Pros: Cheap, powerful
Cons: Crummy "safety" devices prevent safe and proper operation of both saws.
The Ryobi 18V Cordless Super Combo Kit consists of a drill/driver, reciprocating saw, 5 ? circular saw, flashlight, two batteries + charger, cordless vacuum, and associated hardware such as a rip fence and extra blades for the two saws. All of this is packaged in a plastic carrying case with a simple, molded-in, handle. The 18 Volt batteries power all of the tools in the kit.
Before going into too much depth, it is important to distinguish the Ryobi kit from other cordless tool manufacturers such as DeWalt, Bosch, or Makita. Essentially, the Ryobi brand is a plain-jane line of tools that will do their jobs satisfactorily for the most part, but will lack the extra features found in the higher-line brands. For example, I bought my future son-in-law a set of 18V cordless Bosch tools a couple of years ago for Christmas (lucky boy). His reciprocating saw features an adjustable base or shoe. Moving the shoe allows the sawyer to set various depths of cut. You slide the shoe out to lessen the cutting depth, or in to increase it. This feature is important when you need to cut through stuff like drywall while missing such things as power cables or telephone lines embedded within the walls.
Ryobis saw does not feature an adjustable shoe. If you want a shallower cut, you had better buy a shorter blade or possess a real steady hand.
Thats just one example. The flashlight in the DeWalt kit has a flexible neck that allows more precise positioning of the light. Ryobi does not. Makitas circular saw is 6 ? as opposed to the 5 ? Ryobi. Stuff like that.
But heres the kicker: the Ryobi kit sells for $169! A similar set from Makita or Bosch will run upwards of $500. The price delta here is precisely the reason I decided to settle for the Ryobis over the others mentioned. Basically, I reckoned I could do without some of the fancier features in exchange for what is essentially a nice selection of cordless hand tools at a great price. That was the theory, anyway.
Yogi Berra once remarked, In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
Well, in practice, the Ryobis, at least a couple of the tools in the kit, possess nearly fatal flaws. In fact, the only workaround is to modify the tools in question, void their warrantees, and put yourself at risk of financial loss should you fail in the attempt. For that reason alone, I am giving this kit a not recommended rating. There is a workaround, which I will describe, and if this workaround is performed, the tools work flawlessly. More on this in a bit
Lets begin with the Ryobi Reciprocating Saw, the first tool in the kit that I had to modify to make work. The reciprocating saw is fairly light-weight at about 6 pounds with the battery affixed. It has a variable speed motor controlled by the force applied to the trigger and can saw from zero to 3000 strokes per minute. The variable speed is quite easy to control and the 18V motor is powerful enough to pull the blade through most material. In operation, the Ryobi is quite easy to control and will make nice cuts through drywall, 2X4s and the like. The only problem is getting the saw to run in the first place. You see, there is this safety device integrated into the body of the saw above the handle called a trigger lock-out. This device is spring-loaded and prevents the trigger from being depressed until the lock-out is first pressed. There is only one problem with this safety theory, and that is that it is impossible for the operator to depress the lockout and the trigger at the same time. You must use two hands to get it to work! You have to reach over with one hand and press in the lockout while operating the saw with the other hand. See anything wrong with this picture, folks? God starts us off with only two hands, if we are lucky, and most of the time, when you are sawing, you need that other hand to guide the front of the saw! Reciprocating saws are two-handed tools. It takes both hands to use one smoothly and that leaves you fresh out of hands to operate the stupid trigger lockout.
Now, I know that if this discussion were happening on the Larry King Show, and a Ryobi Rep were there, he or she would be telling us all about the necessity of adding the trigger lockout so that idiots are prevented from sawing off precious portions of their anatomies and dragging Ryobi into court over it.
Fair enough, Ryobi. I understand the necessity for safety devices on power tools used by idiots. At the same time, it doesnt mean that these safety devices have to prevent the owner/idiot from use of his tool! I can think of any number of ways to provide a safety interlock for the trigger that would still allow the saw to be used in an appropriate manner. Ryobi, it seems, cannot.
At first, I tried to duct-tape the trigger lock-out into a constant arm mode so that I could use the saw properly. No workie! Duct tape will hold the device in position for a few minutes, but the spring tension in the lockout will eventually stretch the duct tape back to square one and return you to a state of sawlessness.
At this point, I was in a quandary. It was either take the whole thing back to Home Depot and get something else or just fix the problem permanently by reengineering Ryobis tools for them. I chose the latter course. Taking a Phillips-head screwdriver, I removed all of the screws holding the case halves together except the ones going through the soft-rubber portion of the casing down near the blade. This allowed me to separate the case halves gently, and offered just enough room for me to stick my fingers in there and pluck the damned trigger lockout out of the case like a diseased molar. It comes out in one, ugly, bright yellow, piece.
