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How to Buy a Cordless Drill

How to Buy a Cordless Drill

The usefulness of cordless drills is practically limitless for household repairs; one of the items that new homeowners refer to as a must-have. Where a few decades ago there were only a few brands to buy, making a purchase decision rather simple, in today’s market there are seemingly countless numbers of manufacturers to choose from.

To further complicate the issue, cordless drills also now have a number of categories by which they’re judged. All of these choices are both a blessing and a curse, depending on your viewpoint and how much you know. To help turn the countless drill choices into a blessing, below you’ll find an introduction into the basics of buying a cordless drill.


Typically the first piece of information in a name, a drill’s voltage is a big selling point for many cordless drills. This is due to the fact that typically a higher voltage means the motor runs faster and provides higher toque. The most common voltages are 9.6v, 14.4v, 18v, and 19.2v, although some manufacturers are now offering 24v, 28v, and 36v drills.

Which drill to buy is really a question of what you want out of it. While the higher voltage drills will offer the most speed and torque, they won’t necessarily have the most efficient motors and/or battery systems. Additionally, these higher voltage drills tend to be the more expensive drills on the market. This is certainly the case if you’re looking at the 18+ voltage drills. When looking at the drills with 14.4v or less you start to run into a lot of overlap between the various drills and their capabilities.

High voltage drills are best for heavy duty work and ensure they’ll perform well on a wide range of tasks while lower voltage drills are lighter and have a lower price tag, but sacrifice a certain amount of task-variance. Also, remember that drill voltage has a direct relationship to drill weight.


While there are technically two types of handles for drills, the pistol grip and the T-handle, most modern drills are feature the T-handle. In a T-handle drill the base of the handle flares and accommodates a battery. Having the battery centered under the weight of the motor provides better balance. However, it does result in less ability to apply pressure directly behind the bit, a feature in which pistol grips excel.


Most cordless drills have a clutch setting that allows you to limit the torque for different projects. Located immediately behind the chuck, the clutch will disengage the drive shaft of the drill and make a clicking sound when a preset level of resistance is reached. This allows a user to not strip screws and protects the drill’s motor. Better drills tend to have more clutch settings, with the lowest numbers being for small screws and the higher number being for larger screws. in addition, most clutches also have a drill setting where the drill operates at full power.


Most drills have two fixed speeds at 300rpm and 800rpm (300 being for driving screws while 800 is for drilling holes), with a slide switch selecting which speed to use. The higher quality drills will also have a trigger with variable speed control, allowing you to vary the speed of each setting from 0-max.

Battery Type

There are currently three types of rechargeable batteries used in cordless drills:

  • Nickel Cadmium (NiCD): These are the original rechargeable drill battery. Most NiCds provide around 1000 charging cycles in a lifetime but have more charging guidelines…never completely drain a battery and never charge immediately after use as the battery has to cool. Additionally, this battery’s use of cadmium may be seen negatively for those who are more environmentally conscious.

  • Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH): These batteries were developed primarily in response to a mandate in Europe regarding the limit of releasing Cadmium into the environment. The batteries have less stringent charge/discharge guidelines than NiCD, but have fewer charging cycles in a lifetime, typically less than 1000 charges.

  • Lithium Ion (Li-Ion): The newest breakthrough in batteries, Li-Ion found their way into cordless power tools in the last few years. They present a higher power density in addition to being less sensitive to charge cycle patterns and temperature during charging. The primary downside of Li-Ion batteries is they’re relatively pricey, the average price in retail stores is around $200.

If you can afford the Li-Ions powered drills, buy them. Otherwise you’ll get the best bang for your buck with the NiCD. They have a reasonably long life span, their deficiencies are well known, and they’re significantly cheaper.

Battery Systems

When choosing a cordless drill’s battery type, it’s important to consider if you’ll be purchasing additional power tools in the future. Selecting tools with compatible batteries can save you time and money. Not only will you only need one charger, but it can lead to package purchases which will save hundreds compared to individual purchases.

Manufacturers now have battery-matched lines. An example being DeWalt’s XRP, an extended run time NiCD system. However, if you’re going to use the battery system as a serious factor in your decision process, be sure to first look into what other tools a manufacturer makes that would have a compatible battery; most manufacturer systems include at least a drill, circular saw, reciprocating saw, and a shop light.

Types of Drills (Mini, Standard, Heavy Duty)

  • Mini Drills are typically 9.6v or less, low-torque units intended for light use. Their biggest claim to fame is their size. These drills’ prices run the gamut between cheap and expensive with little in between.

  • Standard Drills are the most common on the market. These are intended for either shop/home use or light-duty home use. If you plan to use your drill exclusively at home, purchase a 3/8’’ chuck drill, whereas if you plan to use your drill at home and at the shop, purchase the 1/2’’ drills. Prices for standard drills range from approximately $100-250+. While the $250+ range will buy a bit more torque, they aren’t generally considered worth the money when compared to the $200 drills.

  • Heavy Duty Drills commonly feature 500+ pounds of torque, but are extremely expensive. These drills are meant for professionals to whom money is no object.


Whatever drill you end up buying, be sure to match the drill to the job you want to perform. If you’re only going to use the drill to hang pictures or fix cabinets, you probably don’t need a $200 drill. If, however, you intend to be drilling holes, assembling furniture, etc, a slightly more expensive drill makes more sense.

In a survey done by Consumersearch.com, they rated the best cordless drill for homeowners to be the Milwaukee 2410-22, a 12v Li-Ion drill. If you wish to purchase that drill you can click directly on the picture; otherwise, browse our full selection of Cordless Drills.