Your tool kit is not complete without a power drill but buying the right one can be quite a task given all the options that are available to you.
Firstly, you have a choice between corded drills and cordless drills and in addition to that, you have to choose a drill that is versatile enough to work with different materials.
This buyer’s guide takes you through the process and looks at what you should take into account before you buy any drill – the features, the power and the usability.
Corded or Cordless?
For those acquiring their first drill or maybe just looking to get a replacement for their ‘old faithful’, typically the first decision that needs to be made is whether to go corded or cordless.
The maximum power available from a drill is pretty much determined by whether it is corded or cordless.
In order to help potential purchasers to make that decision it is worth taking a little time to consider the following:-
You really can’t beat a cordless drill for convenience, when working on the outside of your house or generally outdoors where a power outlet can be some distance away or may not even be available to you. Also, if you are working at the top of a ladder or in a hidden away, inaccessible area or loft you really can’t beat one of these beauties!
There are no trailing cords to get in the way and from a safety point of view there will be no risk of electrocution should you encounter lots of moisture.
Generally, these drills are easy to handle and can be used almost anywhere.
The big problem with a cordless drill however is the battery. It will need to be charged and if you are in the middle of a task and your drill runs out on you then you will have no choice but to set it recharging which of course all takes time and will delay the job at hand!
A cordless drill, though convenient because you are not restricted by a power source, is less efficient. It gets its power from a battery, and as the battery gets used up the drill loses power and speed (mainly with ni-cad type batteries, lithium-ion not so much of a problem).
Newer versions of cordless power drills have batteries that can last far longer, but it is recommended that you buy one that has a spare battery. As you work with one battery, the other battery should be charging so that you can continue to work without long interruptions. Check battery life – some last longer than others.
Now, as discussed, most power users will get around this by simply purchasing a second battery that can be placed on charge ready for use as soon as required. All you have to do to keep working is remember to keep a spare on charge J
Another potential problem with a cordless drill is that the power output is generally less than that available with a corded drill although with more developments in battery technology coming along this is becoming much less significant.
Our recommendation unless you have lots of particularly heavy duty jobs such as drilling into concrete, large hole saws or mixing concrete etc is to go with the cordless drill but if you expect to be using it for heavy duty jobs as well then make sure that you get a professional heavy duty type.
If you are planning on using your drill mainly for lots of masonry work then you will be better off with a more powerful corded drill.
A corded drill gets its power direct from an electric outlet on the wall and this allows for steady power flow meaning that you can work the drill at steady speeds for long periods of time.
A corded drill will have power on hand whenever you need it with a lot more power and torque available. They are the ideal choice for the more demanding tasks and continuous use.
Of course you will always need access to a power outlet and a lot of the time you may also need to use an extension cable to access this power.
The more power a drill has, the heavier it will be and usually, the more it will cost. The increase in weight can also make it harder to operate. You need to have a fair idea of what you will be using the drill for so that you don’t spend more than you need to and so that you get the drill ‘power to weight’ ratio that matches the job at hand. A hammer drill, for example, can be a pretty heavy tool that has lots of power, and is ideal for drilling into concrete.
This has to do with how comfortable a drill feels when it is in your hand and in motion. Depending on your projects, you may have to handle it for long periods of time. Do you feel that the weight is alright? A good tool should feel quite light in your arm so that if you need to use it for a long time you do not get too tired.
A lightweight drill is usually less powerful but much easier to use for continuous periods of time or when drilling overhead.
A heavy, more powerful, drill is useful when drilling concrete and masonry and for that extra weight behind it to force the drill into the material.
Most professionals will have more than one drill available to them and are then able to select the one most suitable to the job at hand.
Good Power Drill Features
The features of a drill have to do with how it is designed so that it is both efficient, of adequate power capability and safe for use. When looking for a drill, check the following features for suitability to your application:
- A reverse switch
This is great for removing screws and also for when the clutch disengages because something has stopped the bit – usually a harder surface than was anticipated with the initial speed settings. Check to make sure that the switch is within easy reach of your fingers so that you can quickly engage it when you need to.
- Variable Speed
A variable speed control is really a must for matching speed settings to the job at hand. When starting off a hole you will want to start at a lower speed and then work up to a higher setting once the hole has been started. Also, different materials will require different speeds, e.g. soft wood, hard wood, plastic, or metal.
