The handiest tool

I have a confession to make.

Every time someone asks me, “Tom, what’s your favorite woodworking tool?” I always fail to tell the truth. It’s not because I’m trying to delude anybody. It’s just that I forget the one tool that finds its way into my grubby mitts for just about every project.

No, it’s not the joiner plane I mention frequently. Nor is it the table saw or the chisels. Instead, it’s my cordless drill.

My old Ryobi looked like thisThis past weekend, I bought a new one, making it – I believe – the fifth one I have owned. First, there was the Ryobi 12 volt. Uber cheap, it was the drill that showed me that I didn’t necessarily have to have a cord connected to the wall to be an effective tool. It served me well for about a year before the NiCad batteries crapped out on me.

My old DeWalt looked like thisThe DeWalt 14.4 volt I owned was awesome. That was a compact model that was built like a tank. It could handle all of the drilling and driving tasks I sent its way. I had that one for about three years of loyal service until, again, the NiCad batteries just gave up the ghost. Oh, sure, I could have bought new batteries, but the darned things cost more than a whole new drill setup.

My Kobalt looked like this I was later gifted a Kobolt drill with a Li-ion battery. The new battery technology was great, but something happened inside the drill after about half a year. I was putting up some fence panels in my backyard, when the drill suddenly stopped moving. For some reason, the drill seemed a little underpowered, so instead of going through the warranty mumbo-jumbo, I decided it was time to move to another drill.

My old Porter CableI picked up a Porter-Cable drill kit (complete with a battery powered circular saw) about two years ago, and that served very well as my primary drill. Again, it could handle just about anything I could throw at it. Drilling holes, driving screws, mixing thinset mortar with a paddle attachment. Yes, I still have some hardened thinset on one of the batteries.  The problem?  You guessed it.  The drill came with NiCad batteries, and after two years of charges, it started not holding charges anymore. I noticed during the start of the cabinet build that I was swapping batteries about every hour or so, and I wasn’t doing a lot of work with the drill. And, as you might imagine, new batteries cost more than a whole new setup. I needed a new way to do this….

The new Ridgid drill

That’s why this past weekend, I picked up a new Ridgid cordless drill. I went big orange because of their lifetime warranty – which happens to also include the battery packs. So, if they go south, I can get new ones.

This drill is solid in my hand, with a 30 position clutch – an essential when driving screws. It has two speeds – slow for driving screws and fast for drilling. My Porter Cable drill had a light in line with the chuck on the drill, where the Ridgid has and LED light at the base of the handle, giving a much better illumination of the area you are working. It may seem like a luxury, but let me tell you, working inside a dark, cramped place, the light is worth its weight in gold.

Just like my old DeWalt, the drill is also far more compact than my last one, which will allow me to work inside smaller locations, making cabinet work that much easier.

And, like the old Kobolt, it’s a Lithium-Ion battery. What’s the difference?  Well, from everything I have read, when NiCad batteries start to run out of juice, the drill’s performance drops off significantly. When the Li-Ion batteries run low, they still provide top performance until there is no more juice.  The charger also recharges the batteries very quickly, meaning less down time waiting for batteries the charge.

There’s nothing quite like the feel of a good quality cordless drill in my hands – especially when building an installing cabinetry. I can drive screws to build the boxes, then drill pocket holes in face frame members to accept screws. Switch to a forstner bit to drill holes for cable runs between cabinet boxes. Drive long screws through the cabinet backs to attach the boxes to the studs.

Yeah, I really do like my cordless drill, and this one one promises to be a solid performer for years to come. Look for this one to be by my side on some more upcoming projects.

14 thoughts on “The handiest tool”

  1. I’ll second what Andrew says, I have the Bosch pocket impact and it’ll drive anything I need. After having an impact, I won’t use a drill to drive screws again (especially Phillips) Impacts can be noisy if driving long screws but I haven’t stripped a 3″ screw head since.

  2. Cordless drills are fantastic. Great tools. So are impact drivers. Just don’t use an impact driver to put in a brass screw. The torque is too high a lot of the time, and it will snap the head right off. Trust me. Use a drill with torque settings when driving brass screws.

