Because it does double duty as a drill and a driver, the cordless drill is an essential part of the tool repertoire. But before you go and drop a ton of cash on any old cordless drill, there are a few things to consider.
: I recommend a tool that has lithium-ion batteries
. They're lighter and they charge faster than their nickel counterparts. They also operate the tool at full power until they're empty. Nickel batteries have a long, slow (and usually frustrating) fade. There are still companies that make nickel batteries, but they seem to be phasing them out on all fronts.
: You should also think about how much juice you'll need. The standard voltages are 12-volt
(which is the same as 10.8-volt), 14.4-volt, 18-volt -- and then the monster truck 28- and 36-volt. Just pretend these last two don't exist. You really don't need them unless you're doing heavy duty jobs, like drilling through 16" of concrete. The 12-volt drills are pretty powerful, and you can get away with one if you're sticking to light-duty tasks and small around-the-house projects
. My recommendation is a 14.4-volt. I've found that there isn't much that separates it from the 18-volt. Sure, there's a little more power with the larger tool. But if you're not used to it, you're really not
going to miss it. I know plenty of carpenters who are perfectly happy with their 14.4s.
: With drills, cost and quality tend to have a pretty close relationship. The more expensive, the better the tool. You can pick up a cordless drill for as little as $20, but don't expect it to go the distance. A Milwaukee
or a Makita
, which retail for almost $200, will last a whole lot longer. That's not to say you should get the most expensive cordless drill you can find. Just shop around and get a sense of the price range, so you can weigh the cost vs. how often you're going to be using the drill, what you're going to be using it for. The $20 drill might work fine if you're only using it to build your kid's science fair project.
: It's also worth checking out the warranty on the drill; particularly how long the battery is covered. At least one company that I know of, Rockwell
, has a 'free batteries for life,' warranty.
Once you get narrowed down to a brand, you should see what other cordless tools they have in the voltage that you want. Buying into a company's battery platform can be a good idea because all of your batteries will be compatible with all of your tools. This is also the Achilles heel of the 14.4-volt drill. Since 18-volt is more of a 'job site standard,' a wider variety of tools are available.
Doug Mahoney is a a New England-based freelance writer, tool enthusiast, and residential carpenter. He is the founding editor of ToolSnob.