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The Best Cordless Drills for Woodworking and Construction

Even the most basic tool kit should include a cordless drill to help you do carpentry projects and repair things around the house (and maybe your car too). The same tool is also called a drill driver, because it’s as likely to drive screws as it is to drill holes. Compatible with accessories such as a doweling jig and a pocket screw guide, it’s also useful for building furniture and cabinets. Of all the workshop innovations in the last 30 years, the cordless drill ranks right up there with the best of them. For most of us, the tool is indispensable.

Check out quick info below on the five best drills from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews of these and other top-performing models.


Selecting the Right Drill

To build a deck and to do construction and remodeling, select a tool that is at least 18 volts. Cordless drills range from 18 to 40 volts; higher-voltage tools are heavier and more tiring to use but far more effective at drilling large holes or driving large screws. And that effectiveness becomes more apparent when you drill through thick sections of lumber or steel. Select a battery with more amp hours (Ah) for longer run time. Batteries typically run from 2 Ah up to 6 Ah. Again, the tradeoff for more run time is weight. Select a full-size tool over a smaller and lighter subcompact model to do heavier work. A subcompact drill is more nimble, however, than a full size tool. Thus, it’s less tiring to use when it comes to small projects like hanging window and shelf hardware or assembling furniture. Using such a tool, you may find that you get done sooner.

cordless drill testing

Lakota Gambill

Some cordless drills come with a side handle that you can attach and remove as needed. If you plan a heavy construction project with the tool, this side handle will help you steady the drill with less fatigue and more control, should the tool bind in mid hole and kick back.

If you plan to drill into masonry (brick, concrete, mortar, stone, pavers), you need a drill with a hammer option. This is a mechanism that imparts a percussion action to the drill as the bit rotates, helping a carbide-tip masonry bit to chip away material as it turns.

Finally, look at the specs and package. Does the drill come by itself, without a battery and a charger, or does it come with one or two batteries, a charger, and maybe a carrying case? For a bit more money, some drills have a rapid charger that quickly replenishes the battery to partial charge in minutes. This can help you finish a project a little quicker than you might be able to otherwise

How We Tested

To test each tool, we made 25 holes through Douglas fir 2 x 8 (Grade: “No. 2 and Better”) using a sharp one-inch-wide Speedbor spade bit—the classic design without a lead screw, easily resharpened with a single-cut metal file. Next, we drove 25 lag screws. Each screw was ¼-inch diameter and two inches long. Then we backed each screw out. After that we went back to drilling holes with the spade bit until the tool’s thermal overload circuit prevented drilling. After letting the battery and the drill cool off for 15 minutes, we continued hole drilling until the battery died. In the course of this test, we drilled 1,510 holes and drove 375 lag screws.

cordless drill testing

Lakota Gambill

cordless drill testing

Lakota Gambill

There’s no mistaking that this is a hard test. It takes lots of torque to send a one-inch-wide spade bit through Douglas fir framing lumber, particularly at the bottom of the hole where maximum friction occurs. And, yes, the test does favor larger, heavy-duty tools, particularly those that are pro-grade. Still, it allowed us to discern which subcompact tools and homeowner-grade models could turn in surprisingly spunky performances.


―ENTRY-LEVEL―

Bauer 1991C-B

Volts: 20 | Total holes drilled: 69

This Bauer is a DIY-level drill from Harbor Freight that is stubbornly persistent. It won’t punch a one-inch-diameter hole rapidly or easily–certainly not in comparison with many other tools in this test. Still, it did manage to work its way through each hole, eventually racking up a respectable number when paired with a 5-Ah battery. As a screwdriver, it put in 25 lag screws without trouble and backed them out. We found its optimal performance in lag driving was when we set its speed selector switch to two (the highest speed) and the clutch ring to 21, attaining maximum driving torque before the clutch disengaged the motor and drivetrain. What’s more, those clutch and speed control switches are both easy to adjust. Icing on the cake: The Bauer has a well-shaped grip and a bright work light.


―AMERICAN-MADE―

Craftsman CMCD721

Volts: 20 | Total holes drilled: 48

CMCD721

  • American-made
  • Decent performance
  • Battery latch is a bit stiff

We live in an era where “made in America” tends to be more the exception than the rule. So it was a distinct pleasure to open the Craftsman box and slide out a neatly sewed tool bag bearing an American-made drill driver with two batteries and a charger. It was even more pleasant to use the tool. It churned through 48 holes. That’s 24 holes per Ah of battery capacity, a respectable efficiency. Its light weight, high torque, comfortable control surfaces (such as its handle, switches, and chuck), and its hole-drilling performance all combine to make this not only a good buy in the power tool market, but a power tool worthy to identify itself as made here.


