By Dave Frane
My first right-angle drill was a small corded model that other carpenters were always asking to borrow. It solved a multitude of problems and was the tool of choice when I was in a bind. But in recent months two new right-angle tools have replaced that drill in my affections: a drill/driver from Milwaukee and an impact driver from Hitachi. Both are cordless and take lithium-ion batteries. They are small and light, and because of their configuration I can use them in places where other drivers won't fit.
Milwaukee 2415-21 Hitachi's right-angle impact driver (left) works well in tight quarters because it's short and narrow. The Milwaukee drill/driver (right) — shown with a stubby bit in the chuck — is good for drilling the occasional hole in locations that would be hard to get at with a larger tool.
Milwaukee's right-angle drill/driver was introduced last September and is part of the company's M12 system. It has a 3/8-inch ratcheting keyless chuck, a battery gauge, an LED light, and a large paddle-style variable-speed trigger.
Rubberized for much of its length, the 2415 is comfortable and easy to hold on to. The forward/reverse switch is centered below the trigger; if you grasp the tool low you can operate the switch without shifting your hand position. I found it more comfortable to hold the tool high and use my free hand to switch between forward and reverse.
Electronic clutch. Most drill/drivers have a mechanical clutch, but the Milwaukee has an electronic one controlled by a thumb-wheel on the back of the housing. At a predetermined level of torque, the motor stops and the LED flashes red. I dislike this clutch because it's unresponsive to fine adjustment and cannot be set low enough for delicate work. What's more, it's unpredictable: There's no feedback to tell you that it's about shut the motor down.
Fortunately the trigger is fairly responsive, so you can set the clutch to drill and control the depth-of-drive by easing off near the end. Still, it would be nice to have a decent clutch. This one is more or less worthless.
Power. To test runtime, I counted the number of 3-inch drywall screws each tool could drive per charge into solid framing. I chose 3-inch screws because driving them would not only be a reasonable test of power — it would also run the batteries down fairly quickly. The hem-fir lumber had been in my garage for a while and was very hard and dry. I performed the test more than once and with different batteries. The Milwaukee averaged about 60 screws per charge — an acceptable amount for a tool designed for intermittent use.
By today's standards, this model's torque rating — 100 inch-pounds — is low, and yet I found the tool to be reasonably powerful. It will drive 3-inch drywall screws in softwood, though 1/4-inch lags require full-depth pilot holes.
According to Milwaukee, the drill can be used with up to a one-inch spade bit. With a new one-inch bit in the tool, I drilled a series of holes through a dry 2x6. It worked, but the drill labored and the battery was depleted after seven holes. I tried the tool with smaller bits — twist drills and spade bits of up to 11/16 inch — and it worked just fine.
Hitachi's right-angle impact driver is shorter and more compact than Milwaukee's right-angle drill. It has a built-in light, a comfortable rubberized grip, and a broad flat bottom that lets you stand the tool on end, out of the way. The forward/reverse switch is next to the trigger and is operated with your thumb and forefinger.
Power. I assumed that the Hitachi driver, with its torque rating of 250 inch- pounds, would outperform the Milwaukee — not by driving more screws, but by driving them more powerfully. In fact, it drove about 50 3-inch screws per charge in the runtime test but — surprisingly — had a hard time doing it. The tool really felt like it was laboring. It worked a whole lot better with 15/8- and 2-inch drywall screws. The battery gauge is a handy addition to the Milwaukee tool, but the electronic clutch could use some work: You never know when it will kick in, and there's too much torque at the lowest setting. A mechanical clutch would be better.
Impact mechanism. While the driving power of the Hitachi was not impressive, the tool does have some advantages over the Milwaukee. Impacting reduces the tendency of the driver to cam out of the fastener in high torque applications and allows the user to ease screws and nuts to the desired depth or level of tightness. At very low levels of torque the impact mechanism does not engage, which allows the tool to run at or near 2,100 rpm — a reasonable speed for driving small self-drilling sheet-metal screws. With a maximum speed of 800 rpm, the Milwaukee is too slow to comfortably drive these fasteners.
The same was true of drilling holes: If the bit was less than 1/4 inch in diameter, the Hitachi was faster than the Milwaukee. Bits larger than that caused the impact mechanism to engage, slowing the tool to the point where it was impractical to drill holes in sheet metal or wood.
Battery: 10.8 volts; 1.5 amp-hours
Charge time: 40 minutes
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Length: 11 inches
Maximum torque: 265 inch-pounds
Speed: 0 to 2,100 rpm
Impacts per minute: 0 to 3,400
Chuck: 1/4-inch hex
Street price: $180
Includes: tool, hard case, charger, two batteries
Made in: China
Hitachi Power Tools
Battery: 12 volts; 1.4 amp-hours
Charge time: 30 minutes
Weight: 2.4 pounds
Length: 11.75 inches
Maximum torque: 100 inch-pounds
Speed: 0 to 800 rpm
Chuck: 3/8-inch ratcheting
Street price: $129
Includes: tool, soft-sided case, charger, one battery
Made in: China
Milwaukee Electric Tool
The Bottom Line
Either of these right-angle drivers would be a handy addition to a tradesman's kit. Other than the electronic clutch, I liked almost everything about the Milwaukee drill/driver. It would be a reasonable choice for the carpenter who needs to drive large screws and wants to be able to drill as well as drive.
And the Hitachi? Though small, comfortable, and very easy to control, it drives most fasteners more slowly than a drill/driver. It's a good tool for driving small to medium screws and for doing light assembly with small nuts and bolts.
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