The Ultimate Drill Buying Guide
When it comes to which tools are essential to have in your toolbox, a drill is certainly one of them.
Whether you’re renovating your home or you just need to have one on hand for the odd task here and there, it’s a must-have for your DIY arsenal. After all, you never know when that slightly dodgy shelf might get pulled down by a boisterous child, or when a new piece of artwork will take your fancy and need putting up.
But if you find yourself bamboozled by jargon on your search for a good drill, you’re in the right place. In our drill buying guide we’ll explain the differences between corded and cordless drills, what features to look for, what everything does and how it might impact the type of jobs you’re doing. Then you can weigh everything up and decide which drill is best for you.
Corded Vs Cordless Drills
While it may not seem like there’s much difference between corded and cordless drills, there are certainly times when one trumps the other. Here are some key things to consider.
Freedom of Movement
Cordless drills give you all the freedom you want to move around the house, whereas with a corded drill you need to be near a power socket. This could be an issue for hard-to-reach areas or if you don’t want the hassle of extension leads.
Given that they’re plugged directly into a power source and don’t have a battery that could run low, corded drills tend to offer the most reliable power. However, some cordless drills come with two batteries, so if one runs out of power you can charge it while you work with the other. Li-ion batteries, which most of them are, are very efficient and charge quite quickly (often in under an hour).
The power of corded drills is measured in watts and ranges from around 450W for budget models to 1500W for more powerful hammer drills, which are used for drilling into masonry. Lower wattage drills are fine for drilling into plasterboard. For the average home DIY tasks, a 550W drill will do the job.
Cordless drill power is measured in volts, usually from around 12V to 20V. The higher the voltage, the more powerful it will be. More powerful drills that need 24 or 36 volts provide an extra boost of power for tougher tasks, though as the voltage goes up, so does the price.
The weight of the battery in a cordless drill can be off-putting for some as they can be relatively heavy, making corded drills a better choice for those who’d prefer something more lightweight.
Some brands have multi-use batteries which can be swapped in and out of tools in the same range, saving you money – as well as being kinder to the environment – as you don’t have to buy a battery for every tool. If you already have a tool like this, it might be worth considering a drill in the same range.
Cordless drills tend to be more expensive than their corded counterparts due to the batteries and chargers that come with them.
Types of Drill
The type of drill you need depends on the sort of work you’ll be doing. Drilling into masonry will require a different drill to one that you need for drilling into wood or plasterboard, though you can get combi drills which can take on both tasks. Have a look at each drill type in more detail below so you can work out which one is best for you.
Drill drivers are generally less expensive but not as powerful as combi drills. They won’t drill into masonry but do a good job of drilling into wood or metal and driving in screws, making them a good option for regular household DIY.
This robust all-purpose tool is capable of both drilling and driving in screws, and has a hammer drill function for drilling into masonry and concrete. They can create holes in wood and metal extremely quickly but are usually the more expensive models. If opting for a combi drill, choose one with an 18V battery if going cordless, or a minimum of 550W for corded.
Impact drills are compact in size and are generally used for heavy-duty screwdriving. They use an impact mechanism that helps reduce the impact on your wrist so are a good choice for bigger projects, including driving in longer, heavy-duty screws quickly when hanging cabinets, or driving in screws in awkward places. They can also be used for drilling – even into metal – which requires the high speed and high torque application of an impact driver. They tend to be more lightweight than drill drivers but they’re not the tool for you if your main tasks will involve drilling, especially into masonry.
Small and nimble, these lightweight cordless tools drive in screws quickly and easily but don’t drill holes. If all you’re doing is tightening or loosening screws or assembling furniture, these are a convenient choice.
Hammer drills are primarily for projects that need a lot of power, like drilling into concrete, stone and brickwork. They’re usually quite large and heavy, given the nature of the tasks they take on, and include a forward/backward hammer motion of the drill bit along with a rotational movement which enables them to drill into tough materials like masonry more effectively. It’s a good choice for more heavy-duty tasks around the home, such as hanging TV wall mounts on brick walls or drilling holes into slippery tiles.
SDS Hammer Drill
SDS drills are more powerful than a standard hammer drill due to the improved SDS function (slotted drive system or shaft). This makes them well suited for more heavy-duty jobs like drilling into concrete, removing old brick fireplaces and removing old tiles from walls. When using them for more regular DIY tasks, they’ll get the job done quicker. They have a different chuck to fit SDS drill bits, so if you opt for one of these drills, make sure you use the correct chuck and bits or they could damage the drill and make drilling unsafe.
Drills come with many of the same features and it’s important to know what they do so you can make a more informed decision when making a purchase. The jargon can be confusing, so here we explain each feature to make it easier to understand how drills work.
Torque Settings (AKA the Clutch)
On the dial you’ll see multiple numbers, generally from 1-10 or 1-20. These are used to set the clutch to deliver a specific amount of power for tightening screws. The higher the number you choose, the higher the torque and the more turning force the drill will deliver. More numbers provide finer levels of adjustability so you can be more precise when driving in screws to a particular depth, prevent damage to small or fragile screws, or ensure you don’t over tighten them. This depends on what the screw is installed in: screws will drive deeper into softer materials or can cause harder materials to crack.
Most drills have two speeds/gears, but some have three for finer adjustment. The low speed is for high-torque tasks like screw driving, while the higher speeds are for drilling metal and wood. It’s measured in revolutions per minute (RPM) and is also known as the ‘no load speed’.
This is the part on the end of the drill that tightens the bits. To add a bit, you open the chuck which spreads the teeth wide, and then tighten it by hand.
Fitted to the side of the drill near the drill bit, the depth stop prevents you from drilling in further than you want to. It can be adjusted to suit different tasks.
This extra handle helps with safety and precision while drilling. It can be fitted to the left or right side to suit your dexterity so you can hold onto it with your spare hand while drilling for further control.
This is a sliding switch feature that all drills have which allows you to change the direction the drill is driving. It’s useful when backing out of holes that you’ve just bored, or removing screws.
LED Work Light
This handy feature is great if you’ll be working in darker areas – in the attic or basement for example – making the drill that bit more convenient. It’s usually positioned just above the trigger and is activated when the trigger is pressed.
This allows you to hang your drill from your belt, so you free your hands quickly and keep the drill conveniently close for when you need it again.
When you decide which type of drill is best for you, you can take on your tasks in the knowledge that you’ve got the best tool for the job. Don’t forget your wall plugs if you’ll be driving screws into walls, and browse our full DIY range for any other tools and equipment you might need to get your jobs done.