What the  best cordless drill has

  • Adequate power. Compact models are capable of top speed and torque. You'll get better driving and drilling with a higher powered tool, though don't automatically rule out lower-powered options, which can be lighter weight, lower priced and nearly as powerful.
  • Battery life. The best cordless drills use lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, a more expensive (but better-performing) option to nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. They're available in compact 1.5 Ah or larger 3.0 Ah sizes, and battery size affects weight and run-time, but not power. Expert tests show that run time varies widely between voltages and brands, with the best cordless drills outlasting the competition in both drilling and driving trials. Lithium-ion batteries weigh less, last longer and hold their charge better than other types. Despite their higher price, reviewers say cordless drills with lithium-ion batteries are better investments in the long run.
  • Recharge time. Look for a cordless drill that can be recharged in one hour or less. Some drills that use 1.5-Ah lithium-ion batteries can be recharged in 30 minutes or less.
  • Convenience features. Reviewers say extras like a battery gauge and a trigger-activated LED light (to illuminate the work area) can make using a cordless drill, impact driver or screwdriver a little easier. Also important: The warranty should cover both the drill and the batteries. A built-in level can help you drill accurately, while storage in the handle offers a convenient place to store your bits.

Know before you go

Cordless drill/drivers are best for most homeowners. The most common type of cordless tool, these use bits for drilling holes and driving or removing screws. An adjustable clutch regulates the torque, or twisting power, applied to a screw for delicate projects.

Cordless screwdrivers are good for light tasks. Lighter and more compact than cordless drills, these can replace your handheld screwdriver for many projects, but they aren't recommended for drilling holes or installing large fasteners called lag screws.

Cordless impact drivers are for heavy-duty jobs. When an impact driver turns, it uses momentum from the motor to deliver extra torque in a series of taps, striking about 50 times every minute. With about three times as much twisting power, you can use impact drivers for construction or mechanic projects for which a drill/driver wouldn't have enough power.

Single-sleeve keyless chucks can be tightened with one hand. Most drills have this feature or accept hex-shank bits that click into place. Some reviewers prefer an all-metal chuck, but some soft trim can protect surfaces from damage if your drill or driver slips. Some newer drills have chucks designed to keep tightening themselves as they spin.

Do you need one tool, or three? Cordless drills, impact drivers and screwdrivers are all designed to excel at one task. However, they can fill in for other tools as well. For example, a cordless drill can drill small holes, while some makers offer special hex shank bits that allow impact drivers to drill and saw like a cordless drill. Still, if you will be doing different tasks on a regular basis, it's best to buy separate tools for each one.

Try tools in person if possible. A good cordless tool should feel balanced, not front-heavy, as you hold it. The trigger should be responsive without being overly sensitive or difficult to depress. Be sure you can easily remove and replace the battery, too.

Consider a cordless drill combo kit. Experts say you can save money by buying a cordless tool kit that shares the same batteries and charger. If you already have cordless tools, your best bet might be to choose a combo kit (or individual tools) that use the same battery and charger platform.

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