Chuck Key

What Features Do I Need in a Cordless Drill?

So What Features Do I Need in a Cordless Drill?

When looking for a cordless drill, you may be bamboozled by all of the options and technical features.  Sometimes, I think that manufacturers of power tools publish their impressive specifications just to confuse people into buying.  There are a few specs that actually matter, and can guide you into your drill purchase without having to understand absolutely everything about cordless drills!

That’s why is here.  We want to help you wade through the junk and specifications, and actually find the tool that’s right for you!

On this page, we’re going to delve in to all of the common features that drills have, and teach you, the homeowner, what actually matters and what doesn’t.  Then, you can walk confidently into the hardware store and say “You know, I really don’t need a 36v drill!”, or “3/8″ is plenty of chuck for my usage!”

After reading this guide, you will be empowered to know and buy only what you actually need, and nothing more!  Let’s jump in!

Chuck Size

When looking at buying a drill, chuck size can be very important depending on what level of use and abuse you plan to use your drill for.  There are 2 major chuck sizes that most cordless drills have, 3/8″ or 1/2″.

If we crunch the numbers, we can see that a 1/2″ chuck is only 1/8″ larger than a 3/8″ chuck.  Confused yet?

It may not seem like much, when you read the numbers on this webpage.  However, a small chuck size means 2 things for your future using your drill.

  • First, a 3/8″ small chuck tends to only be a feature on less powerful and less durable drills.  So, it’s simply a marker that tells you, “hey, this may not be a professional-grade drill.”  It’s good to know going into a purchase that this is the case.
  • Second, a 3/8″ chuck cannot hold bits larger than 3/8″.  At surface level, it seems like not such a big deal, since it just limits you from using 1/2″ bits, but you can still get close with a 3/8″ hole.  However, most hole saws require a 1/2″ chuck size, requiring a more powerful drill.
  • This draws us back to the first point–  You need a good bit more power and durability when using these accessories, so be sure to get a 1/2″ drill if you need the capability to use a hole saw and other high power accessories!  Do your homework on what add-ons you plan to buy in the first couple years of drill ownership, and make your decision off of that.  Don’t worry about buying the most powerful drill if you “might” need it, you can always upgrade later and sell you old drill at a yard sale or pawn shop for a reasonable price.

Chuck Key

Cordless Drill Features Chuck

A keyed chuck!
Thanks to Jordonhill School D&T Dept for this photo.

If you have an old drill, or a drill press around, you know that a chuck key is a small tool that you use to change drill bits and accessories in a keyed chuck.  Today, most cordless and corded drills feature a keyless chuck, which enables you to quickly and easily change your drill bit without any tool other than your hands.  It works by rotating the keyless chuck with your hand until the bit is loose, than removing and switching the bit when you’ve got the chuck open wide enough for the new bit.  After that, you just tighten it down firmly and you are ready to work!

Most of the time, a keyless chuck is exactly what you need.  If you don’t know that you need a keyed chuck, necessary for extra heavy-duty circumstances, than you just need a keyless chuck.  It’s much easier and faster to use, and there’s no little tool to lose!

Battery Voltage and Type

These days, there more different drill battery voltages and types than ever before, making life really confusing for the drill buyer today.  Whether it is 7.2, 12v, 18v, 20v or 24v, how do you know which battery voltage is right for you?  Add on top of that whether to buy Ni-CAD, Ni-MH or Lithium based batteries, and it’s enough to make your head spin!


You probably don’t need the highest voltage drill out there.  In fact, unless you are a professional, stick with a good 12v or 18v drill, and you’ll be great.  Skip the next paragraph if you’re a homeowner or hobbyist.

However, if you do work your tools hard, a higher voltage cordless drill is going to provide you with the power you need to do tougher jobs, such as drilling through hard and thick materials and sinking 3″ deck screws.  If you try to do these tasks with a lower-voltage drill, you’ll just be disappointed in your results.  Consider getting a little 12v drill for around the house repairs, and then buying one of the big guns for the heavy duty work!

New, higher voltage drills have amazing amounts of power and longevity compared to their older brothers.  If you are looking to upgrade from an already 18v drill, check out the offerings by manufacturers in the 24v+ market!

Battery Types

Drill Battery

A DeWalt Drill Battery

Drill batteries come in 3 types- Ni-CAD, Ni-MH, and Lithium Ion based batteries.

Each type of battery chemistry has it’s positives and negatives, so it’s important to evaluate your situation before choosing wisely!  You could literally spend all day researching and learning the differences between battery types, but instead, I’ll just simply it for you.  Everyone has their opinion on what battery type is best, and what’s best for you may be different than what’s best for someone else.

Ni-CAD batteries are the oldest type of rechargeable battery that is still on the market today.  Though they can develop memory problems and die prematurely, they are still the best battery in extreme cold or hot weather.  They are also less expensive than other battery types, so they’re cheaper to replace when they go bad.  If you are diligent and take great care of your Ni-CAD’s, you can get a great life out of them!

Ni-MH batteries improve on the technology of Ni-CAD cells by reducing the memory effect and increasing size.  Ni-MH batteries tend to have a longer life before they are useless, but they are weakened by cold and heat.  I can tell you from experience that they don’t stand a chance below 30 degrees, but re-warming them gains the power back from a cold “discharge”.

Lithium Ion batteries are the newest kids on the block, and they promise higher performance and no memory effect.  However, it’s important to know that they won’t last as long before they are useless, and they carry a higher cost.  They also do suffer in the cold, but they are the way that the industry is headed.  All of your laptop computers, cell phones and other electronics utilize this type of battery, and they are constantly being improved for power tools!

Drill Weight!

If you’ve survived past thinking about the different battery chemistries, it’s time to think about physical weight of the drill.  Though simple, it’s important to compare so that you don’t end up with a boat anchor that you have to lug around every day.

Always look at a drills specs and see how heavy it is- and make sure the battery weight is included, and that you are accounting for any long-life batteries you may buy too!  It’s amazing how much 1 pound matters when you carry that drill around all day long, so choose wisely when comparing weight.  It’s the reason why many professionals carry around a 12v drill for simple tasks!  Not so heavy like the big guns!

LED Guide Light, Storage Cases, Belt Clips, Levels, Bits, Bit Holders and Other Convenience Features

Drill FeaturesAll of these various features are great things to be aware of when you are searching for the right cordless drill.  None of them are essential to all people, but you may find that you really like having them.  I personally love my LED guide light, but could pass on the level, bit holders and belt clip- I don’t use them! 

Many new tools have these great features that weren’t popular 5-10 years ago, and now a better time than ever for power tool technology!


About the Author David

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