Review: Best Drill
Of all the handheld power tools in existence, the electric drill is the oldest. The first practical electric drill was actually created by request of Henry Ford for use in his Model T plant. He needed something his workers could use which was both portable and fast. After speaking with one of his primary tool suppliers, he proposed the idea and they came up with a workable design.
While the handheld power drill has evolved and improved through the last century, the basic design is still almost identical to the original. Today we have cordless drills powered by high efficiency Lithium-Ion batteries, hammer drills, and high power drills which can be used to bore through much heavier materials; however, the basic concept hasn’t changed much as a drill is still a drill.
Of all the power tools one can buy, this is probably the first one for most people. It’s also the power tool that gets used the most with a wide variety of bits and attachments that can be connected to them. To some extent, the humble drill can be used for many of the functions of other more specialized power tools, giving the owner a lot of flexibility.
For more information about selecting the best drill in 2021, check out our buyer's guide listed below.
Milwaukee 18-Volt Li-ion Compact Drill
Dewalt 20V Cordless Lithium-Ion 1/2 in Drill
Black & Decker LDX220SBFC, 20 Volt Drill
Craftsman 17191 19.2-Volt C3 Cordless Drill
DeWalt DWD115K 8 Amp 3/8-Inch VSR Mid-Handle Grip Drill Kit with Keyless Chuck
Milwaukee 0240-20, 3/8-Inch Drill
Hitachi D10VH 6 Amp 3/8-Inch Drill with Keyless Chuck
Black & Decker DR260B Variable-Speed Drill with 3/8-Inch Chuck
Ridgid R7121 1/2" Spade Handle Drill
Makita DS4011 1/2-Inch Drill
Best Drills Worth Considering in 2021
If there’s any power tool company known for rugged professional tools, it’s Milwaukee. Their Li-Ion entry is a 4 pound unit with 400 inch pounds of torque. Like all their tools, this one is designed to be a real workhorse. It has won various head-to-head competitions with competitors. The V18 series is their newest series, applying their years of experience to making a comfortable, easy to work with tool. The controls on this one are easily arranged for ease of access and high visibility. Like the other drills we’ve looked at, Milwaukee has both standard and high-capacity Li-Ion batteries available.
DeWalt is the only company who offers a 4.0 Ah battery for their cordless tools. That gives you 1/3 more usable power than everybody else’s 3/0 Ah batteries; allowing you to work longer between battery changes. This drill has a three speed transmission, instead of the two speed one that most are using. In the high speed setting, you can run this tool up to 2,000 RPM. The 1/2 inch chuck is ratcheting and has carbide inserts so that it won’t lose its grip on the bits. The LED work light has a 20 second delay, rather than going out once you release the trigger. It’s hard to compare DeWalt’s tools to others for power, as they don’t rate them in in/lbs of torque; instead, they've rated this tool at 535 units watts of power.
I have to confess, I’m a little bit prejudiced in favor of this drill, as I have one. The 20 volt Lithium-Ion battery system provides plenty of power, and this one comes with a 30 minute fast charger, allowing you to get back to work quickly. It has 310 inch-pounds of torque, which doesn't make it the most powerful one on this list. Two speed ranges as well as 11 clutch settings make it easy to set the tool for exactly what you want. The two speed ranges allow you to set the drill for high torque or high speed, depending upon the need of the moment. An on board LED work light and tool holder make it convenient to work with.
Craftsman has been providing hand and power tools to the homeowner and do-it-yourselfer for many a year. This drill is another example of their commitment to quality at a reasonable price. The 19.2 volt Ni-Cad battery provides more than adequate power, to this 3/8-inch keyless chuck drill. The clutch has 24 positions. This one comes with an electric brake, something not seen on the other ones we’ve looked at. Craftsman claims a 1 hour recharge on the battery, although there is only one battery in the kit.
This is the powerhouse of the group, coming in with an 8 amp motor. For those times when you need a little more power, this one is the drill to go for. DeWalt makes these drills with all ball-bearing construction for long life. That's something you'd expect to find on a professional tool, but not one built for homeowners. They've also included an overload protection, again to ensure long tool life. Between the mid-handle design and the soft grip, this is a comfortable drill to use. It will deliver 2500 RPM when you need it too; that's fast. The built in belt hook is a handy addition.
