Drill me. Not like that.
January 18, 2009 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Help me choose a cordless drill.

This will be for home use only. Mainly drilling holes to hang things on walls, drive in screws, etc. No heavy construction. I would like something durable. I'd like to spend under $150, but I could go higher if it were worth it. From my preliminary research on Amazon, this looks like it should be possible. Some specific questions:

1) Is an impact driver useful? What does it do that a regular drill doesn't?

2) How does having a higher voltage affect the performance? I assume it's more powerful, but uses up battery power more quickly. Is this correct?

3) What other important factors am I neglecting?

4) Are there any brands or specific models that you would recommend?
posted by number9dream to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
For what you're looking to do, the only consideration I would recommend is that it have an easy-to-replace battery, because on my old Makita, once the battery finally died, the drill was kaput.

Otherwise, anything, and I do mean anything, at Home Depot will suit your needs.
posted by zippy at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2009

More powerful is good when you need to turn tough screws, but even a cheap hard-wired drill will outperform a "good" cordless in raw power.

A swappable second battery is a great thing for when the battery dies in the middle of a job. Keyless chucks are handy, though they do wear out from heavy use.

I don't know the model, but I've used the hell out of my Makita 18V for about a decade now. It pretty much built my house, including the parts I had to tear apart and build again. I also have a circular saw of the same brand that's been very good to me.
posted by rokusan at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2009

1) A hammer drill is necessary for drilling into brickwork. A pneumatic hammer drill is much more efficient than an ordinary hammer drill.

2) No. A more powerful drill will have a bigger, stronger battery to cope with the added load.

3) Get one that charges the battery in an hour, a spare battery if you're going to be using it a lot, and check the guarantee. Some manufacturers require that the drill is returned to them to be fixed, which means (obviously) that you're without it. If it breaks down in the middle of a job, you're stuck. A set of decent drill bits is worth the investment. Cheap tat will last as long as cheap tat lasts. I once melted the head of a drill bit while drilling. The whole set of drills cost about $2.

4) I'm not in the US, so nope.
posted by Solomon at 12:55 PM on January 18, 2009

Before I bought my Craftsman, I checked the most recent cordless drill reviews from Consumer Reports. They rated some of the Craftsman drills as being good value for money, although you might be able to get a better one if you are willing to spend $150. My recommendation is to check out their recommendations. You can buy access cheaply online, or visit your local library.
posted by grouse at 1:02 PM on January 18, 2009

My Makita multi-torque, rechargeable drill has served me excellently for about 20 years now. I replaced the batteries a few years ago, and it got even better.

Excellent going-to-college gift, by the way :)
posted by amtho at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2009

1) An impact driver is a manual drill that uses a hammer blow to drive the nail. Are you thinking of a hammer drill? That sort of drill option allows you to drive screws into concrete. You don't need that.

2) Higher voltage = higher torque = higher power = higher power drain = faster battery drain. IF you are operating at full load (driving screws full speed into hardwood, for instance), the power drain may be fairly proportional to voltage, but for low-load jobs, it won't be exactly linear. Higher-voltage drills tend to have larger battery packs (physically, and in power-storage potential), so the operating time of the drill is not proportional to its voltage, either.

3) How does the drill feel in your hand (if you're picky about that sort of thing)? How heavy is it (which is inversely proportional with voltage, partly)? For light household duty, virtually any driver on the market is good enough.

The only special features I'd recommend are:

* variable-torque chuck, so you can set it to slip when the screw is fully screwed in (to avoid stripping threads - a fairly common feature),

* screw bit holder built into the body (fairly common to have 1-2 each slotted & phillips drivers),

* and maybe bubble levels built in (fairly uncommon, but handy when you're trying to drill straight holes; but not really important).

4) As I said above, prob anything will do for you.

If you're going to daily abuse yours like I do, go for a monster like the Black & Decker Firestorm ($28 refurbed at factory outlet store, with case!! WHOOHOO!) (just a very satisfied customer), or anything by "pro-level" makers like Bosch, DeWalt, etc...

