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Ode to the Cordless Drill

The cordless drill has emerged to become one of the most versatile and valued tools you can own—no matter where you live.

Back in the late 1970’s, my dad took on the daunting task of replacing the tin roof on our elderly farmhouse. Peeling away layers of old tin and rotten shingles, he managed to straighten things up, and then spent several days nailing down fresh tin, hammer in hand.

Not many of us would consider pounding nails through tin like that today. For most of us, this would be just another situation where the cordless drill comes to the rescue. Whether you’re hanging a picture on an apartment wall, grinding rust from a car fender or putting up drywall in a new house, it seems there’s always a situation where this wireless wonder comes in handy.

It’s what we do

Drilling holes in things has been a part of the human experience for the better part of the last 35,000 years or so. Pointed rocks and smooth sticks were some of the earliest devices, eventually leading to various bow- and hand-drill designs. While bow drills, which converted back and forth motion into the first high-speed drilling, were initially used for construction, they were also put to work in dentistry. Yup, archeologists have found human remains in Pakistan—dating back nearly 9,000 years—that had drilled teeth. Not to mention trepanning, the practice of drilling holes in the skull to cure seizures, treat migraines or release evil spirits from the brain cage.

Fast-forward to 1889, when Australian inventors Arthur James Arnot and William Blanch Brain patented the electric drill. Thirty years later, Black & Decker upped the ante, patenting the pistol-grip portable electric drill we know today.

But perhaps because of that darned cord, the drill remained a tool used for drilling holes and little else. Drywall became more common after World War II, but in those early years, installers insisted on nailing the panels into place. One miss, and you’d be mixing up a little extra joint compound. Eventually, the power drill would help deal with that problem, in spite of the cord.

By 1961, Black & Decker came up with the first battery-operated drill. But it took a partnership with NASA to improve on things, sending cordless drills into space with the Apollo astronauts. Two decades later, they would become a viable option for the home handyman. They were expensive, couldn’t handle heavy work, and the batteries died out pretty quickly. Other cordless tools have since been developed, but the drill remains the most popular and versatile of the lot.

Cordless drill

Up for the job

With a plethora of drill bits, tools and attachments, today’s cordless drill can tackle many a task. Need to pump water? There’s an attachment for that. Remove a tire, install a roof, secure a ladder for climbing, close a defective sunroof on a car…

Choosing the right cordless drill depends on a few general factors, such as the typical jobs you’ll be handling. More volts means more power, but it can also mean more weight. That drill might feel pretty good in your hand in the store, but try to imagine swinging it around all day while muscling sheets of drywall into place. Here are a few tips to help choose the right cordless drill for you.

  • Models between 12 and 18 volts are great for general all-around use. If you expect to be drilling into steel or masonry, you might want to opt for a larger model.
  • Seek a variable-speed model. Lower speeds work best for setting screws, while higher speeds are ideal for drilling into substances such as wood. Many have an adjustable clutch to protect the motor when a screw or drill bit meets resistance.
  • Battery choice is important: Lithium-ion batteries are the latest development, far outperforming the traditional cordless-tool batteries. They’re also way lighter and hold a charge for much longer. There’s nothing like picking up your drill to do a job and the battery is dead. An extra battery is always nice to have on hand.
  • Cordless drills are popular sale items, so there’s usually a deal to be had somewhere. Kits will often include useful items like drill and screwdriver bits, extra batteries and a carrying case.
  • Prices vary greatly, but for the home handyperson, a less expensive model will usually suffice. I had a $40 drill that lasted through years of odd jobs that included all of the electrical and drywall work on a large house addition.

So if you don’t have a decent cordless drill in your household tool box, it’s worth some serious consideration. They are one of the easiest and most versatile power tools to you will ever use, whether it’s hanging that picture of Grandpa or tapping the maple tree in the backyard.