As usual, Milwaukee puts out a quality tool. This drill has an 8.0 amp motor, like the DeWalt. Knowing Milwaukee, it probably puts out more torque than the DeWalt does, even though the motors are rated the same. Milwaukee always seems to do that. However, I gave the DeWalt the top slot for its mid-mount handle, which gives the drill a little bit better balance. This drill runs up to 2,800 RPM with a variable speed trigger. The gears and case are all metal for long life. The trigger on this drill is designed to be large enough that you can get two fingers on it, cutting down on operator fatigue, especially for long jobs.
Hitachi has really done wonders since they entered the power tool market. More than anything, they're known for low cost power tools. That's not to say that these are cheap tools, in fact, they regularly surprise me with the features they put into their low-cost tools. In case you have any doubts about the quality, they back it up with a five year warranty, the longest of any we've reviewed. The handle is nicely curved to fit the palm of your hand, making it a very ergonomic tool to work with.
Black & Decker’s corded drill is eh best deal in this category. It comes with a bubble level installed to make it easier to get your holes straight. There’s also an on-board bit storage, so that you can keep a screwdriver bit with you at all times. The motor is 5.2 amps and produces up to 1,500 RPM. Even so, it will drill up to a one inch hole in wood and a 3/8 inch hole in steel.
The R7121 from Ridgid is the very definition of what this category is about. It uses a hardened steel triple gear set for long life. Its 9 amp motor provides lots of torque, but only 500 rpm of speed; Ridgid decided to trade speed for torque on this one, a good choice. The additional handle goes into the side or the top and there is a spade or “D” handle in the rear; the only drill on this list that has that D handle. In the front, the power passes through a 5/8 chuck to a keyed chuck, making the drill extra-tough. The drill features quick service brushes, a forward reverse rocker switch and a lock on button for drilling or mixing. At 7.3 pounds it's a little heavy and it doesn't have a soft handle, but the other features overshadow that. It comes standard with a 12 foot cord, the longest of any of these drills. The cord even comes with a built-in led indicator so you know when the tool has power. It comes with Ridgid’s 3 year warranty.
Makita’s drill is slightly less powerful than the Rigid and Hitachi, with an 8.5 amp motor. However, they’ve given it the mid-mounted handle and rear D handle that I like. That D handle rotates 360 degrees as well, with 24 positive stops. The motor is constructed with all ball bearings for long life. I really like the trigger on this one, which is a rocker, making it easy to change directions quickly and smoothly when needed. On-board chuck key storage helps keep you from losing your key.
The drill goes all the way back to Paleolithic times when cave men used a flint point attached to a stick and rubbed between the palms to make holes through bone, ivory, shells, and antlers. The electric drill is much more modern than that, but is still the oldest hand-held electric power tool there is.
Early models were housed in heavy cast-iron casings, making them difficult to use. During World War II, Henry Ford made a request of one of his tool suppliers, A.H. Peterson, that they develop a lightweight electric drill for use on the assembly line. The Peterson Company came up with the first practical handheld electric drill which Henry Ford made good use of.
Unfortunately, the Peterson Company didn't survive, but their drill did. When they went under, the assets were bought out by one of the partners who formed the Milwaukee Electric Tool Company. Incidentally Milwaukee Tools still makes some of the best electric drills on the market.
The electric drill has grown in use, not only by popularity, but by the development of additional ways to use the drill. Today, electric drills are used for cutting holes, polishing, and sanding in addition to the more traditional use of drilling holes. Even within the realm of drilling holes there are a variety of drill bits available for drilling different types of holes or drilling into different materials.
Today, the trend is more and more towards cordless drills. With their high capacity and fast recharge Li-Ion battery technology, a cordless drill can be used almost constantly simply by swapping batteries and recharging them. Although Li-Ion battery powered tools are still a bit expensive, they’re well worth it to those who need to use their drill a lot. For others, there are cheaper options they can consider, including lower voltage cordless drills and corded drills.
