By John Myrtle

Specs and Testers Tester Comments

A big part of a plumber's or electrician's job is making holes. Through studs, plates, floors, joists, and even roofs, before you can start to run any pipe or pull any wire, you need countless large holes, and you want them fast and with as little effort as possible. So when you're looking to pick the right tool, you need a drill that is powerful, comfortable to use, compact, and built to last.

As a plumber, the right-angle drill is the tool for the job when it comes down to serious wood chompin' time. Because the chuck is at a right angle to the body (hence the name), it is able to get into much smaller spaces, such as tight stud and joist bays, than a standard heavy-duty straight-line drill. And the two- or three-speed gearing can provide incredible torque for the largest holes or the speed to chew through lumber like your profits depend on it.

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Front handles with generous hand clearance, like on this Makita, are preferred. To reduce the profile height, such handles can be rotated forward.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

Test Criteria

For this test, I compared eight right-angle drills. Four of the drills are decidedly heavy-duty: the DeWalt DW124K, Makita DA4031, Milwaukee 1680-21 Super-Hawg, and Ridgid R7130. The four D-handled drills are comparatively medium-duty tools: the DeWalt DW120K, Makita DA4000LR, Milwaukee 3107-6, and the Milwaukee 0721-21 V28 28-volt lithium-ion cordless.

The best place to test tools is on the job, so we brought these drills out to our projects and put them to the test in everyday plumber's tasks. There we compared them for weight and balance, overall feel, and ease of use, and we evaluated their switches and other features. Then we brought them to the shop where I performance-tested them side by side.

Out of the Box

These are hardworking, single-purpose tools, so they come with just the basics. Except for the Ridgid, all of the drills come with a plastic storage case. All the cases are well built with sturdy handles and clasps. Most of them have plenty of room for bits and extensions, though the cordless Milwaukee's case is a bit tight. The cases for the cordless and heavy-duty Milwaukee drills allow the tools to be stored with pretty good?sized bits left in their chucks, as do both giant Makita cases. There is even room for the heavy-duty Makita to be stowed with its front handle adjusted to most of its positions.

Every drill in the group comes with a side handle. Use it whenever you can! As with any power tool, when using right-angle drills, safety should not be overlooked. A slow-moving drill bit doesn't look very dangerous, but when your bit binds up, all that torque is transferred back to you in the direction opposite its rotation. Getting yanked off a ladder or smashing your knuckles isn't much fun, trust me on that. Whenever possible, I brace the handle or body (knowing which way the drill will react), against something solid before I pull the trigger. Remember to change your bracing direction when reversing to free a bound-up bit; it may take a moment to manually reposition the tool, but the peace of mind is worth it.

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Pipe-thread side handles like on this DeWalt allow for easy field replacement or extending.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

The DeWalt, Makita, and Ridgid heavy-duty models use a 3/4-inch NPT (pipe-thread) handle and the heavy-duty Milwaukee uses an SAE (bolt-thread) handle. I prefer the pipe-thread style because I regularly use a short piece of pipe and a coupler to make an extra-long brace handle. This is very handy when drilling a monster 5-inch hole for a WC flange where the center of the hole is 12 inches off the wall and the stock handle can't reach. The extended handle can now be braced against a stud in the wall for safer operation.

The medium-duty drills all come with side handles that can either fit extended out of the side of the tool body or attach closer in to the angle-drive head itself. The handle mounted near the head allows the user to apply the pressure needed to feed the bit more easily, but the side position is more suitable for bracing. All of these medium-duty drills except for the cordless Milwaukee came with the necessary tools for adjusting their right-angle attachments.

The Milwaukee cordless drill comes with one V28 lithium-ion battery pack and a charger. A great feature of this battery is the indicator lights that tell you how much charge you have left, which is nice to know before you climb up on the roof. I certainly recommend reading the instruction book that comes with the charger and battery so you get the best performance possible from your battery.