questions about drills and drivers

dab07May 12, 2008

Here are a few basic questions:

1) What is the difference between a drill and a screwdriver? I've had a De Walt cordless drill for about 10 years and it's heavy for me. (I'm a woman with skinny wrists.) The battery is a pain anyway, so I'd like to buy an electric one, hopefully one that's lighter. I was looking in HD today just to get an idea, and I saw drills, clutch drills, drivers...

2) What is a clutch, and what does it do?

3) Does a more powerful drill mean it's got to be heavier?

4) The brands I saw were really cheap, about $40. Does this sound right? Can anyone recommend brands, or steer me clear of any? I'll be doing basic carpentry with it (but not drywalling), so I need it to drill holes and drive screws. One tool should be good for both, shouldn't it? My De Walt wasn't, it was pretty wimpy at driving screws.

Thanks for your help.

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The clutch cuts out at a given torgue. What this means is that it will only tighten with so much force. While this may sound like a disadvantage, it prevents fasteners like screws from shearing off, driving too deep, or stripping heads. Basically a "safety."

In addition, drivers have a lower speed.

I have been using a cordless for a number of years, and lately have been favoring corded for the power and lack of running out of battery power.

Good brands, pro-quality, lifetime service, in my opinion, in no particular order:
Bosch, Makita, Porter-Cable, Dewalt, Milwaukee

Lower quality, DIY, occasional usage:
Skil, Black & Decker / Firestorm, Ryobi,

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 9:44PM
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Hilti is the best but costs quite a bit more. They now make cordless drills, I tested the 14.4 Volt 1/2" chuck drill against the comparable Makita models I have been using for years.

I recommend it for a woman because the chuck was so easy to tighten and loosen. It gripped the bit firmly every time, no spinning in the chuck when drilling. That has been my main complaint about the Makita. No matter how hard you tighten the chuck, the bit will spin when it binds in the material. Everything else about Makita is great. They are second to Hilti in my opinion. The cost of Makita is very economical, so personally, it's the best value for my money. But for a person with limited strength, I think you may really like the Hilti. The 12 Volt model would be plenty for you. Get one that has Lithium Ion batteries, they last a long time between charges and have a much longer service life than the Nickel Cadmium ones.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 12:58AM
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Here is another option, on special right now. I got one about six months ago and use it regularly in my business. It is not a Tim Taylor model, as it is small and not hugely powerful (nobody outside a physics or engineering lab can tell you what 9 Newton-Meters means).

But it's handy for me and is in my carry in tool box for my work.

I am the wrong one to ask about "skinny wrist" applications, as I'm 6'5" and have size 13 or 14 hands.

Here is a link that might be useful: Metabo Powermaxx

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 7:38PM
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That would be a good one for a woman. Great price. The quick change can be a real great feature for someone with limited grip strength. My wife can easily change the bit in my Makita impact driver b/c of the 1/4" hex socket thingy. She can't really do the hand squeeze chuck on the 1/2" drill. But I wouldn't recommend an impact driver b/c of too much power.

This metabo tool seems to combine the best of both. As long as the 4.8 volt battery is strong enough to get the job done. It probably works great for small jobs. You might want to get a third battery. Batteries always wear out first and sometimes they discontinue the battery your tool uses.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 12:28AM
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Thanks for the info. Do you think an electric one (with a cord) would be stronger AND lighter? I'm concerned that the Metabo will be too small. This will be THE house drill, and we need it for real carpentry around the house, which I'm in the midst of remodelling. (My husband's a computer geek with NO woodworking skills.)

Basically, I want to replace the de Walt drill with something stronger and lighter, if lighter is possible. I'm thinking electric will be lighter because there's no battery. The problem is our 12 volt De Walt cordless drill isn't that strong and I don't know if that's because it's only 12 volts, or because the batteries don't last long. For example, drilling into cinderblock is SLOW and seems to wear it out. Even screwing anything other than drywall screws into 2x4s seems to be harder than it should be (like wood screws). I notice that carpenters who sometimes work here seem to have more competent drills.

That's what makes me wonder what the difference is between a drill and a driver. But I think most people just use a drill for this stuff, and don't switch to a driver every time they want to screw something together.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 8:26AM
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I have to disagree about the overall quality and suitability of Hilti tools. At work we have a circular saw, Sawzall, jigsaw, 1/2" plug-in drill, cordless drill, and ramset gun by Hilti. The jigsaw and ramset are the only two I would recommend as being better than average for pro-grade tools. The cordless drill in particular has been abandoned to the bottom of the tool chest, in favor of Makita lithium, Festool, and DeWalt drills.
For light household use, I favor a Hitachi Driver/drill, they are adequate, lightweight, and won't make a dent in anyone's tool budget. I understand that they are selling Lithium ones now; all the better in terms of weight and fast-charge.
For screw driving it is hard to beat the new mini-impact drivers; Makita's blue one is a favorite at work. The white one is lighter duty but adequate for homeowner use, and like $70 less...

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 8:33AM
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My opinion: Unless you have some real overriding concerns (like no electricity within 100 feet), your first or only drill should be corded. Way more bang for the buck. I'm currently working on my third cordless in 15 years. It's folly to replace the batteries when a new pack with two new batteries (of current technology) charger, drill, flashlight and carry case usually runs less than two new batteries. I still have and use a corded drill that I bought in 1974 for $20.