Hand-held Drill Types
There are more types of electric drills on the market today than ever before, along with many ways of categorizing them. But the simplest ways of categorizing them are by price, size, power and whether or not they have hammer action.
Originally, all handheld electric drills were run off of AC house current. These are still available today but are rapidly losing market share to cordless drills. However, for the homeowner who doesn't use a drill very often, a corded drill is still better than waiting for the battery to charge in their cordless drills. Corded drills are also very useful in operations where the drill must be on for prolonged periods of time, which would run down the battery, such as using a wire brush.
Cordless drills are taking over the market from corded drills, due to their convenience of use. With modern battery technology, Lithium Ion batteries hold a higher charge and have a shorter recharge time, allowing the drill to be used much more, with less time lost to recharging. Cordless drills have also become more powerful, rivaling their corded cousins.
Cordless drills are almost always drill/drivers, meaning they have a built-in clutch to disengage the drill chuck from the motor. If you’re using it to drive screws rather than drill holes, the clutch can help prevent overdriving the screws to too great a depth.
These are a special new category of cordless drills, designed for use in tight places. The right-angle gearhead allows the overall drill length to be as little as about three inches, plus the length of the drill bit. This allows for drilling in otherwise inaccessible areas.
Hammer drills are predominantly used for drilling through stone, concrete, and masonry. They’re also the best drill for cutting through ceramic tile. The drill has a built-in hammer which provides a blow every revolution, much as if you were hitting the back of the drill with a hammer. This allows the special masonry bits to chip through the substrate you’re trying to drill through. Hammer drills always have a switch to turn the hammer action off when not needed, so the drill can be used for normal drilling operations.
How Does Price Affect the Drill?
When you look at a selection of drills, you'll see a wide variety of pricing, sizing and options. This can be a bit confusing, especially when buying your first drill. Cutting through all the fog, what you're really paying for in the more expensive drills is power and quality. Of course, things like a hammer action and a right-angle head will add to the cost as well, but when comparing standard drills, trying to make an apples-to-oranges comparison, higher price equals more power and better quality.
Contractors and construction workers who use their power tools all the time need implements that will take a beating for years and still keep working. You may not need that rugged a drill for your home workshop but you also have to consider the difference in power between different drills. This can be difficult to compare as not all manufacturers give the same types of specifications for their products' power.
Cordless drills are also more expensive than corded ones due to the cost of the batteries and charger. However, with most of the major power tool manufacturers you can buy bare tools without batteries and chargers. This allows you to use the same batteries across several power tools, assuming you have a number of power tools that use the same voltage batteries and were made by the same tool manufacturer. Bare tools are often about as cheap as their corded cousins.
Other Options to Consider
Most people who do a considerable amount of do-it-yourself projects ultimately end up with more than one electric drill. While they might have one primary drill (usually a cordless drill/driver), they end up collecting others along the way. This is actually an advantage on many projects, as you might have to drill holes, countersink them and then put the screws in. If you only have one drill, that's a lot of bit changing to do.
Today's drills are almost all manufactured with keyless chucks. These are much easier to use, but may have problems staying tight, especially in cases where there’s a lot of vibration. Ratcheting chucks are better at avoiding the problem of loosening than standard ones are as well as keyed chucks. But keyed chucks are only going to be found on very large drills.
Chucks can vary in size from 1/4" to 1/2", with 3/8" in between. This dimension refers to the largest diameter drill bit shaft they are designed to accept. In the case of smaller drills, they probably don't have sufficient power to use the larger sized drills, which explains why they don't have those larger chucks.
Integral Work Lights
Cordless drills also typically have work lights mounted on them, which are a very useful option. The location and number of LEDs used for the work lights is important as it affects where shadows form. Some manufacturers also give you the option of turning on the work light before drilling which is very handy.
Hammer drills and other larger drills will also have a secondary handle, to help stabilize the tool and prevent the torque from hurting your wrists. Some of these tools can put out a lot of torque, enough that in the case the bit jams you could become injured.