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Cordless Drill/Drivers

Cordless Drill/Drivers

(Note:Arial,Helvetica This tool review article first appeared in ShopNotes No. 26, March 1996.)

I'll never forget my first cordless drill. It spent most of the time plugged into an electrical wall outlet getting recharged. And even after it was charged, it didn't have the power I needed. But if the cordless driver/drills that we tested are any indication, all that has changed. With more powerful batteries that run longer (and charge faster), they can tackle jobs my old drill just couldn't handle.

Here is a list (in no particular order) of the driver/drills we tested, the price we paid, and a phone number for the manufacturer:

Hitachi DS 10DVA $169.95 800-546-1666
Makita 6211D $199.99 800-478-8665
Bosch 3310K $199.00 312-286-7330
Black & Decker 2872K-2 $199.50 800-544-6980
DeWalt 972 $189.95 800-433-9258
Panasonic EY6100 $214.95 800-338-0552
Ryobi CTH 1202 $134.00 800-525-2579
Milwaukee 0401-1 $189.99 800-414-6527
Porter Cable 853 $164.95 800-487-8665
Sears 27139 $149.99 800-377-7414
Skil HD 2736 $159.00 312-286-7330
Freud EDS 120 $199.95 800-334-4107

While the prices of these drills vary ($134 to $215), their features are basically the same. So we were anxious to see how the price affected their performance. (For more on test procedures and results, see below.)

TEST TEAM. Like our other tool reviews, we rounded up a team of three woodworkers to test the drills. Both Ken (a professional carpenter) and Steve (an advanced woodworker) use cordless drills extensively around the shop and for remodeling work. While Cary (a beginning woodworker) uses one mainly to assemble projects. Because each person has a different type (and amount) of experience, you get a range of viewpoints that's helpful when selecting the drill that's best for you.

Q: Not all the drills have the same body design. Is that cosmetic? Or does it really make a difference?

Steve: There's a definite difference in the feel of the drills. I liked the overall balance of the drills with a T-shaped handle better than the ones with a pistol-grip. (And they're more compact, so it's easier to work in tight spaces.

Cary: At first, I thought the drills with a pistol-grip were a bit nose-heavy. But the balance improved when I wrapped my hand around the end of the body and pulled the trigger with my middle finger. That put all the pressure right in line with the bit which made it easier to drill holes and drive screws.

Q: Any problems with the batteries or the chargers?

Steve: One thing that bugged me is the metal clips that hold the batteries in place on some of the drills. Compared to the batteries that just snap in, they're not nearly as quick or convenient.

Cary: And the large clip on the Porter Cable dangles down so low when I change batteries, I can see it accidentally getting bent.

Ken: Another thing about the batteries is they're all keyed so they only fit in the chargers one way. Even so, the shape of some of the batteries made it easier to automatically orient them to the charger.

Q: How about the controls like the forward/reverse switch?

Steve: That's where I noticed a big difference. The forward/reverse switch on the Black and Decker (B&D), Bosch, DeWalt, Ryobi, and Panasonic is on the body of the drill. So when I need to back out a screw, I flick the switch from side to side almost without thinking about it. On all the other drills except one, the switch is located directly above the trigger. So I have to shift my grip or use my other hand to operate it.

Ken: Still, they're more convenient than the switch on the Makita. Since it's on the side of the handle, I thought it would be easy to use with a brush of my thumb. But it's painful to operate. And it's finger torture for a left-hander.

Q: Anything about the case that comes with each driver/drill?

Cary: I'm partial to the heavy-duty metal cases that come with the Milwaukee, Porter Cable, B&D, and DeWalt. Even though the molded plastic cases that come with the other drills are probably just as sturdy, the web hinge on the Ryobi, Skil, and Hitachi case is bound to break.

Q: It looks like termites have been at work in the shop. What did you guys do to test these driver/drills?

Ken: For starters, we drilled ¾"-dia. holes in two-by Douglas fir until the batteries ran down.

