like. I could be spoiled by the Plasma file dialog and since everything else is just not nearly as good, I am much less tolerant of this. I can understand a need to be desktop agnostic so this might be a necessity. I would like to see if it could somehow detect the desktop environment and use that desktop resource, much like LibreOffice and Firefox do. Although, that could be an openSUSE thing.

There seems to be a bit of a compatibility issue with LibreOffice where it will mess with size and ratio of the pictures in the word processing document. I am thinking, if I just use one or the other, it would be fine but this is an area I would like to see properly working.

Outside of that, I think it is pretty great.

Final Thoughts

FreeOffice is a great office solution that is very familiar feeling, nicely laid out with a clean interface. Installation is very straight forward and they support openSUSE so that is a huge plus. I absolutely appreciate they have taken time to support it. This was also much of the reason I decided to give it a try.

If I were to set up a machine today for someone, totally unfamiliar with Linux, used to the Microsoft Office suite, I think I would set up FreeOffice for them. If they have been using LibreOffice, I would still default to that.

In the end, for me, I am going to keep FreeOffice installed. I like it. I have the repository set up, and it isn’t a drain on my resources to have installed. I have adjusted the the file type options to make LibreOffice my default application for office documents. I will periodically check in on it and use FreeOffice to stay familiar with it and to check for any improvements. I am very glad I took the time to try out FreeOffice and evaluate it. If you have any inclination on trying office software, this should be on your list.

References

https://www.freeoffice.com/
https://www.freeoffice.com/en/tips-and-tricks-linux
https://opensuse.org