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Your guide to buying power drills

Buying guide to power drills

Essential for so many projects, power drills give quick results with minimum effort. Discover what type of drill works for the jobs you do.

Make your DIY life easy with the Homebase range of power drills.

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Yes, they're here to make light work of drilling holes but drills these days have lots of extra features and functions - including hammer action, variable speed control and even gears. So it's worth knowing more about what they can do before you choose.

Cordless or corded?

If you're new to DIY, a cordless power drill with rechargeable battery may be the best for you. They're less powerful than corded drills, but they're lightweight, easy to handle and safe, and can be used almost anywhere. And for long jobs, a second/spare battery or a quick charge function mean you won't lose any time. If you're more experienced, you might appreciate the extra power and torque of a corded power drill. These mains-powered drills are perfect for more demanding jobs and frequent use. They also offer features not on most cordless models.

Cordless advantages

  • Flexible and convenient - cordless power drills are great for hard to reach places, especially when you're working up ladders, in trees, in the loft or outside.
  • Can also be used as an electric screwdriver - so much easier than putting in or removing screws with a manual screwdriver.
  • No trailing flex to get in the way, so safer to work with.
  • Lightweight and easy to handle.

 

Cordless disadvantages

  • You must remember to charge the battery!
  • They don't have as much oomph as corded models and may run out of power midway through a project.
  • Some models aren't ideal for drilling through masonry.

 

Corded advantages

  • More oomph.
  • Continuous power when you need it.
  • Greater power and torque.

 

Corded disadvantages

  • The cord can be restrictive and sometimes you'll need an extension cable when working further away from your power source.
  • Often heavier than cordless models.

Battery type

Lithium Ion batteries are the same technology that is used in mobile phones, their advantage being that they are smaller and lighter than traditional Ni Cad batteries.

Lithium Ion batteries also hold their charge for longer meaning they need less frequent charging between jobs.

Ni Cad batteries are bulkier and heavier, but tend to be a cheaper option if cost is an important factor in your buying decision.

Power rating

For cordless drills, the higher the voltage the more powerful the drill. (Voltages range from 7.2v to 24v.) A higher voltage drill delivers more power, so you'll finish the job faster. A higher voltage also usually means a heavier battery.

But a bigger battery doesn't necessarily mean the drill works for longer. A 9.6v battery might operate as long as an 18v battery before it needs recharging. Importantly, though, the higher voltage drill will get through more work in that time.

For corded power drills, it's all about wattage. A higher wattage gives more power for heavier tasks and the drill can work for longer without the risk of overheating.

Generally, the higher the voltage or wattage, the higher the price of the drill.

Chuck type and size

The chuck is the part that holds the drill bit securely in place. There are three main types: keyless, key-operated and SDS. Chuck capacity dictates the largest size of bit or other accessory a power drill can take (though the maximum diameter of hole that can be drilled may be larger). A minimum of 10mm is fine for most purposes.

Keyless chucks

Most drills come with a standard 13mm chuck, which allows you to change the drill and screwdriver bits quickly and easily without using a special key to release and tighten them. This is really useful if your job involves frequent bit changing.

Key-operated

These drills are tightened using a locking chuck key. Changing a bit takes a little longer but it can be more tightly locked in place, which prevents bit slippage when you're drilling through hard materials. Chuck keys can easily get lost - beware!

SDS chuck

This is a quick-locking keyless bit system for higher specification models. It's designed for drilling into hard materials such as concrete.

Gears and torque

The gears in a drill transmit power from the motor to the chuck and drill bit. Different gears let you do different things better. For general drilling, one gear is fine. The simplest and cheapest drills usually have just one.

If you want to use your power drill as a screwdriver, it's worth paying extra for the second gear. The first gear offers greater torque (twisting force) at lower speeds - so you have greater control of the drill when driving screws. The second gear is for drilling with a lower torque but a higher speed.

Most power drills come with torque settings. These are good for tackling the materials most amateur DIYers will come across. They'll also have a reverse gear for undoing screws or freeing stuck drill bits.

Variable speed

Single-speed, low-end power drills aren't so much use when you're dealing with materials of differing toughness. More versatile is a variable speed control - you can match the speed to the job and to the material you're working on. The speed of a drill (measured in RPM - revolutions per minute) is important for overall performance. To be really accurate, start drilling slowly and gradually increase the speed by squeezing the trigger harder. Drills with 'fast stop' will stop quickly when the trigger is released. This gives you greater control, making for a neater result.

Hammer action

Many drills now come with a hammer action setting for drilling into heavier and harder materials such as masonry. Your drilling is made easier by the simultaneous striking action of 10,000 beats per minute or more. For hammer work, you'll need toughened tungsten carbide tipped (TCT) masonry bits.

Before you buy

  • Pick up the power drill and check you can lift it comfortably. Too heavy and you may struggle when drilling overhead. Too light and it may be unable to cope with more demanding tasks.
  • Check if the handle is comfortable (especially if you're left-handed). A rubberised or 'soft grip' anti-slip handle gives you a better hold.
  • T-shaped handles are usually easier and more comfortable to use because the battery is centred and the drill feels more balanced.
  • What's the battery life? How long does the battery take to recharge and does it have a one-hour fast charge feature?
  • Is it possible to buy an additional battery? Are the batteries interchangeable with other power tools of the same brand?
  • Does the drill come with useful extras such as carry case, drills and accessories?
  • How long is the guarantee?

 

You have a huge choice of extra features but here are some of the most practical:

  • Magnetic surface on the top of the drill for holding small drill bits, screwdriver bits or screws.
  • Integrated spirit level - useful for drilling accurately.
  • Automatic shaft arresting - the spindle automatically locks into place when the drill is off, making it easier to turn the chuck.
  • Front secondary handle to give extra control for steadying the drill.
  • Depth stop for drilling to a predetermined depth (for example, when using a wall plug).
  • Lock on button for greater comfort and ease during lengthy drilling.
  • Moveable 180 degree head gives you greater access for driving and drilling.

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