A cordless drill is a must-have tool for the dedicated DIY-er or tradesperson – and even for the casual handyperson, it's good to have it in the house for putting up pictures, craft projects, and reducing the time you spend assembling your newest IKEA find. 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.

A serious cook wouldn't think of going with a cheap set of knives, so don't focus on the bargain when it comes to buying what should be one of the most important parts of your DIY arsenal.

What to look for

Battery options

Plenty of professional models have 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 the latest lithium-ion batteries, which are now as good (if not better) at delivering high-range power over the life of the battery. While there are still a few NiCd models around, Li-ion based models have become the most popular option across all price ranges and should be your first choice.

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.

Chuck

Chuck who? The chuck is the hole at the end of the drill where you put in the drill bits. Unless you're looking at nothing more than drilling in some small holes to hang pictures, you'll need a 13mm chuck to accommodate larger drill bits. Smaller and cheaper drills often only have 10mm chucks. You also want a keyless chuck, so you can loosen and tighten it by hand without having to worry about finding the chuck key.

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.

A separate hammer setting is crucial for larger jobs where you need to drill into brick or rock. It's generally available on all but the smallest drills.

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.