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Standard DrillThis week our old cordless drill died, and it’s time for a replacement.  But with so many new technologies and so many almost (but not quite) identical units on the market, selecting a cordless drill/driver can be challenging.  Gone are the days where there were only two drills on the shelf to choose from; your average Home Depot stocks over 40 of them!

We’ve waded through the specs, battery systems, and hype to offer you this massive comparison of over 100 units to help you find the one that’s right for you.  (More after the jump, including a downloadable Excel spreadsheet of 100+ drills and their specs.)

Let’s consider some of the information manufacturers give you about their drills:

Voltage

Volt ReadingClearly this is one of the manufacturers’ biggest selling points for many cordless drills as it’s usually printed in large letters on the drill and box and it’s almost always the first piece of information provided in the name.

Why does it matter?

Direct current (DC) motors have two unique characteristics: the motor speed is proportional to the voltage applied to the motor, and the output torque (that is the force producing rotation) from the motor is proportional to the amount of current the motor is drawing from the batteries.  In other words, the more voltage you supply to the motor, the faster it will go; and the more torque you apply to the motor, the more current it will draw. (Miles, Pete, and Tom Carroll. How to Build Your Own Combat Robot. Berkeley, CA: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2002.)

In short, with everything else equal, higher voltage should run the motor faster and provide more torque.  Of course, everything else is not equal.  The 18v drill you’re looking at likely has a different motor than the 14.4v and 19.2v drills you’re comparing it to, and different battery systems offer different current-draw limitations.  So, your mileage may vary.

Li-ion BatteryThe most common voltages seen on the market today are the 9.6v, 14.4v, 18v, and 19.2v, though Hitachi now offers 24v tools, Milwaukee offers 28v tools, and DeWalt even offers 36 volt (!) tools.

Our Recommendations

While an 18v or 19.2v drill will potentially offer more speed/torque, it’s possible that a 14.4v drill with a more efficient motor and a more current-friendly battery will outperform it.  Luckily, most manufacturers also provide no-load speed and maximum torque specs for their products, so you really don’t have to bet on potential alone.

Hitachi 24vIf you’re looking for the ultimate in speed and torque, there’s no doubt you’re going to find it in the high-voltage category.  Hitachi’s 24v DV24DV is rated at 1700 RPM and 576 in-lbs of torque.  Milwaukee’s 28v 0724-24 V28 is rated at 1800 RPM and 600 in-lbs.  Though DeWalt’s interestingly doesn’t list the maximum torque specs for their 36v hammerdrill, we suspect they’re high enough to lead it to round out our top three.  These are also some of the most expensive drills on the market.

However, if you back off to the 19.2v and 18v drills — and even some 14.4v drills — you’ll find a lot of performance overlap.  Be sure to read those specs before you buy.

Battery Type

There are three types of rechargeable batteries commonly used in today’s cordless drills: Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), and Lithium Ion (Li-Ion).  Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.

NiCd

NiCad Battery PackNickel Cadmium batteries are the “original” rechargeable, and they’ve been around long enough for pretty much everyone to have run into their disadvantages.  Specifically, they provide good current flow on demand and they’re inexpensive.

Most NiCds can provide up to 1000 charging cycles in their lifetime, but they’re somewhat sensitive to patterns of use.  NiCds should never be completely drained, and they can’t be charged immediately after discharge; they require time to cool first.  Short use is also counterindicated.  In a perfect world, NiCds should be drained 70% each time.

It’s probably also worth noting that Cadmium is extremely dangerous to the environment.

NiMH

Nickel Metal Hydride batteries are said to be less sensitive to charge/discharge cycle patterns, but the real drive behind the development of NiMH batteries started in Europe where they were mandated to limit release of Cadmium into the environment.  You’ll note that the biggest manufacturers of NiMH-powered drills (Hitachi and Makita) depend on Europe for a large portion of their sales.

One concern we’ve seen expressed about NiMH batteries is their short life.  They’re often good for less than 1000 charges, and based on your cycle habits and use duty, sometimes much fewer.

