From the occasional tinkerer to the most hardened DIY’er, owning a good cordless drill will save you time and money, it should be the go-to power tool in your toolbox.
Cordless drills are used for almost every DIY project. From hanging a picture to breaking up concrete, putting up shelves to building a mancave, every job is easier with a good cordless drill and a good quality cordless drill should hold a place in every DIY tool kit.
In this guide, we aim to give you the details and features to look for when buying a cordless drill so that you make an informed choice and purchase a great power tool that will serve you well for years to come.
As with any electric tool, there are features and specifications that each manufacturer uses to sell their products and catch the eye of the buyer. Typically, cordless drills all work the same.
The drill is made up of several parts that are usually enclosed in a plastic shell that is held in the user’s hand. A battery-powered, electric motor turns a chuck that holds a drill or screwdriver bit.
The power is controlled by a finger trigger, which when squeezed turns the motor and the chuck. There are a wide range of cordless drills on the market which vary in power anywhere from 4 volts to over 50 volts.
The higher the voltage supplied by the battery to the motor, the higher the torque the drill can apply through the gearbox and to the chuck and drill bit, meaning a bigger drill can drill bigger holes, in harder materials like c25 concrete which is often used in flooring and construction.
For most DIY projects 18 Volts is a good compromise between power and size, so unless you intend to constantly drill into hard concrete you won’t need to buy an expensive 50V drill.
Most manufacturers provide cordless drills with a 3 jaw, keyless chuck, which makes changing drill bits quick and easy and you won’t have to worry about losing the chuck key.
You swap the bits in your drill by loosening and then tightening the chuck, and the jaws close down to clamp the bit in place as the drill chuck tightens.
Look for a chuck with a good grip, make sure the grip is not too short, as you won’t be able to get your hand around the chuck to tighten it properly.
Typically good cordless drills will have a drill chuck that will fit up to ½” (13.0mm) diameter bits, but ⅜” (9.5mm) is enough to carry out most projects.
The best thing about cordless drills is their portability, having no cables means they can be used pretty much anywhere and you won’t be tripping over them every time you turn around.
one of the downside is that Cordless drill batteries can be heavy, though they have significantly improved in the last few years with developments in Lithium-ion technology, they are compact, easily rechargeable, when choosing a cordless drill, look for units that can fully recharge in an hour or less.
The number of Amp-hours (Ah) on a battery, indicates how long the battery will last on a charge. This is not a direct comparison to working hours but rather how much charge is used over a period of time.
If you work a drill hard by drilling large holes in solid concrete it will require more power and more charge to drill through the hard material and the battery will drain more quickly than if it were to drill something soft like pine or MDF.
Amp Hours don’t translate directly into actual work hours. But a higher rating will mean the battery will last longer, than a smaller battery. so a 5.0 Ah battery will be bigger and last longer than a 1.5 Ah battery
Most cordless drills can be purchased as a kit which will include at least one battery and a charger, or as a ‘bare’ unit that does not come with a battery, this can save money when you added to your tool kit if you stick with the same brand.
Tool manufacturers tend to offer a range of power tools that use the same battery platform, which means that multiple tools can use the same battery and charger.
This means you can swap from your circular saw to a multi-tool to your combi-drill or sander easily without having lots of different batteries and chargers cluttering your tool bag.
Good quality cordless drills will have forward (clockwise) and reverse (counterclockwise) settings allowing you to drive and remove screws easily.
Good drills will also have multiple settings for torque which are controlled by adjusting the clutch normally by twisting a collar behind the chuck.
The clutch prevents the drill from turning once a required resistance is met, a bit like a safety valve, by disengaging the drive shaft the chuck stops and prevents screws from being over tightened, this is good when working with soft materials like pine, plastic or drywall plasterboard which require less torque.
Now let’s take a look in more detail at each of the main types of cordless drill available and consider the features, uses, and benefits for each.
Types of Cordless drills and their uses
There are several different types of drills available and although they have the same basic function, to drill holes there is no one size fits all unit that will do everything.
That said, a good workhorse for any DIYer or tradesperson’s tool kit is the 18V combi drill, and we would recommend that this is one of the first power tools you buy when starting out.
18V combination ‘Combi’ drills outsell every other cordless drill because they can be used for a wide variety of jobs; they can drill wood, metal, and masonry with ease and also be used for screw-driving tasks.
But that’s not the end of the story and when you consider more specialized tasks, a one size fits all or general-purpose tool may not be the best option and can cause delays in getting work done, leading to frustration and poor quality.
The main categories for drills are:
Each of the types of drill mentioned above has its unique features, specific uses, and even different accessories, which can be used to make quick work of any drilling job.
|Cabinets and light|
|Drill/Driver||Twist/jobber drill bits
|Fitting kitchen |
|Drill/Driver||Twist/jobber drill bits
|Combi Drill||Carbide Drill bits|
|Drilling medium sized holes in metal or sheet materials||Combi Drill||Holesaws
Step drill bits
|Drilling holes in joists and timber studs for cables and pipes||Combi Drill||Flat wood boring bits
Wood twist bits
|Drilling holes for plastic plugs and anchors||SDS Rotary Hammer||SDS hammer bits|
|Installing window and door frames||SDS Rotary Hammer (Drilling)|
Combi Drill (Fixings)
|SDS hammer bits
Twist/jobber drill bits
|SDS Rotary Hammer||SDS hammer bits|
|Light Demolition work||SDS Rotary Hammer||SDS hammer/ chisel bits|
Now let’s review each category in detail and consider the features, uses, and which drills we recommended for each section.
