CEL Power8 Workshop Cordless Benchtop Tools Review
When we first got a glimpse of the CEL Power8 Workshop cordless tools we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It seemed impossible to combine all of the tools that the product comes with into a small, easily portable case. It was both amazing to see, and also hard to imagine the engineering and care that had to be taken to ensure everything worked so well together. This is also the first cordless bench-top system we’ve ever heard of, and the interoperability of the tools is simply something you have to experience to appreciate. For anyone who has very restrictive space requirements, having a single cordless tool that can handle the duties of table saw, drill/driver, jigsaw, drill press, circular saw and more is something that we thought only Michael Bay’s (yes, he has officially stolen them from Hasbro) Decepticons or Autobots would be able to pull off.
CEL Power8 Workshop Build Quality
When we first got the Power8 Workshop we were surprised by just how small and portable it was. At around 35 pounds, it’s not a tiny package, but when you consider all that’s inside, it doesn’t seem like it should all fit inside the case as presented. And “case” is exactly what it is. The entire ensemble comes in a retail box that houses a plastic road case with hinged lid and twin removable accessory storage boxes mounted to the side. The case is a medium gray with bright green accent colors on the handles and hinges. An aluminum work plate adorns the top and that is where your workpieces will rest when using the bench-top tool modes. Nothing is wasted on the Power8 and you can quickly tell by looking at it from all sides, that it was carefully engineered with no wasted space. Within the hinged case was a canvas bag that held the tools and the extra Powerhandle. Looking around the case you can see that the level/rip fence is integrated into the bottom of the case and can be removed as needed, while the left side of the tool is dedicated to charging and being powered by the Powerhandle and the dedicated on/off controls.
Opening up the Power8 you can look at the underside of the lid, where there is a plastic mechanism that sides back to secure either the circular saw (for table saw mode) or the jigsaw (for scroll saw mode). While not metal, the mechanism does seem well-built and its 5-position sliding anchor points are able to hold the tools in place. There was a some wriggle room, however, and we quickly noted in our testing that it offered some instability with the circular saw in particular that decreased its precision. Below the slide is the removable power feed that connects energy from the attached Powerhandle to the tools and allows them to be operated in bench-top mode. Once connected, power to the bench-top is activated not by the Powerhandle, but via the use of the red and green controls to the left of the table. You can also connect the Power8 Worshop to a standard 120VAC outlet (there is a convenient cord-wrap), and it also includes a separate secondary charger port that can refuel a Powerhandle while the saw is plugged in. While you can’t recharge two batteries at once, it’s still a convenience.
The accessories which are included are housed in two translucent boxes which store conveniently into the rear or the Power8 workshop chassis and can be removed by pressing down on either of the two black release buttons.
Included are an assortment of drill bits, jigsaw/scroll saw blades, driver bits and adjustment tools. Everything needed to use all of the included tools is here, so in a pinch you won’t have to run out and grab anything in order to get started on the basics.
As for the build quality of each of the tools, we’ll go into that in more detail below as we take you through the use and interaction with each function of the Power8 Workshop.
Testing and Use
We were contemplating the best way to review such a multifaceted tool like this and decided that discussing each of the modes and tools was likely the best way to convey the experience. With that said, we started off with the one that was quickest to get going – the cordless drill.
The cordless drill is, first and foremost, a behemoth. Not in terms of performance, but sheer size. For a system that is trying to fit into a portable case and conserve on space, the use of the larger size driver was a surprise to us. You can almost peer into the side of the drill body and see a lot of extra space around the motor (nearly an inch off the back and 1/2-inch on each side), making us wonder why they didn’t seek to conserve additional space. At 4.5 pounds, it’s also quite heavy to hold in the hand and the weight is unbalanced, placing a majority of it forward and almost causing the tool to tip over were it not for the oversized Powerhandle Ni-Cad battery base. We liked the included bit storage on each side of the drill – this seems like a feature that is quickly getting eliminated in favor of smaller motor housings. You could also get the bits in and out without using a tool or possessing fingertips that can grip as well as steel pliers.
