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Cordless Drill Buying Guide

Updated on January 19, 2012

Walk into any home improvement center or tool store and you'll find a wide variety of cordless drills from different manufacturers. Often people buy what they think looks good and end up disappointed because the drill didn't perform as they thought it should. The problem is usually not the drill, but rather using the correct size drill for your needs. Buying a cordless drill involves just a bit more thought than if it feels good in your hand and has a chuck. Some considerations of size, speed and battery are necessary to ensure you purchase the right drill for your tool box.

What Is Its Primary Use?

What is the drill going to be used for long-term? If you are looking for a drill to have on the job, you will want to look into full size cordless drills. Most homeowners though can opt for a compact cordless drill which is usually lighter and fits into smaller spaces such as in cabinets.

Although many compact cordless drills have plenty of power to help build a deck or install a garage door, they are often too small for framing houses all day long. As a general rule of thumb, homeowners and DIY people should have enough power and torque choosing a compact drill. Compact drills are lighter and also enable you to work in tighter spaces that a full size drill will not fit. Contractors and people who work with their drill all day, every day should opt for a full size drill which offers just a bit more power and longer battery life.

Cordless Drill Power

Cordless drill power is measured in voltage. The higher the voltage, the more torque available. Cordless drills come in 6-volt, 7-volt, 9-volt, 12-volt, 14-volt, 18-volt and even 24-volts. The 18-volt drill/driver is the more popular of them all. These provide enough power to drill pilot holes, drive wood lags and even bore larger holes into wood and soft metals.

Although there are lower voltage units on the market, the average homeowner or construction worker really should consider 18-volt compact or full-size cordless drills. Lower voltage drills just do not have the power and might as well be regulated to cordless screwdrivers.

Cordless Drill Speed

Speed is just one of those features you shouldn't skimp on regardless if your a home DIY person or a general contractor. Most cordless drills, whether they are compact or full size, come with variable speeds. The variable speed enables you to start driving screws or drilling holes at slower speeds and adding speed once the screw or hole is started. Most drills have a low-speed range up to 800 RPMs, with a high-speed range up to 1500 RPMs. The speed is controlled by a switch on the top of the cordless drill and by the amount of pressure you apply to the trigger.

Another aspect to look for when buying a cordless drill, is the number of clutch settings. The clutch works in conjunction with the drill speed to set screws. The clutch allows you to set screws flush when driving into soft woods, or countersink wood lags when building a deck. The average compact and full size drill has 15 to 18 clutch settings.

Cordless Drill Chuck Size

Many cordless drills on the market, especially the lower voltage units, come with a standard 3/8-inch drill chuck. While most home DIY people probably don't need much more, a person who makes a living with their tools will want a cordless that has a 1/2-inch chuck. This enables more versatility, especially for drilling larger holes or using special socket adapters for driving in larger lags. While 3/8-inch chucks are the common place, many compact cordless drills also include a 1/2-inch chuck which is an added benefit.

Along with chuck size, chuck material requires some consideration. Most compact cordless drills come with a ratcheting, single-sleeve chuck. While the chuck itself is metal, the sleeve is made from a composite plastic. This is usually not an issue, unless the drill is dropped a lot. Dropping the drill repeatedly or banging into stuff could cause the sleeve to crack or break. However, as I mentioned, this is usually not an issue for the average DIY homeowner. Contractors on the other hand must have a chuck and sleeve made from all-metal that will withstand the abuse of job-site use.

Cordless Drill Batteries

There are two different kinds of batteries on the market for use in cordless tools. There is the NiCad and the Lithium-Ion. Nicads were the first batteries used on all cordless tools. They are heavy, and the tool loses power as the battery drains through use. The Lithium-ions however are lighter and the tool does not lose power until the battery is drained. However, when the battery discharges completely there is no warning..the drill just stops. Fortunately most cordless drills come with two batteries and the other should be charging while one is in the drill.

Chargers are a consideration as well as the batteries. Some people prefer a charger with all the lights and bells. Honestly, you end up paying too much for show in those cases. The standard one-hour charger is all anybody really needs, although there are rapid chargers available. Most chargers today are also equipped to charge the battery according to its life cycle and help prolong the life of the batteries.

Cordless Drill Accessories

One final consideration when buying a cordless drill is the different accessories that come with the tool. Most drill come with a battery charger and two batteries. Some compact cordless drills have worklights just above the trigger. This helps illuminate areas where there is not much light such as corners inside of cabinets or under the sink.

For full size drills, look for ones that offer a handle attachment that screws on and off, especially if you are purchasing a drill with a hammer function. Belts clips are a nice addition. If you're working on a ladder and need your hands free for a moment but also your drill close by, the belt clip enables you to easily hang the drill off your belt.

There is more to a cordless drill than the ability to drill holes. Cordless drills drill holes, drive screws, secure fasteners, and much more with the right adapters and bits. Choosing the one that best fits your needs will ensure you are happy with your purchase and the drill performs as it is designed.


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    • kenwrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken Crawford 

      6 years ago from Yreka, California

      Hi eugbug,

      All of the batteries, including the NiCads have a lifespan. The average is about 4 years. The Lithium-ions are safer for the environment. The Lithium-ion batteries, in my opinion, last a bit longer because many of the chargers also tune-up the batteries as they charge them.

    • eugbug profile image

      Eugene Brennan 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      I'm just wondering, do lithium batteries have a limited lifespan even when they are fully charged? I read somewhere it is about 3 to 4 years. This is the only factor which would put me off buying a drill with this type of battery.

    • kenwrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken Crawford 

      6 years ago from Yreka, California

      Thanks LeanMan,

      Fortunately, most of the drills do come with 2 batteries. But like you said, its good to have the other one charging while one is in the tool. Especially the Lithium-ions. They last a good six to eight hours depending upon how long you run the tool. But when they are drained, there is no warning. ha.

    • LeanMan profile image


      6 years ago from At the Gemba

      Good hub, I have a selection of cordless drills that I have purchased over the years as I find that each has its own good points. I have a great 12V that is perfect for driving screws and a 24V that I use for drilling holes in any material, but neither would do the job that the other does to my satisfaction! You do need to select the right tool for the right job, a good explanation above.

      Plus - Always buy a spare battery, nothing more annoying than running out of charge part way through a job!!

    • kenwrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken Crawford 

      6 years ago from Yreka, California

      Thanks eugbug,

      So much to look for when you want and need the right tool.

    • eugbug profile image

      Eugene Brennan 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      Great hub! Plenty of useful easy to understand info for the novice DIYer!


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