Tool Reviews

Smart power: This isn’t your grandfather’s extension cord

The ceiling mount model features a heavy-duty swiveling mount and a steel ceiling mounting base.
<p>The ceiling mount model features a heavy-duty swiveling mount and a steel ceiling mounting base.</p>

AC power is obviously an indispensable feature for any shop, to power an array of electric components. For on-demand power (for operation of various electric hand tools), all of us are accustomed to using extension cords and spring-retractable extension cord units. Loose extension cords plug into wall sockets and live a tough life, being dragged around the shop, getting walked on, getting filthy from shop floors, being tangled into a frustrating puzzle when not handled or stored carefully, etc. Spring-retractable power cord units (mounted to a wall or a ceiling) are sometimes finicky during pull-out, position locking and retraction. Also, it’s common for spring-assist units to sometimes wildly whip the cord during fast retraction, with the possibility of the power cord head smacking into the operator or a nearby vehicle. We’ve come to accept these shortcomings as a natural aspect of a shop environment.

Sometimes, technology works in our favor. An example is the new RoboReel power cord system. While the features may at first seem like overkill to some, the benefits quickly become appreciated to even the most stubborn of us.

The 50-foot 12-gauge power cord is stored inside a free-pivoting ball housing that features an electric motor. Two versions are available, including a portable unit and a ceiling-mount unit. The portable version features a built-in carry handle and resting frame. It can be bench-mounted or wall-mounted with the appropriate optional brackets, or carried around the shop to any convenient location. The ceiling mount, as the term implies, mounts to the shop ceiling.

The ceiling mount model of the RoboReel pivots 360-degrees via a sturdy ball pivot.
<p>The ceiling mount model of the RoboReel pivots 360-degrees via a sturdy ball pivot.</p>

OPERATION

Now for the really cool features. The ball housing pivots in all planes, aligning with the direction of the extended cord. The cord’s power head (where you plug in your tool) features a center-located button that allows you to turn the power on/off and to retract the cord. Simply press the button, and the power shuts off (indicated by the LED lights turning off). Press the button once more, and the electric motor retracts the cord back into the ball housing.

When the cord retracts to a pre-programmed point (yes, you can actually program this unit), the cord slows down until it reaches its stopping point. This slow-down feature eliminates the possibility of cord whipping. The design totally eliminates cord tangling and twisting. It’s like having a personal robot that takes care of cord retraction and storing. No more messy tangles.

Each model features a cord retraction button on top of the dome housing, in addition to the control button in the receptacle.
<p>Each model features a cord retraction button on top of the dome housing, in addition to the control button in the receptacle.</p>

By the way, power to the receptacle remains off until you begin to pull the cord out of its housing. When the cord is pulled out to a length of 18 inches, the power activates the receptacle, ready to accept whatever tool or device that you plan to plug in and use (no need to perform a separate step to turn the power head on). LED lights on the receptacle provide indication of available power.

The RoboReel is easily adjusted to slow down at a desired length. Referring to the ceiling mount unit as an example, simply extract the cord to your desired length (free-hanging height), and attach the ball stopper to the cord. This determines where the receptacle head will be positioned relative to the shop floor when the cable is parked, locating it for easy access.

Next, pull down the receptacle head until it touches the floor (or your chosen point where you want the cord retraction speed to slow down). Press and hold the button on the receptacle head until the LED light blinks twice, and release the button. The slow-down point is now programmed.

The ceiling mount’s cord is fitted with an adjustable ball-stopper. At our shop, we adjusted ours with the receptacle about 7 feet above the floor — low enough to grab but high enough to be out of the way.
<p>The ceiling mount’s cord is fitted with an adjustable ball-stopper. At our shop, we adjusted ours with the receptacle about 7 feet above the floor — low enough to grab but high enough to be out of the way.</p>

During retraction the cord retrieval will now slow down once it reaches this programmed point. The portable model needs no ball stopper, as it’s designed to stop retrieval once the receptacle head meets the ball housing.

The ceiling mount model features a pro-level sturdy mounting bracket that attaches to a solid location in the ceiling. The unit’s pivoting bracket head features a ball socket. This allows the unit to pivot in any direction, so you’re not fighting the unit when pulling the cord out or during cord retraction. Very cool.

Each model (portable and ceiling) features a male terminal that must plug into available 120 V power. In addition to the cord retraction button on the receptacle head, the ball housing also features a dome retraction button on the top of the ball housing (this allows cord retraction control at either the receptacle end or at the ball itself).

While some may view these features as unnecessarily frivolous, once you start using the RoboReel, you quickly begin to appreciate the convenience. After playing with our test units, I became a fan after only the first few minutes.

Aside from the convenience (no more arguing with my spring-loaded cord unit), one of the most notable features is the total elimination of having to deal with tangled or twisted cords. If you want to keep your shop tidy and uncluttered, this is the way to go.

After repeated operation (pulling the cord out to any location in my shop and hitting the retrieve button), the cord quietly and smoothly crawls away from me, slows down and parks itself with no unexpected stops, tangles or whipping. I can now say goodbye to my temperamental spring-loaded cord unit and do away with my collection of twisted, dirty and ungainly extension cords that once hung on my shop wall like an assortment of outdated Christmas tree decorations.

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