It sounds like you can get by with spending less than $50; forget $150! I personally recommend refurb models: they've undergone an individual-item checklist inspection for problems, and do not suffer from "infant mortality rates" (two ways they differ from new products). For the level of use you're describing, also consider getting a used drill from Ebay - again, any used drill will do.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2009

Two recommendations:
1) Makita
2) battery packs

When you buy the drill, if it only comes with one battery pack then buy another one as soon as you can. Then charge both. It sucks to be in the middle of a quick project and running out of juice on the drill. With another battery to swap to, that's a 15 second problem.

And certainly you should be able to do it for $50. If you were a pro you'd spend more, but you're not so don't.

FYI, I wouldn't bother worrying to much about buying a drill that uses battery packs that happen to work with other power tools from the same manufacturer. You'll never get around to buying another tool that uses the same battery pack. I have a sneaking suspicion that the manufacturers retire the battery "standards" once every few years to obsolete your collection and force you to buy anew.
posted by intermod at 1:29 PM on January 18, 2009

I suggest buying a corded Ryobi D41K for $30 as well, so you will always have a backup. Because honestly, a lot of the limitations of a battery powered drill are solved by plugging it in.
posted by smackfu at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2009

1) Is an impact driver useful? What does it do that a regular drill doesn't?

It is used to loosen and tighten lug nuts on car tires as well as some type of fasteners like lag bolts. It does not sound like you are going to need one for Homeowner type projects.

2) How does having a higher voltage affect the performance? I assume it's more powerful, but uses up battery power more quickly. Is this correct?

A lot of emphasis is placed on voltage by the manufacturers and sales people, but really, 18 volts is more than enough and you could even get by with a little less. There is a variation in how long a battery will hold a charge among 18 volt models.

4) Are there any brands or specific models that you would recommend?

For about 5 years I had an 18 volt Craftsman that worked perfectly for occasional use around the house. I did notice a difference when I started working in construction about 18 months ago. The Craftsman did not hold a charge as long and lacked the power that the 18 volt models from Bosch and Milwaukee that guys working alongside me were using. But unless you are going to be using it for 8-10 hours a day there is no reason to go for those more expensive models.
posted by mlis at 1:37 PM on January 18, 2009

My experience with drills:

The, say, 18volt drills can be uncomfortably heavy in the hand when doing lots of screwing (heh) -- that is, doing one picture is fine, doing 100 drywall screws is tiring, and the extra grunt of the (allegedly, more powerful) drill is not even needed. Also, the extra weight and unweildiness and size makes it hard to work in tight corners or at awkward angles or over your head. So, all else being equal, go smaller. The best cordless drill I ever used is a friend's 12v DeWalt.

I have never seen or heard of a cordless hammer drill that did even a half-assed job on concrete. If drilling concrete or brick is not part of your expected use, get a normal drill and rent a huge (corded) hammer drill when needed.

The flashlight attachments for these drills make for an incredibly handy rechargeable, powerful home flashlight. 12v + 2 batteries + flashlight for me is way better than 18v alone.
posted by Rumple at 1:41 PM on January 18, 2009

Whatever you decide on, I would recommend going to a Home Depot or Lowes or whatnot and trying it out in person for weight and comfort. As for specific recommendations, I have a Ryobi 18V that has worked just fine for both around the house and a decent amount of woodworking. The Ryobi brand (only available at Home Depot, I think) also does pretty well in the Consumer Reports ranking.

If you're really going to doing mostly light duty tasks, you might consider something like this - it has a removable chuck that reveals a quick change screwdriver bit. It's hard to explain but this picture does a good job of showing you what I'm talking about. My sister has the precursor to the shown model and it's lasted for over 9 years of weekend project use. It's quite handy to be able to switch almost instantly from drilling to screwing.
posted by macfly at 1:52 PM on January 18, 2009

I have this Skil cordless drill which is beefy enough for drilling for things like mounting cabinet door & drawer pulls. Runs about $60. I also have this Skil cordless screwdriver, which is really lightweight. I've used it for hours assembling cabinets and wardrobes & my hand doesn't get tired. Under $50. I've been very happy with both.
posted by yoga at 1:56 PM on January 18, 2009

"How does having a higher voltage affect the performance? I assume it's more powerful, but uses up battery power more quickly. Is this correct?"

