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<b>You can see in the dark.</b> LEDs are common on many of the tested drills. Most are just above the trigger, but the more useful light, found only on the Skil, is mounted at the drill

You can see in the dark. LEDs are common on many of the tested drills. Most are just above the trigger, but the more useful light, found only on the Skil, is mounted at the drill

In December 2005 (issue #152), Popular Woodworking tested 14.4-volt drills and used the results to determine if moving up from a 12v drill was worth the investment. In that test, each battery was either Nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) or Nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH). Today there’s a change in battery power. Gone from the headlines are the Ni-Cd and Ni-MH batteries – replaced by a Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. Of course, that meant we had another test to run.

The Lithium-ion Battery
What makes the Li-ion battery different – and is it better? With Li-ion batteries you get an increase in power with a decrease in the overall weight of the battery. (We tested 18v drills that weigh less than the old technology’s 14.4v tools). That’s just one of the improvements of the new battery design.

Other improvements include an increased number of cycles (number of times you can recharge the battery) and friendlier charge-holding abilities. The charge on Li-ion batteries does not dissipate when the tool is at rest, something inherent in Ni-Cd and Ni-MH batteries. Happily, this is all packaged in an introductory tool with a retail price lower than that of the earlier technologies.

So the big question is, are the drills better than before because of new battery technology? Will the tools run longer when put to the test? Will the test results show substantial increases?

How We Tested the Tools
We kept the parameters of the previous testing so you could draw conclusions based on the results. We fully charged the batteries and drilled 1″ holes through 1 3/4″ poplar using a newly purchased spade bit for each drill and the speed setting at the highest level. (The Skil has only one speed setting while the DeWalt DC927KL has three settings, of which we used the second level).

We kept at it constantly, drilling as many holes as possible until the batteries gave out. (The drill simply quits when a Li-ion battery is the power source, unlike the earlier batteries that fade away like the wicked witch in “Wizard of Oz”.) Also, as in the earlier test, we recorded the temperatures both at the motor and at the battery because heat could affect the battery’s longevity.

The second phase of our test examined the torque of the drill. After again charging the batteries to full power, we tested the drills by driving 1 1/2″-long 1/4″ lag screws using the low-speed setting. You can have the most powerful battery available, but if the drill has little or no torque, you’ll have issues seating your screws into your project.

In addition, we recorded the weight of the drill with and without a battery, the revolutions per minute (RPM) at each speed level, as well as the cost of replacement batteries and the time it took to fully charge each unit. These results are shown in the chart below.

The Results Are In
With a glancing look, you would expect the drills to perform better with the more powerful (18v) Li-ion batteries. After all, the increase from 14.4v is a 25 percent step up in power.

The test results met that expectation (and then some) when drilling holes. The tested tools drilled 23 holes per tool on average (see the chart on page 72 for individual tool results). That eclipses the 14.4v drills by more than six holes, a 26 percent increase. The highest number of drilled holes was from the Ryobi at 36. All other tools completed 19 to 21 holes except the DeWalt, at 27 holes.

Did the same increase in results hold true with the lag screw test? It did, but it didn’t match the increase in power. The average number of screws driven stood at just more than 117. That’s a 20 percent increase over the 14.4v drills, but it’s a few percentage points lower than the bump up in overall-battery power presented with the Li-ion batteries.

Interesting Attributes
These drills have a number of features common among them, such as multiple clutch settings, keyless chucks and a rotation selector (forward/reverse/center lock) located near the trigger.

Each drill, except the Skil and Ryobi, includes two batteries in the kit. In place of the second battery, Ryobi includes a flashlight powered by the single battery. You’ll have to decide if the trade-off is of value to you.

A few drills feature “battery charge” gauges located near or on the batteries. The Milwaukee and Skil gauges are found on the drill body, front and center. The Skil gauge illuminates as the trigger is engaged while Milwaukee provides a push button for the information. Ryobi’s indicator is located on the battery and unless you’re familiar with the color code, the battery has to be removed to read the remaining charge. These gauges may be useful for some, but we feel they are more show than substance.

In addition, LEDs are popular again. The lighting of work areas is a nice touch if you’re deep in a cabinet or cupboard. The Milwaukee, Makita, Ridgid and Skil each have lights. Surprisingly, Skil’s LED, mounted in the base just on top of the battery, illuminated the work area better than those lights of the other manufacturers mounted just above the triggers.

