Years ago, when I started out as a young plumbing apprentice, the venerable Milwaukee Hole Hawg was the only right-angle drill used throughout the trades. It was big, heavy, and powerful. I went for more than one ride on that drill, and the countless smashed knuckles I endured were a real lesson in reaction torque. Thankfully, as the years have gone on, manufacturers have installed low-gear clutches in their drills, but some of these disengage too easily with large-diameter holes or wet lumber. So I was very interested to see how DeWalt's new Bind-Up Control in its DWD460 right-angle drill might help my poor old plumber's hands.

The first thing I noticed about DeWalt's new drill is that the handle wraps back around to the motor housing, forming a very nice hand guard. When punching through a hole, it's easy to have a little too much of your own weight on your drill, and this handle design surely will save a few knuckles. Undoubtedly, this feature also strengthens the handle assembly.

The DWD460 comes with the basics: a bail handle, a 12-inch-long side handle, a 10-foot cord, and a chuck key with a holder. Keeping in mind my test of other right-angle drills (, I put the DeWalt DWD460 to work in the field. Whether I was drilling through layers of framing lumber or cutting 5-inch diameter holes for closet flanges, this tool was right at home.

I like the feel of this traditional, perpendicular-motor design drill better than the in-line designs that are the new standard. Its shorter body makes it more maneuverable in many drilling situations, although it does require more headroom. Its large, D-shaped bail handle is well placed in both the forward and upright positions and is roomy enough for a gloved hand over the knuckle-saving padded surface below. The contoured, rubber-coated trigger handle together with bail handle always gave me a sure and confident grip. The side handle gives adequate leverage when needed, but like other tools of this style, you have to slide up your hand next to the drill to get the right leverage for getting the bit started or for pulling it out of the hole.

This is the first heavy-duty right-angle drill I've come across that has a variable speed function. This lets me start big bits slowly and safely. The reverse switch and trigger are easy to reach and use, but the same cannot be said for the speed selector, which is located on the side of the drill; I found it difficult to operate.

The selector lever has a very stiff throw and is short and flat. It is also recessed flush with the drill body and partially blocked by the bail handle. It was sometimes difficult to get the selector to engage. The lever would spring back without changing gears, and it would take several tries while "bumping" the motor to finally get it to engage. This was true in both high- and low-speed settings.

The premier feature of this tool is what the company calls Bind-Up Control. The drill has an electronic sensor that detects the sudden movement of the tool when the bit binds. It immediately reduces the torque output of the motor to a much lower level until you let go of the trigger. This feature works in both high and low gears, and is the only high-gear protection I know of on any heavy-duty right-angle drill.

To test this feature, I started out by jerking the handle sideways while drilling. Right away, the red light on the back of the drill went on to warn me that the control feature had been activated, and the rpms dropped significantly. The reason the drill does not stop completely is to give just enough juice to free non-feeding bits before starting again. If you kept on drilling in the reduced torque mode, you would eventually burn up the motor.

However, when I became more reckless and got the bit to bind, my years of training always kicked in and defeated this function of the Bind-Up Control. I am conditioned to release the trigger as soon as I feel the jerk of a bound bit, so try as I might, I couldn't really get the full benefit of this feature. After releasing the trigger, the drill would go back to full force as I tried to free the bit, but this is where the variable speed helped prove its worth.

Low-speed drilling has a standard slip clutch as well as the electronic protection, but despite my best efforts and the worst conditions and materials I could present for the test, I couldn't get the 11-amp motor to stall the clutch. This is one strong drill, so I'm glad for the electronic sensor. Instead of hearing the whir of the mechanical clutch when the bit grabbed, the Bind-Up Control engaged, slowing the drill instantly without throwing me over the handle bars.

The Verdict

I am very impressed with the DeWalt DWD460 drill. Hands down, the biggest plus of this tool is its enhanced user protection. If it saved me one set of bruised knuckles or one smashed hand, that would be enough for me. Add to the safety factor its overall power and feel, and you've got a great drill, whether you're shredding monster holes or punching out hundreds of smaller ones in today's jobs.

John Myrtle is a plumbing contractor in Hotchkiss, Colo.

DeWalt Industrial Tools
DWD460 Stud and joist drill
Price $359