Toolsday: This Is Only A Drill

Sometimes, you need to put a hole in something.

There are a dizzying variety of drills. Cordless, plug-in, hammer drills, right-angle…enough to make your head spin.

To start with, you’re going to want a cordless drill. They have limitations. But for casual home use you’ll be a while before you come to where you need a corded drill.

Power tools are unfortunately a place where regardless of the name on the tool, it is possible to buy crap if you spend too little money. Many good manufacturers make really good tools in their moderate and high-priced ranges. But most of them sell crap at the low end, hoping to trade on their good name.

There are exceptions, at both ends, of course. For instance I don’t think Milwaukee makes any low-end tools. If they do, I’m not aware of them. And I don’t think Black & Decker (who invented the hand-held power drill in 1917) has made a tool worth buying—at any price—since the early 90s.

You’ll want one with a decent battery. The bigger the battery the more torque the drill will put out, generally. The trade off is that the bigger the battery the heavier the tool is; at some point it makes more sense to buy one that plugs in instead of hefting the huge battery.

Once you have the drill, you’ll need drill bits. Buy a set.

You won’t use most of them.

But there’s no way of knowing which you will or won’t use. The set you buy will likely be intended for wood. These bits will go through wood, artificial wood, drywall, plastic (go slow to avoid making a hot melty mess)…even soft metals like copper and aluminum. Anything except wood, artificial wood, and plastic will dull the bit faster. It’s usually OK to go ahead and do that: drill bits are an expendable resource. They all need to be replaced eventually. Just know that that’s what you are doing, and act accordingly. Replace the bit afterward. Pay attention while you’re working that the bit is not getting so dull that it is not worth using anymore.

If you need to make a hole of a size you don’t have in your arsenal, don’t be afraid to buy a bit that size. Same if you need to drill a hole in something else, like steel, or masonry: That’s why they sell them individually. I have quite a collection of mismatched and odd-size bits. In particular, if you are drilling holes to pull wires through, you should get a bellhanger bit of the right diameter for your wire.

A bellhanger bit is specially designed for installing wires. To start with it’s about two feet long, so it will go all the way through the wall in one go. And there’s a little hole in the tip. You drill through from where you’re going to where your spool of wire is; then you thread the wire through the hole, twist it tight, and pull the bit and wire back out to the side you started from. Very easy and quick.

So there you have it. Make some holes.


A guy in his early 50s, living more or less alone in a 90-year-old house, trying to keep it all together.

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Posted in Tools, Wires
2 comments on “Toolsday: This Is Only A Drill
  1. Sam Paris says:

    Agreed, sadly, about Black and Decker. I still have a 3/8″ corded I bought from them when I was barely out of high school. Still works (I just pulled it out of its crypt to check). Lately though, I’ve heard nothing but bad news about them.

    I’ve never had a Milwaukee tool fail in an unrepairable way, though I’ve had to replace a few cords now and again (always because somebody caught a bad case of stupid), and I’ve had a battery pack go the way of all flesh. If I have a complaint about my Milwaukee cordless drill, it’s that it only has two gears–fast and way fast. I’d love a lower, super-high torque gear.

    I’ve never had a good experience with a Ryobi tool–not that they failed, just that they weren’t up to the jobs I put them to.

    If you only need to drill a few small holes in a fairly yielding material (softwood, plasterboard, plastic), you can buy a drill chuck that will fit an electric screwdriver. By no means an ideal solution if you need to do a lot of work, but it can get you out of trouble in a pinch.

    • Erik says:

      Re: a chuck on an electric screwdriver.
      I think I disagree. The electric screwdrivers I’ve had experience with don’t have the speed to work as drills. Plenty of torque, but low speed. I suppose you’d get through eventually….

      Also, there are limited cases where owning an electric screwdriver is not a waste of money, in my experience. (There are cases, mind. And I have one (a Milwaukee) on site at this activity I do every month for use in one of those cases.) Mostly I believe for just-starting-out homeowner use you’re better served getting a variable speed cordless drill and using it to drive the occasional screw than the other way around.

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