On the down side, we weren’t impressed with the belt hooks on two of the drills. That may be a welcomed feature on a jobsite, but in the shop a drill is seldom hung at our sides.

The Hitachi drill has a rotating-adjustable hook with the connection molded into the drill base. While the hook itself can be removed, the base is forever in place. The hook on the Milwaukee drill is detached by simply pulling a screw.

Fit and Feel
Power alone is not the determining factor when purchasing a drill. If that were the case, you could take a look at the chart and arrive at a purchase decision. But how the drill feels in your hand is equally important. While weight plays a key role, balance is the better indicator. We examined the fit and feel of the drills as the final stage of testing.

We considered the design of the handle and how it fit in our hands. We also evaluated the balance of the drills, as well as the workout our wrists would absorb during a day’s use, for a variety of hand sizes.

In addition, we judged the additional little features on the drills and the test results to reach our conclusions. As our discussion progressed, we each found ourselves gravitating toward specific drills.

As a whole, we like the compact drills for fit, feel and balance. That pushed the Makita and Milwaukee to the top of the list.

An evaluation of the test results guided us to select Makita as our winner, followed closely by the Milwaukee drill.

To determine a Best Value 18v Li-ion drill, we were drawn to batteries. The Ridgid drill took this honor with a “Lifetime Service Agreement” that includes free replacement batteries for the life of the tool.

Look to the future and add the cost of replacement batteries to the initial purchase price and it’s easy to see the value in the Ridgid.

We feel compelled to mention the Skil. This drill has many features and feels good in your hand, but it lacked considerably in the torque test. The drill was unable to fully seat any of the lag screws. While this tool would not be our choice in the workshop, we feel it would be a great option for many homeowners.





The Hitachi DS18DFL is part of the company’s Gold series of tools, designed to be ergonomic and compact. The Li-ion battery ripped just over 1-1/2 pounds from the Ni-Cd version, making the tool easier to work with during extended periods.

This drill is by far the most unusual looking drill in the group. The plastic molded body has an extra-terrestrial design about it that makes you take a second look. Concentrate on the design and you’re apt to look past the less-than-impressive test results. This drill finished fifth in the holes test and tied for fourth in driving lag screws, though there was plenty of torque to do the job.

We felt the grip was a bit awkward due to the fact that the girth increases as you move down the handle. And the lack of an over-molded rubber grip allowed the drill to slip easily in our hands.

If you have an occasional need for a drill, consider this tool. But if you’re looking for a standout tool, you can do better.

Hitachi DS18DFL
800-706-7337 •

MakitaEditor’s Choice

“Good things come in small packages” couldn’t ring more true than for the Makita BDF452HW. It’s light in weight and strong in power. And the 15-minute recharge guarantees that you’ll not wait for a fully charged battery. You’ll rarely run a battery out of juice before having the next battery ready and waiting its turn.

Senior Editor Glen D. Huey used this drill while making shop cabinets with pocket screws. At the end of the project he realized that he had only changed the battery pack once during the entire weekend.

The Makita drill is compact and fits easily in most hands – it happens to be a favorite of many women woodworkers, but large-handed men continue to reach for it in the shop. The balance of the tool is near perfect and we liked the LED.

Also, this drill is the only one we tested that requires you to depress but a single latch to change the batteries. The change is very smooth and is easily completed.

This drill is easily our top choice.

Makita BDF452HW
800-462-5482 •


The Milwaukee 2601-22 is another “compact” drill that garnered our attention. There was a bit of an issue with the battery charging at first, however, we found that we did not have the battery fully seated. A full charge was achieved once the discrepancy was discovered.

The 2601-22 drill is a very stout looking tool. It’s got a “bulldog” look to it – full of power and ready to work. It’s a bit shorter in length than the Makita drill and outweighs it by more than eight ounces.

The LED is a nice touch, but the position does not allow clear path to the point of contact. Also, the LED turns on as the trigger is pulled and immediately shuts off upon release. The Makita light remains illuminated for some time after the trigger is let go.

Hole-drilling results were on par with the other drills, but the number of lag screws driven was the lowest except for the Skil tool. However, torque was never an issue with the Milwaukee.

