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Cheap Cordless Drills Buying Guide

People buy cheap cordless drills to make holes or drive screws with speed and minimal effort. How much you spend on a cordless drill depends largely on how you plan to use it.

Bigger holes or screws need bigger bits, which require more torque, which means more power, which in turn leads to a higher price tag. That said, there's not much difference in price between a 14.4V cordless drill and an 18V or 19.2V model, so if you think you'll ever need more power, you might as well step up from the get-go.

Drill Size, Drill Power
Cordless Drill Battery
Drill Speed
Cordless Drill Reviews

Power in a cordless drill is determined by the voltage, which may be as low as 6V or as high as 36V. A small 6V cordless drill that runs on AA batteries costs less than $20 and is good enough to hang a few pictures or put together a piece of mail-order furniture. But if you do any kind of maintenance around the house, you'll need at least 12 volts of power. We focused our research on cheap cordless drills that offer this kind of versatility and expanded the scope to also include cheap 18V and 19.2V cordless drills, which just about make the grade for the professional trades. Prices vary widely for each voltage, ranging from about $35 for a cordless 12V drill up to nearly $200 and from $90 or so to about $400 for a 19.2V cordless drill. The best cheap 12V cordless drills start at about $75 and the best cheap 18V or 19.2V cordless drills start at about $100.

Cordless drill size is denoted by the size of the chuck (the end of the drill that holds the bit). Common chuck sizes are 3/8" or 1/2", which is another way of saying that the chuck can hold bits as large as 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch, respectively. In most cheap cordless drills, the chuck size coincides with the voltage. That is, 12V drills almost always have a 3/8" chuck and 18V and 19.2V drills almost always have a 1/2" chuck.

One of the major complaints lodged against cheap drills concerns batteries that don't recharge well or hold their charge for very long. This is important because consistent, even power is critical. If the battery is dying or dead, you can't drill a hole or drive a screw properly. The newest and best cheap cordless drills, however, contain quick-charging, long-lasting lithium-ion batteries instead of the older, heavier, and less efficient NiCAD (nickel-cadmium) and NiMH (nickel-metal-hydride) batteries. The charge on lithium-ion batteries also holds though long periods of inactivity and the charge capacity doesn't diminish if you don't fully recharge the battery. Not surprisingly, lithium-ion batteries are pricier than the alternative battery technologies.

Experts at J.D. Power and Associates give top grades to brands like Bosch, Makita, Milwaukee, and Craftsman Professional for drill performance, battery performance, ease of use, versatility, warranty, and overall user satisfaction. Other well-regarded names in the power drill market include Hitachi, Porter Cable, Ryobi, and Ridgid. Most of these companies make cordless drills in a variety of voltages that sell at a variety of price points targeted for different segments of the market.

Our research into the best cheap cordless drills turned up several 12V and the more powerful 18V and 19.2V models that are well-priced given their capabilities. Our top picks incorporate the new lithium-ion battery and garner strong user reviews. At the head of our list sit the 12V Ryobi 3/8" HJP002K (starting at $79) and the Craftsman 17310 19.2V C3 (starting at $100) for their overall performance and value pricing. Next on our list are the Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 Cordless Compact Lithium-Ion 12V 3/8" Drill (starting at $90) and Ryobi 18V P815 Lithium-Ion Cordless Compact Drill (starting at $150), which perform well but not quite at the level of our first two choices.

Two cheap cordless drills we would bypass are the Skil 12V 2240-01 (starting at $51) and PowerGlide 19.2V 2186955 (starting at $41), both of which incorporate the older NiCAD battery and just don't make the grade when stacked against the top four despite their lower prices. User reviews indicate the PowerGlide, in particular, suffers from problems with the battery and charger.

As you shop for the cheapest cordless drill that suits your needs, you've got a few additional options. A complete drill kit, like those that we researched, comes with one or two batteries (one to run the drill and one as back-up for long jobs) plus a battery charger. A less costly "bare tool" is just that -- a drill packaged by itself that uses batteries from another complimentary tool; bare tools cost less than the full kit. You can sometimes find real bargains on reconditioned models of upmarket brands, like DeWalt or Bosch, but read the warranty carefully to make sure you aren't getting stuck with someone else's problem. And watch for drill manufacturers and vendors trying to offload NiCAD battery cordless drills for bargain prices -- no disrespect meant for the tools themselves, but you may not get the same customer service from manufacturers that have moved on to the newest battery technology.

