Power vs. Consumption – Why bigger isn’t always better.

Bigger is better, except when it isn’t. When it comes to horsepower, bench press numbers, and the size of the fish you just caught a bigger number is better. However, when it comes to cholesterol numbers or the amount of fuel your car burns to get down the road, many of us would agree that less is desired.

The detailing world has been fighting the misconception “that bigger is better” for quite some time. Too thick a coat or too many coats of wax makes it hard to wipe off. It’s a mistake that many a rookie has made at one point or another. Too much soap and you’ll have a hard time rinsing a vehicle clean. Use too much degreaser in your dilution and you end up etching or discoloring a set of wheels. But what about the tools we use? Little thought is given to what is too much. We regularly express our desire for more power, grunting like cavemen describing tools, but is it possible that too much power is a bad thing?


It is important for consumers to be educated on what watts really mean to them. I’m not for a second suggesting we all become experts in electrical engineering, but a general level of understanding helps us all be better shoppers/consumers. Not everyone is capable of building a car from scratch, but I think we can all agree that having an understanding of what the efficiency, horsepower, and torque numbers mean in terms of performance make you better equipped to buy the right car.

Power tools take energy from the grid (input) and turn it into torque (output). Yet, in the US tools are rated by the power they have the potential to consume (watts) and not by the work they actually do. Savvy marketers from around the industry, especially those producing lower quality copies, have recognized the bigger is better mentality and combined with a lack of consumer education leverage it to present products as better purely based on statistics of power consumption. So it is key to understand that watts is not a measurement of work done by the tool (output). Watts is a measurement of consumption (input), like how a human body consumes calories or a car consumes fuel. Judging a tool’s potential on higher watts alone is no different than deeming a car superior for using more fuel or saying a meal is better simply because it has more fat content.

Simply put – increased watts does not directly translate to increased performance and certainly not in a linear way. While increased output can (and typically does) result from increased input, there are other factors to consider such as the byproducts of the increased consumption and what happens to the excess power that isn’t being delivered to the surface.


Staying with our analogy of a car with worse efficiency, let’s also consider that your large increase in fuel consumption only netted a small amount of additional horsepower; the idea seems even crazier now right? Stuffing more fuel into the input side for a small net gain on the output side is a demonstration of how inefficient that particular car is. But what happens to all that additional input? Energy will manifest itself in a few ways, it cannot magically disappear or be purely absorbed, so we have to define (for polishing tools) where the excess energy goes:

  • Mechanical Movement – this is the desired result of the input conversion. Orbits, rotations, etc… ultimately we want to take as much of the input and create mechanical movement. Any other input that isn’t converted to this output would be considered waste. The challenge is that in an orbital tool you are working with an unbalanced (eccentric) movement that wants to waste some of that energy by design. To create an efficient random orbital polisher that minimizes wasted energy takes some very precise and clever engineering.
  • HEAT – the most common way for excess input to manifest itself. Heating of the housing, heating of the internals, heating of the plate, potentially heating of the pad and ultimately the working surface. Heat is considered an undesirable byproduct and experienced detailers, especially those that work in less controlled or mobile environments know all too well how unpredictable compounds can perform when undesired heat is introduced.
  • VIBRATION – by virtue of its design an orbital tool is not balanced, even more so when discussing large orbit tools. Fortunately, no one runs a polisher for its intended purpose without a pad, but when a pad doesn’t offset enough of the excess energy or the energy is more than the counterbalance can effectively offset the result is increased/excess vibration. No one likes the feeling of having their joints rattled loose by a tool vibrating in their hands, and this undesired byproduct has implications in the health of the operator as well as (to a degree) the quality of the finished product.
  • NOISE – an often unconsidered factor in this arena, the audible noise the tool produces as it operates is itself a form of energy consumption. Gears lashing together, motor rotation being generated then translated through the gearbox, the translation of that movement to an eccentric movement, it all creates sound, and the creation of sound is a form of energy consumption. A quiet tool is often times the sign of an efficient tool. While we should all probably be working with hearing protection when polishing the reduction of noise at its source is ideal.


Most of the materials published about the Mark II and now the Mark III BigFoot polishers have included a specific reference: “30% more power” than the original generation tools. How each person chooses to translate that greatly changes what the message is. As we’ve been discussing – if it were 30% more input power what we would really be concerned with would be the net result to output, if any?

Ultimately, what we are concerned with is output to the working surface. We as objective detailers shouldn’t let the red herring of “input” enter into our minds unless we are calculating how much our energy bill is going to increase. If two tools produce similar results, then the tool that is using less energy is more efficient. A properly balanced, highly tuned polisher will deliver better results without all the undesired byproducts of a tool that requires too much energy in an effort to mask an inefficient design.

It took nearly two years of careful development to improve an already revolutionary design, our engineers managed an extraordinary feat when they finalized the Mark II platform. It delivered at least 30% more power to the surface than the previous generation tool without increasing power consumption. This means better performance at the working surface with the same 500-watt input rating. It also means there is no increase in heat, no increase in vibration, and not even an increase in your energy bill – if that is an area of concern for you. This same efficient engineering carries over to the Mark III platform squeezing even more performance out of that same 500-watt input in a further refined chassis with numerous ergonomic and functionality improvements.

BUT HOW? Witchcraft? Voodoo? Alien Technology? The Mark II, and now Mark III, accomplished this increased output without increased consumption through a redesigned, custom in-house-built motor, improved electronic controls, and careful internal redesigns. It took nearly as long to improve BigFoot as it did to create the original design. The benefit of being an engineering firm and tool manufacturer opens the door to amazing possibilities. Add a little fabled Italian passione and you get the class-leading BigFoot tools in their latest generation.

Revisiting our car analogy one last time:

“The latest model generates 30% more horsepower than the previous model did, and does so without any increased fuel consumption!”

That sounds like a winning proposition and the car we’d want to buy.