These handy tools feature the perfect combination of size, power, and finesse for woodworking.

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Tools Editor Bob Hunter
Tools EditorBob Hunter

I've used several drill/drivers of this size in my shop for nearly a decade now, and they've become the go-to tools for almost all drilling and fastener-driving tasks. You'll still need a larger drill (that means 18 volts for most of us) for heavy-duty jobs, but I bet you'll find it gathering dust more and more after getting your hands on one of these 12-volt drills. We tested 13 models to find the best ones.

Torque pinpoints the leaders

All of the tested drills pack sufficient torque to drill the holes and drive the screws you'll typically use in a woodworking shop. But to find each tool's maximum power, we drove 212 " lag screws of increasingly larger diameters into treated pine. Nearly all the "pro" brands of drills (Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee, and Ridgid) could fully seat a 38 " lag, even without a pilot hole. And the Bosch PS32-02 and Milwaukee 2403-22—both with brushless motors (see below)—led the field by seating 12 " lags. Impressive for such small tools!

On the other hand, the Black & Decker drill could not fully seat a 516 " lag. The other models drove
38 " lags to partial depths, but could not finish the job.

Batteries make the tools

All of the tested drills use the same basic battery platform: three 3.6-volt lithium-ion cells linked together for a total of 10.8 volts. Most manufacturers market these as having a maximum, albeit brief, output of 12 volts on a full charge, but they're essentially equal in terms of voltage.

The amp-hour rating—the amount of potential run time within each pack—determines how long each will power its drill. To measure run time, we drove thousands of screws and drilled hundreds of holes in 2×6 pine, exhausting each fully charged battery pack. See the charts in the "Go Brushless" sidebar (at end of article) or download the complete results for a full comparison.

The good news: When it comes to driving 114 " screws, even the 13th-place drill, the Black & Decker, could sink 147 before calling for the charger. The others all drove at least 200 screws per charge, with the brushless Bosch and Milwaukee drills leading the way at more than 450. When it came to drilling 34 " holes with a Forstner bit, the Bosch brushless drill bored at least twice as many as all but one competitor.

The Milwaukee brushless drill comes with 2.0- and 4.0-amp-hour packs (one each), tops among this test group. In our run-time testing (charts above), we used the 2.0-amp-hour pack for this tool to level the playing field, because all the other tools use packs rated from 1.3 to 2.0 amp-hours. When we tested the 4.0-amp-hour pack, the Milwaukee 2403-22 drove a whopping 627 screws and drilled 91 holes. This larger pack does not make a significant difference in the weight or balance of the tool. (You can buy similar extended-run packs for the Bosch, DeWalt, and Ridgid drills as optional accessories.)

When you deplete a battery pack's charge, most drills have a second one ready to replace it, but the Chicago Electric and Craftsman drills come with only one each. The packs of five models recharged in 40 minutes or less, led by the Craftsman at 28 minutes. And although the Black & Decker packs required 75 minutes to recharge, in most cases a charge from any of these models will last weeks in normal shop use, so this might not be an issue for you.

The Bosch, Craftsman, and Milwaukee drills have LED lights on the tool to indicate the charge level of an attached battery (below). The other models have no indicators on the tool or battery packs.

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Battery-charge indicator LEDs, shown on the Bosch PS32-02, show more lights lit when the pack has a full charge.

Go brushless for big benefits

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A brushless motor draws power directly from the battery pack, electronically generating greater torque, longer run time, and longer tool and battery life.

Brushless-motor drills do more work per charge

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More things you should know before buying

Chucks All of the test drills have three-jaw chucks, but only Milwaukee's brushless drill can hold a 12 "-shank drill bit, a nice advantage. Most other models have 38 " chucks, and Festool provides a 516 " chuck.

Ridgid's chuck routinely slipped on the round-shank Forstner bit during our testing, but worked fine with hex-shank bits. And the Festool comes with three chucks (shown below). We like the flexibility these additional chucks provide, but would prefer to see a three-jaw chuck larger than 516 ".

One drill, three chucks
The Festool includes quick-change chucks for drilling and driving fasteners straight on, as well as for working at right angles in close quarters.

Lights All the tested drills include an LED task light that points toward the area in front of the chuck. But Festool's low-mounted light works best because it angles the light without creating shadows from the chuck.

Battery packs determine handle ergonomics
Stem-style insert

ErgonomicsHow each drill feels in your hand depends on your hand size. Most of the tools have thick, triangular handles because their battery packs insert vertically into the handles, as shown above. These models might not feel as comfortable if you have small hands. If you do, consider the Black & Decker, DeWalt (below), Festool, or Ryobi drills, which have slimmer handles due to different battery-pack mounting styles.

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Horizontal mount

ClutchesAll the drills have built-in clutches with at least 10 settings. They all worked adequately, but we found no meaningful differences between them.

The best of the best

You'd likely be happy using any of the drills that scored mostly "A" grades in the complete results chart. But the brushless Bosch PS32-02 and Milwaukee 2403-22 far outpaced the other models in terms of torque and run time, and they share our Top Tool award. The Milwaukee has the 12 " chuck and 4.0-amp-hour battery pack, a nice advantage. But the Bosch topped our run-time testing and sells for $20 less. So you're a winner with either one.

For significantly less of a price, consider the Craftsman 17586, our Top Value. It delivers good torque and run time, and although you only get one battery pack, it recharges in less than a half hour.

Milwaukee 2403-22, $180

800-729-3878, milwaukeetool.com

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Bosch PS32-02, $150

877-267-2499, boschtools.com

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Craftsman 17586, $50

800-549-4505, craftsman.com

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Black & Decker LDX112C, $50

800-544-6986, blackanddecker.com

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Bosch PS31-2A, $130

877-267-2499, boschtools.com

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DeWalt DCD710S2, $140

800-433-9258, dewalt.com

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Festool CXS564274, $295

888-337-8600, festoolusa.com

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Makita FD02W, $120

800-462-5482, makitatools.com

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Milwaukee 2407-22, $130

800-729-3878, milwaukeetool.com

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Porter-Cable PCL120DDC-2, $100

800-544-6986, portercable.com

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Ridgid R82009K, $99

866-539-1710, ridgid.com

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Ryobi HJP004, $50

800-525-2579, ryobitools.com

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Download a chart of our complete test results

Download Drill/Driver Comparison Chart