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Toolmonger reader Ron writes: “I’ve heard a lot of people talk about 12 volt drills and I was wondering if I should pick one up. I currently have an 18 volt Ryobi drill (yes the recalled one) and impact driver. When I asked the person at HD he said I would be disappointed with the ‘downgrade.’ Is it something I need or just G.A.S. striking again?”

Great question, Ron! Here’s our take: The new 12V market grew from the need for less powerful — yet still durable and long-lasting — drills. Let’s take a look at the torque specs for some representative models.

DeWalt publishes drill power output in “unit watts out” (UWO) instead of in-lb, but you can see the relationship pretty easily: Their new 12V Max drill driver (DCD710SU) delivers 189 UWO versus 350 UWO for the 18V 1/2″ model (DCD760B). The Bosch 12V Max Li-Ion Driver (PS31) delivers 265 in-lbs vs. their 18V Compact 3/8″ Drill/Driver (DDB180)’s 400 in-lbs. On the other hand, both of these 12V models are surprisingly feature-rich. Both include two-speed transmissions, long-running batteries, and a nice, sturdy large-drill feel.

So the question is: How much torque do you really need? For years we’ve recommended 18V models — and most recently the 18V compact models — to homeowners, as they’re pretty darn powerful and not too heinously large. But if you’re pretty certain that your applications won’t exceed the torque capabilities of the new 12V models, there’s nothing wrong with making your next purchase a 12V. Why carry around the extra bulk when you don’t need the performance?

265 in/lbs will easily handle most around-the-house tasks, with the notable exception of masonry drilling. If you really need to drill holes in concrete, you’re going to need more drill than most of the 12V models offer. Of course, you’ll also need a hammerdrill, so you’re probably back up into the 18V range regardless.

Bottom line: We suggest that as a homeowner you buy a little more drill than you think you’ll need. But you can pass on the 400+ in-lb monsters. If you’re a professional of some type, you’ll know exactly what kind of applications you’ll see, and we advise buying a drill no larger and heavier than you must to get that job done. You’ll find a lot of quality 12V models on the market, so we recommend selecting a battery system that includes other tools you might like — even if you don’t plan on buying all the tools up front. Your first “new” drill purchase is almost always a battery-system purchase as well, so keep that in mind.

And let us know what you buy, why, and how happy you are with it!


20 Responses to Reader Q: Upgrade To 12V From 18V?

  1. Dave says:

    I go along with the philosophy of Robert Ruark’s classic book ‘Use Enough Gun’. All of my cordless tools are 18 volt (DeWalt). I’d rather be able to drill a hole through a beam easier or cut wood or metal with a sawzall easier than burn out the power tool.

  2. Joe says:

    I think the “battery system” is the single most underrated aspect of cordless tools. The abitiliy to expand with “bare tools” is going to give you the best bang for your buck once you’ve bought the first charger and batteries.

    After going through several manufacturers’ abandoned battery formats over the years, I’ve settled in on a couple of real standouts in the arena.

    DeWalt. Their 18V batteries have been backward compatible with old tools for a decade or more now. I’d expect the same out of their 12V system.
    Ryobi. They’ve also done a great job standardizing on their battery format, and they’ve really challenged price perceptions, bringing an 18V system to very affordable levels.
    Makita. I don’t have personal experience with their system, but their 18V batteries fit dozens of their tools.
    Bosch. Their 12V system has worked well for me. I’m disappointed that they haven’t expanded to more tools, but they seem committed to their battery form factor.
    Milwaukee. They’re building quite a stable of 12V tools, all with interchangable batteries. If I didn’t have the Bosch system already, I’d probably go with them for a 12V system.

    Any other manufacturers that I’ve missed?

  3. Wheels17 says:

    I’ve used the DeWalt 12 volt tools as a hobbyist/homeowner for years, and have been very happy with their capabilities.

    I have the driver/drill, impact driver, flashlight, and circular saw. I love pulling the sawhorses out in the HD parking lot and making the first set of cuts on plywood projects so the pieces fit in my car. The looks I get are great, and I don’t have to horse big sheets of ply around the house and down the basement.

