Just as cellular technology freed the telephone, the advent of lithium-ion batteries forever altered the landscape of power tools. While the electric drill was always a homeowner favorite, its cordless version has become truly ubiquitous, appearing in the toolboxes of even casual do-it-yourselfers. If you own any power tools whatsoever, chances are you have a cordless drill. The popularity of these drills has led to a wealth of models on the market. With so many to choose from, how can you be sure to pick the best cordless drill for your needs? Keep these factors in mind as you navigate the selection process.
Voltage. Cordless drills range from 7.2-volt models to ones boasting 20 volts or more. The most popular options are 12 and 18 volts; that’s plenty of power for most light-duty household tasks. Higher voltage equals faster drilling and screw-driving, but while speed can be a virtue, extreme speed is beneficial mainly to professionals. 12- and 18-volt drills are fast enough without becoming difficult to handle.
Weight. Over the years, cordless drills have gotten only lighter. It’s not unreasonable to focus your search on tools that come in under five pounds. But weight isn’t the only determinant of comfort. Equally important is the tool’s balance. To test the balance of a drill you’re considering, grip the handle firmly in your dominant hand, then lift it toward the wall as if you were going to drive a screw. The drill chuck should point straight at the wall without your having to fight to keep it from tilting up or down.
Battery Type. Older cordless drills run on nickel-cadmium (NiCd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Today’s best cordless drills, however, run on lithium-ion batteries. These weigh less, last longer, and recharge more quickly than their predecessors. The only downside to note is that for all their advantages, lithium-ion batteries are pricey to replace, running as much as $100 or more.
Accessories. Different cordless drill packages come with different features and accessories. Depending on how you intend to use the tool, one or another of the following features may be worth pursuing:
- extra battery
- “smart” battery charger (capable of recharging in 15 to 60 minutes)
- battery-charge indicator
- variable speeds
- built-in work light and/or level
- warranty for drill and battery
To help you narrow the crowded field of options, we’ve identified three of the best cordless drills, based on the criteria detailed above, on reviews by actual consumers, and by ratings from leading testing sites. Available in stores and online, our selections range from light-duty models suitable for apartment dwellers to semipro drills for the serious DIY homeowner.
Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Lithium-Ion 3/8-Inch 2-Speed Drill/Driver Kit
Lowe’s customers love the Bosch 12-volt lithium-ion drill for its “compact size” and “light weight.” Plus, its “very sensitive clutch” is “excellent for driving screws to the perfect torque.” Popular Mechanics chimes in, too, saying that the model packs the punch of a larger tool and, despite being only 12 volts, “could run with the big boys.” Equipped with a 3/8-inch chuck, the Bosch features a built-in LED work light as well as a two-speed gearbox. Price: $99
Porter-Cable PCC606LA 20-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-Ion Drill/Driver Kit
There’s perhaps no better value than the Porter-Cable 20-volt lithium-ion drill. Amazon shoppers rated the unit 4.7 out of 5 stars, praising it for being “powerful” while remaining “light.” Measuring about 7 inches long and weighing only 3.5 pounds, the two-speed drill fits into tight spots and can be used comfortably for long stretches of time, thanks in part to its “long battery life.” A convenient built-in indicator shows how much remains of the battery charge at any given time. For a “well-built” tool that can handle “any job that a person might face,” look no further than the reasonably priced Porter-Cable. Price: $79
DeWalt DCD780C2 20-Volt Lithium-Ion 1.5 Ah Drill/Driver Kit
For heavy-duty performance, the DeWalt 20-volt lithium-ion drill ranked highest among those reviewed by Consumer Search in 2014. Amazon shoppers echoed the compliment, describing the tool as “light, powerful, and very well balanced.” With a 1/2-inch chuck and two-speed gearbox, the DeWalt is a brawny tool, designed with an ergonomic handle as well as lots of “little features.” A three-year warranty covers both the drill and its twin batteries. Price: $169