Drill/Drivers are so-called because they are designed to drill into wood and metal as well as being used as a screwdriver for various fixings and fastenings.
Drill-Drivers often have a two-speeds which can be changed by a switch or knob that moves the gearing inside the drills gearbox.
The high gear provides the fast speed typically over 1000rpm and is used when drilling holes, whereas the slower speed provides more torque, and is better for driving home screws of different sizes.
Generally, Drill-Drivers do not have a percussion or impact feature often called ‘hammer action’, which means they are not suitable for drilling masonry or concrete, this tradeoff in ability is offset by the fact that the reduced drive mechanism makes them lighter and more manageable than bigger Combi drills or SDS drills.
Drill/Drivers often have adjustable Torque settings, this helps Drill/Drivers prevent screws or fasteners from being over tightened or screw-in past the depth required.
- Small size and light weight make them easy to use and handle
- No percussion mechanism prevents material damage if engaged by mistake
- Precision screwdriving
- Lower power for finer accurate work
- Lower power than Combi drills
- Small batteries leading to less work time.
- Less versatile as no masonry drilling function
The 13mm (1/2″) keyless chuck makes for quick bit changes and allows for blasting through metal or wood with screws up to 6mm. This tool is the perfect companion for DIY’ers, sheet metal workers, and woodworkers alike.
I have used one of these in my workshop for a while and it has never let me down, it’s very compact and the grip is comfortable, with the controls are easy to reach and the unit fits well in your hand.
Drill/Drivers are great for light workshop use, and anywhere a lightweight, compact unit will be more useful than a bigger, high-power drill.
Drill drivers are often used by professional kitchen fitters, and cabinet makers and help to make building and assembling furniture quick work.
With several battery platforms available smaller 12v and 14.4v drills can provide lots of torque and work capacity without the need to be recharged every ten minutes.
I recommend that you have at least one Drill-driver in your tool kit for smaller, less arduous work and use it alongside a more powerful Combi drill to get versatility from your tools and cover 99% of your DIY Projects.
Combi-drill is short for Combination drill, these are the most commonly used cordless drills on the market, they are a great and versatile power tool.
Basically, a combi drill is a Drill/Driver on steroids, they usually come with the addition of a hammer or percussion impact feature which adds the ability to drill masonry to the list of jobs you can do.
Combi-drills are considered the ‘do it all drill’ because of their ability to work with a wide range of materials like wood, metal, masonry and concrete.
Combi drills are often equipped with powerful motors and heavy-duty gearboxes, making them a great choice for demanding screw-driving tasks and use with large diameter accessories, such as flat bits and wood augers, as such they are a favourite of tradespeople that use them every day on a wide range of job sites.
The hammer or percussion impact system in most Combi drills uses two hard, serrated plates that rotate over each other to oscillate the drill chuck thousands of times a minute.
This oscillation moves the drill chuck back and forward creating lots of impacts at the material face.
Each of these small impacts helps the drill bit chip away at the hard surface, usually masonry or concrete, and create the hole, whilst the drill flutes clear the debris away.
With the addition of the hammer action, Combi drills tend to have bigger motors and larger capacity batteries than drill drivers, which means they are physically bigger and heavier.
When choosing a Combi Drill, look for a unit with a brushless motor, metal gearbox, and compact design which helps get the drill into tighter spaces. The brushless motors have fewer moving parts and metal gearboxes are stronger than plastic ones.
Although they are a great workhorse combi drills can struggle when it comes to working with tough concrete, and this really hard work is best left to the big SDS boys which we will look at later.
- Versatile Drill for wide variety of jobs
- Powerful motors with loads of Torque
- Impact/Hammer feature for drilling Masonry
- Larger and Heavier than comparable drill driver
- Drilling performance in hard concrete
Recommended Combi Drills
Designed to be used on a wide range of projects with two speed gearbox and percussion impact feature for drilling masonry, this Hikoki Combi drill is a great and usable power tool.
Available in kit form, with batteries and charge or as a bare unit this cordless drill will help you work through any project.
check out our in-depth review on the Hikoki DV18GL for more details on its features and performance.
Combi drills are highly versatile machines which makes them the ideal tool for working on-site, in the workshop, or around the home.
Their wide-ranging ability makes them the ‘go-to’ option for tradespeople and DIY’ers alike and they can be used to drill through a wide range of materials and for fitting different types of screws and fasteners.
Often the first tool picked in a beginners tool kit, Combi drills are widely used by people in the construction, electrical, and plumbing trades and a must have power tool.