Higher voltage generally means more power and longer life with a trade off for higher weight.

IAmBroom writes "An impact driver is a manual drill that uses a hammer blow to drive the nail. Are you thinking of a hammer drill? "

The OP is talking about one of these.

For a specific recommendation of a do everything drill I love my Hitachi 18V drill/driver/hammer drill. Lots of power; the built in light is amazingly useful; the charger can charge a battery in less than 30 minutes. No idea if it meets your price point as I bought it as part of a kit. I drove 3500+ 3" wood screws and 2000+ 2" roofing screws this summer with it when I replaced my roof with no problems besides a weird callous on the side of my thumb. It's pretty heavy though.
posted by Mitheral at 1:57 PM on January 18, 2009

I love cordless power drills. I did research for 4 months before I bought mine :-)

I want to point out that a good brand name / manufacturer does matter! For any given voltage a good drill will be stronger than a cheap no-name drill. A well made drill with an efficient gear box gets more power out of any given voltage since there is not so much friction and the motors are often of a better quality. More or less good brand names that I know of: Metabo, Bosch, Makita, Hitachi, DeWalt.

For "normal" jobs you do not need 18V. I have a 14,4V Metabo drill and it is more than powerful enough for me. Because of weight considerations I would even go so far as to buy only a 12V drill. The Metabos seem to bee incredibly expensive in the US though. I suspect, that for 99% of home jobs this fine tool will be enough.

Since in the US drywall and wood are much more common than concrete I do not think that you need a hammer drill. Where I live there is a lot of concrete and for that I have a cheap corded pneumatic hammer drill. For tiles, bricks, mortar an lighter stones there are drill bits around that work well for the occasional job without the need for a hammer function. I often use them with my Metabo.

If you think you have to tackle concrete with a cordless tool for home use. See if you can get this sweet and fairly lightweight cordless pneumatic hammer drill. I would want it :-)

Impact drivers are only useful for a narrow type of job. They will rip through softer wood and other materials since the do not have a torque clutch by design (or are there newer developments that I am not aware of?). For the occasional stuck nut, tough hardwood job ,or similar you can misuse the torque clutch (this might impact its durability though), when it slips it gives you a kind of hammer effect just like an impact driver. This came in handy for me on many occasions.

There are drill bits around that fit the same opening as screwdriver bits, I find that much better than any quick change mechanisms built into the drill. Those only add weight.

Do not buy cheap drill/screwdriver bits. You can buy a cheap drill and expensive bits. That will be much more satisfying than an expensive drill with cheap bits.

My recommendation for the home user overlaps with what the others said above:
1. Get a lightweight lowish voltage brand name drill with a torque clutch
2. Do net get an impact driver or hammer drill
3. If you use it a lot in a single day, go for two powerpacks and an under 1 hour charger
4. Buy expensive screwdriver bits like these with a beautiful bit holder just like the 71490 on this page

5. If you want to change quickli between screwing and drilling get drill bits like these

(My recommendations are based on personal experience. Others might like different brands.)
posted by mmkhd at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2009

I own a cordless Makita, 18V. Second what everyone says about the extra battery. I would suggest, however, that the 18V model is simply too large for everyday use. I thought I was being clever by getting something bigger than I would need... just in case—from the light work I do around the house, I would gladly trade the extra power for lighter weight.

My advice: get a solid 12V from a reputable company (shouldn't be more than $75), then spend $25 on a used heavy-duty corded drill for the 1% of projects that actually need the additional torque. Finally, send $10 to me for saving you $40 and many sore shoulders.

Last step optional. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:50 PM on January 18, 2009

More powerful is good when you need to turn tough screws, but even a cheap hard-wired drill will outperform a "good" cordless in raw power.
posted by rokusan at 12:54 PM on January 18

rokusan, that used to be true, but my new battery drill has more torque than any cordless one I've owned before it.

The OP is talking about one of these.[link]
posted by Mitheral at 4:57 PM on January 18

Reread my post - I know that. I prob could have phrased my correction to the terminology better.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:09 PM on January 18, 2009

I bought a Makita drill and impact driver set at Lowe's for under $200 - I think it's the 14.4V version - and it has served me well. It came with two batteries (which work in either device) so I always have a spare.

