Makita LXT 400 Lithium-Ion Combo Kit

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This article is from Issue 9 of Woodcraft Magazine.

 A close look at all the powerful components of an impressive new offering.

By Tim Rinehart

Tool reviews, no matter how subjective or scientific you try to be, will always be affected by the tester’s personal likes, dislikes and prejudices. All the tool tests and articles I have been involved with at some point boil down simply to whether or not I like the tool.

I realize specifications such as amperage, voltage, rpm and torque are important. But think about it. When you call a buddy to ask how he likes his new circular saw, you don’t ask “Hey Bob, what was the amp draw reading at ¾ blade depth cross grain in white oak?” You ask how he likes it, and why. 

I’ll throw in a few specs I think are important, but this is a user’s review. Years of carpentry and construction work taught me just about every way to abuse a tool, although I have faith that young construction workers are inventing new ways to stress their new tools every day.

Up front

These were the first lithium-ion battery tools I ever had the opportunity to use, and I was eager to see if the batteries lived up to all the marketing hype I’d read. When they first arrived I was disappointed that they were 18-volt. I’m a big fan of 12-volt tools; all the 18-volt tools I have used in the past were heavy and awkward to me. I prefer exactly 12 volts and two batteries — how’s that for one of those personal prejudices I was talking about? To my surprise, the tools are actually lighter than their 12-volt NiCad equivalents. For example, the lithium-ion impact driver weighed 1.7 oz. less than my 12-volt NiCad version.

Makita furnished their 18-volt, 3-Ah Lithium-Ion Combo Kit for evaluation. The set contains a hammer drill, impact driver, circular saw, flashlight, charger, two batteries and carry bag. When I first unpacked the kit and saw the soft-sided carrying case, the old contractor in me thought, “Well, at least all the pieces will be in one place.” Another one of those prejudices: I like hard cases. I have a tendency after a hard day to load tools in the back of my truck not-too-gently and in the order I pick them up. A set of saw horses and a half-sheet of three-quarter plywood may well end up piled on top. I have to admit it withstood being dropped, thrown, and buried under metal tool cases with no damage to the tools. 

The case features sewn-in holster pockets with Velcro restraining straps for the drill and impact driver; large pockets on each end hold the light and charger. The outside of the case has two small and two large pockets with Velcro flaps, and two small zippered pockets. These seemed to fill up instantly with pencils, tapes, screws and a couple of Twinkies, and I really liked having a place for bits, drivers, and all the small things you forget to grab when running over to a friend’s house to help with a project. 

The two carrying handles Velcro together for convenience, and Makita also furnishes a shoulder strap. Good, I guess, for when you try to make one trip from the truck to the job carrying everything you need, even though you know that’s impossible since you always forget something. The only gripe I ended up with is this: there is no provision for securing the circular saw in the case. If you have only the furnished tools in the bag, the saw tends to bounce around like a rock in a tin can. I had so many other tools stuffed inside the roomy bag it wasn’t a problem, but I still would like to see some kind of restraint for the saw. Now for the good stuff: the tools themselves.

Making an impact 

If you read the impact driver review in the last issue of Woodcraft Magazine, you know that the Makita 12-volt was my personal favorite. With the 18-volt lithium-ion they improved some already-good features of the 12-volt version, but changed one of my favorites. 

The Model BTD140 weighs in at 3.3 lbs., providing 0-2300 rpm and 0-3200 impacts per minute. Features include a steel ball-bearing motor, built-in LED light, removable belt clip, and a short 5¾" head length for getting into tight places. The driver has a smooth trigger, making starting screws easy, but the initial rpm seems to be slightly faster than the 12-volt version. The LED now lights up prior to the motor engaging, allowing you to find and engage a fastener before the bit spins, and stays on after the trigger is released — great new features. 

Even though the grip is not soft, the rubberlike material extends around the front and I found the handle not only comfortable during long use, but also easy to grip with sweaty hands, helping prevent those ugly unplanned drop tests. 

The belt clip is well positioned, wide enough to fit a tool belt but not too loose on a regular belt. The clip is removable, but is held on with a small Phillips screw that will mysteriously disappear as soon as you remove it. I would prefer a release mechanism that does not require you to remove a screw when you are 20' up a ladder. 

On this model, Makita has lowered the angle of the head to the handle. It is still slightly angled, but not nearly as much as the Model 6980FD 12-volt, which was one of the features I really liked. Still, the BTD140 handled well and did not tire my wrists even after several hours of driving deck screws. 

