Cordless drills & tool kits

Cordless Drills & Tool Kits Buying Guide
Cordless Drills and Tool Kits Buying Guide
Know the Drill

Ditching your drill’s power cord means greater freedom and mobility. Untethered from the wall, there’s no limit on how far you can travel, drill in hand. In addition, you don’t have to worry about tangling the line around step stools, ladders, or your own arms and legs. And the tool kits meant to pair with them provide a host of add-ons that share the same body and battery–saving both money and space vs. buying a host of additional stand-alone tools.

But even high-priced, heavy-duty cordless tools can be light on performance. We've also found it’s not necessary to pay extra for lithium-ion batteries, though their lighter weight and longer run time helps–and they’re by far the most popular type now.

This guide will help you power through the myriad models out there and find the one that’s the perfect fit for you.

1

Putting the Screws to Cordless Drills

Choose a Battery Type
Newer and lighter lithium-ion cells (Li-Ion) have helped cordless drills shed some bulk over once-predominant nickel cadmium (NiCd) types. The Li-Ion models are now the highest-rated and the top sellers overall. In addition to decreased size and weight, you get added power and longer run time. They are also greener because they don’t contain cadmium, a toxic metal that can leach into ground water if spent NiCd batteries are thrown into the trash instead of recycled. NiCd-powered tools do still make up some of the market, though, thanks to their lower cost and decent performance for most needs. You’ll also find a few nickel–metal hydride (NiMH) batteries out there, although they are increasingly rare.

Despite their popularity, Li-Ion batteries are not without their problems. In our tests, several batteries from multiple brands couldn't be recharged after we ran them down to full discharge. That makes using every last minute of run time a potentially expensive mistake, since replacement Li-Ion cells can cost $100 or more.

Hold It in Your Hand
Besides checking the drill's weight, check its balance by gripping it firmly and lifting it to a wall as if to drive a screw. The drill's chuck should point straight ahead and not tilt up or down.

For Kits, Check All the Tools
Most cordless tool kits include a drill, reciprocating saw, and circular saw for $300 to $500. But while cordless circular saws have improved, some of those and reciprocating versions have been unimpressive and proved to be slow and weak, especially those in lower-priced kits.

Weigh the Pros and Cons of Specialized Drivers
You'll also see more Li-Ion impact drivers and small, lightweight cordless screwdrivers that weigh one pound or less. But our tests revealed some notable drawbacks.

Impact drivers add twisting power using an internal hammer that pulses the chuck and bit back and forth as it spins. But that process has made impact drivers loud enough to require hearing protection. And as appealing as a pocket-sized cordless screwdriver may be, most have been slow and shy on power. Our advice: Spend $10 or so for a good set of old-fashioned hand screwdrivers instead.

2

What's the Drill?

Unless you're handling strictly light-duty tasks, you're likely to be disappointed with the least expensive models of cordless drill. The same goes for tool kits. Our tests revealed significant differences in performance, especially when the price dips below $300. Indeed, you could wind up with a collection of sub-par tools.

Drills priced under $100 make up most of the market and typically have smaller, 3/8-inch chucks, the part that holds the bits. If you're more serious, a contractor-grade drill trades some lightness for the extended run time you'll need for decks and other large projects. For special jobs, impact drivers have more torque than regular drills but are slower and louder. Cordless screwdrivers are ultra-small and light.

Photo of a cordless drill.

Cordless Drills

These are best for fast drilling and most screw-driving. NiCd-powered models can handle most jobs, but Li-Ion and NiMH tools performed best in our tests. The 18-volt drills (typical these days) weigh about twice as much as 9.6-volt models. [[This language now seems obsolete b/c almost none of the drills on the list is NiCd. We also talked about separating this section into three: light, medium, and heavy duty.]]

CR's Latest Cordless Drill Ratings
Photo of a cordless impact driver.

Cordless Impact Drivers

Along with a drill, popular tools in a kit include a reciprocating saw, circular saw, land often a work light. And they all share the same battery, which helps to make kits less expensive than the tools, batteries, and chargers would be if bought individually. Some kits are a good deal, while others are a collection of mediocre tools.

Our Impact Driver Ratings Here
Photo of a cordless screwdriver.

Cordless Screwdrivers

These models are small enough to fit in your pocket and typically weigh one pound or less. Bendable power heads make them convenient for tight spaces, and the lithium-ion batteries in some offer added efficiency. But cordless screwdrivers are typically adequate only for the lightest of tasks. You'll find more-capable, if larger and heavier, drills for the same–or less–money.

Cordless Screwdriver Ratings Here
Photo of a cordless tool kit.

Cordless Tool Kits

Along with a drill, popular tools in a kit include a reciprocating saw, circular saw, land often a work light. And they all share the same battery, which helps to make kits less expensive than the tools, batteries, and chargers would be if bought individually. Some kits are a good deal, while others are a collection of mediocre tools.

Find Top-Rated Cordless Tool Kits
3

Drill Bits: The Features to Consider

The most capable drills and drivers have long run times, letting you do more work with fewer pauses to charge or change batteries. Recharge times of 30 minutes or less are another advantage. Some manufacturers offer a variety of tools without batteries and chargers so that you can power them with the ones you might already have.

4

Cordless Drill Brands

Black & Decker and Craftsman are the major brands. Like Ryobi Skil, and Porter-Cable they're aimed primarily at homeowners. Bosch, DeWalt, Hitachi, Makita, Milwaukee, and Ridgid offer more expensive drills designed for pros and serious DIY folks. Use these profiles to compare cordless drills by brand.

Black+Decker is one of the leading manufacturer and marketer of cordless drills. Black+Decker cordless drills are geared to the consumer market and are available in multiple sizes, weight, and voltages. Black & Decker cordless drills are widely available online, in hardware stores, and at Lowe's and Walmart.
Bosch cordless drills are geared to the contractor market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. Bosch cordless drills are widely available online, in hardware stores, and at Lowe's.
Craftsman is one of the leading brands of cordless drills. Craftsman cordless drills are geared to the consumer market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. Craftsman cordless drills are available in NiCd and Li-Ion battery types. Craftsman drill drivers are sold at Sears and Kmart and online at Sears.com.
DeWalt is one of the top manufacturers and marketers of cordless drills. DeWalt cordless drills are geared to the contractor market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. DeWalt offers multiple lines, including the Heavy Duty and Compact lines, and models powered by lithium-ion batteries. Dewalt cordless drills are widely available online, in hardware stores, and at home centers like Lowe's and Home Depot.
Hitachi cordless drills are geared to the contractor market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. Hitachi cordless drills are widely available online, in hardware stores, and at Lowe’s.
Makita cordless drills are geared to the contractor market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. Makita cordless drills are widely available online, in hardware stores, and at Home Depot and Lowe's.
Panasonic cordless drills are geared to the contractor market and are available in multiple sizes, weights and voltages. Panasonic cordless drills are available online and in hardware stores.
Ryobi is one of the leading brands of cordless drills. Ryobi drills are made by TTI, which also makes the Rigid, Craftsman and Milwaukee brands. Ryobi cordless drills are geared to the consumer market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. Ryobi is known for the One+ rechargeable battery that can be used among a variety of products. Ryobi cordless drills are available in NiCd and Li-Ion battery types. Ryobi and Rigid drill drivers are exclusive to Home Depot.
Skil cordless drills are geared to the consumer market and are available in multiple sizes, weights and voltages. Skil cordless drills are widely available online, in hardware stores, and at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart.