Choosing a reliable cordless drill

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There is an old saying which says something to the effect: :  No matter what you are looking to buy, you can always find a similar article for less somewhere else.

When you are looking for a cordless drill/screwdriver the number of choices and the amazingly wide range of prices and power outputs will lead to confusion in all but the most experienced users.

The difficulty for a first time buyer, or even for a second time buyer who has found the shortcomings in his/her first purchase, is, how much to spend?  what make to get? what features must you have and which don't you need.

I'll address the most important issues, but you need to be aware that the amount you are likely to use the drill/screwdriver will for many purchasers be a major determinant.

How much to spend:

If you expect to use the tool to drill soft materials, wood, plasterboard, worktops etc, plus driving normal size screws and you class yourself as an occasional user, i.e. not more than 10 times a year then £60, ($120)  is a reasonable minimum to spend. At this price point, much as I am a devoted Ebayer, I would not buy on the internet unless I could pick up the tool and examine it. Why? Well the weight of the battery will tell you a huge amount about its quality. For purposes of comparison, pick up a Dewalt battery, or a Makita battery or a Bosch one and you will find those quite weighty. Pick up a cheap one and it will be very light. The effect of this will be 1. it will run out of power quickly and 2. It will fail completely very soon, even for a casual user.

This truly is a case of pay cheap, pay twice. Don't do it. Save a few bob until you can buy a better one.

Further important items to look out for as being very beneficial are:

  1. A variable speed trigger. This allows you to start the drill or screw off very slowly using the fingers of the other hand as a guide to hold the screw steady until the tip has bitten into the surface. Now it will be okay to increase the speed by pulling the trigger more, thus upping the rotation rate. cheap screwdriver drills don't have this feature.
  2. At least 2 speed settings, preferably 3. The lowest speed will be correct for screwdriving, i.e. 0-400rpm while the higher speeds will be good for fast removal of the wood shavings coming out of the drilled hole.
  3. Hammer action. If this truly is your only drill then try to get one with a hammer action for drilling into masonry. In truth though, you should instead buy a mid-priced corded drill with hammer action. This will be cheaper and probably better for this one job. 

If you are thinking of buying a Combination drill, That is, a drill with hammer action, don't even think about one for less than £100+ for all the above reasons. People who expect their cordless drills to do good work for quite a few years will pay £250 and up. We don't pay that kind of money because we are rich, but because that is what you need to spend to ensure reliability.

One final point that's worth looking out for. There are now 3 different types of battery available on the market. Broadly, as usual, you will get what you pay for. However you should be aware of the differences:

1. Nickel Cadmium, or Ni-Cad. The cheapest and the oldest type. These are the least long lived and likely to fail the earliest. They suffer badly from a memory effect. This means, if you constantly recharge before the battery is exhausted it will come to remember that point as being the new level at which it is empty. As time goes on this empty point gets earlier and earlier and the battery will hold smaller and smaller amounts of charge.

2. Nickel Metal Hydride or NiMH. These are terrific, long lasting, and powerful. They are reputed to still have a slight memory effect, but I have never noticed it personally. I have yet to have a NiMH battery fail on me. They also provide more Torque  than any other type of battery.

3. Lithium Ion, or Li Ion. The newest type and the most expensive. They have great staying power, suffer no memory effect, and perhaps best of all they hardly lose any charge, even if you leave them in a cupboard for months, unlike the other two. A slight minus point is that an 18v NiMH drill will always have more torque than an 18v Li Ion.

There is a lot more to bear in mind when choosing a cordless drill, but everyone has to start somewhere.

If you take one lesson from the above, it should be: If you pay get monkeys.

Happy drilling.

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