Review By Dean Bielanowski  Makita Website - http://www.makita.com


Makita BDF452HW 18 Volt
Compact Lithium-Ion Driver Drill Kit

 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

Makita Tools have always been a favorite with tradespersons and professionals around the globe, and continue to be to this day. They produce a large range of quality power tools to suit many professional tasks and have dominated many markets for a long time.

Cordless tool technology is taking great leaps forward in recent years, and the advent of NiMH batteries has almost seen the end of Ni-Cad cells as a choice for battery power for serious professionals. However, NiMH looks set to suffer a very short life in the market as new Lithium Ion (Li Ion) cells begin to flood the market. Most of the major tool brands are now turning to the new Li Ion technology to power their cordless tools, and there are many good reasons for this, which we will see later.

I wanted to get my hands on some Li Ion tools, and to begin with, I thought the most common cordless power tool used around the world to date, the cordless drill, would be a good starting choice. I brought myself a Makita 18v Lithium Ion drill kit, and it has many advantages over older Ni-Cad style batteries and drills. Let's take a closer look at this kit!

Makita BDF452HW 18v Cordless Drill/Driver
You could be forgiven for thinking this particular drill was anything but a Makita. Why? Well, since when did Makita switch their tool colors to black and white? I am not sure, but this model is offered in this striking and contrasting color combination. In fact, the only sign of the traditional Makita blue/grey color scheme is the plastic molded case the kit ships in, as well as the charger. An interesting choice nonetheless. But to me colors are not really important. I'd happily use a fluorescent pink drill if it was a great performer. Well, maybe not in public, but you get my point! It's all about performance, not looks, in my opinion.

The kit ships with the drill, two batteries, a charger, and an instruction manual, plus a couple driver bits. Just add your own drill bits and you are ready to go. The batteries have quite a bit of charge in them out of the box too.

This drill has a length of eight inches front to back, and a weight of just 3.5 pounds, which is quite light given that it offers 18v of power and up to 450 in-lbs of torque. This isn't a toy drill that's for sure. It has a recommended drilling capacity of 1/2" in steel and 1 1/2" in wood.

It offers two speed settings which are switched between speed setting 1 and speed setting 2 via the sliding switch on top of the drill's motor casing. On the slow speed setting (1) the drill's all-metal gear construction delivers variable speed between 0 - 400 RPM, which is the range you want for most high torque, lower speed fastener driving tasks. The higher speed setting (2) is for drilling of materials and offers a variable speed range between 0 and 1500 RPM. This will handle drilling into most all materials with the correct type of drill bit implemented. The variable speed is controlled by the drill trigger. The further you depress it, the faster the rotation speed. A three-position direction switch allows the drill chuck to rotate in forward mode (clockwise), reverse mode (anti-clockwise) and direction/trigger lock (the central switch position where the trigger cannot be depressed, hence "locking" the tool from use).

The Jacobs drill chuck is of the ratcheting variety which allows one-handed tightening of drill and driver bits. You can loosen the chuck jaws with one hand as well. It has a bit chucking capacity range from 1.5mm to 13mm, or 1/16" to 1/2". These chucks are the best type if you ask me. I have a ratcheting chuck on one of my older Pro Series Ryobi cordless drills and they simply can't be beat for ease of use and strong bit gripping capacity. I rarely have a bit slip in the jaws with this type of chuck and jaw design, and no bit has slipped yet in this drill since I purchased it several months ago.

The drill clutch offers 16 settings, readily dialed in via the clutch ring behind the chuck. The settings engage very positively with solid click stops at each of the settings, and beyond the 16th clutch setting, there is a general drilling setting for maximum clutch torque. For those not familiar with clutch actions, these settings are designed basically to prevent you overdriving a fastener. The clutch will "slip" once it passes its torque force threshold, preventing the chuck from rotating further, and hence preventing the fastener being driven any further. The higher the clutch setting number, the higher the torque on offer for driving fasteners. There is no hammer action on this drill, so its application for masonry drilling is limited. When set to the drilling setting (indicated by a drill bit icon) the chuck will not slip at all.

A single LED light is incorporated into the drill and is located just above and forward of the trigger under the clutch setting ring. It is activated each time the trigger is depressed, and remains illuminated for roughly 10-12 seconds after you release the trigger. There is no way to turn off this light or disable it if you do not want it, but there is no real need. LED lights consume very little power and there will be an extremely minimal effect on battery life. It is handy to have of course, in dark areas, or indoors to illuminate the immediate area you wish to drill or drive fasteners in. LEDs offer good luminance and despite it only having the single LED "bulb", it will light up the area enough so you can see where that drill bit or fastener needs to go quite accurately. A nice inclusion.

