Drill Buying Guide UK: Everything you need to know
In this drill buying guide, we are going to explore and highlight the features and benefits of different machines used for drilling and screwdriving applications.
It is indisputable that battery powered tools are the preferred choice for tradespeople, attributed to their convenience and performance; indeed, many are now capable of rivalling mains powered equipment. For this reason, we will focus solely on cordless machines.
For each cordless drill within the drill buying guide, we will break it down by:
- Top tips
- Recommended products
Consider your application
We could start and finish this drill buying guide right now, by simply suggesting that you go and buy an 18V combination ‘Combi’ drill. As we mentioned in our previous blog ‘Impact Driver vs Drill’, the 18V Combi outsells every other cordless machine by some margin. They can drill wood, metal and masonry and are suitable for screwdriving applications – job done right? Well, not quite.
Pardon the pun, but when you drill down into the tasks you perform most often, you may find that your best choice isn’t a general-purpose machine such as a combination drill after all.
Just because you may have to perform certain tasks occasionally, purchasing a do it all machine could well rob you of performance and convenience for tasks that you undertake many times a day. After all, you wouldn’t swap the family car for a van because you may potentially have to collect a sofa or help a friend move into a new house. There may also be accessories that you can purchase that allow your preferred machine to complete these tasks anyway, more on that later.
Type of drills
For this drill buying guide we have listed the most popular drilling machines below, available with a brief description of their main functions and the applications they are best suited to.
Drill/Drivers are aptly named as they are specifically designed to drill wood and metal as well as perform screwdriving operations.
Most drill drivers feature a two-speed gearbox. The gear with the highest rotational speed is optimum for drilling applications, whereas the slower speed setting provides delicate speed control and higher torque, making it the best option for screwdriving tasks.
As they do not have a percussion impact feature, they are less suitable for masonry drilling, but it typically makes them lighter than comparable Combi drills.
Torque settings often feature on Drill/Drivers preventing fasteners from being over tightened and driven in beyond the depth required.
- Lighter weight than a comparable combi
- No percussion mechanism eliminates the chance of material damage if engaged by mistake
- Precise screwdriving
- Less versatile as no masonry drilling function
- Less power than combi drills
“If you need to drill masonry with a Drill/Driver – for example, to insert red and brown plugs. A Drill/Driver equipped with a rotary only, multi-purpose drill bit will complete the task admirably.
Multi-purpose drill bits feature a specially ground tip which cuts the masonry instead of chiseling it, allowing them to drill brick and block quickly with the bonus of low noise and vibration.”
The Metabo BE18 LTX, rotary only drill, is specifically designed for fast repetitive drilling, particularly in metal for sizes up to 6mm. With an RPM almost double that of traditional Drill/Drivers this tool is the perfect companion for sheet metal workers installing rivets and self-tapping screws.
The Festool T18+3 18V drill driver is the ultimate drill/driver for kitchen fitters and cabinet makers, competing with 12V and 14.4V machines on weight and size. The FastFix quick change system allows the user to effortlessly switch from a keyless 3 jaw chuck to specialist attachments for angle drilling, offset screwdriving and drywall screw installation. This unique system makes it easy to drill and insert screws in difficult to reach areas, such as inside cabinets and above plinths. The Centrotec chuck succeeds in reducing the weight and size of the tool even further and is supported by a vast range of direct fitting accessories.
Drill/Drivers are ideal for kitchen fitters, cabinet makers and workshop use where light weight and compactness are preferable to power and all-round versatility. Do not overlook 12v and 14.4v battery platforms either; the latest high torque machines paired with larger capacity batteries can provide uncompromised performance without the need to re-charge during the working day.
Combination drills are often seen as a Drill/Driver with a percussion impact mechanism. Regarded as a do it all machine, they can drill wood, metal, and masonry.
Exclusive to Combi drills, the percussion impact system relies on two hardened serrated plates, riding over one another to create thousands of impacts a minute. It is the volume of these tiny blows that allows the tip of the drill bit to chip away at the masonry and make the hole. Despite the hammer drilling mode, they are best suited to brick and blockwork as the hardest concrete can cause them to struggle.
Designed for site applications, Combi drills are often equipped with powerful motors and heavy-duty gearboxes, making them very suitable for demanding screwdriving applications and large diameter accessories, such as flat bits and wood augers.
- Versatile do it all machine
- Powerful high torque motors
- Masonry drilling
- Heavier than comparable drill driver
- Limited performance in concrete
- Noisy in percussion hammer mode and requires the operator to lean on the machine
“Increase the capacity and performance of your Combi drill when drilling metal by using a vari-bit or step drill. These cone-shaped cutters combine different sized drill bits on just one tool, graduated in steps along the body of the cutter. With a maximum diameter of 35mm, they drill quicker than twist drills and eliminate snagging which is common with hole saws.”
Recommended Combi Drills
The latest Festool TPC18/4 18V percussion drill is the most sophisticated and versatile Combi drill on the market. Utilising a four-speed gearbox enables the operator to select the correct speed and torque for a multitude of applications. The FastFix quick-change system allows the user to choose from several attachments to suit drywall, Tek screw and angle drilling applications. The Centrotec chuck reduces the size of this already compact tool even further, transforming it into a torque-controlled screwdriver. Uniquely, the TPC18 features an electronic kickback stop to prevent injuries, should an accessory snag in the workpiece.
