Compact 12v Drill-Drivers

<b>Classic old versus new.</b> Hitachi stayed with the tried-and-true design similar to that of larger drill-drivers. Other manufacturers moved toward a new design of fitting the battery into the handle.

Classic old versus new. Hitachi stayed with the tried-and-true design similar to that of larger drill-drivers. Other manufacturers moved toward a new design of fitting the battery into the handle.

Drill-drivers have moved through different battery voltages like a NASCAR driver moves through gears at Talladega. Many manufacturers pushed through 18 volts and upward to 24 volts, with a few reaching the 36-volt area. Then the power was downshifted and leveled at 18 volts, and along the way the newest power source was installed much like a new motor on a race car. Pushed aside are Ni-Cad and the other older power supplies to be replaced by the latest and greatest batteries known as Lithium-ion.

As we move forward, drill-driver size has become important. Some consider 18- volt drill-drivers too heavy for non-stop use on the job, but like to have the power when needed. Nobody wants to hoist a heavy drill all day long. As a result, compact drill-drivers stepped into action with their lighter weight and smaller dimensions.

Compact drills are great to use for extended periods of time, but if you have to work in small areas such as inside cabinets, even these tools can feel oversized. To squeeze into tight places and to make the job easy and less burdensome on our arms, wrists and shoulders, 12-volt drill- drivers are back in the spotlight.

<b>Comfort is key.</b> The acute angle at the rear of the Bosch tool causes discomfort to your hand during prolonged use. The more opened angle on the Makita tool makes it more comfortable to use.

Comfort is key. The acute angle at the rear of the Bosch tool causes discomfort to your hand during prolonged use. The more opened angle on the Makita tool makes it more comfortable to use.

These drill-drivers include 1/4″ hex- drive tools as well as standard chuck designs. To whittle down the list of candidates for our review, we set parameters that we felt would be the best choice for everyday use. Drill-drivers with 1/4″ hex heads are OK for some operations such as driving screws. But for simple drilling tasks, we didn’t want to have to have a dedicated line of tooling (drill bits with 1/4″ hex shanks). We decided that two- speed drills that afforded the operator the choice of torque settings, and had conventional chucks in a 3/8″ size, were the best bet.

While you might think that this list of requirements is limiting, we found six contenders that met our parameters. The six include the Bosch PS30-2A, Craftsman’s NEXTEC drill-driver, the Hitachi DS10DFL, Makita’s DF330DW (the only 10.8-volt tool in the test), the Milwaukee 2410-22 and Ridgid’s R82008 drill-driver.

About the Tests

<b>An onboard fuel indicator.</b> The Milwaukee 2410-22 drill-driver is the only tool tested that includes a battery fuel-gauge indicator. One to four lights illuminate to show the amount of charge remaining in your battery.
An onboard fuel indicator. The Milwaukee 2410-22 drill-driver is the only tool tested that includes a battery fuel-gauge indicator. One to four lights illuminate to show the amount of charge remaining in your battery.

For comparison to the larger drill-drivers reviewed in April 2008 (issue #168), we set about to drill holes in 1 3/4″-thick poplar using 1″-spade bits and to drive 1/4″ lag screws that are 1 1/4″ in length into the same thickness of poplar. Each phase was completed beginning with a fully charged battery. For the drilling phase, we set the tool to the highest speed and for the lag-screw portion of the test we selected the lowest speed.

As a simple comparison, the lowest number of holes drilled with the 18-volt tools was 19 (the highest was 37). With the lower-voltage drill-drivers in this review, the greatest number of holes is eight. The results are similar when the lag-screw portion of testing is compared. It’s easy to see that these drill-drivers are not the tools to grab if you have heavy-duty work to perform. But after you work with these tools for an extended period of time, you’ll notice less wear and tear on your body.

The tests are best for a comparison between like tools and not to indicate workload capabilities. And because the purpose of these smaller voltage drill-drivers is comfort during use, it may be better to gauge the feel of the tool in your hands, how balanced the drill-driver is or isn’t and whether the battery charge is in line with the competition, along with other characteristics.

Comfort is Key
A quick look at the chart at right reveals two important areas when the overall feel of the drills is discussed: girth measurement and the total weight of the tool (the drill-driver and the weight of the battery).

To choose an appropriate girth measurement, you have to evaluate your hands as a beginning. Obviously, if you have large hands, a small girth such as the 5″ on the Hitachi DS10DFL is going to swim in your grip. But with medium-sized hands, I found this drill-driver to be comfortable to use and easy to grab.

The “easy to grab” part of the equation could be due in part to the battery design. Hitachi is the only drill-driver in the test to keep the battery design similar to that of larger drills, with a wide base design that holds the tool upright for easy pick-up. Hitachi’s competitors have all adapted a smaller battery that slips inside the handle of the tool, and that increases the girth of the drill-driver.

Contrarily, if your hands are larger, you may find a better fit with large-girth drills. If that’s the case, the Milwaukee 2410-22 or the Ridgid R82008 could be your choice. Both of these drill-drivers have a girth of 6 1/4″, the largest in the group.

