The Complete Guide to Buying, Using & Maintaining Power Drills

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The power drill is, to me, the most essential power tool anyone can have in their collection. It's always the first thing I unpack after a move. In addition to curtains and blinds, it can also help hang shelves, place anchors for artwork, drill holes for cabinet hardware, and aid in DIY furniture projects. The list could go on forever! Here's a guide to this indispensable tool.

Buying Guide

Power

Cordless drill power is measured in volts, with the most powerful models being up to 20 volts. Most home users will be happy with a drill in the 12-16 volt range. As a warning, the higher the voltage of the drill, the heavier it will be.

Corded drill power is measured in amps, with power increasing as the amperage rises. An 8-amp corded drill is great for home use.

Speed

Some drills have multiple speed options, with the lower speed being for driving screws and the higher speed being for drilling holes. If the primary use of your drill will be to drill holes, a single speed drill in the 1000 rpm range will fit the bill.

Clutch

The clutch reacts to resistance, and helps protect against stripping screws and driving screws too deep. Not every drill has an adjustable clutch, but it's a nice feature to have if you'll be frequently using your drill as a driver.

Chuck

The chuck is the piece of the drill where the bit is inserted. There are several options ranging from 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch, with the 1/2-inch chuck being best suited for heavy duty applications. A 3/8-inch chuck will give a home user the most versatility with the ability to use both fine and heavy bits. Chucks can either be operated with a key, or be keyless, which is operated by hand. Keyless chucks are convenient and remove the fear of accidental key loss (making your drill unusable until a replacement is found).

Forward/Reverse Switch

The reverse function allows for screw removal. It comes in handy when you have cabinets or furniture pieces to dismantle, or for the occasional misplaced screw.

Cordless Drills

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Craftsman Evolv 18.0 Volt Cordless Drill/Driver, $49.99

This is a great intro cordless drill. It has lots of power with 18 volts, features an adjustable clutch, keyless chuck, and a bonus LED light in the base to illuminate the area you're working on.

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DEWALT 12-Volt Max 1/4-Inch Cordless, $99.98

This is not the most powerful drill in the world, but it's well suited to home projects and has lots of useful features. This drill hits all of our points to look for: variable speed, adjustable clutch, keyless chuck, and a forward/reverse switch. Possibly the best feature of this drill is its 2.2 pound weight, which makes hanging curtains, blinds, or anything overhead an easily manageable task.

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Hitachi 18-Volt 1/2-Inch Cordless Drill, $179.99

This is definitely a heavy-hitter of a drill. It has lots of power, plus all of the features mentioned above, and the handy LED-light to illuminate your project. Plus, it's only 3.5 pounds! This is probably more power than most people will need, but if you're looking for a drill for larger projects, this Hitachi is top notch.

Corded Drills

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DEWALT 3/8-Inch Pistol Grip Drill, $59.97

This is a great basic drill. It doesn't have tons of features, but at 8 amps it has plenty of power to handle most drilling jobs. It can also be used as a driver, and has that convenient reverse switch. I like having a basic corded drill around just in case the cordless drill runs out of charge, or was mistakenly left uncharged.

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MAKITA Drill Variable Speed, 3/8-Inch, $108.20

This drill has slightly less power (4.9 amps) but has a variable speed option that allows it to go easily from drilling holes to driving screws. With its 8-foot cord, most tasks should be easily within reach.

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Milwaukee 1/2-Inch 950 RPM Magnum Drill, $175.00

This drill is a workhorse. It has lots of power, variable speed up to 950 RPM, keyless all metal 1/2-inch chuck to accommodate large bits, and the fact that it's corded means you can use it all day long without stopping for charging breaks.

Tips

Battery Life

To keep your drill battery in top shape, the most important thing to be aware of is temperature. Similar to cell phone or laptop batteries, heat degrades the condition of the battery, leading to shorter battery life. What this means in practice is that a battery should not be stored in its charger, and if the battery starts heating during use, it should be removed from the drill and allowed to cool. It's also advisable to think about how you'll be using your drill and if you need to recharge your battery quickly. Occasionally fast charging stations can overheat your battery and cause it to lose some of its longevity.

Extension Cords

If you find it necessary to use an extension cord with your corded drill, it is important to check that the extension cord is rated for the power of your drill. The extension cord you use for a lamp or laptop might not handle the 8 amps drawn by your drill. The last thing you want is to flip a breaker or short something out in the middle of a project.

DIY Inspiration

In addition to basic household uses for a power drill, such as hanging curtains or shelves, drills are great tools for fun DIYs. Here's some inspiration to get you started!

  1. How to Make a Modern Pegboard Shelving System
  2. How to "Frame" Airplants
  3. How to Make a Herringbone Wall Coat Rack
  4. How to Drill Holes in Plant Pots

(Image credits: Dabney Frake; sears.com; lowes.com; lowes.com; Home Depot; Grainger; Home Depot; Kim Lucian; Ginger & The Huth; Michelle Chin)

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