Drill Buying Guide

Chances are you are in the market for a drill because you have a specific project in mind that requires one. It is important that you have an idea of what kind of drill you will need before making a purchase. The information below will give you a better idea of what kinds of drills are good for what projects. The type of material you will be drilling through is also another factor to consider when figuring out what type of drill you need. Not only do you need to purchase a drill, but it may also be a good idea to purchase different drill bits, depending on the surface and desired outcome of the project. Drill bits will be discussed later on in this buying guide with detailed explanations of which drill bits work for which surfaces.

Whether you are doing small tasks around the house like drilling into a wall to hang a photo or working on big projects like building a backyard shed for your home, every homeowner should own, understand, and be able to successfully operate a drill. Never owned or operated a drill before? You’ve found the right article for you! There are many different kinds of drills for purchase and many factors that go into buying a drill. This article will provide you with a comprehensive guide to finding and purchasing the right drill for you.

You are about to purchase a drill. Which drill is the best fit for you depends on the drill task(s) that you wish to perform now and expect to encounter in the future. Therefore, first choose the type of drill that fits your individual needs.

Types of drills

It is important that you use the right drill for the right drilling job. Below you find the main type of drills accompanied by their specific purpose for which they are used. The three best-known types of drill are drill/ driver, hammer drill and rotary drill. Other drill types that will be discussed are impact driver, screwdriver drill, drywall/ deck driver and the right angle drill. By choosing the right drill for the right job you are able to save considerable time and in some cases even achieve a better quality.

Screw Gun

A screw gun is not really a drill but is ideal for the lighter screw tasks. Because of its lightweight and compact size this tool is very suitable if you have to assemble something, for example Ikea furniture. For the heavier screw tasks, for which the pilot hole is not yet present, you are better of using a drill/ driver or even a hammer drill or rotary drill.

Drill/ Driver

A drill/ driver is mainly used for the lighter drill tasks. This type of drill is available as corded and cordless, although the vast majority of drill/ drivers nowadays consist of cordless drills. You will find more information about the differences between cordless and corded drills later on in this buying guide. Below are the tasks suitable for a drill/ driver.

  • Screw driving
  • Wood drilling
  • Metal drilling
  • Soft stone types drilling

Hammer Drill

A hammer drill is the ultimate tool for almost every do-it-yourselfer. This drill is capable of taking on heavier tasks compared to a drill/ driver, the most important difference is that a hammer drill is capable of drilling in harder rock types like bricks. Just like drill/ drivers, hammer drills can be corded and cordless, although a large part of hammer drills is still corded, the last couple of years cordless is gaining in popularity because of the heavier batteries and improvement of battery life. A hammer drill is ideal for you to use for the following activities:

  • Screw driving
  • Wood drilling
  • Metal drilling
  • Soft stone types drilling
  • Harder rock types drilling

Rotary Drill

A rotary drill is used for really rough stuff and heavy drilling jobs. This type of drill is extremely suitable if you are looking to drill in materials that are extremely hard, a good example of this is concrete. Besides concrete drilling some rotary drills also consist of a chiseling mode. You can use the a rotary drill for the tasks below, though it is not recommended to use this tool for the lighter drilling jobs like screw driving and wood drilling, this because of its large size and heavy weight compared to for example a drill/ driver and hammer drill.

  • Screw driving
  • Wood drilling
  • Metal drilling
  • Soft stone types drilling
  • Concrete drilling
  • Chiseling (if supported)

Drywall/ Deck Driver

A drywall/ deck driver is a specialty tool for driving screws in drywall or other jobs witch require a large number of screws like a deck. This tool has a much higher speed, at least 2000 RPM, compared to a regular drill. With the high speed, together with a special chuck designed to drive the screw heads at the correct depth every time, you are able to complete the job much faster and easier in contrast to a regular drill. Drywall/ deck drivers are available both corded and cordless, but due to the high speed required and intensive use, most models are powered by a wall outlet.

Impact Driver

Just like a drywall/ deck driver an impact driver is also a specialized power tool. In contrast to the above-mentioned drills, this power tool is not particularly good at drilling or screw driving, but outperforms the other when it comes to tighten en loosen bolts or nuts. This tool is almost only available as a cordless tool. There are also impact drivers that operate on air pressure, to work with these you would need an air compressor. Impact drivers benefit from an as fast a possible rotary impact mechanism. The faster the rotary cycle, the higher the strength impact of the tool.

Right Angle Drill

The angle drill makes it easy to drill in hard to reach places. You don’t have to squeeze yourself into impossible positions to drill those hard to reach places in odd corners. The machine can be tilted and bended over backwards to always be right in front of your drill or driving job. With a right angle drill it is no longer difficult to exactly drill or drive into a 90-degree angle. The compact solution of this type of drill is very convenient for the professionals or intensive do-it-yourselfers. Most right angle drills are on cordless tools, although there are also a few with that are corded.

