Diagnosing and fixing your power tools

Facilities managers, plumbers, and maintenance workers will recognize when tools are no longer preforming as they should be, but before replacing consider if it is time to invest in a better, longer-lasting tool or if the tools just need some TLC to get back to the job.

When tools stop functioning the way we expect them to, it prevents the job from getting done. Before spending the extra time on the job with a troublesome tool, consider these common problems and whether it may be time to replace the tool or if it just needs some extra care.

1. Burning Smell

The smell a malfunctioning tool emits is immediately recognizable. A burning smell coming from a tool indicates that parts are continuing to spin, but the tool is not working.

This issue is common in tools, such as sanders, that contain drive belts. The belt is the first spot to check when a smell is coming from the tool. But, diagnosing the smell is dependent upon the tool’s age, type, and design.

The smell could be caused by overheating. If the tool has been thoroughly used for long periods of time, turn it off and allow it to sit for approximately 30 minutes before attempting to diagnose the problem.

2. Losing power

Your tool may start up, but it lacks the power and strength needed to get the job done—making manual tools look a whole lot more useful by contrast. When this issue persists, worn down carbon brushes would be the likely culprit.

Carbon brushes will wear from regular use, but they can also chip and become damaged. Any wear or damage to carbon brushes may result in weakened power to the tool, and can be remedied by replacing the carbon brushes in the tool.

3. Trouble starting

When the tool isn’t starting at all, it can seriously delay the completion of the job and cause stress for workers. But, a tool that will not start should not immediately be considered unrecoverable or useless—especially not before employing a multimeter. Multimeters measure voltage on power tools to determine if power is effectively moving through the tool.

Bad power cords can also stop a tool from starting. Issues with power cords, like kinks, cuts, or tears, are easy to spot and indicate that a replacement may be needed. A multimeter will show if the flow of electricity to the power tool is stopped by one of these common issues, and if a wire is broken.

An accumulation of dust and dirt within a tool can prevent it from working. The brush channels, located at the end of a motor, where electricity is routed can wear or shorten over time. The brushes and springs should be assessed, and replaced accordingly, if there is indication of dust or dirt particles preventing the tool from functioning.


4. Screeching noises

Using power tools can already be loud, but when the sound becomes more high-pitched and screechy it may indicate a problem. The first thing to do in this instance is to ensure the tool is properly lubricated and check the manufacturer recommendations for maintaining lubrication on the tool.

The next place to check for the cause of a squealing tool is the gears. It is possible for tools like power drills with forward and reverse controls to get stuck between gears. Simply move the switch back and forth gently and try to run the tool again.

Always follow the recommended care and usage instructions for any power tools to avoid issues in the future. Also know when too much time has been spent trying to diagnose and solve problems with tools and to replace it instead.

“Our rule of thumb, I think like most entities out there, is that if the repair cost is roughly 50 percent of purchase cost, that’s where we draw the line and ask if it’s worth it,” Chris Borst, a maintenance supervisor for the Anchorage School District said to FacilitiesNet. “If we approach that echelon, should we consider replacement, as opposed to repair?”

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