The Best Drill

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After using 16 drills to drive 1,669 3-inch screws and bore 345 1-inch holes, we’re convinced that the best one for around the house is the Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver.

Last Updated: October 11, 2016
The Milwaukee 2407-22 M12 ⅜ Drill/Driver Kit replaces our runner-up, the now-discontinued Porter-Cable 12-Volt Drill. We also have a new budget pick, the Craftsman 17586 Nextec 12.0V Drill Driver.
Expand Most Recent Updates
January 26, 2016: After using 16 drills in a new round of testing in the fall of 2015, we found that the Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver offers the best combination of size, power, and performance. We also have a new upgrade recommendation: the Bosch DDS181-02 18-Volt Compact Drill/Driver Kit, a larger tool designed for more difficult work. Our former pick, the Porter-Cable PCL120DDC, remains our runner-up for its strong performance and great value; and the Porter-Cable PCCK600LB 20-Volt Drill/Driver Kit is a new runner-up pick as well.
August 21, 2014: Just added a note to the "Other Contenders" section noting why we didn't test popular brands like Craftsman, DeWalt, Makita, and Kobalt. The answer is that they didn't meet our initial criteria: either they were over $100 or if they were in our price range they only came with one battery.
May 15, 2014: We tested two new drills for this update. The 12-volt Hitachi DS10DFL  is the most comfortable to use of the drills we tested but can't beat the Porter-Cable's overall combination of features, so it's our runner-up choice in case our main pick is unavailable. The Black & Decker AutoSense was interesting for us to test because it has an automatic clutch, but its performance doesn't stand out in a meaningful way from the rest of the field.
January 28, 2014: We updated the price of our "also great" selection, the Ryobi P817, and added a bit more about why we only recommend it for specific users.
Our pick
Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver Kit
Smaller and lighter than other 12-volt tools we tested, this drilled the most holes and drove the most screws and costs about the same as the competition.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $130.

Not only is it the lightest, most compact drill we tested, but it’s also among the strongest, and it completely blew away the competition in terms of battery life. Starting from a full charge, it drilled twice as many holes as the second-place drill and drove almost 50 percent more screws. It consistently drove the screws completely into the wood and barely struggled at all when going through dense knots, unlike many of the other drills we looked at. This superior performance comes at a price that’s easily comparable with the competition. Even though it’s a smaller, 12-volt tool meant for around-the-house work, it performed as well as many of the larger 18-volt tools we tested, offering enough power for occasional use on ambitious projects.

Runner-up

*At the time of publishing, the price was $115.

Milwaukee 2407-22 M12 3/8 Drill Driver Kit
The Milwaukee is strong enough for any household task, but it’s heavier and larger than the Bosch and doesn’t have as much run time.

If the Bosch is not available, or if the price has jumped too high for you, we also like the Milwaukee 2407-22 M12 ⅜ Drill/Driver Kit. The Milwaukee placed (a distant) second behind the Bosch in the battery-life tests, but for overall power and strength it was right up there at the top tier. At 2 pounds, 10 ounces, it was the heaviest 12-volt we tested, weighing a full half pound more than the Bosch. It’s also ¾ inch longer, so it can’t fit in as tight of a spot, but it does have a nice belt hook, which the Bosch lacks. For pricing, it’s in the same range as the Bosch, but both fluctuate, so the Milwaukee is sometimes available for $20 to $30 less. This replaces our previous runner-up pick, the 12-volt Porter-Cable, which has been discontinued.

Budget pick
Craftsman 17586 Nextec 12.0V Drill Driver
The Craftsman doesn’t cost much, but it lacks the power of our pick and runner-up, and its lone battery will be frustrating for larger projects.

If you’re looking to make a minimal investment and still get a decent drill, we recommend the Craftsman 17586 Nextec 12.0V Drill Driver. It doesn’t have the run time of the others and it’s nowhere near as powerful—but, to be clear, it can easily drive basic screws and drill common ⅛-inch holes. It usually costs between $40 and $50, which is less than half the price of the others, but it comes with only one battery, so it’ll be limiting (and frustrating) for anything beyond the most basic projects.

Upgrade pick
Bosch DDS181-02 18-Volt Compact Drill/Driver Kit
Tested against nine 18-volt tools, this Bosch had the best combination of power, battery life, features, and price, and it handled demanding work better than 12-volt drills.

If you need a tool that can reliably drill large holes and sink long screws, we recommend stepping up to the Bosch DDS181-02 18-Volt Compact Drill/Driver Kit. This is a larger 18-volt drill and, of the 10 we tried, the Bosch was the only one that placed at or near the top in both our drilling and driving tests, making it the best all-around choice. It particularly excelled in the drilling test, boring 33 percent more holes than the second-place 18-volt drill. Compared with the smaller, 12-volt Bosch (our main recommendation), this drill completes tougher jobs much faster, doing the same work in less than half the time. For small, around-the-house tasks, having this added speed and power is unnecessary, but for more production-oriented work, like putting down decking, it makes a noticeable difference. The 18-volt Bosch is a comfortable tool to hold, its well-placed LED spreads light better than that of most drills, and it includes handy features like a belt hook and a battery-life gauge.

