A cordless drill used to be a poor choice as a power tool—too heavy to take up a ladder and too weak to do the job. Then batteries got better, drills got smaller, and everything got cheaper. Cordless went from just a decent alternate to a viable replacement.
Now, some seriously powerful hardware comes in a tiny package. These tools can drill and drive anything in your house—and they're small enough to stow away in a kitchen junk drawer.
Forget screws. These four 12-volt drivers can sink 3-inch drywall screws all day long. We wanted to put these tools through the most extreme jobs they're realistically going to see.
First, to test sheer hole-boring speed and ease, we broke out the 1-inch spade bits—a toolbox staple whether you're running electrical wire or putting holes in a birdhouse. This is about as big a hole as these drills can handle. The wide paddle's cutting faces clear out a ton of material, but very little metal is actually in contact with the board. This kind of bit shows what the drill can do with its thousands of RPMs. If it can handle a 1-inch spade bit, then putting an 1/8-inch twist bit through a board or a sheet of drywall is no problem.
To measure torque—and the tools' ability to drive down beefy fasteners—we went for 1/2-inch auger bits with thick flutes and threaded tips. This bit's cutting edges remain in contact with the hole walls as the drill goes deep into lumber—say, to clear a path for rebar stakes in the 4 x 4 walls of a raised garden bed. By feeling the way the tools bogged down (or didn't) as these bits bored through the lumber, you get a sense of how the drills would handle any hardware, from a fat lag bolt to a box of drywall screws.
For test material, we rounded up stock 2 x 6 and 2 x 4 boards from a lumber supply yard on the Bowery, then we hauled the stack of wood up to Gizmodo's Manhattan rooftop. All drills began the test with a full charge, and none of them died, even after two days of testing and dozens of rounds of perforation.
The Porter-Cable is not quite in the same class of tool as the other three. It's a light-duty tool, and, all in all, not a bad value for under $100.
It was consistently the slowest at punching a 1-inch spade bit hole in the 2 x 6, with times that ranged from 11.9 seconds to 18.6 seconds. The first four holes went smoothly, but by the fifth hole, it began to stall out. Annoying, sure, but this level of performance far surpassed what it did with the auger bit.
Rarely has a drill seemed as strained as the Porter-Cable, trying in vain to put that fluted bit through 2x lumber. The tool stalled and had to be backed out to restart on every hole. On one 34.8-second slog, we hit the reverse button 10 times. Constantly hitting the chintzy forward/reverse switch tires out the wrist, and a little slop between the trigger and the handle tends to pinch the index finger.
A belt clip is a nice feature, but its sharp edge can leave a dent in your palm if your second hand is gripping the butt of the tool. (The clip can be screwed free.) There's a handy LED, but no battery life indicator. The bottom line: you get what you pay for—and you should pay a little more for better.
Beginning with the Ridgid, these tools start to get incredibly capable. One drawback on this particular one is ergonomic—its handle is a good bit thicker than the rest. The perfect kitchen drawer drill should be comfortable to any user, not just the fat of fist.
As for performance, the Ridgid drilled the single fastest hole in the entire test, right out of the box—a 1-inch spade bit punch at 7.9 seconds. But after it got warmed up, it began to lock out, as if the battery had died. Once it cooled off, it was ready to go again, but the intermittent pauses continued, usually mid-hole. There is no battery life indicator, so it keeps you guessing as to whether it's dead or just overheated. Drill times never dipped below 10 seconds again after the first few sprints.
With the 1/2-inch auger bit, the Ridgid was superb. It required a little finesse—just jamming it through the board stalled it out every time—but by letting the threaded bit tip advance on its own, the drill could blaze a smooth trail through a 2 x 6 without stalling once. Finishing the hole took between 2.9 and 3.8 seconds with no pauses, and about 6.7 seconds whenever we had to throw it in reverse.
The Milwaukee was looking like a winner during the first half of the test. It has a beautiful all-metal chuck that clicks smoothly through the settings as its jaws bite firmly on a bit shank. It consistently polished off the 1-inch space bit holes in 9 to 10 seconds. There was some slight bogging down deep into the holes, but it never stalled or needed to be backed out.
But on the fluted auger, the Milwaukee fell flat. It always stalled, no matter how gently it was eased through the hole. The times suffered: 12.7 seconds with three kicks into reverse; 10.9 seconds, backing off four times; a frustrating 15.9-second drive that took five reversals. It never locked up like the Ridgid, though. The testing drained the battery to one-quarter its capacity, as indicated on the tool's fuel gauge, but it didn't die completely.
This drill can certainly handle the vast majority of household tasks, and it's a pleasure to hold and to use. But under the heaviest-duty jobs these tools could face, it comes up short.
The Bosch is like the Macbook Air of drills—light, powerful, and damn near perfect. It has the muscle to do almost everything a homeowner would need, but it's not an overbuilt brute. The spec sheet looks roughly the same as its competitors but the machine is put together in a way that just makes everything work.
On the 1-inch holes, the Bosch wasn't the fastest in the pack—it logged respectable times between 10 and 11 seconds, with one anomalous shot breaking through at 8.8 seconds. It bogged down a bit, like the Milwaukee and all the rest. But with a slender profile and a slight 2.3-pound weight, it was easy to keep a second hand planted on it to arrest the kickback and steer the bit through the boards.
The Bosch became the clear winner once it went to work with the 1/2-inch auger bit. It never stalled out. Not once. It just kept pushing through—in 3.6 seconds, 4.2 seconds, 3.4 seconds. The tool didn't require the finesse of the Ridgid to make it through in one shot, it just plowed on its own.
Last, the Bosch is also a hammer drill. Should the occasion arise to hang a wind chime in a brick wall, this one can do it. (Milwaukee makes a 12-volt hammer drill, too, but it weighs 2.8 pounds and costs $190.) The Bosch wins because, assuming there's not a kitchen renovation underway, it's basically impossible to imagine a household task it couldn't handle.