Drill Size, Drill Power

Drill Size, Drill Power

As you sort through the available options, keep in mind the old saying: "You aren't buying a drill, you're buying a hole." So answer the following before making your selection: How often will you use the drill? How wide and how deep do you want the holes to be? What kind of materials will you be drilling into? What size screws will you be driving, and into which materials? How much power do you need to make all this happen?

Review continues below

Drill Size.

A cordless drill's size is denoted by the largest size bit it can hold; the bit is held in place and rotated by the chuck. Cheap cordless drills that are useful for a variety of home maintenance chores and DIY projects come in two standard sizes: 3/8" and 1/2", and the specs will say something like 3/8" chuck or 1/2" chuck. Most 12V cordless drills, like the Ryobi HJP002 Compact Drill (starting at $79), Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 Cordless Compact (starting at $90), and SKIL 2240-01 (starting at $51), come with a 3/8" chuck. Larger 18V cordless drills and 19.2V cordless drills, like the Craftsman 17310 C3 (starting at $100) and Ryobi P815 Lithium-Ion Compact Drill (starting at $150), typically come with a 1/2" chuck. The PowerGlide 2186955 (starting at $41) features an odd combination of small 3/8" chuck and powerful 19.2V battery.

Older drills need a type of key to unlock the chuck to change the bits. Newer models, including all the cordless drills we researched, are keyless -- you can open and close the chuck with your free hand, or, depending on the model, with the handle trigger. Occasionally the chuck on a cheap drill wears out; eHow provides instructions for replacing the chuck instead of buying a new drill.

Drill Power.

The denser the material you're drilling or driving into, the more power you'll need. Higher voltage drills generally produce more torque. So, if you need to drill one medium-sized hole or drive a lot of little screws in material like drywall, a small 12V cordless drill like the Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 or Ryobi HJP002K should do the trick; the Bosch PS21-2A Pocket Driver (starting at $105) also works well for quick and easy jobs. But if you're building a deck or a tree house, you'd be better off with a more powerful drill. An inexpensive 14.4V or 16V cordless model might suffice, but most knowledgeable DIY-ers turn to 18V drills like the Ryobi P815, Craftsman 17310, or Hitachi DS18VF3 (starting at $116).

Cordless Drill Battery

Cordless Drill Battery.

If you expect to use your drill for relatively long work sessions, you need a battery that lasts. The length of time a cordless drill battery runs before needing a recharge is measured in ampere hours (Ah). The specs for the cheap cordless drills on our list that mention amp hours peg the number at 1.3 Ah, 1.4 Ah, or 1.5 Ah, although some product review sites say cordless drill batteries can run for about two hours straight, depending on work load. Such test results are only a rough guide, though, because users generally don't run a drill non-stop. Indeed, a battery's discharge time depends on several factors, including the efficiency of the motor, whether the drilling is constant or intermittent, and the material the drill is battling. Under certain conditions, a drill can go days or weeks on one charge.

Even so, the best insurance against running out of power at a crucial moment is having a back-up battery (but remember to keep it fully charged). Among the cordless drills that we researched, the Ryobi HJP002K 12V and P815 18V, Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 12V, and Bosch Pocket Driver PS21-2A 12V come with two batteries. The Craftsman 17310 C3, PowerGlide 19.2V, and Skil 2240-01 12V come with just one battery; the Skil 2240-02 12V is the same as the 2240-01 but features two batteries and costs about $10 more.

Many 12V, 18V, and 19.2V cordless drills come packaged as a kit; that is, with at least one battery and a charger. (All of the models we researched qualify as kits.) The charger is often specific to a battery technology (e.g., lithium-ion or NiCAD), but the Craftsman 17310 C3 and Ryobi P815 come with dual-chemistry chargers that power-up either type of battery, which can then be used in your cordless drill. If you have a compatible battery and a charger lying around, you can save money by buying a "bare tool;" that is, one without a battery or charger. The Ryobi P202 18V (starting at $59), for example, is the same drill that comes in the pricier Ryobi P815 "kit." By contrast, if you need a replacement battery or charger for the PowerGlide 19.2V, you're out of luck. We read several reviews by disgruntled owners who note on Ace Hardware that this model is sold only as a complete kit.

