The Best Cordless Drills, According to DIYers
Are you pining for the power and convenience of a high-quality cordless drill? Before you hit the stores, let us give you the lowdown on important features and useful extras.
Just as cellular technology freed the telephone, the advent of lithium-ion batteries forever altered the landscape of power tools. Powering a tool with a long-lasting battery afforded a handy homeowner much more flexibility in what projects could be tackled on his or her to-do list; gone were the limits of an extension cord’s reach. So, while the electric drill had previously been a homeowner favorite, its battery-powered version has become truly ubiquitous—suddenly appearing in the toolboxes of even casual do-it-yourselfers. If you own any power tools whatsoever, chances are you have a cordless drill for small jobs around the house.
The popularity of these relatively compact and extremely handy power tools 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 reading to learn how to navigate the selection process, and to find out why we’ve chosen the following five cordless drills as the best on the DIY market today:
- BEST LIGHT-DUTY CORDLESS DRILL: Makita 12V Cordless Drill Kit
- BEST BUDGET CORDLESS DRILL: Meterk 20V Cordless Drill Set
- BEST BUBBLEGUM PINK OPTION: WORKPRO 20V Cordless Drill
- BEST COMPACT DRILL: Memphis Tools 20V Cordless Drill
- BEST FOR LARGE-SCALE PROJECTS: Dewalt 20V MAX Cordless Drill
Shopping Considerations for the Best Cordless Drill
Cordless drills start at 7.2-volts and max out at 20 volts. While drills in the upper voltage range were once used almost exclusively by construction pros because their higher-voltage batteries were once much heavier, today’s batteries pack a powerful punch at smaller sizes and lighter weights. Cordless drills in the 12- to 18-volt range are still popular, especially for smaller household projects, but many of today’s new cordless drills offer powerful 20-volt batteries. The higher the voltage, the stronger the drill’s twisting power, or “torque.” Twisting power comes into play when inserting different size screws into different types of wood. For example, more torque is needed to insert large screws into hardwood beams than is necessary to insert thin finish screws into a baseboard.
The more powerful 20-volt cordless drills on the market today require something to temper some of the torque they produce—a “clutch.” Just as stepping on the clutch pedal in a stick-shift car disengages the car’s transmission, so does the clutch on a cordless drill disengage the drill’s spinning force. Why would you want this? Well, when the screw you’re inserting reaches maximum depth, two things can happen: The force of the spinning drill bit can strip out the head of the screw, or worse, the drill bit can catch in the head of the screw, causing the drill to jerk violently in your hand, which can result in a dropped drill or a wrist injury. Virtually all of today’s drills feature clutches that can be adjusted to the level of torque resistance you want—when the screw is fully inserted and stops moving, the clutch disengages the spinning force. Look for a cordless drill with at least 10 clutch settings, so you can adjust it just the right amount of resistance necessary for a wide variety of screw-insertion tasks.
Over the years, cordless drills have gotten only lighter and more compact. 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 power tool’s balance. To test the balance of a cordless 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.
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. This type of battery weighs less, lasts longer, and recharges more quickly than its predecessors. The only downside to note is that, for all the power it brings to your drilling jobs, a lithium-ion battery comes in at a higher price to replace—as much as $100 or more.
Different cordless drill packages come with different features and accessories. Depending on how you intend to use the power tool, one or another of the following features may be worth pursuing in a kit:
- interchangeable battery that works with a number of power tools from the brand
- extra battery
- “smart” battery charger (capable of recharging in 15 to 60 minutes)
- battery-charge indicator
- more than one speed setting
- built-in work light and/or level
- warranty for cordless drill and battery
The Best Cordless Drills
To help you narrow the crowded field of options, we’ve identified five contenders for the best cordless drill based on a combination of the criteria detailed above and reviews by actual consumers. The result: Our selections range from a light-duty model suitable for apartment dwellers to power-packed picks for serious DIY homeowners. These recommendations will help anyone pick the cordless drill that best meets his or her needs.
1. BEST LIGHT-DUTY CORDLESS DRILL: Makita 12V Cordless Drill Kit ($153.41)
For reliability in a light-duty drill, it’s hard to beat Makita’s 12V Cordless Drill. At just 6.5 inches long and 2.3 lbs. light, with an ergonomic grip to boot, the drill is great for getting into tight spots where larger drills won’t fit. It offers 12 volts of lithium-ion battery power, enough for everyday tasks, such as drilling holes to hang pictures or repairing shelving and cabinets. It comes with a 20-setting adjustable clutch, battery, battery charger, and a hard case for safe storage. Satisfied Amazon buyers award the drill 4.8 stars, claiming it has nearly as much power as higher-voltage models and citing its long battery life and superior balance.
Available from Amazon.
2. BEST BUDGET CORDLESS DRILL: Meterk 20V Cordless Drill Set ($59.99)
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a great cordless drill. Amazon shoppers love both the power and the price tag of the Meterk 20V Cordless Drill—reviewers give the Meterk a 4.9-star rating! The drill packs 20 volts of power, and it comes with a battery charger and two lithium-ion batteries, so you can charge one while you’re using the other. It has 21 clutch settings and features an LED light to help you see where you’re drilling in dimly lit conditions. It also has a soft-grip handle, designed to reduce hand fatigue.
Available from Amazon.
3. BEST BUBBLEGUM PINK OPTION: WORKPRO 20V Cordless Drill ($59.99)
Who says power tools have to look like they belong on a construction site? This 4.8-star WORKPRO 20V Pink Cordless Drill packs a powerful punch with 20 volts of power, and its pastel color scheme might be an attractive addition to the craft room or garage workshop. The powderpuff pink drill comes with exactly what you’d want in a starter set: a battery and charger, a set of drill bits, and a matching pink storage bag. The power tool itself features a soft-grip handle, an LED light for illuminating dark work areas, a belt clip, and 21 clutch settings. Amazon buyers rave about the WORKPRO’s performance and its good looks, saying it’s great for both small and large woodworking projects.
Available from Amazon.
4. BEST COMPACT DRILL: Memphis Tools 20V Cordless Drill ($99)
Small drills often lack enough power to handle the tough jobs like inserting decking screws into joists, but Memphis Tool’s 20V Cordless Drill is no slacker. This 20-volt drill is powerful enough to drive large screws yet compact enough to maneuver in restricted areas. It features 21 clutch settings, and Amazon buyers give the drill a full 5-star rating, citing its compact size and uncompromised performance. It comes with an LED guide light, charger, two batteries, a belt clip, and a hard storage case.
Available from Amazon.
5. BEST FOR LARGE-SCALE PROJECTS: Dewalt 20V MAX Cordless Drill ($110)
From one of the most respected names in professional power tools comes the DeWALT 20V MAX Cordless Drill, boasting enough torque to work on large framing products while providing balance, 16 clutch settings, and a comfortable ergonomic grip. That high-performance motor easily handles screw insertion in hardwoods, such as maple and hickory. One of Amazon’s most popular power tools, the DeWALT drill (which comes packaged with a charger, 20-volt lithium-ion battery, and a storage bag) has accrued more than 3,000 reviews and an enviable 4.5-star average from satisfied buyers.
Available from Amazon.
Additional reporting by Donna Boyle Schwartz.