Also great
Porter-Cable PCCK600LB 20-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-ion Drill/Driver Kit
The 20-volt Porter-Cable isn’t the most powerful drill in its class, but it delivers competitive performance and features at a lower price than the competition.

If the Bosch isn’t available, or if you’re looking to save a few dollars, we also like the Porter-Cable PCCK600LB 20-Volt Drill/Driver Kit. Like with the 12-volt tools, the Bosch was clearly at the top, and the Porter-Cable performed comparably with the second-tier tools. And again, it’s our pick because it comes at a consistently lower price. The Porter-Cable makes up for what it lacks in power with easy usability and excellent value. It is one of two 18-volts that have a complete set of features, including an LED, onboard bit storage, a belt hook, and a battery-life gauge. This Porter-Cable can’t quite hang with the Bosch DDS181’s performance, but it holds it own against everything else in the category.

We’ve also spent hours testing drill bit sets. See our complete guide for our recommendations.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

Since 2001, I’ve used and evaluated tools on a daily basis. I spent 10 years in construction as a carpenter, foreman, and site supervisor, working on multimillion-dollar residential renovations in the Boston area. I’ve also written about and reviewed tools for nine years, with articles appearing in Fine Homebuilding, Popular Mechanics, This Old House, The Journal of Light Construction, Popular Science, and Tools of the Trade.

To gain more insight on drills, I spoke with Timothy Dahl, founder and editor of the home-improvement site Charles & Hudson and family DIY site Built by Kids. Dahl, an editor at Popular Mechanics, has written about tools since 2002 and has run Charles & Hudson since 2005. I also spoke with Harry Sawyers, Sweethome editor, formerly with This Old House and Popular Mechanics. Sawyers has written about tools since 2005, including putting together a 12-volt drill test for Gizmodo.

I also read everything that I could on the topic of drills. The cordless-tool industry (drills in particular) is a fast-moving target, so most of the rundowns from established reviewers are outdated. This Old House’s Tool Test: 12-Volt Drill/Drivers is from 2010 and Popular Mechanics published 12-volt Cordless Drills: We Test 13 of the Best in late 2011. Likewise, the Consumer Reports roundup on drills is missing too many current models to be fully relied on as a primary source. To truly get a sense of each one’s power and run time, we decided we’d have to test them ourselves.

Who should get this

The 12-volt pick is a kitchen-drawer drill. It’s good for a lot of things around the house—putting up hooks, installing baby gates, swapping out light fixtures, minor drywall repairs and maybe straightening a saggy gutter. It’s a drill for a homeowner who wants to zip through IKEA furniture builds, help a kid make a nice science-fair project, and build a bookshelf. It’s not the perfect tool for constant heavy-duty use, but it can certainly replace a few rotted deck boards or help with the framing needed to install a new window. The size works well if you’re storing it indoors, and the battery lasts long enough that you can usually pick it up and use it after a few weeks without needing a recharge.

If you’re a rabid DIYer with plans to build a deck, a doghouse, and a tree house, we recommend the stronger 18-volt drill. This one offers longer battery life and more power. It’s designed for constant heavy-duty use and is something that would be seen hanging off a pro carpenter’s tool belt. It can handle all but the most aggressive jobs (like mixing mortar with a paddle or repetitive drilling into concrete). It’s a bit bigger and better-suited for storage in a garage or shed, and some folks might find its size and weight a little harder to manage than a smaller, 12-volt tool. On average, 12-volt drills are 6 to 7 inches in length and weigh less than 2½ pounds; 18-volts average a length of 7 to 8 inches and weigh around 3½ pounds (and have much bulkier batteries).

How we picked

For work around the house, our experts were unanimous in recommending a 12-volt drill kit that comes with a pair of lithium-ion batteries. These drills offer a combination of power, maneuverability, and run time that makes them the ideal choice for smaller, home-oriented jobs. In his Gizmodo piece, Sawyers wrote, “[12-volt drills] can drill and drive anything in your house—and they’re small enough to stow away in a kitchen junk drawer.” Dahl echoed this, telling us, “I use my 12-volt for 90 percent of the tasks around the house.”

The voltage of a drill is generally what determines its overall capabilities; drills can range from tiny 4-volt screwdrivers all the way up to the concrete-crushing 36-volt tools. The two most popular (and useful) voltages are the 12-volts and the 18-volts.1 The bigger 18-volts have long been the standard, but in the past 10 years or so, 12-volts have become impressive in their power and run time as lithium-ion batteries have evolved and replaced nickel batteries as the default technology.

