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While car shopping, you might consider a vehicle’s power, performance, speed, and handling. The same applies if you’re in the market for a cordless drill—only instead of driving highways, you’re driving screws and holes into wood, drywall, and metal.
In the past decade cordless drills have become more versatile, powerful, lighter, and energy-efficient, thanks to advancements in lithium-ion battery technology. (The batteries often last longer and charge faster.)
“A more recent trend we’re seeing is interchangeable batteries that work among a brand’s entire suite of power tools,” says Courtney Pennicooke, CR’s market analyst for cordless drills. “So you can use the same batteries for your drill, chainsaw, and string trimmer. You can adjust the voltage to match the project you’re working on and save money by buying bare tools to complete your set.”
Whether installing a new ceiling fan or building a backyard shed, more consumers are turning to adaptable heavy-duty drills to get the job done. According to a recent CR member survey, those who own cordless drills overwhelmingly prefer heavy-duty models (18 to 20 volts or higher). Forty-two percent of members own 18-volt drills and 22 percent own 20-volt models. Two percent go all-in with drills that have 22 volts or higher.
But how much power do you really need? General-use (about 12 volts) and light-duty drills can handle most household jobs.
You know the drill. We narrowed down the field to the most widely available models and ran them through a series of tests in our cordless drill lab, where we use a device called a dynamometer that measures torque under different loads. We translated those readings into scores for power, speed, and run time. We also incorporated ratings for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction based on data from CR’s member survey. Two-thirds of cordless drill brands rate favorably for both. Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee, and Ridgid top these ratings, earning Excellent marks for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. Chicago Electric Power Tools sits on the opposite end of the spectrum, rating only Fair for reliability and Poor for owner satisfaction.
CR’s take: This 12-volt drill is one of only three models in the general-use category with a brushless motor. That means the Bosch PS32-02 can deliver a tad more power than if it used a traditional “brushed” motor. It also means it will run longer on a charge and may have a longer life span. The Bosch is highly rated for handling. Weighing in at only 2 pounds, it’s less than half the weight of a number of heavy-duty drills we tested. The slim pistol-grip profile makes it easy to wield but also prevents it from standing upright when not in use. The compact size lets you maneuver the drill into the most awkward of positions and accommodates a built-in LED light and bit storage. Based on data from our member survey, Bosch cordless drills are in the top tier for reliability and owner satisfaction.
What’s included: Two 2-amp-hour batteries, five bits, a belt hook, a soft-sided case, and a three-year warranty.
CR’s take: This 12-volt general-use drill is light enough that you won’t tire when swapping out an overhead light fixture but forceful enough to bore holes in hardwood without bogging down. That’s what you get with a brushless motor. The DeWalt DCD701F2 ranks at the top for its power and speed scores, and its price earns it a CR Best Buy badge of honor.
What’s included: Two 2-amp-hour batteries, a belt hook, a built-in LED light, a soft-sided case, and a three-year warranty.
CR’s take: This 20-volt heavy-duty brushless DeWalt DCD991P2 is one of our best performers, snagging top ratings for power, speed, and run time. But the hefty 5-amp-hour battery that produces all that power makes this drill heavy, unbalanced, and a bit awkward to handle. At 4.7 pounds, it’s at least 1 pound heavier than most other heavy-duty drills and more than double the weight of some 12-volt models we’ve tested. Unlike most drills in our ratings, this one is equipped with three speed settings, providing a handy middle option for drilling into soft metals such as aluminum when the slow speed required for steel isn’t enough and the fast speed for wood is too much.
What’s included: Two 5-amp-hour batteries, a belt hook, an LED light, a hard-sided case, and a three-year warranty.
CR’s take: The unique Hilti SFD 2-A drill falls in our light-duty category because of the limitations of its fixed ¼-inch chuck. That’s not a problem, though, if you’re not drilling large holes. Plus, it goes for half the price of many cordless drills with similar capabilities while still proving to be reasonably powerful. A built-in LED light helps illuminate your workspace, and the drill’s modest 2.2-pound weight minimizes strain and fatigue.
What’s included: Two 2.6-amp-hour batteries, a belt hook, an LED light, a soft-sided case, and a 20-year warranty, which goes far beyond the standard three years for cordless drills.
CR’s take: This dynamo can drill fast, garnering a top rating for speed. Its performance and great price earn this compact Kobalt KXDD 1424A-03 a CR Best Buy designation. The 24-volt heavy-duty brushless drill packs the power of drills costing twice as much. Just keep in mind that it comes with a single battery instead of two, so you’ll need to buy an extra or pause projects while you charge the battery.
What’s included: One 2-amp-hour battery, a belt hook, an LED light, and a five-year warranty.
CR’s take: This general-use Makita is the third brushless model in our general-use category. It weighs just over 2 pounds and stands barely 6 inches tall. Despite its slim profile, the Makita FD07R1 aced our power test and packs a serious punch, making it a solid alternative to some of the larger 18- and 20-volt models. It doesn’t rate as well as some others for run time, but the kit comes with two batteries and a rapid charger, which tops off an empty battery in an impressive 60 minutes.
What’s included: Two 2-amp-hour batteries, a belt hook, an LED light, a hard-sided case, and a three-year warranty.
CR’s take: What this recommended 18-volt brushless Makita XFD061 lacks in power it makes up for in speed. Wallet-friendly, it aced our speed test and drills holes plenty fast. With its ½-inch chuck, the compact and well-balanced design makes it easy to handle while still maintaining the ability to tackle tough jobs. This Makita will perform well enough to serve as a tackle-any-task option for the average homeowner. Based on data from our member survey, Makita cordless drills rate Excellent in reliability and satisfaction.
What’s included: It’s sold with a lithium-ion battery and an LED work light, and has a three-year warranty.
CR’s take: If you’re looking for a lighter drill that packs the power of a full-sized model, check out the Milwaukee 2503-22. It offers the power, speed, and run time of models that are significantly bigger and heavier, weighing only 3.2 pounds. It earns top marks for handling, in part because of the pistol grip and slim battery profile.
What’s included: Two 2-amp-hour batteries, a belt hook, an LED light, a hard-sided case, and a five-year warranty.
CR’s take: Milwaukee is a favorite brand among contractors for a reason: It makes powerful tools with pros in mind. The Milwaukee 2805-22 drill is no exception. It has an astonishing amount of power, drives fasteners quickly, and offers great run time, thanks in part to large 4-amp-hour batteries that are included. The trade-off is weight. At 4.8 pounds, it’s among the heaviest models here, making it best for serious users.
What’s included: Two 4-amp-hour batteries, a belt hook, an LED light, an auxiliary handle, a plastic case, and a five-year warranty.
CR’s take: Although a bit bulky and noisy, the brushless Ridgid R86116K is more than adequate for drilling into wood, drywall, or various composite materials. Just have earplugs and two hands at the ready if your job is long. This model is one of the few high-scoring heavy-duty models under $200 in our ratings. It’s great for sinking screws, too, with Excellent speed and plenty of clutch settings to help you avoid damaging fasteners or other hardware. It even has hammer mode and an LED work light. While many 18-volt batteries take hours to reach a full charge, the battery on this drill takes only 60 minutes.
What’s included: It comes with two lithium-ion batteries, a belt hook, a case or bag for storage, and a three-year warranty.
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