Milwaukee 2601-22

Ridgid – Best Value

The Ridgid R86006 drill is our choice for Best Value due primarily to Ridgid’s “Lifetime Service Agreement” that accompanies the drill (along with most of the company’s other power tools). You must be a registered owner to take advantage. Simply register online or use the included paperwork and you’re good. That means free replacement batteries – and that translates into savings in the future.

The warranty alone was not the only reason this drill earned our award. The testing numbers placed the Ridgid squarely in the average category, with 21 holes drilled and more than 100 lag screws driven. While that’s not the top performer, it is more than most normal use requires.

We found the balance, fit and feel of the drill very comfortable and would not hesitate to grab it for day-long use in our shop. In fact, Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick chose this drill for work around her home.

Ridgid R86006
800-474-3443 •


What a workhorse during the testing phase. This drill drove a whopping 183 lag screws and finished 37 holes with a 1″ spade bit. However, if you’re going to compare the test data alone, remember the Ryobi P813 drill comes standard with one 2.4 amp/hour battery. It’s the same battery that powers the flashlight that is part of the kit; the drill is not sold separately. But the total cost for the kit is very reasonable when matched up to the other drills. Hey, a bonus flashlight – you make the call.

The Ryobi drill is also the heaviest in the test group at 4.76 pounds and some of that weight can be attributed to the larger battery. Nevertheless, if you plan to use this drill for an extended period of time in the workshop, realize the additional weight could be a detriment to your wrist.

The charger for this drill works with any of the Ryobi One + 18v Lithium-ion or Nickel-cadmium batteries.

Ryobi P813
800-525-2579 •


Congratulations to Skil for adding so many features such as the battery charge and lighted rotation direction indicators. The LED did a great job of lighting the work surface.

This 3/8″ chuck (other drills have a 1/2″ chuck) had the only jaws that hold drill bits in sizes below 1/16″. So, if you work with those smaller-diameter bits, the Skil 2815-02 is worth another look.

Torque was an issue. The torque needed to seat the lag screws was insufficient with this drill and that’s something we would avoid – unless your aim was household use or those small bits.

In addition, the battery was cumbersome and difficult to attach to the charger and the drill.

Add in the prolonged recharging time of three to four hours, and it’s easy to guess where this drill finished – at the bottom of the list.

Skil 2815-02
877-754-5999 •


The DeWalt tool is a hammer drill. So, you’ll notice a hike in price immediately. We chose to include this tool in our test because for one, you can turn off the hammer-drill feature and make this tool operate as a drill only. And two, this drill uses a Nano-lithium battery (a new entry in the Li-ion category).

How did it stack up to the others? Clearly this drill drove more screws and drilled more holes than most others. But, it has a 2.4 AH battery.

If compared to the Ryobi drill – the only other 2.4 AH battery – the DeWalt was outshined – but the Ryobi won’t power through concrete like the DeWalt. And the additional third speed allows you to match the speed to the task.

Our take on this drill is, if you’re looking for a hammer drill this is a great choice. But, if you’re after a regular drill, the price is going to make you pass on this tool.

DeWalt DC927KL
800-433-9258 •


STREET PRICE $335  $169  $199.99  $193  $187 $169  $119.95
WEIGHT W/O BATTERY (LBS)  3.98  2.93  2.66  3.11 3.25 3.11 2.05
WEIGHT W/BATTER (LBS) 5.5 3.84 3.49 4.03 4.28 4.76 2.80
 2  2 2  2  2  1 1
AMP/HOUR BATTERY  2.4 1.5 1.5 1.4 1.5 2.4 1.3
 $149 $59 $50.76  $83.15  FREE  $99**  N/A
RECHARGE TIME (MIN) 60 30 15 30  30  60  180-240
RPM 0 – 450
0 – 1,500
0 – 1,800
0 – 400
0 – 1,200
0 – 400
0 – 1,500
 0 – 350
0 – 1,400
0 – 450
0 – 1,600
0 – 440
0 – 1,600
0 – 800
SPEEDS 3 2  2  2  2 2 1
LAG SCREWS DRIVEN 152  100  129 93 104  183  64
HOLES DRILLED 27  20 20 19 21  37 19
MOTOR TEMPERATURE  135 103 107 105  92  168  138
BATTERY TEMPERATURE 99 118 100  81 111 94  93
NOTES  Hammer drill  Compact Compact Kits only  3/8” chuck
* Drill available only as kit which includes drill, flashlight, battery and charger. ** Replacement battery available only as kit which includes battery and charger.

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