    What I really wish they’d do is come out with a LiIon 12v pack that’s compatabile with the old 12 volt NiCad tools. The NiCads just don’t seem to last, in terms of calendar time.

  4. Tom says:

    I have been trying to figure out what line to get to supplement my 18v. The Milwaukee has a bunch of tools, but they are mostly contractor tools. I am not going to get a 12v pipe cutter to use a few times. Bosch has good tools, but they haven’t added many and it has been years.

    Ridgid. 18v is backwards compatible also the nicad and li-ion are interchangeable. The Ridgid 12v stuff looks tempting, and when you include the job max that is a bunch of tools.

  5. BJN says:

    I’ve been using Makita’s 14.4v NiMH system for years. Plenty of power for anything I do. Unfortunately, individual cells short out in packs too easily.

    For a homeowner doing remodeling, I think 12v li-ion is a good choice. One thing not mentioned is that the 12v packs are close to 1/3 lighter than 18v and they’re less bulky (and less expensive). I’m stymied more often by cordless tools that are too big and too heavy than by not having enough power. A corded hammer drill is my tool for drilling holes in or chipping away at concrete and stone.

  6. flabbyboohoo says:

    I have one of those small Rigid 12v Li-ion, I bought it to compliment my Bosch 18v drill/saw kit. I’m amazed at the power of that little drill, and quit using the Bosch for all except the biggest jobs.

  7. Kevin says:

    Regarding the statement “ne thing not mentioned is that the 12v packs are close to 1/3 lighter than 18v and they’re less bulky (and less expensive). ”

    Ryobi has seen that need, and recently came out with ‘slim’ lower capacity and much lighter weight 18v Li-Ion batteries for their ONE+ line. Not sure if the slight cost savings is worthwhile unless you really want the lighter weight.

    Also, the lighter battery changes the balance of the tool, makign some of their tools which were perfectly balanced with the old ‘full weight’ Ni-Cad batteries very front-heavy.

  8. davevb says:

    Contrary to popular opinion the 12 volt-or the original 10.? volt Bosch will drill into concrete. I am a maintenance technician with a small college in Kansas City. I bought the original Bosch model when it first came out. Initially it was a great buy because it fit perfectly in the tray of my “go everywhere” on campus drill box. This drill is used to drill holes to hang things or tighten door screws, or whatever I think I will need a drill for-including drilling holes in concrete block or solid concrete for up to 1/4″ plastic anchors. True, it isn’t fast, but it does it in a reasonable time and I am content. Thank you Bosch!!!

  9. DDT says:

    my uncle has a 12v hilti and does ICI interiors; steel studs, drop ceilings, drywall, etc. He uses the hilti for cement work all the time, and most of the time doesn’t have to switch batteries during the day.

  10. WDS says:

    +1 for the Bosch12v line, I bought there first screw driver back when it was 10.5 and I have used and abused is since. I can screw anything including 3″ screws and tek screws without breaking a sweat. Even though it’t not geared to actually drill It still performs flawlessly, albeit a little slow, that includes drilling 1/4″ holes in 1-1/2″ sch 40 pipe without a pilot and 1″ spade bits into 2×4’s. I bought it because I’m in theater and if I go to a venue and set my drill down it is gone forever. My “little ray gun” fits in my back pocket. My only complaint is that it does not have a chuck but that will be fixed as soon as my PS-30-2A arrives in the mail. I only want to deal with one battery system and I’m of the opinion that if a 12v can’t handle it then I really should be using a corded tool anyway.

  11. fred says:

