Cordless drills 101 with DIY expert Jo Behari
What are the most commonly used types of cordless drill for DIY?
“There are four main types of cordless drill. The most basic is the drill driver, a lighter-weight tool that’s intended only for driving screws into wood and making holes in wood and metal. You might just about get away with using it with plasterboard, too. This drill doesn’t have a lot of power, so it’s best-suited to lightweight tasks.
The step up from the drill driver is the hammer drill. This drill has a mechanism which allows the drill to move back and forth in a hammer-like motion, which is needed for drilling into harder materials like brickwork, blockwork and other types of masonry.
The combi drill is a combination of drill driver and hammer drill in one tool. This is the drill I would recommend to most first-time buyers, as the driver and hammer actions are both likely to come in handy. You can switch between them by turning the chuck, which will usually be marked with a hammer symbol.
The final step up is the SDS drill, which will allow you to get through very solid materials including reinforced concrete. This type of drill isn’t relevant for a lot of DIYers, and is perhaps something you’d be more likely to hire rather than buy. However, what I would say is that in some newer-builds, if you want to drill into the ceiling, you might find you need this sort of drill, as concrete blocks and rebar are often used in these properties.”
Which factors are most important when shopping for a drill?
“There’s a lot of info out there about drills, and it can be quite overwhelming. The average DIYer who will use their drill, say, 10 times a year, should be looking for a mid-range drill, in the region of £80-120. Anything less means plastic parts and a drill that’s likely to break. A lot of companies now sell blank tools, with the battery and charger sold separately. In these cases the battery will often work with the same brand’s other drills, and tools of other kinds from their range. This is something to bear in mind if you plan on buying lots of tools, as buying blank tools and just one of two interchangeable batteries can save you money.
Another factor to look at is brushed vs. brushless. Brushed drill motors have components made of carbon, while in brushless motors the equivalent parts are made of magnets, which generate the power. For the average DIYer, a brushed tool is fine; but if you’re investing in a tool to use long-term, a brushless model will last longer, as their parts generate less friction.”
What are your top tips for cordless drill care and maintenance?
“One bad habit which a lot of people have is using their drill with the bit in, then putting the drill down and standing it on its battery. If you’ve done this and the drill then falls forward, you’re likely to damage the bit, and possibly your floor as well. So, lay your drill on its side when you’re taking a break from drilling.
Also, look after your batteries. I suggest you get two: one to have on charge, and the one you’re using, so you don’t have to stop and wait for a battery to recharge while you’re in the middle of a job. Depending on the type of battery (most are lithium-ion these days), your batteries might react badly if you leave them on charge for a very long time. So, try to remember to unplug them as soon as they’re charged up.
You don’t have to clean your drill itself very often, but you really do need to take care of your drill bits. They are the thing that will help get through the walls. It’s worth buying drill bits separately to your drill – even if the drill comes with bits bundled in – and going for a mid-range option. The right bits can go through hard materials like a knife through butter.”
Jo Behari’s latest book, Beginner’s Guide to DIY and Home Repair: Essential Techniques for the First Timer, is available from Amazon.
ES Best cordless drill reviews
Bosch AdvancedImpact 18 with 2 Batteries and 3 Attachments
We found the AdvancedImpact 18 extremely well-equipped for drilling, hammer-drilling and screwdriving with a range of materials. When used in screwdriver mode, the drill could winkle out really firmly embedded screws with relative ease, which really sets it apart from the other drills we’ve tested.
Every detail of this drill is exquisite. Even the noise it makes is pleasant – it sounds almost musical, as if the pitch of every speed setting activated by the variable speed trigger has been engineered to be easy on the ear.
Yes, it’s more than a little expensive, but the Bosch AdvancedImpact 18 is a drill we are confident in recommending as an investment for the long-term. If you have lots of work to get done, this would be an excellent choice of drill to help you do it.
Ryobi R18PDBL-0 ONE+ Cordless Brushless 18V Percussion Drill (Body Only)
One of several excellent combi drills in the Ryobi range, the R18PDBL is right up there with the best you can get for under £100.
It ticks all the boxes we’d expect of a classic cordless combi, including easy mode-switching with a twist of the chuck, excellent runtime from the 18V lithium-ion battery (you’ll need to buy this component separately), and impressive performance over long periods and across a variety of tasks.
