Cordless Drill Buying Guide: Make the Right Choice
The Flooded Market
Those in the market for a cordless drill (you know, those supremely handy devices that allow you to effortlessly hang pictures, assemble mass-produced furniture, build a deck or a birdhouse, or finally hang your wife’s flower box from your brick exterior) can quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the number of options available. These poor souls may be so inundated with doubt that they rush to their favorite search engine and type in the keywords: Cordless Drill Buying Advice or Cordless Drill Buying Tips. If this is how you wound up here, your humble drill reviewers hope to impress you with this Cordless Drill Buying Guide.
Cordless Drill Buying Guide
While you will still find cordless power tools using NiCd, and NiMH batteries, this is a dead technology. Lithium-Ion batteries offer the quickest charges, provide the longest life, and are easier on the environment. Since they are the new kids on the block, they carry heavier initial costs but offer long-term savings.
Also, battery fuel gauges are infinitely helpful. These nifty indicators let you know how much juice is left in your battery so that you do not experience sudden power loss in mid-screw. If you can find a tool that has a battery gauge, and it is within your price range, get it.
Regardless of whether you are a woodworker, homeowner, mason, or do-it-yourselfer, Lithium-Ion batteries are the wave of the future. They hold a charge longer, are lighter and thus reduce fatigue while simultaneously extending the viable usage period, and generating more power at higher levels of efficiency. For those looking to match the battery with the suitable application, they need to look no further than the voltage. The most common voltages available for cordless drills are:
- 12volt: Perfectly acceptable for the homeowner and DIYer
- 18volt: Woodworkers and most contractors should be able to use this drill
- 20volt: At least 20volts are required for heavy duty contracting, i.e. masonry.
While the power delivery will vary and include some overlap, a standard rule of thumb when accessing batteries is that the higher the voltage, the more power delivered.
While everyone loves to boast of high power ratings and compare maximum RPMs, most of us don’t need the type of drill strength associated with the top of the line models. Another interesting caveat of power ratings is that, at some point in the distant past, in a damp dungeon of some Eastern European castle, the cordless drill manufacturers of the world held a secret meeting. They held this meeting right before the hot dog, and hot dog bun manufacturers got together to agree that they would never offer matching package quantities, but that’s another subject for another day.
For their part, the power tool manufacturers all agreed that- to prevent direct consumer comparisons- no more than two brands would be allowed to measure power in the same manner. This is why one brand might post a maximum RPM rating while another will showcase in.-lbsof Torque, and yet another will show off UWO (Unit Watts Out).
Unfortunately, their nefarious plan has succeeded, leaving no way for the consumer to do a direct comparison between 300 in.-lbs and 330 UWOs virtually. The best we can do is to understand that, regardless of the unit of measurement, the higher the particular number for a drill, the higher that drills power rating.
- 0-900RPMs and/or >300in-lbs of Torque: This power range would be ideal for household users and DIYer’s with non-heavy duty applications.
- 0-1500RPMs and/or >500in-lbs of Torque: Drills in this range would be sufficient for any professional woodworker and most contractors.
- 0-2000RPMs and/or <600in-lbs of Torque: Suitable for any masonry application, especially if a hammer drill option is included in the package.
It’s Chuck, Not Charles
With so many variables already weighing heavily on your mind, it’s time to throw another one at you- chuck size. The chuck is the metallic slot at the end of the drill that grips the bit. Keyless chucks can contract or retract without the use of a key, which makes them more convenient. For this reason, the vast majority of your cordless drills utilize a keyless chuck system.
An important bit of information to remember is that the size of a chuck is a direct representation of the inherent power of the drill. Meaning that, for homeowners and hobbyists, smaller chunks should be okay while professionals will want to keep an eye out for the larger sizes.
- 1/4” Chuck: These are ideal for household use and small, light duty projects
- 3/8” Chuck: The mid-sized model is excellent for most standard duty projects
- 1/2” Chuck: This large chuck delivers the most torque and is a must have for any drill used for Masonry or other heavy-duty applications
In order to not cause you to have an undue migraine from discussing the nuances of a brushed motor v a brushless motor, we’ll sum the difference up like this: brushless motors can adjust the amount of power they draw according to the job, whereas brushed motors always operate at full speed. This may sound fine until you are trying to drill for precision, and then it can be a real hindrance.
Prior to purchasing a cordless drill, you’ll want to think long and hard about how the tool is likely to be most often used. The optimum tool for masonry will not be the optimum tool for woodworking, and vice versa. This cordless drill buying guide has attempted to help you do this by examining four distinct categories. If you still find yourself on the unsure side, here are a few other considerations to keep in mind.
Here are a few other high points to look for in the best cordless drills.
- Rubber Grips and Ergonomic Handles help reduce fatigue associated with prolonged usage.
- LED Work Lights illuminate darkened work areas.
- Reversible Direction is a must since screws sometimes have to be taken out.