    This seems to be a perennial question – which I’ve commented on before – and will again here. My take is that the tool lines both have uses. We tend to purchase tools and batteries in waves – and this may be self perpetuating in the sense that a lot wears out at once. Our first foray into cordless tools were with Porter Cable 12V drills that had state-of-the art (at the time ) rare earth magnet motors and NiCad batteries. We though they were great – but underpowered for our plumbing crews (have yet to see a cordless tool that is up to use with big selfeed bits). At some point we switched to Makita LiMH 14.4V tools and some Milwaukee 18V tools. When impact drivers first started appearing we did a lot of downward switching (in Voltage that is) from the then heavy and clunky 18V driver drills to 12 and 14.4 V impact drivers. We were pretty satisfied with this move. Recently we standardized on Makita LXT 18V tools and Milwaukee M12 tools.The latter tools are carried mostly by our installers and plumbers – with the 18V Makitas mixed in – and used by our demolition crews too. I’d like to be able to say we made our purchasing decisions based on lots of study – but the truth is it was based on what was available in these lines at the time we purchased them. This is not meant to be an endorsement of these line over others – nor any criticism of them We found some good deals on bulk buys for LXT batteries – but have not found the same for the M12’s – which has recently gotten a battery upgrade (hopefully the new Reds will have longer life)

    Some of the M12 line – for us anyway- seem to have been duds. We had high hopes for the copper tubing cutter – but our crews have relegated them to the extras bin in the shop – not the trucks. Their PVC shears have gared better – but except in certain situations thay are no better than hand tools. The fact that Milwaukee seems to be targeting plumbers is a plus for us – and we like the convenience of the M12 no hub driver , the guys also really like the compact hackzall (no its not a full featured recip saw – but its great in tight spaces) – and since we install quite a bit of the Uponor product – we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their PEX expanders (our current tools leave a lot to be desired – especially on price) . We’sd be particularly pleased if they offer bare tools without the expander cones – which we have aplenty. The M12 drivers and right angle drill also seem to be just the right size for our cabinet installers – and everyone seems to like the M12 LED flashlight (this was a surprise for me)

    Now the LXT line is also a mixed bag of tools – from the almost silly small blower (luckily bought only 1) that would have been useful for blowing off our drafting table if we still had one – and a homeowner-grade cordless stapler – to 3 pretty decent circular saws – including a small trim saw and a metal-cutting saw and a decent cordless reciprocating and jig saw. The line also includes 2 concrete vibrators – that we have yet to buy-try – Anyone out there with experience on this tool?

  12. TomP says:

    AHHH! The dimensions for torque is force times distance, so it is in-lbs, NOT in/lb!

    Tom (and “Yes”, I am a geek)

  13. PutnamEco says:

    I find the 18 volt tools to be the best compromise, I would rather have more power than I need than not enough. I have 10/12 volt 14 volt, 18 volt,28 volt,and 36 volt tools and find that day to day it is the 18 volt that gets the most use. The only time I step down to 12 volt is when I’m working in confined spaces or assambling case work/furniture, and even then I find myself reluctantly using them, The 18 volt right angle drills and impact drivers (Makita LXT) allow me to work in most confined spaces and insure that I have the power and run time to complete the job.
    The 10/12 tools are just icing on the cake. I could work without them if I had to, but they are at times convenient.
    The 10/12 volt tools I use are mainly for small jobs, as I find that I don’t have the patience to deal with their limitations. The drills will stall easily when they hit knots or twisted grain when using larger spade bits. The impacts do work well for smaller screws but once you get over 2″ their lack of speed becomes apparent and you can forget about driving any quantity of lag bolts. The Hackzall is neat, not a tool to see much everyday type use though.
    I bought into the V28 mainly for the impact wrench (18 volt just didn’t have the run time) and porta band. Makita took to long to come out with their portable bandsaw, otherwise I probably would have bought it instead, and if my Milwaukee does break down I will be replacing it with. The other tools are big and bulky and do not see much use, when I need the power they offer I most often use corded.
    36 volt tools, If you really need them. The circular saws are a competitor to corded saws but with limited run times, real handy if you have to rip 2x material out on the sticks. The roto hammers, If you really need it cordless, is a life saver,

    My advice to Ron, If you where happy with the Ryobi, why not upgrade to their Lithium Ion tools. From what I have seen of them, the run time is good and they seem to hold up well. If your looking to upgrade and want to go with a lighter tool set, try the Makitas compact LXT. A set like their LCT300W would be a nice step up from the Ryobis at not to much greater of a price, and you would have an easy upgrade and expansion path should you choose to do so. It’s hard to make a recommendation without knowing your goals.

