Home improvement and DIY projects are on the rise (In 2020, up nearly 75% in some areas according to Cognition Smart Data). People are opting for customization as well as the cost-saving advantages of doing versus buying. In the world of DIY one thing is certain, you’re gonna need some tools, and the most commonly used tool for home projects is the drill.
You certainly have options when it comes to drills. Wired or cordless? Brushed or brushless? 12-volt? 18-volt? 24-volt? Drill? Impact? Hammer? Rotary??? There will be plenty of information for you on all these topics, but for now, I’m going to focus on 12-volt cordless drills with a brushed motor. These drills can accomplish most of the same tasks as their beefier 18-volt kin, just on a smaller scale. Do you occasionally assemble Swedish furniture? 12-volt. Hang pictures, shelves or the odd large TV? 12-volt. Fancy building yourself a standalone workshop? 18-volt.
The larger 18- and 24-volt tools are aimed at the power and/or pro users. The jobs are tougher and longer, so the demands on the tools themselves are much higher. Likewise, impact, hammer and rotary drills are all geared towards more specific, and usually tougher, jobs. The tools featured here are aimed at lighter and less-frequent tasks, and used mainly for drilling holes or putting screws into wood, sheetrock or plaster.
The other major differentiator in any drill category is a brushed vs. brushless motor. In short, brushed motors have physical carbon brushes that maintain contact with the part of the motor that spins. That means the brushes see constant friction when the drill is in use and will eventually wear out. That friction also generates a fair amount of heat, leading to as much as a 20 percent loss in torque efficiency (energy that is transformed to actual rotational force) compared to brushless motors. Brushless motors work primarily by way of magnets and have no physical friction-inducing parts. This efficiency gain gets you better performance over the course of a battery charge compared to the same drill in a brushed model.
One big factor in choosing between brushed and brushless is price. You’ll have to pay extra for a drill with a brushless motor, usually between $50 and $200, so keep that in mind when making your decision. For most around-the-house tasks, a brushed motor drill is sufficient.
That said, in rare cases, a 12-volt drill actually fails at performing some of the basic functionality you might expect. Fret not. Keep reading and you’ll be sure to avoid those pitfalls and end up with the drill that will best suit your needs. I took eight of the most popular 12-volt brushed cordless drills, bored nearly 100 holes and seated over 2,500 screws over a few days to lock down performance expectations.
This Bosch drill is dynamite — explosive performance in a small package. It topped the performance scores across the board and came in second in our measurements for getting into the tightest spots. It has all the bells and whistles you’ll find among 12-volt brushed drills, but you will pay for all this handy goodness, as this drill is tied for second-most-expensive in the category.
Includes soft carrying case and two 2 aH batteries — the largest battery capacity in this category.
If you need to get in and drill in tight spaces, this B&D drill is for you.
With overall midlevel performance and the cheapest price tag on the list, this drill is a solid pick. I measure down to the 64th of an inch for clearance in tight spots. At 1-18/64 inches side clearance, this drill gets into tighter spaces than any other I’ve tested, although it is worth noting that our overall pick, the Bosch PS31-2A was just behind at 1-19/64 in.
Includes one 1.5 aH battery, no carrying case.
Tacklife is a relatively new tool brand that you’ll find littering the likes of Amazon’s tool-related search results.
For the 12-volt brushed cordless drills, Tacklife offered near-optimal performance at only 0.5 unit per amp hour shy of first place in our light duty battery tests. Its body size is one of the bulkier options, but it does have a battery life LED indicator and is priced near the bottom of the pack to be named best value.
Includes one 2 aH battery and the hard plastic carrying case contains extra bits and accessory goodies.
All of the eight drills I tested are brushed models that use a 12-volt battery. You can find a lot of different varieties of these online and in your local big box retailer, but to keep the pricing comparison as level as possible, each of these includes the drill, a charger, one (or two) batteries and, in most cases, some kind of accessory to carry everything around.
Along with the three drills above, here is a list of the other five drills I tested, along with some context about why they didn’t get the nod as best in class.
- : DeWalt did perform better than average, but it was also the most expensive drill in this roundup at $133. Without top-level performance, I can’t recommend it at that price. Includes two 1.3-aH batteries and a soft carrying case.
- Bosch at the same price. Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft carrying case. : Virtually the same story as DeWalt. With nearly identical performance, and a $129 price tag, this drill was good, but couldn’t outpace the
- : I own some Ridgid tools myself that I’m quite happy with. This drill saw has average performance at slightly below-average pricing, coming in at $59. It’s a solid pick, just not outstanding. Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft case.
- : With comparable performance to the Bosch and Tacklife drills, the $99 Makita was good but didn’t make the cut due to a higher price than the Tacklife drill, and slightly less performance compared with the Bosch. Includes two 2-aH batteries and a hard plastic case.
- : Very low high-torque performance scores, but an attractive $53 price tag. A fine drill for light household jobs. Includes one 1.3-aH battery but no carrying case.
How we test
Other than general use and impressions, I have three main ways of testing drills. There is a clearance test, where I determine the tightest space the drill can get into and still drive or drill at a perfect 90-degree angle perpendicular to the drilling surface. Then there are two different types of power/longevity tests; one with a higher torqued load and one with a lower load.
For the high-torque test, I use a 1-inch wood spade bit and drill a series of holes into standard yellow pine construction grade lumber. After, I divide the number of holes drilled by the battery capacity which gives a “holes per amp hour” data point for comparison. I like this particular metric method because it negates the ability of a drill to win just by having a larger battery.
In the low-torque tests I took some screws — a ton of screws — and drove them into standard construction lumber. Drive in as many as possible until the drill can no longer completely seat a screw; i.e. flush or slightly below flush with the lumber, then count. I use the same previously described method here, dividing by amp hour to get our final metric.
For the clearance test, I measured the distance from the center of the drill chuck opening to the top of the drill and separately to the side of the drill. The lowest value for each drill you will see charted below. I converted the measurements to decimals for purposes of the chart, but I did measure these in 1/64-inch increments. The lower the value, the smaller the overall size of the drill is, allowing it to be used in tighter spaces than the drills with larger values.
There’s a larger performance variance in 12-volt drills than I expected. If you’re in the market, just make sure you have a clear idea of what exactly you’re hoping to get out of your drill, then take a look at the information provided here. It should be easy enough to get a clear picture of performance, price and capabilities to make sure you end up with the perfect choice for your needs.