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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 these factors in mind as you navigate the selection process.
Voltage. Cordless drills range from 7.2-volt models to ones boasting 20 volts’ power or more. The most popular options are 12 and 18 volts—that’s plenty of power for most light-duty drilling tasks. Higher voltage equals faster drilling and screw-driving. But, while speed can be a virtue, extreme speed is beneficial mainly to professionals. A cordless drill with a 12- or 18-volt battery offers enough speed without becoming difficult to handle.
Weight. 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.
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. 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.
Accessories. 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
To help you narrow the crowded field of options, we’ve identified three contenders for the best cordless drill based using a combination of the criteria detailed above, reviews by actual consumers, and ratings from leading testing sites. The result: Our selections range from a light-duty model suitable for apartment dwellers to the semipro drill for the serious DIY homeowner. These recommendations can help anyone can pick the power tool that best meets his or her needs, in stores and online.
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 power tool and, despite running on a mere 12 volts of battery power, “could run with the big boys.” Equipped with a 3/8-inch chuck, this cordless drill from 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 tool 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 compact cordless drill fits into tight spots and can be used comfortably for long stretches of time, thanks in part to its “long battery life.” As you switch between its two speed settings, a convenient built-in battery indicator shows how much remains of the battery power so that you know exactly when to quit drilling and recharge. 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 power tool as “light, powerful, and very well balanced.” With a 1/2-inch chuck and two-speed gearbox, this cordless drill from DeWalt is a brawny tool, designed with an ergonomic handle as well as lots of “little features.” A three-year warranty covers both the cordless drill and its twin batteries. Price: $169