Performance Test

When you get on the job, it's all about production; the faster you can drill a line of holes, the quicker you're running pipe or wire through it. So I usually bore holes up to 2-9/16 inch on a drill's high-speed setting. If the drill is powerful enough to perform, the accumulated time savings is there. When testing the drills in high speed, some of my averaged test times were as fast as 6 seconds compared to times as long as 26 seconds in low. Twenty seconds doesn't sound like a big deal, but think about it this way: you're cutting your drilling time by 75 percent. The bottom line here is to deliver enough power to the bit at the fastest speed possible to do the job more efficiently. In this test, power equals speed, speed equals time, and we all know what time equals.

Because of the different grades of lumber, knots, moisture content, and drilling positions, boring times can vary with every hole you drill on the job. For the shop performance testing, I tried to eliminate as many variables as possible. Using a new 2-9/16-inch self-feeding bit on each tool, I drilled multiple holes with each drill at each of its speed settings through doubled-up 2-by lumber to closely simulate everyday work requirements. I had a helper time me to get an accurate comparison of speed and power in completing this task.

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Changing drilling speed ranges on the medium-duty models requires some disassembly. Keyed drive attachments like on this Makita proved easier and quicker than threaded models.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

The heavy-duty tools really showed their stuff here: The Milwaukee earned its name as the Super-Hawg; rated at 13 amps and turning at 450 and 1,750 rpm, it shredded holes in 13 seconds in low speed and only 6 seconds in high. This tool has the fastest rpm of any and the power to back up working at the increased speeds. The DeWalt, rated at 11.5 amps and at 300 and 1,200 rpm, blasted through my test with an average 18 seconds and 8 seconds, respectively?a solid performance for the oldest design in the group. The 10-amp Makita, also at 300 and 1,200 rpm, cranked out times of 19 seconds and 9 seconds?very impressive for the lightest and smallest drill. The Ridgid has three speeds (300, 600, and 1,200 rpm), and its more modest 8-amp motor turned in the slowest times of the heavy-duties at 21, 13, and 12 seconds. The mid-range speed should be the highest used for a bit of this size, according to Ridgid; their high-speed capacity is only 1-3/8 inch, compared to 2-9/16 inch for the others.

The medium-duty group had mixed results. The Makita's 7.5-amp motor, at 400 and 900 rpm, was able to bore the test holes in 21 seconds and 15 seconds. The Milwaukee has a 7-amp motor, but its geared-down speeds of 335 and 750 rpm resulted in the slowest times of 26 seconds and 19 seconds?plenty of power but at the cost of some speed.

The 7-amp DeWalt effortlessly bored test holes at 400 rpm in 15 seconds, but could not perform the test at 900 rpm. The cordless Milwaukee did about the same: At 400 rpm it steadily chomped away until I had a hole at 16 seconds, but it was not quite powerful enough to finish a hole at 1,000 rpm. Both of these drills are rated for a maximum bit size of -29/16 inch. The first two are rated at a maximum of 4-5/8 inch?the same as the heavy-duty class.

Milwaukee's cordless drill is pretty impressive. To be able to keep up with corded tools in such a high-output application is quite a feat of battery-powered strength. I started these tests only after fully breaking-in the battery, as the owner's manual instructed, and always started with it fully charged. I also tested this drill to see how much work you could expect out of a charge. I was able to complete 16 2-9/16-inch holes through the double 2-by before I got the blinking recharge light, and I never noticed any decrease in performance, even through the last hole. During these trials, the bit bound up once and I received quite a smack to the leg; don't underestimate the power of this cordless drill.

Grip & Feel

How a tool "feels" can be one of the most important features of any tool, making or breaking a pleasant experience for the user over a long workday, but it can be difficult to actually express what makes a tool feel good. Here's what I found through my intensive experience with each of these tools.

