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Buying Guide: Cordless Drills

By: Amy Livingston on June 07, 2018

What the best cordless drill has

  • Adequate power. Professional tests show that larger 18-volt drills deliver more speed and torque than smaller 12-volt models. However, experts consider compact models more than adequate for most DIY jobs around the house – and they're also cheaper and lighter in weight.
  • Long run time. There's nothing more frustrating than a drill that poops out on you in the middle of a big project. The best way to avoid this problem is to choose a drill with lightweight, long-running lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which stay at full power right up until the battery gives out. Most full-sized drills now use Li-ion batteries, but some cordless screwdrivers still rely on older nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries.
  • Fast recharging. Old-school battery chargers took 3 to 5 hours to replenish battery life. Modern "smart" chargers, by contrast, can recharge a lithium-ion battery in 15 to 60 minutes. Some models can even charge two or more batteries at once. However, some cheaper drills and drivers will still require substantial charging times.
  • Adjustable speed. When you're drilling holes, speed is more important than power, but for driving screws, you need more torque. If you want a drill that excels at both jobs, look for one with two speeds. It should also have a reverse option so you can back out a misplaced screw or free a stuck drill bit.
  • Comfortable handling. A drill should be light enough to lift easily and well balanced, with a grip that feels comfortable in your hand.
  • Convenience features. The features users find most useful on a cordless drill include a battery life gauge, a trigger-activated LED light to illuminate the work area, and storage in the handle for extra bits. Carrying cases and belt hooks are also popular – especially hooks that can be switched to hang on either side for left- or right-handed users.
  • A decent warranty. A one-year warranty is fairly standard for a cordless drill, but many top-rated models are covered for three years, five years, or even for life.     

Know before you go

What jobs are you doing? For light-duty drilling, such as most homeowners might do around the house, a 12-volt cordless drill can do the job. A compact drill can also drive screws, though not very deep or very fast. If you need to drill large holes or sink long screws, it could be worth stepping up to an 18-volt cordless drill, despite its typically higher cost and weight. If you only need to drive screws and not drill holes, then perhaps all you need is a cordless screwdriver, which weighs only a couple of pounds and can cost $30 or less. On the other hand, if you're driving a lot of screws and bolts, a cordless impact driver will get the job done much faster. And if your job involves a lot of drilling and a lot of driving, then a combo kit containing both a drill and an impact driver could be a good buy.

Do you own other cordless tools? If you already have cordless tools, you can save some money by choosing a drill or impact driver – or both – that use the same battery and charger platform. Even if you don't own any other cordless tools yet, it's worth thinking about whether you might want to buy some in the future. If you choose to invest in a relatively expensive drill or impact driver from a high-end brand, you could be committing yourself to that same brand for future tool purchases.

Try before you buy. It's always best to try tools in person, if possible. A website can tell you how much the tool weighs, but not how it feels in your hands. 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.

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