If you are looking to add an impact driver to your tool arsenal, the BTD140 would be one of the first I’d check out. It drove deck screws all day without a whimper, and placidly withstood being dropped, thrown, stepped on in the mud, and generally misused. It still runs smooth and quiet. 

Drillling Down 

Makita chose their Model BHP451 hammer drill-driver for this combo kit, and I think it was a great choice. This feature-loaded model has three modes: hammer, drill and driver. Each mode can be used in one of three speeds, 0-300 rpm, 0-600 rpm, and 0-1700 rpm. Additionally, there are 16 torque settings in the driver mode. Power from the steel ball-bearing motor is delivered through an all-metal transmission to the ½" keyless chuck. 

Two LEDs provide plenty of light, and like the impact driver, they light prior to the motor engaging and stay on after the trigger is released. It shares the same good belt clip as the impact driver, with the same screw retaining system that definitely makes it a pain to quickly remove if necessary. Makita also includes a quick-detach side handle which can be positioned at almost any angle. The side handle is a real arm and wrist saver when using large bits or drilling concrete. 

I own two cordless hammer drills, and used a 14-volt Ni-Cad model side-by-side with the Makita to drill holes in a block wall to anchor a wood rack. The Makita was faster, and delivered a much harder hammer strike. In fact, the Makita hammered its way through as fast as my corded hammer drill. The drill features the same good ergonomics and grip as the impact driver, but is a little nose-heavy. Not enough to be uncomfortable, but it is noticeable. A small price for all the features contained in that nose.

Cutting through it

After using the impact driver and drill, I was a little disappointed in the Model BSS610 6¼" circular saw. 

First the good points: It has a cutting depth of 19/16" at 45°, and 2¼" at 90°. The trigger safety lock is easy to engage no matter how you are holding the saw, the best of any cordless saw I have used. The 6¼" blade makes cuts my cordless 4" trim saw can’t. The built-in LED let my old eyes see the line, and the dust blower kept the line clean to see. 

I could see the saw had good ergonomics and a blade guard that never hung up even when filled with dirt and dust. It has a heavy cast base plate and a decent carbide-tipped blade, and weighs only 7 lbs. With all these features, how could I be disappointed? 

The answer is power, or lack of it. The saw just doesn’t seem to have enough motor for the blade size. You can rip a two-by with it, just don’t be in a hurry. I stalled it regularly, in all kinds of material. I may be expecting too much from a cordless circular saw, but like I said earlier, I use tools hard, and have high expectations for my money. 

We did use the saw a lot, for cuts that probably should have been made with a corded 7¼" saw. But a cordless is so much easier to grab when you need to rip a short piece of 2x6 in half and the nearest power cord is in the truck. 

If you’re willing to be a little patient and let the saw cut at its own pace, you won’t be let down by this rugged little saw. Just don’t expect to shove it along the line. That said, it’s still a much better and more versatile job site cordless saw than any 4" version.

Shedding some light

Come on, how do you review a flashlight? I have never had a flashlight that used one of my batteries from a cordless tool. It didn’t seem like a necessary purchase since I have an array of flashlights already, some of which actually work. 

The very first time I took this combo kit to a job I used the flashlight. I was helping a friend run new TV cable through his house and it seemed every place I needed to measure or drill was in the back corner of a closet or some other dark hole. One of the batteries stayed in the light all day, and the light was probably the most-used tool. It sits steady on its base, the head is articulated to put light where you need it, it throws a wide light pattern, and it has a convenient push button on/off switch positioned so you can hit it with your thumb while holding the light. 

My only complaint was a dark spot right in the middle of the light beam, but this is really nitpicking to find a negative. I don’t know what kind of bulb Makita used, but it will still work after several drop tests from floor joists to a concrete basement floor, and one trip down a set of stairs. I may have to give this light to one of the young carpenters to try and break; the old guy didn’t manage to hurt it.

Taking charge

I am now a believer in Makita’s 18-volt lithium-ion batteries. Just like a certain bunny, they seem to just keep on running. With only a few exceptions, it took about 15 minutes to completely recharge a battery. This means I was not fully discharging the batteries when using the tools, and we used them several times for extended jobs. 

No problem on recharging partially discharged batteries; the Lithium-Ion batteries can be recharged anytime without any memory effect. The Makita charger collects data from the battery’s data memory chip for optimal battery charging, and the charger has a built-in fan that automatically turns on for battery cooling during charging to prevent overheating.

Individually these are all good tools, and with a good case that has plenty of room for extra hand tools this is a great combination. It quickly became the first thing I threw in the truck when heading out for quick job. Now if I just had an 18-volt lithium-ion recip saw….

— Tim Rinehart is a contributing editor to Woodcraft Magazine.

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