The Milwaukee M18FPD2 18V combi drill is capable of taking on the most demanding drilling and screwdriving applications and has proven to be incredibly reliable. To quote Simon Wilde, our Service Centre manager of over 30 years – ‘this is a tool we rarely see’. Equipped with Milwaukee’s top of the range, FUEL brushless motor, this machine can boast 135nm of torque, has a drilling capacity in wood of 89mm and a 16mm drilling capacity in masonry . As part of the Milwaukee 18V battery platform it is the ideal tool with which to start a cordless tool kit.
Combi drills are the ideal machine for working on-site and can also meet the demands of heavy-duty workshop applications. Their versatility makes them a good choice for tradespeople that need to drill a wide range of materials and install different types of fixings and fasteners. Often the ‘original building block’ of a cordless tool kit, Combi drills are very popular with construction, electrical and plumbing trades.
SDS Plus Rotary Hammers
SDS Rotary Hammer drills work by using a piston to deliver a hammer blow on the shank end of the drill bit. This direct strike is much more powerful than the impacts from a percussion drill; this requires less effort from the operator to drill concrete and other hard masonry materials. SDS drills have a unique insert and twist style chuck, which is where the abbreviation of SDS originates; Steck, Dreh, Sitz literally means, insert – twist – stay. This bit retention system necessitates a specific SDS drill bit which can only be used in this type of machine.
SDS drills are primarily designed for drilling masonry, although many machines feature a ‘rotary only’ mode. This allows the tool to be used for drilling wood and metal when paired with a suitable chuck adaptor or quick-change chuck. Screwdriving is also possible but the design of SDS rotary hammers makes them quite bulky for this task. Another useful function on some SDS machines is ‘rotation stop.’ This prevents the accessory from turning but allows the hammer mechanism to continue working, thus providing a chiseling action for light chipping tasks.
- Fast drilling in hard concrete
- Up to 32mm capacity in masonry, depending on the specification of the tool
- Light chiseling work
- Drilling masonry requires much less pressure to be applied to the machine compared to a combi
- Larger and heavier than a combi of comparable voltage
- Only takes SDS shank bits requiring an adaptor or replacement chuck to hold standard accessories
- Limited drilling capability in wood and metal
- Cumbersome screwdriver
“When choosing an SDS drill, be sure to check the specification for blow energy which is measured in joules. A higher number of joules will increase the capacity of the machine and improve drilling speed.”
Recommended SDS plus rotary hammer drill
The Milwaukee M18CHPX 18V SDS Plus Rotary Hammer drill has incredibly high blow energy of 4 joules, making light work of drilling the hardest concrete. Despite the heavy hits, the anti-vibration handle helps to absorb any unwanted feedback to the user. Featuring a Fixtec quick release system, the SDS specific chuck can easily be swapped for a keyless 3 jaw chuck, enabling standard power tool accessories to be used in the machine. Rotation stop also comes as standard to allow for light chiseling applications.
The Milwaukee M12CH 12V SDS Rotary Hammer is the perfect, light weight masonry drilling machine. Using the same electro-pneumatic hammer system as much bigger rotary hammers, this machine has been specifically designed to work with smaller diameter SDS bits for use in concrete, brick and block. Ideal for drilling holes to suit red and brown plugs this machine is lighter than an 18V Combi and fits within the dimensions of a sheet of A4 paper, clearly illustrating it’s compact size.
If you regularly drill masonry, or simply want to avoid the operator fatigue and high-pitched squeal of a Combi, an SDS Rotary Hammer is what you need. With increased drilling capacity and the ability to drill the hardest concrete, the electro-pneumatic hammer system takes the effort out of making holes in masonry. Although SDS drills typically start at 18V there are some excellent 12V SDS Hammer Drill options too. These lightweight machines are ideal for drilling smaller holes, such as those for red and brown plugs, they are also invaluable when drilling overhead.
What drill is best for the chosen task?
|Fitting kitchen hinges||
|Drilling holes for plastic plugs and anchors||
|Drilling holes in joists and timber studs for cables and pipes||
|Installing window and door frames||
|Drilling medium sized holes in metal||
Cordless drills are typically used for drilling common building materials such as wood, metal and masonry. They have also virtually replaced hand tools for screwdriving applications; making the installation of fixings and fasteners quick and easy. To some extent, all of the aforementioned machines can perform these tasks, but as is to be expected, each tool is compromised in certain areas.
From our experience, we find that workshop-based joiners and tradespeople often choose a Drill/Driver because of its weight and simplicity. Another reason for this purchasing decision could be attributed to the size of the fasteners and power tool accessories used to manufacture items in a workshop environment; as they tend to be shorter in length and smaller in diameter than those used on site.
Interestingly, nearly every site joiner, electrician, plumber or construction worker doesn’t just rely on the versatility of the Combi alone. Sales data would indicate that even if not initially purchased together, site workers usually end up buying a Combi and an SDS drill. Feedback from our customers suggests that site trades prefer the extra power of the Combi for driving in longer fixings and powering larger diameter accessories, whilst keeping the SDS drill in reserve exclusively for masonry drilling.
Ultimately, choosing the right machine will come down to determining what tasks you use the machine for most and what compromises you are prepared to accept. If you don’t like compromises, it’s likely that you will be adding to your cordless collection soon. Therefore, it’s important that you consider what brand and battery platform offers you an extensive range of cordless tools that you might need in the future.
Two popular brands that have a very large cordless offering are Makita and Milwaukee. We compared the two brands in our blog Makita vs Milwaukee – which brand is better?
Des Duddy – Joint Managing Director