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When I first ran across the “solar powered hand tools by Steve Lucas” site, I didn’t picture what he created in my mind.  But the rig he built does look like it will work.  It’s a pretty interesting project idea really.  Steve describes the materials you will need to begin the project: 

You will need to have a 12 volt dc or higher system, such as a Solar Panel setup with a 12 volt battery.  You will also need at least one VersaPak Cordless Tool with charger from Black & Decker.  It must be the kind that has a charger cradle with the power pack (transformer) wired separate from the charger.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the new VersaPak Tools come with a new style charger that just plugs into the wall, we want the old style that has a cord.

He goes on to walk you through the connections needed to start benifeting from solar powered Black and Decker tools. 

It might not be a good idea to start tearing through all your B&D tools just yet, but it might be cool if you want to try a useful solar experiment and want to shop a bit of eBay for the old style charger. 

At any rate, it’s a good read for hardcore DIYers and hardware hackers.

Solar Powered Hand Tools [thefarm.org]


3 Responses to How-To: Hack a Black & Decker Versa Pack Into Solar Power

  1. Good concept, shoddy execution. The use of a linear (78xx series) voltage regulator will burn off a lot of the power as heat, which is even sadder considering that the 8v is then *further* regulated by the VersaPak charger. This is after the ~16v coming off the panel was already regulated down to 13.8 by the charge controller.

    Considering that large PV panels go for about $5/watt and smaller ones lose the economy of scale, it’d be beneficial to use a switch-mode regulator here. Fans of the prebuilt approach should look at Dimension Engineering’s “AnyVolt” line, the “Mini” version of which hooks up exactly like a 78xx. It could be hooked straight to the panel’s output, too.

    Also, the Versapak system tends to be tragically underpowered. Go with regular NiMH AA’s for your low-end stuff: flashlights, dremel, screwdriver. For anything more, get a real battery architecture and use the car charger. Since the 18v packs require a step-up from 12v nominal, the car chargers are built with a pretty smart switching power converter, and the efficiency isn’t bad.

    *note: “switching” in reference to a power converter doesn’t mean turning the output on and off. It’s an electronics term that refers to the internal mode of operation that makes it more efficient than a “linear” regulator.

  2. Kurt Schwind says:

    A few years back I bought a ‘suite’ of cordless tools. When that happened, I pitched my under-powered versa-pack tools. Now I kind of wish I hadn’t. It’s a bit gimicky, but still the bragging rights to walk around with a solar-powered drill-driver is pretty cool.

  3. Adam says:

    Man, those are still around? I have a set of tools that use those cylinder-style battery packs… I bought the set in ’97 and i’ve replaced the batteries a couple of times so far. I keep meaning to get a new set of cordless tools, but, well- these just seem to work okay.

    Plus, putting the batteries into the drill feels like lock-and-load time from a sci-fi movie (Anyone who has owned one of these knows what i mean!).

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