Clutches

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The heavy-duty Milwaukee has the easiest-to-use speed selector and the lowest-profile head.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

The heavy-duty drills are all designed with clutches for low-speed operation, a welcome feature that has become the norm since the last time Tools tested these drills. It's an important safety factor and will prolong the life of your drill, and possibly you. During our site testing, these clutches worked flawlessly, that is to say, they never disengaged during normal use. During my shop testing, I purposely tried to bind up a large 3-5/8-inch bit to see if I felt any differences between clutches. I have a lot of respect for these drills and it was a little scary pushing them to the limit, but suffice it to say, I found that the clutches disengaged only when they needed to.

Extra Features

Sometimes it's the details that make a tool stand out from the others. The heavy-duty Makita and Milwaukee were designed to allow their entire trigger handle to be rotated 90 degrees left or right for easier trigger access in all positions. This is a nice feature to have when you really need it.

The Ridgid comes with a long 12-foot cord with a power indicator light on the plug end and an affixed Velcro strap to bundle up the cord. The medium-duty Milwaukee is supplied with the company's "Quik-Lok" cord, which is removable for easy storage and replacement when it gets damaged. Their cord is interchangeable with other Milwaukee tools, and replacements are available in 8- and 25-foot lengths.

Extensions

I also got to test two extension attachments for the Makita and Milwaukee medium-duty drills. These 30-inch extensions, the Makita 193317-9 and Milwaukee 48-06-2860, place the chuck at a 33-degree angle from the drill. With the extensions attached, we were able to bore holes through overhead floor joists without a ladder. An 8-foot ceiling was about the highest I could drill above comfortably. You still have to apply pressure to the bit, and the smaller supply line?size bits were easier to handle than the large bits. Both the Makita and Milwaukee extensions performed the same, and I found it considerably safer and a lot quicker to work on the floor rather than on a ladder. The added mobility of the cordless Milwaukee made this work especially freeing. For me, installing a staple-up radiant floor system or running water lines this way is a real time-saver, and I would think these would be must-have tools for electricians.

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Using an angled extension, like on this Makita, allows for safe joist boring with both feet on the ground.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

As with all attachments, the amount of trouble it takes to actually attach them relates to how much they get used. Both the Makita and the Milwaukee extensions are easy to install, but it does take several minutes. The time-consuming part of this change-out is the chuck removal and reassembly, just like when changing speeds. Makita's easier chuck removal is again an advantage over the Milwaukee. For more efficient use, I would purchase an extra chuck assembly to keep on the extension and leave the original chuck on the right-angle drive head. This would eliminate the hassle and time factor of changing them out on the job.

Winners

Without a doubt, my favorites were among the big boys in the heavy-duty class. We bore big holes, lots of them, and that is what these drills do best.

The tool that stood out above the others overall was the Makita DA4031. The lightest and most compact, it was the most comfortable to use?the weight and balance seemed to fit me perfectly. Add to that its impressive power and great features, and this drill is a complete winning package.

The power and speed of the Milwaukee 1680-21 Super-Hawg was the best there was; it was easily the most powerful of all the drills. It also is the largest and heaviest?truly heavy-duty and another favorite in the category.

The classic DeWalt DW124K is a very powerful drill and I liked its leverage, but some of its features are becoming a bit dated. The Ridgid R7130 seems to be a well-built drill, but it was generally outclassed by the others in the test.

My favorite of the medium-duty drills was a little harder to determine, but by a nose, it was the well-built Makita DA4000LR. Because of its higher capacities, a very quiet and smooth-running motor, and its easier-to-change keyed chuck, it just edges out the Milwaukee 0721-21 V28 cordless drill. The Milwaukee V28 is an amazing tool that has plenty of power, and anytime you can lose the cord and not miss it, you have a winner.

DeWalt's DW120K was the least powerful of the corded drills I tested, and it felt unbalanced. The Milwaukee 3107-6 is a very solid drill with plenty of power, but it was the slowest in the test. Its reverse switch was not very handy, and the extra effort required to remove the chuck kept this drill from the front of the pack.

–John Myrtle owns JM Plumbing and Heating in Hotchkiss, Colo.