Invariably life is never simple, and unfortunately the same has to be said for power drills; there are about as many different types as you might care to imagine, along with rafts of different manufacturers all offering their own models, each with it’s own individual quirks.
Of course none of this makes answering the question ‘which is the drill for me?!’ any easier, but what this guide will hopefully do is answer a few questions, and give you a better idea of what you should be looking for in a power drill to make your life easier, whether you’re an amateur DIYer, or a professional tradesman.
First things first lets look at the various sub types of power drill available on the market today, what they are and aren’t useful for, and what makes one more potentially useful to you than another.
Hammer or Percussion Drills
Typically large two handled beasts, hammer drills are designed for drilling through material more quickly (and it has to be said less elegantly) than other types of drills. Essentially brute force and speed are at the heart of a hammer drills performance, and you’ll find models on the market do this in one of two different ways.
Cam action hammer drills are the most widely used by the general consumer market as they are ideal for occasional use, drilling through masonry or concrete on a single construction or renovation project. The only real limitation with this type of hammer drill is that the ‘hammering’ action is enabled by the rotation of the drill chuck, therefore the hammering action cannot be achieved without the drilling action running at the same time.
Electro Pneumatic and Rotary Hammer
Much more heavy duty designs typically used on construction sites where power and time saving are even more critical. The main advantage of these types of hammer drill, besides their increased power, is in their ability to function with a hammering action alone, thereby allowing them to be used in a similar (albeit less powerful) way to pneumatic drills or ‘jackhammers’, typically used for breaking up roads and foundations.
Hammer Drill Uses
As touched on above, hammer drills are best suited to drilling through masonry, so if you have a job that requires you to drill through brick walls, concrete floors, or any other stone or block work, then a hammer drill is the tool you will need for the job. This isn’t to say that other drills won’t do the job, but the absence of a hammering action will mean drilling a hole will take longer as you’ll be relying on the drilling action to bore through the material without the added assistance of it being broken up as it goes. The added advantage of owning a hammer drill is that it can (usually) be used without a hammering action with the flick of a switch, making it suitable for lighter duty work as well as heavy duty masonry work.
By far the most popular type of drill for general domestic use, combi drills are suitable, as the name suggests, for a wide variety of tasks. Like hammer drills, Combi drills also have the ability to drill using a hammering action, although bear in mind that this won’t be as powerful as a dedicated hammer drill. Combi drills are are also ideally suited to drilling in wood, thin steel and aluminium, as well as driving screws.
As the most popular type of drill on the market, Combi drills are available in a whole range of variations. Some features to look out for include:
- The addition of pre-set torque settings for use when driving screws. This is ideal for determining how tight you should be doing screws up, especially important if you are carrying out a job with a strict torque requirement
- Variable speeds suited to drilling and screw driving
- Materials and construction. Look out for the construction of the gear transmission, typically ‘all metal’ is going to last longer and prove more durable, although you will pay more as a result. For more occasional use you will probably get away with a drill of cheaper construction and more plastic components
- LED work light. Really useful for allowing you to see what you’re doing in darker areas, and lets face it this is quite likely on an unfinished construction project
- The provision for storing screw driver bits. It’s a little thing, but you’d be surprised how handy it is to have these so close to hand when grabbing the drill to do a quick job
- Keyless chuck. This is an interesting one as there are conflicting opinions on how useful this feature really is. Typically older models of drill required a chuck key to tighten and secure the drill bit in place, which although slightly more laborious, ensured that the drill bit stayed put. Most modern drills have ‘keyless chucks’ that secure the drill bit in place without the need for a chuck key, which is great for convenience, although the drill bit is often able to work its way loose
- Material thickness. If you know that you have material of a certain thickness to drill through, then you’ll need to make sure that the drill you buy is capable of drilling through it. You’ll notice that the figures for maximum thickness vary considerably between models, so it’s important to choose one that suits your needs
A step down from Combi drills, Drill Drivers also do exactly as their name suggests in that they can both drill holes and drive screws. The biggest difference between Drill Drivers and their more powerful and expensive counterparts is that they offer no hammering ability. In short then, as long as you are only planning on driving screws, and drilling holes in wood and metal, this type of drill will be the ideal solution for you. Drill Drivers typically have a range of different torque settings just like combi drills, although it’s worth noting that their maximum torque output will not be as great as a combi drill
Right Angled Drills
Just when you thought drills couldn’t become any more specific, right angled drills were developed with the sole purpose of drilling in hard to reach areas such as in between beams to drive screws in or in narrow compartments. Right angled drills essentially offer the same functionality as a drill driver, but with advantage of being able to work in spaces that would otherwise be impossible to work in.
Mains Power or Cordless?
Like all modern power tools, all the above variations of power drill are available in both cordless and mains powered variations, but unlike some other tools one cannot be a total substitute for the other
Mains powered drills have the distinct advantage of greater power compared to cordless drills. Their torque output is typically far superior to cordless drills, although there are now some close contenders in the cordless drill market. Other advantages include, a constant flow of power that doesn’t run out, and overall low weight thanks largely to the absence of a battery.
By far the more popular and convenient choice, battery powered drills whilst lacking the level of power a mains powered drill can offer, they more than make up for this by the sheer freedom that they offer, which is especially critical when working on site where mains power sockets may not always be available. In the past a major drawback of battery powered tools was the limited supply of power that a single charge of battery power could offer, these days of course battery technology is constantly improving such that run times are getting longer and charge times are getting shorter.