Are you a person who likes to do your own home repairs? Then you may be ready to don the proper tool belt of the advanced do-it-yourselfer. You can save thousands of dollars on common household fixes and even learn how to remodel that stodgy old kitchen or wrecked rec room on a budget.
One of the most popular, and necessary, tools is the drill. Drills are useful for much more than just, well, drilling. With the appropriate bits, drills can drive or remove screws and bolts, cut with a saw blade, sand with a drum sander bit, polish with a wire brush, and much more. There's a drill for every DIY task, from light work such as screwing through pine lumber, to the home crafter's model capable of taking on a number of tasks.
Keep an Eye Out for Key Features
There are a number of features found (or not found) on drills that can make a big difference in their appropriateness for your purposes, including:
- The Size of the Chuck: The chuck is the part of the drill that holds the drill bit in place. Drill chucks typically come in one of three sizes: 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2". The larger the chuck, the sturdier the drill bits, and the greater variety of other attachments the drill can handle. The smallest chuck is normally found on less expensive home models, and the largest is designed for professional use. The handy householder would probably be happy with the 3/8" model.
- Keyed vs. Keyless: If you've used a drill before, you may be familiar with a key: a ribbed piece of metal that meshes with the ribs on outside of the chuck to open, close, and secure the chuck around the bit. Keys tend to have a way of getting lost, most often when in the middle of a project. Today, most drills use a keyless chuck system, allowing you to change drill bits with your bare hands.
- Adjustable Clutch: If you drive a screw into drywall with the same torque you use for masonry, you can easily leave a pit the size of a quarter in your drywall. An adjustable clutch allows you to match the power with which you drill or screw to the strength of the material you are working with.
- Type of Handle: Some drills look like a pistol, with the trigger at the back end. Others are T-shaped, with the trigger midpoint in the drill. The latter makes for a more balanced drill, while the former allows you to put more force behind the drill. For general use, most handymen favor the T-handle.
- Side handle: Some drill models include a second handle that attaches at right angles to the drill body, allowing you a two-handed grip, which is very useful in heavy or delicate operations.
- Built-in LED light: A light that shines directly on the drilling operation is a simple but extremely useful feature.
- Reverse Capabilities: Most every drill today offers reversing action, invaluable when removing screws.
The Great Corded Debate
The most important decision you'll face in choosing a drill, however, is corded vs. cordless. You may find both corded or cordless drills sometimes rated by torque, or the amount of rotational power exerted on the drill bit. The higher the torque the better. However, there are no industry standards for this measurement, so take it with a grain of salt.
A corded drill is typically more powerful, but most importantly, can run all day with no danger of running out of juice. Corded drills are measured in amperes; the more amps the drill will pull, the more powerful the motor. Corded drills are usually less expensive than cordless models, too. (Be sure to factor in the cost of the extension cord, though.)
A cordless drill has the obvious advantage of portability. No need to struggle with 50 feet of extension cord (that if you're me inevitably gets wrapped like a python around mine or the ladder's legs). Cordless drills are measured by voltage; the higher the voltage, the more powerful the drill. Most cordless drills fall in the range of 7.4 volts and 24 volts. When dealing with a cordless drill, the battery is a crucial part of the device. If you plan to use your drill often, consider buying a second battery to swap out; many kits even include two batteries (though some cordless drills are sold "naked", without any batteries.) It could cost you as much as the drill did to buy the battery separately. Also, look for a smart charger that can do the job of recharging your drill battery in an hour or less, rather than the standard 3- to 5-hour recharge. A battery charge is also helpful in indicating when your battery is about to discharge completely.
There are a couple of common types of batteries for drills. The Lithium-ion battery (Li-ion) holds a charge better than older nickel-cadmium (NiCd) ones, and are greener, too as cadmium is toxic. A couple of caveats, however: Consumer Reports' tests of Li-ion batteries found that, if allowed to drain completely, they do not take a complete recharge.
Five Sweet Drill Deals to Get You Started:
The Black & Decker 7.3-volt Cordless Drill ($17.88 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $9) from Amazon is a beginner's model with a 7.2-volt integrated battery, a 2-speed keyless chuck, a T-handle design, and a fan-cooled motor. It's great for very light household work, and you can't argue with the price.
The Bosch 6.3-amp 3/8" Corded Drill ($55.24 with free shipping, a low by $3) from Amazon weighs only 3.4 lbs., has a keyless chuck, operates at up to 2500 rpm, and is made with ball-bearing construction. If you like a corded model, this might suit your household needs well.
At Amazon, the moderately-priced Black & Decker 12-volt 3/8" Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill ($43.87 with free shipping, a low by $10) fits the bill for the homeowner who uses his or her drill for a variety of tasks and favors a cordless model. It has a 12-volt lithium-ion battery, a 3/8" chuck, an 11-position clutch, a T-handle, and an LED work light.
The refurbished Hitachi 18-volt Compact Pro Lithium-Ion Driver Drill ($118.99 with free shipping, a low by $1) — which comes with a 1-year Hitachi warranty from Overstock — is a professional-grade tool. With over 460 pound-inches of torque, it has a 22-settings clutch, keyless metal chuck, and an LED light. This kit also includes two batteries, a charger, and a carrying case.
The Porter-Cable 6.5-amp 1/2" Hammer Drill ($67.99 with free shipping, a low by $9) features a pistol grip with side handle, two speed ranges up to 3,000 rpm, and pulses up to 51,000 beats per minute, allowing it to be used on even thin-gauge metal.
A good drill is an essential part of any handyman's kit, and as you can see from the bargains above, the right drill doesn't need to break the bank. Keep an eye on this page for future drill deals, or set up an email alert to find out as soon as we list them on the site.
Front photo credit: Power Tools and Offerings