A cordless drill is a basic part of any homeowner's toolbox. It is the essential hand-held power tool, and we think everyone should have one handy for home repair and DIY tasks. Not surprisingly, there are many cordless drills on the market at a wide range of price points and capabilities. Which is right for your toolkit? We tested the market's top-performing and most popular cordless drills in the BestReviews lab.
These are the five products we think are worth your serious consideration. Four of our five selections use 18-volt batteries: the Hitachi 18-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill/Driver, the Makita 18V Compact Lithium-Ion Cordless 1/2" Driver-Drill, the Bosch 18-Volt Lithium-Ion 1/2-Inch Compact Tough Drill/Driver, and the DeWALT 20V MAX Compact Drill/Driver.
Battery voltage is the major specification in this category, and we chose this particular voltage because 18-volt tools strike the best possible balance between power and ease of use. They have enough juice to do just about any job, but they're light and maneuverable enough for people to use for hours. You could opt for a more powerful product, but you'd pay a weight penalty, and the tool would be unwieldy. In this review, we highlight power and performance issues that could impact your buying decision.
One product in our comparison uses a 20-volt battery: the Black & Decker 20-Volt MAX Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill/Driver. We included it because it's an extremely popular drill. Ironically, it did not have the capabilities of the 18-volt models it competes with.
When the products arrive at our labs, we gather data via a series of carefully planned tests. We also use the products for hours or days, and we scour other users' reviews to form a comprehensive picture of the quality of each product.
How much work can you do on a single battery charge with these products? To determine how long each drill lasted, we designed and built a test rig to simulate the act of repeatedly screwing in a tough bolt. We counted the number of runs we got from each drill on this rig until its battery died.
The rig consisted of an air motor mounted in a wooden framework. We used an adjustable air valve to regulate air going into the motor and calibrated it to exert 85 inch-pounds of torque when running. This is equivalent to screwing in a large (½-inch diameter) lag bolt into a pressure-treated two-by-four.
To test each drill, we first disconnected the motor from the air supply. Then we attached the drill to the motor's output shaft. The drills were braced against an adjustable aluminum platform so they wouldn’t move around. We then attached the air aupply, driving the motor counterclockwise, and ran the drill opposite it (clockwise). Drills with selectable speed switches (all but one) were set to their low-speed range.
We then ran each drill in cycles of 30 seconds on, 10 seconds off. The number of runs each drill could make before the battery died was our test result.
The drills that could complete the test clustered in a fairly tight range, from 11 to 14 runs. The one drill that could not complete the test, the Black & Decker, didn’t have selectable speed range. It started to overheat and smoke after five runs, at which time we aborted testing.
Many cordless drills come in a kit with two batteries, and many of these batteries recharge quickly. With a two-battery kit, you could conceivably use your drill all day long, charging one battery while using the other.
Notably, the batteries in our kits were not all the same. Some held more energy (measured in amp hours, or Ah) than others. Many manufacturers offer high-capacity batteries as extra-cost items. These would be valuable for people working on remote sites where there’s no power plug available to recharge batteries.
We let each dead battery cool off from the run-down test and then placed it in the charger that came with the drill. We measured the time it took from when we inserted the battery until the charger indicated that the battery was fully charged.
Charge times varied from a very quick 14 minutes (Makita) to over 200 minutes (Black & Decker and Porter-Cable). Sadly, the two slowest chargers came in kits that had only one battery. (The Porter-Cable didn't make it into our grid of Top 5 products.) So if you ran down the battery during a job, you wouldn't be able to just pop in a fresh one to keep going.
Our battery run-down torture test showed that the best cordless
drills had very similar performance. The stronger battery
performance of the Bosch was countered by its somewhat lower
maximum torque output.
Battery recharge time is less important if you have a two-battery
kit and can charge one battery while you're using the other.
Unfortunately, in our tests, the worst-performing battery
recharger came in a one-battery kit, meaning you'd be left without
power to work for a long period of recharging.
To test the raw power, or maximum twist capability of each drill, we used a commercially available torque tester, the CDI Torque Products 10002-I-DTT, along with CDI’s model 9003-01-KIT Joint Rate Simulator (PDF link). The joint rate simulator gave the drills a chance to reach operating speed before it applied increasing resistance, like drilling a screw into hardwood until it couldn't turn any more. Measured in inch-pounds, the torque tester recorded each drill's maximum force of exertion.
