JCB Brushless Combi Drill and Impact Driver : Serious and surprising?

PART of my job is to keep up with tool news from far and wide, and recently I have noticed a trend – particularly from the USA – where ‘own brands’ sold in places like Lowes and Home Depot, have featured ever more strongly in tests and reviews, writes PETER BRETT.

Most often they score very well in the ‘value for money’ category, which can be perceived as a backhanded compliment, but increasingly, the features and performance of the tools have measured up with international brands. I have read several tests in which the ‘own brands’ have outscored the others. And just like our tradespeople, the Americans don’t like paying more without a very good reason.

I guess the above is a result of fierce competition in the power tool market, the increasing sophistication of Far East manufacturing, and a much wider knowledge of battery technologies driven by mobile phone and electric car development.

Hence, it was with quite a lot of interest that I took delivery of a load of cordless tools from JCB. The strapline on the box read ‘Serious Tools. Surprising Prices.’ And since the JCB branding stands for a lot, I clearly needed to take this strapline seriously.

What’s on offer?

What is obvious is that the new JCB range of tools is not a half-hearted attempt to launch a few tools and then ‘see how it goes’. The range of tools is fully formed and comprehensive, with a selection of JCB-branded power tool accessories to go with it.

The tools themselves are very well ‘specced’ to compare to the competition and include 5Ah lithium ion battery packs, brushless motors and a confidence-inspiring five-year guarantee for tools registered within 30 days after purchase.

I might come back to look at some of the other cordless JCB tools that were included in the very nice roller bag (recip saw, an SDS drill, 12v cordless combi, circular saw, angle grinder and portable site light) but for the moment I will focus on the handsomely L-Boxxed kit of an old staple for many trades – the combi drill and impact driver set.

The package

Tool cases are an essential part of tool organisation these days and the L-Boxx system is robust and spacious. I hate tool cases where there isn’t enough room for the inevitable accessories and the fight to stow the charger cord takes up five minutes of your packing-up time because it has to be done ‘just so’. The two handles, top and front, provide good alternative positions for carrying.

The tools themselves have a custom fitted space, as do the charger and spare battery pack, and there is plenty of room around the edges for drill and driver bits.

I started by picking up the combi drill. It is chunky and weighs in at around 1.35kg without a battery pack. It looks and feels robustly built and all the controls work as intended with no stickiness. I tried the feel of it compared to some of my other 18v combis and there doesn’t seem to be that much difference in weight and all-important ‘feel’.

Like many combis these days, users can choose a 3 or 4 Ah battery pack from the JCB range to save weight in certain working conditions.

In pretty much every respect, the combi follows the well-established layout of current drills. With push-through forward/reverse switch above the trigger, slider switch on top of the casing and torque/mode selection via collars, it literally takes seconds to feel at home with this tool. There are also all the handy extras that are needed. For me, the LED light on the base is essential but the optional left or right-handed belt clips I don’t normally use as I don’t want to risk a trouser falling down incident. There is also space for a wrist strap if needed.

When looking at the specs, users will see that they are not being short-changed. With a max torque of 65Nm, a max drilling capacity of 35mm in wood, 13mm in steel and 10mm in masonry it matches up with the competition. I tried the combi in all of these scenarios and it performed as expected.

Impact assessment

The impact driver is another robust-looking tool and has the familiar layout of such tools. The ergonomics and balance are good and there is, as above, the option to use a smaller 3 or 4 Ah battery pack to save weight.

Details like the battery charge status lights on the battery packs and robust battery sliders that work smoothly and click-on positively reinforce the professional feel of the tools. Like the combi above, there is the choice of a left or right-handed belt hook and space for a wrist strap. The LED shines right onto the nose of the tool where it is most effective.

Some tradespeople use impact drivers as default screwdrivers, even when they are clearly overpowered for the job. I hate the clatter noise, so I usually keep impact drivers for driving hard–to-drive long screws. With 180Nm on tap and an impact rate of 0-3300 bpm this driver performed very well on driving 70mm long screws into some dense oak. The hex chuck has pronounced ridges on it for easy mounting and releasing of driver bits, and it helps to keep the overall length of the tool to around 153mm – compact enough for fitting work.  

Most users will probably choose the super-fast charger that takes about 60 minutes to charge a 5Ah battery pack and will therefore ensure that there is no tool downtime due to uncharged batteries.

Surprising prices

With a body-only internet price of around £75 for the combi and £65 for the impact driver, it is clear that prices are very competitive and, indeed, tempting for end users. Since the JCB tools are part of a whole system with interchangeable 3, 4 and 5 Ah battery platforms and options like tool cases and USB charger adaptors, it means that buyers can be confident that the tools are not just ‘one-offs’. When you throw in a comprehensive guarantee and a good range of accessories, it is clear that JCB has done its homework and we can welcome another competitor into the market.

JCB; Brushless tools; Combi Drill; Impact Driver;
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