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Mike McClintock: Home Sense

Cutting the Cord on Power Drills

By Mike McClintock
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page H02

Contractors and consumers alike have cut the cord when it comes to power tools, particularly drills. The versatile tool can drill holes, drive screws and tackle wire brushing, sanding and many other jobs with special attachments.

And it's all so much easier without a cord.

You have to remember to charge the batteries. But most manufacturers sell drill kits -- a case with charger and extra battery -- so one can always be ready to run. That's where the similarities end.

Portable drills are available with a wide range of power supplies from dozens of manufacturers producing hundreds of different models, including some unusual configurations reviewed here.

Basic buying guidelines

High-powered tools pack a potent combination of driving torque and staying power with high-capacity batteries. And more volts spur drill sales. For occasional home use, however, a smaller, lighter, 14.4-volt model will usually do.

But a high-end tool could pay off if you're planning to build a deck or if the tool has other features you want, such as better balance, hammering action and more. If most of your projects involve no more than driving a few screws, a low-volt, palm-size screwdriver may be perfect.

There are also distinctions among drills that make them good for particular jobs.

• Dedicated screwdrivers turn more slowly than drills. Many have the power to drill but will take longer to do it.

• Standard drills work at higher and often variable speed. Many have an adjustable torque limiter, which controls turning force, for instance, when driving deck bolts so they seat firmly without digging into the wood.

• Impact drivers may also drill, but are designed mainly to fasten screws, nuts and bolts. The standard drilling motion is aided by a rotational hammering action, which kicks in when more torque is needed for final tightening or initial loosening. They're great for driving lag bolts in deck framing.

• Hammer drills introduce a pounding action in the drilling rotation and are used on masonry.

• Variable-speed trigger control is handy if you'll be working in different materials -- slower drilling in masonry and faster drilling in wood.

Finally, if you may be buying more than a drill, consider the economy of a multi-tool kit with several tool heads that work off the same two batteries and charger. The caveat is that some kits contain small circular saws that are a little short on power.

Drill reviews

• Milwaukee V28, 1/2-inch hammer drill. This high-powered, multi-function drill is pricey, professional-level equipment that can handle any application -- attributes that have never deterred homeowners and do-it-yourselfers before.

Just on the market is the company's lithium-ion battery technology -- 28-volt packs that produce stupendous torque with up to twice the run time of many 18-volt models though the packs weigh slightly less. (The beefy tool weighs only 6.7 pounds.) The drill includes a torque limiter, a switch for hammer-drill mode and a speed selector for variable control up to 600 rpm in one mode and 1,800 rpm in the other. There's also a reversible battery to reduce the tool profile in tight spaces, a belt clip, a keyless chuck, comfy rubber grips, plus a good case, charger and spare battery. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation (www.milwaukeetool.com); model 0724-20; approximate retail $415.

• Bosch 14.4 volt, 1/4-inch impact driver. This incredibly compact drill (only four pounds) is a fastener. Instead of a conventional, three-jaw drill chuck, it has a locking collet that accepts 1/4-inch hexagonal shank bits -- those sometimes vast collections of little bits sold in boxed kits.

The small but powerful tool has variable speed, revving to 2,800 rpm with a hammering action to increase torque. There's also a belt-clip attachment (optional) and two batteries with charger. (The tool is also sold in less expensive 12- and 9.6-volt models.) One unusual but sometimes helpful extra: a built-in swiveling light to help illuminate the work area. Bosch Tool Corporation (www.boschtools.com); model 23614: suggested retail $239.

• Craftsman 14.4 volt, 3/8-inch right angle drill/driver. This giraffe of a drill is about 14 inches long. But the compact, right-angle gearing reduces the width to just over four inches -- a great configuration for working between studs and other tight spaces.

A secondary grip near the keyless chuck allows two-handed control, though the 4.5-pound unit is well balanced despite its length. The drill offers variable-speed up to 800 rpm, basic, easy-to-use controls and convenient built-in bit storage. Incidentally, Craftsman provides one of the largest, most clearly illustrated owner's manuals. Sears Roebuck and Co. (www.craftsman.com); model 10153; suggested retail $100.

• Metabo 4.8v power grip driver. This compact, curvaceous, comfortable and cleverly packaged driver is the style winner for sure. The curving teardrop shape is unusual but has a great feel for a righty or lefty, at least for a good-sized hand.

The test was too tedious to duplicate, but the company says the tool can drive over 400 3/4-inch screws into softwood on a single charge. Without variable speed, the modest motor delivers power at a steady 230 rpms.

The case holds another battery, and in this newest version an interchangeable focusing flashlight that compliments the drill design. Metabo (www.metabousa.com); model Power Grip; suggested retail $119.

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