The weakest product could turn at about 96 inch-pounds of torque. The strongest product put out almost 270 inch-pounds of torque. Some of the products’ boxes advertised maximum torque output of up to 450 inch-pounds, but we did not see a way to get that much torque out of any of the products.
We captured thermal images of each drill during testing using a FLIR One infrared imager connected to a smartphone. None of the products grew dangerously hot during normal use, but one unit overheated during our run-down torture test.
All but one of the products have batteries slung underneath the handle, which is good for usability since the two components that get warm during use are the drill motor and battery. The one product with a battery in the handle, the smaller Bosch PS31 (not in our grid of top 5 products), grew warm enough during heavy use to be noticeable, but it was only slightly bothersome.
In addition to gathering data from tests, we also spent time using each product in order to evaluate its comfort. We considered balance and the material the handle was made of. We evaluated hundreds of user reviews as well.
Battery technology also affects ease of use, and there are different battery technologies employed in cordless tools. Until recently, most cordless tools used nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries. It's an older, less expensive technology, but NiCd batteries tend to leak power over time when they're stored. If you don't use a drill for a while and then pick it up for a project, you might find your battery doesn't have much charge left.
The newer lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries cost more, but they hold a charge longer when they're not used. Li-Ion batteries also weigh less than NiCds of the same capacity. On the downside, when the run out of power during use, they usually just die immediately. With NiCds, the power fades out near the end of a charge, and you might be able to get a few extra turns in before you have to change the battery.
Most cordless drills look similar, but manufacturers frequently add features and functions to make their products stand out.
We tell you what extras are provided and whether they're beneficial or not. Features to consider include gauges that show charge remaining on batteries, belt clips, ways to store screwdriver bits, and other conveniences.
Also, in our comparison, all the top 5 products, except the Black & Decker, have 1/2-inch keyless chucks. The chuck size is the maximum diameter of the bit the drill can accept, and a 1/2-inch size lets a drill employ the full range of bits a contractor would use. Some of the smaller drills, including the Black & Decker we tested, have only a 3/8-inch chuck.
If you're looking for a bargain-priced cordless drill, it's not hard to find one. Still, there's a huge difference between the least expensive and the most expensive models. Rigorous testing has enabled us to judge each product in terms of its quality and value.
Richard is a seasoned small business owner in the hardware industry. He also owns a pool maintenance business and serves as an advisor on groundskeeping committees for a number of prominent organizations. He’s a regionally renowned safe cracker/locksmith expert, and in his spare time, he renovates and repairs vaults, safes, appliances, and a number of other products.
With a 1.33 Ah battery in the kit we tested, and just over 200 inch-pounds of torque, the Hitachi is less powerful than some of the tools we tested. Yet its power and run-time is still impressive; few drills out-performed it in our lab, and it was the second quickest to recharge in our tests. Owners are thrilled with the Hitachi's battery life and performance in general.
Like the Makita, the modern-looking Hitachi has good ergonomics. We like the grip of the slim handle, although one or two owners say it's a bit “plasticky.” With battery, it weighs about the same as the Makita, and its balance is fine.
The motor runs at two speeds: 0 – 450 RPM and 0 – 1,250 RPM. That's slower than some drills, but it gets the job done. The clutch offers 22 settings. In the kit we tested, you get two batteries, an efficient charger, a double-ended Phillips driver bit, and a solid case. The LED work light comes in handy. There's no belt clip on the Hitachi.
Technically speaking, the $157 Hitachi is not at the top of all the charts in outright performance. But in the real world its power, performance, and value strike a near-ideal balance. And owners love it. The manufacturer is confident enough to give the drill body a lifetime warranty (battery warranty is two years; charger warranty is one year), and that speaks volumes, too.
With a Li-ion battery rated at 2.0 amp-hours (Ah) and peak torque figure only a hair under the Dewalt, the Makita XFD10R driver drill kit is among the most powerful we tested. It's a safe bet that no matter what drilling task you have at hand, you can achieve it with this workhorse.