The new lithium-ion batteries deployed in increasing numbers of cheap drills, including our favorites, have many advantages over the older NiCAD and NiMH batteries. For one, lithium-ion batteries hold their charge longer while in use and in between chargings. Charge time is significantly faster -- usually less than an hour compared to several hours with the older battery technologies, although there certainly are exceptions. (Specs for the 18V Hitachi DS18VF3, for example, boast a 35-minute charge time for its NiCAD battery.) Lithium-ion batteries also deliver consistent power until the juice runs dry, whereas power from NiMH batteries diminishes as the battery wears down and tends to flag in cold weather. Moreover, the new-technology batteries can be removed from the charger before they're fully juiced up, but experts caution that if you repeatedly take NiCAD batteries off the charger before the process is complete, the battery may never fully recharge. Lithium-ion batteries are also lighter than the older battery types, making for a more ergonomic power tool. On the other hand, cordless drills that rely on NiCAD or NiMH batteries are often cheaper; the NiCAD-powered Ryobi P850 18V starts at $79, for example, compared to the triple-digit price tag for the 19.2V Craftsman 17310 C3 and 18V Ryobi P815.

Aside from a few reports about disappointing performance, drill reviews by experts and users agree that the new lithium-ion batteries meet all the necessary requirements: consistent power, long run time, and rapid recharge. Indeed, drill reviews give top marks to the batteries in our top picks. Concerning the 12V Ryobi HJP002K, users posting reviews on Home Depot say the battery holds its charge through a variety of jobs, be it driving hundreds of screws or trimming out electrical fixtures on a remodeling project. One user reports that the Ryobi HJP002K just keeps on going, and others note that even when it finally quits, the battery recharges in less than 45 minutes. The Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 garners similar praise on the Lowe's site, where one user notes that you'll tire out well before the 12V cordless drill battery wears out. A quick recharge for the single cordless drill battery accompanying the Craftsman 17310 C3 is most welcome, say drill reviews on Sears, as is the dual-chemistry charger. Many users comment on the Craftsman 17310 C3 's decent battery life, although one user gripes that the cordless drill battery pooped out after tightening screws on eight chairs and another says 30 minutes of intense drilling did it in. The other 18V cordless drill on our list, the Ryobi 815P, also holds its charge well and boasts a quick recharge, so you're never short of power, according to drill reviews on Home Depot.

The older NiCAD batteries, found on the Skil 2240-01 12V and the PowerGlide 19.2V don't fare as well in users' estimation. For one thing, it takes at least three hours to fully recharge the batteries, so you could be twiddling your thumbs for quite a while if you don't have a charged-up extra. Users' drill reviews for the Skil 2240-01 on Amazon say you get about a week of low-level use from one charge but caution that you need to drain the battery completely and then recharge completely for maximum utility. The PowerGlide really falls down on the job, according to reviews on Ace Hardware. Users report that the battery doesn't hold its charge and may completely die within months, and that the charger often malfunctions and in at least one case, leaked white foam.

Drill Speed

Drill Speed and Torque.

Once you've settled on the optimal amount of power, you'll need to consider the related issues of speed and torque. Many larger and some smaller cordless drills have two maximum speeds -- low for higher torque when driving screws and high for lower torque when drilling. The 19.2V Craftsman 17310 C3, and the 18V Ryobi P815 and Hitachi DS18VF3 boast two speeds -- the low maxes out at 440 rpm and the high at 1600 for the Craftsman 17310 C3 and Ryobi P815, and 400 rpm and 1200 rpm for the Hitachi DS18VF3. The 19.2V PowerGlide features variable speed up to 900 rpm.

The Porter-Cable and Bosch PS21-PA Pocket Driver are 12V cordless drills with two speeds; the former with a maximum 315 rpm and 1200 rpm, and the latter with a maximum 350 rpm and 1300 rpm. Other 12V cordless drills feature variable speeds; the Ryobi HJP002K reaches 600 rpm and the Skil 2240-01 hits 700 rpm. The cordless drills we researched also feature a reversible drive that lets you back the drill out or remove screws.

Good cordless drills also offer numerous clutch positions. The clutch is handy when using a range of bit sizes for one project -- lower numbers for small screws and larger numbers for big screws. The clutch disengages and the screwdriver bit stops spinning when the screw is sufficiently tight, which This Old House explains ensures that you don't strip the screw or over-tax the motor. Our picks for best and good cheap cordless drills have either 20 or 24 clutch positions; the Skil 2240-01 incorporates 15 and the 19.2V PowerGlide has 17.

Cordless Drills Frills.

