What is the best cordless drill? There is not one answer to that question and in fact the correct answer for you depends on many factors. When picking which portable power tool is best for you it is important to know what type of projects you will be working on, as well as your budget. In this overview we cover what to look for when buying a drill including:
- Types of Drills
- Voltage, Battery and Charger
- Size and Weight
- Performance Including Speed and Torque
- Other Features
Types of Drills
There are several different types of drills, each suited for a different task. Select the drill that best fits your needs.
- Cordless Screwdriver – This tool is for easy jobs such as hanging pictures or assembling pre-fab furniture. These electric screwdrivers are small, light-weight, and convenient to use.
- Drill / Driver – The most common type, these come with bits for both drilling holes and driving or removing screws. An adjustable clutch regulates the torque, or twisting power, applied to a screw. This versatile tool is best for most homeowners who need both drilling and screwdriver functions.
- Hammer Drill – These drills combine drilling with a hammer action, which allows the drill bit to hammer in and out while drilling. Hammer Drills are heavier, yet more powerful and are best suited to drilling in masonry including brick and concrete.
- Impact Driver – If you need to drive lots of screws or heavy-duty fasteners when doing projects such as building decks, the Impact Driver is for you. The main difference of the impact driver is its torque. In addition to having more overall torque, when it senses resistance the impact driver automatically increases the torque applied so the bit is less likely to strip the screw head.
- Right Angle Drill – When dealing with tight spaces, a Right Angle Drill might be the best version for you. This drill is especially helpful when drilling inside of cabinetry.
Voltage, Battery and Charger
Maybe the most important part of a cordless drill is the battery. The battery voltage provides power for the tool. The voltage ranges from 7.2V to 36V with the most common being 12, 14.4, and 18. The larger the voltage the heavier the unit, but the more powerful it will be.
The 10.8-volt to 12-volt cordless drill / drivers and impact drivers are suggested for basic homeowner tasks. These are generally lighter, smaller, and more comfortable to use. For more serious DIY projects then 14.4-volt to 18-volt models are advised. If you are a professional that needs the power, durability, and where performance is critical then 18-volt and above cordless drill/drivers are recommended.
Battery technology is also important to consider. Earlier models use Nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries which are cheaper. These batteries will only last so many cycles before they need to be replaced. The newest models use Lithium-ion batteries which reduce a tool’s weight, last longer, hold their charge a long time between uses, but are more expensive. Another battery factor is amp-hours (Ah) which is a measure of run-time. Higher end models are typically around 3-Ah while cheaper versions will be around 1.5-Ah.
Slow charging is one of the major complaints about cheap cordless drills, so look for one that comes with a smart charger. These chargers can charge batteries in 15-30 minutes. A set of two batteries means you can work as long as you want because one battery will be charged before the other runs out of juice. A smart charger shows you how charging is progressing, and then turns itself off to prevent overcharging.
Size and Weight
There are two basic sizes that cordless drills come in – 1/2-inch and 3/8-inch – which refers to the largest size drill shank (not the size of the actual bit) the chuck can accept. For most common home projects the 3/8″ chuck will work great. If, however, you need to drill large holes or use large specialized attachments then the 1/2″ chuck is recommended. Impact drivers may come with a hex chuck. Hex chucks require special drill bits, but the configuration can make it faster to switch between drilling and driving.
The size and weight of the cordless drill should also be considered when deciding which drill to buy. Smaller drills will often be referred to as compact or subcompact. If you are doing lots of overhead drilling then a compact, light drill is a must. For casual use, weight should be less of a factor. Keep the size of the tool in mind if you will be working in tight spaces or just want to take up less space in your tool box.
Performance Including Speed and Torque
Torque is the measure of the amount of twisting force the drill applies in inch-pounds. A higher torque is needed for for jobs like building decks where driving long screws is necessary. For the most part, the higher the voltage, the higher the torque. Most cordless drill/drivers have at least 15 clutch settings which allow the user to drive screws with the right amount of force without stripping the screw head.
Most models have a pressure-sensitive trigger which adjusts the speed within the selected range, so the harder you squeeze the trigger, the faster the chuck spins. Many also have multiple speed settings that limit the amount of RPM’s the chuck turns. These features give you greater control of the drill and allow you to drill or drive at the correct pace.
Other Cordless Drill Features
- Kits - Keep in mind other tools and kits may share the same batteries and charger. This can cut costs, but remember that some tools need higher voltage than others. For instance, you’ll want at least an 18-volt battery to get satisfactory performance from a cordless circular saw or reciprocating saw.
- Auxiliary Handle - In order to provide better control and stability, some larger units come with a handle that can be attached.
- Fuel Gauge - Look for a fuel gauge on Lithium Ion batteries. These batteries will run the drill at full power until they need recharging, so the gauge will let you keep track of when the battery power is running low.
- Work Light - Some versions come with a built-in led light which helps you to see what you are working on.
- Warranty - Don’t forget about the warranty on these tools. Often the manufacturers will have one length of warranty for the drill and another for the batteries. Batteries are the easiest part to fail so a long warranty which will cover the replacement is handy.