I’ll admit it, despite being an avid tool guy, and having spent many, many, many hours in Lowes, I have never purchased Kobalt tools. It’s not that I have anything against Kobalt, but I’m the kind of guy that won’t buy “store brand” cereal either. I guess I’ve got issues. In case you’re as clueless as I was with the Kobalt Tools line, Lowes launched the brand in 1998 in a limited range of tools and then relaunched an expanded line in 2004. Kobalt Tools can be purchased exclusively from Lowes. Just for kicks you should try asking for them at Home Depot though (submit the video to us please). A few weeks ago Lowes reached out to HomeFixated with an invitation for a Lowes sponsored trip and media event in New York City to kick off a further Kobalt expansion which includes a new line of power tools. I just returned from that whirlwind NYC trip, which brings us to today’s post on Kobalt Tools, and Kobalt Power Tools in particular.
Kobalt Cordless Combo Kits
The new Kobalt Cordless Power Tools include both Lithium-Ion and NiCd Combo Kits (with drill/driver, reciprocating saw, circular saw and LED worklight). I tend to consider NiCd the tool equivalent of cassette tapes, but they still get the job done, and they do so at a discount to Lithium Ion. Although Lowes is marketing these Kobalt Cordless Tools as “professional grade”, we really see these as best suited for the DIYer that needs a diverse set of quality tools that won’t break the household budget. At $269 for the Lithium Ion and $169 for the NiCd kits, a weekend warrior gets a full set of tools for close to the price of a single higher-end tool from Bosch, Milwaukee or Makita. With “professional grade” you probably shouldn’t expect the exact same level of performance or quality of some of the truly pro and prosumer-grade power tools out there. However, Lowes is offering a serious 5 year Warranty (3 year on the batteries), which means you’re not getting a disposable or semi-disposable tool either. Over 1700 local Lowes stores makes their hassle-free guarantee far more accessible than many tool manufacturers warranty exchange programs. This widespread local presence represents serious peace of mind. In the words of Lowes:
All Kobalt power tools are covered by a five-year, hassle-free guarantee, and all Kobalt batteries are covered by a three-year, hassle-free guarantee. If you ever experience a problem with your Kobalt tools, return the item to the place of purchase for a free replacement. There is no registration or phone call required. And with more than 1,725 convenient Lowe’s store locations, Kobalt’s guarantee is truly hassle-free.
We had a chance to test out a couple new Cordless tools in a friendly competition between the various tool bloggers and media types. I’m happy to report I was on a team that tied for first place, thanks largely to stellar teammates (Ethan Hagan from One Project Closer, Dana Severson of the Woodworker’s Journal, and Steve Lita of Road Bike Magazine. I found it pretty easy to track the cut line with the 18v Lithium Ion Circular Saw. Unfortunately, the beefy 3/4″ plywood we were cutting is just about on the cusp of what this tool is really meant for. I did find the tool bogging down several times, which made the task probably better suited for the new Kobalt Corded Circular Saw. The Drill/Driver performed great, driving both long and short screws with ease. I also really liked the fact that despite the drill driver being a budget-conscious tool, Lowes armed it with an all-metal 1/2″ ratcheting chuck. FYI, the Drill/Driver can also be purchased separately (with a case, two Lithium Ion Batteries and the charger) for $159. I’m not sure why you’d want to do that though, as the combo kit offers serious bang for your buck.
The Kobalt Cordless Combo Kits also include a worklight and a recip saw. We didn’t get a chance to go hands-on with the recip saw, but I liked that it features an easy-to-access blade change mechanism. The worklight is decidedly sexier in the Lithium Ion kit than in the NiCd kit. The Lithium Ion version has a longish array of 24 LED’s with an articulating head (and a quoted seven plus hour runtime), while the NiCd version looks like a more typical single bulb flashlight head. With either kit, you’re getting all the essentials to tackle most typical DIY projects. Conspicuously absent was an impact driver. However, with Lowes past history of rolling out more and more tools in the Kobalt line, we wouldn’t be shocked to see a Kobalt Cordless Impact Driver in the not too distant future. If you’re more into wrenching than drilling, Kobalt also has a new 1/2″ cordless impact wrench available for $269. The tool here is shown being masterfully handled by the entertaining gentlemen of ToolsInAction.com
Rather than rehash random specs for each of the tools, you can check out a Kobalt Power Tools – Spec Sheets (for both cordless and corded Kobalt Power Tools) with info straight from Lowes.
Click on the “Video” tab for a Kobalt Video, showing off tools that are reportedly “Tougher than dinner with your mother-in-law.” Editor’s Aside: dear mother-in-law, please note the quote above is from Lowes, NOT from me ,(I of course love your dinners and find them not at all tough, so clearly Lowes quote wasn’t intending this line for us). Phew. Anyway, the video provides a good overview on the kit with some racy tool closeups too (don’t worry/sorry, there’s no nudity).