SDS Plus Rotary Hammers
SDS Rotary Hammer drills are the big boys in the cordless drilling world, they work by using a piston to strike the shank end of the drill bit. This mechanism is much more powerful than the rotary discs found in smaller percussion drills.
The result is that using an SDS drill applies more force to the work face and requires less effort from the operator, making drilling into materials like hard concrete and other hard masonry much easier than when using smaller drills.
SDS drills do not use a traditional twist locking chuck, instead, they have a push-in ball locking mechanism. SDS stands for; Steck, Dreh, Sitz which translates to mean, insert – twist – stay.
This heavy-duty retaining mechanism allows the high forces of the piston impact to be transmitted to the drill bit without issue. It does mean that SDS drills use drill bits that are specifically designed to suit this chuck and are not interchangeable with normal drills
There are several types of SDS Shank profiles the most common are SDS Plus and SDS Max both use a ball bearing locking mechanism to hold the drill bit in place. Look out for the profiles below when you select accessories to use with your SDS drill
SDS drills are normally used for drilling masonry, but many manufacturers include Hammer and rotary, ‘Rotary only’ or ‘Impact only’ features.
This allows the drill to also be used for drilling wood and metal and can often be used with a suitable chuck adaptor or quick-change chuck.
The Impact only selection means that SDS drills can also be used as a breaker or chisel for demolition jobs like smashing up areas of concrete or removing tiles or small walls.
Although they are not designed for it, driving fixings can be done with an SDS is also possible, however, they are quite bulky and only really suitable for large industrial fixings like floor anchors. Better to use an impact driver for this type of task.
- Fast drilling in hard concrete
- Large capacity for drilling in masonry
- Large choice of accessories
- Light demo and chiseling work
- Long working time due to larger batteries
- Much larger and heavier than other types of cordless drills
- Limited to SDS shank bits and requires adaptors to use other drill bits
- Limited drilling capability in wood and metal
- Too bulky for most screwdriver jobs
Recommended SDS plus Hammer drills
The Makita DHR242Z 18V Cordless SDS Plus Hammer Dill, packs a big punch in a compact size. The Makita SDS Plus is a lightweight, cordless unit with 3 mode rotary modes to select.
The brushless motor efficiently uses energy to match torque and rpm to the changing demand of the applications a well-made, robust workhorse that ticks all the right boxes but won’t break the bank.
I use this heavy-duty drill to blast into concrete floors, hard masonry, and demolition jobs all the time and it always gives a good performance without being too heavy.
check out our in-depth review on the Makita DHR242Z for more details on its features and performance.
If your needs include drilling into hard masonry, or demolishing building work or you want to avoid operator fatigue from having to use a lowered powered Combi drill, then an SDS Rotary Hammer drill should be in your tool kit.
The increased drilling capacity that comes from the high impact hammer action and the ability to chisel, demolish or drill the hardest materials, makes the SDS drill superior to most others.
SDS drills typically run on 18V or bigger battery platforms, there are some smaller, lighter 12V SDS Hammer Drill options too, which make drilling overhead or for long periods much easier.
As I have said before Cordless drills are typically used for most drilling operations in every home DIY or job site these days.
They can handle most common building materials including wood, metal, and masonry without the need to trail dangerous cables everywhere.
They have virtually replaced hand tools for installing fixings like screws and bolts driving applications; reducing the time required and increasing productivity.
All of the tools discussed in each of the categories above can perform multiple tasks and often overlap into several categories, however, each tool is better in some areas than others.
Often workshop-based joiners and tradespeople often choose a Drill/Driver because of its weight and simplicity, but will also have combi drills to hand.
The size of the fasteners and power tool accessories used in this profession also plays a part in the purchasing of smaller tower tools used in the workshop environment; finer carpentry uses smaller fixings that do not require the high power of an SDS drill for example.
Furthermore, site joiners, electricians, plumbers, or construction workers do not rely on the versatility of the Combi alone and will own additional cordless tools to enable them to complete the tasks their jobs require.
The same is true for most DIY’ers in that one tool won’t always be everything and building a selection of well-chosen tools will enable your home improvements to be completed quickly and with the best quality.
Ultimately, choosing the right cordless drill will be down to which tasks you use the drill for the most and what compromises you are prepared to accept.
It’s also important to consider which brand and battery platform you want to use, I recommend looking at the range of tools available from your preferred brand and see if they offer an extensive range of cordless tools.
Any project that you plan to tackle in the future may need another power tool and keeping the same brand and battery allows you to mix and match and can be cheaper, as bare chassis cost less than kits with chargers and batteries
lookout for deals on your favorite brands as well, I often buy my tools when sales or offers are on as you can grab a bargain and save a lot of cash.
This article was written by: Richard Quinton – The DIY Help Desk Owner, Engineer & technical specialist.
Richard is one of the key partners in The DIY Help Desk team. He is a qualified Engineer, writer, and publisher, educated to Master’s level. He is a keen advocate of DIY and home improvements.
Richard enjoys helping others to learn new skills and reach their goals and believes that passing his knowledge and experience on through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the lifestyles and wellbeing of others on a larger scale.