Become a Power Drill Expert With These Easy Tips

published May 22, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

The blinds in my room? Sure, I hung them. The shelves in the kitchen? Of course I put those up. The gallery wall in the hallway? Yes, that was definitely my doing.


My dad thinks I did all of this handiwork with the power drill he bought me, but I can’t bear to tell him that I actually have no idea how to use the thing. I’ve been hiring people for years to hang things in my apartment while the power drill collects dust somewhere under my bed.

And yes, I have tried to use my power drill, but I always seem to end up with multiple holes in the wall or with a shelf falling down, and it just seems easier to pay someone else to do it.

But today, that changes.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

I sat down with Eli Donahue, a carpenter at Stand and Build in New York, and he walked me step by step through the process. And shocker: Once you know what you’re doing, it’s really not that hard.

“I think everybody, no matter what their skill level is, has the ability to use one of these,” says Donahue. “It’s not scary. The worst thing you can do is put a hole in the wall that you’ll just have to spackle over.”

Why use a screw and drill instead of a hammer and nail technique?

“It’s more secure,” Donahue says. “A screw has teeth. It bites into the material, and you can’t pull it out.” So if you’re hanging something with a little weight to it, a screw is the way to go.

For this experiment, we’re going to hang a heavy picture frame.

To get started, you’ll need:

  • Power drill
  • Battery and charger (if it’s a cordless drill)
  • Drill bit
  • Driver bit

You may also need:

  • Drywall anchor
  • Hammer
  • Spackle (!)

And—of course—for safety:

  • Eye protection
  • Ear protection
  • Gloves

So what are all these numbers?

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Battery and charger

If your drill is cordless, you’ll need to charge the battery before you get started. There’s a pinch button on the battery that allows it to slide on and off the charger in the same way it slides on and off the power drill. It takes about 20 minutes to charge fully.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Reverse, forward, and off

On the sides of the drill, you’ll see a button. Clicking it to one side reverses the spin on the drill while clicking it to the other drills forward. “Safety/off” is when the button is in the middle.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Speed and torque

On your drill, there are different numbered settings for your speed and torque adjustment. These control how fast the drill spins and how much power is behind it.

How do I use the drill, anyway?

Now that we’re familiar with the power drill and understand why we should use a screw for a weighted frame, let’s look at what we’re going to drill into and then determine if we need an anchor.

Ideally, you’ll drill into a stud. To locate a stud, knock along the wall.  When you hear a change in sound, that’s the stud. You can also use a stud finder, which can be found cheaply wherever tools are sold. (We like this one.)

“Legally, there’s supposed to be a stud every 16 inches, but in New York, I’ve found that not to be the case,” says Donahue. “Some walls are just sheetrock or drywall, and you can’t just put a screw into it. It’ll rip right out.” If that’s the case, you’ll need to use an anchor.

For this experiment, we’ll be using an anchor.

Step 1: Determine the size of your drill bit

There are different sizes of drill bits, anchors, and screws. Once you pick your anchor, you’ll need to choose a drill bit that’s the same size. You can compare the sizes by holding them up next to each other, or better yet: Check the packaging for exact sizing.

Pro tip: “Don’t throw away the packaging, especially if you don’t quite know what you’re doing,” says Donahue. It has helpful information, including the size of the anchor and the amount of weight it can withstand.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Step 2: Insert the drill bit

On the front tip of your drill, you’ll see where you can turn it counter-clockwise to open it up or clockwise to tighten it. The chucks inside the drill will get closer together, or they will separate, depending on which way you turn it.

Insert the drill bit, and then turn the tip clockwise until it grabs hold of the drill bit. You’ll usually hear a click when this happens.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Step 3: Drill

Use a pencil to mark the exact spot for your hole. Line up the drill with the mark, hold down the trigger, and drill forward into the wall.

At the end of this step, there should be a nice, smooth little hole in the wall.  

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Step 4: Tap in the anchor

Place in the anchor in the hole. There should be a little tension, so you’ll want to tap it into the hole with your hammer.

If you find it’s too hard to tap the anchor in, your drill bit might have been too small for that particular anchor. Go back to step one and size up your drill bit. Not a big deal! Easy fix!

Step 5: Insert the driver bit

First, take out the drill bit by rotating the tip counter-clockwise. Then insert the driver bit—that’s the one that perfectly fits into your screw head—and turn clockwise to tighten until you hear the click.

“There are different kinds of drivers, depending on what kind of screw you’re going to use.  I like using the square tips as opposed to the Phillips,” says Donahue. “I always also get magnetic drivers. You don’t have to have one. It just makes it easier.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Step 6: Drill, again

Place the screw onto the driver bit. It should fit perfectly. If not, look at your other driver bits and make sure you’re using the correct one.

Line it up with the anchor in the wall, hold down the trigger, and drill straight in.

Depending on what you’re hanging, you’ll leave a little bit of the screw out of the wall for that purpose. If you’re hanging a picture frame, a half-inch will do.

Donahue warns to be especially careful of your second hand (the hand not holding the power drill) in this step. Make sure it is clear of your range of motion.

Step 7: Hang your item!

Hang your picture frame (or item of choice) on your screw.

If you find that you didn’t leave enough room on the end of the screw to properly hang the frame, that’s ok. Another easy fix!

“You can always pull it in and out of the wall with the forward and backward movements. So if it’s a little too far in, you can pull it back,” says Donahue.

After walking through these steps, I went home and put them to the test. Admittedly, I did mess up the first time, but I realized I was using the wrong drill bit size (the packaging was long gone, so I wasn’t 100 percent sure!). Once I sized up, the anchor easily went in, and the rest of the process was super quick and easy.

That brings me to…

Step 8: Call Dad (or your favorite drill expert)

Thanks to Donahue, I don’t have to lie to my dad anymore! I can even save money by DIY-ing my next project.

Also, I have to say, there is something about operating a power drill that just makes you feel like a boss. You’ve got to try it for yourself—I promise it’s not that hard. And I am telling the truth this time.