Even though the 12-volts are on the lower side of the voltage scale, tests at both This Old House and Popular Mechanics have shown that they’re more than adequate for around-the-house work. As for cost, we decided that it’s reasonable to pay between $75 and $100 for a quality 12-volt drill that comes with two batteries (the prices of our top two picks sometimes fluctuates up to the $120 range, but we still stand behind them). You can find many models below $75, but these are marked by cheaper plastic, uncomfortable handles, and little or no warranty support. Since writing the first version of this guide, many 12-volts have dropped in price and are now in our range, including the Bosch PS31. The compact 18-volts that we tested range in price from $100 to $200 (most full-size drills hover around $300).

drills-testing-group

The tested drills.

Even though the 12-volts are on the lower side of the voltage scale, tests at both This Old House and Popular Mechanics have shown that they’re more than adequate for around-the-house work.

Drills also come with any number of convenience features, all of which are nice, none of which are essential. At this point, every quality drill (including all of the ones we tested) comes with an LED that shines at the front of the drill. But other optional features include a battery indicator light, a belt hook, and onboard bit storage. Though we’d never choose a drill based strictly on these features, these smaller touches are nice when they’re present, and in our case, proved to be one of the factors that pushed the Porter-Cables above the rest.

In looking for models to test, we scoured retailers like Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. We also checked in with all of the major drill manufacturers such as Milwaukee, Bosch, Craftsman, and DeWalt. For the most part, we discounted any tools that come with only one battery.2 We made three exceptions to this rule. Both the Craftsman 17586 12-Volt Drill/Driver and the Black+Decker BDCDD12C 12-Volt Max Drill are priced so low that purchasing a single battery kit and one additional battery still puts them far below the $100 mark. We also looked at the Black+Decker BDCDE120C 20-Volt Drill/Driver with AutoSense Technology. This tool has a unique clutch system that automatically stops the drill once it is flush with the wood.

We also did not test a few notable 12-volts. At the time of our test, both the DeWalt 12-Volt Max Cordless Drill/Driver Kit and the Makita FD02W 12V Max Drill/Driver Kit were priced well above our test candidates. As time has gone by, prices have shifted, and cheaper models have been discontinued. These are now much more competitive with our picks, and we will be considering them for a future round of testing.

We did not look at any brushless tools this time around. These newer items are currently becoming popular with pros because they have a high-efficiency motor that offers better performance and durability. For most homeowners—for now anyway—the technology is still cost-prohibitive, with most brushless models starting at over $200 for a two-battery kit. Second, they offer benefits that will probably be lost on the nonprofessional. As Dahl told us, “Brushless is still too much money for the average homeowner who won’t see the benefits.”

How we tested

We spent two days testing 16 drills by driving screws and drilling holes on a pile of lumber in rural New Hampshire. For the driving test, I saw how many 3-inch drywall screws each drill could sink into a doubled-up 2-by-10 piece of Douglas fir (a total of 3 inches of wood) on a fully charged battery. This simulated the process of framing, as if someone were building a tree house or a partition wall. I rested the drills after every 14 screws to prevent overheating.

drills-testing-group-holes

Lotsa screws and lotsa holes…

We wanted to test the upper end of the 12-volts to see which models could handle the occasional foray into more ambitious work.

For the second test, we outfitted each drill with a new Irwin 88816 1-inch Speedbor Spade Bit and drilled holes through 1½-inch-thick 2-by-10s until the battery wore out. Again, I rested the drills after every five holes. This is no doubt an aggressive task for the 12-volt drills, but we wanted a direct comparison against the 18-volt drills to truly see that capabilities matched against one another. Also, we wanted to test the upper end of the 12-volts to see which models could handle the occasional foray into more ambitious work.

For these tests, I set the drills to the faster of the two speeds and switched over to the slower speed (with higher torque) when the drill stopped being effective. In the lower gear, I was usually able to continue on for a bit until the battery was completely drained. For the drilling test, the 12-volts usually could handle only a few holes before I switched over to the lower gear with the higher torque needed for the difficult task.

I also used the drills in more unstructured settings as I worked on various projects—I built a wall, repaired a chicken coop, fabricated two bookshelves, put down a floor, and outfitted my workshop with shelving.

Obviously, the number of holes drilled and screws driven was very important, but I also kept an eye on each drill’s performance and handling, asking questions like: How often does it stall out? How much does it struggle? How does it feel in the hand?

I also used the drills in more unstructured settings as I worked on various projects—I built a wall, repaired a chicken coop, fabricated two bookshelves, put down a floor, and outfitted my workshop with shelving. I also recently moved, so the drills were used for countless around-the-house projects like adjusting cabinet doors, hanging heavy mirrors, and putting up mudroom hooks.

Our pick

drills-bosch-ps31-top-image

The Bosch PS31-2A was the most compact and powerful 12-volt drill we tested.