That's just my current opinion. Others may disagree, and I may eventually disagree with it, too.

Contact Megan at the link below. They just did a cordless drill review at the magazine where she works. She may have some insight for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: You're not alone.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 11:53AM
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Thanks, Bobs! I related to every one of her points. Using the cordless drill has messed up the joint between my thumb and wrist (carpal-metacarpal joint), and using a hammer a lot has exacerbated my elbow tendonitis. Most tools are just too big or heavy for me.

I also agree with your statement about corded drills, I want to get one of those this time. I still haven't decided which one, tho. I'll have to look into it more.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 7:52PM
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You asked whether corded drills are likely to be "stronger." Strength is a vague term, though, so you might want to think about torque and RPMs. If you're looking for smallness and light weight then you'll probably be looking at drills with smaller motors which contain less (heavy) copper and are therefore less powerful. The engineers who design such tools have to compromise between making the chuck spin fast but without much torque (better for drilling), or slow, with more torque (better for driving screws). They can divvy up that "strength" between torque and RPMs however they like by using different gearing between the motor and the chuck. I suspect this is the primary difference between tools that are called "drills" and those that are called "drivers."

Corded drills will all run at line voltage (115V or thereabouts) so the amperage rating (printed in the specs and on a little label somewhere on the tool) should be a pretty good way to gauge the overall strength of the tool. When comparing two tools with similar amperage ratings, the one that turns faster (more RPMs, hopefully also printed on the label) will have less torque, and vice-versa.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 7:05AM
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Another thought: lightness doesn't always mean a tool will be easier to work with. The heavy battery hanging down at the bottom of a rechargeable drill's grip has a fair amount of inertia which can help keep the tool steady when a large drill bit gets stuck or the head of a screw bottoms out. A high-rpm, lighter-weight drill might feel jumpier and harder to hold onto.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 7:17AM
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Jon, that explains things to me. I didn't know that torque is more important for driving screws and rpms for drilling. I look at these tools and they all look alike to me. It's been a mystery why my drywall guy can drive a screw into sheetrock in a split second easily, while it takes us a lot longer for us and our drill seems to be laboring a little. I also see what you're saying about the weight and balance. Thanks for the thoughtful explanation.

But how do you know which tool suits you best? I hate to buy something and find out it's wrong for you. I'll have to go handle a few in the stores to try and get a feel.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 12:18PM
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Using a drill to drive sheet rock screws is almost always a loosing battle.
The screws need to be driven to depth, NOT torque.
The paper coating should NOT be broken by the screw head.

A correct drill-driver for drywall screws stops based on the depth of the screw. They deliver full torque until the screw reaches the set depth and then stop driving.
At the same time you need to exert enough force to create a dimple in the paper to allow compound to cover the screw.

It takes a decent amount of force to drive the screws correctly and create the dimple in the drywall.

There are some attachments for drills that allow release on depth, but very few drills have the torque required to cleanly drive the screws.

Corded tools are almost always lighter and easier to use.
A cord weighs much less than a battery pack.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 9:46PM
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Just to clear up some potential confusion, the word "torque" gets used a couple of different ways.

Torque is a measurement of turning force, so a drill that doesn't have enough power to drive a screw cleanly is said to not have enough torque.

On the other hand, torque can be used as a measure of tightness when one is installing certain kinds of fasteners. A "torque wrench" used by a mechanic to tighten bolts that hold car parts together doesn't actually provide any torque; rather, it measures the torque being applied and tells the mechanic when the bolt is tight enough. Similarly, the clutch on many drills (mostly rechargeables) allows you to adjust the maximum turning force that the tool applies to the work before the clutch starts slippling and the the chuck stops turning. As Brickeyee points out, tightening to a particular torque is NOT the appropriate means of determining when a drywall screw has been driven in far enough. The mechanisms on dedicated drivers that stop the tool from turning the fastener at the appropriate moment are another reason they do their job so well.

The point I was trying to make earlier is that compromise is going to be inevitable, so you'll need to consider which sorts of tasks you'll do most often in order to make sense of your options. Then, try out several models and see which seems best. I don't know of any shortcuts to that process.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 6:48AM
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If you use either a drill-driver or adapter to drive drywall screws with a drill, buy the container of extra bits.

he depth release tools both use the actual drill bit as the clutch.
When the screw reaches the desired depth the bit can no longer make firm contact and driving stops.
It makes a very characteristic sound as the bit slips out of the screw.
This damages the screw cross recess slightly, but also slowly damages the bit, and after multiple screws the bit needs to be replaced.

Torque is twisting force (rotation).
Motors create it, torque wrenches measure it (usually with a human supplying the actual force).

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 8:19AM
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I don't know your budget, but:

Get a Milwaukee corded or a Milwaukee lithium ion compact cordless drill for drilling.

Driving screws with a corded drill isn't always the best due to the lack of clutch, which would help prevent over tightening and stripping the screw head.

The little Milwaukee 12v lithium ion driver is a great tool for driving screws and fits better in cramped spaces.

If you get a cordless drill, make sure you get one with 2 batteries so one can be charging while one is in use.

Drilling into cinderblock would be best done with a corded drill.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 5:18PM
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Thanks mmac, I'll look into them.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 10:04PM
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