  14. jeff_williams says:

    While most commenters have covered the main aspects I’d like to mention that not all similar voltage tools are the same. I know that at least with dewalt (and I think Makita lct/lxt) there are different grades of tools in the same voltage level. My Dewalt XRP tools are very different then the non-xrp ones I see at the big box. Metal gears and longer battery life are two things I’ve noticed but I’m sure there are other differences.

    Perhaps looking for a refurbished 18v tool and then the bare tool route would allow for professional level tools at a much lower price point.

  15. stuckupinatree says:

    hey Jeff_williams….there is no difference in of the tools that are sold within the boxes and sold at a toolhouse. XRP is XRP no matter where ya go. Same with all the other brands, they do not make a tougher version for the tool houses and use the same model number as a less durable version.. that would never fly.

  16. Ed Skinner says:

    If you view your portable drills as disposable items, or if you have friends that have trouble remembering to return the drill you loaned them, a good option is refurbished drills from Black & Decker. See http://www.bdonlinestore.com, and look for the reconditioned tools offering. They have an 18v drill w/2 batteries and charger and case for $54 (at the moment). If you are lucky enough to live near a factory store, they always seem to have a reconditioned tool special, that if you can ignore the case, you can get a great tool for very cheap. This Summer I landed a 12v drill with battery and charger for $19.00. At that price, I can buy three, and keep one on each floor of the house, and one in the tool bag in my Suburban.

  17. dreamcatcher says:

    I think the proper question to ask is if going from the 18v NiCad Ryobi to a 12v Li-Ion is an upgrade. It is.

    I have made several moves in battery tools. I started with the Makita 9.6v NiMH stick batteries. They were great, plenty of power but the batteries and chargers liked to take a dump.

    I moved on to Makita 12v NiMH pack style (the one that astronauts used). The weight was noticeably more, power was a little more and the run time seemed a little less. Then that charger and one battery took a dump.

    I moved on to Bosch 18v NiCad. Mind you I only moved up in voltage because I got a great deal, not because I felt a need for more power. So far those have worked fine. I still use them. They are HEAVY. The runtime is noticeably more than either Makita, but that’s comparing the Makita’s drills to the Bosch impact driver so I’m not sure that’s a fair tool comparison anyway. After five years of daily (professional) use, the batteries are starting to lag on run time. I know I am running out of time.

    Next move is the toughest ever. The only thing I know for sure is that I will be buying into a Li-ion line. It used to be that you got what you got which always seemed to be more (bigger was better) and tool choices were limited to Drill and sometimes Saw (however useless it was).

    Now I’m kind of thinking of going back to 9.6v!!!!

    My experience has proven that smaller is better. If you can have enough of the smaller/cheaper batteries in your arsenal to swap out then the convenience of being able to ALWAYS have a drill in your tool pouch far out ranks the convenience of having one giant battery that can last all day.


  18. Chuck Cage says:

    @TomP: You’re entirely correct and it was a slip of the fingers. Doh!

  19. jeff_williams says:

    @stuckupinatree: I was just saying there is a difference between xrp and non-xrp tools. I wasn’t comparing xrp bought at different locations.

  20. BikerDad says:

    Whatchya gonna do with it? Going from a 18v to a 12v could be a step up, a step down, or a step sideways, all depending….

    I currently have the Bosch 10.8/12v Lithium-Ion critters (impact, drill/driver & 2 drivers), plus a 12v DeWalt (top line pre XRP) NiCad with dead batteries. For me, going from my 12v to an 18v LiIon exclusively would be a step down. 90% of what I do is woodworking, the other 10% is handyman stuff and light mechanical. The smaller physical size of the sub-compacts is “da bomb”. For the guy who’s tasked to go out into the boonies and rebuild grampa’s dock that was destroyed in last month’s storm, methinks 18v+ would be the ticket.

    I do want to get an 18v Lithium Ion combo (drill, impact driver, circular saw, maybe the light, maybe a reciprocating saw), once I settle on which one, and scrape up the money. Why? For those times when more power with a clutch would be handy, when I’m working away from power, and because I’m a tool whore. 🙂 Yes, I could easily be one of those guys whose shop is his hobby.

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