Types of Cordless Drills
For most drilling and driving needs, a cordless drill/driver is the most practical tool. These tools have a chuck that can accommodate a variety of different bits, both round and hex-shank (hexagonal), for drilling holes and for driving or removing screws. Cordless drills also come with an adjustable clutch that regulates the torque, or twisting power, applied to a screw for delicate projects. Cordless drills range in power from as little as 7.2 volts to 20 volts or more, but the most popular models are either 12 or 18 volts. In general, the more voltage a drill has, the more speed and torque it can deliver. If you only need a cordless drill for light jobs around the house, like repairing drywall or replacing a light fixture, a 12-volt cordless drill is probably your best bet. But hard-core DIY jobs and professional tasks, such as carpentry and remodeling, probably require the greater power and speed of an 18-volt or higher model.
Cordless Impact Drivers
For some jobs, a
cordless drill isn't the best tool. If you have to drive a lot of screws, one
after another -- for instance, to build a deck or hang tile backer board --
you're probably better off with a cordless impact driver. This tool does only
one job – driving screws and other fasteners – but it does it fast
and easily. Impact drivers work by combining bit rotation with percussive
force, giving them two to three times the torque of a drill/driver, according
to Popular Mechanics. They can drive long screws and hefty lag bolts
through hard wood with no need for a pilot hole and even fasten and unfasten
lug nuts on a car tire. However, they can't bore holes unless you equip them
with a special hex-shank bit for the purpose, and even then, they're much slower
than a cordless drill. Impact drivers are also louder than drills, so you can't
generally use them without hearing protection.
If you're going to be doing both a lot of drilling and a lot of driving, consider getting a combo kit. These include both a cordless drill and an impact driver, together with batteries and a charger that work with either tool. Buying a combo kit is often significantly cheaper than buying the individual tools separately. However, at around $200, these kits are still pricier than either tool on its own, so don't spring for one unless you're really sure you need both.
If your screw-driving needs are limited to minor tasks, like assembling furniture and hanging items on walls, you might be just fine with a cordless screwdriver. Cordless screwdrivers typically cost $100 or less and weigh only 1 to 2 pounds, and their compact size is handy for getting into tight spaces. However, they lack the power of an impact driver and the versatility of a drill. If you can handle the extra weight, you can spend the same amount for a compact cordless drill/driver that does two jobs instead of one.
Finding The Best Cordless Drills
"The Best Drill"
"The Best Cordless Drill: We Review 10 of Our Favorite Drills"
"Impact Driver Comparison Test"
including ConsumerReports.org, Popular Mechanics, and TheSweethome.com, put
cordless drills and impact drivers through rigorous comparison testing. We
consulted these sources to see which drills have the power, speed, and battery
life to handle the toughest jobs. We also considered what professionals and
owners had to say about the tools' handling, charging time, and features.
Reviews from retail sites such as Lowes.com, HomeDepot.com, and Amazon.com provided
useful information about long-term durability. We factored in all this
information to name the best cordless drills for both heavy and light use,
cordless impact drivers, cordless tool combo kits, and cordless screwdrivers.
18-volt cordless drills can handle
nearly any DIY job
We found the most
recommendations for 18-volt cordless drills, which have the power to handle
just about any drilling or screwing job a homeowner can throw at them. In this
category, the best pick appears to be the (Est. $180). It's the top
performer in tests at TheSweethome.com, boring 33 percent more holes on a
charge than its nearest competitor and placing near the top in the driving test
as well. This leads tester Doug Mahoney to recommend it as an "upgrade"
drill that can handle the toughest jobs. The Bosch also earns a recommendation
in testing by ConsumerReports.org, with top marks for speed and good marks for
power and handling.
The DDS181 is easy to handle
and control. It's also packed with useful features. Its two-speed transmission
lets you switch off between more torque (for driving) and more speed (for
drilling). It comes in a few different versions and in a few different kits.
