The Best Drill Bit Set
For around-the-house drilling and driving needs, there is no better option to turn to than the Ryobi 90-Piece Drill and Drive Kit. This set replaces our previous pick, the Ryobi 90-Piece Drilling and Driving Accessory Kit, which has been discontinued. The only functional difference is that the general purpose bits in the new kit are coated with black oxide and not titanium like they were in the older kit. After testing, we’re more than satisfied with their durability.
What sets the Ryobi apart from the pack is the sheer amount of useful bits and accessories it offers. Some sets have too much repetition, and others are lacking critical pieces, but Ryobi gets it right with this kit: There’s a wide selection of useful items, and it isn’t bogged down by unnecessary filler. In addition to a solid selection of essential drill bits and driver bits, the Ryobi includes a hole saw (perfect for a birdhouse opening or a wire pass-through on a desk), masonry bits (for tile or brick), and a countersink (for neat and clean-looking screwheads). It also has eight sizes of nut drivers and a selection of paddle bits for drilling wider holes. It’s a whole lot of gear for a relatively low price. After having spent eight months testing the original version of the kit and three months with the new one, we’re also impressed with the durability of the the various accessories. In that time, only a few driver tips have stripped out (which is actually a pretty good showing). For a downside, the set could have more basic driving bits—but those are easy and cheap to pick up elsewhere.
If you can’t get your hands on the Ryobi 90-piece set, the next best option is the Ryobi 60-Piece Drill and Drive Kit. This smaller kit has most of the same items, but in more limited quantities: There’s only one hole saw and paddle bit (instead of four apiece), and it’s missing the depth stops and the 2-inch driver bits. That’s all nice to have, but not essential. The minimal $10 upgrade for the larger kit is worth it, but if you need a set in a pinch and this one is available, it’s a good option.
Of course, this guide helps only if you have a way to use your bits—luckily, we have a pick for best drill, too.
Table of contents
Why you should trust us
I’ve been happily destroying drill bits for almost 15 years. During a 10-year career in construction, I was a carpenter, a foreman, and a job site supervisor, and since 2007 I have been writing about and reviewing tools. In this latter role, I’ve had articles published in such places as Fine Homebuilding, This Old House, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and Tools of the Trade, where I’m a contributing editor.
To gain more knowledge on the subject of drill accessory kits, I spoke with two other tool writers/contractors—Rob Robillard of A Concord Carpenter and Mark Clement of the radio show MyFixItUpLife. During my research, I also found a great article on drill bits at The Family Handyman, which compares different types of bits.
How we picked and tested
Whether you own a home or rent an apartment, it makes sense to get a kit with a wide variety of drill and driver bits. You really never know what you might need. Building a birdhouse requires drilling a large hole, and installing a drywall anchor requires a small one. For driver bits, the most used are Phillips #2, but decking can be held down by Torx drives, old door hardware is often slotted, and I’ve seen exterior trim fastened with square drives.
But while a good kit has a variety of pieces, it’s important that it not be weighed down by too many of the lesser used ones. Mark Clement’s advice is to stay away from kits that offer “every bit in the world.” He continued, “unless you become a remodeling contractor tomorrow, the likelihood is that most driver bits are more likely to be compressed into diamonds in your basement than find a screw to sink.”
When we spoke to Rob Robillard, he warned us to avoid drill bits that have the ¼-inch hex ends. The base of these bits is a hex shape, so they can be placed into quick-change systems, like this one, from Irwin. As Robillard said, “They’re harder to find and replace than twist bits.”
Of the four primary bit materials (high-speed steel, cobalt, black oxide, and titanium), titanium is generally seen as the most durable, but when it comes to around-the-house use, they’re all adequate. In a drill bit test from Family Handyman, the tester used each style of bit to drill, “75 holes in pine, 40 holes in oak, 20 holes in aluminum tubing, 20 holes in medium-density fiberboard, and five holes in 3/16-inch mild steel.” All of them performed “without dulling appreciably.” The tester then continued drilling into the steel until the bits were too dulled to use. At this point, the HSS gave out after 20 holes, the black oxide and cobalt slowed considerably after 25, and the titanium outlasted the tester after “drilling an endless line of perfect holes.” In the end, the tester concluded, “If you’re a less-than-160-hole-drilling do-it-yourselfer, working mainly in wood, you can get by with any of them.”