Power

When choosing a drill, one of the most important decisions you have to make is which power source is most suitable for you. The options available, are corded en cordless, both of these options have advantages and disadvantages. Most screw guns, drill/ drivers and impact drivers are cordless. Hammer drills and right angle drills are widely available in both corded and cordless models. Most rotary drills and drywall/ deck drivers are only available with a cord. The last couple of year’s cordless drills have gained significant market share due to improvement in both strength and durability of the batteries.

Corded Drill

In general, a corded drill has more strength and endurance compared to a cordless drill. This is also the biggest advantage of this type of power source; you are able to take on much heavier tasks for indefinite amount of time. A disadvantage of a corded drill is that you always have to be near a power outlet.

The most used power indicator for corded drills is amperage (amp). A drills amp rating indicates the electrical current load a motor can carry for an indefinite period of time. Other indicators are input voltage and wattage. A drills amps multiplied by the input voltage is the number of wattage a drill has. Because almost all drills in the United States have a voltage input of 120 volts, it’s safe to say that amps are the only variable indicator in measuring a drill’s power. In other words the higher the amps of a corded drill, the higher the wattage of a drill. Most drills have amperage of between the 5 and 10 amps, which means they have wattage of between 600 and 1200 watts.

Cordless Drill

Typically cordless drills provide enough power for all jobs, although the force that can be brought from the battery to the motor and the drill bit are limited. How much power the cordless drill can deliver depends on three characteristics of the tool: voltage, capacity and torque. Voltage and capacity are both battery related. Below the voltage and capacity of a cordless drill are discussed. The torque will be explained later on in this buying guide.

The battery of a cordless drill produces an electric voltage. This is expressed in volts. The higher the voltage of the power tool, the heavier the job may be without you overloading the machine. For small jobs like screwing, machines of up to 10.8 volts are suitable. Light do-it-yourself work with wood, but less suitable for steel or stone, machines from 10.8 to 14.4 volts are most suitable. For all the do-it-yourself work including steel and stone are machines of 14.4 volts or higher a great choice. Of course this is an indication and experienced do-it-yourselfers or professional will have their own preferences when it comes to voltage.

The capacity of batteries is expressed in ampere per hour (Ah). One battery with a capacity of 2 Ah, can supply a current of 1 amp for 2 hours, or 2 amps for 1 hour. This means that for example, a 18 volt battery of 2 Ah is just as powerful as a 18-volt battery of 1 Ah, the only differences is that the 2 Ah battery will last double as long when used for the same workload. Concluded, the battery voltage indicates the strength of a cordless power tool, while the ampere per hour indicates the lifetime of one single charge of the battery.

The battery is an important part of a cordless drill. When buying a battery-powered drill, you have the choice of three types of batteries, nickel–cadmium (NiCad), nickel–metal hydride (NiMH) and Lithium Ion (Li-Ion). To use a battery well and for long time, good care is important.

NiCad is the cheapest of the three. This type is still widely used. The battery is a reasonable fit for any cordless drill. However, it has one major drawback: the so-called memory effect. The bottom line is that you need to completely empty the battery before you recharge it. If the battery is not fully empty and you charge it, then the battery "remembers" this status at the time of charging and will lose part of its capacity.

The NiMH can be seen as an improved version of the NiCad. The performance is noticeably better and barely suffers from the memory effect. You can recharge these batteries at all time, are you doing a job and have a break, then this battery can be briefly charged without damaging the battery. For this battery it’s advisable to occasionally still empty it before recharging the battery. The disadvantage of the NiMH batteries is that they are sensitive to "deep" discharge. It is recommended to never empty the battery as far that the power tool is not working anymore; doing this will not enhance the lifespan of the battery. This type of battery is not used very often anymore because of the rise of the Li-Ion battery.

The Li-Ion is the best of the three. This battery doesn’t suffer from "memory" or “deep discharge” problems, like with the NiCad and NiMH batteries. Out of these three battery types the Li-Ion battery has the best capacity per unit of volume. A Li-Ion battery with the same capacity as a NiCad or NiMH is much smaller and lighter, which will improve work efficiency. A disadvantage of this battery is that it’s the most expensive one out of the three batteries discussed.

Chuck types and size

The chuck is the part that holds the drill bit securely in place. There are four types of chucks that we will discuss: hex, keyless chuck, keyed chuck and SDS chuck. All of these chuck types have their own advantages, disadvantages and specialties. Chuck size indicates the largest size of a bit or other accessory a power drill can handle, chuck sizes vary from 1/4 inch to 1 inch.