―POWERFUL―

DeWalt DCD999T1

Volts: 20 | Total holes drilled: 306

DCD999T1

DeWalt
amazon.com

$279.00

  • Incredible hole-drilling power
  • Three speeds for fine adjustment

Our marathon champion by a wide margin is the DeWalt. Combine a highly powerful motor with a hefty 6-Ah battery and you get outsized performance. And very efficient performance, too; the big yellow drill managed more than 50 holes per Ah. Only the 40-volt Makita was more efficient. The DeWalt features king-size torque, speed, and a lack of vibration even under severe load. It has excellent trigger response that allows you to fine tune drilling speed and breakout at the bottom of the hole or to reverse the bit and back out. The three-setting speed selector also enables this. If there’s wood, metal, or masonry and you need to put a hole in it (or lots of holes in it), the DeWalt is an excellent choice.


―TURBO MODE―

Flex FX1171T

Volts: 24 | Total holes drilled: 229

Flex, short for Flex Elektrowerkzeuge, is a German power tool company muscling its way into the American market. And when we say “muscling in,” we’re not kidding. We’ve tried a batch of these tools (drills, saws, rotary hammers and grinders) and find them to be formidable competitors in the professional segment. The FX1171T blasted out its hole allotment, helped by its turbo mode setting that bumps up the top speed from 2,000 to 2,500 rpm. Also helping was the tool’s circuitry, which has an anti-kickback feature. We can’t fully vouch for that particular feature, but we can say that we pushed this Flex very hard and noticed no kick back; the drill will pause momentarily if you really lean into it (call it a reset). You should know that this is clearly a heavy-duty tool intended for people who need maximum power and run time. The FX1171T, with a 5-Ah battery, was the heaviest of the drills (5.8 pounds). The other large-battery tools were the DeWalt (5.4 pounds) and the Makita (5.2 pounds), and these were also pro-duty, intended for either serious do-it-yourselfers or contractors. But as to the tool’s weight, we don’t count that as a mark against it. If you need this much power tool muscle you just need to have some muscle of your own.


―BEST VALUE―

Hart HPHD25

Volts: 20 | Total holes drilled: 40

We were very pleasantly surprised by the Hart’s punch-above-its-price hole-making performance. While it didn’t drill as many holes as other tools, it made each one quickly and cleanly, indicating decent torque and a solid drivetrain. You get a sense of this right at the bottom of the hole, when the bit encounters maximum wood-on-metal resistance. It still needs enough torque to break through while maintaining rpm to throw the chips out of the top of the hole. The Hart did this for each of its 40 holes. Other features that provide good value are its a hammer setting for masonry hole drilling and a sturdy side handle that bolts right through the tool body. We found the handle didn’t loosen no matter how hard we pushed the drill.


―BUDGET-FRIENDLY―

Hercules HC92B

Volts: 20 | Total holes drilled: 128

HC92B

Hercules
harborfreight.com

$59.99

  • Decent hole-drilling performance

Hercules is Harbor Freight’s contractor-duty line of tools. And its hole number attests that it is indeed contractor-duty. Note that the tool is sold bare; we reached that number with an accessory 5-Ah battery. Still, it’s a good number. We hit the drill’s thermal trip point after 68 holes (a respectable amount of hole drilling). Then it tripped again after another 14 holes, and, after letting it cool off for a few minutes, we pushed through another 44 holes, ending at one of the best numbers in the test. This is not a brushless tool, as most other pro-duty power tools are these days, but it appears that it’s heavy and solidly built (it weighs 4.4 pounds). In the lag test, the Hercules drove each fastener quickly and without stalling, another indicator of solidity and a well-built motor and drivetrain.


―FAST DRILLER―

Kobalt KXHD 1424A-03

Volts: 24 | Total holes drilled: 122

The Best Cordless Drills for Woodworking and Construction

Courtesy

The Kobalt delivered each hole like a karate chop, quickly clearing the chips from it and blasting out the bottom of the board and moving on to the next hole. It went through 52 holes that way before we reached its thermal limit. We thought it was kaput, but no; after it cooled off, the blue drill churned through another 70. With that much hole-drilling capability, we were extremely grateful for its stout steel rod handle that clamps on to the drill housing. It helps you to keep the Kobalt under control, hole after hole. Same for lag driving. We did have to be careful not to overdrive the fastener, powering it right through the board’s surface and making it ridiculously difficult to remove.