You may find this drill’s hammer drill setting struggles a little when it comes up against really hard masonry, but with that one minor drawback aside, the R18PDBL is an outstanding option.
DeWalt DCH333X2 54V XR SDS Plus Hammer Drill with 2 x 9.0ah Li-ion FlexVolt Batteries
We couldn’t help but feel a slight frisson of “we really shouldn’t be allowed near this thing” while using the DeWalt DCH333X2.
This is an extremely advanced, grievously expensive tool that goes far beyond the average DIYer’s needs. It is one of only a few cordless power tools we’ve encountered that produces power comparable to that of a professional-quality mains-powered tool, and this opens up a vast array of uses around the home that most drills simply can’t handle. In our testing, we used the DCH333X2 to drill pristine holes in a concrete block, then switched to the drill’s hammer setting to knock the same block into pieces. It performed both tasks exceptionally well.
Most people reading this article wouldn’t dream of buying a drill so dear as this. However, there will be a brave few among you who are gearing up for a major renovation project requiring extensive construction and demolition work, and a few others who may be blessed with a structure made of devilishly hard materials. If that sounds like you, the DeWalt DCH333X2 could well be the drill to help you get that job of a lifetime done.
Ryobi RAD1801M Right Angle Drill 18V (Body Only)
This unusual drill is designed especially for drilling and screwdriving in hard-to-reach areas.
Our tester found the RAD1801M particularly helpful when screwing shelves down into supporting battens in a small cupboard. This is one of many tight scrapes this cleverly designed right-angle drill could help get a DIYer out of. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem the most essential of tools – but this perspective quickly changes when you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get your regular combi drill aligned with whatever you’re drilling into.
The usefulness of the RAD1801M goes beyond working in tight spaces. We also found that it gave us far better visibility of the work we’re doing than would have been the case with an ordinary combi drill, where the body of the tool tends to get in the way. This helped us drill straight and accurately.
Understandably, given its design, this drill does not have a hammer drill mode, so do bear in mind that it is intended mainly for driving screws, or drilling into wood or metal.
Bosch EasyImpact 12 Cordless Combi Drill with 2 Batteries
Could this be the handiest combo drill of them all? The Bosch EasyImpact 12 is a wonderfully accessible drill that instantly puts a lot of capability into the hands of DIY novices and experts alike. Switching between hammer, drill and screwdriver modes is uniquely simple, thanks to an eye-catching mode indicator on the top of the drill. We found the EasyImpact 12’s drilling and hammer-drilling capabilities to be extremely impressive considering its size and specifications.
The inclusion of two rechargeable batteries ensures this drill can be used for long periods without running out of juice.
Blaupunkt CD3000 Cordless Compact Drill Screwdriver
The Blaupunkt CD3000 would make a fine choice for users taking on relatively low-intensity DIY projects, or those who favour ease-of-use over power and feature-richness.
With 17 torque positions to choose from for screwdriving, plus a full-power drill mode indicated with a self-explanatory symbol, this drill is suitable for working with wood, metal, and in some cases, plasterboard. In our testing, it drilled neat holes in wood and thin sheets of metal without any problems whatsoever, albeit not so quickly as some of the more powerful and expensive drills we’ve tested.
Even with its battery inserted into the handle, this drill is pleasingly lightweight. This really helped us to drill accurately, with a steady arm, over long periods.
The CD3000 comes in a lightweight hardcase that makes it a pleasure to store. If you plan on buying this drill, do bear in mind that it does not have a hammer drill mode for doing really heavy work, such as drilling holes in masonry.
Erbauer EXT 18V Brushless Hammer Drill ERH18-Li (Body only)
Effective, user-friendly and characteristically comfy to hold, the ERH18-Li is one of many hits from Erbauer’s EXT 18V range.
Above all, this is an exceptionally versatile drill. We were impressed with the chisel and chisel rotation modes, which were ideally suited for taking up old tiles off the floor – a key use for this type of drill. The hammer and rotary drill modes proved effective too, and were only bested in terms of effectiveness by the DeWalt DCH333X2 and the Bosch AdvancedImpact 18, both of which are premium products with premium price tags.
For users who have an average amount of work to do, but who just so happen to have some very hard materials that need drilling into, we reckon this drill could be the ideal solution.