Our pick

*At the time of publishing, the price was $130.

Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver Kit
Smaller and lighter than other 12-volt tools we tested, this drilled the most holes and drove the most screws and costs about the same as the competition.

After we wrapped up our testing, we had no question that the Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver Kit offers the best performance for around-the-house work. It’s not only the lightest and most compact drill we got our hands on, but during both tests it also stood head and shoulders (and chest and waist) above the rest. In the battery-life category, the Bosch PS31-2A really had no competition among the other 12-volt drills we looked at. During the screw test, the other drills all managed between 70 and 90 screws on a single battery charge. The Bosch PS31-2A drove 138 screws—over 50 percent more than the second-place drill, the Milwaukee 2407-22. As for power, the PS31-2A drove screws evenly and without issue, even through tough knots. The majority of ther 12-volts often had issues fully sinking the screws flush with the wood.

The Bosch PS31-2A drove 138 screws—over 50 percent more than the second-place drill.

The drilling test yielded similar results with the PS31-2A far ahead of the pack. While the other five 12-volts bored between eight and 12 holes, the PS31-2A drilled 25, two to three times more than the other drills. This wasn’t an easy task for any of the 12-volts, and they all had to fight their way through the process with significant amounts of stalling and binding, but the Bosch worked through it all and just kept on going and going.

In both of these tests, the 12-volt PS31-2A actually achieved higher numbers than many of the larger 18-volts that we tested. It drove more screws than seven of them and drilled more holes than four. We need to emphasize that these drills aren’t even in the same class, so this is like a middleweight scoring punches on a heavyweight. The smaller PS31-2A took quite a bit longer to do these tasks, but these impressive numbers still display the overall abilities of the tool.

What’s significant about the Bosch PS31-2A is that this mega power and endurance doesn’t come in a bulky package. In addition to being the most powerful 12-volt, the PS31-2A is also the smallest and lightest drill we tested. Most of this size reduction is where it really matters—in the main body of the tool. Though the handle is big enough for my large hands to grip comfortably, the total length of the drill, nose to tail, is barely 6¾ inches. All of the other 12-volts are 7 inches or longer, with the Craftsman the biggest at 7¾ inches.

drills-bosch-ps31-milwaukee-size-comparison

The Bosch PS31-2A (left) is shorter than the rest of the 12-volts, including the runner-up Milwaukee.

In addition to being the most powerful 12-volt, the PS31-2A is also the smallest and lightest drill we tested.

With this small size, it’s no surprise that the PS31-2A is also very light, weighing only 2 pounds, 2 ounces (with a battery). The Black+Decker and the Craftsman are both just a whisker heavier at 2 pounds, 3 ounces. The rest are at least 2 pounds, 6 ounces, with the Milwaukee as the heaviest at 2 pounds, 10 ounces. The good news is that though the PS31-2A is lightweight, it feels very solid, not cheap and plasticky. It feels durable and it didn’t even flinch the few times I accidentally knocked it off the table.

During unstructured testing is when the PS31-2A’s diminutive size really came in handy. It’s such a small, light, easy-to-handle tool that my afternoon spent hanging window blinds above my head was no problem at all. The size was also beneficial as I reconfigured some drawer slides in a cramped kitchen cabinet. I also had to unscrew a ceiling access panel that had a built-in bookshelf directly underneath it. With the extremely tight clearance, the Bosch PS31-2A was the only drill that could fit in the space and remove the screws.

For additional features, the PS31-2A has a battery-life indicator. This consists of three lights on the side of the tool that light up accordingly any time the drill is activated. The design of the lights is nice because once the tool is activated, it’s easy to check the battery life with a simple glance. On many of the other drills, namely the 18-volts, a button needs to be pressed to get the indicator lights to activate. This requires stopping what you’re doing.

Another benefit to the Bosch PS31-2A is that it is part of an expansive battery platform. Bosch offers many other tools, from saws to radios to oscillating tools and even heated jackets, that run off the same 12-volt battery. With the PS31-2A (and its two batteries) in hand, these additional items can all be purchased “bare tool,” meaning, without the battery. Depending on the tool, this can save anywhere from $40 to $60, making this an economical approach to expanding a tool collection.

The PS31-2A has received praise from many reviewers. Stuart Deutsch of ToolGuyd writes that the PS31 “can handle many if not most of the jobs 18V drills and drivers are used for.” He continues, “It lacks the mass, size, and power to be used in high-torque or heavy duty applications, but it plows through smaller holes and can be used for most screwdriving applications as well.” He wraps up his review calling the PS31, “highly recommended.”

