NiCad vs Lithium Ion: Which battery is better for cordless tools?

Steady advances in voltage and applications have made cordless tools the first choice on most projects for you and professionals. For years NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) batteries reigned supreme. Recently, though, they’ve been displaced by newer Lithium Ion battery technology.

Lithium-ion batteries are smaller in size, require less maintenance and are environmentally safer than Nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries. While they have similarities, Li-ion and NiCd batteries differ in their chemical composition, environmental impact, applications and costs.

Which battery is right for your cordless tool?

That depends on the job and your wallet. Typically, Lithium-ion batteries are smaller and lighter than a NiCad battery. Lithium-ion also two to three times more expensive than NiCad. On the other hand, Lithium-ion has virtually no self-discharge. This allows a lithium ion battery to be stored for months without losing charge.

One does not provide more power than the other. An 18V Lithium-ion battery has the same potential to deliver power as an 18V NiCad battery.18V is 18V. How long it provides it is another story. The best measure of run time is how many holes are drilled or how many boards cut on a single battery charge. In this test, Lithium-ion battery-powered tools win.

That has more to do with the efficiency of the tool than the battery itself. Brushless motors in most Lithium-ion-powered tools make better use of battery power. That leads to the misconception that the battery has more power.

NiCad batteries range in capacity from 1.3Ah to 3.0Ah. In comparison, Lithium-ion batteries range from 1.1Ah to 3.0Ah. Just as the gas tank size is only one factor in how far a vehicle can drive on a tank of gas, applications per battery charge factor in voltage, capacity and the efficiency of the tool. Clear as mud?

NiCad batteries

Nickel-cadmium batteries suffer from a “memory effect.” The battery remembers the point in their charge cycle where recharging began. During subsequent uses, voltage will drop at that point as if it had been discharged. That’s why it’s wise that you use a NiCad battery until it’s totally dead before recharging With this kind of proper use, a nickel-cadmium battery can last for 1,000+ cycles before losing capacity.

Lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, are low maintenance. They resist the “memory effect” and tolerate a wider ranged of temperatures. Their only serious drawback is fragility. They also require protection circuit to keep working safely.

Both will perform for roughly the same number of cycles. While the Lithium-ion battery may provide more voltage, it does so at significantly higher cost compared to a NiCad battery.

Since absolute performance is roughly equal, choosing between Lithium-ion and NiCad batteries come down to simple differences: Lighter, longer-lasting and more expensive, or heavier, more consumable and cheaper. The choice is yours.

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