Today, in this cordless drill buying guide, I am going to share with you the knowledge I have attained from many years’ worth of purchasing and using cordless drills, so you can make the best decision and get the best drill that fits your needs. A good top quality cordless drill is a big purchase, but it is also one of the most useful tools you will have in your tool bag. They can handle such a wide variety of tasks, and are crucial to most all DIY projects. Over the years I have wasted money on too many crappy drills than I care to remember. I am writing this today, so you do not have to waste your money on a drill that is not going to last. With that said there are a couple of different key factors you need to look at when comparing drills. These factors are, Durability, Torque, Battery Life, Size, and Accessories. Let’s first take a look at Durability.
When you first think of durability you’re probably thinking of what material is the drill made out of? While this is an important factor, the most important aspect of durability of a cordless drill is, how long will it last? There is no sense in dropping $300 on a drill that is only going to last a year. To start lets imagine all of the things that could happen to your drill over its lifetime. The first things that come to mind for me are dropping it off a ladder, leaving it out in the rain, using it in dusty environments, and working in extremely hot outdoor environments. I try and simulate all of these conditions with the drills that I review, because companies can claim that there drill can hold up to these environments, but as consumers we need to make sure those claims are true. I drop all of the drills I review off of a 10ft ladder onto both concrete and grass, and see how they hold up. I will usually do this multiple times just to make sure the drill will hold up.
The first thing to fail on a drill is usually the battery, and in this article I explain the pros and cons of each type of cordless drill battery. In summary Lithium Ion batteries are going to provide the best bang for your buck and last the longest out of any of the other types of batteries. Most new drills should have a Li-on battery that comes standard with it.
The next most common thing to fail is the electric motor inside the drill. Cordless drills have 2 types of electric motors, brushed and brushless. We will not get into the technical details of each here, but as far as durability goes brushless motors will outlast brushed motors because they do not have any brushes that can wear out over time. The biggest drawback to brushless motors is the cost. They can be 2 or 3 times the cost of brushed electric motors.
The final aspect of the drill that is closely related to durability is the casing that it is made out of. If it cracks or breaks your drill is no good. Most now use a high strength polymer plastic as the casing material. Some brands now are mixing in Kevlar and other carbon fiber components to reduce weight and increase strength.
Have you ever had your drill cut out or stop working when the bit hits a knot in the wood, or the bit gets stuck in the hole? If so that’s because the motor reached its torque limit and just quit. This is why torque is so important to keep in mind when purchasing a cordless drill. Every drill will have a torque rating, and its best if that number is greater than 500 in-lbs of torque for tough jobs. Some drills like this Milwaukee can get up to 1200 in-lbs of torque. If you plan on using hole saw bits, masonry bits or spade bits, you need to look for a drill with a high torque rating.
Battery life is important because there is nothing more frustrating than working all day on a project and then not getting to finish because your drill ran out of battery power. We mentioned batteries briefly before, but as your looking at different drills take into account how long they will last. Most manufactures will list an approximate run time based on the size of the battery, look at this and compare different models. The longer the battery lasts the more work you can will be able to accomplish. A higher amp-hour battery will last longer, but are usually larger and take longer per charge. The picture below shows the size difference between a two and three amp-hour battery.
Most new batteries will also have an LED charge indicator built into them. This is an extremely handy feature to have, to quickly check the battery level. The battery charger is something else that is worth it to look into. Different chargers can have vastly different charging times, and some of the new battery chargers also accept multiple different types of voltages. You can check out more about the different types of batteries on one of our previous posts here, Comparing Nimh, Li-ion, and Nicad Drill Batteries.
The size of a cordless drill is something else to heavily consider before buying. The smaller form factor models more geared to consumers are becoming more and more powerful each year. Take for example the Makita XFD11 Cordless Driver Drill. Its small form factor allows it to fit in tight spots, but it still boast 350 in.lbs. of torque. It also only weighs 2.6 lbs, so it is extremely easy to maneuver.
On the other hand cordless drills geared toward professionals are often larger and more durable, because they are built for everyday use. On the downside these drills are often much more expensive than there consumer counterparts. Take for example the Dewalt 20V Max XR Hammer Drill (DCD997B), it weighs 4.6 lbs but produces 800+ in.lbs. of torque.