Li-Ion 

While Li-Ion batteries found their way into cell phones and other portable electronics years ago, they’ve only made inroads into cordless power tools in the last year or so.  Li-Ion batteries offer higher power density as well as less sensitivity to charge cycle patterns and temperature during charging.  Besides their very high cost, there’s little downside to their use.

But wow, that’s some cost.  The least expensive Li-Ion-powered drill in our comparison checked in at around $300 (street).  This is definitely pro gear.

Our Recommendations

If you can afford the Li-Ion lines, they’re great.  Otherwise, you’re best off sticking with good old NiCd.  While they’re not the perfect solutions, manufacturers have had a long time to perfect their use.  They offer a reasonably long life span, their deficiencies are well known (and avoidable), and they’re a lot cheaper.

Battery Systems 

Many manufacturers offer a variety of cordless tools that can be powered by the same, interchangable batteries. 

Why does it matter?

If you’re planning on buying other cordless power tools, selecting tools with compatibe batteries can save you money, time, and shelf space.  You’ll only need one charger, and sometimes you can even score package deals for hundreds of dollars less than individual purchases.

Recently, manufacturers have begun to give their battery-matched lines names and really push them.  Some examples:

v28 Combo PackMilwaukee’s V28:  This 28v Li-Ion system features an integrated LED “fuel gauge” (read: charge meter) and a quick charger.

DeWalt’s XRP:  XRP stands for “Extended Run Time/Performance.”  They’re NiCd batteries, and DeWalt offers two XRP lines — 18v and 36v.

From DeWalt’s site:

The 36-volt cordless battery platform was developed to provide professional contractors with the performance needed to complete high-powered applications that were previously only possible with corded tools. By partnering with A123 Systems — a developer of a new generation of lithium-ion batteries developed at and exclusively licensed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — Dewalt’s 36V line of tools are equipped with a unique Nano-Phosphate lithium-ion design. These revolutionary batteries offers a high level of power, long run-time and durability when compared to conventional lithium technology. In fact, this technology delivers a battery with a maximum life of over 2,000 recharges and no frustrating battery memory. With this breakthrough innovation, this 36-volt tool is sure to live up to Dewalt’s commitment to providing Guaranteed Tough products for the professional end user.

Metabo Li-Power: Metabo has taken an interesting tack by offering a line of Li-Ion batteries that are actually backwards compatible with a number of their existing tools — specifically, any of their cordless tools utilizing their “air cooled charging technology.”  Furthermore, their batteries are all designed with integrated cooling channels through which air is pushed during charging and even during tool use.

Our Recommendations

While some of these battery systems do offer unique features, we feel that the question you should ask — if you’re considering this as a deciding factor anyway — should be, “What other tools do they offer?”  Most “systems” consist of at least a drill, circular saw, reciprocating saw, and shop light, but it’s worth checking.

Additional Features

There are a few other features you’ll want to consider when selecting your next drill:

Variable Speed/Speed Range Settings

While you’ll probably pass on drills without variable speed triggers, you’ll notice that many modern drills offer more than one “speed range.”  It’s currently common for drills to offer a low-speed range (0-400 RPM or so) for screw driving and a high-speed range (0-1200 RPM or so) for drilling.  Some high-end drills offer three speed range settings. 

Chuck Size and Type

3/8″ drills are best for use around the house while 1/2″ drills serve well in the shop or house.  Most cordless drills these days offer a keyless chuck, which means that you don’t have to worry about losing the key.  Some of the more powerful (and more expensive) drills come with metal keyless chucks, but most of them are plastic.

Clutch Settings

adjustableWhile most cordless drills offer a clutch that allows you to limit the drill’s torque for different applications, some offer more settings than others.  If you use your drill in a torque-sensitive environment, this may be a concern.

Spindle Lock

This is a simple feature that allows you to lock the drill’s spindle in place to simplify changing drill bits.  This appears to be a feature that’s more used in larger drills, and it’s only offered on a few of our 113 featured drills.

