Compact Drills & Drivers

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Power aplenty in the palm of your hand

Decades back, tool companies began the “Great Drill Race.” Each year they’d bump up the voltage, and tool testers would drive a few thousand screws in order to crown a new winner. Tool races might make for interesting reading, but they told only half of the story. The other half: the bulk that came with so much brawn. Woodworkers often found that the “best” tools were too big to fit in tight spots and too unwieldy for extended use.

Thankfully, companies are rethinking the “bigger is better” strategy. Thanks to Lithium-ion (Li-ion) cells, the latest generation 10V and 12V tools pack plenty of power, but are small enough to use in tight spots or to tuck into an apron pocket when not in use. Woodworkers can now get a drill that’s powerful enough to drill and drive, but in a smaller, lighter package. (In some cases, the new drills weigh less than yesterday’s battery packs.) 

Considering the selection and price, now’s the time to add this useful tool to your arsenal. Consider these factors before making your pick.

Impact or drill driver

At first glance, it’s easy to confuse an impact driver with a drill/driver. While both can drive screws and drill holes, impact drivers have an internal hammer and anvil. Under load, the two initiate a hammering action that produces about four times as much torque as a regular driver—without more work on your part. The pulsing action (up to 3,000 strikes per minute) also keeps the driver bit in the screw head, decreasing the chances of a stripped head.

With added torque comes some trade-offs. Impact drivers are slower and a lot noisier than standard drills. They also sport quick-change chucks that work well with driver bits, but require pricier hex-shanked drill bits. (For $20, you can also buy a chuck attachment.)

Most compact drill-drivers like the i-drill sport three-jawed chucks that can grip both driver bits and standard drill bits. In addition drill-drivers have two speed settings and adjustable clutches to prevent overdriving.

Task lights

Like impact mode, light doesn’t seem necessary until you get accustomed to using it. Considering that compact drills fit where other tools can’t, it makes sense that they light their own way. Both the Bosch and DeWalt drivers feature integral LEDs that throw light where it’s needed most.

Pistol grip or right angle

Compact and ultra-compact drivers aren’t much bigger than your fist, but if you still find yourself reaching for a stubby screwdriver, try a right angle driver instead. These models are favorites among cabinet installers because of their super low-profile design. Bosch's I-Driver provides even more flexibility by offering a pivoting head that adjusts in five stops from 0° to 90°. 

Two is better than one

Let’s face facts: most tools do only one thing well. Drills aren’t as well-suited for driving, and impact drivers are too slow for serious drilling. In response, several companies are packaging drills and impact drivers in paired sets. With most of the tool’s cost wrapped up in the battery and charger, these sets don’t cost much more than the single driver. In addition, the set enables you to designate one tool for drilling and the other for driving, a far more convenient solution than constantly switching bits.

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  • KB
    Best purchase I ever made was buying a 2 tool combo pack that included both a drill and an impact driver. I never realized how much time I spent changing bits until I didn't have to anymore. There's really no other way to go.

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