- A chuck
This is the part that holds the bit in place and it can be keyed, keyless or SDS type. A good chuck allows you to change bits easily. Some keyed chucks do not allow for quick and easy changing of bits and also the chuck key can easily get lost!
Key operated chucks can generally be more tightly locked into place and are therefore a better choice for drilling into hard materials.
SDS (Special Direct System) chuck types provide for a quick keyless set-up with excellent grip but are typically only available on more expensive models.
For general tasks you will be better off choosing a keyless chuck – you can change bits more easily and quickly whilst still providing a decent grip on the bits as well. Most cordless drills will be of the keyless variety.
Drill sizes tend to be either 1/4, 3/8 or ½ inch shaft size with 3/8 inch being the most common sizing. A 3/8 inch chuck size will be suitable for most users and it is really only necessary to go for a ½ inch size if you expect a lot of heavy duty jobs (the increase in chuck size will also increase the weight of the drill).
- A clutch
This part helps you to put in screws and bore holes to the right depth. A good power drill should have a clutch that is adjustable. This will allow you to vary the amount of torque applied to the drill bit and hence the amount of force applied to the material. A drill may have say 5 clutch stops. The clutch releases the driving of the drill when it begins to require more force than the clutch is set to take. At clutch stop 1 for example, you will be able to drive small screws to a shallow depth in soft wood while at setting 5, you will drive in large screws deeper into a harder material. The clutch is adjusted depending on the surface that you are drilling – soft surfaces will need a lower clutch stop than hard ones.
- Hammer Action
A hammer action function is a must for those tasks where you need the extra brute force such as when drilling masonry or concrete. Hammer action works by applying a repetitive striking action to the drill bit as it rotates, referred to as beats per minute BPM. The repeated beating action as the drill rotates will drive the drill bit into the material much more quickly. Be advised though that you will require hard tipped tungsten carbide bits when using your drill for concrete and masonry. These power drill types are sometimes also referred to as ‘impact’ drills.
- Battery Voltage
Currently ranging from 7.2V to 24V, battery voltage is a very important parameter when selecting a cordless drill. Generally speaking the higher the voltage the more powerful and heavier the drill will be.
12V and lower batteries are lightweight and great for simple jobs around the home.
18V batteries are currently the most common battery size on offer and offer general suitability to most jobs around house and home.
For higher torque and power you should look at drills with a 20V and higher Lithium-ion battery pack and with a 3 to 4 amp hour rating. The higher the ‘Amp Hour’ rating, the more powerful the drill. Bear in mind thought that the higher ampere-hour rated batteries will take longer to charge.
This is what determines the amount of force exerted upon the drill bit by your drill – the more the better generally except that correspondingly as the torque goes up, so does the weight of your drill.
- Recharge time
What is the time to recharge a discharged battery? Does the battery charger offer a quick charge function? Bear in mind that the higher ampere-hour rated batteries, although more powerful, will take longer to charge.
- Grip configuration
Power drills are typically available with a T-grip, Pistol Grip or Right Angle grip configuration. The pistol grip is the most common type and offers comfortable operation. T-handle drills are shaped in a slanted ‘T’ shape with the grip midway along the drill for better balance. Right angle type drills offer ease of accessibility for gaining access and drilling in awkward to get to places. The drill is simply angled at 90 degrees from the handle and instead of pushing forward the action will be from side to side as you drill.
What length of guarantee does the manufacturer offer and is it limited in any way?
Corded vs Cordless Drill
When would a cordless drill not be a good choice?
For those that don’t tend to use their power tools very often and therefore don’t keep their batteries properly charged or exercised.
When you eventually go to use your drill you’ll find that the battery is dead due to self discharge which they will all do over time (note that lithium-ion types have a lot lower self discharge than ni-cads at around 5% per month against 20 – 30% per month).
Now, because the battery has been allowed to go into a deep discharge and is not getting regular charge and discharge cycles, they also tend not to last too long and consequently you won’t get a lot of use out of them before they end up needing replacement.
A corded drill may be less convenient, but you can be sure it’ll always work for you when needed and it will never require an expensive battery replacement.
That said, if you use your power tools regularly, cordless is fine.
We hope you have found our guide useful and if you take into account all the factors listed above hopefully it will enable you to buy the right power drill for your needs. If you have any comments or questions please contact us using our contact from or leave a comment below.
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