The Down And Dirty: What’s Out There

The good news: There are a lot of cordless drills available now.  The bad news: There are a lot of cordless drills available now.  Though we found 113 for our comparison, they tend to fall into three groups:  mini, standard, and heavy duty.

Mini Drills/Drivers

Mini DrillAs you’ve seen here on Toolmonger, the competition for the “smallest drill/driver” is heating up.  These units tend to be 9.6v or less, low-torque (the best in the comparison just barely topped 80 in-lbs.) units designed for light duty use.  Their selling points are size — some claim to fit into cartridge slots on a tool belt — and life.

Price Breaks

Mini-drills seem to be priced like food in Vegas — either almost-free-cheap or very expensive.  Representative examples are Black & Decker’s 7.2v 9099KC (selling for $20 street) and Metabo’s 4.8v PowerMaxx (selling for $160 street).  There’s very little inbetween.

Our Recommendations

Honestly, unless you have a very specific use for a small drill, give the mini-drills a pass.  If you do have a use, we recommend seeking one of the new high-end Li-Ion-powered drills as most of the low-end drills we saw lacked critical features such as variable speed.

Standard Drills

Standard DrillThis is where 99% of drill buyers shop.  We found that these drills fell into two categories: drills designed for shop use (and home use), and drills designed solely for light-duty home use.  3/8″ chuck drills are best suited for home use only, while 1/2″ drills serve well in either environment. 

Price Points

In our study, we observed that prices tend to hover around three points in terms of standard drills: $100, $200, and $250+.

In the $100 range you’ll find an imperial ton of drills with torque specs all across the board.  Looking at the spec chart, you can see that it’s possible to obtain up to 420 in-lbs. of torque in this price range, but you’re going to be limited to NiCd or NiMH batteries.  Li-Ion is just too expensive for this group.

Bumping up to the $200 range gives you some additional options including some of the smaller Li-Ion powered Metabos.  In general, adding $100 to the $100 drills buys you additional torque and possibly Li-Ion batteries. 

Stepping into the $250 range, in terms of standard drills, effectively buys you Li-Ion power and a bit more torque.  However, the advantages are meager considering the price difference. 

Our Recommendations

If you’re looking for a drill for around the house use, there are plenty to be found in the $100 range.  Expect to receive at least 300 in-lbs. of torque, two speed ranges, and 16-24 clutch settings.  One factor to consider in this price range is weight.  If your drill will spend a significant portion of its time in small hands, or just drilling holes in the drywall, you might consider a lighter, less powerful drill.  For shop use, you’ll want one of the 1/2″ chuck units with all the torque you can afford.

Heavy Duty Drills

Heavy DrillHere are the monsters.  500+ in-lbs. of torque is the norm in this category, and cost is (essentially) no object.  These drills are for pros with deep pockets.

Summary: Our Final Recommendations

We’ve carefully avoided telling you which drill to buy in this article; We believe that the drill that’s right for us isn’t necessarily the drill that’s right for you.  Instead we’ve tried to provide you with some insight into how to decode the mess of specs available to make your best seletion.

We recommend the following basic process:

  1. Ask yourself where and how the drill will be used.  Will you use it for production work in the shop?  On the jobsite?  Or just around the house and garage?  This will help you narrow the list down by quickly eliminating drills that are way above or way below your needs.
  2. Next, ask yourself how much you’re willing to spend.  You can eliminate another large set of drills by culling those that are beyond your means.
  3. Finally, review the specs to find the best match.  You’ll want as much torque as you can find, but be sure to consider weight and battery type. 

We hope this helps, and we’d love to hear about your cordless drill shopping experiences.