The tool is covered quite extensively with rubber overmolds, and these both aid comfort and grip, and provide some protection against knocks and falls. By falls, I mean knocking it over on the bench, as opposed to dropping from the bench to the floor. Of course, the overmolds would offer some protection in this case as well, but I'm not going to drop my nice drill deliberately for the sake of testing this. It did get knocked about the workbench a fair bit however and suffered no noticeable damage. I can't say whether it would survive a large fall from one or two stories and still continue to operate.

Moving down the handle we see it too is wrapped with rubber overmolds, and in the hand the drill is very well balanced. Interestingly, this doesn't change whether the battery pack is attached or removed from the drill. There is a slight forward weighted bias, but nothing that is going to give you excessive wrist ache just by holding the tool. Naturally, this bias is exaggerated slightly when a bit is secured in the chuck, which moves the weight distribution forward, but it is balanced better than most drills I have used.

Now we get to the battery... As mentioned above, this vital component of the tool is what can make or break a cordless drill. Makita, like many other companies now, are employing Lithium Ion cells into their battery packs. The general consumer electronics market have been using them for a lot longer (in laptops, digital cameras, portable media devices etc) and it's good to see that power tools are now benefiting from the same technology. So what makes Lithium Ion batteries so good? Well, to begin with, they have a much longer shelf life, i.e. they will not bleed power from the battery pack as quickly as Ni-Cad or NiMH batteries. This means you can charge up a battery pack, leave it idle for two months or so, come back and grab it, attach it to your drill and you can expect some good life remaining in the battery pack. A Ni-Cad battery would probably be half-dead, if you are lucky (there are a lot of factors here). NiMH would fair a little better, but not as well as Li Ion. In fact, it is claimed by Makita that their batteries have as much as five times lower self-discharge rate than other batteries. Now it doesn't say what type those other batteries are, but I would assume they are rating them against Ni-Cad cells, which are still the most common on the market at the present time.

What other advantages are there? How about a very quick recharge cycle. How many of us have Ni-Cad drill batteries that take at least a couple of hours (often 3 or 4) to fully charge. With the Li Ion batteries included in this kit you can cut this in half... and half that... and half that... and half that again. Yes, it is claimed the Makita Li Ion batteries will charge fully in just 15 minutes using the DC18RA Rapid Charger included in the kit. According to my time tests, I was able to charge a "flat" battery in about 20 minutes. So the claims are certainly not far off the mark (and perhaps environmental conditions could be playing a part in recharge time here too?).

Regardless, a sub-20 minute recharge time (for the 1.5Ah battery packs) is nothing to be sneezed at. It means that even if you forget to recharge the battery the night (or morning) before you need it, you don't have hours to sit and wait for the pack to recharge, saving downtime and cost (if you are in the trades or using the tool to make a living). But since this kit comes with two batteries, you probably won't even have that problem to begin with. The two 1.5Ah Li Ion battery packs included in the kit should easily last a full day of regular drilling and driving. And if you find they are not lasting (perhaps because you are doing more drilling than driving, and into some very dense or hard materials), you can purchase higher capacity 3.0Ah Lithium Ion battery packs from Makita that will fit this particular drill. A 3.0Ah lithium battery is not going to die very quick! In fact, a single 1.5Ah battery from the kit seems to easily keep me going all day during my regular woodworking or renovation projects. Your mileage may vary of course. The 3.0Ah batteries will take longer to charge too, about 45 minutes according to the Makita documentation. Li Ion cells also offer excellent power to weight ratio, hence why this drill is lighter than most other 18v NiCad or NiMH drills.

When it comes time to charge the batteries, simply hook one up to the battery charger supplied in the kit. It is a smart charger, it can charge both NiMH and Li Ion batteries from 7.2v to 18v, and with its inbuilt processing chip it communicates with the battery's onboard circuit to deliver consistent charge as well as safe current, thermal and voltage control to maximize battery life. It is also claimed the charger can recognize a battery's history, analyze its current condition, and then choose the best charging method for the pack based on these factors. I don't know how true that is, or how it is supposed to work, but if indeed it is true, then hey, I won't complain! If it delivers longer battery life then I'll take whatever technology Makita want to throw at me to achieve this.