I tossed it on the floor in disgust, replaced the screws, and continued with my work. The saw works perfectly fine, and will cut your business clean off if you make the mistake of pressing the trigger while that blade is anywhere near, um, your business.
Now, before anyone decides to try this on their own, they should know that I am one of those individuals who can take just about any mechanical or electronic device apart and put it back together again. I do not know why this is true, it just is. I do not fear breaking things when I take them apart and when I put them back together, they almost always work better than before. Keep that in mind. The modification is easy, but you will probably be violating the terms of your warrantee, the laws of your native state, several municipal codes, and God knows what else if you yank that stupid interlock. Still, it didnt stop me, and I have a reciprocating saw that works.
The same situation holds true for the 5 ? circular saw included with the kit. It has enough power to go through a 2X4, about as large a stock as you would cut with a tool like this, and it also features the handy trigger lock-out device mentioned above. Same rules apply. You do not have enough hands to guide the saw, operate the trigger, and hold your intended cutting stock at the same time, in comfort anyway. The one difference is that they made the lockout a little bigger on the circular saw, and it is just possible to catch it with the thumb of your trigger hand while using it. I have not attempted to pull the case apart and remove the lockout from this saw yet, but you can bet I will, eventually. It appears to be a simple matter. A few screws hold the plastic halves of the case together. And no, duct tape does not work here, either. The spring tension on the lockout will eventually stretch it out of shape.
Other than the above, the circular saw is a handy little affair for occasional ad hoc sawing chores. It also features a fairly flimsy looking rip fence if needed, and the base of the saw can be tilted for miter cuts. The only problem is that the small blade will pretty much limit your miter (or bevel, if you prefer) cuts to about 1 stock or less. The blade wont go deep enough to get through a 2X4 when you have the base tilted. But thats not a big deal for most. If you get to the point where you are having to cut miters with a handsaw, you are probably better off just to come over and use my table saw like everyone else around here does.
Drill/Driver: This one I have no serious complaints with. It has enough torque to drive a 3 screw right through a 2X4 and into the underlying stock. I am not too happy with the supplied bits, however. They just do not bite the screw as well as some of the higher quality aftermarket bits. They want to jump out of the screw a bit too early, always a disappointment by most accounts. The trigger does offer very easy control over the variable speed motor and it will crank hard at low speed. There is an adjustable clutch for use in soft material such as drywall or annoying peoples skulls, and the drill has a two-speed transmission for fast or slow drilling and driving. It reverses easily with a selector button just above the trigger and the keyless chuck can hold bits up to ? in diameter. There is a nice little bubble-level right in the back of the drill that you can use to get fairly perpendicular holes driven when necessary, and there is a small, magnetized tray just above the battery compartment that will hold those pesky screws. Finally, there is no stupid trigger lockout on the thing, meaning one more tool I can operate with, not on.
Flashlight: There is nothing special about the flashlight. Light comes out of it and it will stand on its own, pointing pretty much wherever it wants to. If better flashlights are important to you in the context of cordless power tools, take a look at the DeWalts. Be sure to check your bank balance first.
Vacuum: This device is really surprisingly powerful. Just dont expect to pick up much with it before having to empty it. A little sawdust here, some Cheerios there, thats about it.
Batteries and charger:
The batteries do charge in about an hour, and when new, they really do provide adequate power for all of the tools in the kit. I have been doing quite a bit of work on my youngest Daughters new house recently, and have found that I can get one battery charged faster than I can run the other out of juice. So far, so good. But I do have one gripe about the batteries, and that is they do not seem to want to come off of the tools! Run one of the blasted things down, and then just try to get it out of the reciprocating saw, for instance. The flipping things almost have to be pried apart. The drill never wants to let go of its current battery and I always have to bang on it to get the darned things to release. This is kind of a pain and nothing like what you will find on a Bosch system, for instance.
Now comes the sad part of this review, and that is the explanation for my cheesy rating of these tools. By all rights of usefulness to me, they deserve far better than they are getting here, which is ONE star only. So why am I hammering them? My reason is that I cannot justify recommending these tools to anyone when crucial pieces of the kit cannot be operated satisfactorily right out of the box. Ten minutes, a screwdriver, and a criminal heart will allow just about anyone to modify the saws into near-perfect operating condition and suitability. But that just dont cut it for me, and it shouldnt for anyone. Yes, you can get yourself a deal and have a decent set of cordless tools by buying the Ryobi, if you are willing to take it upon yourself to reengineer their mistakes. I was willing to do so, but never would I dream of asking anyone else to do the same. And neither should Ryobi.