Cordless Drills

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DeWalt's 18-volt tool is a little bottom-heavy, but the extra battery power provides good energy for tough holes.

Lined up, the cordless models look like a colorful colony of prairie dogs. All of the models -- thankfully -- have keyless chucks, which all worked well. Unlike the corded units, these tools are better suited for one-off work: light-duty drilling (maxing out at about 1-1/4 inch for wood boring) and driving screws. As with the corded models, output was mostly the same, with the 18-volt DeWalt at the front of the pack. The distinctions came from the design details.

Controls and Grip. DeWalt's long bar switch and medium-diameter tool body enable you to grip and operate the tool anywhere along its length. With a high and low range, this tool is nice for drilling small holes or setting screws. The 18-volt battery made it bottom-heavy and awkward to handle in tight spaces, which is a slight drawback for carpentry work; however, many of my tradesmen liked it for boring framing, and since most of them have other 18-volt DeWalt equipment, it made sense for them.

The grip point, trigger, and reversing switch on the Makita are located slightly below mid-body, while the motor is located high, making the tool awkward to hold in certain applications. For example, this body configuration interferes with gripping near the head, which is necessary to apply sufficient pressure to sink a screw or drill bit easily. The motor and battery are protected by a relay breaker that prevents overloading, which I like.

I liked Hitachi's cordless model. Similar in size and shape to Makita's, it has a smaller diameter near the head, permitting both upper and lower gripping positions. The trigger is easy to reach and engage, and the tool is lightweight, well-balanced, and had just the right output for all of the drilling/driving duties we threw at it.

Batteries. Makita's tool ships with one 12-volt, 2.6-amp-hour NiMH battery and charger, which means that you have a limited power supply -- though this is not often a problem due to these tools' very specific uses. DeWalt supplies two 18-volt batteries, which keeps you going if required, and Hitachi's tool ships with two 12-volt, 2-amp-hour nicad batteries.

Winners

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DeWalt's 18-volt tool is a little bottom-heavy, but the extra battery power provides good energy for tough holes.

There are two separate winners in this group, for corded and cordless. When I need power and adaptability in a tight spot, I'll reach for the corded Milwaukee 0375-6. Its nice design makes it right for close-quarter drilling and driving. Also, it's got enormous power for punching big holes in short time. Next, I like the Craftsman and Sioux. They both offer great power for drilling and their T-handles make screwdriving possible. The Makita, Hitachi, Bosch, and DeWalt are better suited for drilling-only applications: Makita's trigger bar makes it comfortable to operate and I like its LED light. I also like Hitachi's well-designed lock-on trigger bar. The Bosch is comfortable and powerful. I like DeWalt's chuck guard, but the trigger flanges get snagged.

On the cordless side, the Hitachi DN12DY stands tall. Great ergonomics and smart grip points make this my favorite. Next comes the DeWalt. While I found it a bit bottom-heavy for carpentry, my subs liked it best for drilling framing. The Makita performed well, too, with good power output and a smart overload-protection circuit.

Sources of Supply

Corded

Bosch Power Tools
1132VSR: $135
877-267-2499
www.boschtools.com

Craftsman
Mini-T 27996: $140
800-377-7414
www.sears.com/craftsman

DeWalt
DW160: $142
800-433-9258
www.dewalt.com

Hitachi
D10YB: $150
800-829-4752
www.hitachi.com/powertools

Makita USA
DA3010F: $219
800-462-5482
www.makitatools.com

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp.
0375-6: $130-$182
800-729-3878
www.milwaukeetool.com

Sioux Tools
800ES: $175
800-722-7290
www.siouxtools.com

Cordless

yred">DeWalt
DW960K-2: $229
800-433-9258
www.dewalt.com

Hitachi
DN12DY: $185
800-829-4752
www.hitachi.com/powertools

Makita USA
DA312DWD: $199
800-462-5482
www.makitatools.com

-- Mike Guertin is a builder and remodeler from East Greenwich, R.I., a member of the JLCLive! Construction Demonstration Team, and a frequent contributor to Tools of the Trade.