Having cordless power drills in your tool arsenal allows you to perform drilling and driving tasks with ease anywhere in or around your home, without having to worry about an extension cord or being near an outlet.
This guide highlights the common uses of different types of cordless drills, their batteries, features and other information to help you find the best cordless drills for your projects.This guide highlights the common uses of different types of cordless drills, their batteries, features and other information to help you find the best cordless drills for your projects.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Cordless Drill
Given the tremendous variety of drills available, there are numerous things to consider when you choose the best cordless power drill for you. While power and run-time are the headline elements, other important features affect usability and operator comfort. Consider the following key factors in your search for the best cordless drill for your needs.
Voltage and Amp Hours
Voltage indicates the energy output of a cordless drill, which varies from 7.2 volts to 20 volts. The higher the voltage, the more motor power a drill has. How you plan to use a drill will determine how much voltage you need. Twelve-volt models make great general-purpose household tools for occasional use. Avid DIYers and professionals tend to prefer 18- or 20-volt models.
At this point, we need to clear up some natural confusion about 18- and 20-volt cordless drills. They are, in fact, the same thing. When an electric motor starts up, it gives a quick surge, in this case to 20 volts. It then settles down to its normal running power of 18 volts. Some manufacturers choose to include the smaller figure in the specs, others the larger. Nevertheless in terms of power, they are exactly the same. Similarly, the running power of a 12-volt drill is actually 10.8 volts.
The most suitable voltage depends on how you plan to use the drill:
- <12 Volts: A compact and lightweight tool for those who only have the occasional need for a drill or driver. These models are also popular with hobbyists and model-makers.
- 12 Volts: An affordable, general-purpose tool popular with homeowners. They serve DIYers in a wide range of drilling and driving tasks, such as putting up shelves, assembling furniture, etc.
- 18/20 Volts: Powerful and versatile tools that might have a hammer action for drilling masonry and can drive longer fixings with relative ease.
- Heavy-duty SDS versions have enough power for home remodeling and professional use, and can even tackle small demolition tasks.
- Also consider the battery’s Amp hours (Ah) rating. The higher the Ah, the longer the tool will run. Batteries included with the purchase of a drill typically run 1.3 or 1.5Ah. That’s adequate, but not generous. Models of 3.0 to 4.0Ah provide much more powerful performance for the same price. More powerful 10Ah batteries come at a price point more likely to appeal to professional users.
Torque and Speed
Powerful motors produce more torque, or twisting force. Rotation speed indicates how many revolutions the drill bit makes per minute (typically between 200 and 1,000 rpm), with slower speeds providing more torque. While a high-speed tool drills faster, a model with more torque can drill through harder materials with larger bits more efficiently.
Most drills have a clutch to temper some of the torque they produce. When a screw you’re inserting reaches maximum depth, the clutch disengages the spinning force, preventing the drill bit from stripping out the head of the screw—or worse, catching in the head, which can cause the drill to jerk violently and lead to injury.
Cordless drills offer multiple clutch settings and most include a variable speed trigger. Look for a model with at least 10 clutch settings, so you can adjust it to the right amount of resistance necessary for a wide array of tasks. Similarly, a drill with two speed settings offers more versatility.
Size, Weight and Chuck Size
How much physical size and weight of the drill matters depends on both the user’s physical strength and the intended frequency of use.
Lightweight models may weigh as little as a pound. Heavy-duty cordless hammer drills might surpass 8 pounds. Although it may be tempting to buy the most powerful tool for a given budget, the extra weight that comes with that power could quickly lead to user fatigue. It’s worth checking whether the quoted weight includes the battery.
While many general-purpose cordless drills are quite large, others can be pretty compact without sacrificing power. That’s good to know when it comes to drilling and driving screws in confined spaces.
Just about every cordless drill has a convenient keyless chuck, though chuck size varies. This generally reflects the capabilities of the drill as it governs the maximum size of drill bit that can be inserted. Light-duty models might have a 1/4-inch chuck while high-power tools may have a chuck of up to 1/2 inch.