The 3/8-inch keyless chuck is of the older two-piece variety and you must hold the front part if you want to spin it open and closed using the power. While the trigger is large and easy to squeeze, we noted times when the reverse gear didn’t want to fully engage. At these times we had to reset the green forward/reverse/lock slide lever to unstick it and then it worked as expected (this is a functional result of the mechanical track used to guide the trigger mode of the Powerhandle.) It also seemed odd that with a tool this size it doesn’t have a 1/2-inch chuck – then we realized that CEL makes a hammer drill version with a larger motor and the larger 1/2-inch chuck. The rear of the drill is angled forward, making it tough to use the palm of your hand to help apply pressure when drilling or fastening. This, plus the odd balance, resulted in a more than a few striped screw heads. So are we completely down on this tool? Not really, but we can’t say that it’s a superb specimen, only that it will work in a pinch and that CEL can stand to improve on this tool in particular, perhaps more-so than all of the rest combined. A good drill and battery platform will make every part of this kit feel and perform much better.
We used the drill to drive a series of 3-1/2 inch screws into our test piece of 4×4. Speed was adequate and the drill seemed to have enough power to do any of the the of drilling or driving you are likely to come across in non-professional use. It was evident after just a few attempts that it will be easy to strip out screws with this drill due to its awkward balance and shape. The solution is to apply as much pressure to the back of the tool as you can while driving – and to opt for coated screws if you are sinking them into anything difficult like PT lumber. There is no LED light on this tool either, so using it in darker areas will require a headlamp or other source of illumination.
Cordless Circular Saw
There’s a lot to love about the 5-1/2 inch circular saw that came with this kit. It’s easy to handle, though it weighs in at a hefty 7.75 pounds. All of that weight is sitting on the workpiece, however, and it makes for a decent cut. This saw, and its included blade made quick work of our test material. The only downside was the cutting depth. It can only do about 1-1/2″ (a tiny bit under the claimed spec of 1-3/5″), meaning that it will just handle a standard 2×4 – and not in a way that maximizes the efficiency of the blade’s cutting edge. This brings us back to thoughts overall on the Power8 – it’s just not meant for major home renovation, but rather project work for those who would like to save on space in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. The cordless circular saw includes an integrated riving knife – an unusual (in the US), but welcome feature that we found added to the safety and usability of the tool.
The circular saw can handle bevels up to 50 degrees and we found the stamped steel shoe was easy to adjust. The notch guide for 0 degrees was also a fairly accurate representation of the blade position when making cuts. The circular stores the blade guard adapter that is used when in circular saw mode and this must be removes before using the tool. The protractor, like almost all of the parts of this kit, serves dual function. In this case it can be used as both a table saw miter gauge and also a rip fence that can be slid into and fastened to the circular saw’s shoe.
We found the cordless jigsaw to be a basic model (no orbital functionality) with a nice heft to it (4 lbs, 10oz.) that helped reduce bounce during use. On board we noticed a convenient place to store the hex wrench that is used to change out the blades. We’re not found of blade change mechanisms that require a tool, but we were pleased to find that the hex screws that need to be loosened are kept from falling out and getting lost by the permanently-affixed cutting guard. The kit includes 4 jigsaw blades, two that are more designed for the tool’s use in scroll saw mode. This is a friction-style fit, so it supports both U-shank and T-shank blades, but you’ll want to ensure the blade is securely locked down before beginning any cuts.
In our testing, the jigsaw cut very well and we were able to maneuver it easily and quickly through our test material. The shoe can be beveled up to 45 degrees by loosening two hex screws (using the same on-board wrench) on the bottom of the tool. Aside from this, there isn’t much left to report. The trigger is variable speed and the lock switch functions as a safety which must be engaged briefly to allow the jigsaw to begin cutting. This was a pretty easy-to-use tool that should provide a lot of functionality for anyone purchasing this kit.
Halogen Flashlight & Table Light
There’s not much to say here except that the flashlight uses a standard Halogen lamp and is fairly bright, though not nearly as impressive as newer LED lamps (and you can always pick up an aftermarket LED lamp to replace it). The light comes with a spare lamp that stores inside the unit and can be located by unscrewing the circular lamp cover. The neck is adjustable from 90 degrees to 180, so you have a lot of flexibility in pointing the worklight wherever it’s needed. This is as good a place as any to launch into the table light functionality as well. It works. I’m not sure what else to say about it, but if you need a table lamp system so you can work on a project with overhead lighting this is a potential solution and a nice “freebie” that the Power8 system offers.
