The price and selection of Ryobi tools available at your local big-box store certainly is tempting. But is Ryobi a good brand? Let’s dig in.
Ryobi tools are made by Techtronic Industries (TTI), an OEM for many other brands. Ryobi tools are aimed at consumers, and designed to be equivalent in quality to Black and Decker.
If Ryobi is much better than Black and Decker, it’s an accident
TTI is a rival of Stanley Black and Decker, and like its rival, TTI positions its tools at several price points. TTI also sells tools under the Ridgid and Milwaukee brand names. Ridgids are better than Ryobis, and Milwaukees are better still, but they also come at correspondingly higher price points.
Using different brand names for different grades of tools helps both companies preserve the reputation of their highest-margin tool lines. That’s why you don’t see a label on the box saying something like, “By the makers of Milwaukee tools.” Associating the two brands will dilute Milwaukee’s standing more than it will help Ryobi’s. TTI doesn’t want people buying a Ryobi reciprocating saw thinking it’s 90% as good as a Milwaukee Sawzall at half the price.
They want you to buy the Ryobi, think of it as a knockoff, then replace it with a genuine Sawzall if you wear out the Ryobi. And then, if you buy a Sawzall and like it, they hope you’ll buy a Milwaukee drill and circular saw too, since they use the same battery system.
Alternatively, if you buy a Ryobi and it turns out to be good enough for you, they know they’ll make good money selling you replacement batteries, and other tools that use the same battery system. Forget about using Ryobi batteries in Milwaukees though. They don’t fit.
Advantages of Ryobi tools
The big selling point of Ryobi tools is they’ve used the same battery system since 1996. They’ve improved the battery technology, but if you have an old Ryobi cordless tool you bought in the mid-90s, you can plug a 2019 battery into it and the tool will still work with it.
That’s how I ended up with a garage full of Ryobi tools. I bought their battery-operated yard tools, then, as I needed other tools, I bought Ryobis since they used the same batteries. It meant I didn’t have to juggle multiple batteries and chargers. Can I justify a Milwaukee or Dewalt drill? Absolutely. Can I justify top-end everything? No way. I don’t use them nearly enough for that. I never buy a tool I won’t use twice, but there are certainly some tools I can go years without using, and I like it that way. And the brushless Ryobi drills aren’t bad.
Ryobi tools are cheap-enough, good-enough solutions for people who use them on weekends. If they’re all you can afford, go for it. The battery system is a clear advantage over Black and Decker. But if you take up a hobby like woodworking, you’re probably going to end up wanting to move upmarket at some point if your projects start getting really ambitious.
The upside with Ryobi is, thanks to the battery system, you probably won’t have much trouble selling those tools to finance your upgrade. Just point out how there are 125 other tools available at Home Depot that use the same battery, and how convenient it is to use the same batteries and charger to power both your drill and your weed whacker.
Saving money on Ryobi batteries
Ryobi batteries do wear out over time, and their least expensive batteries aren’t the best. You’ll do better if you buy the more expensive Ryobi batteries. Or you can buy knockoff Ryobi-compatible batteries. The knockoffs generally don’t give as long life as equivalent Ryobi batteries with the same amp-hour rating. But when they’re 80% as good and cost less than 80 percent as much, that makes them a reasonable value.