Much of the same sentiment can be found in Clint DeBoer’s review of the PS31-2A at Pro Tool Reviews. He tested the PS31-2A by driving 3-inch screws into a pressure-treated 4-by-4. He drove 51 screws (before running out), then removed 45 of them. As DeBoer writes that’s “a very respectable amount of work.” He “also felt that the Bosch Drill/Driver didn’t seem to be very finicky about knots or whether the PT wood was soft or hard—it just drove screws. This tool can do some heavy-duty work.”

DeBoer also installed a lock set with the PS31-2A, which requires the use of a hole saw (an item for cutting wide-diameter holes). Even though this took longer than it would with an 18-volt drill, he notes that, “It was good to know that a reasonable amount of heavy-duty work could be expected from this tool, but that it also sufficed for smaller jobs where a full-size tool is simply overkill and cumbersome.”

In a couple of other reviews that directly compared the Bosch PS31-2A with other 12-volts, it didn’t do so well, but for a reason. The roundups at This Old House and Popular Mechanics (and likely Consumer Reports [subscription required]) date from 2010/2011 and used the original version of the PS31-2A, which came with an older version of its 12-volt battery. Purchasing the items today, it comes with an updated battery that offers longer run time and additional power.3

Consumer Reports has the PS31-2A ranked in the middle in its “light use drill/drivers” ratings. We suspect that the test was done with the older battery, but beyond that the organization has a few other odd aspects to its rating system. First, it doesn’t take into account the tools’ weight. Three of the drills that have a higher ranking weigh more than 4 pounds. That’s more than any of the 18-volt drills we tested and not a characteristic that we would consider to be part of a “light use drill/driver.” Consumer Reports also factors in “noise at ear” in its drill ratings, and the Bosch gets a lower ranking than most. The noise created by any power tool is something to be aware of, but for a drill it’s not a realistic criteria (unless it’s really, really bad). In my days spent testing these 16 drills, I wouldn’t have called any of them out for being too noisy or annoying.

The PS31-2A is sold in a few different packages. The simplest (and least expensive) is with two batteries and a zippered soft case, which is what we recommend. It’s also currently available with a Bosch L-BOXX (part of Bosch’s modular click-together storage system) or bundled with a cordless radio and a Bosch L-BOXX. Lastly, the PS31-2A can be bundled with Bosch’s PS41 12-volt impact driver.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The position of the PS31-2A’s LED is less than ideal. It’s located just above the trigger so it shines parallel to the front of the tool, casting a large shadow above the driver tip or drill bit. This gets a little annoying, but the simple fact is that this is the design found on the majority of the 12-volts. Of the ones we tested, only the Black+Decker BDCDD12C has the LED positioned at the base of the handle, which lights upward at the tip and casts less of a shadow—an arrangement we think works a little better.

The Bosch PS31-2A is also missing a couple of the convenience features that are found on some of the other drills. It doesn’t have a spot for onboard bit storage, but more important, it doesn’t have a belt hook. My experience is that the belt hooks are very useful, particularly for such a small grab-and-go tool. Without it, I’m constantly setting the tool down, sometimes on a nice, finished surface, which can cause damage. To deal with this, the body of the PS31-2A has strategically placed pieces of rubber overmold along the sides. These pad the tool and hold the hard plastic off of the surface it’s placed on. It’s also worth noting that the PS31 is small enough to be wedged into a loose pocket (or tucked into your waistband like a Hollywood gunslinger). Obviously, this shouldn’t be done while it’s holding a drill bit, but with a driver tip it can be a solution.

Last, the PS31-2A’s handle is definitely comfortable, but not as much as some. Bosch opted to make its 12-volt batteries in a “canister” style, so the entire width of it slides up into the handle. The other battery styles, found on the Hitachi and the Black+Decker, either have only a small stem that enters the handle or they don’t enter it at all. These battery styles allow for a grip that is thinner and more contoured to fit the hand. This is apparent holding the tools side by side, but we doubt that anyone picking up the PS31-2A is going to call it uncomfortable. Even with the bulkier design, the handle easily and comfortably fits in the hand.

Similar power and price

drills-milwaukee-2407

The Milwaukee 2407-22 is a powerful drill—it’s just larger than the Bosch and has a shorter run time.

Runner-up

*At the time of publishing, the price was $115.

Milwaukee 2407-22 M12 3/8 Drill Driver Kit
The Milwaukee is strong enough for any household task, but it’s heavier and larger than the Bosch and doesn’t have as much run time.

If the PS31-2A isn’t available or if its price has fluctuated out of your budget, our second choice is the Milwaukee 2407-22 M12 ⅜ Drill/Driver Kit. It has similar power and feels solid in the hands, but it’s a heavier drill and doesn’t have the overwhelming run time of the Bosch. This replaces our previous runner-up, a Porter-Cable 12-Volt, which was discontinued in 2016.