Craftsman 19.2v DieHard Cordless DrillOh yeah: If you’re wondering which drill we bought, it was the Craftsman 19.2v DieHard Cordless Drill/Driver (model 11542) from Sears.  We were looking for a 1/2″ chuck drill for shop and home use and really wanted to spend in the $100 range.  The Craftsman offers two speed settings, 24 clutch settings, and 420 in-lbs. of torque, and it’s priced at $99 now (including a free matching worklight).  Yep, we were suprised, too.

toolonger – 2006-05-18 – Drill Driver Comparison Chart.xls [Excel Spreadsheet]

 

22 Responses to Selecting Your Next Cordless Drill

  1. Matthew says:

    Fun to stumble across this. My new drill, Tikka, comes up near the top in power (and price!) That’s why I bought it! Reassuring…

    Matthew

  2. Philip A. Iadevaia says:

    I am shopping for a combo kit, and like a kid whose eyes glaze over at the sight of Lincoln Logs, or a teen with his glazed eyes drooling over an X-Box, I pine for the 4 and 6 tool combo kits at the displays in Home Depot. The Marina Del Rey, CA HD has a display case featuring DeWalt, Milwaulkee, Ridgid and Makita.

    Since I am an electrician, the drill must have the hammer feature, and this is almost universal in all the kits by all manufacturers. But I don’t need THAT much power, only enough that I don’t have to haul a Hole-Hawg 60 feet under a house to bore one hole for new outlet. (Yet, I’d like enough power to bore a two-inch hole through a double 2×4.)

    My Makita 12v is great (just need a new battery), but it lacks the hammerdrill. So, with the combo kit, I can cut pipe, unistrut and drill concrete and stucco.

    I’m leaning toward DeWalt, because it’s 18v XRP drilled 18 anchor holes in reinforced concrete (parking structure concrete, which is harder than impossible), and still had ample juice to spare. The 36v is lean and mean, but too much money. Milwaulkee’s 28v monster is a dream to handle and fits my hands better than DeWalt’s, and the Ridgid 24v comes with a lifetime free parts and service agreement. So which one should I go with is a quagmire, and I am kind of stuck.

  3. Philip A. Iadevaia says:

    For electricians, here’s the criteria for selecting a combo kit:

    (1) ease of use: not too heavy vs. torque and speed for metal drilling and hole-sawing.

    (2) performance in the field: battery life vs. charge time (Li-Ion batteries are the ones to go with!)

    (3) affordability: cost vs. versitility. In other words, if your tools make the work easier, the sooner they’ll pay for themselves in time saved and labor expended. (If you’ve ever drilled concrete or stucco with a drill/driver instead of a hammerdrill, you’ll know what I mean. And boring a hole through a top-plate in a 180 degree attic with a tool that has the power of a hole-hawg or a 5.5 or 8.0 amp magnum would be nice without humping a cord along with you.

  4. Ruben says:

    LiIon is definitely the way to go. Ridgid seems to have the best deal – lifetime on everything including the batteries! If your livelihood depends on your tools, or you just love a good investment, then thie Ridgid combo is for you. Just think, for the next 10 years you’ll never have to buy another power tool combo or batteries again!

    From what Philip Iadevaia lays out, I think the Ridgid combo fits perfectly into his criteria. I’m saving up for mine now!

    Also, yeah, this article rocks!!! I’m an information monger and this is like a dream come true. Thank you Toolmonger!

  5. Rabbit Fufu says:

    It would be nice to have complete data on the amperage of these batteries. Amperage equates to the quantiy of power a battery stores, different than voltage. Perhaps as important as anything with NiCad is the quality of the charging system. How much smart logic and cooling is built into the charger?

    I happen to be looking at replacing my 12v Dewalt batteries and am stumped on which charger to buy. Dewalt sells a 1 hour ‘smart’ charge, a 3 stage charger and at the high end a fan cooled charger. Based on Dewalts limited information it is unclear which of these 3 competing chargers would be my best choice.

    Additionaly I have not seen any information on knock off batteries. Do I really need to buy a Dewalt brand battery as a replacement for my Dewalt 12v drill?