Three lights on the charger show charge status. When charging, the red light is illuminated. When battery capacity reaches more than 80%, the green light starts to show concurrently with the red light, and when fully charged, the green light alone is illuminated. A third amber light is designed to illuminate if it detects a problem with the battery pack, or so I believe. The instruction manual doesn't really say much about the battery charger at all, in fact, it says nothing really, but the icons on the battery charger itself seem to indicate this is a problem indicator light. The charger's graphical overlay also seems to indicate that the charger should sing a tune to me (or something of that nature) when the battery charge is 100% complete? Again, no info in the manual on the battery charger so I am left guessing. If anyone knows, please send me an email! An internal fan helps to keep the battery cool while rapid charging the battery. Heat is a battery cell's enemy so anything to keep it cooler will no doubt help preserve or extend its working life.

Another advantage of Li Ion is that it claims no memory effect. Now, whenever I mention memory effect with any battery in my reviews I always get emails from readers claiming it does and doesn't exist and any number of attached theories to support their claims. I am no expert in the field, so I'm not going to say either way whether it exists or not. But the consensus (from what I have read so far) is that memory effect does not exist with Lithium Ion cells, or is extremely minimal at most, so you can put them on the charger and charge them up no matter how much charge remains in the battery pack. I have been charging the batteries up the night before I start on a project and so far I can't notice any decrease in run time per pack or power output as a result of doing so. I'll leave it at that. I could open a big can of worms!

In Use
As mentioned above, this Makita drill is very well balanced in the hand, and because of the light weight of the lithium ion battery in comparison to NiMH or NiCad, the fatigue factor over extended use periods is reduced.

I have been using it for all kinds of tasks in the shop and around the home in recent renovation projects. There is plenty of power to drill hardwoods with large twist drill bits. With a sharp bit and speed setting 2 engaged, it slices its way through hardwood with little problem. I used 1" spade bits to drill through framing members to run electrical wires on a recent project and it had no trouble at all making its way through the material. Driving masonry anchors and wood screws is also easily accomplished with this tool. It certainly has plenty of torque and grunt and the battery life is very good. Being Lithium Ion however, it will have a tendency to die very quickly when the battery charge falls to its lower limit, and without the slowing down type warning that NiCad batteries often give. So always have that second battery on hand just in case. There is no indicator system on the battery itself like some other brand Li Ion batteries offer, but since you can charge the battery at any time, this didn't really pose any problems. On full-day project use I didn't have any problem with not having battery power available via either of the two cells. The batteries seem to be able to take a solid workout well.


General wood drilling with a 3/8" drill bit into veneered particle board

The drill is very comfortable to use but a firm grip is warranted for larger drilling bit operations as the drill's torque can induce some wrist twist, particularly if the drill bit grabs in the material as it drills. This is not a bad thing. The more torque the merrier in my opinion, but you just have to ensure the material being drilled is held firmly, and that you hold the drill just as firm. Using sharp bits helps eliminate this in most instances however.


Drilling framing for electrical wiring using a 1" spade bit


Fastening masonry anchors for electrical conduit saddles. Given that this drill does not have a
hammer action however, drilling holes for the masonry anchors may be limited or less effective with this drill.

Overall I have to say that the Makita BDF452HW 18v Cordless Drill/Driver has certainly met my expectations. I was expecting it to be a well-made tool given that it has the Makita name plastered on it and it hasn't yet disappointed. It is evident that the Lithium Ion battery technology sets this drill apart from older NiMH and NiCad cordless drills and is definitely a leap forward in ease of use, drill ergonomics and even economics (given virtually zero downtime for recharging and low purchase price for new technology).

Retailing with a street price (as at Nov 2007) of around US$199, I feel this drill offers excellent value for money and good performance for an 18v cordless drill/driver solution for the woodworker, tradesperson, renovator or home DIY enthusiast. The Li Ion technology has definitely won me over!
 

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Makita BDF452HW Photos
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The Makita BDF452HW Drill/Driver


Two 1.5Ah Lithium Ion batteries are
included in the kit!


The DC18RA Rapid Charger


Single-handed ratcheting style Jacobs chuck allows fast and secure bit changes.


The LED light under the clutch ring provides some illumination in dark areas


Speed setting slide switch


Standard style variable speed trigger and
chuck rotation slide switch


Battery is a slide-on style Makita Li Ion cell


Extensive rubber overmolds throughout!

 

 

 

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