For the specifics of our test, the Milwaukee 12-volt drove 90 screws and drilled 12 holes. The screw number was second only to the Bosch (but a solid 48 screws shy), and the drilling number also put it in a second place, but 13 holes less than the Bosch. For power, the Milwaukee showed similar abilities as the Bosch, working through holes and screws with efficiency, and only really struggling during the last gasps of the battery’s life. Milwaukee, like Bosch, makes contractor-grade tools, so it wasn’t a surprise to see this kind of power from the drill.

Compared with the others, the Milwaukee has some heft to it. It weighs in at 2 pounds, 10 ounces, making it the heaviest 12-volt we tested, and a full half pound heavier than the Bosch. For length, the Milwaukee is just under 7½ inches compared with the Bosch’s 6¾ inches. This isn’t to say that using the Milwaukee is like lugging around a cinder block, but the Bosch is better in tight spots or for an extended project at head height or above.

The Milwaukee is the only 12-volt that comes with a belt hook, a feature we liked a lot. It allowed us to hang the tool off a pants pocket when both hands were needed elsewhere (like positioning a board or marking for a mudroom hook). This is by no means an essential feature, but it’s certainly nice to have.

The drill also has the same LED setup as the Bosch PS31-2A, which casts a large shadow above the tool. Like we said above, this is the norm with 12-volt drills.

Like the Bosch, the Milwaukee is part of a very large 12-volt platform, so other tools can be purchased without batteries. Milwaukee designs tools for contractor use, so many of its 12-volt items won’t be much help to a homeowner ($1,800 Press Tool, anyone?), but plenty others could be useful, such as the company’s line of heated jackets, a circular saw, or a jigsaw.

The Milwaukee has been well-received by those who have purchased it. At Amazon, it currently holds a 4.8-star rating (out of five) across 105 reviews. Sweethome editor Harry Sawyers has owned a Milwaukee 12-volt for years (as well as the Bosch), and he said he would get whichever of the two you find at a better price. “With either, you won’t be disappointed,” he said.

For pricing, the Milwaukee seems to fluctuate between $100 and $120, the same range as the Bosch.

Less power, much lower price

drills-craftsman-17586-nextec

Budget pick
Craftsman 17586 Nextec 12.0V Drill Driver
The Craftsman doesn’t cost much, but it lacks the power of our pick and runner-up, and its lone battery will be frustrating for larger projects.

If you’re interested in minimizing your investment and only need a drill for light-duty projects like picture hanging and hinge tightening, we also like the Craftsman 17586 Nextec 12.0V Drill Driver.

The Craftsman has decent run time (about 10 percent less than the Milwaukee), but it took a lot longer to get the job done, meaning the overall strength doesn’t compare with that of the Bosch or Milwaukee. For general quality, the gear toggle and direction switch both lack the solid and professional feel that marks the Bosch and Milwaukee. Beyond all of this, the major drawback of the Craftsman is that it comes with only one battery (and no case). This is going to make it a limiting and potentially frustrating tool if you take on any larger projects (or even if you just forget to keep your battery charged). Where the Craftsman redeems itself is with cost. Because you’re not paying for a second battery, the drill is typically only $40 to $50, which is less than half the price of our other picks.

It’s entirely possible to purchase the Craftsman and get a second battery separately for about $20, making the entire purchase only $60 to $70. Though this solves the battery issue, it doesn’t solve the power or quality issues. Even with the cost reduction of the two-battery Craftsman, we recommend investing in the Bosch.

A great combo of power and features

drills-bosch-dds181

For heavier DIY work, the Bosch DDS181 is a great combination of power, comfort, and features.

Upgrade pick
Bosch DDS181-02 18-Volt Compact Drill/Driver Kit
Tested against nine 18-volt tools, this Bosch had the best combination of power, battery life, features, and price, and it handled demanding work better than 12-volt drills.

If you need a drill that can consistently and quickly perform more aggressive work like driving long screws and drilling large holes, consider the Bosch DDS181-02 18-Volt Compact Drill/Driver Kit. In total, we tested ten 18-volt drills, and the Bosch DDS181 delivered drilling and driving results that topped the competition, at a price that’s right in the middle of the pack.

By choosing an 18-volt over a 12-volt you’re getting more speed, more power, and more run time. To demonstrate this, we drilled five 1-inch holes with the 12-volt Bosch PS31-2A and five with the larger Bosch 18-volt. Both drills completed the task, but the 18-volt did so in 30 seconds; the 12-volt took 1 minute and 19 seconds. During the test, it was obvious that the 12-volt was chugging away near the top of its abilities. So though the PS31-2A is capable of these tougher jobs, it’s really not what the tool is designed for. The 18-volt, on the other hand, didn’t strain at all and felt right at home drilling the large-diameter holes.

In our tests, the Bosch 18-volt drove 154 screws and drilled 45 holes. This screw number is second only to the Black+Decker AutoSense (which drove 163). But that drill didn’t do nearly as well during the drilling test. The Bosch’s 45 drilled holes represented the most of any tested tool and was 15 more than the number-two spot (the runner-up Porter-Cable). The Bosch really combined the best results from both tests and also comes with features that we like.