At nine inches tall and three-and-a-half pounds, the Makita drill is light and easy to maneuver. The soft, rubberized grip feels comfortable and balanced in the hand. There's a solidity to this construction that inspires confidence.
Like most quality drills, the Makita XFD10R offers low and high speed ranges, in this case from 0 – 600 RPM and 0 – 1,900 RPM. The transmission is all steel (cheaper drills use a lot of plastics). The clutch (which allows you to set slippage so you don't over-drive screws or bolts) has 21 settings, which is more than the average owner will ever need.
Makita emphasizes its Extreme Protection Technology (XPT), developed to prevent dust, dirt, and water from getting into the drill. We've no reason to believe Makita's XPT is ineffective, but it shouldn't be confused with the internationally recognized IP (ingress protection) standards.
The Makita's LED light comes in handy if you're working in dark corners. Another feature we like is the power gauge on the front of each battery (two batteries are included). The charger, uniquely, has a cooling fan that keeps the battery cool while it's working and that makes for extremely rapid recharging. That Makita battery took just 15 minutes to charge in our lab. The next fastest recharge time was 39 minutes. Our Makita came with a belt clip installed.
When you're done for the day, everything fits neatly into the Makita's hard shell case. The product's warranty is three years.
This is a superb tool from a manufacturer with a great reputation. It comes at a premium, though: it's $169. At that price, you might be paying for more drill than you need.
The Bosch 18V Compact Lithium-Ion 1/2" has a 1.5 Ah battery, which helped it score very well on our battery run-down test. Its peak torque of 178 inch-pounds was somewhat lower than the Hitachi, Makita, and DeWalt models we tested. In real-world conditions, however, we doubt you'd notice a problem with the Bosch's power.
With the exception of the Black & Decker, this Bosch was also our lightest cordless drill at a fraction over three pounds with (drill plus battery). The Bosch lacks the modern moldings of the Makita, but the two are comparable in size. The Bosch has standard features: a one-year warranty, an LED work light, fabric case, two batteries, and an easy-to-use charger. In our test, we were able to recharge a battery in just over 50 minutes, under the one hour quoted by the manufacturer.
The drill has two speed ranges: 0 – 400 RPM and 0 –1,300 RPM. The clutch offers 20 positions, though there's a mere line to indicate the direction you turn it rather than a set of numbers. This could get frustrating if you use a particular setting a lot; you'd have to mark the drill instead of just recalling your preferred number.
The drill comes with a belt clip you can install yourself, and a double-ended screwdriver bit. There's a slot to store it at the back of the handle.
Like all of these drills, you can run the Bosch in forward and reverse drive. Oddly, our unit was more powerful when drilling in (clockwise) than out (counter-clockwise). We're not sure why, and the Bosch owners we surveyed did not report similar issues.
Bosch is a reputable manufacturer with a solid product. A few owners have found fault with the product over the years, but our research turned up no regular problems. Even though the price doesn't reflect the same overall value as some competitiors, we doubt you'd be disappointed with the $74 Bosch cordless drill.
Be sure to check out the Also Tested section for this drill's lighter stablemate, the 12-volt Bosch PS31-2A.
The Black & Decker boasts a 20-volt Li-ion battery where its rivals feature only 18 volts. Because of its 1.5 Ah capacity, you'd expect it to be a serious contender. Unfortunately, it's not.
We're not saying it's a poor product, but it really doesn't stack up to the other drills here. Its best torque figures are half that of the other four. And, while it didn't exactly fail our battery run-down torture test, we had to halt testing because the unit started smoking! On top of that, the battery takes more than three hours to recharge.
Furthermore, it's not strong on features. It has a single gear (0 – 650 RPM), and the clutch offers only 11 positions. The chuck is 3/8 of an inch, which restricts its versatility, but it doesn't have to guts to power big bits, anyway. Only one battery is included with purchase. There's no belt clip or carrying case. But you do get a double-ended screwdriver bit that clips into a notch at the back of the handle.
You may be wondering why the Black & Decker 20-Volt MAX Lithium-Ion made our final selection.