―FASTEST HOLE PUNCHER―

Makita GPH01D

Volts: 40 | Total holes drilled: 218

Makita GPH01D

$399
amazon.com

  • Outstanding speed and power

The fastest in this test was the Makita. Using this drill, you feel like somebody just tossed you the keys to their Ferrari. Pull its trigger (floor it, if you will), and you just burn through one hole after another until the battery is done. So long as you keep that trigger pulled, it will just churn through hole after hole. Knots don’t stop it and barely slow it down. It’s almost ridiculously fast. Okay, it didn’t bore the most holes in this test, but it did get to its number faster than anything else.

The GPH01D is first we’ve tried in Makita’s new 40-volt XGT series, power tools with 40-volt motors but batteries that are the same size as a large 18-volt. Fortunately, the tool has great control, because all that power would be useless without being able to handle it properly. Its trigger response is superb. Balancing that with its electronic speed control that maintains motor speed under load put us in the driver seat (okay, we’ll stop here with the sports car analogies). That’s helpful drilling wood, but even more important drilling steel, where it’s far more difficult to balance the variables of motor speed, bit diameter, and steel hardness and thickness.

This Makita’s engineering is masterful in other ways. Instead of a clutch ring, like a normal drill, it has electronic drive torque control. Turn a knob just above its battery to set the torque limit of the clutch to disengage the drivetrain and motor. The absence of a manual clutch ring at the front of the drill simplifies set up for drilling, driving, or hammer drilling. Three large icons (a hammer, a screw, and a drill bit) are easy to see, and this helps to quickly adjust the drill to the appropriate setting.

It should be obvious that this drill is not petite. You don’t get that much power and speed out of a drill the size of a coffee cup. Although the drill is the same size as a large 18-volt drill, it is heavier than most of its competitors. With the 2.5-Ah battery, it weighs 5.2 pounds.


―GREAT POWER-TO-WEIGHT―

Metabo-HPT DS18DBFL2

Volts: 18 | Total holes drilled: 39

DS18DBFL2S

Hitachi
amazon.com

$169.95

  • High power-to-weight ratio

Lightweight but not light on performance. That’s how we’d describe the Metabo-HPT subcompact drill. Equipped with the smallest and lightest batteries in the test (1.5 Ah), the drill with battery weighs just 3.6 pounds. You might look at the modest number of holes drilled and think it’s not particularly impressive. Think again. It’s extremely efficient with a high strength-to-weight ratio of 26 holes per amp hour of battery capacity. What the numbers don’t describe is what a pleasure this drill is to use. It bored every hole without stalling or overheating, and it drove its lag screws with equal enthusiasm.


―SMALL BUT MIGHTY―

Milwaukee 2801-21

Volts: 18 | Total holes drilled: 48

Milwaukee 2801-21P

$139.99
amazon.com

Milwaukee’s 18-volt M18 series tools are among the most widely used tools on construction sites. With this brushless subcompact drill, you can see why. It’s subcompact but not sub-performance. Weighing 3.4 pounds with a 2-Ah battery, it provides a great blend of hole-drilling and driving performance in a lightweight package; it’s easy on your wrist at the end of a long day. The tool is slim, comfortable, and well balanced, and it has a dual-latch battery design that makes it easy to take the battery off and snap a new one in. It’s one of the best battery designs we’ve used.


―KNOT BLASTER―

Ridgid R86115K

Volts: 18 | Total holes drilled: 110

R86115K

Ridgid
homedepot.com

$199.00

We marked off knots in our test lumber by drawing across the board with a square and a carpenter’s pencil and then scribbling out the areas to be sure we didn’t drill into them. When we saw how readily the Ridgid could make a hole, we didn’t really feel the need to steer clear of knots. The Ridgid made a hole, knot or no. We were particularly impressed how easily it cleared the bottom of the hole. Generally speaking, that’s where most drills run into trouble. The combination of friction and the build up of wood chips can bog down the best of drills. No problem for the Ridgid. It sailed through the bottom of the hole, the center, and the top. Its lag driving is equally good, and when we set the speed selector switch to 1 (low speed, high torque), it backed out the most stubbornly driven lag screws without a hint of difficulty.


