If I could own just one cordless drill/driver, it would be a full-size 18-volt lithium-ion model. Priced at about $260 and up, these muscular tools ship with 3-amp-hour or larger batteries for extended runtime and weigh 4.2 to 5.5 pounds. (Their compact 18-volt cousins, by comparison, weigh 3.3 to 4 pounds and cost about $150 and up.) Armed with one of these 1/2-inch models, I can power my hole saws, midrange auger bits, or the biggest spade bits all day if necessary without pushing the limit. I can also sink long deck and structural screws when an impact driver isn't readily available.

Ideally, I'd pair this tool with a 12-volt subcompact, a category I tested for JLC several months ago ("12-Volt Drill/Drivers," 6/11). Subcompacts weigh just 2.6 pounds or less and can ride in a toolbelt or a pocket, yet can repetitively drill holes up to about 3/4 inch in diameter. Together, the two tools can comfortably handle almost any drilling job I encounter.

For this article, I evaluated nine full-size 18-volt drill/driver kits: the Bosch "Brute Tough" DDH181-01, the DeWalt "20V Max" DCD980L2, the Festool T 18+3 Set, the Hilti SF 18-A CPC, the Hitachi DS18DL, the Makita "LXT" BDF451, the Metabo BS 18 LTX, the Milwaukee "M18" 2610-24, and the Panasonic "Tough IP" EY7450LR2S. After driving long screws and drilling several thousand big holes, I've sized up their overall performance and features.


All the owner's manuals give drilling capacities, but only DeWalt and Milwaukee break them down for specific types of drill bits. DeWalt says its tool can comfortably power auger bits up to 1 1/4 inches, spade bits up to 1 1/2 inches, self-feed bits up to 2 9/16 inches, and hole saws up to 4 inches in diameter; in metal, it can power 1/2-inch twist drills and 1 3/8-inch hole saws. Milwaukee's recommendations are more conservative: auger bits up to 1 inch and hole saws up to the lockset-boring size of 2 1/8 inches in wood. In the manuals that list driving capacities, the maximum recommended diameter for wood screws ranges from about 1/4 to 3/8 inch.

After putting the tools through my trials, I think those numbers are in the ballpark. Equipped with a 1 1/2-inch spade bit, all the tools easily bored holes through 2-by Douglas fir in second gear (third gear in the uniquely configured Makita) in about 8 to 15 seconds. They also propelled my 2 1/8-inch bimetal hole saw at high speeds and my 4-inch one at low speeds through 3/4-inch plywood sheathing and 2-by Douglas fir, though the 4-incher could take awhile and quickly drain the batteries.

I really pushed the envelope with auger bits. Again using 2-by Douglas fir as my material, I started by drilling a bunch of holes in low gear with 1-inch and 1 1/4-inch Irwin Speedbor solid-center auger bits. As expected, this was no problem for these tools. They also easily drilled the holes at higher speeds, but in the long run that would put more wear and tear on the drive trains. Next, I exceeded manufacturers' recommendations and tried a 1 1/2-inch nail-eating Irwin Speedbor ship-auger bit, followed by a 1 3/4-incher. The tools all chewed through the 2-by without stalling or shutting themselves off to prevent overloading. I couldn't resist stepping up to a 2-inch Speedbor ship-auger bit (the biggest diameter available) just to see what would happen. After starting a hole with the Bosch Brute Tough, which seemed capable, I stopped right there, concerned that my wrists might be the first casualty. When it comes to drilling the bigger holes, these cordless tools are no substitute for a corded drill with a safety clutch.

View Comparison Table, pp. 2-3

All nine models also had enough power to sink Simpson Strong-Tie's new .22-inch by 10-inch multipurpose structural wood screws into an LVL/LSL/PSL sandwich without pilot holes. (See "Comparative Specs" table for Drill/Drivers on pages 2 and 3 of the PDF.)