Best cordless drills of 2020: Hands-on testing with Bosch, Milwaukee and more
A good drill is one of the staples for your home improvement tool collection. According to Cognition Smart Data, DIY projects are on the rise — up nearly 75% in some areas in 2020. There are tons of options if you’re looking to buy a new drill. To help you sort through those options, I gathered up 16 of the most popular drill models and put them to the test.
For now I’ll set aside a few categories of drills. Impact, hammer and rotary drills all have their uses, but for this round-up I focused on the typical driver that will help you accomplish most DIY or home improvement jobs, whether you’re driving drywall anchors, drilling holes in studs or piecing together a home project. I’ll specifically be looking at cordless drills with brushed motors. I’ll tackle brushless motors in a future update. With the right drill you can assemble furniture, hang pictures and shelves, perform light maintenance and repair or even hang your.
12-volt or 18-volt?
If you’re stuck on the kind of drill to buy, the answer can be complex. For starters, if you own other cordless tools that you could share batteries with, that’s a great reason to stick with the brand and voltage you already own, unless you specifically need different features or you’re looking to switch brands. Otherwise, assuming this is your first cordless tool, it comes down to two main factors — performance expectation and price. If you’re only assembling Ikea furniture and hanging shelves, a 12-volt drill is all you need. If you’re planning on getting into more substantial work, longer use times or light construction, you’re better off with an 18-volt.
As far as price is concerned, you will typically pay more for 18- over 12-volt, as well for brushless versions over brushed. But the price gap between 12- and 18-volt, and between brushed and brushless, continues to shrink. Soon, unless you need a smaller, lighter or less powerful tool, there will likely be no reason to choose 12-volt over 18-volt. Hopefully you’ll still at least have the option for the lighter model.
Brushed or brushless?
This list only covers 12- or 18-volt drills with brushed motors. Brushed motors are the traditional power tool design that have physical carbon brushes that maintain contact with the part of the motor that spins. That means the brushes see constant friction when the drill is in use and will eventually wear out. That friction generates a fair amount of heat, leading to as much as a 20% loss in torque efficiency (energy that is transformed to rotational force) compared to brushless motors. Brushless motors work primarily by way of magnets and have no physical, friction-inducing parts. This efficiency gain gets you better performance over the course of a battery charge compared to the same drill in a brushed model.
The trick is that you might need to pay extra for a drill with a brushless motor. For example, I tested the Milwaukee brushed motor Model 2606-22CT, which costs $179. The brushless version, Model 2801-22CT, normally costs $20 more. Holiday deals might narrow that gap (or even make some 18-volt drills cheaper than their 12-volt counterparts), so keep an eye out if you see a good deal. I’ll update this list with brushless drill tests on my next pass.
That said, in rare cases, some drills can fail at performing some of the basic functionality you might expect. Keep reading and you’ll be sure to avoid those pitfalls and end up with the drill that will best suit your needs. I took 16 of the most popular brushed cordless drills, bored over 200 holes and seated over 4,000 screws over a few days to lock down performance expectations.
Although it’s the most expensive 18-volt drill, this Milwaukee drill has tons of power. It crushed the competition in our high torque tests, completing 20% more bored holes than the second-place finisher. At 500 inch-pounds, no other drill has a higher torque rating. It has one of the better warranties, with five years for the tool itself, and two years for the battery.
It includes a hard carrying case and two 1.5-aH batteries. Its charger supports both M18 and M12 batteries.
This Bosch drill is dynamite — explosive performance in a small package. It topped the performance scores across the board and came in second in our measurements for getting into the tightest spots. It has all the bells and whistles you’ll find among 12-volt brushed drills, but you will pay for all this handy goodness, as this drill is tied for second most expensive in the category.
Includes a soft carrying case and two 2-aH batteries — the largest battery capacity in this category.
This is the second most expensive of the 18-volt drills on the list, but if you need to get into a tight spot, this is the drill for you. This drill centers at 1-33/64 inches, which may be a far cry from the Black & Decker 12-volt pick at 1-18/64 inches, but it still beats out the next best 18-volt option by 7/64 inches.
Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft carrying case.
This B&D drill will help you get in and drill in tight spaces.
With overall midlevel performance and the cheapest price tag on the list, this drill is a solid pick. I measure down to the 64th of an inch for clearance in tight spots. At 1-18/64 inches side clearance, this drill gets into tighter spaces than any other I’ve tested, although it is worth noting that our overall pick, the Bosch PS31-2A was just behind at 1-19/64 inches.
Includes one 1.5-aH battery, no carrying case.
This category was almost too close to call. The Ryobi’s performance and specs were nearly identical to the Bosch. So it boiled down to how each drill felt during the performance tests. This Ryobi felt like it could be the most powerful drill on the entire list, while the Bosch just felt weak and had trouble breaking through the two-by-fours during the high torque bore test. Although the Bosch scored second overall in the low torque test and third in high torque, Ryobi took first in low torque. Combined with the overall feel of the two drills puts Ryobi as the value pick.
Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft case.
Tacklife is a relatively new tool brand that you’ll find on Amazon’s tool-related search results.
For the 12-volt brushed cordless drills, Tacklife offered near-optimal performance at only 0.5 unit per amp hour shy of first place in our light duty battery tests. Its body size is one of the bulkier options, but it does have a battery life LED indicator and is priced near the bottom of the pack to be named best value.
Includes one 2-aH battery and the hard plastic carrying case contains extra bits and accessory goodies.
All of the drills I tested are brushed models that use a 12- or 18-volt battery. You can find different bundles online and in your local big-box retailer, some with extra batteries, some with only one battery and some that are even packaged with other power tools or bare tools only. To keep the pricing comparison as level as possible, each of these includes the drill, a charger, one (or two) batteries and, in most cases, some kind of accessory to carry everything around.
Along with the six drills above, here is a list of the other ten drills I tested, along with some context about why they didn’t get the nod as best in class.
- : This is the second cheapest 18-volt drill on the list and managed not to score last in any of our tests. Still, lagging performance and a thin 90-day warranty keeps this drill out of the spotlight. Includes one 1.5-aH battery and soft case.
- : See the 18-volt value pick for more insight. Good drill. Good price. Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft case.
- : Ridgid picked up second place in the low-torque tests and has a lifetime tool warranty. Not enough bang for the buck as the third most expensive 18-volt drill. Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft case.
- :18-volt. Currently at $99, this is a no-brainer if you’re trying to decide between the 12- or 18-volt DeWalt drills on this list. Otherwise, unless you’re a brand loyalist, you can find better options. Includes two 1.3-aH batteries and a soft carrying case.
- : Cheapest 18-volt drill on the list and picked up third place in the high-torque test. Also has the lowest advertised power and speed specs. Includes one 1.3-aH battery and it’s the only 18-volt option with no case.
- : 12-volt. DeWalt performed better than average, but it was also the most expensive drill in this roundup at $133. Without top-level performance, I can’t recommend it at that price. Includes two 1.3-aH batteries and a soft carrying case.
- : 12-volt. Virtually the same story as DeWalt. With nearly identical performance, and a $129 price tag, this drill was good, but couldn’t outpace the Bosch at the same price. Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft carrying case.
- : 12-volt. I own some Ridgid tools myself that I’m quite happy with. This drill saw has average performance at slightly below-average pricing, coming in at $59. It’s a solid pick, just not outstanding. Includes two 1.5-aH batteries and a soft case.
- : 12-volt. With comparable performance to the Bosch and Tacklife drills, the $99 Makita was good but didn’t make the cut due to a higher price than the Tacklife drill, and slightly less performance compared with the Bosch. Includes two 2-aH batteries and a hard plastic case.
- : 12-volt. Very low high-torque performance scores, but an attractive $53 price tag. A fine drill for light household jobs. Includes one 1.3-aH battery but no carrying case.
How we test
Other than general use and impressions, I have three main ways of testing drills. There is a clearance test, where I determine the tightest space the drill can get into and still drive or drill at a perfect 90-degree angle perpendicular to the drilling surface. Then there are two different types of power/longevity tests; one with a high torque load and one with a lower load.