Some manufacturers pack on a few extras. LED lights to brighten the target areas and belt hooks for keeping the cordless drill by your side grace the Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 and Craftsman 17310 C3; the latter also features an "add energy indicator" for the battery that users say they appreciate. All the cheap cordless drills we researched sport some sort of magnetic bit holder for a convenient quick change when you're in the midst of a job, and most come with a storage/carry bag. Drill bits are usually sold separately, but the Craftsman 17310 comes with two screwdriver bits, the Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 and Skil 2240-01 each come with one, the Hitachi DS18VF3 provides seven bits, and the PowerGlide comes with an accessories kit that includes multiple bits.

Cordless Drill Reviews

Users who post cordless drill reviews typically advise their fellow drill users to go to a store and take a good hard look at the tool before buying. Try the handle. Try the trigger. Try pulling the battery out and putting it back in. Try the charger. Reviewers also advise that you try changing the bits and speeds and working the reverse mechanism. If you have any questions, ask someone before investing. The Internet hosts cordless drill reviews written by all manner of users, from sporadic to hobbyists to DIYers to professionals, who dish on the effectiveness of their cheap cordless drills. Even though the top-rated cordless drills occasionally prove to be lemons, the cordless drill reviews we found indicate that the vast majority of users are well-served by the best and good models on our list.

Overall Performance.

But for the odd home handyman or tradesman who nitpick the torque or grip of the chuck, users of all stripes seem perfectly content with several 12V drills that we researched. The Ryobi HJP002K drills and drives with gusto, say cordless drill reviews on Home Depot. Users report this cheap cordless drill is well-suited to assembling play forts and game tables, roughing-in residential construction, maintaining commercial aircraft, and tackling home repair tasks, although we did come across a few cordless drill reviews grumbling about slow speeds that limit the drill's usefulness to smaller screws and shorter nails. The speed and power of the Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2 earn it an above-average grade from experts at Cordless Drill Reviews, who note that its performance in these two dimensions surpass most other 12V drills. Reviews on Amazon comment on the Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2's impressive power, which drives four-inch screws into birch without a hitch; a review on Lowe's, however, says the drill stumbles when matched against metal and long screws. Reviews for the Skil 12V 2240-01 indicate this model is less versatile than our favorites. Commenting on Amazon, users say the Skil 2240-01 has enough power for small home projects that a novice would take on, but little else; a user posting on Epinions reports that he struggled to drive a screw into a stud when trying to mount a towel holder.

Despite acclaim for these cheap 12V cordless drills, many users still prefer more powerful 18V and 19.2V models. The Craftsman 17310 C3 is one strong drill, according to cordless drill reviews on Sears, with the right amount of torque and speed to manage jobs like hanging sheetrock, building a workbench, and upgrading computers. Although we noted a couple of comments about inadequate torque, there were several posts from mechanics who say this model stands up to those sold by specialty vendors. A maximum speed of 1600 rpm places the Ryobi P815 above average for 18V drills, according to Cordless Drill Reviews, even as its power lags the average by 25%. Some users assert this model could use a bit more oomph, but most cordless drill reviews on Home Depot say it's more than adequate for tasks like driving lag bolts into lumber, boring holes into rocky and ice-cold ground for spring bulbs, mounting bookshelves, and (with the appropriate attachments), detailing autos. Still, one user grouses that the speed can be inconsistent and very low speeds are hard to set, and another says the motor burned up after just a day of hard drilling. The PowerGlide 19.2V cordless drill irks users on a variety of counts, one of which concerns inadequate power, according to some cordless drill reviews on Ace Hardware. The occasional user might be pleased with this model, but units seem to burn out quickly when put to the test.

Ease of Use.

Imagine holding a drill over your head for hours and you'll know why ergonomics are important to drill users. Almost across the board, users of these models report that they're easy to use, well-balanced, feel good in your hand, and don't tire your arm. Most manufacturers are now incorporating the lighter weight lithium-ion batteries in the best cordless drills; most of the cordless drills on our list weigh less than five pounds. About the only negative attributed to the Craftsman 17310 C3 is its hefty 6.1-pound weight (despite the lithium ion battery), although one user asserts it does a woman's tool box proud. The 18V Ryobi P815 also appeals to handy women, one of whom gives a shout-out in a cordless drill review on Home Depot to the yellow-green color and calls it a "life-changer." Another woman reports that male colleagues in a cabinet shop initially dismissed the 12V Ryobi HJP002K as a toy, then asked to borrow it, and then bought their own. On the other end of the spectrum, the Skil 2240-01 takes some heat in cordless drill reviews on Amazon for an uncomfortable trigger that controls the speed on this 12V cordless drill.



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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Cordless Drills
  2. Discount Cordless Drills Features Comparison Table
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