  3. I still have a Dewalt 14.4 drill similar to your old one, I’ve had it for about 4 years and love it. I replaced the batteries last year and you are right, they were almost as expensive as a whole new drill but, I just couldn’t see tossing a perfectly good drill into the landfill.
    I’ve been noticing that the chuck is getting a bit weak lately so I guess maybe it will be time for a new drill in the future and I’ll be looking for one with the Lithium-ion batteries for sure.


  4. The last time I went to go use my cordless drill, I found both batteries dead (after I’d put it away with fully-charged batteries the week before). I threw the drill into the driveway and got a bit and brace and completed the job in less than 2 minutes.

    Now I use eggbeater drills and bits and braces when I can. If I need something heavier bored out, like holes through a 2×4 or in the near future when I’m mortising the underside of my workbench top for the legs, I have a nice corded drill with all the power I need.

    Lifetime warranties sound good, but my experience has always been that there is some sort of limiter on the warranty in the uber-fine print and it usually excludes the issue I’m having with whatever item is being warrantied. :-\

    Not wasting another penny on cordless drills.

  5. Tom, I started with a Skil cordless drill, I think in the 80’s. When that died, I went with just two corded Craftsman drills I had. I finally got a Makita 9.6V in the early 90’s with those heavy black batteries and kept it for years, periodically replacing the batteries. I got tired of the weight and went to DeWalt’s 9.6V NiCad, then the 12V NiCad, then the 14V NiCad, mostly replacing the drill when the batteries went bad on me. I could get the new set cheaper than I could get two replacement batteries. But, when one of the 14V batteries quit on me before Christmas, I shopped around and found a sale on the DeWalt 20V Lithium Ion drill/driver combo with the canvas bag. I love it!!! It is so much lighter, the batteries are lasting so much longer. I didn’t think I needed a driver, but it sure has come in handy. I think it’ll be a while before I need to replace this set.

  6. I have the DeWalt with the lithium batteries.
    Thought it broke the first time it just shut off when the battery wore out, unlike the old battery wearing down slowly.
    The smaller, more powerful cordless drills are very nice indeed.
    Good blog post Tom.

  7. Tom,
    I’m with Kilted on this one. These tools do not last long enough to make them worth buying. In an industrial application where they see daily use they are handy, for a homeowner they are a terrific waste of money. The batteries seem to be always dead when you need them. The batteries finally go bad and you toss the drill and batteries in the trash which I am sure is not environmentally sound. You are far better off with a good grade of electric drill, sure you struggle with a cord a bit, but you have way more power. I bought mine in the 8os and it is still going strong. My brace,and bits, yankee drivers and eggbeater drills are all 60 to 100 years old and they work as well as the day they were made. Re read your own post, a tool that only lasts 2 to 3 years is junk.

  8. No way, I literally just unboxed the exact same one today. Except I got the combo with the radio, impact driver, and drill. Christmas was good to me this year.

  9. When my 18v NiCd Ryobi battery went south the battery was as expensive as a full kit. However, I did catch a big discount on a set with assorted cordless tools and TWO batteries. Bought the kit for my daughter and kept on of the batteries. Maybe five years ago, battery still in good shape, but I don’t use it much. I prefer the corded drill for most projects (or drill press).

    For driving some screw driving and light drilling I use a Bosch mini (or whatever it is called with Li-Ion. Seems I never have to charge it. I am continually surprised how long it holds the charge (rest time not use time), so from time to time I put it in the charger.

    Seems for most of my furniture type work I use hand screwdrivers (with pilot holes) for the control and feel. Home & Garden construction projects do get the powered treatment. And I do love an impact driver for the crude but tough work. Never use it in the shop.

  10. Tom I agree. This is a tool I use ALL the time. My last one I had was a Craftsman. I think it was a 19.1 volt or something like that. Anyway my batteries lasted at least 4 to 5 years under normal use. When the second battery bit the dust I took it to a local guy who has them rebuilt. It was right at 1/2 the cost of a brand new battery. That rebuilt worked very well. This summer I sold the drill at a yard sale. The battery was still going strong. Thanks for bringing this topic up and sharing your experience because I’m in the market for a new one now.

  11. I have a 12V DeWalt . Fantastic drill if I want anything stronger I have a corded DeWalt, that I bought as a package with a second 12V DeWalt, sure the batteries die after 2 or 3 years but if you buy them on eBay they are MUCH cheaper. I’ve had others in the past, but none compares to the DeWalt, and I’ve never found replacement batteries as cheap or as available with them!

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