What Voltage Drill Should I Buy?
When shopping for a drill, voltage makes a huge difference in power, performance, and price. But it can be hard to tell how much voltage you need in a drill. Here’s how to determine what kind of voltage you need in a drill.
Difference Between Volts and Watts
A volt is a unit of electromotive force; it’s the potential power that allows the current to overcome resistance. Watts are a measure of power, the force that an engine brings to a job. In a drill, volts measure the potential power, while watts are a measure of how much power is actually released into the work per second. For some drill jobs, watts are actually a more meaningful measure of torque and turning power than volts, so pay attention to the other battery ratings when determining total power in a drill.
Difference Between Corded and Cordless Drills
Cordless drills offer a lot of mobility and convenience, and many people prefer the ease and simplicity of cordless drills. However, the more volts a cordless drill has, the larger and heavier the battery is. When a cordless drill becomes large, heavy, and loud, it becomes less convenient than most people prefer in a cordless drill, and difficult to manage in overhead jobs like hanging a light fixture.
If you need a big, powerful drill, you may prefer a corded drill so that the power supply doesn’t add bulk and weight that makes the tool difficult to handle. It’s also worth remembering that the higher the voltage of the batteries in a cordless drill, the more expensive they are. Most people prefer to have two batteries, so that one can be charging while one is in use, but in high voltage cordless drills that can add significantly to the overall cost of purchasing the tool.
High voltage corded drills generally have a wider range of options, bits, and accessories, so they are not only more powerful, but are more versatile. Corded tools are also generally more reliable than cordless tools, and have (virtually) unlimited run time.
In the case of a cordless drill, it’s also worth noting that the battery pack is at the base of the handle, putting most of the weight at the bottom. In corded drills, the motor is behind the drill head, putting the center of gravity higher on the tool. What this means is that the weight distribution of the tool itself puts more power behind the drill bit in a corded drill, than in a cordless one. For some tough jobs, this natural shift in weight distribution can help make the work faster and less strenuous.
How Much Power Do You Need?
All-purpose, light-duty jobs
For an all-purpose, light duty, around-the-house drill, for basic tasks like putting together furniture, hanging curtains and wall décor, and light repairs, a 9-volt drill is a good choice. While light-duty drills come in as few as 6 volts, 9 volts is slightly more powerful, and therefore more versatile, without adding much weight and bulk to the tool. These kinds of drills typically cannot effectively use spade bits to boreholes.
DIY home improvement and repair projects
If you need a drill to help you take on home projects like building a deck or dog house, then it’s best to step up to a 12 or 14 volt drill. These kinds of drills can usually use spade bits to boreholes, but should not be used with augur bits or hole saws.
If your drill needs to regularly handle tougher jobs like drilling big holes, masonry drilling, or continuous drilling for hours at a time, you may want to step up to a 20 or 24 volt drill. These are usually best for professional contractors, and used in building projects. If you will be using the drill for prolonged periods of time, weight will become a factor, contributing to your fatigue, and you may be limited by the life of your battery, so you may want to consider a corded drill.
The most popular, all-purpose cordless home drills are 12 or 14 volts. These have enough power to drive deck screws, boreholes with a spade bit, make pocket holes, occasionally drill into masonry for fasteners, and other common household jobs, while still being compact, lightweight, and convenient. The smaller motor gives good battery life, and they are friendly tools for nearly anyone to use.
While 12-14 volts is incredibly popular, and certainly versatile enough for most everyday uses, if you do moderate home repairs or projects (or live in a brick house), it’s not a bad idea to go up to 18 volts and have more power if or when you need it. Generally speaking, it’s preferable to have more power than you require, than to invest in a power tool that doesn’t meet your needs.
If you need power in a drill, remember that it’s not just volts that determine the overall power. If possible, check for and compare watts and torque, both of which measure actual force applied, rather than simply potential energy in the motor. The number of volts is a great indicator of how much power is in a motor, but it’s not the entire picture, and two seemingly identical 12-volt drills can perform very differently under pressure or over time.
When determining what voltage drill you need, consider what kind of work you will be doing, how frequently or how long you will be continuously using the drill, what kinds of materials you will be drilling, and how much money you want to spend on the tool and battery system, or whether a corded drill might be the better option for your needs. When comparing similar drills, look a little bit deeper than volts alone. Manufacturers with powerful drills and power systems will show off how many watts or how much torque their drill delivers; if that information isn’t easy to find, it may be worth digging deeper.