Shopping for a cordless drill at your local hardware store, you can become overwhelmed with how many options there are to choose. Hammer, impact, corded, nicad, lithium, standard screw guns, what?
Each drill-looking device is very similar to the next, and there is no end to the options and upgrades available for each type.
Here is a Cheat Sheet for the most popular drill types along with a discussion of what types of projects for which each is best.
What is an Impact Driver
A drill that uses an internal hammering mechanism to increase the torque output. They can come corded or battery powered and do not have the clutch mechanism that a standard drill driver has. They tend to be shorter and more compact than a full size drill.
Use Types: Drilling large holes through multiple boards and fastening larger lag bolts and fasteners. They can drive nails or bolts way faster and way bigger in size with less effort from your wrists.
Impact drivers are picking up a wider share of the construction market that used to rely on cordless drills. Their tiny size and higher torque output make them a favorite for speeding up the amount of work that you can get done.
Based on a design that has been used in the automotive industry for a long time, these miniaturized impact drivers use a small "hammer" that help drive the bit in a circle.
This rotational hammering mechanism increases the torque output of the drill. It also allows you to drive in difficult screws without stripping them.
One important point (and something we'll revisit) is that it uses a hex-type bit holder instead of a chuck. This is critical to the tools operation, but often requires homeowner in a different set of bits.
What it is a hammer drill, It’s a serious drill on steroids. It’s a larger, higher-powered drill that use an internal hammering mechanism to create a "jackhammering" type effect.
Use Types: Drilling into concrete and stone. A hammer drill is a poor choice for any other use, Unlike an impact drill a hammer drill does not double as a standard drill. These amazing little jackhammers are a powerhouse of destructibility. While most hammer drills have a "drill only" position that turns the hammer off, they are too large and bulky to use as a normal drill easily. It's hard to get them into small areas or for working up next to walls.
If you never used a hammer drill than you have no idea what your in for.
The violent jarring back and forth of the drill is critical to helping pulverize masonry and anything else in the way. Your arms quickly get tired when running this drill, but you are able to get tough jobs done in a fraction of the time. Check out our guide to different Welders
Hammer Drill Vs Screw Gun
Hammer drills are generally just purchased by electricians and plumbers and other contractors who need to be able to put holes in extremely durable material.
Drill Gun VS Screw Gun or Standard Drill Motors
What it is: Screw guns offer a smoothly rotating mechanism to drive screws.
Use Types: Drywall, wood, fence, everyday use
Screw guns come in a few different sizes with smaller and bigger chucks. Some are designed for specific uses like screwing in drywall.
Drywall screw gun
While a cordless drill has a chuck for holding drill bits and screw tips, drywall screw guns use a specially designed nose that helps stops the screw when you are flush with the material you are drilling into.
This specially designed nose enables you to smoothly drill hundreds of screws without error. This speeds up how quickly you can work as well as reducing the number of errors that you need to fix later.
Some of these screw guns also have a lower speed setting than a drill, which offers more control over the screws and prevents stripped heads. This makes them less suited for drilling holes that require higher RPMs.
You can find them in 3/8 size chuck with a smaller motor or ½ chuck that usually also means that they will have more power. Either of these drill will have the option of corded or cordless.
Which One Should You Buy?
For general work, a standard drill gun is the best choice. With the correct bit set you can use it to drill holes, drive screws and lag bolts and even to do some auto repairs. Impact drills will do more work but are terrible for using drill bits. An impact drill will work in most places a drill gun works. I prefer it most of the time.
Hammer drills are best for people who frequently need to drill holes through concrete and masonry. If that is not something you regularly need to do, investing in an impact driver or cordless drill is a better choice. Check out our guide to 6 different types of torque wrenches
Drywall Screw guns are the most specific tool on this list. These are good for people who need to put hundreds of screws into roof decking, subflooring or drywall. For all other jobs, you will likely want an impact driver or cordless drill.
What To Look For When Purchasing
While these devices are fairly simple, it is easy to get a poor-quality model that is frustrating to use. Here are some pointers.
What Battery Type Is Best?
Lithium-ion is currently the "gold standard" for drills. They recharge quickly and offers hours of power. They also don't lose their charge as quickly when they are not in use. Most importantly, they don't have a "memory" which causes them to lose their ability to recharge over time.
With the Nickle Cadmium and Nickle Metal Hydride batteries, they are heavier and have a major drawback: they lose their effectiveness over time. With these older battery types, it is important to use them until the battery is entirely drained before recharging them. This keeps the "memory effect" of these batteries from limiting their ability to be used later on. If you end up with this old technology don’t expect them to last more than five years.
Even if you get lithium which you should make sure to always have at least two battery’s, this way you can always have your back up either charged or on the charger.
Should You Buy A Corded Model?
Corded drills are much more powerful and more affordable, but not nearly as convenient. Say you need to put two screws in a fence board or stick a drywall anchor in for hanging a picture. Most likely your going to spend more time looking for an extention cord and getting it plugged in then the time it would take to use a battery operated drill to get it done.
I personally only use a corded drill when I need a lot of extra power. When I do a use a massive ½ drill that would never be able to operate on battery power.
For something like a hammer drill, it can be worth the added hassle of a cord. A corded model can deliver more power and allows you to get the job done more quickly.
However, for most of your drilling needs, you will not need the added power that a cord provides. While you have to invest more upfront to get a cordless model, you will save a lot of time in not having to run cables to each project on which you are working.
Additionally, most of the impact drivers are not available in a corded model.
There are many brands that used to be well-respected, but that seem to have declined over the years. Other brands have always been geared more towards the consumer market.
Even if you are purchasing the tool for consumer use, you want it to be durable and work properly when needed.
Dewalt, Rigid and Makita seem to be finding the sweet spot in durability and pricing. Their tools are affordable to the average homeowner while still offering higher-end models for the busy contractor who needs the best quality available. Beware of Ryobi tools, these are made for caual users. If your plan on using your tools much then avoid Ryobi.
The Milwaukee Fuel line is among the top of the list, but it is also is the top pricing. They offer superior power and reliability for serious trade workers.
Smaller brands like Ryobi and Craftsman tend to have a more hit-and-miss reputation and may not be the best choice for all users.
A warranty tells you nothing about the quality of the tool. Kia used to offer 10 year warranty’s on their cars. If your buying a low quality tool like Ryobi or some thing from harbor freight than don’t expect it to last a long time if you actually plan on using it often. When it comes to tools you get what you pay for. If you buy the cheap stuff make sure to add an extended warranty.
When you shop from a big store like Amazon, Home Depot, Lowes, you have an easy return policy to help protect you. Most of these businesses give you a certain number of days to return the tool is something goes wrong.
If a tool dies in the first month that you have it, it can be much easier to return a defective tool to one of these big stores instead of fighting through the warranty process.
When you shop at smaller online stores, you don't always have that guarantee.