―LIGHTEST 18-VOLT DRILL—

Ridgid R8911

Volts: 18 | Total holes drilled: 66

R8911

Ridgid
homedepot.com

$248.00

  • Lacks torque for large spade bits

The lightest 18-volt drill in our test, weighing exactly three pounds with a 2-Ah battery, this Ridgid is the kid brother of the full-size R86115K above. It’s a good power tool, but it did struggle in pushing a one-inch spade bit through Douglas fir. We have to commend the tool that it managed to get through 66 of these holes, given that it was clearly straining to do so. But massive hole-boring capacity is not the job for which this tool is built. It performs more reliably with a ½-inch spade bit in lumber and with small diameter twist drill bits (¼-inch and under) making holes in metal. We have no complaint with this power tool, or other subcompact drills, in that respect. They are small and lightweight and take up less space in your tool box. This makes them ideal for small construction jobs and repairs. If you run into trouble, you can always call in its big brother.


―STUBBORN―

Ryobi PBLHM101

Volts: 18 | Total holes drilled: 102

PBLHM101

Ryobi
homedepot.com

$179.00

  • Needs more torque for big holes made with a spade bit

To be clear, we call this a stubborn drill lovingly. The PBLHM101 is a competent maker of holes and driver of screws, even if it seemed to lack the hole-clearing torque of the full size Ridgid R86115K. To qualify that statement, we’ll say this: It’s fairly easy for a drill to make a one-inch-diameter hole through ¾-inch thick white pine. But at the bottom of a 1.5-inch-deep hole in Douglas fir, just before the bit punches through, that’s where the trouble starts. That’s why we use that test, frankly. Many drills will stall there. The Ryobi did, too. The good news is that it also has a strong-headedness to it that allows it to persevere, hole after hole. It kept going and didn’t shut off due to thermal overload. In the end, that feature and a 4-Ah battery helped the tool rack up a lot of holes. We consider anything over 100 holes in this test to deserve a rating of somewhere in the pro to prosumer range of power tools. If it makes that number easily, it’s a pro tool. If it labors, it’s prosumer. There are many other features to like on the Ryobi, such as a sturdy side handle, a comfortable grip, good balance, and a lack of vibration as it goes about its work.


―GOOD FOR JOBS AROUND THE HOUSE―

Ryobi PSBHM01

Volts: 18 | Total holes drilled: 43

PSBHM01

Ryobi
homedepot.com

$89.00

  • Not suited to big holes with spade bits

The smaller of the two Ryobi drills was outclassed in the hole-making part of this test. It turned in its number, but it was a battle from the first hole to the last. The one-inch spade bit was just a little too much for it. Switch to a ½-inch bit, and it’s a different story. It did just fine. This tool is a competent consumer-grade power tool, and we like it. It doesn’t cost a fortune, drives small lag screws reliably, handles small-diameter twist drills competently, and will make small clean holes up to ¼ inch in concrete. It’s a good small drill that will handle typical small jobs around the house.


―LIGHTEST DRILL―

Skil PwrCore DL529002

Volts: 12 | Total holes drilled: 25

Skil DL529002

$77.00
walmart.com

  • Suited to small projects, not construction

The Skil PwrCore was the only 12-volt tool in the test, and it was also the lightest, weighing just 2.8 pounds with a 2-Ah battery. It’s a good little tool for small woodworking projects, repairs, and assembly. It’s not a carpentry tool in the same sense as a full size 18- or 20-volt drill. The DL529002 struggled pushing the one-inch spade bit through the framing lumber. Really, this is a tool best suited for small-diameter drill bits and driving screws into pre-drilled pilot holes. It’s also an inexpensive drill that has better-than-average features, including a rapid charger that brings a spent battery to 25 percent in five minutes. Proving, in the case of this drill, that there’s more to power tool performance than just power. Consider its weight, comfort, charger, and carrying case.


―SHORT AND SWEET―

Worx WX102L

Volts: 20 | Total holes drilled: 35

Worx WX102L

$105.65
amazon.com

  • Best suited to small jobs
  • Not made for drilling with large spade bits

This drill is part of Worx’s Nitro power tools, a line of equipment to which we’ve given high marks. Like the smaller Ryobi above, this drill also had a problem with the one-inch spade bit test in Douglas fir. That’s not surprising. But this is a likable power tool because it’s light and reasonably powerful for its size. We think it’s likely a good fit for furniture assembly, small repairs, and installation jobs like hanging closet rods and blinds. We actually like the fact that it lacks a hammer mechanism, which keeps its weight down. It’s unlikely you would need a hammer function in this class of product, and many homeowners don’t need it anyway. If you want a heavier drill with hammer action, Worx makes a Nitro version of that, too.

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