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7 cordless drills for the do-it-yourselfer

Great choices for handy men and women of any skill level

Published: December 04, 2013 11:45 AM

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The Hitachi DS18DSAL drill/driver.

Cordless drills make great gifts for the handy man or woman on your shopping list. But before going to the store, find out the recipient's skill level. Our Ratings of more than 80 cordless drills range from beefy drill/drivers for pros to light-duty models weighing about 2.5 pounds—just the ticket for anyone who wants to hang a picture or a set of shelves. Here are some recommended models from our experts.

General-use drill/drivers
Some models in this category could be used to repair a deck, but they’re light enough for less- ambitious tasks. The “drill/driver” moniker refers to how the drill doubles as a cordless screwdriver.
• Best of these was the $180 Hitachi DS18DSAL, an 18-volt model we found to be nearly as fast and powerful as heavy-duty models, though it weighs just 3.4 pounds. Pluses include a ½-inch chuck, two speed ranges, two lithium-ion batteries, a smart charger, and an LED work light. We also found its handle especially comfortable.
• Another possibility for $80 less is the Craftsman 17310, a 19.2-volt drill with plenty of speed and power. At just 3.8 pounds, it's also light, well balanced, and easy to hold. Features include two speed ranges, the usual ½-inch chuck, a smart charger with 30-minute recharge time, and a built-in LED light. Pressing a button shows the charge status. And the battery is lithium-ion—though this drill comes with just one.
• And if the recipient also needs an impact driver, for driving long fasteners or loosening stuck ones, consider the Ridgid R9600, which includes the Ridgid R86034K impact driver for the $180 price. The drill has the usual ½-inch chuck, two lithium-ion batteries, a smart charger, and an LED work light with a separate switch. We also liked the speed control and, for easier handling, the rubber grip.

The Black & Decker LDX220SBFC.

Light-duty drill/drivers
Meant for smaller jobs, such as putting up shelves, these models weigh less on average than the general-use batch. They also tend to have smaller batteries so run down more quickly.
• Another Hitachi, the $140 Hitachi DS14DSFL, leads our list. This 14.4-volt model combines the smaller, 3/8-inch chuck you'll find on other lighter-duty drills with enough drilling speed and power for some larger jobs. Good balance and easy handling are pluses. Features include two lithium-ion batteries, two speed ranges, a smart charger with 40-minute recharge times, and a flashlight. One minus: There's no battery-charge indicator.
• For $50 less, the 20-volt Black & Decker LDX220SBFC comes with one lithium-ion battery, not the usual two, but you get two speed ranges, a smart charger with 35-minute recharge, and an LED worklight. Alas, there's no battery-charge indicator, and run time is limited.

Tougher-job drill/drivers
The best overall of these pro-class models was the 18-volt Makita BHP454, $280, which had lots of speed, power, and run time. At 5 pounds, the Makita also weighs less than most in this category. Perks include 30-minute recharge, a hammer-drill mode for masonry, two lithium-ion batteries, a smart charger, and an LED work light. Cons: It wasn’t especially easy to handle, and there’s no battery-charge indicator.

The Milwaukee 2401-22 screwdriver.

Cordless screwdrivers
Most cordless screwdrivers have so little speed and power that we generally recommend paying about the same money for a light-duty drill/driver. But we do recommend the $100 Milwaukee 2401-22, which we consider the best of a motley group—fast where many are agonizingly slow. At 2.1 pounds, it's still reasonably light for this class, and power and run time, while scant, are good for a screwdriver. There's even a battery-charge indicator, along with two lithium-ion cells and quick, 30-minute recharge times.

Before you shop for someone who already owns power tools, check what brands they own. Some tools, within a brand and voltage class, can typically share batteries and chargers. So any battery and charger that already comes with what you’re buying makes for even greater readiness when there’s a bigger job to do.

Another tip: Mind the charger. The better chargers can recharge the battery in 15 to 60 minutes, compared with three to five hours or more for conventional chargers, and can extend battery life by adjusting the charge as needed. Look also for a meter that indicates the remaining charge. This feature is especially helpful with lithium-ion batteries, which can be damaged if you let them run down fully before recharging.

Before checking our cordless drill Ratings, check out our buying guide, which gives still more guidance. See also our Ratings for cordless combo kits.

—Ed Perratore


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