Publication Date: January/February 2003
As both a master plumber and master electrician, I drill
more holes for pipe and wire in a day than most tradesmen might
in a week. It seems like I've got a drill in my hands most of
the day, and more often than not it's a cordless tool. Using
cordless drills improves convenience, safety, and speed for
most of my jobs, and unless I'm drilling large-diameter or very
deep holes, my cords stay in the van.
Tool manufacturers sell the most cordless drills in voltages
between 14.4 and 24. For my needs, 14.4-volt models are a
little underpowered and 24 volters seem a bit heavy, so I
tested 10 tools with batteries of 15.6, 18, and 19.2 volts. I
tested the Hilti SF 150-A and Panasonic EY6432GQKW 15.6-volt
tools. At 18 volts, I tested the Bosch 33618, Craftsman 27124,
DeWalt DW987K-2, Hitachi DS18DVB, Makita 6347DWDE, Metabo BST18
Plus, and Milwaukee 0622-24. I also tested the lone 19.2-volt
model, the Porter-Cable 9984.
I tested the tools on my jobsites and then in my shop running
some speed and duration tests. I compared each model's balance,
weight, and comfort. I also evaluated how easily I could reach
and operate the switches. But the two most important test
criteria for me were chuck quality and the number of holes I
could drill at high and low speeds.
A tool that's easy to move and position makes a big difference
over time, especially if you spend a lot of time reaching
between joists to sink holes. Tool size, handle thickness,
balance, battery exchange, and battery orientation all affect a
tool's feel. So do placement and movement of switches.
. Compact tools can feel
lighter—even if they're not—and they're easier to
maneuver and use. All the drills in this test, except the
Craftsman model, are lean and compact and roughly the same
size. The 15.6-volt Panasonic is the most compact of the bunch
and is good for tight spaces or small hands.
Another handle feature that makes a tool easier to use is a
non-slip surface. Most of the tools have comfortable non-slip
surfaces that provide a better grip. Hitachi's handle is made
up almost entirely of non-slip materials, so it's good for
gripping. Metabo's all-plastic handle has no gripping surface,
which makes it a bit tougher to hold when you're tired or if
your hands are sweaty.
Balance. Once a drill/driver
gets over 14.4 volts, battery location, orientation to the
motor housing, and handle length can affect a tool's feel and
balance. The motors on the DeWalt, Panasonic, Porter-Cable, and
Craftsman models are parallel to the horizontal battery and
each, except the Craftsman, has fine balance. The Craftsman's
balance gets thrown off by its large battery, which is way out
at the end of its long handle. The Bosch, Hilti, Hitachi,
Makita, Metabo, and Milwaukee tools cant the battery down,
creating an angle between the motor housing and battery, which
provides a little better balance for me; I find those tools
more comfortable to use.
Battery Exchange. Metabo
wins the blue ribbon for easy battery exchange. Depressing one
large button on the back of the handle with your palm releases
the battery, which then literally falls out. Nothing is easier.
Craftsman's and Milwaukee's front-slide batteries exchange
nicely, too, and Milwaukee's battery is reversible.
Porter-Cable's system is a rear slide-in that takes some
practice to get right.
The 18-volt Hitachi and 15.6-volt Hilti use long vertical
batteries. The extra-long Hitachi release tabs are
easy-to-reach and the battery slides out nicely. The short
Hilti tabs are hard to reach from underneath, so you must
access them from the rear of the tool, making battery exchange
slightly more difficult. The Panasonic, Bosch, DeWalt, and
Makita have the typical “pinch-and-pull” system
that has worked well for years.
Switches. All of the trigger
switches felt secure and solid. I prefer large triggers, which
are easier to use when wearing gloves or in awkward positions.
All but the Hitachi model provide nice oversized
The reverse switches on all the drills were located at thumb
level. The Bosch, Milwaukee, Hitachi, Craftsman, and
Porter-Cable switches are big and easy to press. The DeWalt,
Makita, and Panasonic are a little too small for my liking, but
are pretty easy to press. The Hilti switch is tapered to match
the tool body's curvature. It worked fine, but I didn't feel
like I had solid contact with it when I used it. The Metabo
switch was too far forward, making it hard to reach.
Chuck & Clutch
Chuck. Keyless chucks have
seen some serious advances in recent years. Milwaukee,
Porter-Cable, Bosch, DeWalt, Metabo, Hilti, Craftsman, and
Panasonic have chucks that easily ratchet down and lock onto
the bit. This means no more burned palms from cranking the
chuck to insert or remove a bit. Bits don't jam nearly as
easily, either. The Hitachi and Makita models still use older
designs that don't tighten and release as surely, and this
resulted in some bits jamming during the high-speed drilling
Plastic chucks can cause problems, too. I've cut raised grooves
into several of them by inadvertently drilling too close to a
proud nail head or hunk of metal. The grooves are sharp and
make tightening the chuck downright painful. The all-metal
Milwaukee and Porter-Cable chucks—the only all-metal,
ratcheting/locking chucks in the test—won't have this
problem and seem indestructible. The Bosch, DeWalt, Craftsman,
Panasonic, Hilti, and Metabo drills all have ratcheting/locking
chucks, but they aren't all metal, they're a plastic/metal
combination. The Makita and Hitachi chucks are mostly
Clutch. All the drills have
a multi-position clutch ranging from 16 positions (DeWalt) to
22 (Hitachi). Personally I don't see the need for more than six
positions. The Makita requires you to press a tiny button to
bypass the clutch for the drill position on the clutch dial. It
wasn't easy to use barehanded and was impossible to use with
gloves on. Hilti's black-on-black clutch settings are almost
impossible to see.