OK, time to kick it up a notch. We were pretty skeptical of a cordless table saw, but what we found out was that it was easy to set up and use. Initially we had intended to use a stopwatch and time how long it took to switch the table from one mode to the next, but after doing it a few times, and having the time come it at well under a minute, we realized that the system is too fast to bother. To go from circular saw to table saw you first remove the Powerhandle. Then, inverting the circular saw, you reattach the removable blade guard, open the Power8 Workshop case, and pull back the green product case lock. Connecting the saw to the underside of the stainless steel case lid, you can then release the lock and attach the internal power coupling to the saw to supply the power. All of this should be done with the Powerhandle removed, so there is no danger of accidental blade activation. It’s fast, and it’s easy. Really easy.
On top of that we loved the way the system took power from a side-mounted Powerhandle and allowed you to use more standard-style controls for engaging and disengaging power to the table. As for performance, it got the job done, but did bog down when forced. Just don’t expect to use it for 2×4’s or larger dimensional lumber – it’s just not made for that (besides, the depth of cut is capped at around 1.4-inches). For project pieces and 1x material, however, it can give you a level of flexibility that you’ve never had before. We were impressed with how easy it was to carry the saw around, set it up and get to work. The included push stick and rip fence are nice touches. We found the cut to be somewhat dubious in terms of accuracy – making this more or less a rough-cut device that will vary up to 1/16th of an inch depending on how perfectly you can line up the rip fence and prevent wobble on the mounting mechanism. The blade guard lifted easily during our cut and we loved the built-in riving knife that prevented kick-backs. One other neat thing – the rip fence, which is also used a post for the drill press and table light, also doubles as a level!
Equally easy to set up and use was the scroll saw. The rip fence from the table saw is used as a the post which supports the table clamp. The clamp didn’t allow larger pieces of wood to slide underneath very well, but the saw itself was effective and our testing confirmed that, in a pinch, this is a very nice addition to an already impressive tool. For those looking to understand the workspace constraints, there is about 8-1/2 inches between the rear post and the blade. The blade itself sticks up enough to handle cuts of about 1.4-inches in depth, though as we mentioned, that’s probably higher than what you’ll want to use this for.
The drill press functionality of the Power8 Workshop was pretty fun. It was simple to make the change and the push stick from the table saw now served as a our drill lever. The drill was a very consistent and had the power to cut into our test piece of 1x material. With the supplied spade bits, it also seemed very accurate and went exactly where we wanted it. We liked that the height of the post could be adjusted to our needs, allowing the use of material that could be taller or shorter as needed. Here is where the presence of an LED light on the drill would have really come in handy, illuminating your work surface upon activation of the tool. The controls for the drill press are the same as for the scroll saw and the table saw, except that instead of the power coming through the internal power coupling, it is actually supplied right through the post and into the tool via the product lock affixed on top. This is an elegant solution and shows the true engineering of the product in perhaps one of the more visible examples.
This is one of the most flexible, adaptable tool systems I’ve ever seen. Despite our criticisms it remains the only cordless bench-top system in existence to our knowledge. That gives it an inherent value right there. It also means that this system might be a life-saver for those in a third-world country looking to bring some kind of portable all-around tool system into a remote location. Plus, you can plug it in and use it while recharging a battery. With the Power8 Workshop, you could literally do things that were simply impossible before. Do we think there is room for improvement? Absolutely. For one, the use of lithium-ion batteries tops our list, as does a reduction in the general weight and size of the drill and an attention to its balance. The flashlight could be made more durable through the use of a closed design, LED bulb and gasket-sealed enclosure. We’d love to see a tool-less blade change design in the jigsaw and another half inch depth in the circular saw and table saw cutting system would be very handy. The good news is that, according to our talks with the manufacturer, a lot of these features should be added in a future version of the tool due out in 2011.
Last of all, I don’t wonder that if this entire tool were reworked for a high-end user, with more robust parts and more powerful motors, if it wouldn’t end up selling successfully at a higher price. As it stands now, the $339 price of the Power8 Workshop seems like an insanely low cost of entry for a tool this flexible. Used properly (don’t build your house with it!) it’s going to give a lot of satisfaction for smaller projects and people who need to grab a tool and get off-site and away from any power sources for a while. Additional Powerhandles can be ordered to complement the system, so you can actually use it for quite some time before you have to venture back into civilization for a recharge. For the right person we think this is a great product – and one that really has no peers.