Cordless Drill Buying Guide
Know the Drill

A cordless drill is the most important power tool you’ll buy. It’s the one you’ll rely on both for big projects, like building a deck or remodeling a kitchen, and for smaller tasks, like installing fixtures or assembling furniture. You might even need your drill to service other tools.

Most cordless drills these days run on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. They deliver more power and longer run times. Because batteries have such a direct impact on performance, their capabilities figure heavily into CR’s cordless drill testing program.

How CR Tests Cordless Drills

We conduct all of our performance testing on a benchtop dynamometer, or “dyno,” a calibrated instrument featuring a free-spinning spindle and an electronic brake. CR’s test engineers clamp the chuck of each drill onto the spindle, then run it flat out at each speed, measuring maximum revolutions per minute, or RPM. That data, along with measurements taken under different loads, determine the Speed score. To calculate Run time, we cycle the batteries on and off to simulate a torturous slew of stop-and-go tasks, such as building a deck. Then we completely drain each battery and time how long it takes it to recharge. And of course we use the dyno to measure torque and RPMs, which we translate into Power. This test is a reflection of how big a hole a drill can bore, or how large a fastener it can drive.

After the calibrated tests, CR’s experts use each drill to drive screws and drill holes like you would, taking note of aspects such as balance, feel, and ease of adjusting the chuck and speeds, and assign each model a score for Handling. Finally, we measure sound in decibels at the user’s ear to get a score for Noise.

See below for advice on how to choose the best drill for you.

Drill Down on What You Need

Before you compare individual models, you’ll want to narrow your search based on how you expect to use the drill. We divide cordless drills into three categories: Heavy-Duty, General-Use, and Light-Duty.

Manufacturers don’t market drills this way, so we use chuck size to categorize our test models. What’s a chuck? The three-pronged clamp that secures bits at the business end of any drill. It takes both cutting bits for drilling holes and driving bits for screwing in fasteners. The greater a drill’s chuck’s capacity, the bigger the bit it can hold and typically, the more power the model will have. Which is to say, chuck size is a good proxy for intended use.

Models in our heavy-duty category are those with a ½-inch chuck, the largest size you’ll find on cordless models. General-use drills have a ⅜-inch chuck and can handle the bulk of bits you’ll probably need. Our light-duty drills typically have a fixed, ¼-inch socket, a design that accepts only bits with a hex-shaped shaft.

Photo of a cordless drill.

Heavy-Duty Drills

Drills in this category are built around brawny 18- to 24–volt batteries, giving them the power to drive large fasteners and bore holes through thick boards. Outfitted with ½-inch chucks, they can accept most any drill bit, including those used for jobs like drilling into brick or concrete block. All that capability means heavy-duty drills tend to be the most expensive and heaviest. So before you buy, you’ll want to heft one with the battery clipped in place to see how it handles.

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

General-Use Drills

Most people will be best served by one of these ⅜-inch chuck models. Typically powered by a 12-volt battery, they’re more powerful than they look: They can bore holes in wood with relative ease and drive a pouch full of screws on a single charge. And if you keep one battery charging while you’re working, you can always swap in a fresh one and never run out of juice. If you need to take on the occasional heavier job, you can always rent a hammer drill from a home center.

See CR's Cordless Drill Ratings
Photo of a cordless screwdriver.

Light-Duty Drills

This eclectic class of drills is best-suited for small jobs around the house: assembling flat-packed furniture, changing a light fixture, or drilling into drywall. Their batteries range in size from 12 volts to 20 volts, but their relatively small motors don’t spin or drive with the same force as heavy-duty or general-use drills. Further limiting their use, they have a fixed, ¼-inch socket designed to accept only ¼-inch hex bits. Still, they’re nice to have around the house.

See CR's Cordless Drill Ratings

Get a Grip on Handling

CR’s experts assign each model a score for Handling, but that quality can be a personal thing. A drill should feel good in your hand.

So before buying a new one, clip in the battery and grip it to see how it handles and whether you can tolerate the weight for longer jobs. Wield it above your head, as if you were installing a smoke detector, and you’ll notice right away if you’d rather not. Some general-use drills have a pistol grip, with a cylindrical battery buried in the handle, and they are quite comfy to grasp. But with no flat battery at the base of the handle, they won’t stand upright on their own, so you’ll need to decide whether it will drive you crazy to have to lay down your drill after each fastener.

How to Buy a Cordless Drill

Cordless drills are sold in three configurations:
1) As a standalone tool with one or two batteries and a dedicated charger.
2) As part of a collection of cordless tools from a single brand, called a kit.
3) As a bare tool, with no battery or charger.

If you want only a drill and don’t own any other power tools with compatible batteries, go for option 1. If you’re also in the market for tools such as an impact driver, a circular saw, a reciprocating saw, and a work light, consider the kit. (Just know that kits typically feature 18-volt tools, so the included drill would be a heavy-duty model.) Kits often come with two batteries and a charger. If you already have a compatible battery from a different cordless tool, the bare tool will suffice. Option 3 is the least expensive but the worst value.
 



Features That Matter

Here are five cordless drill features that we believe are important to consider.

Cordless Drill Brands

Stanley Black+Decker is the largest of the drill manufacturers. The company produces drills under the Black+Decker, DeWalt, and Porter-Cable brands. TTI, another large manufacturer, makes Milwaukee tools, geared toward contractors, as well as Ridgid and Ryobi, both consumer-facing brands sold exclusively at Home Depot. Bosch also makes and sells drills under the Skil brand, and both lines are sold at Lowe’s. Hitachi, Makita, Panasonic, and Worx are sold primarily online, though Makita products are also available at local specialty retailers and Home Depot.

Black+Decker is one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of cordless drills. Black+Decker cordless drills are geared to the consumer market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, 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 cordless drills are geared to the consumer market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. Craftsman drills are sold at Sears and Kmart and online at sears.com. Stanley Black+Decker purchased the Craftsman brand of tools from Sears in early 2017 and intends to sell Craftsman products at new retailers including Home Depot and Lowe’s.
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 cordless drills are widely available online, in hardware stores, and at home centers such Home Depot and Lowe’s.
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.
Milwaukee Tool is a manufacturer of contractor-oriented power tools owned by TTI. Milwaukee makes a full range of cordless drills, impact drivers, and cordless screwdrivers that are widely available at hardware stores, Home Depot, and online.
Porter-Cable cordless drills are geared toward the consumer market. They’re a step up from Black & Decker, made by the same parent company, but not in line with DeWalt, which markets its drills to both contractors and avid DIY-ers who want pro performance.
Ryobi is one of the leading brands of cordless drills. Ryobi drills are made by TTI, which also makes the Ridgid and Milwaukee brands. Ryobi cordless drills are geared to the consumer market and are available in multiple sizes, weights, and voltages. Ryobi and Ridgid drill drivers are exclusive to Home Depot.

Drilling Face-Off: Dewalt vs. Hitachi

How well your cordless drill performs can make or break some home improvement projects. Consumer Reports pits two big names against each other in a drilling face-off.

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