Brushed vs. Brushless Motor
Corded drills typically use a brushed motor. They are cheap and reliable, but the brushes eventually wear down and require replacement. The other challenge with brushed motors is that they create friction, which would run down the battery power in a cordless model.
The best cordless drills often use a brushless motor. These virtually maintenance-free motors make much more efficient use of the battery. However, brushless motors cost more. As a result, many budget cordless drills still use brushed motors.
For the average homeowner, the difference is probably negligible. Those who want to maximize performance and run time, particularly professional users, should choose a brushless cordless drill.
Nearly all cordless power tools, including drills, run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. A drill battery lasts from as little as 15 minutes to over an hour on a single charge. It can take up to five hours for a full recharge, so if your projects involve extensive drilling, opt for a kit with backup batteries.
Note that manufacturer statements on runtime often take backup batteries into account. For instance, the specs on a drill that comes with two batteries, each lasting one hour, may cite a two-hour runtime.
Additionally, many cordless drills include a smart charger that replenishes the battery faster, usually within 15 to 60 minutes. A charge indicator allows users to monitor battery capacity.
Safety and Other Considerations
Always exercise caution when using power tools. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper operation, and use tools only for their intended purpose. Wear safety equipment including eye protection when using a power drill.
After exploring cordless drill reviews to find the tool that meets your needs, visit a store to hold the drills with batteries installed to help you determine if the tool is the right fit.
After you have decided on the right drill for you, remember that drill bits are just as important as the drill itself. Specific bits sizes can be purchased individually, but it’s recommended to get a set of bits that includes a wide range of sizes to handle almost any DIY project. With the right attachment, drills can also be used for sanding, buffing and even mixing cement.
How we test
We tested out the drills by, well, driving a lot of screws and drilling a lot of holes. We used structured tests to stress the drills and run their batteries dry. I also used the drills in less structured settings as I worked on various projects—I built a wall, fixed a hay feeder, repaired a chicken coop, built two bookshelves, put down a floor, and outfitted my workshop with shelving. I also adjusted a few doors, swapped out some license plate lights, put up some mudroom hooks, and hung a heavy mirror.
For our structured tests, we sunk 3-inch screws into doubled-up 2-by-10 lumber (a total of 3 inches thick). We did this on a fully charged battery until the battery was empty. This test simulated the process of framing, as if someone were building a tree house or a partition wall. To prevent overheating, we rested the drills after every 14 screws.
We then outfitted each drill with a new Irwin 88816 1-inch Speedbor Spade Bit and drilled holes through 1½-inch-thick 2-by-10s until the battery wore out. Again, we rested the drills after every five holes. This was no doubt an aggressive task for the 12-volt drills, but we wanted a direct comparison against the 18-volt drills to truly see whether models’ capabilities matched against one another. Also, we wanted to test the upper end of the 12-volts to see which models could handle the occasional foray into more ambitious work.
For these tests, we set the drills to the faster of the two speeds and switched over to the slower speed (with higher torque) when the drill stopped being effective. In the lower gear, we were usually able to continue on for a bit until the battery was completely drained. For the drilling test, the 12-volts usually could handle only a few holes before we switched over to the lower gear with the higher torque needed for the difficult task.
Our Top Picks:
The DeWalt DCD701F2 Xtreme 12V Max Brushless 3/8 in. Drill/Driver Kit offers the best combination of power, size, ergonomics, and convenience. Like all of the drills we looked at, it has more than enough strength for household tasks, but where it really shines is in ergonomics. It is, by far, the most comfortable drill we’ve held. In addition, it does well in offering all of the other, minor touches, providing a wide belt clip and a bright LED positioned to cast maximum light at the front of the drill. The overall body design is balanced, and because of the way the battery is positioned, the tool can stand up, unlike many of the others, which you can place only on their sides.