Of the heavy-duty drills, the Makita was the most comfortable to use. It's more compact than the others, and the grip seemed the most natural. Its large, adjustable front handle gave me a confident grip while attacking monster holes, even in awkward positions. The DeWalt's long length gave it much-appreciated leverage when operating. I liked its big, adjustable front handle, which afforded me a very comfortable and secure grip, but I wish it had the rear rubber grip included on the others. The Milwaukee Super-Hawg's long length also provided great leverage, but its small front T-handle didn't seem to fit my hand and left me with an unsure grip. This compromised grip was accentuated by the tool's weight (it's the heaviest in the class). The Ridgid is the shortest of the heavy-duty drills and took the most effort to use. Its small front handle is adjustable, but in its most practical position did not leave enough room to comfortably fit my hand, making it impractical to use.

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The reversing lever on the cordless Milwaukee has a handy lock-off setting and nice graphics.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

The medium-duty drills are nearly identical in size, shape, and feel. The Milwaukee cordless tool's battery does make it the heaviest of these four, but its excellent balance keeps the weight from affecting the feel of this drill?plus, it's cordless! This tool and the Makita have rubber-cushioned D-handles for a very nice feel and grip.

Reversing Switches

I use reverse quite often. Whenever I find a hidden nail or my bit binds up, I have to back out of the hole. It's helpful if this switch is easy to find and use without having to remove my hand from the rear grip and fumble around, especially when wearing gloves.

The heavy-duty Makita has a push-button switch in front of the trigger that was easy to reach and was not in the way. The Ridgid has a slide switch in the handle; it has a raised tab and slides easily into position. Milwaukee's Super-Hawg reverses with a rocker switch on top of the drill by the handle. It was easy to operate with my thumb, but I found it hard to feel if it was engaged, especially with its rubber moisture seal. The heavy-duty DeWalt has a sliding reverse switch in the handle below the trigger. It is fairly flat to the handle and was harder to operate, especially with gloves on.

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The heavy-duty Makita was one of two drills with a 180-degree rotating trigger handle that locks in three positions: facing right, center, and left.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

The medium-duty DeWalt and Makita tools each have an easy-to-use toggle above the trigger. The cordless Milwaukee's reverse switch is a small lever on top of the handle; it was easy to reach with my thumb and has a cool graphic indicator of direction as well as a third lock-off position, which was very handy. The other Milwaukee drill has a tiny slide switch in the side of the handle that I could not reach without re-gripping the tool.

Changing Gears

Just like the reverse switch, a drill's speed selector should be easy to use. When you're up on a ladder and find out you need to lower the speed of your heavy-duty drill, easy matters.

I liked the Milwaukee Super-Hawg's selector the best; its large dial was easy to grip and turn, even with gloves on. DeWalt's speed selector?a small knob in a recessed channel on the underside of the drill that has to be lifted up and slid forward?was tricky to use. For the selector to engage, the chuck usually had to be wiggled while I was doing this to line up the action. The Makita and Ridgid feature smaller rotating knobs that were easy enough to use.

All of the medium-duty drills are variable-speed, but changing the speed range is a fairly involved process. First the chuck has to be removed from the angle-drive head by backing out the bolt that attaches the chuck to the drive. At this point the DeWalt and Makita chucks will now slip off the drive shafts of the angled heads. (Makita's keyed drive is quite a bit beefier than DeWalt's roll-pin drive.) The Milwaukee chucks, however, are threaded to the drive shaft, and a hammer and some pounding were required to separate them. I found them to be very tight after use, requiring quite an effort to loosen. The next step for all four is to loosen the drive-head locking collar and then remove and reverse the angle drive. The collar can then be tightened back up and the chuck gets reattached. Although changing speed ranges this way is cumbersome, the small angle-drive can fit into incredibly tight spaces and can be rotated to any position for reaching those awkward holes.

The angle-drive head also can be removed and the chuck installed directly onto the drills for straight-on drilling at a speed and torque somewhere in the middle of the low and high right-angle ratings.