What's the difference between a $30 drill and a $300 drill? Our DIYer digs in to find out.
I recently set out to drill through five sheets of Plexiglas for a colorful wall hanging I was making. I borrowed a cordless drill/driver
(which functions as both a drill and a power screwdriver) from a contractor I know who readily admits to being a tool snob
. His drill was made by Festool
, a German manufacturer that many of us American DIYers have never heard of.
But, oh man, that finely-tuned instrument bored into that tough Plexiglas like a hot knife through butter.
The sensation of using a superior, precision drill -- with its exquisite balance and power -- was so pleasurable I actually considered starting another wall hanging just so I could do more drilling!
That's the difference between working with a finely engineered and manufactured tool and a cheap and shoddily made one. The former makes you look forward to the work; the latter makes you dread each task.
Of course, you already know the primary downside to the premier tools: enormous price tags. While the least expensive drill/driver you can find at a big box store will run you a slim $30, a Festool cordless drill costs about $350 or more.
The good news: there is a middle ground when it comes to power drills.
For instance you can buy Consumer Reports
' most highly rated cordless drill/driver (for general, at-home use), the Panasonic Model # EY6432GQKW
, for about $200. It's a 15.6-volt model, which is about mid-range.
CORDLESS DRILL/DRIVER GRADES
When you set out to purchase a new cordless drill/driver, be aware there are two general grades for the at-home DIYer (excluding heavy-duty drills designed for industrial-sized jobs):
-- Contractor Grade:
The Panasonic #EY6432GQKW, a contractor grade tool, retails for about $200. The Black & Decker #SS18SB-2 sells for about $80. Photos: Panasonic; Lowe's
These are the best quality, more expensive drills; the brands you'll likely find on a professional job site.
Manufacturers include Hitachi
($80-$130), Porter Cable
($110-$270), and DeWalt
-- Consumer Grade:
These are lesser quality, less expensive drills designed for household use. Manufacturers include Ryobi
($40-$120), Black & Decker
(Note: These are the price ranges of cordless drill/drivers reviewed by Consumer Reports.)
So why the disparity in prices? Consider the differences between the least expensive car you could buy (such as a Hyundai Accent for about $11,000) and a more expensive car (such as a BMW 5-Series sedan starting at $50,000). While the cheaper cars will get you from point A to point B, you usually get there with a lot of road noise, uncomfortable seats, and maybe without the benefit of air conditioning and a sound system. It's the same with luxury tools: they generally work better, feel better and last longer.
SAVE VS. SPLURGE FACTORS
You don't have
to buy top-of-line power drill/drivers to experience great performance, but you do have to draw the line at some point if you want to prevent frustration, a short shelf-life, and shoddy results. Consider these factors when deciding what to spend on your cordless drill:
In general, the more speed your tool has, the better the performance. At the very least, the power drill you buy should have high and low speeds. The high speed is for drilling and the low speed is for screwdriving. The speed is measured in rpm (revolutions per minute).
A healthy rpm is 1,300 or more. Drills with 800 or less can be frustrating to operate; they may not bore easily through a surface or not tighten a screw properly.
The power available for your cordless drill/drivers is measured in volts (V).
The least powerful tools on the market are about 6V, while the most powerful are about 24V. My favorite small drill/drivers, which fit nicely in my hand yet pack a lot of juice, are around 9.6V. Mid-power drill/drivers are around 14V, while the beefy models, the kind you might find in the hands of a framing carpenter, would be 18V -- probably too much power for the occasional or novice DIYer. Anything less than 9.6V is likely not worth your money. (Beg to differ? Defend your power drill in the comments below!)
When it comes to cordless tools, the battery makes all the difference. First, find out how long the batteries hold their charge
during the kinds of jobs you will do. If you're planning on hanging a couple of curtain rods, or putting together a picture frame, any model will hold a charge long enough for you to get the job done. But if you're doing a bigger job, like installing rain gutters to a large house, the battery might not go the distance without having to be recharged. Granted, most cordless drills come with two batteries so one can charge while they other is in use. If you plan to do a lot of work with your drill/driver over a long period of time, check out the cost of new batteries. Some high-end tools require batteries that cost way more than $100. Decide whether the convenience of a longer-lasting battery is worth the extra cost. And bear in mind that certain batteries can make cordless tools heavier than equivalent corded tools. For drill/drivers, 3.5 pounds is considered light, and 5 pounds or more is considered heavy.
4. Hand Feel
This may be the least-considered issue by DIYers and others, but it's among the most important. All hands are different, it's fair to say, and some tools that fit and feel perfect in in one person's hand may feel totally awkward in someone else's. Hold any drill/driver you're considering
-- with the battery installed, so you'll have a more accurate idea of the tool's weight
-- at shoulder level for a minute or so to test it. For women, a smaller tool may feel better. Hand feel is about more than comfort; it can affect the outcome of your project significantly. So, if you need to pay a little more for a drill that feels better in your hands, consider it worth the investment.
5. LED Light
This is a fairly new development in the industry that directs an LED light
right where you're drilling or driving a screw. If you've ever crawled inside a cabinet to attach it to the wall, you know how life-changing a light on your drill/driver would be. Depending on your needs, this convenient feature might be worth the extra cash.
Good places for reading user reviews include the websites for The Home Depot and Lowe's. You can also talk to contractors and craftsmen or peruse contractor chat rooms.
Here are a few more ideas:
Tools of the Trade
Journal of Light Construction Forums
These are designed as peer-to-peer forums for construction professionals. As homeowners, we can read contractors' comments about tools, but we cannot post or ask questions. Even with that restriction, this is a valuable resource for getting an insider's view of construction issues, including tools, materials and processes.