Key Features You Want in a Drill and Essential Drill Bits
Power drills are the most common non-hand tool around. Whether you’re thinking of buying your first drill or a backup model, it is important to carefully select a quality drill and top-notch drill bits. Bits are to drills as paint is to a paintbrush or an ingredient is to cookware: The result of your project is only going to be as good as what you put into it.
A solid, quality 18-volt cordless drill is going to be the workhorse of most homeowner tool kits. More powerful drills, with 24-volt and even 36-volt power, are becoming more readily available. But with additional power comes an additional price and these tools are really the better choice for the pros. But, if you've got money to spare, then by all means go for the power.
- An LED work light. These are generally positioned just above the trigger and are activated when the trigger is pressed. This is good for low-light situations.
- Dual-gear mode. This is usually on top of the drill. Think of this like the lower gears on an automatic transmission. It drops or raises the speed of the drill without losing power and without dropping the torque. This is valuable when driving screws through a dense wood. The lower gear slows the speed (but not power) of the screw and cuts down on the chances of the wood splitting (even with a pilot hole).
- Additional batteries. Let's face it, one just isn't enough and the extra battery (if you keep it charged and ready) comes in handy during long days.
- Multiple torque settings. Multiple numbers on the dial mean more settings, which helps you literally dial in the right amount of torque for the job at hand.
As for hammer drills, some combo standard/hammer drills are available in cordless varieties. They can be virtually identical to a standard drill, but have one higher setting past the normal drill torque setting, and it conveniently looks like a hammer.
What makes a hammer drill a hammer drill is its ability to also pound/vibrate as it drills. The cordless option will get you by for a lot of applications, such as installing masonry brackets in brick walls, but for heavy-duty jobs, such as attaching support brackets to a patio for railings or posts, you'll want a corded hammer drill. Although for as often as you'll need one, you may be better off renting rather than buying.
In addition to your 18-volt cordless drill, you should also keep on hand a corded drill for a couple of reasons. One, if you're working on a project where you're switching back and forth between drilling and driving, you can save time by not switching out bits and save battery life by using the corded drill for drilling and the cordless drill for driving. Two, if you're working all day there's a good chance you'll outwork your drill battery and have forgotten to keep a backup battery charged.
All those little jobs around the house require a good assortment of driving bits. You may be savvy about a Phillips vs. a flat-head screwdriver, but what about square drives or even star drives? Did you know that Phillips-head bits come in a variety of sizes (the first size is a 0), or that there are a whole sets of “security” bits available made for special assemblies in industrial settings?
You might not need the special security bits, but a good selection of Phillips, flat, square and star-drive bits will go a long way to expand your assembly (and disassembly) skills. Depending on the model, taking apart a dryer or washing machine can require you to use three types of bits.
For an easy switch from drilling to driving, get a hybrid “quick change” bit. It has a driving bit on one end and a drilling bit at the other end. The tip can easily be loosened, removed, flipped over and set in place to be used.
There are drill bits available for every material including wood, metal and masonry.
Bits for wood come in a wide variety of sizes and a broad assortment of types. A standard wood bit is best for making simple through holes and pilot holes. Most drill-bit sets come in size ranges from 1/16 inch up to 1/2 inch. It's a good idea to pick up a set that includes this range, plus grab a couple of extra 1/16-inch bits. You'll notice these available in multipacks, for a good reason: They tend to break easily. Some sets may include a countersink bit, which creates a large hole at the top of a pilot hole so the head of a screw can sit flush or below the surface of the wood.
For larger holes, a spade or paddle bit is good for quick, rough through holes.
Auger-style bits are for this purpose as well, and are most often used by plumbers and electricians to create holes for wiring and plumbing-in wall studs. Any sort of renovation where you're taking down drywall and working on wiring or plumbing is a good reason to pick up a selection of these bits.
Forstner bits can serve a couple of purposes: creating really smooth through holes and creating a stopped hole with a flat bottom. If you want to add a dowel handle to a spindle, then a Forstner bit is ideal because it creates smooth and flat-bottom holes that will allow the dowel to sit properly. These are used a lot in woodworking rather than general carpentry. A good set would include several bits ranging in size from 1/4 inch to 1 inch, in 1/8-inch increments.
Really big holes require a hole-saw bit. You can buy sets which allow you to drill multiple sizes (up to a couple of inches), or you can buy individual hole-saw bits up to 4 inches or more in diameter. These bits combine a typical drill bit in the center, with a rim containing teeth like a saw blade. These bits are also made for metal and other materials. A small set is good to have in your toolbox, but it’s probably good to hold off on buying the largest bits until you actually need them.
Metal bits (left image) and masonry bits (middle image) are made from much harder metals than wood bits. You may not be impressed at first, because the spiral blades on these bits are not nearly as sharp as their wood counterparts. But what they lack in this detail, they make up for in their ability to penetrate tough materials, such as the masonry bit in the right image. Tough concrete will not only require a good hardened bit, but a special drill called a hammer drill.
Glass and tile bits are a completely different animal, both in design and material. They're more like a spade bit and they're diamond-tipped. Try drilling a pilot hole for a vertical handrail in a tile shower with a masonry bit instead of a tile bit and you'll run the risk of cracking the tile.
A good drill-bit variety for the average homeowner might look like the image below. Remember to carefully select quality bits.