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Get the Most From Your Cordless Drill

Cordless Drill

Make jobs around the house easier using all the features on your cordless drill.


Know Before You Shop for Your Cordless Drill

If you haven’t already purchased a cordless drill, size up the sort of work you’ll be doing. Just driving screws or drilling an occasional small hole (up to 1/4 in.) for a wall anchor? A 9.6-volt drill with a 3/8-in. chuck—the part that expands or contracts to grip the bits or accessories—may handle all your needs for less than $100. If you’re going to build major projects such as a deck or tackle a long list of varied projects, step up to a 14.4-volt or even an 18-volt drill in a kit with two batteries.

Batteries represent the single most expensive part of any cordless drill system, so check the kit for “smart chargers” that help stretch battery life. They do this by keeping the battery from overheating as it’s charged or starting a charge on a battery that hasn’t cooled off from time spent in the summer sun.

One way to tell if a drill comes with a smart charger is to look at the number of metal contacts on the batteries. Smart chargers have three or more contacts instead of just two.


Power Up Your Drill

Resist the urge to begin using your new drill fresh out of the box. First, make sure all the batteries have been fully charged before putting your drill to work. Should you store a battery on the charger? That depends upon your drill and charger, so check the owner’s manual for guidance. Some manufacturers say no; others recommend charging batteries at least overnight to increase their life.

After you’ve charged the batteries, treat them the way you’d treat yourself if you were running a marathon. You wouldn’t want to run until you drop, so don’t push a tired battery to the point where the drill motor stalls. As soon as the motor seems to slow, drop the battery on the charger.

Temperature affects batteries, too. Charging a battery when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees or drops below 40 degrees can shorten its life or destroy it. When recharging batteries during a day-long project, set up the charger indoors or at least place it in the shade with cooling air circulation.



Explore Your Drill's Settings

Cordless Drill Speed Range Settings

You’ll notice a few switches and chuck setting symbols on your new drill. Learning what they mean can help you and the drill work better.

First, you’ll probably notice a speed range switch, usually with low and high settings. “Low” also means the drill is applying more torque to the job, a bit like gearing down a bicycle to climb a tough hill.

That torque comes in handy when drilling large holes or driving long lag screws into planks. It also helps the screw-driving speed keep pace with your reaction time. Otherwise, it’s easy to accidentally drive screws below the wood surface—instead of flush with it.

There’s another argument against leaving the switch on “high” to work faster: Faster isn’t always better. For example, drilling through glass or tile requires a bit speed slower than 300 rpm. Higher speeds generate heat that quickly dulls the bit.



Learn to Use the Clutch

Something you’ll see on many cordless drills that’s not found on corded models is a clutch. Many cordless drill owners don’t know whether they need a clutch, let alone know how to use it.

A clutch allows the drill to drive with a limited amount of force, after which the chuck stops turning. With practice, you can set a drill clutch to stop the screwdriver from working at just the right depth. When drilling drywall screws, for example, you want the top of the screw head to sit just slightly below the drywall surface, creating a dimple that doesn’t tear the surrounding paper. Using trial and error, you can set a drill clutch to stop driving at just at the right depth without guessing when to take your finger off the trigger. When you don’t need the clutch, simply slide the clutch over to “drilling” setting, sometimes indicated by a drill-bit symbol.

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