Guide to Choosing a Power Drill

An essential part of any toolkit, power drills are an incredibly versatile piece of kit that allow you to carry out a whole host of different home improvement jobs quickly and easily.

There are several different kinds of power drill to choose from depending on the kind of job and the materials you’ll be working with, so it’s important that you know the type of drill you need before beginning any project.

What are the different drills used for?

There are three main types of drill to choose from that all have different purposes:

Drill Drivers

Drill drivers are the most common kind of power drill, suitable for rotary drilling and screw-driving. They’re best suited to drilling softer materials like wood, internal walls, thin metal and plastic but they can easily be adapted to work with other materials by using different drill bits.

Combi Drills

As well as traditional rotary drilling and screw-driving, combi models also feature a hammer drilling setting that allows them to work on harder surfaces, such as concrete. Hammer mode goes further than rotary drilling as the tungsten carbide-tipped (TCT) drill bit hammers the material thousands of times per minute, helping the bit to push through tougher materials. With three modes to choose from, combi drills are an extremely versatile tool that’s perfect for ambitious DIYers or experts.

SDS & Hammer Drills

SDS drills (aka rotary hammer drills) are the next step up from combi drills, ideal for use with masonry and thick concrete thanks to their hammer mode. If you need to drill through softer materials, you can opt to use just the rotary drill without the hammer mode or, if required, you can turn off the rotation setting and use a special bit to turn the SDS drill into a powerful chisel.

Hammer drills (aka percussion drills) are almost identical to SDS drills, having been designed for use with rock or stone. However, you cannot use the hammer function without rotation, making chiselling impossible. The sheer strength of the SDS and hammer drills make them far bulkier and trickier to use than combi or drill drivers.

What type of drill do I need?

So now you know that whether you’re drilling holes to hang up a new picture or carrying out a large-scale renovation involving stone and metal, there’s a power drill to suit you. However, before choosing a model there are several things you need to consider:

Flexibility vs Power

If you need to move freely throughout your home, or even outside, then flexibility may be more of a priority than extra power.

Cordless Drills

Complete with a rechargeable battery pack, cordless drill drivers are as powerful as they are flexible and portable. Easier to handle than their more traditional relative – the mains-powered drill – cordless models tend to be lighter which allows you to work for longer. Many cordless drills come with a second rechargeable battery that can be fully charged within an hour so that you’re always ready to go, but be aware that certain battery-powered models may stop working if you don’t use them regularly. All cordless drills include a voltage rating which tells you how much power they can deliver. Remember that a higher voltage tends to mean a heavier battery which could make operation more difficult.

Corded Drills

Corded drills are mains-powered so you never need to worry about running out of battery. This kind of drill delivers extra power and torque, allowing you to carry out heavy-duty jobs involving masonry and concrete that would be challenging with a cordless model. As a result, many SDS and hammer drills are corded to provide you with the power you need to get the job done. Pay attention to the wattage when shopping for corded versions as this tells you how powerful the drill is and how long you can use it without the risk of overheating.

Convenience vs Security

A key part of any power drill, the chuck holds the bit securely while you use the tool so it’s important to make sure that you’ve got the correct size and type for the job. The size of the chuck determines the largest bit or accessory size that you can use with the tool. Many drills include a standard 13mm chuck which suits most purposes. There are two main types of chuck:

Keyless Chucks

Most modern drills have keyless chucks which allow you to easily switch between drill and screwdriver bits as you need them. You simply loosen and tighten the chuck by hand to change the bit, however this can cause slippage if the bit isn’t secure enough. SDS drills have a special chuck which is keyless but quick-locking, keeping the bit in place during high-impact drilling and allowing you to change bits quickly and easily.

Keyed Chucks

Power drills with keyed chucks are ideal for use with harder materials as it has an extra secure grip on the drill or screwdriver bit, meaning less slippage, greater control and fewer accidents. The only downside is that it takes longer to swap from a drill bit to a driver bit than with a keyless chuck and the small keys can be easily misplaced.

Speed vs Torque

The best power drills provide you with equal control over speed and turning power, so make sure that the model you’re purchasing ticks all the right boxes.

Multiple Gears

If you’re looking for a power drill to suit driving screws as well as rotary drilling, then you should consider purchasing one with two or more gears which are much more versatile than single-geared models. The first gear is best suited to driving screws as it provides low speed but a greater twisting force (torque), ensuring that the screws are correctly and securely driven into the material. The second gear allows you to work at higher speeds but with less torque, making it better suited to rotary drilling. If your drill keeps stopping mid-use, check that you’re in the correct gear for the task.

Variable Speed Drills

The versatility of variable speed drills is also something to bear in mind when you’re in the market for a new power drill. If you need to use the drill with a range of materials varying in thickness, a variable speed drill is a great option as it allows you to easily adjust the speed, resulting in greater precision and neater results.

Torque Settings

Something to consider is that cordless drills include a variety of torque settings – allowing you to select the twisting force – which prevents over-tightening and screw damage while also making driving screws far easier. For larger screws, you should use higher torque and a lower speed. If you’re unsure of what level of torque you require for a certain material, start with a low to medium setting and slowly increase as needed. With the correct torque setting, the clutch will turn off the motor when the screw is level with the surface you’re driving it into. If the torque is in the wrong setting, the drill will tighten the screw until it senses a slight tension, then it will stop and start clicking rapidly.

So, now you know the elements you should look for when purchasing a power drill. If you need advice on how to use your brand-new drill, be sure to check out our handy step-by-step guide.