The 18-volt Bosch has a belt hook and a battery-life gauge. The gauge is actually positioned on the battery itself, which is handy when you need to quickly check your spare battery without having to attach it to the drill. We also like that the LED is positioned down at the base of the handle and not up at the nose like that of many of the other drills. This casts a more even light around the tip of the drill with fewer shadows.

drills-battery-life-gauge

The battery-life gauge of the 18-volt Bosch (left) is on the battery, so it’s easy to check the levels of the spare battery. The Porter-Cable (right) has the gauge on the body of the tool, so the batteries need to be connected to the drill to test them.

Rob Robillard, a licensed contractor and editor of A Concord Carpenter, wrote his review of the DDS181 after using it on a job site for several months. He discussed liking the balance, the grip, and the LED, but also notes, “What impressed us the most was the battery life. A 30-minute lithium-ion charger quickly charges the batteries and we could not use up one battery before the other was fully charged, which means no waiting between battery uses.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Like the smaller Bosch, the handle is comfortable, but others are more comfortable. The design of most of the 18-volt drills has a handle that continuously tapers as it gets to the base (where the pinky finger wraps around). On the Bosch, it tapers, but then gets slightly thicker at the bottom. This is a small point and really only noticeable when holding the drills right next to one another.

Performance and value

drills-porter-cable-pcck600lb-20-volt

The 18-volt Porter-Cable doesn’t have the power of the Bosch, but it did perform very well, especially considering it’s relatively inexpensive.

Also great
Porter-Cable PCCK600LB 20-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-ion Drill/Driver Kit
The 20-volt Porter-Cable isn’t the most powerful drill in its class, but it delivers competitive performance and features at a lower price than the competition.

Our runner-up 18-volt tool is the Porter-Cable PCCK600LB 20-Volt Drill/Driver Kit. Among the drills, the Porter-Cable stands out as a solid, feature-heavy tool that is consistently priced lower than most.

The Porter-Cable sunk 134 screws and drilled 30 holes. In both instances, it’s behind the 18-volt Bosch and the 18-volt Ridgid (which is more expensive and heavier). In fact, numerically, the test results of the 18-volt Porter-Cable are similar to those of the 12-volt Bosch—but that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, and for a heavier workload, we would always choose it over the 12-volt Bosch. This comes down to how easily each drill does the work. The 18-volt Porter-Cable is designed for more power and more torque, so it’s a more efficient tool that strains less than a 12-volt on longer screws and wider-diameter holes. It also operates much faster than the 12-volts, so it’s better suited for repetitive work like installing a deck or large amounts of framing. You’ll pay more for that performance; the 18-volt Porter-Cable is usually $30 to $50 more expensive than the 12-volt Bosch.

But as an 18-volt, it’s a deal. Priced consistently lower than most of the others in the category, the Porter-Cable was one of only two 18-volts to come with a full set of features. It has an LED, belt hook, onboard bit storage, and a battery gauge. The LED is positioned above the trigger, so it’s not as easy to see as the Bosch’s light. And the battery gauge is on the tool (not the battery itself), so to check the life of a spare battery, you have to click the battery into the tool.

drills-porter-cable-pcck600lb

The 18-volt Porter-Cable has some nice magnetized bit storage.

As for comfort, the Porter-Cable is very nice. Unlike the Bosch’s handle, the Porter-Cable’s handle tapers all the way down, making for a perfect fit in the hand. The tool is also well-balanced. It weighs 3 pounds, 9 ounces (an ounce more than the 18-volt Bosch). Both tools land in the middle of the weight range of the tested 18s.

Robillard reviewed the 20-volt Porter-Cable at A Concord Carpenter, and his findings are consistent with ours. He writes, “This drill driver is not as heavy duty as some of the more pricier models out there but you cannot deny the price vs. value. In my opinion this drill driver is an amazing value for what you get and what you pay.”

The 12-volt competition

The Hitachi DS10DFL wasn’t as good in our tests as the Milwaukee and it’s very light on features. It doesn’t have a belt hook, battery gauge, or onboard bit storage. Hitachi uses a stem-style battery, rather than the canister style, so it has a very comfortable handle, but that alone isn’t a reason to choose it over the more powerful Bosch or Milwaukee.

The Black+Decker BDCDD12C is the other 12-volt that comes with only a single battery. Its performance was similar to the Hitachi and due to the battery design, it also has the fully tapered handle. It’s the only tested 12-volt that has the LED down at the base of the handle, which sheds better light and casts fewer shadows. On the downside, the Black+Decker doesn’t have a belt hook, onboard bit storage, or a battery gauge. It also has only one speed, which is just a little faster than the low speeds of the other drills. In practical terms, this means that it’s not a quick drill to work with, especially with smaller screws that are normally driven at high speed.