The charger that comes with the new cordless kits is bi-elementual (yes, I made that up). It can charge both Lithium and NiCd. Check out the new battery and charger video details courtesy of AConcordCarpenter‘s World-Famous Robert Robillard and Lowes/Kobalt guru Stephen LaFont:
Kobalt AC Corded Tools
Recognizing that cordless sometimes just doesn’t “cut it”, especially when it comes to circular and reciprocating saws, Lowes wisely chose to release an AC Corded 12 Amp Orbital Reciprocating Saw ($94) and a 15 Amp Magnesium Circular Saw (also $94). The recip saw featured a useful 360 degree rotating head and the same tool-less blade change mechanism as it’s cordless brethren. It also has several orbital settings which you can adjust depending on whether you’re cutting metal or wood. The Kobalt AC Circular Saw rolls out with 6200 RPM and lightweight magnesium shoe and blade guards normally found on spendier saws. A pretty typical easy to adjust bevel, 12′ power cord and not-so-typical LED worklight round out this circ saw’s features. The saw also comes with a 7 1/4″ blade. Both AC tools have a live-wire indicator which we’re happy to see becoming more common on corded models. It’s a good visual reminder when you’re handling a plugged-in tool, and if it saves a finger or two during blade changes or otherwise, then we’re all for it.
This event wasn’t just about new Kobalt Power Tools. We had a chance to check out several tools sans batteries and power cords. Lowes had an impressive set of Kobalt sockets and ratchets on display in the bed of one of their official Kobalt branded trucks. I tried to get Lowes to send us the truck for “testing”, especially after Charles and Hudson’s review of the Trucks of Tool Bloggers, however they graciously declined. You can’t fault a blogger for trying though. (Lowes, you can still change your mind on that, OK?) I need something to defend myself with in case Tim Carter comes after me in his Monster F-6,985,950 pickup.
One of the Lowes team did give me a run down on their socket and ratchet sets and I liked what I saw. A few standout points. Topping even Craftsman’s warranty policies, Lowes will replace (following reasonable registration and shipping costs caveats) not only any socket you might break, but any socket you manage to lose. There are few things more sad than a shiny socket set missing that one socket you happen to need right now. Lowes and Kobalt to the rescue! Kobalt also clearly identifies Metric and Standard sockets with a recessed groove filled with blue or red enamel. Sizes are laser etched onto the sockets as well. Ratchets feature 72 teeth, which a Kobalt rep informed me is higher than Craftsman sets, but a bit lower than spendy SnapOn varieties. The result of all those teeth is a smoother action, and improved ability to tighten and loosen when you don’t have much room to move the ratchet handle back and forth. I still have my first ratchet set, and I swear it has about ten teeth on the mechanism. If you’ve got an old set too, it’s worth checking out Kobalt’s offerings next time you swing by your local Lowes.
Multi Drive Wrench
One of the most popular Kobalt Tools was also on display at the event, the Multi Drive Wrench. This is pretty much the wrench that MacGyver wishes he had back in the day. Forget that little Swiss Army knife he carried around! The Multi-Drive Wrench has two heads and 56 fasteners covering everything from basic screwdriving to engine and industrial work. Sometimes tools can be a little too versatile (we’re a little iffy on the practicality of the LED light attachment), but if you like to travel with minimal gear, the Multi Drive Wrench is definitely worth checking out. Make MacGyver proud!
Double Drive Screwdriver Set Sneak Peak
I almost let out an audible sigh when I spotted what appeared to be yet another ratcheting screwdriver. However, I was quickly intrigued by what turned out to be a really innovative twist on screwdriving. The Kobalt Double Drive Screwdriver actually advances the screw when you rotate the screwdriver in either directions (vs only one direction on a typical sigh-worthy ratcheting screwdriver). The result is a highly efficient driver that you never need to change your grip on. Luckily Lowes threw one of these into my goodie bag, which saved me the awkwardness of trying to steal one from the media event. I even smuggled it past the TSA on the flight home (either that, or they were not worried about me unscrewing the airplane by hand). When these hit the shelves in about a week, run to your local Lowes and grab one.
MyLowes Sneak Peak
Lastly, but not least, Lowes announced the soon to be released mylowes online service. You simply present your mylowes card at checkout to activate the account, and then register your activated account at lowes.com/mylowes. They even have a keychain mini-card and a sticker to apply to whatever credit card you most frequently max out at Lowes. Once you’re up and running, you can do things like set reminders for fun tasks such as air filter replacements, or just keep track of your online purchases. There’s even an option to manually add purchases you might have made at stores other than Lowes (Gasp!) If you have dozens of empty paint cans laying around in case you need to reference the paint codes, just imagine tracking all your future paint purchases in one place (no empty can required). As someone that once spent weeks researching replacement roof tiles to match originals, sometimes it’s ridiculously handy to have written documentation of what paint, tile, flooring, etc. you purchased eons ago. There are plans to integrate mylowes with the Lowes App in the not too distant future as well. Check out all the MyLowes features when it launches officially in-store and online in the next week or so. You can also find answers to frequently asked questions at lowes.com/mylowes, or you can tweet any questions to @MyLowes_Help
My thanks to Lowes and their Kobalt Tools team for enlightening us on the Kobalt line. We’ll be paying closer attention the next time we swing by the store, (in other words, later this weekend)!