The impact driver is nice for putting screws into hard wood or brick, but for anything else it's overkill - it will blow a hole through drywall in seconds. The drill is much more versatile.
posted by mmoncur at 3:20 PM on January 18, 2009

I'd buy a Makita Lithium-Ion driver / flashlight combo for light housework. The voltage is unimportant for your case - only you can decide if you'd rather a lighter driver that is easier to hold, or a longer-lasting driver that's heavier. If you have stucco or other extensive cementwork you'll be working on I'd look for a hammer driver/drill version, but I wouldn't bother with a separate impact driver.

The Makita four-pole motors are head and shoulders above everyone else: they take less power to turn (ergo they last longer per charge) and deliver more torque doing it. The Li-Ion batteries don't have a memory problem, will accept more charge cycles, and are worth the marginal investment.

I've had many, many Makita cordless power tools and won't buy anything else. I've also rebuilt this house with them. If I could get you to spend another $100 or so, I'd not think twice about getting a Sawz-All: the closest thing to a light saber. I've pruned 3" tree branches, root systems, iron fences, iron pipes, you name it.
posted by kcm at 4:11 PM on January 18, 2009

Also - you can usually find Makita refurb kits online if you're patient (look for "refurbished" OR "reconditioned"). I'm using this 18V kit with two batteries (a must), a circular saw, flashlight, and Sawz-All. Totally worth the ~$350 refurb.

Here's the difference on the "white" line and the "blue" line.
posted by kcm at 4:17 PM on January 18, 2009

I got a Makita impact driver last year and it is the best tool ever! I built a house with a friend this summer. He heard me using it and didn't like it, said it was annoying. It is kinda loud, but after I let him use it for an hour, the very next day he came in with the exact same unit!

I have the white one, the set with charger and 2 batteries and case is about $215US at the local Chrome Cheapo. There is a set that comes with a drill as well for about $50 more.

The lithium batteries last half a day and charge in about 20 min. It has a little light on it which is incredibly useful. Especially since it stays on for about 10 seconds after you release the trigger.

That driver sunk at least 75 pounds of big deck screws this summer. Not once did it complain. Not once did I complain. (about it, anyway)

Discovered the torx screws are far superior to either phillips or robertson (square). they WILL NOT cam out!

I even spent $30 on a chuck that fits in it so I an drive the occasional drill bt that doesn't click right in.

Do it, get it. You will not be disappointed. Your hammer may get rusty and lonely due to not being used, however!
posted by KenManiac at 4:30 PM on January 18, 2009

Me again

The best thing I discovered about this little impact unit is drilling with a big bit. It makes a hell of a racket, and chips fly a most impressive distance, but there is nearly NO torque reaction the the tool! What this means is when the 1" spade bit hits a nail, a normal drill will try to wrench your hand right off your arm. The impact driver merely makes an even more disturbing noise.

It is WAY quicker than a normal drill. It also has much more power. It is lighter, as well. It fits in a normal sized tool belt pocket. I don't even bring my normal drill with me anymore, unless I know i need to paddle a bucket of joint compound or something.
posted by KenManiac at 4:38 PM on January 18, 2009

I've had great results with my Porter-Cable drill. It has tons of torque and the torque can be adjusted to meet the needs of your project. Mine is an older model, but the current model also comes with two battery packs and a charger which helps on long projects. These batteries are substantial enough to get through any household project. The one feature that I really like is that it holds a flat/Phillips bit on the drill so that you can easily switch from drilling to screwing by changing bits.

FWIW, Porter-Cable and DeWalt are both owned by Black & Decker so their drills likely share a lot of the same components.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 5:01 PM on January 18, 2009

Hi there. So you need a drill.

For my money, the Hitachis are about the best out there. They look stupid w/ the green and black wrap, but they are amazing. Hammer drills aren't just for concrete---they make a difference drilling/putting screws into situations where high torque is required. (Self tapping screws into metal, for example.)