In our power tests, the DeWalt 12-volt was able to drill 30 1-inch holes into a 2-by-10 on a single battery charge and to sink more than 100 3-inch drywall screws into a doubled-up 2-by-10 (3 inches of wood). Obviously, that’s more than enough oomph to tighten up some cabinet hinges and hang a mirror, but it’s also plenty for those times you might need to deal with a larger project, such as a deck repair or a fix on a sagging gutter.
If the DeWalt 12-volt is overpriced or unavailable, we also like the Bosch PS31-2A 12V Max 3/8 In. Drill/Driver Kit. This 12-volt Bosch couldn’t drill as many 1-inch holes on a single charge as the DeWalt in our tests, but it still has more than enough power for general home tasks.
In our own measurements, we found it to be about 5 ounces lighter than the DeWalt 12-volt, but it feels heavier because the balance isn’t as good. The Bosch battery slides up into the handle, making the grip fatter and not as contoured as the DeWalt’s. The LED also doesn’t illuminate as well.
This 20-volt heavy-duty brushless DeWalt DCD991P2 is one of our best performers, snagging top ratings for power, speed, and run time. But the hefty 5-amp-hour battery that produces all that power makes this drill heavy, unbalanced, and a bit awkward to handle. At 4.7 pounds, it’s at least 1 pound heavier than most other heavy-duty drills and more than double the weight of some 12-volt models we’ve tested.
Unlike most drills in our ratings, this one is equipped with three speed settings, providing a handy middle option for drilling into soft metals such as aluminum when the slow speed required for steel isn’t enough and the fast speed for wood is too much.
This general-use Makita is the third brushless model in our general-use category. It weighs just over 2 pounds and stands barely 6 inches tall. Despite its slim profile, the Makita FD07R1 aced our power test and packs a serious punch, making it a solid alternative to some of the larger 18- and 20-volt models.
It doesn’t rate as well as some others for run time, but the kit comes with two batteries and a rapid charger, which tops off an empty battery in an impressive 60 minutes.
With overall midlevel performance, a keyless chuck for easy drill bit changes, and the cheapest price tag on the list, this cheap cordless drill is a solid pick. I measure down to the 64th of an inch for clearance in tight spots.
At 1-18/64 inches side clearance, this drill gets into tighter spaces than any other I’ve tested, although it is worth noting that our overall pick, the Bosch PS31-2A was just behind at 1-19/64 inches.
Whether you want a light-duty drill or something which can handle more onerous tasks, then Milwaukee has got something for you. This astounding piece of equipment is one of the most popular and highest-quality cordless drills available on the market and comes at an incredibly affordable price. Under the no-load condition, this Milwaukee cordless drill is estimated to be about 35 percent faster than many other drills in its class. It can reach 0-400 RPM speed at low gear and can deliver 0-1500 RPM within seconds, thanks to its dual-speed transmission.
The Milwaukee 2407-22 can deliver 275 inches per pound of maximum torque, which makes it ideal for heavy-duty projects. The 18+1 clutch options allow you to dial in just the amount of power you want. You can use the all-metal ratcheting chuck to hold your bits securely, which makes it easy to change them. Additionally, the chuck is heavily built and can hold up to 3/8-inches shank bits without a problem.
The battery fuel gauge lets you know the status of your battery to avoid interruptions. The handle has a functional design to prevent you from getting blisters after a long day of work. The lights illuminate anything you want to drill, even when in cramped, dark spots.
This cordless drill from Metabo is compact in design and can comfortably fit in tight and confined spaces while working. The degree of versatility of this drill is outstanding and can perform a range of drilling and driving applications. This tool comes with a dual-speed transmission; at low gear, it can deliver 0-450 RPM and can provide 0-1650 RPM maximum speed under a no-load condition. Despite its smaller size, this offers you plenty of torque options; 300 inch-pounds and 531 inch-pounds at low and higher gear respectively. It is great for plowing through just about anything.
