"Which Cordless Drill System Should I Buy?"
One of the most popular questions asked is, "which cordless drill would you buy... Dewalt, Makita, Milwaukee?" Of course, the most popular initial response is, "what are your needs?" more specifically, "what are your long term needs. Is this for use around the house, for your job? Do you think there is any chance you'd want to add different tools such as a saw or other specialized cordless equipment? How often will you be using this tool, daily or once a month? Are you in fact using it dominantly as a drill or to drive screws?" Although at first this may seem like a lot of questions, they are important questions especially with the variety to choose from.
What you're doing is buying into a cordless system. Whether your decision is based on a price point or an immediate need, which system you buy into is a very important consideration since you'll likely have this system for several years. A system can refer to that individual drill and what type of battery technology it uses or what different kinds of tools are available that use that battery technology. Some brands such as Makita & Dewalt have a very expansive selection of cordless tools such as caulking guns, concrete vibrators, grinders and portable band saws. Other companies such a Bosch, Milwaukee or Hitachi may stick to a slightly more mainstream tool selection such as circular saws, recip saws and impact drivers, but have advantages to that specific tool over the other. Do you think you will have a use for other cordless tools and want to add to your system?
Aside from features & benefits, another obvious decision factor is cost. The newer the technology used, the more expensive the system typically is. Currently, Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) is the "New & Improved" battery system being used compared to NiCad or NiMH. Does this mean the older technologies are not sufficient anymore? Not at all. Dewalt doesn't think so, they still run their 18v NiCad platform as well as Li-Ion. It is important to remember that although cost is a factor, sometimes it isn't the best way to decide what to buy. In fact, the home owner who only uses their cordless drill a couple times a month will benefit most from the newest battery system, Li-Ion (Lithium Ion).
The advantages Li-Ion provides the homeowner is sustained shelf life. This means the Li-Ion battery retains it's charge longer than the other technologies. For the individual using their drill a couple times a month, this could mean the next time they pick up the drill to use it, it will still have a substantial amount of charge left. This means fewer charges are usually required over the same period of time than other technologies. A high number of charge cycles is one of the main reasons for decreased battery performance. Ironically, Li-Ion is capable of more charge cycles than other technologies. Couple this fact with longer sustained shelf life and you have the recipe for a long life battery. Are you concerned with on demand performance, or are you willing to compromise lower cost with the possible short-term inconvenience of waiting for a battery to charge?
The advantage Li-Ion provides the contractor is higher than average amp hour capacities per weight compared to other technologies. This is a hand in hand benefit. Battery can have higher amp hour ratings (holds more charge) in a lighter weight package... run longer = more productive, lighter weight = less fatigue. As a business owner or a contractor can you afford not to have these advantages?
Other systems such as NiCad & NiMH are also proven performers, and often can be found in less expensive reconditioned tools, which provide the user with a less expensive option to a normally higher priced professional tool. Dewalt, Milwaukee, Bosch, and many others have a reconditioned tool program. So if cost ends up out weighing the value of the Li-Ion advantages, a reconditioned tool might be the solution for you.
The two most popular battery voltages are 14.4v and 18v. Today's motor technologies are enabling 14.4 volt systems to provide enough torque to accomplish most drilling / driving tasks, using a lighter weight battery. It is true the 18 volt cordless drills typically have more torque, but the main benefit to an 18 volt battery is capacity. For tools such as circular saws and recip saws, the extra capacity means you can work longer. It is important to consider if you'll want to run tools like this before committing to a cordless system.
Another alternative option to a cordless drill is the increasingly popular impact driver. Looking at your use of a cordless tool, for many it is used to drive screws rather than drill holes. In this realm, the impact driver far out performs the drill, clutch and all. The impact driver is a screwing machine with it's high RPM, efficient driving system, & compact light weight design. The impact driver provides a smooth and consistent amount of torque to the fastener even when it slows down as it begins to set the screw. This differs from the clutch of a cordless drill as it stops when a certain amount of torque is reached. Wood has different densities along the same board requiring more torque to set the screw to the same depth at different points along the board. Since an impact driver slows down as the screw is about to set its head, you can stop driving the screw very easily and, creep it along to adjust if need be without having to set & reset the clutch on the drill.
As a result of this efficient design, the impact driver can out perform the number of screws driven with the same amount of charge. The obvious benefits to this is higher productivity & longer battery life. Couple the inherent benefits of the impact driver with a Li-Ion battery and you will have a screw driving machine capable of going nearly all day long on one charge. It is important to mention that the impact driver makes for an excellent drill, when the appropriate bits are used. It is true the drill has a little more versatility with the adjustable chuck, but do the advantages of the impact driver suit you?
So there are a lot of basic considerations to make when deciding which cordless drill system to purchase. Thankfully, the current technologies and manufacturer selections offer several options that will best fit your individual needs.
Chris Ludjin, Hardware Sales Inc.