Drills and Drivers Unplugged


What tool is the most popular do-it-yourselfer tool? The cordless electric drill/driver. These handy tools are one of the leading products sold in hardware stores today and the No. 1 selling tool at Sears. The cordless evolution is gaining momentum for two reasons: Homeowner cordless drills have climbed in power from the entry-level 7.2 volts to heavy-duty, 18-volt tools; professional models run up to 24 volts. At the same time, performance characteristics have improved while prices have dropped considerably.

Finding Your Dream Drill

To determine what is your dream drill, first consider how much voltage you will need. Recent marketing studies have shown that the lower voltages have become less popular, and the most popular models are the 12- and 14.4-volt models, primarily due to lowering prices; these days you simply get more power for less money. Anything less than 12 volts can only be used for those occasional light drilling chores and for driving short fasteners into soft materials. Quality 12- through 14.4-volt models will handle most homeowner drilling and driving chores with ease. For heavier duty, day-in-and-day-out usage an 18-volt model is often chosen. These models can handle most fastening chores, even driving deck screws and metal fasteners fairly easily. For heavy-duty chores, the professional 24-volt models are hard to beat. They’re especially good for around-the-farm or ranch chores, as well as for heavy-duty tasks such as drilling in concrete or metal. There is, however, a price to pay. Not only is the cost of the tool more, but the weight is also more. The 12- to 14-volt models are reasonably lightweight and easy to handle. The 18-volt models are a bit heavier, and the 24-volt models are heavy — some weighing as much as 3 or more pounds.

However, new lithium-ion battery technology is making great strides in putting greater power in smaller packages, and new lithium-ion drill/drivers have a lot offer. For the latest buzz on the technology, click here! The next choice is whether to purchase a 3/8″ or 1/2″ drill. These numbers refer to the largest bit shank the chuck will accept. The most common is 3/8″. Many drill bits over that size are shouldered down to fit a 3/8″ chuck. One-half inch chuck drills are normally higher priced, feature more voltage and are in the ‘professional’ market. Practically all cordless drills these days feature variable speed and reverse. Some of the better ones also feature two or even three variable speed ranges. The lower range is used for driving, the upper ranges for drilling. Most also feature an adjustable torque clutch, which is especially important for driving. It can be adjusted to allow the bit to slip at various torque settings, eliminating over-driving fasteners.

Keyless chucks have pretty well replaced keyed chucks on cordless drills, although they’re still popular on many corded models. Keyless chucks are normally best for woodworking chores, but they can slip on such hard drilling/driving chores as concrete or metal. One-handed keyless chucks are easier to operate than the two-hand versions, and they tend to have more gripping power. The design of the chuck is important because of the way it’s used. Normally you insert the bit, hold the chuck with one hand and turn on the drill to tighten the chuck. A large knurled gripping ring is important, as it allows for a better tightening grip.

Short running times used to be a concern, but that has been alleviated by both high-capacity, nickel-cadmium batteries and the new lithium-ion variety. These can improve running considerably over the old batteries. Drill/drivers are normally sold with a charger and a battery. Kits with two batteries, although more expensive, are best because you can keep one battery on the charger and one on the drill/driver for continuous use. Many new models also feature T-handles. These place your hand closer to the work for more control and offer better balance and handling.

Other features to look for are automatic brakes that immediately slow the drill when you release the trigger. High-end drills often feature bubble levels, so you can drill or drive plumb or level, along with adjustable auxiliary handles for more control and pressure on tough jobs. Ergonomics and soft-touch molded handles are common on newer models and drill/drivers do feel different. This is a case where you need to pick up several models at your local tool store to determine the model that best fits your hand. Everybody seems to sell these in a matching case, which is good for carrying them out of the store, but that’s about all. Few serious do-it-yourselfers actually utilize the case, because they keep a charger going with a battery in it at all times. The case is also awkward to store and adds to the cost. As for cost, prices range from under $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on the size and model that you choose.

Let the Drilling Begin

The main reason for cordless drill/drivers’ popularity, in addition to their convenience, is their versatility. Many drill/drivers come with a combination straight blade/ Phillips driver in a snap-in slot for quick and easy accessibility. In addition to the normal drilling and driving operations, with a cordless drill/driver and a variety of accessories, you can do anything from mixing paint to wire brushing scale from metal to using hole saws for cutting holes for doorknobs and other chores. Grinders are also available for many different grinding operations. And polishers can make quick work of many cleaning and polishing chores. The right drill/driver can be one the most useful tools in your collection.


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