Care and feeding of power tools

Many grounds managers invest significant sums of money to purchase the highest-quality power tools for maintenance and construction work. A broken saw, drill or other power tool can wreak havoc on a project.

That's why you always should care for power tools with respect. Maintaining power tools is not complicated-it's just a matter of exercising common sense and developing habits that range from proper cleaning procedures to the appropriate use of a power source.

Misuse, abuse shortens tool life One common power-tool enemy is the by-product you create with a tool's use. Foreign particles, such as sawdust, wood fragments and metal chips, build up. They harm power tools, so it is essential that you clean them regularly. Simply blow out the tools with an air hose after each use. This practice removes excess dust before it settles inside the tool.

Also, periodically check the wear of brushes in the tool and replace them according to the owner's manual. Most models allow easy access to check brush wear. When changing the brushes, determine if the tool requires new lubrication. The tool's performance and operation will be adversely affected if the brushes are not making complete contact with the armature.

Establishing a program of preventive maintenance should be another element in proper power-tool care. As a professional crafts person, you should bring your tools to the manufacturer's authorized service center every 6 to 12 months.

In addition to cleaning, service centers can perform various types of maintenance, including tune-ups, lubrication and other procedures. Such small investment can help prevent expensive problems in the long-term.

Some grounds managers make the mistake of trying to save time by using equipment that is designed for other applications-not the one at hand. For example, trying to drill a 2-inch hole with a small-capacity drill likely will damage that piece of equipment. Take the time to retrieve the proper tool. The owner's manual generally lists the specific application capacities for tools.

Proper storage is another important guideline that can enhance power-tool life. A common mistake you might make is to place power tools in the back of a work vehicle, unprotected from the weather. This habit almost guarantees future problems. Left unprotected, power tools develop rust, both internally and externally. While it is easy to spot rust on the tool exterior, internal rust remains hidden and ultimately causes equipment to malfunction.

When using electric tools, remember to use power sources correctly. First, make sure the power rating on the name plate of the power tool matches the power source. This is particularly important when you use generators. Generators with direct-current (dc) voltage will damage variable-speed switches, so it is important that you only plug variable-speed-controlled tools into alternating-current (ac) outlets.

Be careful with extension cords An extension cord can create additional concerns. Before beginning a task, estimate the required length of cords you'll need. The owner's manual should have a recommendation chart for the minimum wire size for an extension cord.

Manufacturers design their products to operate efficiently within a specific voltage range. Improper selection of extension cords can reduce the voltage below this range. Low voltage results in loss of power and speed, overheating and possible damage to the tool. Always use a UL-listed, three-wire extension cord of the proper length.

In addition, always check cords for wear and exposed wire. If a cord is worn or cut, replace it. Using electrical tape as a short-term method to fix a worn cord jacket is a common solution but not a good one. It is best to invest in a new cord.

Power tools are an essential part of many grounds manager's jobs. By following the guidelines presented here, you can avoid the expense of prematurely replacing equipment. And well-maintained power tools will operate more efficiently, allowing workers to be more productive.

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