The Metabo 18V LT runs on an ultra-m compact 2.0Ah battery which offers extended runtimes. The battery charger provided has a built-in fan for cooling the battery as it charges. This helps shorten the charging time by 30% and lengthen the battery life. Additionally, the Electronic Single Cell Protection helps monitor the temperature and overall power load, hence preventing overload and overheating of the device.
The grip offers greater comfort when maneuvering into tight spaces. The onboard battery gauge lets you know the charge status of your battery to avoid any interruptions while working. This cordless power tool is backed by a three-year limited guarantee.
This cordless drill from WORKPRO runs on 12-volt batteries that can charge in just an hour. You get two batteries with your purchase, as well as a selection of bits that will ensure you’re ready to conquer any home project right away. You’ll get 10 inch-long screwdriver bits, 10 screwdriver bits that are two inches long, six nut drivers, three spade bits, and five regular drill bits. Plus, you even get a case to carry everything.
With the battery installed, the drill weighs just two pounds and three ounces. It’s light and maneuverable but lacks any real power with a max torque rating of 220 inch-pounds. This means that it has a difficult time drilling through anything but the softest materials. You can think of this drill as more of an oversized electric screwdriver. If you’re just assembling furniture, it should do the trick. But if you want to take on anything more demanding, you’ll need a more capable tool.
The TACKLIFE PCD02C cordless drill comes with everything you need to get working. You’ll get the 12-volt drill, a battery, charger, and 32 total drill and screwdriver bits. At less than three pounds, this drill is lightweight with a compact frame. But it’s also not very powerful with 220 inch-pounds max torque.
We would be ok with a weak drill if it didn’t have other issues as well. This tool has terrible battery life. Our battery would hardly last an hour, then take even longer to charge than it worked for! Worst of all, the battery died completely after just a few months, rendering the drill useless. With such poor longevity, this isn’t a tool that we can recommend.
When it comes to getting the best cordless drill value, we often look to the Prosumer class—drills that perform close to premium levels but at a lower price. There are trade-offs, of course. They might not be as compact or have as nice a fit and finish, but they get the job done well and are a big step up from your average DIY model.
This was a tight race between Ryobi’s 18V One+ HP Brushless hammer drill and Skil’s PWRCore 20 brushless hammer drill. In the end, Skil narrowly beat out Ryobi for the win with slightly faster times in our tests, though Ryobi did have the advantage on our Test Track. Ryobi also has a slightly lower weight. Shifting over to Skil, their PWRJump charger gets your drill back in the game fast if you run short on juice, and USB-enabled batteries double as a power supply for your phone or tablet.
Top tips: How to drill a hole
- Hidden pipes and cables Always check for hidden pipes or cables before drilling. The areas above below and either side of a switch or socket are no-go areas.
- Battery costs Check out the cost of replacement batteries before buying a cordless drill. The battery can cost more than you paid for the whole kit, so go for a drill with two batteries.
- Drill bits Choose the right drill bit for the job: masonry, metal or wood. Hammer drilling Don’t select the hammer action if the drill bit is rotary and non-hammer.
- Drilling hard materials On hard materials such as concrete, prevent the drill bit overheating by regularly withdrawing from the hole.
- Avoid drills jamming When drilling downwards pull the drill out regularly to clear the dust and prevent the drill bit jamming.
- Tungsten drill bits Don’t plunge tungsten carbide-tipped drill bits into cold water to cool them – if you do this, it could crack the weld.
- Using a drill Select different speeds for drilling brick, metal and wood; low speeds for brick and higher speeds for metal and wood. Most brickwork can be drilled with rotary drill bits without hammer action.
- Cheap drill bits Avoid drill-bit sets that offer hundreds of pieces for less than £20. They’re likely to make your drill work harder than it should.
- Cooling the drill If the motor on your electric drill starts to warm up too much and smell, remove the drill from the hole and run it at full speed with no load. This will draw air into the motor to cool it down.