Choosing A Power Drill - Drill Buying Made Easy
Specifications Summary - Cordless Drill Driver
- 18 volt Lithium Ion
- LED light
- Brushed for affordability
Product Recommendations - Cordless Drill Driver
*Made in the USA*
Electric Drill Uses
A cordless drill driver will likely be one of the most often used tools you will own. On the market, you will find cordless drills and cordless screwdrivers which can be separate tools each on their own. However, what I am referring to is one tool that can handle both of your drilling and screw driving needs. A power drill/driver combination tool is capable of not only driving screws into all types of materials but also has enough power to drill holes into soft woods, hard woods, metals, stucco and even concrete when it is equipped with the proper drill bit. In fact, I have used my electric drill tool for drilling into wood, exterior stucco walls and aluminum hurricane shutters and I had plenty of power to get the job done.
Every homeowner at some point will want to hang a picture or shelf, install a ceiling fan, fix a cabinet or wall mount a TV and these jobs are so much easier when you have a cordless drill driver on hand. You know those toys that you are putting together on Christmas Eve? Yes, the one’s with 100 screws and 6 pages of instructions. A cordless power drill/driver would certainly make that job easier! If you’re a DIY’er and planning on any type of renovation or carpentry project, then this is a must have tool.
Most important features of power drills
Shopping for one of these tools can be overwhelming as there are so many different options available and retailers make it very hard to tell the difference among the different models. Tool manufacturers are also very good marketers and they love to sell you on features that will not be relevant to the typical homeowner. Based on my experience, an 18 volt lithium ion cordless drill/driver (1/2 inch, keyless chuck) will be suitable for anything you can throw at it. Here’s why:
- Going Cordless -
Going cordless just makes sense for this type of tool. There are some tools that I recommend buying the corded version however, this is not one of them. The convenience of not having to lug around an extension cord to hang a couple pictures is well worth paying a little more for a cordless tool. Batteries have come a long way in regards to holding a charge while not being used, recharging at a fairly fast rate and holding enough charge to get you through your projects. If you have owned a cordless tool in the past and have had a bad experience due to the battery, my guess would be that it was an older battery platform or a cheaply made tool. I have had my lithium ion cordless drill/driver for about 6 years and the batteries seem as good today as they were 6 years ago. Prior to this drill/driver, I had a cordless Ni-Cad version and and my experience was not as positive but more on batteries below.
- 18 Volt Battery -
I advocate going with an 18 volt version for a couple reasons. First, it delivers plenty of power for those bigger jobs when you decide to take them on. Second, if you tend to be brand loyal, then buying an 18 volt system will allow you to interchange batteries among other 18 volt tools made by the same manufacturer. For instance, if you have a Milwaukee 18 volt cordless drill driver, then you can use the same batteries with a Milwaukee 18 volt circular saw. That is not only convenient, it could be cheaper in the long run as you could buy the other tools without batteries because you already have a couple. There are 12, 20 and even 28 volt cordless power tool systems available. The 12 volt batteries are probably fine for lighter duty work like drilling/driving but I think it would lack some power if I was wanting to interchange batteries into some saws. Dewalt has a 20 volt system that is replacing their older 18 volt system so if you are brand loyal (to Dewalt) and will want multiple cordless tools that can share batteries, then go ahead with their 20 volt units. The 28 volt systems are not worth the extra weight and cost for amateurs like us.
- Lithium Ion Over Ni-Cad Battery -
Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries are preferred over Ni-Cad. Most manufacturers these days offer more tools in the lithium ion version than the Ni-Cad version anyway. The lithium batteries are smaller, lighter and tend to hold their charge better than the Ni-Cad’s. I have used both versions and my Li-ion batteries are always ready to go when I need them. This was not the case with my old Ni-Cad’s.
- Brushless vs. Brushed Motors -
There is one more feature that you are likely to notice while shopping for these tools. Some of them will be labeled as “brushless.” This is referring to the motor that is inside the electric drill. Without getting into the technical details, brushless motors will be more efficient than the brushed version. This is due to having some more complex circuitry that is inside the tool and controls the flow of current to more accurately match the job being performed. While the brushless tools will be more efficient, and since there are fewer moving parts, they also tend to last longer. However, you are going to pay pretty significantly for this upgrade…about $40+ versus the equivalent brushed version. So, if budget is not an issue then go for it! Otherwise, the brushed cordless drill will do just fine.
