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How to buy the best cordless drill

What to look for when it comes to choosing the right tool for the job.

red cordless drill screws and safety glasses

A cordless drill is a must-have tool for the dedicated DIY-er or tradesperson. You'll want one with lots of power and torque for drilling and screw-driving into a range of materials, a battery pack (or two) with plenty of juice, and useful features such as multiple gear and speed settings.

Remember, don't focus on the bargain when it comes to buying what should be one of the most important parts of your DIY arsenal.


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Types of drill

There are two main types of drills: the drill/driver and the hammer drill.

  • Drill/drivers are used for drilling holes and driving screws into timber, metal or plastic. This is the most popular type and it's what we review.
  • Hammer drills do the same but also have a hammer setting that rocks the drill bit in and out for drilling into masonry (brick, stone and concrete). They tend to be a bit heavier than drill/drivers.

Other types you'll see in the hardware shop are:

  • Rotary hammers: essentially a heavy-duty version of the hammer drill and mostly used by tradies.
  • Impact drivers: designed specifically for driving screws or loosening bolts.

Some people keep two drills, one for drilling and one for driving, as many projects involve both tasks. Many brands offer kits that include a drill/driver and an impact driver for this reason, or other combinations such as drill/driver and hammer drill.

Battery options

Lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion) are what you'll find with almost all cordless tools these days. Older models often used nickel-cadmium batteries (NiCd), which perform well when tools are worked hard and often. However the battery composition is much more toxic and less environmentally friendly than lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion), which are as good if not better at delivering high-range power over the life of the battery. 

As we all know, the one time you want to do a job quickly is the time you realise the battery in the drill is dead, so a second battery makes a lot of sense. As with many tools, it's a lot less expensive to buy a kit with two batteries rather than trying to buy an extra battery separately later on.

Battery capacity is measured in ampere hours (Ah). A large capacity battery (such as 5Ah or more) will generally run much longer than a smaller capacity, though our tests show this isn't always the case.

Battery voltage – measured in volts (V), of course – is a guide to the power you can expect from the drill. Generally, the higher the voltage, the better the torque, though again our tests show that there's a lot more to performance than just the voltage. We find 18V drills vary a lot in their torque and drilling performance.

Chuck size

Chuck who? The chuck is the part at the end where the drill bit goes. Usually you'll need a 13mm chuck to accommodate larger drill bits. Smaller and cheaper drills often only have 10mm chucks, which might be enough if you're looking at nothing more than drilling in some small holes to hang pictures.

You also want a keyless chuck, so you can loosen and tighten it by hand without having to worry about finding the chuck key. Pretty much all drills have keyless chucks these days.

Reversible direction

Essential for removing screws from timber or other material. The rotation button or switch should be reachable with your thumb or forefinger without changing your grip.

Trigger/speed control

This should be easy to operate and give good variable control, from barely rotating to full speed. Good control at low speed is particularly important when trying to start a screw, or drilling on surfaces that don't provide good adhesion or friction, such as tiles and metal.

A range of gears will help you get the best results for different tasks. Low gear is for slow, powerful drilling, such as with a wide-diameter bit, drilling through steel or driving screws. High gear is for fast drilling, such as with small-diameter bits.

Clutch or torque selector

This stops you overdriving or snapping a screw. The clutch should slip when the torque on the screw gets too high, stopping the drill head from turning, so a wide range of clutch settings is useful.

Work light

You'd be surprised at how handy an onboard light can be, as you'll often find yourself working in small, cramped areas with poor lighting.