Publication Date: March/April 2002
I've been a plumber and electrician so long, I could've wired
Ben Franklin's key to his kite. I plumb and wire both stick and
timber frames, and right-angle drills are perfect for my
roughing-in tasks because they fit well between joists and
studs. These brutes will drill big, deep holes in practically
anything, from bone-dry double 2x10 spruce to 1 1/8-inch-thick
OSB subfloor and rock-hard 8x8 timbers.
I tested medium-duty and heavy-duty 1/2-inch right-angle
drills. The medium-duty tools include the DeWalt DW120K, Makita
DA4000LR, Milwaukee 3107-6, and Porter-Cable 7556. The
heavy-duty units include the DeWalt DW124K, Makita DA4031, and
Milwaukee 1676-6 Hole Hawg.
I reviewed the tools' owner's manuals, tested for power, and
evaluated speed-change, balance, and feel under load. These
drills are too powerful to test in softwood, which wouldn't
have yielded useful comparison results, so I upgraded to white
oak timbers, which I frequently encounter in timber
Out of the Box
Owner's manual. I once
worked with a guy named Elvin who was drilling a ceiling joist
from a stepladder when the bit jammed. The bit stopped dead,
but the drill kept going -- and so did Elvin -- until I
unplugged it and he dropped to the floor.
When you work with tools this powerful, it's important to read
the directions. Milwaukee has the best manual in this test
group. It covers all the bits we use and warns about "reaction
torque," which is what happened to Elvin. The DeWalt manuals
provide little spec info, nor mention anything about reaction
torque. Makita's medium-duty drill manual only provides maximum
diameters for two bits, while its heavy-duty drill manual is
complete. However, both manuals are in metric. Porter-Cable's
manual covers general safety rules, bit specs, and speed
Kit box. Milwaukee and
Porter-Cable have the best kit boxes of the medium-duty group.
Both companies provide tough cases with strong handles and
clasps. Makita's is much too big for its tool. DeWalt's is made
of thin, malleable plastic and doesn't seem like it will hold
up for very long. All the heavy-duty drills boxes are good and
tough, although Makita's is unnecessarily huge.
Drilling test. Based on manufacturers' bit specifications, I
pitted all the tools against 8-inch and 15-inch white oak
timbers. For each test, I put a brand-new bit on each tool and
buried a 4 1/2-inch hole saw, a 2 9/16-inch self-feed bit, and
bored into the timbers with 1-inch and 1 1/2-inch auger
Medium-duty drills. All of these tools devoured the white oak
and all cut at nearly the same speed. Each tool easily buried
hole saws and self-feed bits, which means they'd easily cut
holes for waste lines, vents, and wires in softwood for new
construction. They'd also have no problem drilling other
materials like siding or plywood. All the tools spun the bits
in and removed them easily. Makita's was the smoothest,
quietest drill, while the Porter-Cable tool had the most power
of the bunch.
When I buried the 1 1/2-inch auger bits into a 15-inch timber,
the drills finally bogged down but I couldn't get any of them
to back out. Medium-duty drills' capture bolts can break if you
try to reverse stuck bits. If you encounter serious timber
drilling like this, you need heavy-duty units. Their gearing
mechanics make them heavier, but it's well worth the
Heavy-duty drills. These models are the Olympic drill team.
All the tools cut at the same speed but performed differently
on the 15-inch timber test. The 7.5-amp Milwaukee and 8-amp
DeWalt drills labored towards the end. But the 10-amp Makita
steamed through. It spun smoothly and quietly on the way in,
then easily spun back out. The DeWalt and Milwaukee drills had
trouble removing the auger bits.
Feel. Weight is distributed similarly on most of the
medium-duty models. They're comfortable for drilling straight
in, overhead, or sideways in stud and joist cavities. The
Porter-Cable drill, however, is longer and heavier than the
others, which makes it slightly less manageable. The heavy-duty
models have similar weight distribution, although the Milwaukee
Hole Hawg has the best balance and feel.
Trigger design and handle size impact how the medium-duty
drills feel. Makita has the best trigger; it's oversized and
parallel to the handle. Even with gloves on, you can get your
hands in there without catching the trigger and there's plenty
of room to engage the forward/reverse switch. DeWalt's small
trigger is okay, but the bottom of the handle gets smaller and
cramps big hands. Milwaukee's handle is a tight squeeze too,
especially near the trigger, which sticks out too far into the
handle space for me. The handle on Porter-Cable's drill allows
lots of room for your fingers, but the tool would benefit
nicely from a flat, oversized trigger.
Speed change. This is the
most important element separating these two types of drills. On
the heavy-duty tools, you flip a switch to change from low to
high speed. To change speed on a medium-duty unit, you have to
remove the right-angle head and flip it around, which takes
Cool stuff. Small features
like slotted chucks, detachable cords, and clutches make a big
difference with these tools. Slots in the back of the DeWalt
and Makita medium-duty drills' chucks afford mechanical
connections to the gear systems. That removes pressure off the
capture bolts when the tools are under load in reverse.
Milwaukee and Porter-Cable use a different chuck mechanism
that can put too much pressure on the capture bolts and could
cause them to break. I've snapped enough bolts to assure you
that it's possible and it isn't fun.
I wish all my tools had a power cord like Milwaukee's
Quick-Lok three-prong, replaceable power cord. Instead of
rewiring a damaged cord, you simply unplug the Quick-Lok and
buy a new one. The only three-prong cord in the bunch, it
doesn't kink in the box and stays in the receptacle better than
a standard two-prong cord.
Drilling with right-angle drills is dangerous work, which
makes the clutch an important feature. If the bit sticks in the
hole or jambs on a nail, the clutch kicks in and you don't get
hurt or lose control of the tool. The best feature on the
DeWalt DW124K drill is its clutch. It's nicely tuned and didn't
engage during any of the heavy-duty drilling tests. I think all
of these drills should have a clutch.
Overall, I like heavy-duty, direct-drive models best. They fit
in anywhere medium-duty tools do and they carry out more work.
Milwaukee's Hole Hawg is a great choice if you want a tool
that's lightweight, has good power and easy maneuverability. If
you're searching for pure power, Makita's DA4031 is the answer.
However, DeWalt's DW124K provides the best power and mobility
combination, and it has that terrific clutch.
Makita's DA4000LR is the best of the medium-duty drills. It's
powerful, runs smoothly and quietly, and has a slotted chuck. I
like DeWalt's DW120K. It's lightweight, powerful, has good
speed change, and it's got a slotted chuck. Next is Milwaukee's
3107-6, which has good power and a great cord, but lacks a
slotted chuck. Porter-Cable's 7556 is the most powerful of the
medium-duty group. However, it's the heaviest of its class,
lacks a slotted chuck, and has a difficult speed
Rex Cauldwellis a licensed contractor, master
electrician, plumber, and home inspector. He lives in Copper
Tools of the Trade
with the companies in this test to donate their tools to
Habitat for Humanity.
Thanks to Magna for supplying the self-feed bits and Lennox
for supplying the auger bits and hole saws.
This article is reprinted
courtesy of Tools of the Trade