The average weight for the 18-volt drills is 4.1 pounds. The heaviest drill-driver in this review is 2.64 pounds and the average is 2.57 pounds. That tells me a couple things. First, the difference between 18-volts and the lower voltage drill-drivers is significant – 1.46 pounds is better than a 50-percent increase in weight over the smaller drills. Your arms and shoulders will feel better after working a full day with any of these tools versus an 18-volt drill-driver.

Second, there is little weight difference when comparing these drill-drivers to each other. Overall, there is a difference of only 6 3/4 ounces between the heaviest and lightest of these tools. In my opinion, tool weight can be discounted as being too close to warrant a choice based solely on this characteristic.

A Tip of the Drill
As for overall balance, a few of these drill-drivers feel more top-heavy than the others. The Bosch and Makita drills tip forward when set in the upright position, indicating that these drills would roll your wrist downward when put to work. The Craftsman and Ridgid tools sit upright, but tip with the slightest touch. The Milwaukee drill-driver, the heaviest tool in the test, is balanced and stands squarely on its battery-filled base.

Another area where comfort becomes apparent is with the over-molded grips and the shape of the tool as it rests in your hand. Most of the drill-drivers have a gentle rounded shape at the rear of the tool, directly behind the trigger. The Bosch and Ridgid tools, however, form an acute angle that rubs the area between your thumb and forefinger. Not comfortable.

Rotation and Speed Selection
Each drill-driver has a rotation selection switch for forward and reverse movement, and a lock position. Push the switch fully to the left and the drill rotates to drive a screw. A switch pushed fully to the right backs a screw out of your workpiece. And the center position, which is hard to find on a couple of these drill-drivers, is the lock position. (The lock position is used when drill bits or screwdrivers are replaced.)

The Makita tool has the smallest rotation switch while the Craftsman switch is the largest and most noticeable. It is also the switch that’s the most difficult to operate. Because there are operations when you need to increase or decrease the rotation speed, each drill-driver has a two-speed gearbox. As a result, changing those speeds is of importance.

Each of the tools has the speed selector on the top of the tool. On the Hitachi and Craftsman drill-drivers, to select the low-speed setting you push the selector forward, and to move to the higher gear, you pull the selector back. The other tools in the test work in the reverse way.

Overall, the selector on the Hitachi drill-driver is the stiffest and hardest to adjust, while the others are easy to change.

Other Interesting Attributes
All the tools in this test have common attributes, such as multiple torque settings so you can dial in the exact amount of torque for any given task (although I seldom adjust the torque settings) and each drill-driver includes two batteries so the idea of completing a job without any downtime waiting on batteries to recharge is minimal. (All the tools have 30-minute chargers except for the Makita DF330DW, which has a 50-minute recharge time).

Interestingly, each of the tools in the test require a two-finger grip, with a quick squeeze, to change the batteries. For all the drill-drivers except the Ridgid, the grip is across the width of the tool. To change the battery on the Ridgid, you pinch the battery from front to back. Even with the difference in how the batteries are replaced, the operations to change out the power sources are equally smooth and easy.

Shine-on LED
Another feature that most drill-drivers have – and all the tools in this test have as well – is a light emitting diode (LED). And because these tools are great for enclosed areas, the LED differences should be discussed.

The standout LED is on the Makita driver. It is brighter than the others in the test. And more important, the LED comes on when the trigger is slightly depressed. The Makita LED also stays illuminated for 10 seconds after the drill stops, then it fades to off.

The Ridgid LED is the second brightest. It, along with the Milwaukee LED, is noticeably angled upward when compared to the others.

The Milwaukee tool is the only one with a fuel-gauge light to indicate battery power. As the trigger is depressed, the LED shines, and for a period of two to three seconds, a fuel gauge light illuminates with one to four dots, depending on the remaining charge.

Which Drill-driver to Choose
Choosing a 12-volt drill-driver should not require that you give up on the tool’s ability to be a workhorse in the shop just because you need to work in tight areas. But comfort is also a concern with repeated use. So which drill driver do you choose?

The Editor’s Choice award goes to the Milwaukee 2410-22. It’s the overall best tool. It powered through the 1″ holes and amassed a whopping 49 1/2 driven lag screws. And there is plenty of torque to do the job.

The 2410-22 registered a lowly 105º motor temperature and scored near the average in battery temperature (138º). Excessive heat should not shorten this tool’s life.

The Milwaukee drill-driver is well balanced and comfortable in your hand. The rotation switch and speed selector are easy to use without being switched inadvertently.

Also, the Milwaukee single-sleeve chuck is the only all-metal chuck in the group.

But if the $149 price tag on the Milwaukee drill is too steep for your budget, take a look at our “Best Value” drill-driver. Hitachi claims this honor with the DS10DFL.

The test numbers for the Hitachi drill are good, but are still behind those posted by Milwaukee’s drill-driver. The tool is comfortable in small to medium hands, but large hands may find issues with it.

The Hitachi drill-driver is about $40 less expensive than the 2410-22 and is considerably lighter. And I particularly like the old-school battery/base design.

PW

 


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About Glen D. Huey

Glen Huey is managing editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, an accomplished period furniture maker and author of numerous woodworking books and videos (as well as magazine articles).

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