Extra Features

Belt Hooks. Both Hitachi units and the Panasonic EY7201GQW have adjustable belt hooks. I love having a hook; they're excellent for carrying tools when your hands are full or hooking the tool onto your belt while on a ladder. However, for these tools, the concept was a little better than the execution. For instance, the hooks on all three tools require two hands to adjust so they can grab a belt, and they're hard to adjust smoothly. Once turned so they'll hang on a tool pouch, the hooks got in the way if I switched to using the tool left-handed. I found this bothersome inside cabinets and window frames, where I switch hands to drive screws in different corners. If the hooks could be integrated with the tool body, it might avoid some of these conflicts. But, after all that complaining, I'd rather have the hook than not.

Work Lights. These same three tools also have LED lights. The Hitachis' lights are part of the belt hook, have an on/off switch, and work fine. Pulling the trigger illuminates the Panasonic EY7201GQW's light. I suppose I can figure a few instances where a little light would be nice, but frankly I've never found a need for them–and I did a lot of this test at night.

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The belt hooks and lights on the Hitachi units and the Panasonic EY7201GQW work, but could use refinement.

Speed Settings. Only the Panasonic EY7201GQW has slow- and high-speed settings, which I love. This makes what is otherwise a very high-rpm tool much, much easier to control, especially on gentler work like hanging doors and drilling small pilot holes. I wish all the drivers had this feature.

Noise. Every tool in the group generates extra noise. For what they lack in size, the Napoleonic drivers make up for in loudness. The good news is that in many light-duty applications, they drive without impacting for most if not all of the screw's length, rendering them quiet much of the time.

One of the many positive results of the noisy impact feature, however, is that while you need to push hard and make a solid connection between the driver bit and screw to start the screw, once you're turning threads you don't have to lean on the tool to make it go, like with a drill/driver. Good, steady pressure is all you need, which is another energy saver.

Favorites

Since the test group is all over the voltage map, picking a single winner requires some qualification, as some of these tools really shine in certain applications. For bulldog power, I like Hitachi's 14.4-volt WH14DMB. It's basic and a little big, but has a ton of muscle. Milwaukee's 14.4-volt 9081-22 is a close second here. For trim and cabinets, the super-compact 12-volt Panasonic EY6506NQKW is superlative.

But for general purpose work, Hitachi's 12-volt WH12DM2 is the most versatile and my overall favorite. It's compact, light, and great on trim sites, but also has awesome power for digging into lags and heavy-duty work, proving itself the fightin'-est dog on site.

Next, both DeWalt tools are comfortable and powerful. Panasonic's EY7201GQW is an advanced, versatile tool, while both Makita models provide dependable service.


SOURCES OF SUPPLY

12-Volt
Hitachi Power Tools
WH12DM2: $250
800-829-4752
Makita USA
6916DWDE: $249
800-462-5482
Panasonic Professional
Cordless Tools
EY6506NQKW: $219
800-338-0552
Panasonic Professional
Cordless Tools
EY7201GQW: $249
800-338-0552

14.4-Volt
DeWalt Industrial Tool
DW054K-2: $249
800-433-9258
Hitachi Power Tools
WH14DMB: $299
800-829-4752
Makita USA
6932FDWDE: $259
800-462-5482
Milwaukee
Electric Tool Corp.

9081-22: $245 to $343
800-729-3878

18-Volt
DeWalt Industrial Tool
DW056K-2: $289
800-433-9258

–Mark Clement is executive editor of Tools of the Trade.

Thanks to Irwin and Vermont American for supplying drill and driver bits for this test.