Once we started researching available kits, we realized that there aren’t many that offer an all-in-one solution. We boiled them down to three main selections, the Ryobi 90-Piece Drilling and Driving Accessory Kit, the Ryobi 60-Piece Drilling and Driving Accessory Kit, and the Craftsman 100-Piece Drilling and Driving Kit. We also tested kits from two pro-grade manufacturers: the Milwaukee 48 89 1561 and the Bosch T4031 (which has since become unavailable, but also ran about $40). These kits were marked by durable cases and a smaller selection of items. In late 2015, Ryobi discontinued its 90- and 60-piece sets in favor of new, nearly identical ones, the 90-Piece Drill and Drive Kit and 60-Piece Drill and Drive Kit, which we also tested.
To test the kits, I examined each one with two other carpenters—Aaron Goff, with 12 years of experience in high-end remodeling, and Mark Piersma, with 14 years of experience. Both are particular about their tools and have little tolerance for poorly manufactured gear. The three of us judged each drill set on selection and durability. At that time, we chose the original version of the Ryobi 90-piece kit, which I tested for eight months while wrapping up a full gut/remodel of my 100-year-old farmhouse. Because the updated version of the Ryobi kit is so similar to the one we originally tested for this guide, most of our test results and impressions remain valid. To test the new Ryobi kits, I spent three months with the bits doing various odd jobs around the house. I also performed a durability test using the bits to drill into wood and aluminum.
After testing the kits, our favorite is the Ryobi 90-Piece Drill and Drive Kit. When looking at the original version of this kit (which is nearly identical to our current pick), our testers were surprised at the sheer variety and usefulness of its parts. Other kits we looked at may have had more pieces numerically, but they either had too much repetition, not enough of what really counts, or no good extras like the countersink. The Ryobi appears to be designed specifically for the person who wants everything in one spot.
Basically, the 90-piece Ryobi kit has everything that you could possibly need for around the house use. For drilling, it comes with three different bit sets (one all-purpose, one wood, one masonry) and paddle bits. It includes a hole saw—which no other kit had—for drilling four sizes of larger diameter holes. There is a countersink for giving screwheads a clean, finished look, and depth stops to manage the drilling process. It also has a center punch for making an indentation on thin metal, so the bit won’t wander when you’re drilling. For driving, the Ryobi comes with a nice selection of driver bits and doesn’t overload with ones that you’ll never use. The selection is so complete that both Goff and Piersma said that they’d purchase a kit for themselves.
The main selling point of the Ryobi is that it comes with a full set of 21 general-purpose black oxide coated bits and a smaller five-piece set of brad point wood bits. The brad points have a centering tip that makes for high-precision work. Because there are two bit sets, I’ve been using the black oxide ones for the aggressive and dulling work, like drywall anchors and pre-drilling for basement shelving, while saving the brad points for the delicate work, such as furniture repairs and kitchen shelving. It’s also important to note that the Ryobi kit contains two 1/8-inch and two 1/16-inch black oxide bits. In my experience, these are the most commonly used and most often broken sizes. Having a spare of each is a nice touch.
The black oxide bits max out in size at ⅜ inch. For larger holes, the Ryobi has a four-piece paddle bit set that goes up to 1 inch. Beyond that is a four-piece hole saw set that goes up to 2⅛ inches, which is unique to the Ryobi kit. In addition, there is a five-piece masonry bit set.
The Ryobi kit also includes four depth stops, which are collars that can be locked on to a drill bit to set them to a specific drilling depth. When I installed a keyboard tray on the underside of a desk, these prevented me from drilling through the top of the desk. Most carpenters I know will simply wrap a piece of blue tape around the drill bit at the right depth and stop drilling when it makes contact with the wood, but using the depth stops is easier and much more accurate.
Another excellent (and unique) addition to the Ryobi is the countersink. This is a cone-shaped drill bit that is used to carve out a recess so that a screwhead can sit flush to the surface of the wood. For any visible screwheads, it makes for a very clean look. Even if the screwhead is going to be puttied and painted over, with the countersink you can neatly recess the head. In the time I’ve been testing the kit, this might be the single most-used piece.
