A power tool is a tool that is actuated by an additional power source and mechanism other than the solely manual labor used with hand tools. The most common types of power tools use electric motors. Internal combustion engines and compressed air are also commonly used. Other power sources include steam engines, direct burning of fuels and propellants, such as in powder-actuated tools, or even natural power sources such as wind or moving water. Tools directly driven by animal power are not generally considered electronics power tools. Power tools are used in industry, in construction, in the garden, for housework tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and around the house for purposes of driving (fasteners), drilling, cutting, shaping, sanding, grinding, routing, polishing, painting, heating and more.
Power tools are classified as either stationary or portable, where portable means hand-held. Portable power tools have obvious advantages in mobility. Stationary power tools, however, often have advantages in speed and precision. A typical table saw, for instance, not only cuts faster than a regular hand saw, but the cuts are smoother, straighter, and more square than what is normally achievable with a hand-held power saw. Some stationary power tools can produce objects that cannot be made in any other way. Lathes, for example, produce truly round objects.
Currently as of 2021, an electric motor is the most popular choice to power stationary tools, though in the past they were powered by windmills, water wheels, and steam. Some museums and hobbyists still maintain and operate stationary tools powered by these older power sources. Portable electric tools may be either corded or battery-powered. Compressed air is the customary power source for nailers and paint sprayers.
A few tools (called powder-actuated tools) are powered by explosive cartridges. Tools that run on gasoline or gasoline-oil mixes are made for outdoor use; typical examples include most chainsaws and string trimmers. Other tools like blowtorches will burn their fuel externally to generate heat. Compressed air is universally used where there is a possibility of fuel or vapor ignition – such as automotive workshops. Professional level electric tools differ from DIY or ‘consumer’ tools by being double insulated and not earthed – in fact, they must not be earthed for safety reasons.
Stationary power tools for metalworking are usually called machine tools. The term machine tool is not usually applied to stationary power tools for woodworking, although such usage is occasionally heard, and in some cases, such as drill presses and bench grinders, exactly the same tool is used for both woodworking and metalworking.