I bought a 14v Hitachi impact and used it for all the build out in a 10,000 foot hardware store. Everything from metal and wood studs to drywall to floor-bolts and electrical boxes. This drill was much, much, much faster w/ the drywall into metal studs than a corded Craftsman that it was just insane. Came with 2 batteries, each charged in under an hour, and got probably about 700 drives per charge. Smart charger too so you won't overcharge your batteries.

The downside of the "real" cordless impact guns is that they don't use chucks, so you have to use hex drive bits, which kind of blows. Realistically you don't need impact probably, so the 18v traditional drive hitachi should be all you could possibly need, it's got a keyless chuck and great batteries too. One charge on the battery should last you literally several entire projects around the house.

For some insight onto tool brands, here's my opinion:
Black and Decker isn't for anyone other than 1-2 projects a year. They suck.
Craftsman has gone downhill badly. Really badly. Not worth the money minus the warranty, but the warranty has gone downhill too.
Makita/Hitachi/DeWalt/PorterCable are professional grade, high quality tools. You'll pay for 'em. I can't speak for any but DeWalt on this matter---but often DeWalt has events at Lowes/Home Depot/etc where they do drill maintenance for free. Brushes/fix cords/clutches, etc.

Our agency builds 5 entire houses a year and uses Hitachi. So did my last one. Lots and lots of contractors use 'em too...those and DeWalt and PorterCable then Makita.
posted by TomMelee at 6:48 PM on January 18, 2009

I think a good compromise between the low and high end tools is Ridgid. I own quite a few Ridgid tools and they are well made. They also have a warranty that covers batteries.
posted by orme at 8:59 PM on January 18, 2009

No professional experience here, but I can tell you that a 9.6V, 8 year old Makita drill that my girlfriend brought to the relationship is the best drill that I've ever used. Decks, windows, drywall, whatever. I've never felt that it was close to under-powered. You want multi-torque, but you don't need an impact driver. A 12V Makita will serve your needs for decades.
posted by team lowkey at 3:03 AM on January 19, 2009

1) As someone noted above, an impact driver could be used on bolts. It's also useful for driving very long (>2.5") screws because it prevents binding. (You'd notice the difference as soon as the non-impact driver twisted out of your hand.) If you're not building a deck or house or working in a pit crew, you don't need an impact driver. (BTW, an impact driver works by free-spinning the shaft and then essentially letting out the clutch to apply all that energy to the screw/bolt/whatever. Like a hammer tapping on a wrench. Very efficient for the tasks it's designed for, but it also eats batteries.) I've never used an impact driver as a drill.

2) A higher voltage gives you more torque. Battery lives are not directly comparable because the higher-voltage batteries can drive the shaft faster and take less time to do the work.

3) a) If you are going to branch out to other cordless tools (circular saw, sanders, other drills, flashlights, etc.), you should make sure you can swap batteries among them. That way, you don't need a variety of chargers. b) If you plan to share drill bits, screwdriver tips, etc. among various drills, you will want to make sure the chucks are compatible. c) A 1/2" drive would be ideal if you were limited to one drill, but a 1/4" drive is enough for almost all household tasks. d) A variable speed drill is a must. e) Get one with a clutch if you can so you don't over-drive screws. f) Corded drills mean you don't have to worry about batteries, but cordless drills give you lots more flexibility. (It's a basic rule of the universe that the place you have to drill is 6" further from the outlet than your cord is long.) g) Lithium-ion batteries are lighter and last longer, but are more expensive. You probably don't need Li tech if you are only going to drive a few screws or drill a few holes at a time.

4) I own a Craftsman 19v drill, a Craftsman corded drill, a Ryobi One+ impact driver, a Ryobi One+ right-angle drill, and a Bosch PS-20A. When I'm not building sheds, houses, decks or working on the car, the Bosch is my overwhelming favorite. I even keep it in the kitchen rather than in the toolroom.
posted by joaquim at 1:11 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

and a Bosch PS-20A. When I'm not building sheds, houses, decks or working on the car, the Bosch is my overwhelming favorite. I even keep it in the kitchen rather than in the toolroom.
posted by joaquim

Totally agree with you on the Bosch. I own the same one and think it's a great tool.
posted by orme at 10:27 AM on January 20, 2009

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