And as for durability, I’m more than satisfied with the Ryobi kit. Using the ⅜-inch masonry bit (the largest supplied), I drilled more than two dozen 1-inch-deep holes in a cinder block without the bit really slowing down.
The general purpose bits in the Ryobi are coated with black oxide. While titanium is technically preferable, the reality is that either one will deliver good performance. As mentioned earlier, the tester in the Family Handyman used a black oxide bit to bore 160 holes in a combination of pine, oak, aluminum, fiberboard, and steel. It was only after he drilled another 25 holes in steel that the bit started to wear out. To satisfy our own curiosity, we took the largest bit from the black oxide Ryobi kit (⅜-inch) and drilled 100 holes into a two-by-four, 25 holes into a 1/16-inch-thick aluminum, then another 50 holes in the two-by-four. After all this, the bit was still drilling with no problems. It should be fine for around the house work.
The driver bits have held fairly up too, but it’s important to understand that these simply have a lifespan to them, so it would be a mistake to go into this purchase thinking that your needs in the bit department are permanently solved. The good news is it’s easy enough to get a pack of additional bits, like this Irwin 20-pack.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Compared with some of the other kits, the Ryobi is light on driver bits. It has a total of six 2-inch bits and 27 1-inch bits. In looking at only Philips #2 bits (the most commonly used), it has three 1-inch and only one 2-inch. This isn’t a lot, especially if you have an active DIY mentality. But it would be a mistake to discount the Ryobi and all that it has to offer just because of a slim selection of driver bits—replacement driver bits are readily available, but the bits that distinguish the kit are harder to come by.
Another potential flaw of the Ryobi kit is that the case doesn’t exactly scream durability. The lid is held on with three plastic hinges. The sliding latch is also plastic and sometimes needs to be wiggled to get it lined up properly. Overall, our test unit is still in fine shape, but a serious drop on a concrete floor would do some damage. The flip side of this is that a real construction-ready case would add significant bulk, as well as cost, to the Ryobi kit. As long as you’re careful with it, this case should be fine.
If Ryobi’s 90-piece kit isn’t available, our second choice is Ryobi’s 60-Piece Drill and Drive Kit. Even though it’s smaller than our main pick, it still has far more useful pieces than any other kit out there. The 60-piece kit has the same basic selection of items as the larger kit, but just in smaller amounts. There is only one hole saw size (instead of four) and only one paddle bit (instead of four). It’s missing the depth stops and the selection of 2-inch driver bits, both of which are nice to have, but not essential. Spending a little more for the larger 90-piece kit is definitely worth it, but this one could work just fine instead.
In addition to the Ryobi kits, we tested the Craftsman 100-piece Drilling and Driving Kit, but it didn’t offer anything close to the selection of the Ryobi (no hole saw, no countersink, limited drill bit selection). This set is also very heavy on driver bits, but surprisingly doesn’t offer any Torx bits, which are gaining in popularity. We like that the Craftsman has a huge quantity of #2 Phillips in both 1- and 2-inch lengths, but since those are easy to purchase as stand-alones, we much prefer the Ryobi for its wide variety of accessories.
We also tested two pro-level kits, the Milwaukee 48-89-1561 and the Bosch T4031 (which has since become unavailable). These are decent kits, but very incomplete when placed next to the Ryobi. Because the pro manufacturers assume that a carpenter will have a designated hole saw kit, paddle bits, and countersink, these sets had only drill bits and driver bits (the Milwaukee also had a couple of nut drivers). The other thing with the pro kits is that a lot of effort (and cost) goes into making a bombproof kit that can sustain the daily rigors of a construction site. As Piersma said about the $40 Milwaukee kit, “With this one, you’re buying the case, not the bits.”
Other pro kits, like the Makita T-01725 or the DeWalt DW2587, which we didn’t test, suffer the same fate as the Milwaukee and the Bosch by offering a smaller selection in a very durable case. We also dismissed the $200 333-piece Garret Wade kit. It has a very large selection, but costs too much for garage use.
(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)
Originally published: February 16, 2016