Steve: What we found is the Bosch, Porter Cable, B&D, and DeWalt had the biggest gas tanks. In fact, they drilled considerably more holes than the Skil, Ryobi, and Panasonic. (See chart below.)

Cary: One thing that surprised me is the drills heated up quite a bit as I was drilling.

Steve: That's pretty normal when you're working a drill hard. And I've actually seen guys burn them up. But that won't happen with the Makita and Sears. They have a built-in switch that cuts off power if they get too hot.

Q: How did the drills perform when driving screws?

Cary: They all drove more than enough screws to assemble any project I'd build.

Ken: But if I'm building a deck, I want a drill that's not going to run out of steam. (See test results below.) For example, I'd get a lot more work out of the B&D, Milwaukee, and Porter Cable than the Hitachi.

Drill Holes > Drilled > Screws Driven
Black & Decker 41 121
DeWalt 43 101
Bosch 46 99
Hitachi 38 75
Makita 38 75
Milwaukee 36 125
Panasonic 18 72
Porter Cable 43 116
Ryobi 23 101
Sears 36 108
Skil 17 70

Steve: What concerns me even more about the Hitachi is the speed switch gets stuck when I set it to low range. And that locks up the drill until I work the switch back and forth a few times.

Q: How can the Ryobi, Skil, and Panasonic drive so many screws when they drilled the fewest holes?

Ken: They develop quite a bit of torque at low speed (the setting we used to drive screws). But that wasn't the case in the high speed (drilling) range.

Cary: How does that explain the results with the Milwaukee? It drove the most screws, yet had the least amount of torque.

Steve: What happened is we couldn't measure all the available torque. That's because the clutch started to slip even though we set it to drill (where it shouldn't slip). What worries me is that the clutch will eventually slip allthe time when I'm drilling.

Q: What about when you're in the drive mode. Isn't the clutch supposed to slip?

Ken: That's right. Once the drill delivers the torque you need to set a screw, the clutch slips and the bit stops turning. Hopefully, you can adjust the clutch to set the screw head just below the surface without burying it. Since they have more than twenty clutch settings, that's an easy job for the DeWalt, B&D, and Panasonic. And with fifteen settings, the Bosch is no slouch.

Cary: The other drills only had five clutch settings. And at times, I would have liked to dial the clutch in between one of them to find the perfect setting.

Ken: That's why I liked the clutch on the B&D. Besides having individual settings, I can regulate the clutch just by changing the amount of pressure I apply. And it's easy to switch from driving to drilling without going through all the clutch settings.

Q: What about the chucks?

Ken: I liked the smooth operation of the metal chuck on the Freud. And even though it's knurled, the chuck is small and hard to grip. I preferred the large size and rubber grips on the B&D and DeWalt.

Cary: The problem with those chucks is I have to use two hands to install a bit. With the Bosch, I can spin the chuck with one hand. The only other one-handed chuck is the Panasonic. But a ratchet device makes opening and closing the jaws painfully slow.

Q: Okay, time to make a call. Which drill would you buy? And are there any drills to steer clear of?

Ken: I'd buy the B&D. And the DeWalt would be a close second. Both drills are solid tools. And they're extremely comfortable to use. But the clutch on the B&D gives it the edge in my book. One drill I didn't like is the Skil. That's because there's a gap in the handle where the two halves of the plastic housing come together. And when I'm drilling, the housing moves back and forth and grinds on my hand.

Steve: With twelve drills to choose from, this may come as a surprise. But I'd go with the B&D and DeWalt, too. They both have all the power I need. And it's like second nature using the well-designed controls. If I had to pick a drill not to buy, it would be the Hitachi. It didn't perform as well as the other drills. And there's quite a bit of gear noise that makes me wonder if something isn't wearing inside.

Cary: I hate to be a spoiler. But both the B&D and the DeWalt are too heavy for me. And I found the clutch on the B&D is a bit touchy to get used to. So I chose the Bosch. It's lighter, more compact, and has a better overall balance. And I like the one-handed operation of the chuck.

(c) 2002, August Home Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved.

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