Hex chuck types are only suitable for screwdriver bits and are unable to hold drill bits. Most screw guns and drywall/ deck drivers are equipped with this kind of chuck. The advantage is ease of exchanging screw bits while on the job.

Keyless chucks make it easy to change drills or other chuck accessories like screwdriver bit holders without using a special key to release and tighten them. Most drill/ drivers come with a keyless chuck of 1/2 inch, which allows you to use a drill of this maximum diameter. This type of chuck is really useful if the project or job you are working on involves frequent bit changing.

Keyed chuck, with this drills are tightened using a locking chuck key. Changing a bit takes a little longer, but this bit is then more tightly locked in place, preventing slippage when drilling through hard materials. Be sure not to lose your chuck key.

SDS chuck, this is a quick-licking keyless bit system for higher specification models. It’s designed for drilling into hard materials such as concrete. There are three types of SDS chucks: SDS-Plus, SDS-Top and SDS-Max. SDS-Plus is the most common SDS chuck and is used on most hammer drills. The SDS-Top chuck is mainly used on rotary drills. The biggest one of the three is the SDS-Max, this type is only used for chipping and not for rotation purposes. Most drills equipped with a SDS chuck come with keyed chuck extension for use with normal drill bits and screwdriver bits; this extension is not to be used in a hammer mode.

Speed

Drill speed is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), this indicates how fast the drill turns. Drills with a variable speed setting allow you to switch between lower speeds and higher speeds. Most drills with a variable speed setting have two speeds, in some cases this is even three. The maximum low speed varies between 300-600 RPM and the maximum high speed varies between 1200-2000 RPM.

Machines with a variable speed setting will allow you to take on a wider range of drilling tasks. Having a higher speed doesn’t always mean better, in fact, quite the contrary. The harder the material you are drilling, the lower the RPM should be. Different materials require different RPM’s. For example, drills that have the capacity of 700-1000 RPM can drill through steel, where as in order to drill through aluminum, 2000 RPM is required.

Torque

The torque is measured in Newton meters (Nw) or inch-per-pound and represents the strength of the machine. The higher the torque, the more powerful the machine. The greater the torque and thus the power, the easier it will drill through any material.

Most drill/ drivers have a clutch mechanism, which determines how the transfer takes place between the motor and drill bit. This transfer can be arranged in a number of positions, which determines how tight you screw a screw into a material. Most drills with clutch mechanism have between eight and sixteen positions. The more positions the more precise you can adjust the torque for the task at hand. By setting the proper torque you can prevent among other things that the bit or screw is damaged when driving the screw too long, it also prevents screws from going in too far into a soft material when tightening the screw.

Drill Bits

Drills can be used for a variety of different projects, other than simply “drilling.” Drill bits are attachments that can be added to your drill to perform a variety of different jobs. Knowing which bit to use will ensure the quality of your project. For more information on drill bits look at our "How to Buy the Best Drill Bits" buying guide.

Drill comfort

With regular use, it’s advisable to choose a model with a comfortable grip or soft grip. For each brand, this is called differently, but ultimately serves the same purpose, to prolonge use of the machine without you be physical bothered by this.

Besides comfortable/ soft grip work lights also ensures comfortable operation. This recent development ensures that you always have a clear view of your work, usually through an integrated LED light on the machine.

Brands and prices

There are a vast variety of brands and types of drills out there to choose from. Some of the most popular name brand drills are listed below.

  • Black & Decker
  • Bosch
  • Dewalt
  • Milwaukee
  • RIDGID
  • Makita

All of these brands have a variety of corded and cordless drills. The prices vary just as much as the names and types. You can pay anywhere from $30 to over $500, depending on the brand and features the drill is equipped with.

Buying decision

Most of what was discussed in this article can apply to both amateur and professional drill-operators. For the purpose of this guide, it is assumed that you’ve never bought one or have not even operated a drill, all the drills and drill information mentioned focuses on amateur/semi-professionals drills and drill projects. Even the less expensive drills (corded drills are usually less expensive) can conquer most of the household jobs.

The more heavy-duty drills also work well for household jobs, but also have more power to work through some of those more advanced jobs to come. It isn’t always to your benefit to purchase a very cheap drill. Even though it may seem desirable to purchase a very inexpensive one now, in the long run it will not perform up and will likely have a shorter shelf life. Look at a drill purchase as a small “investment” that will be able to help you for years to come. Upon purchasing your drill, make sure to check for a warranty. Some come with one or five year warranties that can be very beneficial.

Also, you may even notice that you need and/or want two drills, maybe both a corded drill and a cordless drill. In this case, make sure that the two drills you purchase can do different jobs and can do a variety of different things, so you don’t end up purchasing one drill with a cord and one drill with a battery that both essentially do that exact same thing, this will probably not benefit you.

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