Know the Drill: What to Look for When Buying a Cordless Drill

Reader Contribution by Steve Maxwell
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What’s the best kind of cordless drill for general use around my homestead? I’m confused by the many features and voltage options.

The cordless drill is one of the greatest tool innovations of the past few decades, thanks to steadily improving batteries and motor technology. For many applications, a cordless drill and screws have replaced a hammer and nails. Drills can be used to drill holes or drive screws.

The 18-volt platform is the best for

general use, and today’s top battery-powered models deliver enough power to eliminate the need for a corded drill. Beyond voltage, you’ll need to make decisions about a couple of other features when buying a cordless drill.

First up are hammer drill capabilities. A hammer drill offers the option of pounding the spinning part of the drill back and forth at high frequency while drilling, and this greatly speeds up drilling action in masonry of all kinds. Although hammer versions of cordless drills cost more, the doubling or even tripling in masonry drilling speed is worth it if you anticipate tackling this kind of work.

Also look at the number and size of batteries that come with any drill kit you’re considering. Having two batteries will allow you to keep working while the spent battery is charging. Batteries can vary in their energy-storage capacity within a given voltage category. The larger the amp-hour number, the longer the run time between charges. The smallest run times are usually from 1.5-amp-hour batteries, while larger 3- or even 4-amp-hour batteries have the largest storage capacities.

Most drills these days are actually drill drivers, which have an adjustable clutch that automates the screw-driving force. That’s a good and handy thing, but if your primary use for a cordless tool will be driving screws, then a different kind of power tool called an impact driver may serve you better. All else being equal, an impact driver drives screws faster than a drill of the same size.

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