Cordless drill buying guide

Choosing the right drill is an important decision.  After all, a drill is a foundational tool in any collection.  However, when you go to your local hardware store or look one up online, the options and variations are intimidating even for a seasoned professional.  Use this guide to help you make an informed decision on your next cordless power drill purchase.  

This topic is quite extensive, so I do not offer specific recommendations like other buying guides.  For those recommendations, check out the best cordless drills and the best compact drills.

Why purchase a cordless drill?

A cordless power drill can be used to hang a picture, build a table, or frame a house.  A drill can be used to make a hole, drive fasteners, polish your car, or strip away paint from your next restoration project.  There are countless applications for a power drill.  And if you’re anything like me, you will find yourself purchasing more than one.

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What to consider?

  1. Type
  2. Voltage
  3. Power
  4. Price
  5. Warranty
  6. Other


There are many different types of drills on the market.  They all were created for a specific purpose and not all are the same even within the same manufacturer.  Let’s start by taking a look at the most common types of drills for home and DIY.

  • Drill drivers – A drill driver is the most common and most versatile type of drill.  Their defining features are a chuck and a clutch.  A chuck is the adjustable front end of the drill where the drill bit is inserted.  The two most common sizes are 3/8″ and 1/2″ chucks.  Between the two, I would always go with a 1/2″ since it will accept a 3/8″ bit as well as pretty much everything else.  A clutch is a numbered collar that surrounds the chuck.  The purpose of the clutch is to control the amount of torque or power applied to what you are drilling.  If you not want to over drill into something, you can reduce the “breaking point” so that the drill stops on its own. In my experience, there is very little difference between the clutch on different drills.  And most have a clutch so it usually isn’t a significant consideration.
  • Impact driver– An impact driver is my next most used type of drill.  These are specifically designed to drill medium to large fasteners into medium to thick material.  Compared to the drill driver, they are a brute whose sole purpose is getting hard work done.  They do not drill holes well and they are not a good choice for light duty jobs.  How do they work?  Impact drivers are significantly louder than a drill driver because there is a hammer and anvil behind the chuck that repeatedly hits the bit as it spins.  So an impact drill rotates and hammers at the same time.
  • Specialty drills – There many other types of drills designed for specific purposes such as hammer drills, rotary drills, and core drills.  Your average home improvement project will not need any of them.  In fact, some drill drivers have hammer drill settings making them a one-stop shop for all your drilling needs.  They can be a great alternative to purchasing a dedicated hammer drill for light to medium duty work.  
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  • 12 volt – A 12v drill is a light duty tool.  They are great for short periods of use that do not require much torque.  Would I use a 12v to assemble a bed or furniture?  Sure.  Would I use a 12v to frame a wall or bore a hole for a cement anchor?  No way!  I think that there is a definitely place for a light duty drill.  However, I do not own one.  I opt for a compact 18v or 20v and maybe turn torque down a bit with the clutch.
  • 18 volt and 20 volt – I group these together.  I have owned and used many different 18v and 20v drills and found that there is little to no difference between the two.  The main power difference comes from the battery which we will cover shortly.
  • Other – There are other drills like 14.4v and 24v that are less common and fit a specific use case but I have yet to find myself reaching for one.


Power and performance include many factors.  For this guide, I will summarize things like speed and torque into three categories.

  • (+) Sufficient power for general purpose as a home owner.
  • (++) Enough power to perform not only home owner tasks but is able to tackle full sized projects ranging from furniture to general construction.
  • (+++) Maximum power to take one the most challenges jobs in the toughest conditions.

*It is important to keep in mind that one brand can have tools in all categories.


  • ($) Most power tools that are on the more economical side of the spectrum cost less for a reason.   But they can get the job done.  Just make sure you are using the tool for its intended purpose.
  • ($$) This is the sweat spot.  If your budget allows, always go the at least the DIY or mid-grade version.
  • ($$$) Even though you may not be a pro, you can find pro-grade tools at DIY prices.  Keep your eye out for sales and you will never regret having more power, durability, options, and durability.  Even the pros drop tools off ladders.


  • Less than 3 years – If your tool has less than a one year manufacturer warranty, I would opt for an extended store warranty.
  • More than 3 years – Anything more than a year shows that the manufacturer has confidence in their product.
  • Limited lifetime – These are tough to find but still out there.  They usually require you to register your tool within a certain time frame after purchase.  Save your receipt and act quickly.

Other Considerations

  • Batteries – Batteries will say all sorts of different things on them.  The main things you are looking for is amp hours or “AH”.  There is a lot of science around amp hours that we could get lost in.  For this guide, I will spell our some general parameters…
    • Less than 3AH – Light duty
    • 3AH to 6AH – Medium duty
    • More than 6AH – Heavy duty
  • Brushed or Brushless – If possible, always go for brushless motors.  They are more durable and last much longer.
  • Belt clips – I really enjoy the belt clips.  I use them all the time.  I am always trying to reduce the the amount of bags and holsters on my tool belt.  So when I can just hook the drill directly on the belt, it is a huge plus.
  • Bit holders – Usually these are just one little slot for a single extra bit of average length.  I use these regularly because I find my self switching back and forth between a couple bits.
  • Work light – The work light on a drill is tricky when making a decision.  For me, any light is better than no light.  I have noticed that the angle and position of some lights make them almost useless.  However, a poorly positioned light won’t stop me from purchasing a specific tool that checks all my other boxes.
  • Compact vs standard – Most brands are offering a compact or even a sub compact version of their power tools.  A compact drill performs the same functions as a standard sized drill.  However, it may not have all the same settings and less power.  
  • Kits – Many times, you can find a drill in a kit for not much more that the actual drill by itself.  Look for holiday sales or special deals that includes a battery, charger, and bag.  You can never have too many batteries, chargers, or bags.

Final thoughts

This buying guide is not an exhaustive list of technical specifications.  There are additional data points largely around power and performance that you might want to consider.  In my experience, the above factors and considerations are the most relevant for the average home buyer and DIY individual.

Make sure to review my recommendations of the best cordless drills and best compact drills in various categories and price ranges.

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