Drilling Capacity: High and Low
For drilling shallow holes, I use spade bits and set my drills
at high speed for fast cutting. For deeper holes in double and
triple studs or joists, the tool needs more low-end torque to
power through the material and evacuate chips from the hole.
For these holes, I switch to an auger bit and set the tool to
To determine each tool's drilling capacity in both speeds, I
put a new bit on each tool and drilled until the battery's
power delivery trailed off. In high speed I drilled holes in a
single 2x4 stud with a 1-inch spade bit. For the low-speed
test, I drilled through a double 2x4 with a 15/16-inch auger
bit. Each time I looked for the tool that drilled the most
holes on a single charge.
High Speed, Single 2x4. The 18-volt tools rule the roost for
number of holes drilled. The Bosch drilled so many
holes—79—I couldn't believe it, so I recounted
them. The Milwaukee tore through 89 holes and I wondered if its
battery was nuclear instead of Nicad. Porter-Cable's 19.2-volt
drill, at 74 holes, did great too. Each of these tools cut
quickly and smoothly, and they didn't feel like they were
jumping out of my hand when the going got rough.
The DeWalt drilled 68 holes but was the fastest of the group.
Makita came in close behind at 64. The Craftsman made it
through 56, and Metabo's bottomed out at 50. The Panasonic
tool, at 15.6 volts, drilled 45 holes, but heated up
noticeably. Hilti's 15.6-volt tool drilled 43 holes, and
Hitachi's 18 volter knocked out 39 holes.
During this portion of the test, it became clear that the
DeWalt model is geared not just for high speed, but for really
high speed. No drill got close to this tool's 2,000 rpms, which
makes a world of difference on site. The rest of the tools' top
ends range between 1,400 and 1,700 rpms; the Bosch is the
slowest at 1,300 top-end rpms.
Low Speed, Double 2x4. When you need less speed and more torque
for deeper holes in doubled- or tripled-up framing, these
drills still deliver. This time, the Bosch sunk 40 holes while
the Porter-Cable, Milwaukee, Makita, and Metabo sunk 36,
showing great low-end torque. DeWalt muscled 34 and Craftsman
32. The 15.6-volt Panasonic and Hilti models delivered 29.
Hitachi's tool drilled 20 holes.
The Makita, Bosch, and DeWalt tools come with battery end caps
to protect the battery terminals when not in use. I wish all
the tools shipped with these; they help your battery terminals
last longer, especially if you carry bits together with the
Bosch's unit comes with a neat metal D-ring, like a carabiner,
so you can hang the tool from belt hooks like the Monster Hook
or Bigg Lugg. You also can hook right to your belt. DeWalt has
the only three-speed tool in the bunch, which enables you to
customize your speed and torque to match your work.
And a few of the tool companies actually provide good tool
boxes with their drills. My ideal storage box is made of
heavy-duty blow-molded plastic, opens easily, and has obvious
compartments for a booklet, extra bits, drill, batteries, and
charger. I also want it big enough (but not too big) to hold
the drill with a driver or short drill bit attached.
Unfortunately, I haven't seen my ideal box yet. Milwaukee and
Bosch provide tough boxes with stout clasps and include good
bit carry-alls inside. Makita and Metabo thought ahead,
allowing room to store the drill with a short auger or spade
bit attached. And while Craftsman includes a bit storage
container in its box, it could use some improvement.
Choosing a winner from this bunch is tough. My final four
include the Bosch 33618, DeWalt DW987K-2, Milwaukee 0622-24,
and Porter-Cable 9984. The Milwaukee's great power, all-metal
chuck, outstanding handle, and slick battery exchange give it
the edge in my book. Next comes Porter-Cable's 19.2-volt drill.
It's got top-notch power and, again, an all-metal chuck. The
Bosch and DeWalt models tie for third in my mind. The Bosch
tool drilled more holes than the DeWalt and has the best
low-end torque, but that's countered by DeWalt's super fast
cutting speed. Each of these tools performed so well, however,
that these distinctions are small. You can't go wrong with any
of these four tools. Following these are the Hilti 15.6-volt
tool, Metabo's 18-volt model, and Panasonic's 15.6 volter, and
then the Hitachi, Craftsman, and Makita tools.
Rex Cauldwellis a licensed contractor, master
electrician, plumber, and home inspector from Copper Hill,
Tools of the Trade has arranged with the companies in this test
to donate their tools to Habitat for Humanity.
This article is reprinted
courtesy of Tools of the Trade