From the outside, 3D printing and RC hobbies appear to be about playing with radio-controlled vehicles and creating plastic objects from scratch. But in reality, most hobbyists spend more time assembling and disassembling their expensive toys. And that involves the tedious task of turning screws hundreds and thousands of times per session.
One would assume that most hobbyists would have switched to power screwdrivers by now, but the tiny machine screws involved are too delicate for the average power tool. Fortunately, specialized alternatives exist for this purpose.
But how do you identify the cordless screwdrivers that can prevent wrist injuries, while playing well with your expensive equipment? Read carefully to find out what separates ordinary cordless screwdrivers from those suitable for 3D printing and RC hobbies of course!
Why Cordless Screwdrivers Make Sense
Just twisting your wrist to manipulate the clips with a regular screwdriver might seem like little if all your wrench needs are to unscrew the odd battery compartment. However, modding or servicing RC vehicles and 3D printers involves turning a lot of screws. Do it often enough and the repeated movement of the wrist is likely to manifest as RSI or repetitive strain injury.
This is precisely why even the assembly lines associated with the smallest consumer products, such as smartphones and laptops, are equipped with power screwdrivers tuned to deliver the right amount of torque required for the job. This is quite effective in keeping workplace injuries and OSHA violations at bay.
You’re probably convinced that a regular screwdriver is enough for your niche hobby. It’s impossible for you to do thousands of bends per session, is it? Unfortunately, you are wrong. And we’re going to illustrate this using some good old-fashioned math to figure out how many turns of a screwdriver it takes to assemble the tiny Voron 0.1 3D printer. What is it, you ask? Learn more about Voron 3D printers in our comprehensive guide.
The CoreXY DIY printer needs 390 screws, 110 of which are M2 size and the rest of the M3 variety. Calculating the number of turns needed to melt each screw is simply a matter of multiplying the length of the screw by the pitch of the thread. That amounts to a total of 17,140 painful rotations. Let’s not forget that a full twist of the wrist only achieves a half turn of the screwdriver.
So even if you only engage half of the total screw thread length, you’re still twisting your wrist over 17,000 times while assembling one of the smallest DIY 3D printers on the market. And it’s not just about pain either. The fastest wrenches will spend about five hours turning (not prepping or aligning, just turning) these screws. But even the slowest cordless screwdrivers can reduce that time to just half an hour.
Not all cordless screwdrivers are ideal
Traditional hand tools may be slow, but what they lack in speed is increased tenfold in accuracy. Screwdrivers are no different. Driving small M2, M3, and M4 machine screws into soft aluminum and fragile plastic parts of RC vehicles and 3D printers requires a soft hand, which is only possible with a traditional screwdriver.
Unlike a human hand, the electric motor inside a power tool cannot transmit the sensation of the screw being driven to the operator. Try to fasten an M2 or M3 screw with a cordless impact driver, and you will break the screwed part or break the head of the screw to clean it from the shaft. A regular electric screwdriver won’t fare much better either.
However, these power tools come with built-in clutch assemblies to get around this problem. Set the clutch dial to the desired torque setting, and the driver bit simply disengages past that point. It works well for larger screws and bolts set in stronger materials such as hardwood and iron.
Unfortunately, even the lowest torque setting on motorized impact drivers will still damage delicate 3D printer and RC vehicle components and fasteners.
Ideally, you want to avoid an impact driver and choose a cordless driver with reduced torque output. It’s a fairly simple matter, as the maximum torque applied by a cordless screwdriver is directly proportional to its voltage rating. An 18V screwdriver is overkill, but a 12V isn’t ideal either. It is better to use a cordless screwdriver in the 4-8V range.
Reduced torque output makes minimum torque settings on the slipper clutch gentle enough for delicate fasteners and components. You might want to check out our Wowstick electric screwdriver review, if you’re looking for a strictly low-torque alternative.
Proportional speed control is important
Being gentle with fasteners is only part of the equation when working with 3D printers and RC vehicles. Equally important is granular speed control. Adjusting screw tightness in quarter or half-turn increments is the most common approach to adjusting components in these hobbies.
This makes cordless screwdrivers with two-speed gearboxes unsuitable for this task, given that their maximum speed is usually between 500 and 1000 rpm. Forget about quarter-turn precision: you’d need a gold trigger finger to control the rotation of the screw down to the single-digit range.
Don’t bother with constant speed screwdrivers with regular push button triggers either. Instead, you want ones with longer triggers that can control proportional speed. Squeeze the trigger a little and the motor spins slowly, while additional pressure proportionally increases the speed of rotation.
While this is a marked improvement, the limited travel length of a traditional proportional trigger still cannot provide the kind of granular control required to make quarter-turn or full-time adjustments possible. half turn. So which power tool offers significantly better proportional speed control?
The good old motorcycle, of course. The granular speed control offered by the traditional twist grip throttle assembly is unmatched due to its inherently superior range of motion. Wouldn’t it be perfect for a cordless screwdriver to fit into the motorcycle’s twist grip throttle assembly? It’s hard to think of a better way to achieve precise speed control. Fortunately, someone at DeWalt Tools has had this epiphany before.
Enter, the DeWalt Gyroscopic Screwdriver
The DeWalt Gyroscopic Screwdriver uses a pair of solid-state gyroscopes to detect twisting motion and translate it into proportional speed control. This not only incorporates the superior range of motion of a motorcycle twist grip throttle, but also allows you to change the direction of rotation without having to fiddle with a button or lever.
We had more fun than we care to admit chronicling all the wacky modifications made to the Nintendo Wii motion controller back in the day, but who would have thought the WiiMote would become a power tool? !
Turn the gyroscopic screwdriver clockwise to tighten screws and counter-clockwise to loosen them, elegantly capturing the intuitiveness of using a regular screwdriver. Having used many trigger-activated cordless screwdrivers, the degree of granular speed control provided by the DeWalt Gyroscopic Screwdriver is simply beyond comprehension.
Unsurprisingly, this power tool has its own fan in the RC hobby space, where proud owners swear by its amazing ability to drive screws into plastic, a feat that is otherwise too delicate and precise to achieve at home. using conventional electric screwdrivers. The nearly infinite speed control of the gyroscope-enhanced power tool allows it to completely supplant the traditional screwdriver.
DeWalt’s patent puts others off
Since DeWalt was granted a patent for its gyroscopic speed control implementation in 2020, no consumer tool maker has bothered to put in the engineering effort necessary to incorporate an all-in-one speed control solution. as intuitive while bypassing patent restrictions. Unsurprisingly, Chinese niche electronics brand MiniWare is the only other manufacturer to offer something similar under different model names.
Unfortunately, none of these potentially IP-infringing alternatives have precise speed control or adequate torque. Poor quality and reliability make it even more difficult to recommend these Chinese knockoffs. You can find many alternatives in the 4-8V range of competing tool brands, such as Milwaukee, Bosch and Makita, but none of them can match the control and precision of the DeWalt Gyroscopic Screwdriver.
Why Recommending Anything Else Is Difficult
Brands that make reliable tools also tend to adhere to patent laws, making it impossible to recommend a comparable cordless screwdriver for 3D printing and RC hobby keying needs. If you are allergic to DeWalt tools for any reason, this leaves you with a binary choice between:
- Gyroscopically enhanced Chinese screwdrivers of dubious quality, and…
- Quality tools from quality toolmakers lacking the intuitive gyroscopic speed control.
Either way, it seems you can’t eat your proverbial cake and have it too, when it comes to the crazy world of power tools.
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