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How to buy the best cordless drill

By Aaron West

What's the difference between a drill-driver and combi drill? We reveal what you should look for when buying a cordless drill.

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Whether you enjoy getting hands-on with home improvement projects or you only do occasional DIY touch-ups, if you're a homeowner you're likely to need a drill. A good one will hold its charge, have easy-to-use controls and be able to handle a variety of tasks.

There are a many types of drill available – drill-driver or combination, corded or cordless, second handle or no second handle – so it can be confusing to know which one is best for you. 

There are a few renowned brands, such as Makita, DeWalt and Bosch, and many smaller names, too. Retailers include Argos, B&Q and Screwfix, as well as online outlets.

Compare models to find the ones that fit your criteria and see which models excelled in our tests in our drill reviews.

Which type of drill do you need?

Cordless drills come in two main types: drill-driver and combination drill. The first thing you’ll need to decide is which type you need:

Drill-drivers

As the name suggests, drill-drivers are specifically designed to drill holes and drive screws. They are useful for a range of different jobs around your home, from hanging shelves and picture hooks to constructing flat-pack furniture. They have a keyless chuck, which makes it quick to swap between different types of drill bit. They are one of the most versatile home improvement tools you can get, and a great place to start when buying a drill.

However, drill-drivers have no hammer-action function, so even the highest-power models will struggle with extremely tough materials, such as concrete.

Combination drills

As well as drilling and driving screws, a combination drill also has a hammer-drilling mode for hard surfaces such as brick, concrete and paving slabs. Behind the rotating drill bit, two ribbed metal discs click in and out against each other, to push the bit forward with extra force.

You'll need a hammer-action drill if your DIY projects involve masonry. While there are specific heavy-duty drills available, these tend to be more powerful than your average household projects require, so a combination drill is an excellent choice if you need a tool with a little more oomph that will still be useful for day-to-day tasks.

Whichever type of drill you opt for, make sure you're always using a suitable drill bit for the work you're doing. If you are going to be drilling into extremely hard surfaces, such as concrete, you'll need to make sure you use tungsten-carbide drill bits. If you're using the hammer-action function on a combi drill, make sure you use a hammer-action drill bit.

Which cordless drill brand is best?

There are a few things which you simply can't test in a lab. That's why we've asked more than 2,500 owners to rate their drill for its reliability, as well as whether they found it fit for purpose and good value for money.

Surprisingly some owners are much happier with their purchase than others. Find out which cordless drill brand comes out on top to make sure you spend your money wisely and get a cordless drill you can rely on.

How much should you expect to spend?

Drill-drivers vary a lot in price, from as little as £40 to over £300. Combination drills tend to start at a higher price than drill-drivers, simply because they have more features, but our tests have found some models that perform well and won't break the bank.

Our cheapest Best Buy drill is a drill-driver model

In our drill tests, the ones down at the cheapest end of the price range don’t tend to perform as well, although a high price is no guarantee of quality - we've found some Don't Buy drills that cost around £120.

Cordless drills are sold in three ways, so make sure you check what you're getting before you make your purchase, particularly if you're shopping online:

  • Standalone: comes with a battery and charger
  • Bare: just the drill with no battery or charger, which are sold separately
  • Collection: as part of a series of other cordless tools in a kit

To help you decide which model is right for you, check our drill reviews, which bring together all the results of our lab tests and expert assessments, before you buy your drill. 

Which features do I need?

What voltage?

While a higher voltage doesn’t always translate to a higher torque and more effective drilling, a high-powered drill will tend to be more suitable if you're planning a lot of heavy-duty DIY work.

If you are doing light, indoor DIY work, such as putting up curtain poles or constructing flat-pack furniture, a good low-power drill will be perfectly capable. But if your work extends out into your garden, you’ll need more power to be able to handle harder materials such as concrete fence posts and paving slabs.

Battery capacity

Good battery power is essential for cordless drills, as it's the difference between an efficient day's work and a tool that runs out of steam before you've finished the job. A long charge time doesn't always mean a long life, either, so look for a battery that has a short charge time and a long life for the best of both worlds. 

Drill battery capacities are measured in Ah (Amp hours) - generally the more Ah a battery has, the longer its charge will last.

A high-capacity battery normally comes as a premium, warranting a higher price. That’s why we test all drills for their battery performance - so make sure you spend your money wisely and check out our drill reviews before buying.

Chuck size

Most cordless drills have a chuck size of either 10mm (3/8 inch) or 13mm (1/2 inch).

A 10mm chuck will be able to handle most jobs, although might not be able to fit larger drill bits for wider holes.

A 13mm chuck, which tends to come as standard for combination drills, will accommodate larger bits, so you'll have a wider range of hole size options.

Maximum torque and torque settings

The maximum torque is the maximum rotary turning force of the drill, which can be important if you will be drilling into tough materials such as masonry - for which you should consider a combination drill, with the extra force of a hammer-action function.

Torque settings are most important when it comes to screwdriving, as putting too much power into the screw can either strip the screw head. Getting it just right - so that each screw sits flush with the surface - can be tricky, but some drills are easier to control at a slow speed than others.  

Extra features - belt clip, LED light and dust extractor?

If you're going to be using lots of different tools on a home improvement job, a belt clip will allow you to hang the cordless drill from your belt, so you can keep it by your side with both hands free.

Dark, compact spaces can be difficult to work in, but an LED light will help shine light on the task at hand - allowing you to work more precisely and confidently. If you plan on doing lots of work in the attic or basement, make sure your drill has an LED light.

Although not often included as part of a cordless drill set, you may want to consider buying a dust extraction accessory. This can be particularly useful if you're often working on the ceiling, to prevent dust from fall down onto you. The price of these can range from as little as £20 for a simple dust collector to well over £100 for a vacuum-like accessory.

Of course, if you think you'd rather get in a local tradesperson to do the job instead, head to Which? Trusted Traders to find local companies endorsed by Which? that should be able to help.

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