Cordless drills and cordless impact drivers can handle most driving jobs with aplomb, but some tasks, such as cabinet making or repair, call for a lighter touch. That's where a cordless screwdriver can come in handy. These small tools, usually weighing a pound or less, are suitable for driving screws and light drilling. They can fit into tight spaces more easily than a hefty drill, and you can hold them up in different positions without tiring out your arm. On the down side, even a good cordless screwdriver is much slower and less powerful than an inexpensive cordless drill, and a quality model can cost almost as much.
If you're on the fence about whether you need the capabilities of a drill or just a cordless screwdriver, the 12-volt Milwaukee 2401-22 (Est. $100) could be a good compromise. In size, power, and cost, it falls in between a typical cordless screwdriver and a full-size drill/driver. It weighs about two pounds, and it can generate 175 inch-pounds of torque. It also includes many of the amenities you'd expect to find on a cordless drill. A quick-change hex chuck makes it easy to swap out bits with one hand, and a reversible belt loop keeps the tool handy for both right-handed and left-handed users. The variable-speed trigger gives you better control, and the adjustable clutch with 15 settings helps you avoid over-tightening screws. There's also a built-in LED work light, and a battery-life gauge, and a 5-year warranty, with 2 years of coverage for the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.
The Milwaukee 2401-22 is the only cordless screwdriver we've found that earns any recommendations from professional sources. In one professional test, it actually beats out many full-sized drills for speed and handling. It's neither as powerful nor as long-running as a cordless drill, but it's as good as any other cordless screwdriver in the test. It also gets top marks for its smart charger, which restores the battery to full power in 30 minutes.
Consumers agree this is one tough driver. At Amazon.com, it's one of the most popular drivers, earning an overall rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 from roughly 260 owners. Though feedback is less at HomeDepot.com, just over 90 users there rate it at 4.7 stars. Overall, comments indicate that this Milwaukee cordless screwdriver is very lightweight and easy to handle, and it runs a long time on a charge. They also describe it as surprisingly powerful for its size, capable of handling the majority of drilling and driving jobs more easily than a full-sized drill. Most users also describe it as reliable, but we ran into a few complaints about battery or charger failures.
For extra-light jobs, such as installing window blinds, a 12-volt tool like the Milwaukee 2401-22 could be overkill. A less powerful cordless screwdriver, with between 3 and 8 volts, can get the job done without setting you back more than $50. These inexpensive cordless screwdrivers usually have built-in batteries rather than a removable battery pack, which means that when the battery wears out, you have to replace the whole tool. Many use Li-ion batteries, but a few cut cost by using less expensive nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries, which weigh more and have a shorter run time.
Among these low-powered, low-priced cordless screwdrivers, we found good feedback for the Black & Decker PD600 (Est. $30). This tool isn't covered in any professional reviews, but it gets mostly positive reviews from nearly 675 owners at Amazon.com. Users admit that, with its 6 volts and 80 inch-pounds of torque, this tool is really only suitable for light jobs, but it does those adeptly. It has two speed settings, one for drilling and one for driving, and an articulating head that can adjust to three positions: straight, 45 degrees and 90 degrees. Users also like its built-in work light and quick-release chuck, which makes it easy to switch from drilling to driving. Its Ni-Cd battery can go five to six hours on a charge, but once it's depleted, it takes about six hours to recharge – and it needs to be fully drained first, or else it won't be able to recharge up to full power. Several users complain that their batteries stopped holding a charge at all after a year or two. Still, for only $30, you could make a case that they still got their money's worth.