Cordless Drills and Drivers

Cordless drills and drivers are essential for any homestead. Here’s how to choose the right size and type for your needs.


| December 2005/January 2006



Cordless Drills

Ordinary cordless drills such as this can be used both to drill holes and to drive screws.


Photo courtesy Steve Maxwell

When I moved onto my land in the mid-1980s, I met an old-timer who lived on the property next to mine. He was a big help as I built my house, fixed fences and made a rural life for my family. My neighbor told me he was born 200 yards from where he lived and had spent his working life farming with horses and building houses, barns and cottages for people in the area. He always said that a drill was the most useful electric tool a person could own, and I think he's right. Drills are necessary for everything from boring holes for installing wall anchors, to driving screws while building a bookshelf, to creating peg holes in a timber frame. In fact, its hard to think of a home-building or maintenance job that doesn't require a drill in some way.

Today almost all drills are cordless, and most do a terrific job. If you choose correctly, they allow you to take on any project — no matter how far from an electrical outlet. To find the right cordless drill, you have to assess your needs and ask informed questions.

Types of Drills and Drivers

There are three main types on the market: ordinary drills, drill drivers and impact drivers. Depending on your situation, some make more sense than others. Prices vary widely: a 14.4-volt drill with accessories starts at $80; prices increase from there, up to a few hundred dollars.

Ordinary drills: Every drill of this sort has a chuck that grips drill and driver bits of various sizes. Better models spin both clockwise and counterclockwise at varying speeds, depending on how far you pull the trigger. Drills are often categorized by the maximum diameter of bit they can grip in the chuck. You'll find three-eighths inch is ideal for a general-purpose tool; half inch is better for heavy-duty use.

Drill drivers: As handy as an ordinary drill is, a better choice for all-around homestead use is a drill driver. It has the same features as an ordinary drill, but with one addition that makes screw driving more efficient: an adjustable torque clutch. This popular feature regulates the twisting power, called torque, that is applied to a screw. All manufacturers offer similar clutch systems; a numbered ring sits just behind the chuck and can be adjusted to vary the maximum amount of torque thats delivered to the screwdriver tip. Turn the ring down to a low number, and the clutch delivers only a small amount of twisting force before slipping with a gravelly ratcheting noise. Turn the ring up to a larger number, and the clutch delivers more torque before slipping occurs. At the highest setting, the drill driver operates with no slippage at all — just as if it didn't have a clutch. Full lockup is what you want for drilling, and regulated slippage is for driving multiple screws to about the same depth or tightness. Models with a hammer drill setting are particularly effective on concrete blocks, bricks and stone. These drills pound the drill bit forward during use, doubling or tripling the speed with which they bore through all kinds of masonry. Drill drivers cost slightly more than an ordinary drill; prices vary, but a 14.4-volt drill driver without accessories costs about $80. Some kits can cost up to a few hundred dollars.

Impact drivers: Driving screws isn't always as easy as it should be because driver tips tend to slip out of engagement with the screw head, spinning around and ruining the screw and driver bit in the process. This is called cam out, and its a problem that an impact driver reduces quite effectively.





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