Choosing a Cordless Drill
A cordless drill is one of the most useful tools to have around the house, even for those who shy away from DIY projects. It comes in handy when hanging pictures, installing curtain rods, adding shelving to a closet -- basically any job that requires a hole or a screw. Today's budget cordless drills are small and lightweight, and easily substitute for an old-school manual screwdriver. Cheapism.com bored into expert and user reviews to find high-performing models priced well under $150.
Cordless Drill Brands.There are many good brands to choose from at the DIY end of the cordless drills market. Black & Decker and Ryobi are well-known makers of consumer drills and stand alongside others including Dewalt, Bosch, Worx, and Porter-Cable. Dewalt, Bosch, and Porter-Cable cater to professional users, as well. High-end Milwaukee and Makita drills enjoy a strong following among professionals.
Expensive vs. Cheap Cordless Drills.How much to spend on this particular tool largely depends on how it will be used. Bigger holes or fasteners need bigger bits, which require more torque -- in other words, a more powerful drill. Entry-level cordless drills offer plenty of value and rival more expensive models in terms of power and function but may not be quite as durable. Mid-tier cordless drills with more oomph can tackle heavier-duty jobs and may come bundled with extra features, like a rotary hammer and deluxe case. Top-end cordless drills meant for the professional class easily hit the high triple digits and beyond. These power tools can bore through concrete and may come with a host of accessories. Some are designed for specific tasks, like right-angle or underwater drilling.
Consumers consistently report a high rate of satisfaction with cheap cordless drills they've purchased regardless of manufacturer, according to drill reviews. The good quality of the models available in the Cheapism price range makes it hard to choose the best of the bunch. Ultimately, we settled on three that are notable for their power and batteries: the 20-volt Dewalt DCD771C2 (starting at $99), the compact 12-volt Bosch PS32-02 (starting at $141), and the beefier 18-volt Bosch DDB181-02 (starting at $99).
On our second tier of top picks, we placed three more 20-volt drills: the very affordable Black & Decker LDX120C (starting at $50); the Worx WX176L (starting $73), which holds two bits at once; and the compact Porter-Cable PCC601LB (starting at $89), which has enough oomph to please professionals. One drill we're not sold on, despite its low price, is the 12-volt Ryobi HJP004 (starting at $50). Users consider it underpowered for all but the least demanding tasks.
Two other drills caught our attention but didn't quite make the cut. The Ryobi One+ P1811 (starting at $99) belongs to the brand's One+ family of cordless tools, which share the same battery platform. The P1811 isn't the most powerful drill out there, but it has enough juice to handle most in-home jobs. Then there's the Black & Decker BDCDHP220SB-2 (starting at $89), which is more powerful than most models on our list but dinged in reviews for taking too long to recharge and not always keeping a tight grip on drill bits.
These drills are often sold as a package that includes at least one battery and a charger. A carrying case and additional bits make frequent appearances. Some models also sport a built-in LED work light and a belt holder. These extras are much appreciated by users but not essential to the drill's performance.
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Cordless Drill Reviews: What We Considered
Our assessments of cheap cordless drills are largely based on customer reviews on retail sites such as Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowe's. We also took account of expert reviews from specialty sites such as Pro Tool Reviews and general product review sites such as TopTenReviews. To earn a high rating from these sources, a drill generally must be powerful enough for basic home tasks. It should provide enough settings to drill through just about any material a dabbler or DIY enthusiast would work with and drive screws without stripping them. The drill also should be comfortable in the hand while running and last a few years, at least.
Power and Performance.All the models we researched have sufficient power for basic home projects; only a couple are powerful enough to conquer more demanding tasks, like drilling through thick, hard wood. Generally the higher the battery voltage, the more powerful the drill (at least in principle). If the goal is drilling a medium-size hole, driving lots of little screws into material like drywall, or putting together a piece of mail-order furniture, a small 12-volt cordless drill should do the trick. For a task like building a deck or a treehouse, an 18- or even 20-volt battery is called for.
Higher voltage drills generally produce more torque, the amount of force the drill can apply when turning the bit through an object or driving a screw. Not all manufacturers list the maximum torque, measured in inch-pounds. Instead, some specify power output in unit watts out (UWO), which combines the speed of the drill with the amount of torque (force). Either way, the higher the number, the faster the drill does its job.
Keep in mind that the maximum torque isn't appropriate for every task, however. The entry-level cordless drills we researched have at least 11 clutch settings for fine-tuning the torque, and the best ones have around 20 or more. The denser the material being drilled, the more power is needed. Most drills also have two speeds -- a high speed up to 1,600 RPMs and a lower speed that often tops out around 650 RPMs.
Chuck.The chuck is the clamp at the end of the drill that holds and rotates the bits. The size of the chuck determines the maximum size bit that can be used (without an adapter, that is). A half-inch chuck is the most popular, and generally found on more powerful, heavy-duty drills, although three-eighths is not unusual in the budget segment. We also picked one quarter-inch drill meant for lighter duty, the Worx WX176L, with its innovative two-chuck design. Most drills today are keyless, which means the operator can open and close the chuck with their free hand or, depending on the model, with the handle trigger.
Battery.Today's cordless drills have lithium ion batteries, which are much lighter than the NiCAD and NiMH batteries used in older models yet still provide loads of juice. Relatively long work sessions require a battery that lasts. The discharge time depends on several factors, including the efficiency of the motor, whether the drilling is constant or intermittent, and the material the drill is battling. Under certain conditions, a drill can go days or weeks on one charge.
The battery is the most common source of complaints about our picks (e.g., it takes too long to recharge or drains too quickly), but these grievances are the exception rather than the rule. Users of the drills we recommend generally report the battery life to be satisfactory, if not outright impressive. The best insurance against running out of power at a crucial moment is having a backup. For several models we researched, an extra battery is part of the deal. (Remember to keep it fully charged.)