Here's the thing: it's not bad. Our lab tests are tough, and most drills will never undergo the kind of treatment we dished out. The other four drills are contractor-grade or close to it, but many folks need a drill only occasionally. In other words, the compact, 2.5-pound Black & Decker might be plenty enough for your needs. And the price is right.
If you compare the Black & Decker to the pro-grade finalists on our list, it falls short. On the other hand, this inxpensive cordless drill costs only $37. Owner feedback suggests that it's reliable, as does the manufacturer's two-year warranty.
With smallish 1.5 Ah batteries, you might expect the DeWalt to be the weakest of our finalists. And yet it sports the highest tested torque figure, 270 inch-pounds, of all the products we tested.
In exchange for its higher power, the DeWalt runs for a shorter duration on a battery charge. You then have to wait an hour or so for a NiCd battery to recharge. Fortunately, the DeWalt kit we tried included two batteries, so you can use one while the other is charging, and as we noted in our How We Test section, our battery run-down test is extreme. So if the raw numbers don't bother you, in the real world we think you could be delighted with this drill's excellent performance.
Because of its heavier NiCd battery, the DeWalt is a bit bottom-heavy when compared to its Li-ion-sporting counterparts. With battery installed, the DeWalt we tried weighs 4.5 pounds, heavier than Li-Ion models. The tool looks a bit old-fashioned, but build quality is solid. The warranty lasts three years, and with purchase, you also get a 12-month service contract.
The DeWalt runs at two speeds: 0 – 450 RPM and 0 – 1,500 RPM. The clutch offers 17 settings, which is more than enough. The package includes a charger, a starter screwdriver bit (Phillips on one end, flat on the other), and sturdy fabric storage bag. Some of our lab testers preferred the bag to the hard shell cases of other contenders. There's no belt clip with the DeWalt, but the drill handle has a clip to store the screwdriver bit in it.
Four of the five cordless drills on our list are exceptional tools. Picking a winner was tough, but in the end, the best cordless drill is the Hitachi 18-Volt 1/2" Lithium-Ion.
It's got a great balance of power, performance, and value. It's more than powerful enough for any real-world DIY job, its battery life is among the best, and it's available at a reasonable price. Buyers are fond of this product, and its lifetime warranty (body only) makes it an easy investment.
If you bought the Hitachi or Bosch, we doubt you'd be disappointed, but the DeWalt wins our Best Bang for Your Buck award by a shade. It's got ample power, desirable ergonomics, and it's built like a tank. There's a three-year warranty on the drill itself, which underlines the manufacturer's confidence.
With tons of happy customers, the DeWalt is a solid pick at a very good price: only $99 when we wrote this comparison. That's the best deal in this category.
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We tested three other products that nearly made our elite list: the Chicago Electric 18 Volt 1/2 Cordless Vairable Speed Drill Driver (available from Harbor Freight), the Porter Cable PCC606LA, and the Bosch PS31-2A.
At around $82, the Chicago Electric 18 Volt 1/2 in. Cordless Variable Speed Drill/Driver from Harbor Freight is one of the least expensive 18-volt cordless drills available. It offers variable speed but comes with only one battery. It's not the worst model on the market, but it's big and heavy and falls short of our top five in terms of overall power and value.
The $79 Porter Cable PCC606LA looks similar to the Black & Decker LDX120C. Indeed, both hail from the same parent company. It has a 20-volt battery like the Black & Decker (with identically slow recharge performance). Unlike the Black & Decker, the Porter Cable has a speed range selector switch, and it completed our torture tests without incident. It's less expensive than our front-runners in this comparison, but it doesn't rise to their level.
The lightweight Bosch PS31-2A is a favorite on other review sites, so we bought one to test ourselves. As a 12-volt tool, it offers less power than our 18-volt models. Current pricing (it's $129) is not in its favor, either. If you need a small cordless drill, this is a quality tool with sufficient power for most home assembly projects, but the 18-volt drills on our list are more versatile.
In this comparison, we looked at basic cordless drills, also known as driver drills. But there are three basic drill types that you may encounter when shopping for a cordless drill:
Basic driver drills, the ones covered here, are the most common and versatile of these three types of drills. As your toolkit expands, you may want to consider an impact driver next, and then a hammer drill if you have a specialized need for its capabilities.