Drills are the most popular power tool sold in America. There are hundreds of uses for a drill around the home, from hanging pictures to replacing hardware to do-it-yourself projects, even changing your car’s tires. What you can do with a drill depends on the power, size and features of the drill you select. Pronto’s Drill Buying Guide will match you to the drill that can tackle your projects.
Cordless drills are a good, portable choice for most household projects. For heavy-duty jobs with hardwoods or masonry or if you need a drill that can work all day, choose a corded drill.
Corded drills are measured in amps, cordless drills are measured in volts. More amps or volts gets you more potential power, and 3.5 amps or 18 volts are good for most jobs. Look for a drill with variable speeds and an adjustable torque clutch.
Drills come in ¼”, 3/8” and 1/2” sizes, and this size tells you the type of drill bits a drill can use. Choose a 3/8” drill for the greatest flexibility. Keyless chucks make it easy to change bits, but keyed chucks hold bits tighter for difficult drilling jobs. If you choose a drill with a keyed chuck, make sure the key is attached to the power cord or locks into a storage slot on the drill so you don’t lose it.
The common T handle, with the handle mounted near the center of the drill, is the most popular design and balances the weight of the drill in your hand. Choose a pistol-grip handle for flooring and jobs where you want to put the weight of the drill to work. Right-angle drills are good for tight spaces and some specialized bolt- or screw-driving uses.
Look for a reversible drill if you’ll be driving screws and hammer action for masonry drilling. A handle that adjusts to different angles and a rotating or removable auxiliary handle will give you more control for difficult jobs.
A measurement of the electricity used to power a corded electric drill. More amps provide more available power, although this is limited by torque and speed.
The part of a drill that holds the drill bits. Chucks can be keyless, which allows you to change bits without a special tool, or keyed, which uses a custom-designed wrench to open and close the chuck.
Lithium-ion, a lightweight, rechargeable battery that offers superior running time and faster recharging than other battery types.
Nickel cadmium, one of the original types of rechargeable batteries. These batteries are heavier than Li-ion batteries and tend to develop a charge memory over time that limits their usefulness.
A drill with a handle that is mounted in the rear, putting the full weight of the drill in front of the handle.
A drill with a chuck that is mounted at a 90-degree angle to the handle, useful in small spaces.
The most common drill design, with a handle mounted in the center of the drill to evenly distribute its weight.
A measurement of the turning power of a drill. Higher torque equals more turning power and better performance for deep drilling or work that involves masonry or dense woods.
A feature that automatically shuts off a drill when a certain level of resistance is met. This is useful for driving screws, as it can prevent you from stripping the screw heads.
A measurement of the battery power used by a cordless drill. Higher volts provide more potential power.
Improved Lithium-Ion batteries have improved the quality of cordless drills, though corded models are still the best solution for some jobs. In deciding between the two, you need to know if the power and reliability of a corded drill is more important than the portability of a cordless drill. Choose a corded drill if you’ll be drilling hardwoods or pressure-treated wood, concrete or masonry or if you need a drill that can work eight hours a day.
Cordless drills are an excellent choice for work around the house and some light carpentry applications, such as finish work on eaves or rooflines where cords can be a hassle. Look for cordless drills with Lithium-Ion batteries instead of Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries that can quickly develop battery memory which reduces available charge.
A cordless drill should include two batteries and a charger, so you’ve always got a good battery available. Look for smart chargers that give you a visual indication of the charging status and that turn themselves off when charging is complete.
Cordless drills are measured in volts, corded drills are measured in amps. More volts or amps translate into more available drill power. It’s best to avoid cordless drills with less than 12 volts of power, as they will struggle with drilling all but the softest materials. An 18-volt drill is more than enough for most household and professional users. If the price tag is too high, choose a 14.4-volt drill, which can handle indoor projects with ease.
For corded drills, 3.5 amps are enough for most types of wood. Thick decking, concrete or masonry work will be easier with a drill that uses 5 amps or more.
In addition to volts or amps, you should compare the torque of drills. Torque is a measurement of turning power, not speed. A drill with higher torque can cut or drive screws into denser, thicker material. Some drills offer torque clutches that will stop the drill if it encounters too much resistance. This is a good feature if you’ll be using your drill to drive screws, as it prevents you from stripping the heads. Look for drills that let you adjust the torque clutch to prevent the drill from seizing when you’re drilling thick or dense material.
Drill speed is measured in RPMs. Budget-priced drills have a single speed setting, but you’ll want a drill to feature adjustable speeds because some materials, notably synthetic boards and masonry, are easier to drill at certain speeds. You’ll also want to drive screws at lower speeds than you’d use to drill. Adjustable speeds benefit cordless drills by allowing you to tailor the speed to the job at hand, saving battery life.
A drill’s size is a measurement of the drill bits it can use. Most drills use either 1/4”, 3/8” or 1/2” drill bits. The best and most flexible choice is a 3/8” drill, as you’ll find the greatest selection of drill bits for these models. Smaller 1/4” drills should be reserved for hobby work or fine furniture making, while the largest 1/2” drills are suitable mainly for plumbing and masonry use.
The chuck holds the interchangeable drill bits. Chucks are available in keyed or keyless models. Keyless chucks work on friction and are a great choice for home and most professional use. It’s usually quite easy to open and close these drill chucks, which makes changing bits a snap.
Choose a drill with a keyed chuck for heavy-duty jobs, such as decking and masonry. Keyed chucks hold bits more firmly than keyless chucks, reducing the chance of the drill bit slipping or becoming embedded in the material you’re trying to drill. Look for chuck keys that are attached to the cord of a corded drill or that lock into the body of a cordless drill so that you’ll have the key handy when you need it.
The type of drill handle you choose is largely a question of personal preference and the type of work you’ll do. It’s important for a drill to feel natural in your hand, especially after you’ve been using it for a while.
T-handles, mounted near the center of the drill, are the most popular choice. This design balances the weight of the drill and offers good control on vertical surfaces, such as walls. Pistol-grip handles are mounted on the back of the drill, letting you push the full weight of the drill into the work. Pistol-grip handles are the best choice for horizontal work, such as floors and decking, or heavier drilling jobs where greater stability is needed.
In normal use, these drill handles position the bit straight ahead of your hand. Right-angle drills have the bit pointing downward at a 90-degree angle from your hand. They’re good for tight spaces and some specialized bolt- or screw-driving applications, but not for general use.
Compare the shipping weights of drills to find a weight that’s easy for you to hold. Corded drills weigh far less than cordless models, because you don’t need to carry the extra battery weight.
Make sure a drill is reversible if you’ll be driving screws or bolts. Hammer action, which drives the drill bit forward and backward on a piston, is a good feature for a drill that you’ll use on masonry.
If you’re working in corners or on ceilings, look for a drill with an adjustable angle that makes these jobs easier. For larger drills, choose one with a rotating or screw-in auxiliary handle that allows two-handed stability on demanding jobs.
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