Choosing a Power Drill

Hand-held power tools have become an indispensable part of the modern handyman’s and contractors’ toolbox.

Power drills are the most commonly purchased hand-held power tool. You can spend from $30 – $400 for a tool that meets your needs. With that dollar range in mind, you may want to ask yourself a few simple questions before you go shopping. These same questions will also apply to most power tool purchases.

The big question

The most important consideration when buying any tool is: “How Does It Feel In My Hand?”

Pistol Grip



Any tool should feel like an extension of your hand. The tool may feel great while standing in the store aisle but try to imagine what it will feel like after a few hours of use. While in the store, make sure all controls are convenient, and check to see if the forward/reverse and high/low speed switches in particular are easy to use.

Drills come in three distinct handle styles. The most popular cordless models have the T-handle style where the handle is placed near the middle. The T-handle style distributes the weight for better balance and less wrist strain. Some people still prefer the more traditional pistol-grip style. The third style is the right-angle version, designed for use where space is restricted.

How much power do I need?

Average Weights of Cordless Drills

  • 9.6V |3 lbs.
  • 12V |3.5 – 4 lbs.
  • 14.4V |4.5 – 5 lbs.
  • 18V |5 – 5.5 lbs.
  • 24V |6.5 – 10 lbs.

Cordless drills are measured in volts. Drills are available in everything from around 2 volts (for a cordless screwdriver) to the newest 24-volt tools. Higher voltage means heavier weight, so consider buying a tool that will meet 80-90% of your needs. Twelve to 14.4 volt models are the most popular, and they will usually meet most homeowner’s work needs.

Corded drills are measured in amps. Generally, a higher amperage motor means more power.

What type of material will I be using it on?

Drilling softwood, hardwood, metal, and masonry all require different drill speeds. Harder materials or larger bits have to be worked at lower speed. Conversely, softer materials and smaller bits can be used at higher speeds. Look for a drill with variable speed. Variable speed allows the user to control the bit speed, indispensable when you plan on working different materials and accessories.

Consider choosing a drill with an adjustable clutch setting. The clutch reacts to the resistance of the screw, which changes as the density of the material changes, allowing you to drill holes of consistent depth. Adjusted properly on identical scrap material, a clutch can keep you from driving a screw too deep, which makes this feature indispensable for beginners. An adjustable clutch can also reduce the possibility of stripping a screw head or snapping a screw off altogether.

What about heavy duty drilling?

Corded drills don’t depend on batteries for power. Their constant supply of electricity makes them better suited than cordless drills for tough jobs like drilling in masonry or boring large holes in wood. Corded drills are available with the same variety of features as cordless. For most homeowners, a 3/8" corded drill is a good choice.

What kind of chuck do I need?

The chuck is the attachment where the bit is inserted, having jaws that grip the bit. Drills come in 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" sizes. This measurement is the chuck size and indicates the shaft diameter of the bits and accessories that will fit the drill. (For most homeowners, a 3/8" size should be sufficient).

Chucks can be keyed (the jaws are tightened or loosened with a key) or keyless (the chuck can be tightened or loosened by hand). Keyless chucks offer two major benefits. If you have ever misplaced or lost a chuck key, you already know one of them. A keyless chuck will also allow bits to be changed more quickly. A real plus when you need to change from a drill bit to a screwdriver bit repeatedly or if you happen to be wearing gloves on the job.

You can change the chuck in some keyless models with only one hand because the shaft locks when the trigger is off. In most models, however, you have to use both hands to turn the chuck in opposite directions. While you’re in the store, change the bit on different drills to see what style of keyless chuck you prefer.

How long will the battery last?

“It depends” is the correct answer.

Cordless Drill

Factors such as temperature, the material being drilled, whether the drilling is nonstop or intermittent, and the whether the battery is at full charge or not – all these will affect a cordless drill’s battery charge.

The standard time required to charge a battery pack will vary from one hour to overnight, depending on the type of tool and charger.

Other features to consider

A reversible drill is a must if you plan on using the drill with screwdriver bits.

Torque is the term used to describe the rotational force exerted by the drill. Today’s higher voltage cordless drills will provide nearly the same amount of torque as a corded model. Yes, bigger is better, but increased power almost always brings increased size and weight. Unless you plan on drilling with large self-feeding or auger bits, consider a more compact model with a lower torque. Because there is no industry standard for measuring torque, be aware that you cannot compare the torque ratings of drills from one brand to another.

Accessories for drills include: bits for drilling wood, metal, ceramic, glass, and masonry. In addition to bits other accessories include hole saws, screwdriver bits, files, rasps, and sanders.

For gift giving, consider an all-inclusive drill set with attachments and carrying case. (Just think of all the projects that can be added to the to-do list!)

Recharge when the drop in performance and power is noticeable. Don’t wait until the tool quits working to recharge the battery.

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