The 18-volt competition

For the 18-volt drills, in addition to the two we’re recommending, we tested eight others. Of those, the Craftsman C3 17560X, Milwaukee 2606-22CT, and DeWalt DCD780C2 all produced similar results in our testing, each driving 70 to 90 screws and drilling 20 to 25 holes (remember, the 18-volt Bosch DDS180 drove 154 screws and drilled 45 holes, and the runner-up Porter-Cable drove 134 screws and drilled 30 holes). These three drills each had one additional feature, whether it be the belt hook (DeWalt), battery gauge (Milwaukee), or onboard bit storage (Craftsman), but none had more than that. The DeWalt and Milwaukee are on the higher end of the pricing scale and were more powerful than the Craftsman. The Craftsman is priced closer to our runner-up 18-volt Porter-Cable, but doesn’t match it in features or abilities.

The Makita XFD10 did a little better by driving 100 screws and drilling 24 holes. We liked the nicely contoured handle, but the Bosch simply outdistanced it in performance. We also had an inconsistent showing from the batteries, with one of them able to drill only nine holes (we ran the test four times with the battery).

The Ridgid R86008K2 came in just behind the Bosch 18-volt in both tests. It drilled 32 holes and drove 140 screws. It was the only drill we looked at that comes with a secondary handle to give added control in high-torque scenarios. The downside is that at nearly 4 pounds, it’s a big, heavy drill (the heaviest we tested). It’s also priced consistently higher than the smaller, lighter Porter-Cable, which was so close to it in performance that the results may as well have been the same.

Though the Hitachi DS18DSAL weighs the same as the 18-volt Bosch (3 pounds, 8 ounces), it doesn’t come close to matching the Bosch’s power or endurance. It drove 92 screws and drilled 28 holes, less than the runner-up Porter-Cable model. The Hitachi also lacks bit storage and a battery gauge. It’s sold only in a kit with a cordless work light, but the light has an incandescent bulb and isn’t very bright.

The Black+Decker BDCDE120C 20-Volt with AutoSense was a champ at driving screws, gaining the top spot in that test. It didn’t do as well in the drilling test, managing only 25 holes, which put it in the middle of the pack. It was by far the smallest 18-volt we tested and its size makes it look more like a 12-volt. It also has only a ⅜-inch chuck (the rest of the 18s have ½-inch chucks), which limits it with larger bits. In addition, it’s a single-speed tool; all of the others have two speeds.

The test results for the P1811 Ryobi 18-Volt Drill/Driver were on the lower end of the scale. This drill is similar to our upgrade pick from our previous guide. In that version, we set a price limit of about $100, and this is still a nice choice for a very strict budget (although for $30 to $40 more, the Porter-Cable is much more powerful). The Ryobi is easily available at Home Depot, and the company has a lot of tools in its 18-volt lineup. For this drill specifically, we like that it has a large magnetized area that can hold screws or other bits of hardware for use during work.

(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)

Footnotes:

1. Some clarification is needed on voltages. Some companies list the nominal voltage (the voltage that the tool operates at), and others others use the higher maximum voltage (the spike that occurs when the trigger is first pulled). We’ve seen 10.8-volt tools on the shelves next to the 12-volt tools; similarly, 18-volt tools have been side by side with 20-volts. These tools do not have two additional volts of power (and if you look closely at the packaging, you’ll see fine print explaining this). Jump back.

2. This dual-battery mentality becomes even more important with Li-ion batteries. Nickel-based batteries slowly die with each screw, but Li-ion batteries hold what feels like a full charge until they are completely depleted. One screw goes in fine, the next one stops half way and that’s that. So with little to no warning when the battery will empty, having a second one on hand, ready to go, is a must. Jump back.

3. The difference between these two Bosch batteries is the amp hour (Ah). When the tool was first available, it came with a 12-volt, 1.3 Ah battery, but now it has a 12-volt, 2.0 Ah battery. To a layman, the general takeaway is that the higher the Ah, the better the battery is likely to perform. Going into more detail gets confusing quickly, but Kenny Koehler of Pro Tool Reviews has an article that does a nice job of explaining the more technical aspects of battery performance, including Ah. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Roy Berendsohn, 12-Volt Cordless Drills: We Test 13 of the Best, Popular Mechanics, December 2, 2011
  2. Sal Vaglica, Tool Test: 12-Volt Drill/Drivers, This Old House
  3. Harry Sawyers, The Best Kitchen Drawer Drill, Gizmodo, August 15, 2012
  4. Michael Springer, Tool Test: Subcompact Drill/Drivers and Impact Drivers, Tools of the Trade, August 8, 2011
  5. Timothy Dahl, founder and editor of Charles & Hudson and Built by Kids, interview
  6. Cordless drills & tool kits, Consumer Reports

Originally published: October 11, 2016

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