The (Est. $100)
is a base version with a
plastic chuck. It
comes in a kit with two lithium-ion batteries and a "smart"
charger that can restore the battery to full power in around 30 minutes. It has a built-in LED work light
for use in dark spaces, a belt hook, and a battery life gauge to show
how much charge you have left. It's discontinued by the maker, but still available at retail from a
few sources. The Bosch DDS181-02LPB (Est. $180) adds a job site radio to the aforementioned kit, but is otherwise identical;
it's available from a few vendors, but most notably at HomeDepot.com. Finally,
the (Est. $180) is currently the most
available version. It is identical to the Bosch DDS181-02, but replaces the
latter's plastic chuck with a more durable metal one.
of the version, users at Amazon.com appreciate the features of the DDS181, as
well as its lightweight, compact body, good balance, and comfortable grip. They're
particularly pleased with its well-positioned LED work light, which they say
illuminates the work area better than most. However, a few users say this drill
isn't powerful enough for their needs. We also saw some complaints that
switching from forward to reverse gear is awkward. Finally, users wish the
drill offered onboard storage for extra bits.
Compared to the Bosch, the (Est. $160) fares better in some professional tests and worse
in others. Mahoney says it "doesn't come close to matching the Bosch's power or endurance." Yet ConsumerReports.org
puts the Hitachi first out of all 18-volt cordless drills it tests, with top
marks for both speed and power, and names it a Best Buy. It has the same
two-speed operation, work light, belt hook, and smart charger as the Bosch, but
it's a little slower to recharge – about 40 minutes instead of 30. Also,
it doesn't come with either a battery gauge or onboard bit storage.
more than 1,000 user-written reviews for this Hitachi drill at Amazon.com,
Lowes.com, and Sears.com, with ratings across these sites of around 4.5 stars
out of 5. Most owners describe the Hitachi as light, powerful, and well built,
and they say it can run for quite a while on a single charge. They're a bit
miffed at the lack of a battery gauge, and they don't like the fact that the
drill comes bundled in a bulky case with an incandescent flashlight that most
consider a useless encumbrance. A bigger problem, however, is that several
users say either the batteries or the charger stopped working within a year
A lighter cordless drill for lighter jobs
Although 18-volt cordless
drills have the most oomph, experts say a lighter 12-volt drill is powerful
enough for most homeowners' needs. In this class, the (Est. $100) is clear
winner. In Mahoney's tests, this little drill "completely blew away the
competition in terms of battery life," drilling twice as many holes on a charge
as other 12-volt drills and driving nearly 50 percent more screws. Moreover,
even though it was the smallest and lightest drill in the test – just
2.14 pounds – it was powerful enough to beat the performance of many
bigger 18-volt drills, driving screws fully and barely struggling as it drilled
through dense knots. Roy Berendsohn and Timothy Dahl at Popular Mechanics agree
with this view, saying the 12-volt Bosch "could run with the big boys."
This Bosch drill has its
limitations, however. Although it comes with an LED light, it's not as
well-placed as the one on the more powerful Bosch DDS181. It has two speeds and
a battery life gauge, but no belt hook and no onboard storage for bits. Also,
not all testers are as impressed with its battery life as Mahoney. Berendsohn
and Dahl warn that its small battery can't handle "serious hole-hogging." One
expert test found that it takes much longer to charge than any other brand's
– as long as five hours. However, this test is a few years old, and Bosch
has upgraded the batteries on the drill since then so that's not as much of a
concern, and the user reviews we found at Amazon.com and Lowes.com generally
say the drill can go a long time on a charge and recharges quickly.
Users also praise the drill for
its light, compact size, which makes it easy to use in tight spaces. They admit
it's not as powerful as an 18-volt drill, but most say it's tough enough for
basic DIY jobs. Their main problem with it is that, for some users, the battery
is really hard to remove from the drill for charging. A few users say they had
to use pliers to pry it loose, and a couple had to return the drill because
they couldn't get it out at all. We also saw a few complaints that the keyless
chuck doesn't hold the bits securely, allowing them to slip loose between uses.