- LED Light -
Finally, many cordless drill/drivers now come with an LED light that will turn on when you pull the trigger and provide some light on whatever you are trying to drill or drive. This is actually quite a nice feature when you are working indoors or in small areas where your other light sources are not having an impact. The additional cost for this feature is probably insignificant but if you have the option, I would choose to have the LED light on my drill.
Here are a few cordless drill models that I believe will make a fantastic addition to your power tool arsenal.
Power drill brands to consider
If you were to search any of the major retailers you will find that there are literally more than a dozen manufacturers of cordless drill/drivers. In fact, most of these manufacturers compete with each other in just about every category of power tools. Some of the manufacturers cater to the professional craftsman but offer product lines geared toward homeowners and those interested in do-it-yourself projects. Other manufacturers focus primarily on the homeowner market and try to offer a tool that is as inexpensive as they can possibly make it. When it comes to tools, I am a strong believer in the old adage “you get what you pay for.” I am not saying that the cheap product will not work or will break after a couple uses. What I will say is that I would not have high expectations that the product is going to last for the long haul or survive being dropped off a ladder or put through fairly heavy use. If you are in a pinch and need something right away and you are just not ready to commit to spending $130, then by all means get what you can. But, I have spent the extra money on the premium brands and I have used tools of the lower end brands and I can say that I notice a difference in quality.
Here is a list (in no particular order) of what I consider to be the brands that offer the best quality, selection and durability of a cordless drill/driver while also providing products that are affordable for users like us.
I personally own tools made by Milwaukee, DeWalt, Hitachi and Ridgid and I have been extremely happy with their performance, durability and price. I do not own any Bosch or Makita tools yet but I have read in many forums that people are very happy with these brands as well.
If you are big on “Made in the U.S.A”, your options are very limited. DeWalt is the only company I could find that will tell you which products are manufactured in the United States. These products are labeled with “Made In The USA With Global Materials.” Keep in mind that not all DeWalt products are made in the U.S but at least they are willing to tell us which ones are. Makita is the only other company that mentioned manufacturing in the U.S. They have a plant in Georgia but they did not specify which products are produced there.
There are several DeWalt 20v lithium ion drill/drivers that are “Made In The USA With Global Materials.” There appears to only be two 18v drill/drivers and both of those run on Ni-Cad batteries so I would not recommend them.
How much does a drill cost?
I often recommend buying these tools with a kit that includes a carrying case/bag, a couple batteries and a charger. This is a very common way that these tools are sold. I like the kits because it is much easier to store your tools when they are encased in something and when you can store the tool, batteries and charger in one case, it makes it much harder to misplace one of those items. If you already own a charger and several batteries that will be compatible with your new cordless drill, then you will not need to purchase an entire kit.
The kits start at about $130+ for the specifications I have noted above. A brushless drill driver version will be $180+ so that is a pretty high premium over a brushed version. A power drill on it’s own can be as low as $80 for the tool only (no batteries, charger or case) while the brushless drill by itself will be about $110+. Make note that buying batteries and chargers on their own is pricey ($70-$80 a piece) and it is always more economical to buy the tool, charger, batteries and case as a kit.
Power drill accessories
There two primary accessories that should be purchased along with your power drill/driver. The first is a drill bit set. This will be a small case containing multiple size drill bits ranging from as small as 1/16” to as large as 1/2”. These bits are usually for wood applications so if you plan to drill into masonry or metal, then you should look into drill bits specific to those materials. Unless you plan to do a lot of masonry or metal drilling, you probably only need to buy one bit. There are many other drill bits that you may need for a particular project but to get you started, a basic set will do just fine.
The other primary accessory for your drill will be a set of bit tips for screwing/driving applications. This will provide you with bit extenders, hex nut drivers, and different bit shapes like the standard phillips head and flat head but also some square and star drivers. These will be quite handy when you realize that box of screws you bought do not have phillips or flat heads. In fact, I prefer a star or square drive screw for my projects but that can be left for a different post.
A basic set of drill bits will cost less than $10. A decent combination package of drill bits and screw driving bits can be purchased for about $20.