For the high-torque test, I use a brand new 1-inch wood spade bit for each drill. I use the bit to drill a series of holes into standard yellow pine construction grade lumber. After, I divide the number of holes drilled by the battery capacity which gives a “holes per amp hour” data point for comparison. I like this particular metric method because it negates the ability of a drill to win just by having a larger battery.
On this test, the numbers for the 12-volt drills are pretty low — so if you’re looking to bore a lot of holes, it’s probably best to stick with the 18-volt drills. For the most part, all of the 18-volt drills felt strong starting this test off with a brand-new battery, and although it did score second-to-last here, the Ryobi felt the strongest out of the gate. There’s also the breakthrough feel — how well the spade bits are able to exit the opposite side of the lumber without snagging and seizing. Here, it was Milwaukee that really showed off. Not only did Milwaukee absolutely trounce the competition, but the spade bit moved from one side of the lumber to the other with almost no snags. On the opposite end of the scale, both Bosch and Ridgid seemed to have trouble exiting the boards almost every single time.
In the low-torque tests I took some screws — a ton of screws — and drove them into standard four-by-four construction lumber. Drive in as many as possible until the drill can no longer completely seat a screw; i.e. flush or slightly below flush with the lumber, then count. I use the same previously described method here, dividing by amp hour to get our final metric. The original tests for 12-volt drills used #8 2 1/2-inch screws, and the 18-volt tests use #9 3-inch screws.
Running the low-torque tests takes longer than the high-torque tests, so there’s more time to get the feel of the tools themselves. Generally speaking, the drills all feel like you’d expect, but there were a couple of features that stood out. On the 18-volt DeWalt, the hand grip feels small. This may actually be a benefit for some people, but for me, it was a little off-putting. I was also not a fan of the trigger on the 18-volt Ridgid. It felt like I had to pull the trigger farther back to reach max power than on other drills. This, over time, leads to a little extra hand cramping. Not ideal if you’re planning on using it for hours at a time.
For the clearance test, I measured the distance from the center of the drill chuck opening to the top of the drill and separately to the side of the drill. The lowest value for each drill you will see charted below. I converted the measurements to decimals for purposes of the chart, but I did measure these in 1/64-inch increments. The lower the value, the smaller the overall size of the drill is, allowing it to be used in tighter spaces than the drills with larger values.
There were a couple of other features worth pointing out that may help if you’re still undecided. Most drills now come with LED lighting to help with visibility in lower lighting settings. These typically activate once you pull the trigger and go off either when you release the trigger or with a small delay. The placement of the LED is either at the base of the tool near the battery, or above the trigger on the main barrel of the tool. I prefer the placement near the battery. The LED on the barrel creates a hard shadow line above the midpoint of the chuck, while the lower-placed LED offers more available light above the tool — ideal if you’re in a position where you’re looking down at the tool, and not holding it above your sight line. In 18-volt drills, Bauer, Ryobi and Bosch all have the lower-placed LED, and Ridgid is the only model without any LED.
Battery life indicators can help out when you find yourself in places where switching out batteries isn’t convenient, say, on a ladder, roof or any other less accessible location. One push of the button and you get an estimate of battery life remaining — usually in 25% increments. Bauer, Ridgid, Milwaukee and Craftsman 18-volt drills all have this feature.
Another feature, which may not necessarily be a decision-maker for you, is the battery release mechanism. The front-tab has become the standard, and works better on some models than others. All of the battery-powered tools I own personally are front-tabs. I’ve grown to really like the side tab release, however. It’s a more natural feel and tends to be an easier release as well. In the 18-volt drills listed, Ridgid, Milwaukee and Ryobi all have side tab releases. For me, Ridgid’s design feels the most comfortable.
There’s a larger performance variance in 12-volt drills than I expected, and probably less of one at the 18-volt level. If you’re in the market, just make sure you have a clear idea of what exactly you’re hoping to get out of your drill, then take a look at the information provided here. It should be easy enough to get a clear picture of performance, price and capabilities to make sure you end up with the perfect choice for your needs.