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How to Use a Power Drill

A drill is a versatile tool that can do many jobs. Learn the basics of using a cordless power drill so you can take on projects and repairs with confidence.

Cordless Power Drill Basics

A power drill can handle everything from drilling and driving to sanding and buffing. A cordless drill gives you all these benefits without the hassle of a cord.

A cordless drill typically comes with a battery and a charger, and some kits include two batteries. For drills with lithium-ion batteries, you can keep a battery on the charger at all times so you'll be ready whenever you have a project. For other battery types, only charge the batteries as needed — this will help you get the longest life from your batteries.

A cordless drill also has forward and reverse settings and most have a variable speed trigger. The more pressure you put on the trigger, the faster the bit spins. There is also a high and low setting switch on top of the drill — higher speeds are for drilling, lower speeds are for driving. Lower speed means more power and torque, or rotational force. Most drills also have an adjustable clutch that gives you even more control over torque and helps you prevent overdriving.

The chuck of the drill is the piece that holds the bits in place. Most drills have a 3/8-inch chuck and can handle bits and accessories with a shank — the portion of the bit the chuck secures — 3/8 inch or smaller. Some larger bits have a reduced shank for use on smaller drills. Always be sure you purchase bits that have a shank size to fit your drill. Typically, if your task requires a bit with a shank larger than 3/8 inch, you need a more powerful drill. You can use both hex-style bits and round bits. See Our Drill Bits Buying Guide to learn about different bits and accessories.

If you purchase a 20- to 40-piece drilling and driving accessory kit, you'll have everything you need to do most jobs around the house.

There is also a great selection of specialty bits that allow you to perform a variety of tasks in different materials.

To learn more about types of power drills and available features, read our Power Drill Buying Guide.

Tips for Using a Cordless Power Drill

  • Whenever you need to drill holes that are a specific depth, you can easily create a depth flag by wrapping your bit with painter's tape at the desired depth point on the bit. When the flag meets the wood, you're at the desired depth.
  • Whether you're drilling or driving, the same basic rules apply. Always use safety glasses and other appropriate safety gear as specified by the drill manufacturer.
  • Clamp down whatever you're working on to keep things from shifting.
  • Put your work piece on a surface that you can drill into without damaging the bits — such as a scrap of plywood; if you drill all of the way through the work piece, the backside won't splinter. And if you drill through by accident and hit the scrap plywood, it won’t matter.
  • Use an awl to mark a starting point on the work piece where you want to drive a screw or drill a hole. This gives the screw or bit a place to start without slipping.
  • To keep your bits from wandering or breaking, always hold your drill perpendicular to your work surface, keeping everything straight — if you're a beginner, hold a square next to the drill so you see and feel the correct alignment. Then apply even, steady pressure. Start drilling slowly and increase the speed. Let the drill do the work.
  • For every 1/4 inch of drilling depth, back the bit out slightly from the wood to clear the debris. The holes will drill faster, and the bit will stay cooler and last longer.
  • Drilling a pilot hole before driving a fastener helps prevent the wood from splitting. For screws, use a bit that matches the diameter of the inner diameter of the threaded portion (not the diameter of the threads). For nails, use a bit with a slightly smaller diameter than the nail. Drill to a depth that matches the length of the fastener — stopping short leads to split wood and stripped screws. Use a bit with a built-in countersink to drill the proper-size holes. The countersink cuts a depression that allows the head of a fastener be flush with the surface of the work piece. Most countersink bits will come marked with the size of screws they are designed for. See How to Drill a Pilot Hole for more instructions.
  • When driving a screw into hardwoods — oak or maple for example — apply a bit of paste finishing wax or soap to the threads to lubricate the screw and reduce friction. This makes driving the screw easier.

Watch our DIY Basics videos How Do I Drill Ceramic Tile? and When Do I Use Nails vs. Screws?

Caution

Follow the drill and bit or accessory manufacturers' instructions for use, maintenance and safety. When selecting a drill bit or accessory, make sure it is compatible both with the material you're drilling or driving and the tool you're using.