  6. Brad L says:

    I too bought the Craftsman 19.2v about a year ago with the so-called Ex batteries for “extended life”. Turns out that the batteries for this unit are notorious for a very short life span. The drill itself is great; the batteries are terrible. I would not buy this drill if I had to do it over again.

  7. Steve says:

    For some interesting cordless drill reviews visit CordlessDrillWorld.com

  8. Jeff says:

    I have had a Craftsman 19.2v cordless drill for a few years now. It works good, but like everyone says – the batteries are short-lived.
    If I were to go and purchase a new drill (which I may have to do soon), my first choice would be a drill with a LIFETIME BATTERY WARRANTY.
    I have heard of a few brands that provide this, one being Ridgid.
    A few extra dollars for a lifetime of replacement batteries – count me in!

  9. Paul says:

    I want a cordless drill which will handle minature drills from 0.3mm so what should I look for?

  10. Chris says:

    Paul, you might want to look into a cordless Dremel. A huge amount of torque certainly isn’t a concern with tiny drill bits like that, and it’s likely that the chuck in most cordless drills will be too big to handle bits that small.

    cl

  11. Allan says:

    Stay away from the craftsman 19.2 volt drills !! I bought a package deal from Sears a little over a year ago,, and while driving some 2 1/2 inch drywall screws,, the clutch let loose !!! I am just your average “joe” homeowner,, have been using the tools to work on house repairs,, and now I have to purchase a new cordless drill !! Sears told me there was nothing they could do since it was out of warrenty,,, I told them with that kind of commitment & quality,,, I’d just buy my electrical power tools from Harbor Frieght from now on !!

  12. Mitch says:

    Based on my experience with the Makita 18v Li-Ions, the power and light weight didn’t outweigh the extremely short life span and extremely high cost of the batteries. I have an ancient Panasonic 9.6v Nicd – 15 years old or so. The batteries have been replaced of course but works fine. I have a Makita 12 V NiMH – works fine.

    I’m a gadget hound so I really wanted those Li-Ions to work. I gave up on on those high cost Li-Ions and Ni-MH and bought a CHEAP Ryobi 18v NiCd kit. I still need to get an impact driver to round out the Ryobi kit.

  13. Simp says:

    In your mention of batteries you say in your list nothing under $300 for Li-Ion. What about the: Makita DF330DW 10.8V Compact Li-Ion Cordless 3/8″ Driver-Drill Kit (includes 2 batteries)?

    I know, for most its not going to be enough power (10.4v and 200 INLB) but its around $130 street. I’m just looking for something light and functional for home use and small projects. I want to buy into Li-Ion, but was looking for something closer to 12v (maybe 14 if I can justify it).

    Has anyone had any hands on experience with it?

  14. Chris says:

    I have a drill 5 in 1 combo set made by strategy. This was given to me and it works great for around the house. But the power battery pack isn’t staying charged and I can not find a replacement anywhere. If anyone can help please respond with anything.

    • Russell says:

      I also own the 5 in 1 cordless tool kit made by strategy, given to me as a Christmas gift. I need a new battery and charger, but apparently, this product is no longer being shipped into Canada! Any solutions?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Note that Simp’s comment was posted in 2009, whereas this article was posted in 2006. Prices for lithium-ion tools have been gradually becoming more affordable.

  16. Sujit Pawar says:

    Give cycle time for Li-Ion 10.8V battery for one charged & life for the battery

  17. Bruce says:

    Excellant information, it would be impossible to say “this drill is best for you” because each person is different with different needs. You just have to check the performance of what you are looking at and your pocketbook!!!

  18. Dave says:

    Very interesting and informative article! Keep up the great work!

  19. Matt says:

    Ridgid R92009 — I got one a few months back and replaced it after three days. The second one had the same problem (trigger switch problem) and the drill would function *maybe* 1 out of 20 times. Got an 18v Hitachi instead plus the Gyro and couldn’t be happier!

  20. James Newton says:

    Ryobi cordless drills are good also.

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