Tool Test: 18-Volt Cordless Hammer Drill-Drivers

Turning the clutch ring on the DeWalt (shown here), Hilti, and Hitachi models changes the mode from driver to drill and then to hammer drill. DeWalt's clutch ring looks like part of a traditional friction clutch but it is electronically linked to the tool's brushless motor to shut off the tool when the desired torque level is reached.

A separate switching ring on the Milwaukee (shown here), Fein, Makita, and Ridgid tools lets you change between driver, drill, and hammer drill modes without disturbing the clutch setting.

The Hilti (shown here) and the DeWalt have three speed gears; the Festool has four. The extra gears provide a wider speed range from low to high, especially for the Festool which has a top speed more than twice as fast as some of the two-speed tools in the test.

Festool's clutch is electronically controlled to shut the tool off as soon as it reaches a set level of resistance. Raising or lowering the clutch setting also affects the motor speed—a feature designed to deliver torque more precisely. There is a full power "drill" setting position at either end of the sliding switch so a user can change from driver to drill mode quickly without looking at the switch.

Metabo's electronic clutch changes the motor rpm along with the clutch setting to modulate torque delivery more accurately. Like other electronic clutches, it shuts the tool off as soon as the desired torque is reached. The circular icon at the low end of the scale is the brand's impulse mode setting which cycles the tool on and off rapidly for starting holes in metal or to improve a bit's grip on a stripped screw head. Rotating the dial to the top end of the scale moves it into drill mode.

To switch the Metabo from driver mode to drill mode quickly, pushing the lighted button on top the tool bypasses the clutch setting. The clutch action resumes once you push the button again or adjust the clutch setting dial.

A button on the side of the Hitachi's base adjusts the maximum speed of the trigger control through four different settings indicated by the LED display seen to the left. By reducing the speed, you also reduce the power. Unlike changing gears from high to low, the slower speed settings decrease rather than increase the tool's torque output. Another button on top of the base lets you switch the LED headlight on and off manually, making this and the Festool the only tools tested where the headlight can be turned off when not needed. The third button activates the battery fuel gauge display.

The 14 5/8-inch handle on the Makita looks comically oversized but its length was well appreciated for extreme jobs such as mixing drywall mud. In contrast, the stubby 7-inch handles on the DeWalt (shown here) and Metabo lack the leverage needed to provide the most confident control in heavy use and demand more muscle from the user.

A nice feature of the Milwaukee (shown here), Makita, and Ridgid side handles is that they can be attached to the body of the tool quickly, without having to thread them over the chuck as with the other tools tested. This allows you to leave a wide bit on the tool while adding or removing the handle.

Both the Festool and Metabo feature removable chucks that pop off easily by hand. This lets you use them with accessory bit holders and various drive accessories, making the tools more versatile.

To achieve super power out of their cordless drills with removable chucks Metabo sells a unique torque multiplier attachment that triples the torque output. It accepts 1/4-inch hex bits and 1/2-inch sockets and features an extremely long handle to help you brace against the increased force.

The rated capacity of the battery packs in this test range from the 3.0 Ah Hitachi and 3.3 Ah Hilti on the left to the 5.0 Ah Makita, and 5.2 Ah Festool and Metabo packs on the right. Those in the center all are 4.0 Ah battery packs. Batteries with higher amp-hour ratings have greater energy density for longer runtime.

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